Sunday, October 20, 2013

The Path Not Taken

Another wasted opportunity for sleep on a weekend morning, and I once again find myself sitting here in front of my computer.  As I laid awake in bed, I pondered the big picture of my life.  Sometimes I think we get caught up in minutiae.  Maybe if we're unhappy for reasons that we can't seem to identify, we should just take a step back and look at the big picture.

I feel as though my life has just been an endless string of regrets and disappointments.   The question is - why?  Don't I have a reasonably happy marriage, good job, etc, etc....?  The answer to those questions is yes, so then why do I feel this way so frequently?  Why do I always have this pervading sense that I am always missing out on things?

I was listening to the latest Elton John song from his new CD today.  The title is 'Home Again', and part of the chorus reads "We all dream of leaving but wind up in the end spending all our time trying to get back home again."   And I thought, "It never happened for me.  I'm still dreaming."   I also thought of my daughter, who is doing everything in her power to wind up living in another city when she graduates from college.   She might never come home again, but at least if she does, she can live out the rest of her life without regrets and "what ifs".  My husband lived in the New York City area for three years.  If I had a dollar for every time he's told me "you couldn't handle living there.  It's too fast, too high-pressure, the atmosphere is too intense.", I could probably afford to move there and see for myself.

I could make a list of all of the things I could have and should have done in the first half of my adult life.   But that would just be too depressing.  Big things, little things.  Life-altering things, little things that I've always wanted to do.  And I think I know now that the reason I haven't done a lot of these things is that I was waiting around for someone else to make them happen for me.  Parents, spouse, friends, whomever.  The end result is that I'm just an observer of other peoples' lives, other peoples' adventures, other peoples' experiences.

So, the question that I am asking myself now is this - what do I have the power to change going forward with what's left of my life?   Living in another city?  Doubtful.  But what about all of the little things that I haven't done?  The way I see it right now, there's never going to be a better time than right now for me to stop relying on the rest of humanity to provide me with experiences.

Seeing as how I recently returned home from a European vacation, this probably seems like a ridiculous blog entry.  But even that trip is an example of my inertia.  We were so busy concerning ourselves with our daughter's internship in France that we never bothered to plan out any sightseeing for ourselves.   So, while I wouldn't trade that experience for sitting home on my couch, it could have and should have been better.  And I have nobody to blame for that but myself.

I am full of resolve at this moment, but it may all crumble tomorrow or next week.  That seems to be the story of my life.   But, as Scarlett O'Hara famously said, "Tomorrow is another day."  Let's see what it brings.

And if I die having accomplished nothing else, at least I can say that I stripped naked and walked around on a nude beach.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013


My wise friend has started keeping a gratitude journal.  As I trudge toward the end of 2013, I am trying to strike a balance between the amazingly wonderful and the heartbreaking and everything in between.  If ever there was a year that felt like a roller coaster, 2013 would be it.

How do I explain the confusion of emotions that I felt when my mother died?  For me, she had died a few years ago, and this was just her body playing catch up with her mind.  And yet, now I think of her as she was when I was a child, and that is who I miss.  Thanksgiving, for example - nobody will ever prepare a Thanksgiving dinner that will taste like my Mom's Thanksgiving dinner.  There was never anything fancy or exotic.  It was just good.  The turkey was never dry, the stuffing was that old stand by sage dressing.  Why does everyone want to make fancy stuffing?  Why must everyone add oddities such as fruit and nuts?  She also would not approve of the current trend of not stuffing the bird.  Really, people - I ask you - has anyone out there died from eating in-the-bird stuffing? (dying of happiness doesn't count)   And then there's Christmas.......  I'm still working on Christmas.  It hasn't been my favorite season for lots of reasons.  Somehow, I don't feel a difference happening this year..... yet.....

So, as I struggle with loss coupled with my ongoing and ever-present feeling of being one of those people who are nothing special (aka - no presence, invisible, Mrs Cellophane, etc...), I am going to try very hard to focus on all of the things that I am grateful for.   Here goes:

My Husband:  how do I describe a man who is so the opposite of me, and yet somehow over the course of 23 years, we've become a team.  While I feel that he doesn't really "get" me some of the time, there is no denying that he can make me laugh like nobody else, and he has mastered the art of the surprise.   A smart man knows how to enlist the aid of an expert accomplice, and I was surprised not once but twice in 2013 by him.    He will help anyone at any time with just about anything, and he loves me in all of my imperfection.  He is, as the VISA commercial says - priceless.

My daughter:  what can I say about a child who puts others' needs ahead of hers, has a big heart, her father's goofy sense of humor and is so unbelievably talented?  When I look at her, I see the best of me and her father.  I see a girl who has the tools to go anywhere and be wildly successful, but she will always be my daughter and my friend.  A thousand miles will not separate us in spirit and in our hearts.

My chorus:  when you plan the funeral of a loved one, you plan it the best way you can to say goodbye and you think that you've done everything you can to honor your loved one.  When you hear the sound of 35 angels singing in the most beautiful harmony from the choir loft, there are no word to describe the emotions that wash over you.  Tears flow because of the sheer amazement of knowing that these people came through to support me in the best way that they possibly could.   I can't say it enough ...  there are simply no words.

My best friend:  they say that the best things in life are worth waiting for.  Well, I spent over 15 years without a best friend, and yes, this was definitely worth the wait.  My BFF knows how my brain functions like nobody I've ever met.  I have never had this sort of connection with anyone.  I can tell her anything and without a shadow of a doubt, I would walk through fire for her.  She has opened her family to me - her husband with the twinkle in his eye who always has something interesting to say, her daughter who shares her mother's drive, organizational skills and generosity, and her son with the heart of a lion, and her grandchildren who bring joy and laughter and simple happiness to my heart each and every time I'm with them.  This woman is quite simply a miracle in my life.

When I read what I've written, it hits home to me just how good my life is.  I must vow to myself that when I am feeling fat or invisible or verbally abused or missing my Mom or just feeling sorry for myself in general that I will re-read this post and not let the downers in life win the battle for my mind and spirit.

Monday, October 7, 2013

Sibling Sorrow and Resolution

Much has been said about my oldest brother, Alan, but this is the first time I have written about him.  I've decided to record his story and my feelings about him, and from this point on, he will be discarded from my life.

He was 16 years old when I was born.  He is actually a stepbrother.  We share a father, but right from Day One of my Dad marrying my Mom, it is my understanding that he and my Mom were like oil and water.  The stories are the stuff of legends among those who attended Tonawanda High School in the early '60s.  Apparently, he was not happy unless he was in trouble with someone and ultimately causing problems at home.  It escalated to the point where my Parents asked him to leave after he graduated from high school.  Two years later he left Western New York, not to return to live for close to 40 years.   I was four years old at the time.

My early memories of him were vague and foggy.  He would mysteriously appear and disappear around holiday time- not every year. not even every other year.  He had settled in Connecticut.   During my senior year of high school, he became engaged to Corinne.  We all met her and her family, and while we thought that her younger brother was a bit of a jerk, we loved her parents.  I thought she was pretty cool.  She was the lead singer of a cover band, a grade school music teacher and a church organist.  She was really opinionated and everything with her was very black and white.  This would prove to be problematic down the road.  For the time being, all was well, and we thought that my brother had finally grown up.

Years passed, children came, family vacations ensued.  On one of these trips, Corinne decided that the time was right to tell my husband a story about my birth and how Alan felt that, had I never been born, that all of my step-siblings would have been reunited to live together again (the two youngest grew up together with foster parents.  We were all friends and spend a lot of time together - all of us except Alan, that is).  The really bad part of the story was how she told him that all of them felt this way, not just Alan.  I had this vision in my head of a movie with a bunch of rag-tag brothers and sisters torn apart after their mother deserted them, pining away for one another until this unplanned, accidental baby comes along and is just this total wrecking ball, smashing their hopes and dreams.  I was the spoiled princess who went to Hawaii with the folks when I was five, to meet my paternal grandmother and be pampered beyond belief by my Aunt and Uncle.  How could they not hate me?  I finally worked up the courage to ask my second-oldest brother (who I was closest to) about this after my Mom's death.   I felt oddly vindicated by his anger and his vehement assertion that, at no time did any of them other than Alan ever think that this mythical "family reunion" would happen, nor was there ever any blame put on me. Alan was seven or eight years old when his mother left - he was the oldest child, and in today's world, he would have received counseling.  I don't think anybody knew how to deal with this situation back then.  In the 1950's, women did not desert their children. Still,  I cannot imagine what possessed Corinne to tell this to Bill, but in the end, I think it says a lot about her character and how she, in her own way, contributed to the demise of hers and Alan's marriage.

Alan had his share of hereditary health problems - osteoarthritis, a rare form of cancer(cured in 1999), and extreme obesity.  He was also a heavy drinker.   About 12 years ago, he broke his leg and became addicted to Oxycontin.  I don't think I will ever know the full extent of what he did to get his hands on the drug, but I do know that he forged Corinne's signature on 401(k) withdrawal paperwork (not sure whose 401(k) it was - maybe both!) to take a withdrawal to buy the drug.  Needless to say, their marriage came to an end in 2007, and in 2009 he announced to us that he was moving back to Buffalo (leaving two teenage sons behind, but that's a whole other story).  I guess we were supposed to all greet him with open arms, open homes and open wallets.   I, who felt little connection to him to begin with, was extremely suspicious of just about everything he said or did.  We all tried to find a reasonable apartment for him, but nothing would do but for him to rent a house from my brother Gary (my youngest step brother).  Why rent from a total stranger when you can take advantage of a relative -which is exactly what ended up happening.  He has spent the past five years asking each of us for money, owing thousands in back rent, taking disability time from his job(which supposedly pays six figures) to have shoulder and knee surgeries, spending time in rehab (of both the physical and drug variety), sponging dinners off everyone, collecting DWIs, driving with a suspended license (those Connecticut plates come in handy), and ......I think that's just about enough, thank you!

As I write this, I have washed my hands of him.  In reality, I did this over two years ago.  It has taken my siblings a bit longer to catch up.  Understandably, they still harbored feelings of loyalty and duty toward him -  their oldest brother, after all.  I have no idea where he's living or what he's doing, and I simply can't bring myself to care.  He told Dick that he wanted to come to my Mom's funeral service to"start over" with everyone.  I can still hear Dick telling me the story.  He said "I asked him 'Why do you want to come?  She hated your guts!!'   There's no money left'...."  This was not entirely true, but certainly there was no money for him as far as we were concerned.   The day of my Mom's funeral came and went without an appearance by Alan.  In the end, we think it was about money, as it always was in the past - money for alcohol, marijuana and pills.  And if he was really lucky, he'd get a dinner out of it too.

I could write volumes about the crazy things he did to get money for drugs and alcohol, and the insane way that he lived his life after he moved back here.  I honestly believe that he may never straighten out, and he definitely will not as long as there are enablers in his life.  I stepped away from my enabler role and I will not ever go back.

I am trying now to find the positives that I have been left with.

I am wiser.  I know that addicts will do or say anything to convince someone to give them money when they need their fix.   I know that the fix becomes more important than jobs, families or relationships.  Until it is satisfied, at which point the sorrowful regret and "woe is me, I'm so misunderstood" routine kicks in.  Alan was always downtrodden, life was always against him, luck was never in his favor.  He never accepted real responsibility for his problems or his actions.  Maybe he has now or will someday.  But he'll be doing it without me because I will never, ever trust him again.

I have real respect for people who have successfully overcome addictions.  But maybe these people have family members who will never trust them again, and I can't judge them for this.  That's why God brings new people into our lives - to give us a chance to start fresh.

There are a lot of people in the world who have been touched by addiction - either their own or someone else's.  If we're lucky, we get the chance to use our own experiences to help others.

Sometimes it's good to just listen.  Listen without judgement and without trying to advance your own agenda.

Always, it's good to pray and have faith.  Sometimes, it's the only thing you can do.  And you have to tell yourself that it's OK that praying is the only thing you can do.   Do it for everyone else, but mostly.... do it for yourself.