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

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:

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.