Today I was told – in a "you can’t handle the truth" sort of way – that I don’t know what matters. This was in the midst of an argument, disagreement, unpleasant conversation – call it what you will. It went back and forth a couple times. I know what matters. No, you don’t. Yes, I do.
No resolution to something like that.
But how can there be? The same things matter to many people, but our lists are not identical. These things that matter are not listed in the exact same order for each of us. And there may be things on my list that aren’t on yours.
So what was the point of that? I think it was to try to put me in my place or something.
Some way to end my side of things. Because what do I know? It’s not like I’m an adult, or have worked for more than half my life, or gone away and lived in other states, or done dumb things and had to fix them, or am a wife or a mother…oh, wait – actually, I am an adult, I have worked for way more than half my life, I’ve lived in other places, I’ve done dumb things, I’ve had to fix them, I’m a wife, and I’m a mother.
I think maybe I have some inkling of what matters.
So please don’t try to insist otherwise.
Because actually, I’ve done a lot of thinking about what matters. What matters to me.
What do I fight for, fight against, or fight not to react to? How much of me am I willing to set aside in order to keep the peace, or make someone else happy, or make something easier for someone else?
Some of those are no-brainers. My children – I would fight for them – to the death. Of course. I have set aside some of myself, especially when they were infants and so very dependant on me. That’s part of the deal. You choose to bring them into the world, then you have an obligation to put them first. I do things to keep the peace here, or to make the kids happy, or make things a bit easier for them sometimes.
But I’ve been learning – and I say it that way because it is a class I still attend – I’ve been learning that I also have to feel the same way about myself. I have to fight for me, too. I have to sometimes choose not to set myself aside. I have to consciously put me first, do things to make me happy, do things to make my own way easier. It’s not easy. It’s hard to retrain yourself. But…I’m learning that I need to.
And what about that stuff I said – what do I fight against? What do I fight to not react to? (Okay, yes, that’s weirdly phrased – sorry.) I’m trying not to get sucked into old patterns, old toxic patterns that swirl around me in a familiar way. They beckon – they say come on, it’s so much easier to just drop it and play along. Again. And again. But I’m not so gullible any more. And I’m tired of old patterns. I am sad about it, too, because there are other patterns, woven in, that are not so unpleasant, that represent the good parts of it all…but I know I can always hang on to those memories. I don’t have to keep getting sucked into the vortex.
I don’t want to fight against stuff. At least, not the same old never-changing stuff. I’m tired of it. It never seems to end. Fine. I am leaving the field. I don’t want to play any more. I don’t need to. It won’t help you, it won’t help me.
In fact, the only one who can help me is me. The only one who can help you is you. So let’s just focus on what we can fix, and step away from what we can’t.
Serenity. Courage. Wisdom.
My sister-in-law, Diane, passed away at the end of April this year. Her husband is one of my husband’s older brothers. I think I’ve mentioned before, there is a large age difference between Bill and his two older brothers.
She was 53. She had cancer. For the second time. Long before I knew Bill or his family, she fought – and beat – breast cancer. She had two young children and she didn’t have time to die – she had kids to raise.
This time, it was in her bones. She didn’t know it was cancer at first – she thought it was a recurring back problem and that she needed to go see a chiropractor. But that didn’t fix it. And so 4 years ago, when my son was just over a year old, she found out that she had another battle to fight. Her kids were older, but still. She had plenty of reasons to live.
So she fought. Hard. And her numbers went up and down, and treatment after treatment was tried, different drugs, different therapies, different everything. She was tired, she was ill, she was weak, she was uncomfortable…but she was alive.
She had good periods, and bad. And eventually fewer good periods. She couldn’t come up to visit when she wanted to – she had to be careful of catching colds with her immune system so beat up, so she couldn’t fly. And she couldn’t sit in the same position comfortably for a thousand mile drive.
A couple years ago, two years ago right about now, actually, Bill’s brother called to tell us the cancer had gone to her liver, and the doctors were only giving her about another month. A few days later we were all on a plane – Bill and I and the two kids. It was, shall we say, an adventure traveling on a plane with a one year old and a three year old. But we booked a nonstop flight and that helped. While we were there, we cooked and the kids were cute and entertaining, and we just…we were there. For about a week. Diane’s dark hair was very short – growing back from all the chemo. She looked yellowish. But she hung out with everyone as much as she could, and she enjoyed, I think, our visit.
And she didn’t die a month later. Or a month after that. I sort of felt like a big fraud for taking a week off during our busy season, but really, that’s what the doctors had said. But they don’t know everything, apparently.
But this time, it was different. The cancer had spread to her brain. Apparently she’d been behaving strangely, and so they took a look…and that’s what they found. And that was that. It was strange. Dead end. Pardon the pun. Though Diane would have appreciated it. But no one would operate – she was too weak. And there was really nothing else that could be done. Again – her body was worn out from all the fighting.
We were told she had about two weeks left.
So Diane decided she wanted to go home. Hospice was called in, a bed was set up in what had been the dining room, so she could look out on the lanai and the pool and the canal beyond. The breezes – when there were any – could blow in, and when she felt up to it, she could hang out with family out at one of the poolside tables.
Family and friends started to arrive. She wanted to be surrounded by family and friends, love and laughter.
Bill had a tough week, work-wise. So many obligations that week, and with Diane’s previous fake-out, wasn’t there the possibility…?
We do what we have to do, what we can do. We can look back and think maybe we would have done it differently, but at the time, we don’t have the whole picture to contemplate. So I said, at first, let’s all go at the end of the week. She wants to see the kids – they’d cheer and distract everyone, and we can all go together.
And then I changed my mind. My gut said – Go. My gut is more reliable than I used to give it credit for. I have learned. So I booked a flight for myself. I flew down early early on a Monday, and flew back home the following morning. Whirlwind tour. But my gut was insistant.
I don’t love to fly. I like to go places, so I fly if that’s how I have to get there. And so I flew. The flight down was uneventful and on time. My brother-in-law and my niece met me at the airport and we went to pick up some food for that night’s barbecue. Lots of people coming – lots of people to feed.
I was not expecting Diane to look as she did. I don’t know what I was expecting, but I had nothing in my mind except how she looked the last time we were there. So I was expecting little or no hair, poor skin color, weakness…but it was all rather vague in my mind.
She was in the bedroom when I arrived, and came out, supported by a friend. She saw me and her eyes brightened and she gave me a huge smile and we hugged for a long time. She was so thin. So…gaunt. Diane had never been skinny in the time I’d known her. She’d had a kind of round face…but the only thing round about her at this point was her stomach, swollen from all the fluid build-up.
She reminded me, kind of, of a baby bird. But a baby bird with really great hair. I know this sounds inane, but her hair was dark and wavy in a sort of 1940’s movie star sort of way. Strangely, she looked kind of stunning. And she was there. Diane looked out from those dark eyes and her smile was her smile. Her voice was her voice…She was in there. She moved slowly, she tired easily, but she was there.
And soon there were friends and family members – those who could get there or who had already been staying there since she came home – gathered around the house and outside…food cooking, appetizery things to pick at. People talking, laughing, drinking wine or beer or whatever. A gathering.
And Diane sat out there on the lanai with everyone, and talked and laughed, and rubbed aloe on her grown-up son’s sunburnt arms. While she had been fighting cancer over these past few years, he had been back and forth to Iraq, a Loadmaster in the Air Guard. He survived, and is home for good now, hopefully. Her boy, home, safe.
Her daughter has grown up a lot in the past several years, too. I watched her discussing meds with the visiting nurse earlier that day, and she was on top of everything. It was she, the daughter, who insisted that, besides family and friends, there needed to be flowers. So there were. Big clusters of them in tall glass vases.
As the night went on, and the sky grew darker, Diane became tired and was helped back to bed. I watched from outside as my brother in law sat with her, his head down at times, holding her hand. One by one, people went home or to bed. Plans were made for those of us who needed to fly out the next day…
I sat with Diane for a bit in the dark. She was sleeping. I had brought a mess of pictures of the kids and told her Bill and all of us would be back down in a few days. Her eyes had widened. She thought Bill was coming the next day.
While I sat there, in the dark, and watched her sleep, I finally cried. I hadn’t yet. It hadn’t hit me. Diane’s sister saw me and came over and hugged me.
My brother in law drove me to the airport very early the next morning. I made sure he had my cell phone number…just in case.
The first leg of the flight home was fine, but the second leg was turbulent and did I mention I really don’t LOVE to fly? That’s sort of code for, I am terrified of the plane plummeting from the sky and of being awake and aware of every second of my own terror as I hurtle toward a fiery or watery death (depending on what I’m flying over when we go down.) I think it’s partly a control thing, too. Some other person is driving. I don’t do well in the back seat. I need to see where we’re going.
So we landed; I had managed not to vomit or lose my mind or cry or scream hysterically or otherwise behave like a nut job. Then, still in my wild panic attack, I couldn’t find my car in the parking garage and wandered like a mentally ill homeless chick around and around the levels, clicking the little button on my key in an attempt to get my car to stand up and wave and call "Over here, you ninny!" Finally, I found the car. I got in and hugged the steering wheel and was actually shaking. I also hadn’t eaten much, so my blood sugar level was probably in the negative numbers.
Anyway, I got home. Finally. And I called work and said I’d be in around 2:00 for a few hours. And then I turned my cell phone back on. And there was a message. From my brother in law. And he said the nurse had been there that morning and not to schedule a flight back down because Diane might not last more than another day or so.
I just bawled. I dropped down to the floor in my kitchen alone and sobbed. It all was there, barely under the surface, and this message opened the floodgates. I didn’t want to hear that, I wanted Bill to get there in time, I wanted her to get to see the kids, why didn’t I bring the kids with me, why didn’t I go sooner, why why why? It spiraled into other spheres – more and more things bottled up, old patterns I spoke of somewhat cryptically earlier in this post, painful relationships, someone I love who believes she is in control but just isn’t, and it terrifies me that it’s going to kill her, and my panic attack on the plane, and thank God and my gut that I just decided to GO when I did, and it’s not fair, it’s not fair… and all of it, all of it, all of it – out of my hands. I can’t cure Diane. I can’t change a person’s behavior, and I can’t fly the damn plane. All of it spilled out in ugly sobs.
And then I called my sister and she listened to me and said all the right things – as she usually does – and I calmed down.
Bill flew down on Thursday that week. He wanted to go for his brother, for his niece and nephew…not solely to see Diane. His flight was due to land around ten at night. I was waiting up, watching something, when Bob called. It was a little after 8:30. Diane had passed away at 8:25.
I’m stopping that story there. It don’t feel like going on about the rest of it. But I had to write about it because I am changed as a result of the whole experience.
It was funny, in a way, that I was told today that I don’t know what matters. Because I’ve spent an awful lot of time in these past several months thinking precisely about what matters. What matters to me. And about life. And how precious each moment is, and how foolish it is to waste it, or destroy it. On the one hand, one woman who fought like a tiger for every extra minute she could get. And on the other, a woman who at times seems to be throwing so much of it away. And me, there, angry about both situations. And sad. And aware that how I live and what I do with my time here is up to me. I don’t want to waste it. I don’t want to waste me. I don’t want to get to the end of my road – whenever it jumps up in my face – and realize that I had wasted too much of my time, or too much of myself.
And so. Some things. I hate my job. Or, rather, it is a very bad fit. I’m good at it – well, no, I used to be good at it. But I’m fried. I’m just worn out. I am drained. And there is nothing fulfilling in it. I make a nice paycheck. But I feel like I’m dying inside every day there.
I need to get out. I know this. I need to do something creative that engages my mind and makes me feel alive and awake and excited to face the challenges. I also need to work for me. I can’t do corporate any more. I can’t. I know that sounds selfish, maybe, or overly dramatic, or whatever. Sure you can, just go to work and do your job. Zillions of people do it every day. Back during the depression we were happy to have any kind of work. And so on. You have to do what’s best for your family. You know, with the mortgage and all that other stuff.
But is it best for my family if I’m miserable and crabby and tense and angry so much? I don’t really think it is. I don’t think it’s good for my kids to see me hating my job. And you know what? I can’t fake it any more. I can’t just suck it up and slap a smile on my face. I don’t have a very convincing fake smile. I can’t even pretend any more anyway. The only time I can kind of manage it is when I am dropping my kids off at daycare and they don’t want me to go to work, and I tell them, sometimes we do things because we have to do them, not because we want to. And I want to throw up. Because I don’t want them to believe me. I want them to pursue things that are challenging and fulfilling and sure, difficult and sure they’ll second guess themselves, but I want them to go after what they want in life, and not just do what they are told they should do.
That make any sense?
My dad is retired, but he was self-employed as a photographer and while he wasn’t a millionaire or even close, he usually seemed to be happy about his work. Maybe not every single second. Maybe not every single aspect of it. But for the most part, it was a good fit.
I have a pair of shoes that fit me perfectly. I’ve replaced the heels because I wore them down. Now the sole is peeling off the left one and my big toe is finally pushing a hole through the leather on the right one. But I still wear them. Because they fit me. I don’t get blisters and my toes don’t feel cramped in there. They fit.
That’s what I’m looking for. A better fit.
A friend of mine at work has a friend who takes a lot of pictures and started selling them here and there. She had a booth at a small art fair a few weeks ago, and we went to it, just so I could see her work. And she’s really good. We talked a bit, and it was funny how similar some of her pictures are to some of mine. We live in the same part of the country, we see the same flowers, the same skies, some of the same scenes. She did pretty well – sold some pictures and had orders placed for others.
It was another gigantic kick in the pants for me.
Oh, yeah, and I forgot this one. On June 6th I bought the local paper. Maybe it was a Wednesday and I got it for the food section. I don’t remember. But I looked at my horoscope. And here’s what it said:
"If you still aren’t doing what you love for money, the risk to your well-being is becoming much too important to ignore."
Really. That’s what it says. I know for sure because I cut it out and it’s taped to my laptop, right there where I can see it. I don’t read my horoscope every day – but once in a while I’ll look. And this was just too on the money to ignore.
So there’s all of that. And what’s that got to do with anything?
Well, I’m giving it a shot. And to get started, I’ve opened a little shop on CafePress. I’m still getting things organized, still wiping the dust off the shelves and deciding how to merchandise everything…heh heh. But anyway. That’s what I’m doing.
Because I need to do something that is me. I need a better fit. I’ve had enough of blisters on my heels. I need – ha ha – I need to fly my own damn plane.
Okay, enough of the goofy analogies. It’s getting late, I’m tired, and my left pinkie is going numb.
Diane, you were a big sister to me. And you are a big part of the reason I decided to do something ELSE instead of deciding to just sit around and continue to be miserable at a job I don’t like. So thank you for this very necessary push in a new direction. And if I fall flat on my face, I’ll blame you. Just kidding.