Friday, April 12, 2013

Ma's Obit, The Long Version

Bobbie Mims-Beane was an intellectual, a spiritual seeker, a deeply loving friend with a wicked sense of humor and seemingly unlimited compassion, a lover of tea, dogs, knitting, books, cooking and life. She was also an amazing mother and wife, not to mention one of the best geriatric and hospice social workers in the greater Portland area. She started her career at the Robison Jewish Home, which later led to her work with Jewish Family and Child Services, where she earned an MSW at 44.  She also spent several years at the Maryville Nursing Home, working among a Catholic order of nuns. In the mid-80s, she found a true calling in hospice work, caring for some of the first AIDS patients on hospice in the state, and after working at several other organizations along the way, ended her career at Washington County Hospice.
In addition to her 30-plus years in social service, she considered her most important work in life to be raising her two daughters, Abby and Kari, with a rare kind of unconditional love and acceptance, along with tireless work on herself. Bobbie was always striving to “be here now”, while moving towards a greater understanding of the universe and the meaning of life, which often meant providing comfort and understanding to others in the hopes of easing their suffering. Her spiritual journey began early, manifesting in a scandalous conversion to the Episcopal church from her parents’ Protestant congregation at 15; this seeking eventually led to the practice of yoga and meditation in the early 70s, exploration of astrology, crystals and the I Ching and prodigious readings of Carl Jung, Thomas Merton, C.S. Lewis, Anais Nin, Christopher Isherwood and Krisnamurti, to name but a few. She spent much of her time studying the Eastern religions and adopted beliefs in reincarnation and karma, and for the last several years, was a practicing Hindu, following the teachings of Ram Dass and his guru, Neem Karoli Baba. 
A single mother for nearly a decade, she met the love of her life, Jim Beane, through friends in 1988, when she infamously backed her car into a support beam of her house and needed a good contractor to fix it. By all accounts, they fell in love on their first date, and were married just a few months later. Her daughters were not amused at the time, but they have to admit now that she knew exactly what she was doing. They shared a love of the movies, good friends, laughing, camping, hiking, long walks in the neighborhood and the joy of day-to-day life with one another. They often took trips to the Southwest and Southern California to escape the Northwest rain, and in the fall of 2008, just six months before her brain cancer diagnosis, they travelled to India together, which for Bobbie, was the culmination of a 40-year-long dream. She later said that being in India was like finding her true home.
She leaves behind not only her immediate family, but also an incredible circle of devoted friends and co-workers, many of whom she has known for decades. As one of them put it recently, “The world will be a different place without Bobbie in it.”  Her close friends, her sister and her co-workers at Washington County Hospice helped her family take exquisite care of her for the last four years, and without them, she would not have been able to remain at home throughout her illness, which was her wish. Bobbie died peacefully on April 5th, at 66, surrounded by those who loved her most and best. An open memorial will be held at the West Hills Unitarian Fellowship on April 20th at 1 pm. In lieu of flowers, please send donations to Washington County Hospice.

Thursday, January 03, 2013

Stumbling Towards Enlightenment a.k.a. The Universal Chokehold

This month has been a strange one for me, as on top of what the holidaze bring with their expectations (no matter how what you tell yourself about having none) I turned 40 a few days before Christmas. I'm still not quite sure how to feel about that, it's just a number to be sure, but it is the half-way number of life in many ways -- although I'd always categorized "middle-aged" as like, you know, 60 or something, a balding man in a Porsche with his penis issues -- not me, at 40, with plenty of hair, driving the sensible Toyota Yaris with my ovaries really shriveling now, struggling to make sense of how we are all supposed to keep going in a world that often makes no sense.

And indeed, the world has made little sense to me these last few weeks, from where I'm supposed to put my feelings about being 40 and all it brings up -- marriage, babies, owning a house, really committing to a color scheme in the living room, does this mean I need to learn how to garden? ditto fancy Asian dishes with lemongrass and curry?, understanding there has to be as yet uncovered more interesting ways to prepare chicken, realizing that life is often repetitive, dull and boring, yet finding comfort in that most days, reconciling that days spent alone can be lovely or they can be terrifying, ditto days spent with other people -- all of that. Not to mention how to keep being a writer and the impending death of my mom.

This past Sunday, all of the above made me want desperately to be anyone but myself, to crawl outside of my consciousness, my bones and skin in a way that I could be reborn as someone else. Someone simpler, less effected, someone a bit dead behind the eyes. I could feel this useless blackness overtaking me, and I tried to stave it off - I went for a very long run in the Northern California sunshine, I tried to take in the beauty of a low flying Pelican, a flock of baby geese. Yet when I got back home, what I encountered simply enraged me beyond proportion. There was my sweet, darling boyfriend, Matt. Sleeping. Peacefully snoring with football on in the background. The football that had been on since 9 am and would be on for the rest of the day. Have I mentioned that I really hate football?

At any rate, I could have killed him. Smothered him with a pillow and been done with it. The fact that he didn't psychically sense my mood, wake up and comfort me, while somehow magically reversing the brain tumor that is erasing my mother bit by bit, well, I thought -- fuck that guy. You can imagine how the rest of the day went. I had to get out of the house and away from any good size pillows and kitchen knives. But none of it helped. Not even after watching the inspirational Argo by myself later that afternoon, with its themes of good people rising up against the bad and the impressive nature of Ben Affleck's abs, which we are given a very nice glimpse of, ditto his deep, caring, brown eyes, did I feel any better. Matt, to his credit, did what he could, which was a lot.

Everything I'd been fighting against this month came to the surface on Sunday, in all it's ugly messiness. Mainly, it's the simple fact that since my visit home in early December, there is a heaviness about the size and weight of a small child that has taken up residence in my chest. It is blob of sadness, depression, anxiety, hopelessness, helplessness, rage and terror. It has to do mostly with my mom being trapped in a bed for the last six months, without autonomy, without language and now, officially, without the ability to read. If you knew my mother, you would understand fully how devastating this is. Reading, in so many ways, is who she is - her endless curiosity for the world, her compassion, her intelligence, her insight, her spiritually, her essence. Reading saved her life as a kid, let her know there was somewhere else she belonged. It helped her leave a marriage that was no longer working. It gave her permission to raise my sister and I differently than the way she was raised. It was also her last real connection to the outside world, a world outside her room, something that kept her entertained in these last 3 1/2 years when everything else she loved to do has been slowly taken away. It was everything.

I realize now she has been pantomiming reading for months, not faking it for anyone's benefit, but struggling, trying in vain to grasp this or that sentence each time something new was put in front of her. I'm sure she thought each time, today will be different, today will be the day that I can read again. And then, nothing.  I imagine the inside of her brain to look something like the bookstore scene from Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind -- she is standing there, helpless and scrambling, watching the words on the books' spine disappear, whitewashed to nothingness, to white, to grey, to black. She has managed to communicate some of her sadness about this, getting out the phrase, "Hard to watch." At first, we thought she meant Jim having to take care of her for so long, how tired he is, how helpless she feels. But after I dug a little further and asked her about it, I think what she means is that it's hard to be aware of all she has lost and what she's continuing to lose. To remember the life you had, the person you where. To know that you have read all your life, and what it means now that you can't. What this feels like to her, I cannot know, but to imagine it for 30 seconds devastates me.

All I've asked for these last few months is for her to die before this happened, that is, before she could no longer read. For whomever is in charge to let her leave this world with that one thing intact. But no. And so, I struggle to understand why she is still here. I struggle to see the point in a life that has nearly been entirely snuffed out, yet goes on. Hence, the terrible child in my chest that I cannot integrate into something I understand, transform into anything resembling light or good. And so I push against it, endlessly. The only way I can fully describe how I feel is to show you all a drawing from a book my sister and I read more than a few times when she was sick. We were usually very, very stoned when we did, and in those moments, we felt we understood all the mysteries of the universe. It's a little tiny book, called "Stumbling Towards Enlightenment: An Illustrated Crisis Companion."

So here I am, floating above myself, doing a lot of this:

Part of my angst comes from the fact that I thought I'd come to grips with letting go of what is happening to my mom, but I'm learning there is no way to anticipate these two key things: what will happen next or how I will feel about that next thing that happens. It just keeps coming and changing and while I know it's useless to both rage and fight against it, I have to right now, at least for awhile.

Here is another stroke of absurd naivete: I thought if I proclaimed myself surrendered, that would be that.

Ha. Instead, it is like eating an elephant, one shriveled grey piece of flesh at a time.

I have no pithy wisdom here, I have no answers, I am stuck in the phase below, one I know I will grow out of when the terrible child goes on vacation for a bit, and leaves me breathing a bit more easily. When and how are further behind, however, so I rage and I write and I wait.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Ma's 4th Annual Last Thanksgiving

Each fall for the last four years, I've been sure that this was it, that these were the months when my mother would fade into the ether and die. It was usually the geese that did it, their loud calls as they flew in perfect black V formation, set against a chilly Northwest sky.  She has always loved the sounds of the geese headed south, and when we would walk during this time of year, she would stop in her tracks when she heard them, put a hand up to shade her eyes and watch as they flew into the middle distance and disappeared. Their sounds began haunting me the first fall after Ma's diagnosis, that October and November where she survived surgery but we were told she wouldn't see more than a few months after that. I came think of their sounds as a kind of siren warning for what was to happen, and often turned my Ipod up louder if I could heard them while I ran, although if a window was open and the faraway sound reached me in bed in the early morning, I couldn't help but listen and think of her.

I've always thought she would go in the fall too, because it's her favorite season, so full of color and unexpected weeks of sunshine in the Northwest. It's a time she cherished every year, as before you know it, everything goes dark and damp and cold up here. Then too, there are the obvious metaphors, given fall is the season of change, decay and death, when nature prepares to die or goes dormant until it reincarnates in the spring.

This fall is no different for me, perhaps all the more so, really, since she has simply lived so damn long. Last month when I was here, she was agitated, in pain, despondent, unable to read or get comfortable. She didn't care about the debates; ditto reading the New York Times. Her usual contentment was replaced with frustration and despair, and her quality of life seemed to be receding at such a rapid pace, I found myself saying to her, "I do not want to see you in this bed in six months. No one wants that."

How can a daughter say this to a mother? I'll tell you how: there is no greater pain than helplessly watching someone you love with your whole gut, brains and heart, suffer. I am lucky there has been so little of this for her in such a long illness. This is another miracle we cannot account for. She's bed-bound now, however, and we are currently facing the problems that come with that, aside from the cancer. Lovely things like constipation, swollen limbs, atrophied muscles and the danger of bed sores and bone fractures.

But then I arrived last week for a visit of 10 days, thinking again, she's going, she's going, I need to be home, and instead of a morphine-addled invalid, who greets me but a smiling, happy Ma, who cannot wait for the early Thanksgiving dinner I've planned to make over the weekend. She is suddenly reading again, her back pain has all but entirely disappeared, and even more strangely, fragments of sentences are coming out of her mouth in a way they haven't for many, many months.

I am stunned. Happy, but stunned, having to again readjust to the reality that she is still still here, and that for now, she is not going anywhere. This has been the only reliable pattern for the duration of her cancer -- she will change and fade and change and fade, and then we will panic until she straightens out and plateaus, which she always does. Last month, however, the changes were radical enough to warrant real fear and preparation, until now, when they aren't. Again. We have also learned this in the course of her illness: We have no fucking idea. About anything.

So she is here, and here she is. We watched the election coverage as long as she could stay awake last Tuesday and then three hours of coverage the next morning. "Really, really," she said, and "Phew!" over and over again. As I made Thanksgiving dinner last Saturday, I would visit her upstairs when I took a break from cooking with my aunt, and I swear to God, her cheeks have never looked rosier. She helped me pick out the recipes, oohing and ahhing over the three-mushroom stuffing with prosciutto; the brussel sprouts with pancetta, the mashed potatoes with fennel and creme fraiche, the hazelnut chocolate torte. She was in heaven all day long, surrounded by family and her best friend, Carol, so much so, that by 10 at night, we were all exhausted, but she kept pointing at us, not wanting to take her Ativan and sleep, lest she miss something.

"Lady," I said. "You can do whatever you want, but we are all going to bed."

I had teased her earlier that maybe we shouldn't make such a big deal about Thanksgiving this year (or our early celebrations of it) as it has morphed into an annual "last" Thanksgiving, it being her third last and all. When I reiterated this to my aunt, she said, "Actually, it's her fourth."

She's right, but I have no idea how that's possible. Where she is now is the new normal, and  it's become harder and harder to discern the first year of all of this from the third, or the second from the fourth. For her too, I know this is true.Pockets of her memory, especially the short-term kind have gone entirely dormant, and often if I ask her if she remembers a moment we shared (like when I got far too excited about finding her the perfect Poise pad and she said, without hesitation, "You need to get out of here, and soon. This shouldn't be your life") she doesn't; luckily, that doesn't take away from my memory of them. I think for her now, memory isn't very useful, as she lives entirely in the now, in this moment right here, and no other.

This is no more apparent than when the hummingbirds come to visit the two feeders that hang outside her window. Whatever is happening inside doesn't matter, as she's immediately transfixed on their wings made invisible by frenetic movement, the sharp turns of their heads as they drink sugar water while watching for any signs of danger. Jim has named a bright green one Stevie Wonder  for the way his head bobbles between drinks, and he lingers longer than any hummer I've seen, drinking and drinking and drinking. Most of the others buzz in for a sip and buzz out, back and forth, skittish as fussy cats. Each time Ma sees them, it as if she has never seen them before, the wonder in her voice and gestures showing me what it is to see things as entirely new.

As I ran the other day, I heard the geese calling, as if a reminder that no matter this reprieve, she is going to die, and relatively soon. I prefer to stay in the moment with her, however, ignoring the geese in favor of the hummingbirds; those that roost and those that flit and fly away, our eyes too slow to follow their paths as they vanish into the sky.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

The House of Truth

When Ma first got sick, some of the most amazing emails I got were from childhood friends, some who I'd not seen or talked to in 10, 15 or 20 years. "I loved your mom so much, and I always had so much fun at your house," they wrote. "Your mom was the coolest, always willing to talk about anything," they said. One of them had gone to a school counselor in 9th grade, worried I had an eating disorder (which I did) and my mom had apparently written my friend a letter via the counselor, thanking her for being brave enough to tell the truth. Twenty years later, my friend told me what that letter had meant to her, that it had been one of the more important lessons of her life going forward. Then there was the email I received from one of my closest old friends - her mother was the opposite of mine, constantly criticizing and running a household full of silence and repressed emotions. She wrote, "I could always be myself in your house. It was such freedom." She is the same friend, who, one day in 8th or 9th grade, while sitting in the kitchen with my mom and stepdad, talking about what, I don't know, said, "I don't get it. I mean, you can say anything here and it's ok. It's like The House of Truth." And so our house was dubbed from then on.

I've always carried this gift with me, the power my mom gave me in terms of the ability and the importance of speaking your own truth and with that, not being afraid to voice your emotions. She was determined to raise us the opposite of the way she was raised, which was to smile, look pretty and shut the fuck up, essentially. She once told me that when my sister and I were little, her father said to her, "They seem to be great kids, but I don't understand it. I mean, you treat them like they are people." Overcoming this kind of mindset was no small feat, and from the time I was able to understand, it's one of the things I've admired about her the most. This permission, to both be myself and tell the truth has, in many ways, shaped the writer I am. With it, I am sometimes able to say the things that others simply can't or won't.

This doesn't mean this gift hasn't bitten me on the ass. It's taken me years to understand the line in When Harry Met Sally when Sally tells Harry that he doesn't have the right to express every feeling he has every moment that he has one. It can be a kind of tic, one that my boyfriend semi-lovingly calls "diarrhea of the mouth." Sometimes I get away with it, sometimes I don't. People tend to either love me or hate me for it, and it's not really a conscious effort to be some ruthless truth teller (as I think people often use that excuse to just be plain mean, under the guise of "just being honest") - it's more like a reflex for me, and often I blurt things out without fully thinking them through. I've hurt many people along the way in my blurtings; some relationships were repairable, some were not. I'm getting better at filtering in general, but to be honest, it's not something I want to entirely fix.

I bring all this up because I wrote something recently that was, at it's core, my best stab at being honest about what graduate school was like for me (and it was also supposed to be kind of funny, something 98% of people missed entirely) and the response has swung from all-loving to all-hating, a divided reaction I wasn't expecting and was wholly unprepared for. (And for the record, no, it was not my idea to run the piece with large photo of my now famous grad school colleagues' head right next to it, nor did I title the piece, "Joshua Ferris Is My Nemesis." But that's what happens when you write something and put it out in the world. People will do what they will to it, and you will have exactly zero control over this.) I also didn't realize that the rules in terms of talking about MFA programs in any kind of critical way is akin to Fight Club/ What Happens in Vegas.

As a result, the post went mini-viral in the lit world and caused enough of a shit-storm that random strangers felt justified in judging me entirely based on these particular 2,000 words. I was called (among other things) pathetic, cowardly, crazy, lame, a waste of time, sad, sick, hysterical, obsessed, parasitic, whiny, bitchy and delusional. Several people from my program tattled on me to the powers that be about the piece, and the enraged response from that end was nothing short of what I would have expected had I been brave enough to speak my mind all those years ago. It also confirmed everything I felt at the time- that I was (and am) expected to smile, look pretty, and shut the fuck up, essentially. You can read what I wrote here. And perhaps the most poorly written and douchebag-award winning interpretation of it here.

At any rate, I've been both elated and terrified since it all happened. Elated because of the positive response and because writing about it in such a public way was the final step in being done with the whole mess. Terrified because more people are now reading my stuff, and I no longer have the freedom of writing entirely in the dark - that, and for a split second, the idea that the powers that be and the tattlers were forming a secret Star Chamber type of group that would immediately kill any book I tried to sell. Too, I wished desperately that a piece I'd written about my mom's long illness had gotten this much attention, not this other thing I decided to write. In short, a lot to think about, worry over and interpret, while fighting the urge to jump in with the trolling commenters and defend myself. Not surprisingly, I haven't really written since.

To get myself started again (although it's probably a waste of typing) I wanted to address a few thing leveled at me by said trolling commenters and assorted other douchebags who apparently know my mind, heart and soul after reading exactly one piece of my writing. I mean, it is my blog and all. 

1. These events (or the bulk of them, ditto my feelings about said events) took place TEN YEARS AGO. I am not living them currently, recently or otherwise. To assume my issues around this time (envy, failure, etc) have consumed me every day since is insulting and ridiculous. I mean, with all that hate and obsession on my plate, I would have hardly had time to take care of both my sister and mother through their respective cancers in the last eight years, let alone eat.

2. The claim, nay fact, that I simply didn't work hard enough in graduate school nor have I worked hard enough at my writing since, and this is why I'm not as successful as my aforementioned colleague. To this, I say a polite, yet firm -- fuck off. I've written three books in that time. Oh, you didn't know that? Right. Because you've read exactly one piece of my writing. 

3. To those that find the very human emotions I wrote about so shocking, utterly foreign and baffling, well, hats off to you. You must have lived an extraordinary blessed life to have never experienced envy, unfairness, dysfunctional environments, silencing, disappointment, failure, etc. That, or your mother explicitly told you it wasn't polite to talk about such things.

However, my mother taught me otherwise, and in the end, it really does go back to her. I was home for a week when the shit-storm broke. She was nothing short of thrilled as I wrung my hands and winced every time I opened my inbox or dared peer at the growing comment list. With each new development, she shook her one good first in the air, and said, "Whoa, whoa, really, really," with a huge smile on her face. I was so distracted by all of it during my time at home I wasn't as present as I could have been, and felt badly. I told her as much. "Please," she said. "Really," she said. It is this same honesty between us that has allowed me, these last few trips home, as I feel her slipping further and further away, to ask her to wait for me to get back there so I can be there when she dies. "You won't do it without me, right?" I say, and she says, "No, no, really, really."

So, I have no choice but to move forward telling the truth for many reasons, the largest of which is her legacy.  Another is those who understand what I was trying to say. They have kept me afloat in the muck and mire with a flood of support - emails from friends, strangers, and collegues thanking me for the piece, telling  me I spoke exactly to their MFA experiences (including fellow classmates of mine, still too intimidated by the powers to come forward publicly), the commenters that took swings at those who attacked me and all the lovely instances where I was labelled brave, ballsy, honest, unafraid, fierce, wise, funny and a writer of kick-ass prose, not to mention all the fabulous writers I've had the pleasure of meeting virtually or in-person because of this piece.

What's particularly hilarious to me in all of this is that the piece was born not out of spite or hatred or payback; it was born out of a very simple desire to write something, just one small thing that wasn't about the fact that my mother is dying. This is all I've been eating, breathing, thinking, living and writing about for the past three years, and on the particular day I started this piece, I just wanted a little relief, the smallest amount of freedom from this all-consuming thing. I also thought, shit, it's been 10 years since this sad and bizarre time of my life, and what do I have to say about it now? What have I learned about my own bad behavior and baggage? How do I make sense of that time in the bigger picture, and the ways in which I've remained true to what I want to do with my life, which is to write?

So, again: truth. It's at the heart of the life I'm trying to build for myself. One where honesty reigns over ass-kissing, where everyone may not like me or agree, so all I can do is be clear about what I put out into the world (or as clear as I can be, before everyone else gets a hold of it, that is) and be proud of it, no matter what the response. This is not easy or simple, but at the end of the day, it's what I have control over. That said, I don't regret what I wrote, but if I did have the chance to rewrite this particular piece, I think I would have spent more time on the complexities of the situation I found myself in, and I would have also pointed out the things I took away from graduate school, none of which ones I went there to learn -- how to fight like a motherfucker for your voice, how to build a strong enough core to not let the haters pull you under, how to cling to dear life to the people who understand who you are and forget the rest and how to listen to and really hear the amazing teachers and writers who respond to your work. But that, as they say, is a different story altogether.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel

The movie was, from the get go, funny, schmaltzy, overwrought and full of predictable plot twists, but as soon as a group of geriatric Brits get to India in the hopes of starting their lives over, I started crying and couldn't stop. It's the first movie my mom's been able to get to since November. She and I used to engage in "Manic Movie and Madmen Mondays" and I missed them. Even that day, her strength was waning and we weren't sure she could do it, but she was determined. Ma and Jim were a few rows behind my aunt and me at the theater, and for that I was grateful - I didn't want her to see me melting down this way. I am home this weekend for for my monthly trip and this last month along with the month before had felt lightening quick with a move to a house and a new job tutoring, yet I also felt like I hadn't seen her for an eternity. These last few visits, more than before, there are more and more changes which is an irritating reminder that she really is still dying. This week marks the official 3-year anniversary of her diagnosis, and a quick search of Wikipedia states only 5% of people with the disease can boast that kind of survival rate.

To wit, we've taken to calling my 65-year-old Ma "The Miracle Baby" for her ability to both still be here, and to bounce back from any slumps she's had along the way, slumps so bad that we are all often on the phone tree murmuring, "It's happening, it's happening, she's really going this time, I think we really need to prepare ourselves....." And then, well, she doesn't.

But she will. This I still forget sometimes, and crying in the theater was a two-day late reaction to what happened Thursday night. The day before, I'd flown in, and there was some vague talk that Ma was having trouble swallowing. We'd been told all along that this is what eventually happens along with more and more sleeping and then difficulty going to the bathroom, and then, I imagine, the end. Jim, as he's want to do, sort of thought the nurse was "leading the witness and therefore this isn't really happening" and I didn't have a change to register what any of it meant, to ask what to do if she was choking and couldn't get her breath, what we needed to be most careful about. Also, she seemed good. So I went out on Thursday, with a couple of my girlfriends and had a fabulous time until I get this text from Jim at 10:10: "Mom is choking and coughing and can't breathe and she wanted you to know."

It is vintage Jim not to pick up the phone and call me about this, mainly because he is the last to accept any changes that are happening - it's his primary coping mechanism - total denial - but I don't hold it against the man. It's the only way he can be present and take care of my Mom the way he has day in and day out for all these years. At any rate, he was fairly calm when I called, as she'd been able to breathe a bit with a fair amount of morphine, thanks to a call to the hospice advice nurse. I wasn't in a panic either for whatever reason, but of course I went home.

I don't think either of us realized in the moment that she could have simply stopped breathing in the middle of this episode and choked to death. I now know another term I never wanted to, along with commode and compression hose and palliative care: aspirating, which means you don't swallow correctly and fluid is pulled into your lungs, which is what happened to Ma. It can also cause pneumonia. Lovely. It is also one of the side-effects of brain cancer if you live long enough with it - because this cancer can't kill you by eating away your organs like other cancers, because if it starts in the brain, it never metastasizes anywhere else.

By the next day, although exhausted and a little freaked out, Ma was fine. And so was I, mostly, until The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel. Seeing all those retirees in India overwhelmed me with what it must have been for she and Jim to travel there together in 2008, just months before her diagnosis. I wept for the fact that she will not be able to go back to this place she feel in love with, and for the fact the two of them won't be living out the next 20 years together.  I wept because I wanted to travel there with her, to feel the heat and the noise and the colors and the people. I wept because she could have died two days before and because she's going to, there's just no getting around it.

When we left the theater, I was trying to hold it together, but she saw that I wasn't.  "Woah, Woah," she said, and took my hand. I squeezed it, unable to say much besides, "Yep. Yep. Yep." So we woah'd and yepped our way back out into the evening, and when I finally looked at her, I knew she understood exactly what I was feeling.

The movie was partially narrated by Judi Dench's character, a woman whose husband died of a heart attack after 40 years of marriage. Going to India was the first thing she'd ever done on her own. She's writing about her experiences and says at one point something like, "India is like a giant wave. If you fight it, you will drown. The only way to survive is dive right in."

As one of my loveable grad school teachers, Mark Richard would have said (in a sweet Southern accent), "That's a bit on the nose, isn't it?"

And it is, completely, but I love the line despite myself. It's the same way with her illness, and everything that's come with it. There's no way around the wave. All I can do is keep swimming through.

Monday, May 07, 2012

Scenes from a Glioblastoma

A new piece on The Nervous Breakdown, complete with a photo of Ma from India.....

Check it!

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

The Arc of My Redemption

This one is dedicated to all of you who've heard me use this ridiculous phrase again and again. I think I figured out (mostly) what it means.

My latest from The Nervous Breakdown: