Friday, July 9, 2010

Orbiting the planet

This is long, but it seems I was ready to share some of my baggage today, though it wasn't on my planner to do so.  Feel free to fast forward if serious isn't your thang...

This has been a wonky week in the life of this blogger.  And what does that mean??  Merriam-Webster on line defines wonky as:  unsteady or shaky, from a British derivation of the German term wankon, which means "to totter".  While these definitions don't specify it, I expect they refer to a physical state of being.  I, on the other hand, am referring to my emotional state of being.  It's been a weird week in several realms of my life...overall I have felt sort "off the beam" in my day to day activities.  The uncomfortableness of this is heightened by my mountaintop experience last weekend at the AA convention.  I came home literally walking a foot off the ground.  Clear, optimistic, deeply peaceful and spiritually connected.  Well, as they say in AA, keep your seat belt fastened, because the sober journey is the ride of your life.   Actually LIFE is the ride of your life!  And you may quote me on that.

I mentioned in my last post that work has been experiencing major suckage in my mind, and in the minds of most with whom I work.  There is a huge renovation underway in our building (an o-o-o-o-old school) that is including asbestos abatement, creating new windows and doors in classrooms, and so on.  It seems that our administration or whoever calls the shots have been at the pinnacle of their endless ineffectual operations in the planning of this huge endeavor, and problems and drama are the rule of each day.  Yesterday when I pulled into the parking lot, there were firetrucks with flashing lights, police cars, other first responders...and many people milling about. 

Turns out there was a weird smell and haze in the bldg that caused one of the first people to walk in to have a major asthma attack, so as a precaution, all these special responders and technicians were called in STAT to assess the air quality in every inch of the place.  This was as large vans were pulling in to deposit clients for the day and staff were arriving.  The way it played out...we stood outside (92 degrees by 8:30 a.m.) until 10:15 when the building was deemed safe by the powers that be and we were allowed to enter and start the day.  I could detail this to the n-th degree, but suffice to say that this latest shindig managed to shave off the last veneer of morale and respect for the place any I (or anyone else) was clinging to.  People. Not. Happy.  Lots of complaining and grousing by the masses, of which I was one. 

Why am I droning on about this?  Hell if I know...this stuff just exuded forth through the digits.  The work event was surreal, which is how things are seeming this week.  Bizarre and dreamlike.  Maybe it's the heat and humidity, or the inevitable crash that follows a mountaintop experience, or even the fact that this is my birthday month and though my "new age" is not significant in the sense that it will end with a "0" or even a "5", it holds huge significance in my personal journey and evolution.  This birthday has been looming in my emotional landscape for a very long time.

I'll be 57.  The reason that this is so laden with emotion and meaning for me is that my mom did not live to be 57.  She died at age 56 years and 9 months of age.  I was 23, an only child, and had taken a leave of absence from my real life (that included living with my boyfriend of about 6 years at the time and a new job as an RN on a Pediatric Oncology unit at the University of Florida's teaching hospital) to go home and care for her during her last 6 weeks with metastatic cancer.  She died January 15, 1977... 3 months and 2 days before her next birthday.  That whole year became one that made me extremely happy to say goodbye to it on New Year's Eve going into 1978.  It was hard, sad, lonely, and life altering.  I began questioning everything I thought I knew.  It occurred to me that the only person in the world who had any blood relation to me and allegedly "loved me" was gone (even though my boyfriend at the time loved me; my friends loved me...remember, feelings aren't necessarily rational).  It was a year that I walked into a community mental health center several months after Mom's death fearing I was losing my mind.  Daughter's first therapy ensued.  Rough year.

My relationship with my mom was charged...I never doubted she loved me, but I knew at some level that she didn't necessarily like me.  I've always said she wanted a daughter but that I didn't think she wanted the daughter she got.  I'm not going for sympathy here, folks.  Rather I'm recounting my feelings and my "truth" then, and to some extent, now.  She was also an only child and her dad was a tough and mean man.  He was mean to me...I can only imagine what went down for Mom.  She was afraid to confront him about things.  The only grandmother I knew was a step grandmother, his second wife.  Even when I was too young to get all the connections, I never liked her nor warmed up to her, and neither did my mom (which I'm sure influenced me to some degree).  So Mom clearly had a rough go of it herself.  But at the age of 23, while she was still here and before she got so sick, I wasn't all that interested in or cognizant of that.  I never asked her about herself the way I would now.  The way I've always been SINCE I GREW UP.

Anyway, my mom and I became closer in my late teens and early 20s, but always our relationship was always strained, and she didn't trust me to do things like drive.  I did get my drivers' license at 16, but she NEVER let me drive her car, claiming I didn't have the sense to drive attentively.  Hmmm, the Florida Department of Transportation didn't have any problem issuing me a license the first time I tested for it.  But she'd never let me take her car, even after I was an RN, home taking care of her while she was dying..lifting her into the bathtub, cooking, giving her shots for pain.  There was at last a morning where my own car was being fixed, and we needed something for her, and she said, "Just take my car."  "Really?" I asked.  "Go ahead," she replied.  And to myself I thought, "She's going to be dead within the week."  She was.   She couldn't let go of her notions about me until close to the end, when she realized I'd be the one sorting through her life after she passed.  But with the consent to driver her car, I knew at a deep level that she was giving me a nod of love and acceptance after watching me and being with me those last 6 weeks when I became her private duty nurse as well as her scatterbrained daughter.

Anyway, I know she had very low self esteem, was quite a drinker, and always searching for "something" that I don't think she ever found.  She had a razor sharp wit, and great sense of humor.  Readers may or may not realize that in many ways, I'm a lot like her.  But I finally have found what I was looking for all those years in bottles, cupcakes, cigarettes and even drugs for a bit.  Yet within our similarities lies the rub of my spiritual itchiness as I approach my 57th birthday.

Even though my life has unfolded very differently than did hers in a thousand ways, our similarities have led me to fear that her essence permeated me so completely that I'm destined to live HER life.  Sounds crazy, and in my head I can enumerate countless ways that our lives have been and are entirely different... I always vowed to never have an only child...once my daughter was born I was on a mission to have another child so as not to repeat the pattern.  I got sober and have an incredibly full rich life.  I've stopped a probably long cycle of distant parenting by doing a hell of a lot of work on myself.  I could go on and on about how and why we're different.  But in my heart and soul, the fear has remained that I'm doomed to live it out as she did.  Which means...not living to see 57. 

This is a very old story of my life, and I assure you all of this material (of which what I've written is but the iceberg's tip) has been examined and discussed and felt and contemplated and therapized for many years.  I'm really okay now - I think I've turned out great, and better yet, my family does too.  MY family,  that is different entirely from the one I shared with my mom.  I'm blessed, lucky, and have received unwarranted gifts that my mom didn't have.  I've also had to do a lot of hard painful work.  And despite all the work and immense healing, vestiges of the murky past have lingered long past their welcome. 

I think my mom and I would have become good friends had she lived longer.  As I got over being an obnoxious teenager and a know-it-all twenty something, I might have become interested and able to hear her story.  But that's not how my own was written.  As I'm now within 2 weeks of hitting 57, I'm believing it might really happen.  That maybe I'm not destined to buy the farm at too young an age when there is still much living left, like there could have been for her.  Maybe I'll get to see my children marry, have kids, spoil my grandchildren, travel with my husband the way we've always planned.  I'm not sure if I have survivor's guilt or simple gratitude for my life being as it is. Mixed with sadness at not being able to reach out to my mom the way so many wonderful folks have reached out to me over the years, offering kindness, love, and an interested and listening ear.

Ah forgiveness - self and others.  I hope it's not too late to offer it out even to those who've already gone to the next realm.  Best to practice it fully while I'm still in this sphere.


  1. My heart goes out to you - the almost 57 year old, and the young girl and young woman you were. My dad died when I was 23. Unexpectedly. My husband lost his dad to cancer when he was only 15. We have often discussed what it is like to lose a parent and if it is better they go like my dad or like his. But I digress. I can not appreciate what your life must have been like, but I can feel just a bit of the fear and the wonder of what might have been. (I really would have liked to have seen my dad as a grandfather!) My husband's dad did not die of a hereditary cancer; my dad did indeed die of very hereditary heart disease. So I wonder how I will feel when I get to the same age he was.

    I am glad that you can see that you are not your mother and not destined to live her life or die her death. (Sorry, that sounded morbid.) Please let us know when your actual birthday gets here so we can rain down love and good wishes upon your deserving head:)


  2. It's amazing what we will internalize as our own truths, isn't it? But you are recognizing this and exposing the though to the light of rational thought. I think that Bick has pretty much the same set of beliefs/fears. He was a later-in-life baby and his dad died at 56. I think he believes the same thing and up until recently, has been doing his dead-level best to make sure it actually happened.

    While I have nothing sage to add, I will say that I am in the midst of the same construction chaos at my office at it just keeps all of us off our beam.

    Have a wonderful weekend, Leslie.

  3. Sorry about the work conditions!

    This is a very touching story about your relationship with your mom. I'm nodding at parts. Mother/daughter relationships are tough. I feel like you do, that I disappointed my mom in some way. She is gone now and I always thought our relationship could have improved had she lived longer. I have accepted it for what it was and forgiven especially myself and vowed to work very hard on my relationship with my own daughter.

    Thanks for sharing all of this. This will help lots of people!

  4. Wow.

    Not entirely sure about a response that won't sound flippant, but it sounds like you have climbed a mountain. But the part I see is you went to therapy, and you are working on you. I find that people ignore problems that are 'mind' in nature. If they had a broken leg, a doctor would be tops on the list, but a hurt psyche, eh, walk it off...

    And I agree, you need to say when your birthday is, so we can all leave happy, goofy, fun birthday bs to celebrate! ;)


  5. I'm glad you have delved into the whys...interesting how long some things stay with us, eh? I have no doubt that we all will be here in two weeks shouting "Happy 57th Birthday, Leslie!!!" from the rooftops. Thanks for opening up - I learn so much from you.

  6. My mom died when I was 11. She was 34 with 3 kids. A girl and 2 younger boys. I was very emotional when I was 34 with 3 kids, a girl and 2 younger boys. I couldn't imagine that being the end for me. For them without me. I'm tearing up just writing this. It's hard. It really puts things into a different perspective. Thank you for sharing.

  7. So you have had this connection/stages thing going with you hitting your mom's 'ages'. Did you have this when your kids hit your 'ages' too?

    I have had NO connection in hitting my mom's ages and stages. But I really SEE things as my kids hit my ages.

    (I never really understood the past dysfunction until I saw what kids were supposed to learn and how support was supposed to be there as a base so kids can grow up straight and true and whole).

  8. When I was in my early-40's, a 50ish co-worker told (warned) me that stuff from childhood comes back to (haunt) you in your 50's. I don't know if it was the power of suggestion, or simply a universal truth, but she was right. The whys and ways are making sense, even if they are hard to face.

    So understandable that you're anxious about reaching #57. You are honoring your mom and your family by the way you are living today, and I hope you can make your peace with the past.


  9. Wow-I teared up reading some of the things you wrote...I've said some of the same exact words to my husband.

    There was a time when I realized I hated my mother and I was appalled w/myself. But immidiately after the realization of my true feelings hit me, I heard these words: "She did the best she could." Those words helped me to let go, forgive and understand her (for the most part). Our relationship would prove stressfull until her passing in 2005. Talk about deep depression..anyhoo-God is helping me still.

    If my mother knew how to love me "more" or "better", I am 100% positive she would have. I now think she was proud of me and I believe she wished she had loved me differently.

    Thank you for this post: there is healing.

  10. This was a deeply touching post to me. It brings up so many memories and emotions about my own Mom, who is gone now.

    I'm glad you are able to work through this all... and still are. Yes, let us know when the big day is... we all want to help you celebrate.

  11. Oh gosh Leslie, this made me tear up. You've been through so much and come out the other end, a wonderful, compassionate person. I am sure we'd be great friends if we lived closer!

    My mom was 57. It's a number that makes me nervous, too. But you, I can tell that YOU have many years left in you and will be bugging your kids until you're into your late 90's or beyond!!

    Hugs :)

  12. Anonymous09 July, 2010

    I have just decided that you are the bravest woman I know.

    You put it out there, risking the inappropriate comments from those who don't understand that stating truth isn't the same as being negative or feeling self-pity or being unforgiving. It just is what it is--or in this case, was.

    I identified with some of what you said as far as relationship with you mother goes. That kind of thing, leaves damage--no doubt about it. It heals, as you've discovered--but scars remain.

    I have something funny about that. Although, granted, it will only seem funny to those with a certain type of wit. I think you'll get it.

    This is not the funny part, but you have to know it for the "joke" to make sense. My brother is gay. He has lived with a the same guy, Jimmy, for about 20 years now. Jimmy is much younger than my brother, and one of those cuddly, giggly, huggy types.

    My mother adores him. (She also is in denial about the exact nature of the relationship--but that is decidedly a different story.)

    Anyway, my brother's joke is that "Jimmy is the daughter my mother never had." It wouldn't be funny if it were not so true. sigh.

    Like I said some of the mother/daughter angst, I get.

    The private histories of fellow bloggers can be pretty surprising, huh? :D

    May this birthday find you able to be feel safe and comfortable in a gentle serenity.


  13. I am so sorry. I pray you have a wonderful birthday and remember the good times . My mom was my best friend. I liked going places with her more than with my friends sometimes. But now I treat her like a stranger. I rarely hug her and have to make myself tell her I love her . I already thought you were so strong now I know you are the strongest women I know. Love ya girl.

  14. Leslie, thanks for this post. I also had quite a bit of angst when I was about to turn 49, since my dad died right before that birthday. I went in for a complete cardiac workup but the doctor said I really looked great. His legacy is not my legacy and there actually is a different plan for my life.

    What greater issue it pointed out to me is the debilitating nature of this fear of loss that I have, always waiting for the other shoe to fall, waiting for someone to die, for an irretrievable loss. To me, that was the ultimate damage of losing my dad right befor my 15th birthday, beyond the loss itself. The fear of loss.

  15. Anonymous10 July, 2010

    You write so beautifully about things. You do have a very different life, and you are blessed to have received your mom's humor and wit. I can't say I understand....because I haven't lost my parents, but I know others who have and feel similiarly to you. We have no way of knowing at 23 what we would've wanted to discuss or learn. Your mom would be very proud of the person you've become. Happy 57 in 2 weeks!!

  16. It has totally rocked my world to be treated the way I have been treated at my job. It has been very very unsettling. I don't have near the stuff you're dealing with. My heart really does go out to you.

    Also. I totally relate to your mother thing. I had a strained relationship with my mother. I was hard to like, I know that she loved me. My choices didn't help much. She and my father both died before the age of 59. I never really thought I'd make it this far. You can't smoke pool cleaner for years (meth) and not expect some serious physical consequences. So far I have been very blessed.

    I love the way you have exposed your truths. You know that they are your truths. Even if they aren't real, they are real to you. That's all that matters. At least that's what I think.

    I know of the mountaintop feeling you came away with from the convention. Really for a while there is no where to but down. Remember everything changes. Just hang on!