Are you passionate?

I’ve never thought of myself as a passionate person. I don’t know why not, I just never have. At times in my life people have teased me about “getting my Irish up” but I never made the connection to passion. I always felt it was their way of telling me I needed to be mindful of my frustration and to toe the line.

Yesterday I had a conversation with my daughter Rose. We were talking about my current battle with depression and she rightly pointed out all the things that are out of balance in my life. She brought to mind the ongoing battle I face in keeping communication channels open amongst my four daughters. She honored the love I have for my husband and the nurturing I’ve provided for the last six months as he’s fought heart health issues. She called me a patriot and mentioned how I’ve been upset for nearly a year about the fact that our country elected a man without integrity or morals. And she recognized the stress I carry every day in my quest to dig out of an enormous financial hole that is almost ten years old. She brought to mind many things in my life that I feel passionately about and how nearly all of those things are in a state of weakness or under attack. She called me passionate.

Webster’s declares a passionate person as one who is capable of, affected by, or expressing intense feeling and defines passion as intense, driving, or overmastering of feeling or conviction.

In a sense, it is humbling to be known as someone driven by conviction. For my whole life I’ve thought of such people as heroes. Mother Teresa was a woman of conviction. She was criticized for many things but praised for her service to those with AIDS, leprosy, and tuberculosis and for her life-long devotion to the poorest of the poor. John McCain is a man of conviction. His duty and honor to others outshines anyone else I can think of in recent service to our country. His ability to survive five torturous years as a POW speaks of his courage and character. These are two examples of my heroes. Two people passionate about their beliefs that they took action impacting many.

To be driven by your convictions means you face challenges despite your fears. It means you make a decision for the good of the whole and take action despite a rapidly and ever-changing world around you. It means you are strong despite your weariness and the hardships you face. You are passionate.

It is an honor to have one of my daughters recognize that I am also one driven by my convictions, that I am passionate.

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Unfinished Business

For the last several years, the changing colors of the leaves triggers me to ask my four daughters, “When can we get together for Christmas?” Every time I ask that question, no matter how I preface it, how I disguise it, the question becomes a catalyst for a civil war among the daughters. I almost didn’t ask the question this year—it’s been such a godawful year for my husband and me—but duty called. I’d like to report there was a different response this year but I’d be lying. In fact, the ache of disappointment is greater than it has ever been.

Going through this drama each autumn, I’ve come to know that there are a lot of people out there who do not talk to siblings and a few who don’t even talk to their parents. Having spent seventy-five percent (or three quarters, and that’s not an exaggeration) of my life without parents, I would give anything to have my mom and dad back for just one day, or even one hour. I cannot fathom any circumstance that would cause a child to choose not to talk to his or her parents. It is beyond my comprehension even though I know it happens.

Siblings, on the other hand, are different. I am the youngest of eight and there are a couple of my siblings that I do not talk to more than once or twice a year. And when we do talk, the conversation is stilted and awkward. If we were not siblings, there’s not a chance in the world those people would be included in my inner circle of friends.  So as it regards siblings, I have empathy for my four daughters. They did not choose to be related. However, I know without a doubt, if my parents were alive, all of us would be there for Christmas.

In the midst of the civil war that erupted about ten days ago, my daughters Rose and Emily debated the definition of family. Daughter Kate’s husband is allergic to cats and Kate’s house is the only one without a feline. So Kate wants to have Christmas at her house, which happens to be more than two hours away from everyone else. Rose suggested Kate hand out Benadryl and get her family to my house to celebrate the holiday. Emily accused Rose of being insensitive and said “family doesn’t treat family like that.” And so it went.

The thing that is most troubling for me is the fact that all four of my daughters gather at their dad’s house on Christmas Eve and at their grandmother’s house on Christmas Day. “We’ve always done it this way.” So when their dad and I divorced, I compromised and held my Christmas celebration on other days. When really didn’t matter to me. We’ve gathered as early as the first weekend in December and as late as the middle of January. It’s the gathering of my four daughters with me that matters. So why can they gather at other people’s houses but not at mine? Why can they agree to gather as a group with other family but they can’t agree to gather with me? What do I bring or not bring to the equation?

It’s a riddle I’ve been trying to solve for years with no success. The older I get, the greater the disappointment and the deeper the hurt. I have the wisdom of knowing I have fewer years ahead of me than I have behind me. My four daughters can’t comprehend that at their young ages. And since they have yet to lose a parent or a sibling, they have no comprehension of how life turns on a dime, how short our lives actually are.

Oldest daughter Kate is now 32. She’s a mother herself and plenty old enough to understand unconditional love, and yet it’s Kate who is the biggest antagonist. This year she drew a line and will not be celebrating Christmas with me and her sisters, prompting Rose to call her a “self-righteous, self-centered, holier-than-thou bitch.” Like that would help.

Holidays are always so stressful, so filled with emotions. We battle the stress of buying presents, telling ourselves we’ll deal with the overspending in January. We exhaust ourselves by hurrying and scurrying while getting everything ready for the ultimate December 25 deadline. We fight disappointment at not getting something we wanted or frustration and anger when a somewhat inebriated sister-in-law says, “Wow, I didn’t know you were pregnant. When are you due?” With all the noise in the mix, it’s no surprise that we lower priorities with family. Family is loved ones, safe, reliable. If family gets hurt feelings, they’ll still be family a month from now and you can circle back and say, “Hey, sorry about that. I was having a bad day.” But I’m here to tell you that sometimes, you can’t circle back.

Reading Between the Behaviors

As part of my job, I am required to complete extensive training each year on a variety of topics but usually on the laws and regulations that govern the industry in which I work. This month’s training was on the topic of culture and identity, a slightly different topic from the norm but important nevertheless since my employer takes ethics very seriously and instills a culture of inclusion for all of its employees.

Two questions were asked to begin the training: What identity do you have? How many cultures do you belong to? Simple answers are the first things that come to mind but the real answers are much more complex. For example, in terms of identity I think of myself as a wife, mother, grandmother. Those are my first thoughts. But I also can identify as sister, youngest sibling, aunt, working woman, baby boomer, survivor, writer. Actually, there are many more labels that can be applied depending on the context I find myself in when needing to self-identify.

The culture thing was a little trickier for me. When asked how many cultures I am a part of, I naively answered one. As it turns out, I am a part of several since I am a white, college graduate, middle-aged, employed, married, hearing-impaired, female, American. Each one of those characteristics places me into a unique group. And each one of those groups to which I belong has its own rules and values that drive my behaviors. If a culture values hard work, behaviors will look like focusing on goals, being organized and determined, striving for success. If a culture values family, behaviors will look like respecting elders, honoring parents, offering support and encouragement to siblings.

As “one nation”, the United States is a diverse blend of communities and cultures, all sharing experiences and common influences. Our lives are governed by the same laws, systems, and processes, and yet we behave in ways that we learned from our cultural identities, based on who we identify as and how important certain values are to us.

Think of the community in which you live. How many cultures are reflected in that community? How different are the values and behaviors among all of the cultures that exist? Do you consider your community successful? Do cultures co-exist easily or is there a constant tension?

What happens when a culture is mired in despair and hopelessness, if common values are focused around the mere act to survive? How does a community blend that set of values with the values of its other cultures that don’t have to worry about survival and instead focus on achievements and success? Can members of “successful” cultures even comprehend the lives of those in other cultures just trying to live to see another day?

Cultural differences influence how we are treated simply in how others identify us or in how we self-identify. As a white person I never thought I would be subjected to profiling in America. It never used to matter that I was a woman. I was told I could grow up to be anything I wanted and I taught my daughters the same thing. But things changed during last year’s presidential campaigns and election. The Women’s March and other protests caused some men to start treating me differently, labeling me emotional, hysterical even, simply because I am a female and despite the fact that I didn’t participate in any of those events. As a citizen of the United States, I never thought I would live in a country ruled by a dictator. I still don’t, but the fear is real now when before I couldn’t imagine it. Right before my very eyes I’ve witnessed the man in the office of President of the United States knowingly lie and mislead people, blatantly and strategically breaking ethical and moral bounds if not legal ones. If a culture begins to allow lies and deceits and ambiguity, what rules and values do those behaviors create?

I am embarrassed to admit I am married to someone who defends Trump’s every word. I try to justify it by saying my husband doesn’t get it, he doesn’t understand women, he’s from the “old school”. But what do my words and my behavior say to the culture of women to which I belong? When my husband defends Trump by saying it’s within the President’s authority to pardon anyone he wants, what does that say about the values and rules we have in our home?

I am an American. I am a woman. Nothing will change those identities. But I have fear today that I didn’t have a year ago, that I never imagined I would feel, ever. How do I stay a member of my cultural groups when their values and behaviors are changing in catastrophic ways that I disagree with? These sweeping changes carry the potential to destroy the America I love and crack the foundation of my marriage and my home. How does one maneuver through a minefield like the one that has sprouted up around us?

Inner Voice

Call it intuition, or conscience, or knowing, or being in touch with the Universe. The fact is, many people hear an inner voice. Of those who do, some consider it a gift while others call it a curse. For some people the voice is loud and can’t be turned off. Others struggle to hear it because it is so quiet.

I’ve been aware of my inner voice for as long as I can remember. At times it’s been loud but mostly it’s been quiet and subtle. I have to strain sometimes to hear it and even then I don’t always interpret the message accurately. When I was younger the voice scared me. No one in my life ever talked about having an inner voice and I was afraid to say anything about mine out of fear that it would confirm my worst fear—that I was crazy. Over time I learned to trust my inner voice, understanding it was trying to guide me. I also discovered that I cannot will it to speak. On my darkest days I would call upon it to tell me what to do but the voice would be silent. It only spoke when it wanted to speak. I guess that’s the curse of my inner voice.

At times I’ve found it quite a struggle to interpret my inner voice’s message. Some messages made no sense at all so I would ask for more details only to be met with silence. Some messages were very clear but completely illogical and not anything I would ever consider acting upon. Once in a while I’d hit the jackpot and get a clearly communicated message that gave me the guidance I needed so that I could take action and find myself in a better place. Those moments are affirmation that I need to continue to listen and trust. And there have been enough of them to prove my inner voice is not just a coincidence and not a whimsy message being tugged through my brain like an ad being pulled through the air by a small plane. And so there’s the rub. My inner voice has been proven. It’s not one hundred percent accurate—or perhaps it’s more correct to say my interpretations are not always accurate—but it’s been correct enough times that it cannot be discarded nor ignored. So I’ve learned to hear and interpret the message to the best of my ability and take appropriate action.

For the last several weeks my inner voice has repeatedly told me I need to clean house, as in declutter and get rid of all the extra stuff sitting around. We have a big house and there’s a lot of extra stuff. It embarrasses me tremendously to admit it, but there are about one hundred boxes in our basement that haven’t been touched since the day we moved in ten years ago. Many of them are files from my husband’s career, correspondence and other papers, some of which have value. The only one who can really determine the valuable papers from those that need to go in the trash is my husband, and unfortunately he’s not too thrilled with my Decluttering Project. Other boxes contain a lot of knick-knacks and household goods that were extras and duplicates from having blended two households. These are easy for me to go through, but it still takes time. And I know some of these items are things my daughters will want. So I’m being careful to go through everything with them in mind. It’s a big project and it’s going to take a while. But I’ve started it, and I’ll keep working at it. The message was loud and clear: Just do it!

Needless to say there is a humungous mess in my basement that can’t be hidden from my family and some of them have been asking me questions. One of my daughters understands the concept of an inner voice and I believe she hears one as well. So it was easy to explain to her that I’m doing it because my inner voice told me to. She doesn’t question that. But my other daughters and my husband don’t believe in inner voices and they have become alarmed and want to know the Why. And that’s a problem because I don’t know why, other than I am feeling a very strong “demand” that I do this now and to get it done quickly. I have speculated about the Why and a couple of possible answers scare me (and my husband as well) so I’m going to ignore them. Instead I’ve done my best to placate my family by explaining this is long overdue and I’m tired of tripping over boxes. While that reasoning isn’t necessarily a lie, I know I don’t believe it so why should they. And they don’t. So I’ve taken another approach, and that’s answering a question with an even more important question.

Why does any household need eight extra sets of sheets, three wine decanter sets, five different sets of wine glasses (along with an assortment of matching sets of twos and threes), two punch bowl sets, eighteen flower vases, three dozen mismatched coffee mugs, thirteen kitchen aprons, and two room-sized rugs unrolled for ten years?

It’s the last item that gets them distracted and they forget about the Why. “You’ve been hiding not one but two room-sized rugs? What do they look like? How big are they? Can I have one?”

Good Heart Goes Bad

April 23. It seems a lifetime ago. I’ll always remember it because it was the day after the wedding of my third daughter (which is a story in and of itself and I’m still trying to put words to paper about it). It was a gorgeous morning. My husband and I got up early, a rarity for him, and we treated ourselves to breakfast at a popular restaurant. Hubby said he didn’t feel well. Not sick really, just not well. I attributed it to the few hours’ sleep he had gotten. We went home and he took a long nap, then woke up with a cough. It started out as a typical chest cold but within just a few days he was as white as a walking ghost, with so little energy he could barely make it to the bathroom and back to bed. He wasn’t dead so it took some serious arguments before he agreed to go see a doctor.

He came home with an inhaler and some cough medicine. Another week passed and he was even worse. He was coughing so hard he would pass out. Again we argued and my words that “this isn’t normal” finally got him to go back to the doctor. Chest X-rays were all clear, but he came home with antibiotics. And in a few days he had improved. Hurray!

But it wasn’t lasting. As soon as he finished up with the meds he slipped back into a raging respiratory illness. He had to sleep sitting up because of his cough. I had to force liquids on him because he had no appetite. He was sleeping (in a chair) all but just a few hours each day and still he wasn’t improving. He went back to the doctor. Even though it had only been two weeks, the doctor ordered more chest X-rays. Still everything was “clear”. So where was all the phlegm coming from? He was given a different medicine to help with the cough.

As viruses are so wont to do, now it was my turn to be sick. Instead of a chest cold, I got a head cold. And it knocked me flat on my back. I ran a high fever and could barely heat up chicken broth for the two of us. I dragged myself to the doctor and got antibiotics for a sinus infection. I couldn’t function for five or six days. We had food delivered or we ate prepackaged junk. Finally I felt strong enough (or desperate enough) to get to the store for “sick” provisions like Gatorade, Jell-O, chicken noodle soup, canned fruit, ice cream. All that sugar gave me some energy and I came back alive. Not so hubby.

All in all I was sick for about five weeks. I was completely non-functional for about seven days during that time. The rest of the days I worked—mostly from home because I couldn’t stand the dirty looks my coworkers gave me the one day I went into the office and coughed all day.

On the first Sunday in June—six weeks after Hubby came down with his cold—he woke up and told me he was short of breath. It was a new and scary development so I insisted we go to the ER. Because he could still walk and talk, he refused to go. We argued all day. At 3:30 in the afternoon, he finally agreed to go. The ER nurse asked what brought us in. We explained about the respiratory infection and shortness of breath. The nurse took just one minute to check his vitals and said, “You might have come in for your respiratory infection, but I don’t care about that right now. You’re in a-fib and we’re admitting you.” My husband and I looked at each other. WTH?

He spent two nights in the hospital. They ran up a humongous bill of tests and more tests. He came home with ten different medicines to take and a day calendar to remind us of the time each needed to be taken. The good news from the tests is Hubby has a good heart. There is no blockage, no leakage, no bad valves. It’s all good. It just has an “electricity” problem. The top part of his heart thinks he’s running a marathon and the bottom part of his heart thinks he’s sitting in a chair watching TV. The two parts aren’t communicating properly. Seems like a pretty simple problem to solve. Not quite.

It’s now more than eleven weeks since my husband first got sick and he’s still in a-fib. We’ve learned a lot about this condition and we’ve met several fantastic nurses and a few good docs. (They all look so young!!) Today Hubby had a cardioversion procedure, in which they shocked his heart to try to get it to go back into a normal rhythm. It didn’t work. They tried three times—their maximum attempts.

Hubby is not a happy camper at all. I’m relieved and thrilled he’s still alive. What a pair the two of us make! We have no idea what the next step is, other than he has an appointment with his cardiologist at the end of the month. So we’ll continue living in limbo for a couple more weeks.

My husband told me years ago when we were dating that he came from a bloodline with good hearts and people living long lives. I told him that was a good thing because I was going to need him to watch over me when Alzheimer’s hits because that’s what is hiding in my genes. Over the years we’ve had good times and bad, happy days and frustrating days when I was so miffed with him I couldn’t say anything nice. There’s nothing like a good health scare to bring it all into focus. My husband does have a good heart and I want him to stay with me for many, many more years. I think we’ll be acknowledging treasures more often in each of our limbo days.

Mind Blows

The hits just kept coming during a span of three weeks last November. First I got word that my oldest sister was being treated for beginning stages of Alzheimer’s. She is twelve years older than me. Then I got a call from my oldest brother, that he had been diagnosed with Parkinson’s. He is nine years older than me. Another brother happened to mention in passing that he had recently had a physical and there are some issues with his liver. And another sister, ten years older than me, was diagnosed with early signs of Alzheimer’s. There are eight of us siblings and half were dealt major health blows at nearly the same time. It was just days after our country’s tumultuous presidential election. Right before the onset of the holiday season. Smack dab in the middle of our family’s annual unspoken mourning period, when each of us quietly acknowledges the anniversaries of our parents’ deaths and what would have been their nth birthdays. It was all too much for me.

For years my husband has tried to persuade me that Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s run in my father’s bloodline, not my mother’s. And my DNA comes from both of my parents, so I only have a fifty percent chance of getting one of those devastating diagnoses. Try as he did, I never bought into his logic. Thrusting four of my siblings into chaos with their physical health was a cruel reminder of dominant genes. I’m not going to escape the inevitable.

It’s natural to want to pull family close during tough times but when all this stuff went down, I was still reeling from hurt and anger after being slighted by another one of my brothers last August when his son got married and nearly all of my nieces and nephews showed up for the wedding and reception. However, none of my children had been invited. My siblings and their grown children asked where my daughters were. I didn’t lie. “They weren’t invited.” Oh, there had to have been a mistake. I must not have read the invitation correctly. Unfortunately, I had read the invitation exactly as it was addressed and when I had heard many of my nieces and nephews were going to be at the wedding I contacted my brother’s wife. She told me none of my children were invited. There was no slight, no mistake. My children were not invited. How was I supposed to respond to that? My daughters knew all about the wedding, had heard many in the family talking about it, knew there were bridal showers happening. They thought I wasn’t passing on the details. I finally had to tell them, they weren’t invited. Oh. Okay then. Except it wasn’t okay. And once the wedding day arrived and Facebook pages in our extended family lit up with fabulous photos showing all the fun, my daughters were furiously hurt. They had every right to be.

So when news traveled in November about all the different health issues, I tried to put on a good face and thought about gathering with my siblings for our Christmas celebration. Half-heartedly I asked each of my daughters if they were planning to go. Not one. As the day approached, I knew I couldn’t go either. One of my siblings understood why I was hurt. A few tried to tell me it was all a big mistake and I should just let it go. I couldn’t. And by that time I was too far down the rabbit hole, angry and hurt, mourning my parents, mourning the loss of family, of the deep and emotional family bonds that fell apart after my parents had died despite how much effort we had all put toward staying connected physically.

A week after my siblings gathered to celebrate Christmas, my brother (with the liver problems) called me. He and his wife were on the call together and they put down a quilt of guilt, telling me they loved me and I should have been at the family gathering. They couldn’t understand the hurt and anger I felt and they were convinced my children not being invited to the wedding had just been an overblown mistake. They told me I needed to put my feelings aside and be there for the next family get together. Ha! The next family gathering was another wedding, one of my daughters. And she had picked a venue that was limited to only 100 guests. She invited all of my siblings but not one of her cousins. Her mindset was, since she couldn’t invite all of her cousins then she wouldn’t invite any.

My brother and his wife who had intentionally not invited my daughters to their son’s wedding last August have never said a word about what happened even though I know the topic has spent some time on the family grapevine. And when they attended my daughter’s wedding in April, they were very cordial and joking about their daughter’s wedding happening in July, how stressful it is to plan two weddings within a year’s time. I wanted to ask if my daughters would be invited to their daughter’s wedding but I just couldn’t bring myself to do it. I wanted to believe it had been a mistake, that it wasn’t an intentional slight. Surely they wouldn’t do it again.

They did.

Last night my husband and I attended my niece’s wedding. Many of my other nieces and nephews were there. And today, family Facebook pages are filled with fun photos. Again. My husband and I left right after the dinner was done. Not one of my siblings argued with me to try to get me to stay longer. They knew. Aside from an initial “hello” and “congratulations” spoken to my brother, the father of the bride, we had no other exchange of words. Those may have been the last words we’ll say to each other for a very long time.

Hurt and anger in the mind are as devastating as blows to the body. Everything hurts. People say time heals all wounds but the history with this particular brother is long and complicated. He’s logical, cold, calculating. I’m emotional, compassionate, creative. This may have been the final blow.

Down the Rabbit Hole

June solstice? Already?! I nearly missed it. Seems I slipped into a hole a few months ago and one thing after another drove me deeper into the darkness. I wish I could say I had fun or that I lost weight or I won…anything. Nope. But I did learn a few things.

I confirmed that I’m not ready to die; I still have unfinished business and I still have some fight left in me. I learned that people cannot get rest in the hospital, laying in a bed or sitting in a chair watching your spouse lay in the bed. I validated the fact that after all these years I still love my husband and want to stay married even though he aggravates me more than once each day.

The biggest surprise came in understanding and accepting the fact that once in a while I need to put myself first instead of last. Okay, maybe more often than once in a while. It’s going to take me some time to create new habits. Awareness and acceptance are the first step.

On this longest day of the year, I see the light, and I’ve made my way up from the depths to the rabbit hole opening. I’m even putting my head out. Wave if you see me.