First it was my father-in-law, March 16th.  Then it was the mother of one of my favorite clients, June 10th. Then my former mother-in-law, June 16th. And today, the father-in-law of one of my husband’s best friends.

We have entered that narrow passage of time during which our parents and elder relatives are disappearing into the mist. We’re all walking to the water’s edge, waving good-bye, as the tide recedes, and while it is out and we stand quietly, eyes on the horizon, we say to ourselves that we still have time to do what we need and want to do. But although the tide has pulled back from the shore and is moving away from us, lulling us into a state of calm, in our deepest selves we know that the direction will shift at some point, and the tide will eventually return, taking us with it.

Strange thing, mortality. In a few more months I’ll turn 57. When my dad was 59, he had open-heart surgery, a quintuple bypass. When my mom was about ten years older than I am now, we began to notice early symptoms of Alzheimer’s. And ten years after that, she was dead. Four years after that, and dad was gone, suddenly (thank god) stricken with what doctors refer to as a ruptured “triple A”– an abdominal aortal aneurysm.

My husband’s friend’s mother-in-law had been suffering from dementia for years, something the family had not been able to acknowledge. So her recent rapid decline in health–multiple UTIs, a heart attack–seemed to me to be clear signs of impending death. But even I was shocked to hear that she died this afternoon, less than a week after being discharged from the hospital. Thinking back on it, those medical events were surely distinct indicators that her body was shutting down. She was done. I’m sad for the family, but relieved for her. It must be something like being born, but in reverse. The powerful forces that push us into the physical, material world return for us, albeit invisibly, to pull us out. It’s hard work.

Blessings on all of these recently departed souls. And meanwhile, we must do our best to tend to the work of the living, with all of the loving-kindness and mindful awareness we can muster.

Peace to all.



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I knew this day would come, another brief measurement in the short years of our lives. This morning as I was scanning through the Sunday paper, I turned a page and there was the article I knew I’d read someday. My former mother-in-law had died. Because she had worked as a reporter and editor for this very newspaper (among other things), her death warranted a full article, chronicling her life and times. It was impressive. There were quotes from her husband, now a widower, and a brief mention of their children, among them her only son and my first husband.

He and I no longer communicate, by my request a few years ago. This is not because there is enmity between us, but perhaps because our efforts to maintain a friendship (albeit long-distance) became too difficult for me. Seeing him a few times over the years when he came to town to visit his family made me very happy, and almost immediately after each encounter, very sad. Although we both moved on with our lives and eventually remarried after our brief and early marriage, and each attained happiness in these second unions, meeting with him for even the short times we were able to left me with a bittersweet feeling that was sometimes overwhelming, even painful.

So on this occasion, following the loss of his mother, who loved him very much–only son, and all–I want to say something to him in recognition of this difficult milestone, but am uncertain whether I should. And what to say? Except perhaps that he and his family are in my thoughts, that I know what it feels like to lose one’s mother, and when one loves a parent who dies, there is a strange sense of disconnect and loss, as if one has been unmoored from a lifelong safe harbor. I remember thinking over and over after my mother died that there was no number I could call to hear her voice, there was no earthly place where I could go to see her again. And yet for months that was all I could think of doing. I wanted to sit and talk with her.

Maybe that’s all I need to say to him.

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About a year ago my husband and I started building an art studio in our back yard. We live in a small California bungalow-style house built about 100 years ago, and although it is generally big enough for us (we’re small to average-sized people), it isn’t big enough for our respective avocations: musician/singer-songwriter (him) and artist/writer (me). Much of the front bedroom serves as an office and music storage room for my husband, and there is always plenty of music/sound equipment to trip over on one side of our living room. I have much of my art supplies stored against one wall in the front bedroom, but no real working/painting space. The stop-gap measure has been to set up an old computer table against the windowseat on the southern side of our dining room, with one small cart filled with art supplies, and whatever else can fit either under or on top of the table. This leaves precious little space for me to actually paint, and my paintings have been expanding in size as I have become more confident about what I’m doing (primarily abstract acrylics).

Once we got the studio framed, the building process seemed to slow down considerably. With an original hoped-for finish date of October or November 2013, I was feeling pretty glum when winter arrived and we still had many major steps to complete. Luckily, my husband is extremely mechanically-minded and good at building, and is also a stickler for details. With the exception of the plumbing inspection early on in 2013, everything has gone quite well. (He had to pull out some pipes he’d glued together and start over with new materials.) We passed the electrical inspection last week, and are doing insulation this weekend. Then there’s drywall, and all of the major construction is done. I still don’t think it’ll seem real for me until I can paint the walls and move my stuff in, but at the rate we’re going, that should be within the next month. Yippeeee!

I need the distraction of setting up the studio and feathering my creative nest. I have wearied of my work as a therapist, and don’t seem to have the mental and emotional energy I once did for it. Have to admit that I fantasize a lot about retirement, but the reality is that is still ten years away, barring an unexpected act of tremendous good fortune or–less fortuitously–serious illness or simply dropping dead. Nor do I have the money or motivation to try yet another career at this point. So onward I trundle.

Meanwhile, I continue to ponder mortality in general, mine specifically, and try to focus on living a mindful life by reminding myself to BE HERE NOW. And that includes when we go back out into the studio this evening and glove, goggle, and mask up once more to measure, cut, and fit strips of insulation. How fun is that?!

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Fiberglass can be your friend!

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I’ve got a Christopher Walken SNL dvd, some of his best sketches as a guest host. It’s one of the things I can watch when I really need to laugh and can’t.

It’s going to be an interesting and challenging new year for me. On the surface of my life, all continues as it has: seeing clients, art-making, the usual goofiness that comes from living in a house with a very smart, creative, high-energy husband who lapses into cartoon talk when he thinks I look bummed. And last but certainly not least is our amazingly smart, silly, high-energy caramel tabby cat, who from time to time teams up with my husband to perform utterly ridiculous acts that are way funnier than I could possibly describe. They both have a way of calling forth feelings of pure and simple happiness on my part. [Latest of hundreds of cat’s nicknames: Fuzzbutton.]

But to the point. Over the last six months or so I’ve been experiencing multiple health symptoms that are neurological in flavor: rapidly increasing forgetfulness; mental fogginess; speech problems; increasing trouble completing thoughts when speaking to others (not all the time, but enough to cause concern); increasing balance problems that have sometimes resulted in falls while walking; at times forgetting what I’m doing while in the act of doing it; significant decrease in mental focus and ability to concentrate and complete tasks. From a diagnostic perspective, what my neurologist and I know so far after multiple tests is that I most likely don’t have early-onset Alzheimers.

And we now also know that there are some lesions on my brain that my doctor thinks are unusual for someone my age. And that they’re located in an area of the brain where multiple sclerosis often begins. BUT. There isn’t enough measurable evidence at this point to strongly suggest that I have MS. The next test would be a spinal tap to see whether there’s anything unusual about my cerebrospinal fluid. Unfortunately, it yields far from conclusive results, and is not considered to be an especially reliable diagnostic tool for MS. So my doctor and I agreed to take a “wait and see” approach for now, and run all of the same tests in a year, along with a spinal tap, to see if anything has changed. Of course if any of my symptoms become noticeably worse, or I develop additional symptoms between now and next December, we’ll go back to the drawing board. From what I have read, diagnosing MS is very difficult, as it has widely varying symptoms in each individual, many of which are not definitive.

All that having been said, I suspect that I do have MS, and that a few of my current symptoms that have been worsening actually started ten or more years ago. So let’s say I have it. Then what? There are medications to help decrease or manage some of the symptoms. My neurologist told me that many or most of them have terrible side effects, and said she would not recommend starting any of them if we think, in one year, that this is the illness I’m dealing with. And guess what? My oncologist also discouraged me from getting on these meds for another reason: in cancer survivors there is a much higher rate of developing new cancers as a result of some of these medications, particularly melanoma and lymphomas. So therein lies my possible dilemma.

YIKES.  : 0

Hopefully I haven’t bored you to sleep with the dreary details of my health problems. I look forward to getting back to my sparky curmudgeonly self and once again making sparky and curmudgeonly posts here. It’ll happen.

Just not tonight.

Peace out.


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Have You Shot Your Gun Into the Air Yet?

Happy New Year!  On my block there have been the requisite fireworks along with lots of gunshots. The gangbanger family down the street has been surprisingly tame lately, though I expect to see a police car down there in the not too distant future. But we’ve lived in this neighborhood for almost 13 years, and we know the score. Urban life is a kick in the head. But hey, when all is said and done, we’re all still made of the same stuff, have the same fears, desires, and needs. Welcome to the human race…

So some of my continuing goals for 2013 are the practices of loving-kindness, living in the present moment, and radical acceptance. Though I was raised in the Presbyterian church (can you get more Rainbo bread bland than that?), as I’ve gotten older I have found considerable wisdom and comfort in Buddhist philosophy. It has helped me make sense of an increasingly screwy (and often downright scary) world. And it reminds me what is most important to me: being present for and loving other people. Hey! That sounds suspiciously similar to Christianity. In the end we all have that final date with our mortality. In the meantime, living with good intent and genuine concern for our fellow humans seems like the best way to go, whatever you want to call that.

And now  . . .  with no further ado  . . .  my annual list of goals for the coming year, in no particular order:

1. Practice patience.

2. Talk (and text) less–rediscover the art of real face-to-face conversation.

3. Shock someone by writing an actual letter and mailing it to them.

4. Judge less, humble myself more.

5. Never let go of my rock’n’roll soul.

6. Dance my ass off to aforementioned rock’n’roll in the privacy of my home (don’t want to scare anybody).

7. Keep painting; keep entering art in local gallery shows.

8. Wear brighter colors. (Even if I look good in black, color is the bomb.)

9. Continue ongoing responsibility as Universal Mother to all Cats.

10. Work on mortality stuff. At 55 with a hx of cancer and neurological problems (brain lesions, anyone?), it never hurts to start doing the prep work early. And anyway, none of us knows when we’re going to die, so no sense in procrastinating. This means, essentially, that when I reach the end of my life, I won’t reflect back and say, “I wish I’d spent more time surfing the Internet.”

11. Eat more fresh food!

12. Write more!

13. “Sing songs, ride horses, and eat breakfast.” Actually I pilfered that phrase from a decades-ago tv commercial for a cereal called “King Vit-a-Min”].

14. Quit staying up until 1:00 and 2:00 in the morning.

15. Say hi to and smile at more strangers.

16. Continue working with my doctors to figure out what’s going wrong in my brain. (MS?)

17. Keep listening to favorite music (including my recent obsession with ’80s bands like Midnight Oil, The Church, Depeche Mode, The Cure, Morrissey, Tears for Fears, along with lifelong faves like Mark Knopfler, Neil Young, Lucinda Williams, Lou Reed…etc.).

18. Say goodnight to all the nice people in your blogosphere.  Good night, nice people!

red balloons

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Been missing in action for the last two years. I guess you could say I’ve been preoccupied with work, art-making, and pursuing a diagnosis for  increasing symptoms of some type of degenerative disease. More about that later.

But something has been stirring in the still-all right portions of my right brain. Lately I’ve been feeling that familiar compulsion to write again. Starting later in the day, perhaps. Time to head to bed.

It’s good to be back.

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