Sunday, August 28, 2011

Gradually, Then Suddenly

I loved this dog.  And I adored the man who took the photo.  I had joked with him that he was a world-class dog sitter for her and that next he would teach her to read.  Voila! or Viola! as he would type it - this photo came to my phone.  She had become a reader.  Loved the dog.  Will always love the photo.

One of my dad's best friends was Tom Starzl at Pittsburgh  (he did the first liver transplant, I believe).  Whenever the subject would turn to non-accidental deaths (which for those two was morbidly often) - he would say "Death Takes Small Bites".  I always thought that would make a great title for a novel.  Small bites indeed.

My favorite literary reference to death was not in fact about death at all; I believe it was bankruptcy.  But I'll take liberties or artistic license.  I'm allowed - it was Ernest Hemingway in The Sun Also Rises.  The question:   "How did he die?".  The answer was "Gradually, then suddenly".

It is a sad time: I got through Hurricane Irene just fine, but Stella did not.   Brings to mind both Hemingway and Starzl.  The good news is that this post prompted me to find an email address for Dr. Starzl and send him a note about how much his friendship meant to my dad.

I have chosen to believe in a dog heaven.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Death Just Hangs Around Now

I liked John O'Hara's novel, but loved the Somerset Maugham vignette that gave it the title:  Master sends servant to the market in Baghdad; servant freaks out when he sees Death there and runs to Samarra to avoid him. The master then confronts Death, chastising him for frightening his servant.  And Death replied: "I did not mean to frighten him; I was just surprised to see him in Baghdad today when I have an appointment with him tonight in Samarra".

I don't think anyone in the house has an appointment tonight, but Death has become a regular, at least as a conceptual, theoretical presence.  Just hanging around all the time.   I have a favorite NYorker cartoon framed and displayed -  featuring Death handing a card to a terrified man. Death says: "don't worry, it's just a save-the-date card."  As I write this, I realize perhaps it's my fault that the concept has taken up residence here.  Mocking it may be unwise.  Imprudent.

I am not a morbid person, I'm really not.  But since the Sudden Cardiac Arrest (SCA) nearly two years ago, I don't think a day has passed without at least a fleeting thought of death.  It sidles up as I take an evening swim in the ocean.  The slightest twinge evokes it; it doesn't even have to be in my chest; thoughts of death say Hello if the twinge is anywhere in the general area of the torso.  Tedious.  It pops in and reminds me to make sure the "documents" are up to date and where they are supposed to be.   I have a new game - I change the beneficiaries now and then as my mood shifts. Yes, I do that now as a result of mood changes.  Too bad - it's my money.  If I want to be posthumously capricious, so be it.  People are mean to me, they get less.  Other people are meaningful to me; they will be shocked to find out they are listed.  Wow - perhaps this is the age when one becomes eccentric. Somehow, I didn't think that would happen in my 50's.

And of course, Stella the dog is having her own dance as she winds through the winter of her life, slowly but inexorably approaching her last day.

So death just hangs around in the air here.  I don't find it frightening, but occasionally unnerving. Lately, it's been a little annoying.  Like maybe Death could go get a job instead of insisting on lurking around my home.  Great idea.  I'll write the Craig's List ad now.  'Unemployed spectre seeks engagement.........have own sickle or scythe or whatever the hell that thing is called.  Will work for souls.'

Mocking Death gives us the illusion of the upper hand.  I'll take it.

Friday, August 12, 2011

SCA : Guards Up, Guards Down

Sudden Cardiac Arrest (SCA) changes everything; I've written that before and most likely will write it again.  SCA changes how we connect with our people; every single relationship in my life is different.  Guards that were up are down.  Well, many of them are down.  Or at least teetering.

I have always been guarded in my relationships.  Partly out of the normal fear of rejection, but more importantly, I was cautious about being lost in people's vortex.  Some people come with a vortex: it's a whirlpool; it's magnetic; it's powerful; it's dangerous.  Bordering on violent in its ability to draw you in and down.  I would be lost.  I both attracted and sought them - those people.  And I may be one of those people.   You know us; we are not the ones who marry our high-school or college sweethearts, have 2 or 3 children, live a long marriage, do whatever it is people do with coupons, go to church regularly - we are not them.   We spent much of our young adulthood (some of us into our 30's, 40's...) sort of ricocheting off people.  The other people - not us -  are gentler, calmer souls (or seem to be); they disturb less of the world around them.  My people and I; we disturb a lot of it.  We come with a vortex.

So I was guarded.  I mastered the art of appearing unguarded; it's part of the way we do it.  I blocked, parried, did what I had to do to keep other vortex people at arm's length.  Even as I sought them out.  Hid my vortex while I was at it.

Now, now -- now that my heart  has taken to stopping without warning --- now I care far less.   I still like these people;  I'm still drawn to them, I still attract them.  I just worry less about getting lost.  It's easier now to be vulnerable, less scary to be scared.   Well, of course there are maybe one or two notable exceptions where I could still get lost. Too scary, too much vortex.  That guard is still on duty.  But it's no longer my norm.

My heart stopped and I didn't die.  Guards have a new, smaller place in my life.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

My Dog Stella - Still Among the Living

My dog is going to die soon.  She is 13 or 14 years old, so it can hardly be called premature.  It is going to be one of those things that creeps and crawls its way to a decision.  There will not be a jolt, a dramatic event, an acute episode.  Instead it will be a slow decision about what is the right time.

I set markers - for her and for me. When X happens, it is time.  Well, truth be told, I've had a few X's already and I have made accommodations because I am not ready.  And more truth be told, she may be ready before I am.

She has been my dog for over 12 years.  Big, big 12 years.  I divorced, reconciled, reconciled, redux redux.  I quit my big corporate job. I went to law school at 50. I passed three bar exams. I flunked one.
Moved to Wilmington where I knew nearly no-one.  With the ex, ex, ex, ex husband.  Who lied about being in recovery. Whoopsie.
Agreed to a final split.  She was here through all that.
Then the Sudden Cardiac Arrest. Two months after moving here.   SCA, implanted defibrillator, new friends - some appropriate, some not.  More F___ing life lessons than I would like.
Of late, slogged through a tough 6 months.  Recovered. Came out stronger, more alive.
Now, I am accepting my dog is going to die soon.  Writing that sentence is hard.  Looking at her stumble is hard - she was an agility-type dog, not a stumbler.  Beginning to think of her in the past tense is hard.  Looking at her for signs that she has had it - very hard.  Hoping not to see those signs, then hoping I might. I don't want her to live one single day longer than she wants to.

Neither of us is ready yet.  But it won't be that long.  Here is her recent photo. I'd like you to meet Stella Z. Rowan.

Monday, August 1, 2011

What We Envy

Envy.  One of the seven deadly sins.  It is the more  kind-hearted, passive, less harmful cousin to the malice of jealousy.  Jealous husbands kill, envious girls quietly weep or deeply sigh.

I have always envied those with long legs, good singers, 20/20 vision -  the normal list.  I have envied those with that absolute, rock-solid, unquestioning faith.  Faith in whatever - God, church, the power of donuts - absolute faith.  I have never had it and never will.  I am a questioner, and was - even as a kid.  I remember the nuns "explaining" the Holy Trinity - Father, Son, Holy Ghost.  I didn't buy it - it's three or it's one - it cannot be both (literal even at a young age). Challenged the nuns, then the parents, finally a priest. Always the same answer - what I came to see as the ultimate punt -  "Marcia, it's a divine mystery that Catholics just believe".   I envy those who believe that sort of thing. So simple, so comforting to them, or so it seems.

I envy fast metabolisms.  I envy people who naturally eat only when hungry. I envy smooth, easy, powerful golf swings.  Still envy long legs.

And now a new one. Well, two.  I envy people whose hearts have not taken to randomly stopping, that's for sure.  But I now also envy those with weaker memories. (Apologies to my SCA anoxic brain injury friends).  I have long relied on what has been an excellent memory - it got me through college, has been extremely useful in the career, helped me win more than a fair share of marital arguments, and was the key to passing multiple bar exams.  Now I want a lousy memory. At least selectively.  We all have moments of agonizing regret - you don't get into your 5th decade without regret - I would like to forget two moments in my life.  Two days.  I can't eradicate the events, but I would like to eradicate the memory.
One was long, long ago - I was a teen, and I wronged a friend.  It remains the worst thing I have ever done to another person.  I have come to terms with it, but I wish I could also simply fail to remember it.  I remember every moment of that day, and I would rather not.

Then the second, more recent - I harmed only me.  My failure here was in not tending my self-respect, in making a set of poor choices and emotional investments, in yielding when I should not yield, in taking far less than I deserved,  in allowing denial to take charge for hours, or maybe it was even weeks.  Guilty of not outgrowing certain impulses, of being f__ing human.  I would like a mulligan, a do-over. But I can't change it, I can't fix it -  I accept that.   But I would greatly prefer not to remember it.  The guy (oh, of course it's a guy)  has almost certainly forgotten what pieces he remembered; his memory is astonishingly porous.   Mine is not. I remember every single minute of that day.  And I would rather not.  I'd like an eraser please.

I'd rather not remember.
I envy and wish for a crappy memory for the first time in my life.  Or at least a selectively crappy one.
The antidote for envy is gratitude; I'll be working on that.