Friday, April 29, 2016

Out of balance



The world is supposed to balance, right? If something goes wrong, something else will go right. When someone does good they will be rewarded, or should be. If someone is bad they will be punished, whether we know it or not. Mom might catch them, the cops might catch them or karma will get them, but somehow it all balances. Or its supposed to.

Only it doesn't always seem to work out that way.

When Maggie was here and I had to deal with insurance companies, doctors, agencies, medical suppliers, and more, I always felt that hassle of all that should be balanced by sparing me from the day to day annoyances of an average person. But that was not to be. I experienced just as many dead batteries and overflowing toilets as the next person.

Similarly when we lost Maggie, and suffered the worst grief imaginable, I figured we would be spared any more heartache. We had done far more than our share. Let someone else handle things for a while.

But that is not to be either.

Our friend Chris Matthissen died this week. He and Steve had been friends for years and years, dating back to college. He was in our wedding (30 years ago this Tuesday.) Chris was a wonderful guy and a great friend. When Maggie died he was here in a flash. And he helped us grieve, which is the most generous thing a person can do. He didn't tell us what to feel or dole out advice, he just helped us.

I remember the day after her funeral the three of us, Chris, Steve and I, took a walk to Tennessee Valley beach in Marin County. It was a brisk February day, and it was a perfect thing to do. It is about a mile from the parking lot to the beach. Steve and I were in shock, still numb from her sudden death and the ceremony the day before.  Chris respected that and kept quiet or talked at all the right times. When we arrived at the beach, the ocean was churning with energy. We all sat on the beach quietly for a while. I was watching the waves and the water and the energy and feeling a little better.  I didn't say anything, but Chris seemed to understand that. He said, "I love coming to the ocean, it's like it does all the work for you." It summed up my feeling perfectly. I think of that every time I go to the beach. And I always will.

Chris had always come to us because travelling was so difficult for us with Maggie. Finally, last September we went to see him in Seattle and had a great  time. We went to the same house in 1985 after we took the bar exam, but hadn't been back there since. (Chris was gone to South America for 10 years in there too. Another story.) The place was very different. Chris had created an oasis of gardens for himself.  His house stood in the middle of the lot and over the years he surrounded it with 360 degrees of different gardens.




There was an English garden with flowers and lawn and benches, there was a fish pond and roses, and an enormous vegetable garden producing more food than he and his friends could ever possibly eat.

The last piece was a fantastic outdoor kitchen that Chris crafted completely on his own.



I would say that 75% of our time there was spent in that outdoor kitchen. He was a fantastic cook creating things in the kitchen he made from the food he grew. We stayed out there for hours. When it got cold he lit a fire in the outdoor fireplace. It was heavenly.




Chris did not have a wife or kids. He worried about getting old and not having anyone. I told him to come and live with us and we could all take care of each other. I meant it too. Other friends told him the same thing and they meant it too. He was that type of friend. You felt like he was part of your family and it was only right to grow old together.  Losing him feels like I've lost a family member.

I cannot truly grasp that Chris is gone. He was too full of life and love to leave. There is a hole in our world now that will take a long long time to fill.

Maybe the balance is out of whack right now. It's too soon and things are too raw. Maybe in time we will see that having him in our lives balanced out other things. I know in my heart it did, but the seesaw seems hopelessly tilted right now. We are just sitting on the ground with the other end up in the air waiting for something to balance things out. I don't know what it will be, but it will have to be something big.

Steve and I will head to Tennessee Valley Beach tomorrow. That ocean has a lot of work to do.






Friday, April 22, 2016

Navy Blue

When I picked up the mail yesterday there were three letters for Maggie. Anything addressed to her is a bit of a shock to the system. Maggie didn't receive much mail when she was alive and well, so receiving something now, two years after her death is jarring.

I just brought them upstairs with the bills, solicitations etc, left all the mail on the cutting board and walked away. It really takes a minute to gather oneself in these weird situations.

After a bit I came back to go through it.



Maggie received not one, not two, but THREE letters from the United States Navy encouraging her to consider a career in the Navy upon graduation from college.  One very specifically suggested she become a Navy Dentist! She could fight decay on behalf of her country!

I'm certain the Navy needs college graduates and dentists and ever other type of accomplished young person. They also need to do just a tiny little bit of work on their mailing list. Sending three letters to anyone is a waste. Sending even one to a person who was never able to join the Navy and, more importantly, to one who died two years ago is stupid.

I'm not feeling terribly confident in our Navy right now.

I'm as blue as I can be.


DIANE RENAY
"Navy Blue"
(Bob Crewe, Eddie Rambeau, and Bud Rehak)
Blue, navy blue, I'm as blue as I can be
'cause my steady boy said "Ship ahoy"
And joined the Nay-ee-ay-vee



Monday, March 21, 2016

Goodbye to Mickey

We went to lunch a couple of Saturdays ago with Steve’s dad, brother and sister in law. We went to an old time haunt that was packed with people.  We maneuvered our way back through the narrow restaurant with my father in law in his wheelchair. As we passed one table I spied my cousin Mike and greeted him. We had to keep moving because we were blocking traffic, but once we were settled I went back to say a proper hello and visit with Mike and his wife. We were laughing in no time.

Running into cousins is not something that happens every day, but it’s not that unusual for me either. I am one of 31 cousins on my mother’s side (none on my dad’s side) and many of my generation are still in the Bay Area.   We all tend to frequent similar restaurants or events and happen upon each other occasionally. It’s always a pleasure.  One family of cousins are based out of Seattle. When Steve and I were there last year, I made a point to connect with a couple of them. We have shared family and different takes on family stories which are very entertaining.

My generation of cousins is spread out over about 20 years, and the spread in each family isn’t much less. Each of my mom’s siblings had 5, 6 or 7 kids so, except for the very oldest and very youngest cousins, we always had someone around our age in every house.  It was always a blast when we went to a cousin’s house or they came to ours. Christmas at Grandpa Casey's house was epic.

When you’re a kid your cousins are your first friends aside from siblings. The parents hang out together and the kids naturally did too. That close connection changes over the years as you enter high school and have your own “crowd.” Then older siblings start to marry and getting together with your immediate family become harder so cousins take a back seat. Once the next generation comes along the definition of “immediate family” shifts to include your spouse and kids, so your siblings take a step back, relegating cousins back yet another tier. It’s really an ever widening circle.

Other than the chance encounter described above, as we got older and started marrying off, the cousins generally saw each other only at weddings and funerals. As the family expanded into the next generation, even the weddings went by the wayside. (If we were all included in every wedding, there would be nothing but family at weddings. Potential in laws would run away.) That leaves us with funerals. And we always show up for those.  Sadly, they happen fairly regularly.  In the last two years we have lost one in each generation, my Aunt Rita, my cousin John and my daughter Maggie.

And now there’s another.

My cousin Mickey died last night. She was only a few years older than I and far too young to die. She had ALS and had been declining over the past several months. I suppose that means this wasn’t a surprise, but I still feel shocked that she’s gone. And so very very sad. 

Mickey was just about the nicest person you’ve ever met. Whatever challenges life threw at her – and it did not hold back – she met with grace and kindness. Her son Bobby had special needs and Mickey was a voice of reason and reassurance when Maggie was little. Bobby died suddenly a few years ago and of course Mickey had the most poignant and understanding things to say when I lost Maggie.   
When she was diagnosed with ALS she said she finally understood why Bobby had to die first because he could not have handled seeing her so ill.  Not “why me” or “this sucks” which would have been understandable; instead it was the same grace she always showed.

I went to visit her a few months ago along with my friend Nonie who has known her for years. We had a great visit. Her sister Geri was there as was her daughter Marie, baby granddaughter Clare and boyfriend Joe. Mickey was difficult to understand because her speech was effected by the ALS, but her spirit was strong. We laughed and laughed through the lunch. Her motto was "have fun every day" and we did so that day. As we were getting ready to leave, Mickey had us all sing along to the song “I Hope You Dance” which had become something of an anthem to her. (see words below). Geri and Marie were used to it and handled it beautifully. Nonie and I were more emotional.

I felt like I was betraying Mick by being sad. She wasn’t sad, she was living every minute of her life and encouraging others to do the same.  I wanted to be like her because she was so amazing, but the reality of the situation was difficult to bear. 

Instead of admitting to that, I lied. I told them that the song made me think of Maggie. It didn’t really, but that made my tearing up more acceptable. I felt terrible as Marie reached out to comfort me. Right then, though it was more important to me to try to adopt Mickey’s outlook than admit to my own sadness.  I’m not sure I fooled anyone, but that lie got me through those tough minutes.  (By the way, I’m sure Maggie was ok with that and I know Mickey would be. I would likely do it all over again if I had to – but I hope I don’t have to.)

I am blessed to be a part of such an enormous family and as sad as the occasion is, I will be happy to see many of them at the funeral. But I will miss Mickey and her quiet grace. I will miss her encouragement and the way we understood each other as only parents in our situation can.   

Rest well, Mickey. And thank you. 

I hope you are dancing again.


"I Hope You Dance"   by Lee Ann Womack


I hope you never lose your sense of wonder,
You get your fill to eat but always keep that hunger,
May you never take one single breath for granted,
GOD forbid love ever leave you empty handed,
I hope you still feel small when you stand beside the ocean,
Whenever one door closes I hope one more opens,
Promise me that you'll give faith a fighting chance,
And when you get the choice to sit it out or dance.

I hope you dance....I hope you dance.

I hope you never fear those mountains in the distance,
Never settle for the path of least resistance
Livin' might mean takin' chances but they're worth takin',
Lovin' might be a mistake but it's worth makin',
Don't let some hell bent heart leave you bitter,
When you come close to sellin' out reconsider,
Give the heavens above more than just a passing glance,
And when you get the choice to sit it out or dance.

I hope you dance....I hope you dance.
I hope you dance....I hope you dance.





Sunday, March 6, 2016

Dedicated dedicators.



After a month of dry and really beautiful weather, there was a light rain falling yesterday morning. That is something we desperately need in California and it is generally welcomed. But why yesterday of all days? We chose that day for the dedication of Maggie World at the Playground at San Francisco Zoo.

The elegant plaque.  

I wondered if the rain would keep some people away and would have understood completely if it had. But they all showed up in their raincoats and hats and carrying umbrellas. I called them my tribe. They are the people we could count on through Maggie's life and still, two years after she passed away. Some members of the tribe were missing, because we are fortunate to have a lot of support and couldn't include everyone, but there was a good turnout nonetheless.  We met in the Great Hall, a beautiful room and wandered over to the playground for the dedication.

Our friends Ed and Lynn Poole made all this possible with a donation to the zoo in Maggie's name. Ed arranged for the dedication just after Maggie's birthday, which made an emotional week even more so. It was all good emotion, though: happiness, pride, and tremendous gratitude.   I'm grateful to Ed and Lynn, grateful to the zoo, grateful for the great support we receive from so many, and grateful that I got to be Maggie's mother.

The zoo is a place people go to have a nice day out. There are families with little kids and visitors from all over. If you haven't been there in a while, you have to see the changes. It is transformed from the zoo of my youth - the days of Monkey Island are long gone. The exhibits are lovely, thoughtful and appropriate and the grounds are very lush and welcoming.

The playground itself is enormous and accessible for all children. It was quiet in yesterday's rain -- and we were there before the zoo opened -- but the squeals of delighted children will surround Maggie's World, and that makes me happy.

My friend Nonie, a tribal leader, was out of town and could not be there, but she gave me a membership to the zoo along with a zoo key so I can head out there anytime I want to visit and see how much fun the children are having in Maggie's World.

I'll be the weird smiling lady on the bench.

If you join me I won't look so weird.

________________________________________
check out all the cool stuff at the zoo  http://www.sfzoo.org/


I put all the pictures from the dedication on a share site, which you are welcome to check out. I will work on adding captions so you can tell who's who.  Here's the site:   https://maggieszoodedication.shutterfly.com/




Thursday, March 3, 2016

Happy Birthday

It's Maggie's birthday. She would be 22 today.

I woke up very early - like 4am - and everything just felt heavy. My limbs were like weights, the blankets were like iron and even the air was like lead. It's less of a sadness in the tears and weeping kind of way and more of a heaviness of the reality of her being gone.

Maggie's birthday was always a big celebration around here. We had many parties at school over the years through elementary, middle and high school. There were Pinapple parties, because that was her favorite word then, dance parties, Mardi gras parties and more. Then we had a giant 18th birthday party in a rented hall with 100 people. That was wild fun.

 Maggie knew this was her day (and really what day wasn't?) and she relished the attention.

Despite the revelry, Maggie's birthday always had a touch of sadness too. Like many parents of kids with disabilities, birthdays are a reminder of what other kids her age are like and what she would be doing if life were different. Especially in the early years when every year in a typical kids life is so different from the last. You also can't help but remember the day she was born. That day was the second worst day of my life. The child you expect is gone and you have a different child. In time you learn what to do and how to do it and you accept and relish the differences, but at first you are just terrified and sad. The day your child is born is supposed to be happy, but that day was not. It's a bit of a harbinger to let you know that everything will be measured differently.

If Maggie were still here I would be angsting over 22 because that would mean it was time to transition to the adult world. We would have to leave the school district and find a program that would work for Maggie going forward. I would have worried about nursing and all of those things and they would have been very real concerns.

How I wish I had to do that today.

But Birthdays are happy! And Maggie was happy! And remembering that makes me Happy. Well, happiER anyway.

Happy Birthday Maggie May. I hope there are dances and pinapple and Mardi Gras celebrations for you.

I miss you every minute of every day.


Sunday, February 14, 2016

Two years, zoo years

February 15th marks two years since Maggie passed away.  Two years without her laugh, two years without her smile, two years without the person who defined my life for 20 years. It seems like a minute and it seems like a lifetime.

The pain is still fairly fresh. I suppose with time it will dull somewhat, but I know it will always be there. That's just a fact of life. We all lost a piece of ourselves when she left us and we know we can't get it back.  We have learned to carry on - mostly because we have no choice - but carrying on and "getting over it" are two very different things. We are ok, but we are not whole.

One thing we have been wrestling with is how to commemorate Maggie in a public place. We wanted to dedicate a bench to her in Golden Gate Park, one of her favorite places, but the program to do that was so screwed up that it was on hiatus. Really! How hard is it to collect money and put a plaque with her name on a bench, but somehow it was a mess. Now the program is back, but still trying to get off its feet. It will be a long time before that could happen. We continue to try to find the right thing. But it's a difficult task, and it's exhausting to think about. We haven't told many people this, it's just something we have talked about at home. And, because of the weight of all of it, there is definitely more talk than action on this front.

Then something wonderful happened. Our friend Ed is on the Board of the San Francisco Zoo. He remembered how much Maggie enjoyed the accessible swing at the playground at the zoo when it reopened a couple of years ago after extensive renovations. Here's the video of that visit from November 2013


I never told Ed or really very many people about our desire to commemorate Maggie publicly. It's just something we have talked about at home. That makes this all the more amazing.

 Unbeknownst to us, Ed and wife Lynn made a contribution to the zoo in Maggie's name and a portion of that playground will be dedicated to Maggie with the most beautiful plaque.



He came by on my birthday the other day to give it to us. Everyone of us was in tears. I have never received a more amazing gift and cannot imagine I ever will.

Not only will Maggie's name be visible for all to see, it will be in a place of joy, something she had in spades. Kids are happiest in a playground. Maggie was always happy in any playground, but especially in one that was accessible and she could actually join in the merriment.   Anytime you find yourself at the San Francisco Zoo please be sure to stop by the playground and look for Maggie's plaque. There will be the sound of laughing children in the background, which is perfect.

So we mark two years with the expected sadness, but we look forward to the dedication and know that Maggie's name and memory will be part of the fun.  And we all have to smile a bit at that.

Simon and Garfunkel said it best. "It's all happening at the zoo.  I do believe it, I do believe it's true"





Note: The zoo always accepts donations. go here if you want to contribute.


Thursday, February 4, 2016

Same song, new lyrics

I have a big birthday coming up. One with a zero after it. Those always give one pause.

How can I be this old when I don't feel any different than I did in college? OK, the knees and back are a little slower and there's definitely more of me to love, but inside I'm exactly the same. So many years and experiences under the belt, but I don't feel any older.  I still marvel at the fact that I have children, but they are no longer children. It's hard to reconcile.

My friends feel the same way. I have several close friends that I grew up with and we are all facing the same big birthday, yet we go out and laugh ourselves silly about the same things we laughed about decades ago.   Exactly the same things.  And they are still funny. 

When you have lifelong friends they know all your secrets. There's no BS. They can pull up some obscure moment from your past in every detail and have you in stitches in no time. 

In 1980 - yes 36 years ago - I went to Europe with my friend Nonie and my sister Kate. We spent weeks traveling around with our backpacks sleeping on trains and having a great time. When we were in Salzburg, Austria we took a "Sound of Music" tour. It was something Nonie really wanted to do and of course we went along.  It turned out to be one of the most memorable and most hilarious days of my life. This is partly because it was the morning after a late night at a local beer garden. We were seriously hung over but rather than fumble our way through it, we decided to fully embrace this tour. It was small, just the three of us, a guide and a Japanese man who sold Harpsichords. Of course we named him Lurch. He excitedly told us he saw the movie seven times (and this is before the days of vcrs and dvds). That started us laughing and we never stopped. Lurch laughed right along with us. 

We went to the house and grounds the Von Trapp Family lived in the movie. It was beautiful, of course and we had to reenact the scene in the Gazebo where Liesl and her soon-to-be-Nazi boyfriend sang "I am 16 going on 17."  It was hilarious and ridiculous and I know given the chance I would do the same thing again.  

I may have aged, but I have not matured. 

I tell you that story simply so I can share this photograph that I received in the mail the other day. Nonie sent it in anticipation of my big birthday. That's me in Salzburg in 1980 doing my impression of Liesl.   The caption is more recent. 



The lyrics have changed, but the song remains the same.