Archive | May, 2009

GrannyFest ’09

28 May

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This Memorial Day I flew to Virginia for my grandmother’s 90th birthday. Her birthday is actually in November but as there is a family wedding in September, we decided to do things earlier in the year. I’m glad we did. My grandpa on the other side of the family was also ninety. The family kept saying we’d throw him a party; now he is dead. We were too late. 

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I just saw my grandma in January. She was as spright as a 65 year old driving me around Colonial Williamsburg, serving as a greeter at church, baking cookies and walking two miles a day. She basically exhausted me. Having an active grandma all my life, I’ve taken it for granted that she will always be active.

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(If you look at the back line of this photo, you’ll see granny’s favorite football player came to honor her as well… Actually, he is a cardboard figure of Brett Favre – Packer alum. Granny was thrilled!)

In four months my grandma has changed. She has started to hang onto people’s arms at times for balance, even though she lives in her own home. She became emotional one night and had one of her daughters stay up with her holding her hand. She missed church the next morning – something that never happens. Albeit, she is still sharp as a tack but I am no longer naive. She might not make it to 100.

My grandmother is an amazing woman – kind, smart and tough. Old fashioned yet contemporary. But she doesn’t do emotions well. She is of that generation that is stoic. From farm stock. 

My grandmother had a hard childhood but never talks about it. She also lost her most beloved son – my father – to drug addiction and narcissism. When his life and law practice shattered, she couldn’t address it. For a number of years my relationship with her was strained because I reminded her too much of my dad. So in her own way, she distanced me a little from her heart. Thankfully, God and time has healed that.  

My grandmother was one of the first people I called when my mom left me a suicide note. 

This weekend she pulled me aside and said, “I am so proud of you. You are holding up so well. And I know it’s hard.” 

I love my grandma more than words can ever express. If she only knew how much. 

Out of all the woman I’ve admired and who have made a difference in my life, she is one of the most significant. Whether teaching me to knit and make jam or telling me that as a woman, it is critical to have a mind of one’s own independent of a man, she has made an impact. I witnessed her lead the woman’s Republican party in her home state (grrr…) and go on bird watching Safaris in Africa. She has been a woman way ahead of her times.

If I am anything like her, I will be proud.

When you say Granny, you say it all…

Flying AirTran

26 May

There is nothing like being singled out at airport security. Not only is it humiliating to be manhandled like a criminal and to have the underwire in my bra buzz under the metal detector wand, the woman feeling me up had more than a chip on her shoulder. Her palpable anger at life got displaced on my beloved Mac, which she carelessly grabbed in its white tub and basically threw on the floor with perceived glee. “How much can I ruffle this woman’s feathers at 5:45 am?” I’m sure this woman was thinking. 

My blood boiled afterwards. You don’t mess with my Mac. The woman’s anger reeked of those who have been dumped on and have to dump on someone else. Afterwards, I vented to the woman manning the Caribou coffee stand. “I think she could have broken it (my precious laptop),” I said indignantly. She replied that she had smashed her finger in the car door that morning. We were in competition with each other for empathy. 

“Get a grip, Lise.” I said to myself, feeling the security woman’s hostility on me like the fumes left over from a skunk’s spray. “Pray for her. Pray. You know people aren’t born angry like that. Something makes them like that.” 

Obviously my laptop is still working – praise the Lord. But on only four hours of sleep, I’m not certain my brain is quite functioning. I will however post on why I was flying in the first place – to celebrate my granny’s 90th birthday – once I have some shut-eye and a photo or two.

For the record, AirTran has Wi-fi. And they don’t have t.v,. so you don’t have to see flickering screens everywhere you look. Amen.

Thank you, Mom

22 May

Today, May 21st is my birthday. I am forty years old. 

For the last few years, I’ve found myself surprisingly sentimental towards my mother on this day — for she gave me life. 

I have many memories of birthdays with mom. When I was little, she was the one responsible for orchestrating parties; making or buying cakes. When I was older and living out of state, she always sent me a card and a gift or money. In the last few years, it has been more bittersweet. Last year, she sent me a handmade card she made while in jail (I don’t think she had any money on her books to buy a commercial one). She traced Winnie the Pooh and Tiger and colored them in like a child would for her mommy. A few days ago, I found a card she sent me on a previous birthday, in which she inscribed, “You were the only thing in my life that came easy.”  

Two birthdays ago, when she was not in jail for a DUI, we went for an early dinner to Red Lobster. While leaving in our separate cars, my car pulled up to hers’ at the light while she was unaware. She looked astonishingly depressed without the pressure of putting on a social mask. I felt deeply torn; part of me was so glad to get away from that sad energy while the other part felt moved that she wanted nothing more than to take me to dinner despite some financial struggles. My favorite birthday dinner was with her three or four years ago. We went to the Brigatine and had an unusually close and normal time.  

This year there will be no card from her and we won’t be going to dinner. I’m ashamed to say that last year, when she said she wanted to take me out to dinner as soon as she got out of jail, I bulked because it seemed an avoidance of the seriousness of her life. And now she is gone.

A school teacher of mine warned me not to reject my mom entirely despite the severity of her drinking. “She did something right,” he told me while driving me home from school one day. “You are a wonderful person and I don’t think that is all because of your dad. I think you got a lot of your goodness from your mom.” 

It’s funny that I should remember that comment after all these years. I was but eleven years old. But he was right. Much of my sense of decency and gentle spirit I inherited from her. My mom was kind. Gentle. Never swore or raised her voice. She was Bambi with big brown eyes. She taught me to read and write and made sure I was always bathed and in bed on time. She loved buying me gifts and my favorite foods. She was super fragile, but oddly, could pull it together at times and astonish me with her strength. Without a doubt she loved me and for that I am grateful. 

The gift of my mom’s death last July 18th was that with the nightmare of her depression gone, the old mom came floating back into consciousness. Going back through old photographs, I remembered happier times. Before things went sour. Before alcoholism ruined her. 

A few nights before my mom’s memorial service, I went out on my back porch. An exotic form of cacti crawling along the fence was in bloom – its blossoms yellow – my mom’s favorite color for flowers. The telephone pole nearby distinctly appeared as a cross. 

Saturday night I had a big birthday bash. This would have made my mom very happy. She was always worried that I was too serious and that I didn’t have enough fun.

Happy birthday to me; happy mother’s day to mom.

With a Hope and a Prayer

20 May

In my work as a therapist, I’ve asked many patients to make a wish throughout the years. Sometimes, I simply ask. Other times, when running more creative based groups, I’ll have people make a wish via an imaginative process. For instance, using a ball, I might tell them the ball is a “magic wishing ball” and that if they say, “abra kadabra, blah, blah, blah,” they can make a wish. Or, I might tell them the ball is a crystal ball and they are to look into their future and describe a scene from it. I began to clarify this directive – i.e., “describe a future you would like to see for yourself” when a little boy told me he saw himself in jail. While this process might sound childish, people actually love it. It is also extremely diagnostic, as people’s wishes reflect their hearts. And when people can’t make a wish, refuse to make one and/or sob as they say it, I have a snap shot of people’s longings and disappointments. 

I am not any different than my patients. I have my own wishes and longings and like them, there are a few that are hard to make due to severe disappointment. “Why ask, if it’s not going to come true, anyway? Why ask, if it is a set up for disappointment?” I ask the Supreme Therapist when I am prompted to pray. 

In a prayer gathering I go to monthly, I keep hearing God prompt me to pray on the issue of not having a husband or child. And each time I look up and silently say, “You know God, I don’t even know if I want this.” And he keeps saying, “Pray anyway.” This time he spoke through my pastor who said, “Perhaps there is a mountain you feel won’t move. If so, pray.”

It’s funny how we resist the things closest to our hearts. We do this because it requires us to feel both the loss and longing about which we pray.

For me, I have just given up on the idea of having a family of my own. And the price for that has been high. It has resulted in a shutting down of a key aspect of my heart and femininity. So as I begin to pray about the issue, I have been shocked to see how much pain surfaces. How much sadness, vulnerability, humility – at the thought of not being loved or belonging to anyone deeply. “I’m above all that – I don’t need love. I don’t need a man,” has been my prideful mantra for many many years, as I’ve also pushed many suitors away, (God knows why).

Well, God will have none of that anymore. He grabs me and pursues me and says, “I will have you,” and I smitten, don’t know what to do. I can’t run anymore. He has captured me – in the best possible way. So as I pray and cry on this issue, I realize whether or not I marry and have a child is not the main point here. Opening to God as a bride – as a woman – is. As I feel Christ courting me, it wrecks havoc on all the barriers I’ve erected around my heart.

True, God doesn’t keep my bed warm at night or bring me breakfast in bed on a tray. But I’m convinced figuring out this relationship is the basis for how my heart will open and how my body will bear fruit – whether literarily or figuratively.  

Ironically, the day after this prayer vigil, I randomly opened the bible to Isaiah 54:1-6. “Sing, barren woman, who has never had a baby. Fill the air with song, you who’ve never experienced childbirth! You’re ending up with far more children than all those childbearing women….” 

God is not subtle.

Beloved Christiane

14 May

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Monday night I had an intense dream. I was somewhere in Italy and I didn’t have much time there. I was cognizant that I only had a few days to travel and had to decide whether to visit more than one city or stay put. I was torn. I wanted to venture yet my surroundings were magnificent. Why leave? I kept seeing a pitch black sky, the silhouette of a cliff, an inky dark ocean and a trace of moonlight. When I awoke, I knew the dream meant something but I couldn’t piece together what. And of course the rat race didn’t give me much time to contemplate it the next day. As the day progressed, I felt exhausted and connected my fatigue  to the dream. It was a good dream but I had no idea what it meant.

Today I figured it out. I received an email that my friend Christiane, while in Hawaii, had a swimming accident and went into a coma. Today she passed. The dream is connected to her death, the same as the dream I had about my mom’s death the week she died.

I am stunned. People around me keep dying. This is the fourth death in eight months. It hasn’t sunk in.

I am breaking my rule of no photos on my blog. Christiane is the person on the far right. I am on the far left. Christiane was a wonderful friend. A free spirit. An artist. A filmmaker. An animal activist. A believer in the goodness of others and the power of the heart to heal. There is so much to say about this woman but I have no words, so I want to honor her with this photo.

Tomorrow I am supposed to go to LA to meet with an acting agent. I don’t want to go to LA. I hate going to LA. And I don’t know where this fits into my current work life. But tomorrow I will go to LA for Christiane. To think of her and all the drives she took between San Diego and LA to work on films. To be creative. To follow her heart. I am going to LA tomorrow to think about Christiane. To pray for Christiane. To celebrate the beautiful spirit she was and the impact she made on my life.

My cat sits on my lap as I write. The cat she rescued and found a home for – along with his brother. Even my cats are grateful to this woman. This woman who I know even in death is laughing and looking for a beach to walk on. A person to talk to.

Christiane, thank you for everything. May the angels be walking you down the red carpet into heaven.

Mother’s Day

9 May

When I was a little girl my mom and I had matching outfits – pink, white and lime green, plaid bell-bottom pants and a pink t-shirt with a patch of the material from the pants. I loved it when my mom would wear hers’. I’d beg for her to so that we could be twins. I must have been about four years old.

The relationship between a mother and daughter is perhaps one of the most profound and intense ones a woman will ever have. I suppose the relationship between a mother and son is equally so – after all, a mother and child share the same body, space and blood for nine months. A mother gives the extraordinary gift of life – something for which we can all appreciate. But how fraught with complexity this relationship can be.

I think for women, people’s relationships with their mothers in many ways defines their identity as females, as well as their experiences being a mother. What then if one’s relationship with her mother was wounded and/or she has no children of her own? Where does one find her orientation in the cannon of womanhood?

I don’t know. I’m trying to figure that out.  

Sunday is mother’s day. It has been a long time since my mother and I matched outfits. In fact, my mother and I turned out so different, I had a boyfriend tease me about whether the babies had been switched at the hospital. He also said (not jokingly), “I’m so sorry. I didn’t realize…”

It has been many years since I knew what to get mom for mother’s day or what to put on her card. And this year I’m not presented with that dilemma because last July she took her own life.  

Historically, I experienced mother’s day as a burden. I felt indebted to honor a woman who I know without a doubt loved me but whose abilities to show this love in the ways I needed were at times quite limited. In a nutshell, I was my mother’s mother. She was the baby I’ve never had. I listened to her problems. I dealt with her messes. Alcoholism. Depression. Incarceration. Suicide. 

On the one hand my mother was gentle and showed up and in other ways, I was left to completely raise myself.

I don’t know how to reconcile mother’s day. Not having a child of my own, I haven’t been able to look at the relationship from a different lens. But I don’t know that I’ll ever fully understand the depth and pain of this relationship.

I did not expect the sappy holiday of mother’s day to be as significant as it is. Or that I would be this sad. There are times when I long for those days when we wore the matching outfits. When she took my hand as we crossed the street. The days when she was there. Really there.

All This Talk about Viruses

4 May

As if we couldn’t get enough of the Swine Flu each night on the news, the sermon in Sunday’s church service also referenced viruses (of the spiritual sort that can infiltrate a collective body). Okay. I give in. I’ve been fighting a bug for days and now this body surrenders. No, I don’t have Swine Flu or deep spiritual malaise, but I did have to take a sick day today.

I hate having to call in sick at work. Not only do I resent taking vacation time to lie and stare at the ceiling, I always feel guilty. Plus, it means sessions have to be cancelled or covered by other therapists in my program and that always makes me feel like I’m letting people down. But so be it. I’m glad I work in a situation where I can take a sick day and get paid vs. having to take the hit when you’re in business for yourself.

So why am I going on so about this? I guess because I always feel like God is speaking to me when I get sick. “Hey, Lise,” he seems to be saying. “What do I have to do to make you slow down and listen to me? To SLOW DOWN period?” Whenever I’m sick, I always seem to get into this reflective, deep time with God. 

I’m convinced our society is running at ever faster rates and that as much as this sometimes excites me, the pace can make me ill. I simply need more quiet time. More time to putter. Think. Be. Stretch. Yet even when only working a four day work week, I still seem to run myself into the ground. 

So here I am at home contemplating my navel. And while I seem to have no energy to do anything – I have had energy to read and write. Writing I’ve been trying to get to for months. Important projects I know God wants me to be working on. And I’ve had time to just stare out the window and pet the cats. When I don’t do these things on an often enough basis, I get sick. Usually in my throat – the channel of expression. 

There you have it. On bed rest after an appointment with the Divine Physician.

Tupelo Honey

3 May

My dad was kind of an odd duck. He not only loved music but lyrics too. He would make me sit and listen to the words of songs, repeating the lyrics line by line to make sure I heard and understood them. His passion was infectious, at times bordering on mania in its intensity. “Isn’t that beautiful?!” He’d say making sure I nodded along agreeing, even if I was five and barely understood what he was talking about. “It’s poetry! It’s poetry!” He felt the same way about literature and always left numerous articles and books on my bed to read whether I wanted to or not.  

One of my father’s favorite singers was Van Morrison. During one of his energetic moments, he went to great lengths to share with me why the song “Tupelo Honey” was such a beautiful love song. “It’s a very special honey. Like the best kind,” he explained. “She’s as sweet, as tupelo honey, just like honey from the bees…. she’s an angel, of the first degree…” “Do you hear the rhyme?” he’d ask. And I’d nod, yes. yes. I heard the rhyme. And the saxophone in the backdrop. For the thousandth time.

Another Van Morrison song dad was fond of was “Cleaning Windows” which he liked for the horns and the line, “Smell of the bakery, got in my nose…” And if I recall correctly, dad told me that Van Morrison had started singing about God. He was kind of impressed by that. 

Van Morrison wasn’t Dad’s only favorite. Jackson Browne was “brilliant.” Judy Collins “magnificent.” And thus, the singers of the seventies are etched forever in the landscape of my memories. 

The other day I was pulling into the parking lot of San Diego Hospice when “Tupelo Honey” came on the radio. I hadn’t heard it in years. Ironically, I was there to see a therapist who had helped me through my father’s death and is now assisting me through my mother’s. I let the engine idol so I could hear the song. It felt like just yesterday that dad and I were sitting in the living room listening to that same song. Where had the years and he gone?

In the distance, I heard the sax. 

Yes, Dad. I hear it. Can you see me smile?

It’s as sweet as tupelo honey.