Whatever you’re feeling angsty about, you have no right to. You don’t even have a real job! You don’t have children of your own to worry about. Is that why the unnatural attachment to pets and parents? How can you still be Catholic after…everything? And with a mouth like that. Wow, you’re a grandmother? I don’t check social media (eyeroll) but I did see your post about… Not to criticize, but. A boob job is not okay. I would never do Botox. But coloring your gray hair is? Nail polish is allowed? You’re criticizing the Facetune app but you literally got a facelift. You don’t look like any yoga teacher I’ve ever seen. There’s water in the basement again. And another mouse. We will have to pay someone to take this house off of our hands someday. But you don’t even try. You could occasionally DO something instead of going out to play. You say Namaste but your disdain for the local weather girl is public. Holier than thou. I wish I had someone to pay my bills all the time. Maybe if you work at it your house will look better…your face will look better. Stop complaining. My pet peeve is self-pity. I hate winter I hate winter I hate winter I hate winter. I can’t stand the grey. I remember my dad saying he was starting to wish away five months of the year and now I’m doing the same, but when you age you don’t want to be wishing away that much time because you realize it’s not an unlimited supply. I hate the hourglass. Always have. I love being alone but I hate never being alone, never having privacy. I can laugh that I have the body (and the shoes!) of a drag queen but the nose of a toddler. So much guilt about things I’ve said or done in the past. I scratched Bryan in first grade and Russ in 9th grade and I haven’t been as reactively angry since. I don’t even have enough anger to punch someone, or a wall even. That’s weird, right? I cry when I’m mad. Right now I have two moods, gentle anger or melancholy. And all the self-talk to cheer. You are the baby. You are not the favorite! You are the favorite. I miss my friend. You used to be the favorite aunt. Just when they were little. You lost it along the way. He didn’t mean it that way. Your husband was so nice. I’ve never been a cat person. Now I’m lost to this cat. He didn’t mean it that way. He’d do anything for anyone. Show-off. That mouth. I should be writing. It is all written in my head, so much, years’ worth. Like laundry that’s clean and even folded but never gets put away. You’ll die without that laundry being put away and no one will know anything. But who would care anyway, enough to read it? Who would read it? YOU don’t even want to read it. And then you do and and WOW that’s really good! Wait, you think that’s good writing? Who dressed this weather girl, seriously. Idiot. Hot yoga is a gimmick? Self-pity is my number one pet peeve. I just want to drive by myself. I just want to have once looked the way I dreamed. It’s only because of someone else that I got a degree, or a certification, or a license. Where is the me? Gluttony is a sin. Food, and stuff. You have always been overweight, even at your skinniest. Strongest person I know. Strong. Physically, mentally, emotionally. I seriously cannot believe anyone smokes. Alcohol doesn’t like me anymore. My intentions are always good. Jewel, as a really young person, once said publicly that you can control your own thoughts and so now I do. Back when I was up all night listening to her howl. Be better. It’s not fair that not everyone gets to see what I see some days, the squirrels, the heron. Fall makes me so melancholy. I hate morning. I hate awakening. I hate winter. I used to wake up with the window open and feel the breeze, hear the birds, feel the weight of his purring body on mine and smile. Now without the purring I don’t even notice the breeze or the birds…yet. Why was I born in relative prosperity when someone is waking up on a dirt floor, cold? I didn’t earn it, I don’t deserve it! Why do you always land on your feet? It’s not fair. You don’t deserve it. One of us is going to get sick with cancer and have to care for the other. One of us is going to die. That used to feel so far away. I miss Hap. I want to achieve more but I don’t want to work harder. I should walk today, but I might sit here and watch Bravo. Fast on Mondays. No TV on Mondays. Games people play. Don’t be so hard on yourself, you don’t deserve it. One of these times the mammogram will come back bad. I don’t want to stop eating, God I love food. I want to be a vegetarian. I don’t want to be a vegetarian. I want my hair longer, one last time. I want my hair as short as a guy. Am I too old for that? Am I too young for that? Am I too ugly for that? Pretty is as pretty does. That’s what my mom always said. I can’t see my own eyebrows very well anymore to do them. Just because you go to church doesn’t make you a good person. Why do you people put your kids through this? I wish I would’ve had a flat belly just once, even if it was when I was young. Younger was uglier for me. We just have different values, that’s all, not saying whose are better. It’s like Jedd Clampett’s yard out there and I wish I cared more or wanted to do something about it. You always think you’re right. Eye roll. I’m super cool because I drive a stick shift but I’m tall and arthritic to sit so low in a car now. Seriously you’re not that old. I cannot believe you’re this old. When did it all get to be behind instead of in front of? We can suck it up, we can be the bigger person (people.) Let them do what they need to do. It’s okay. It makes me anxious when you act like an old person. Will I find you at the bottom of the stairs one day? Will it be fast or slow or dramatic? Can’t I just eat what I want and not gain weight. Does every menopausal woman cry once a day about absolutely nothing? What will I eat when I get home. What do YOU have to be depressed about? Must be nice to be you. What’s it like to be you? Fifty and to be honest I’ve never once for more than a day had a clean polished car or a clean polished house. I love the restful feeling of walking into the neat person’s house but I know they don’t often feel restful like me so how does this all work? Will I ever get it together? Obviously not and most of the time that’s okay. Laughter. Thank God for that, and now can some people not find that everything can be funny? Make me an instrument of your peace, send your Holy Spirit to bless my words, guard my words, inspire my words, actions, asana practice, and even my thoughts that they may glorify you God and best serve those you place in my path today according to your holy will for them. Help me to serve from humility and not ego and make me better. The other night I woke to the sound of a storm through the open windows, the kind of noise and breeze and bliss me and the Peeps would enjoy together, and as I lay there and cried I heard the big family of deer walking by under my window, just a different animal to keep me company. That friend that I love but is so bitter and negative and doesn’t know it. Its not THE BFF by the way. Wasn’t that a nice daily prayer tho, but the one that comes even more often is please don’t let me be such an asshole. Please make me less of an asshole. What’s my purpose here, anyway? Thanks for inventing ice cream, whoever you are. Suck it all up, buttercup. Everyone’s got stuff. All misunderstood.
Kerrygold’s Dubliner cheese is one of several reasons I have not been able to commit to being a vegetarian. Seriously unsure I could live without a bit of it from time to time. Other than that cheese and some other isolated dairy purchases (ice cream), I try to buy organic sustainable happy cow milk products when I have to. But dairy is not inflammatory to me, and all I use is a plop of milk in my coffee and some organic plain yogurt for probiotics and calcium. Cuz no, despite my advanced age I’m still not taking calcium supplements.
I am an animal lover and advocate and yes obviously I abhor factory farmed meat. But I also run quite low on iron and after years of experimenting with diets (for weight loss, but also vegan, vegetarian, pescatarian, dairy-free, gluten-free, etc…) I just know what my body likes to run at its best. And it involves small amounts of meat a couple of times a week. So I pay through the nose for allegedly sustainably-procured animal protein. Which means our Thanksgiving turkeys are about 75 bucks. But I feel better.
On the subject of food, one of the bright spots of my week was knowing that my great-niece, quite new to food at only 6 months old, zealously enjoyed the organic, washed, steamed, pureed, stored in bpa-free-containers sweet potatoes I made for her. She will grow up and grow old never knowing that as an infant, Mamie took such joy in a few hours of steaming vegetables and spooning them into serving-sized trays. But Mamie knows. Somehow when I blinked, turning away for a moment from giving hugs and love to my niece, she grew up and had a baby. So now I have this teeny, tiny hand in nurturing the baby of the first baby I ever loved.
To segue into babies that I love, Peepers is still alive and more than half-well, after convincing me he wasn’t going to make the new year. I won’t bore you with details–well, I actually WILL, probably, at some point–but for now he’s acting close to normal for a cat his age. Which is an adjustment for me, because three months ago he was acting like a cat less than half of his age. But as I type this, I hear the news that the only other remaining sibling in his litter was put to sleep this week for kidney failure. So at their age (15) and of unknown parentage (they don’t know who their daddy was, surely he was a drinking, smoking, philandering diabetic cat with no job) I guess it’s time to acknowledge his frailty. Interestingly, Peepers was the runt of his litter, and that’s the reason I ultimately kept him. Which involved a bit of a tiff, because he had been promised to a friend of a friend. But after keeping the litter long enough to safely vet and re-home them, I decided to offer that girl another cat because I couldn’t part with the Peeps. She didn’t want another cat, and Peepers stayed. I’ve never had a cat before him, only dogs, so I was rather vigilant with his health because everything was new to me. Like his parents, he received overpriced propaganda food, so maybe that helped keep him in optimal health for his genetics up until recent events. Aging takes its toll. But the last remaining sibling who passed this week had been the most robust of the litter, large, confident, the ringleader. And female. So the strongest and the weakest survived this life the longest. And the runt is the last of the red-hot lovers!
I’d still love to eke out more time with Peeps. I’ve always said I hoped to get him past age 20. Can diet and supplements and occasional fluids keep him in a good life for awhile? Time will tell. The vet knows that it’s not my plan to keep him alive if he’s ever suffering. And we’ve all put pets down before and know how this goes. But I was unprepared to find out how different cats are than dogs. For example, in conversations with friends I volunteered with at the cat shelter, and other cat owners, it seems this sub-cutaneous fluids thing and appetite stimulation is a common thing with cats. So God apparently made an animal that will curl up behind a chair, filing its nails in boredom, and say, “nah, that food isn’t what I want, and plus it’s all the way across the room, so I will instead just die here.”
He’s here with me, curled up on the bed in the spare bedroom while I type. I’m exhausted emotionally from all the self-talk of being willing to let him go, but also listening to more experienced cat people tell me this ain’t (yet) that tragic and he may have some good life left in him. I never thought of myself as impatient, but his improvement (behavior-wise, like wanting to jump on the refrigerator or drink out of every sink in the house) is slow in coming. And maybe it will come, maybe it won’t. It’s the not knowing, the being patient, that apparently keeps me stressed. I’m not a stressy person. And I’m still in denial that this situation caused my hives or my recent illness. I’m pretty sure a dad with dementia was more stressful than this, but no hives then.
And I tread lightly in saying this, because it’s ridiculous to compare my cat to a sick child, but all I’ve been able to think of since this started, since I wake up every day and first check on where he is and how he feels before I can proceed with my day, is how the hell do people with chronically ill family members survive? How do they go to work if their sick child is having a bad day, a seriously bad day with pain and suffering and dire consequences? And not even how do they GO to work, but how do they un-preoccupy their mind enough to even drive to work? To put a bite of food in their mouth? To brush their teeth?
A sick pet for a couple of months and I ate like a trash can and stopped flossing. Like there was no room in my psyche for mundane details while this was going on. So I’m not saying it’s even close–I’m saying that from now on I pray fervently for people going through worse. Who still have to cook and work and carpool and pay bills.
Now let’s talk about joy. I keep hearing this new year about how to purge the clutter from your home by touching items and seeing if they “spark joy” in your heart, and if not…it’s file 13. I like it! It has helped me. I keep things I don’t love, often, because I love the person who gave them to me. But that’s stupid. Because most of the time, unless it’s a memento like a piece of jewelry, ain’t nobody gonna remember the sweater they bought you or notice if they’ve seen you wear it, and they certainly aren’t going to go through the closet to see if you kept it. So I’m going with it! Except I will keep the traffic-cone orange hooded rain jacket my husband bought me, because it’s simply so ugly that it has become a story. And that does give me joy.
My car gives me joy, and today I had to take her to the dealer for a blinker to be fixed. (Yes, I know this is a small chore some people take care of themselves, and in fact I’m pretty sure one of my sisters has done this for herself on her car. But this is me we’re talking about. But before you judge, I DID take the back off of my dryer a couple years ago to be sure it wasn’t just a blown fuse before I purchased a new one.) When I have to take my car in, it’s always a scramble because my car is basically an apartment. Today’s efforts to tidy up were actually not that taxing, mostly because it’s winter. So I had to move someone’s Christmas gift (thought I’d see her over the holidays and still haven’t) to the trunk, move the bottle of champagne I keep hearing rolling around the floor in the back to the front passenger seat, ditch bank deposit slips in the trash (because, do I really want them to see the size of my deposits? Some people may think this would incite theft or bitterness because a person has huge bank accounts. But seeing the $50 deposit for teaching two yoga classes at an adult day-hab facility may actually spark pity, and I don’t want that.) Come to think of it, maybe they saw one today by accident, because when it came time to check out, the service manager told me she wasn’t charging me because it took a little longer than expected.
This month was my book club meeting, and I have to confess I read that book in the eleventh hour because I assumed it would annoy me. Late to the bandwagon, I may actually cop to being a fan of Rachel Hollis (Girl, Wash Your Face, among other successes.) A good friend was reading/listening to the book on Audible, and she was a bit irritated by Ms. Hollis’ vocal quality, which is EXACTLY the kind of thing that I’m easily annoyed by (if you know me, you know which local weather chick drives me nuts with her affect!)…so, I promptly went to my cable television remote, having recently discovered I could say “YouTube!” into and watch videos on my television…and watched a few interviews with Rachel Hollis. And I was not irritated. I can absolutely see where the annoyance would occur, but it didn’t work on me. She just seems too sincere to me for it to matter. Plus, she said a few things on a podcast which seemed to be directed right at me. So, I’m on that bandwagon for now. I’m not part of her “tribe,” all the rage, that buzzword…and I don’t feel like we have much in common, because she’s pretty much the antithesis of me. But I like her. Which makes this all the more serendipitous.
Speaking of speaking into my remote, I found myself this week on the couch, under a blanket, with a spoon in my jar of homemade peanut butter…watching power yoga on YouTube.
Other bright spots in my week:
Seeing a guy on a riding lawnmower drive out to get his mail, on a not-very-long driveway. I decided maybe he had a busted hip. Or a hangnail.
Walking out to get the mail myself on a different day, between black-as-night hailstorms, and noticing the warm sun…saying to myself, “but another storm is coming,” (having been told that by my iPhone) and then replying to myself, “No. Just notice the sun. Full stop.”
Realizing I’m definitely like a grandmother (and, in fact, AM a grandmother) because I have two pairs of pajamas that stay in the drawer unless I’m traveling. To “keep them nice.” Too much stuff, yes, but having decent pajamas when traveling does “spark my joy,” so they made the cut. The rest of my pj’s are bleached, ripped, stretched pants, often flannel, or having cats (my best friend swore years ago to keep me in line by allowing cats on only socks and pajamas, not real clothes) or shoes or wine patterns, and worn with old shirts whose sleeves have been cut off carelessly. Why? Because my annoying ample bosom makes sleeves feel restrictive for me. Like when I reach my arm for something, I feel like the whole shirt tightens and my neck feels choked. This is the same reason I can’t practice yoga in any sleeves. It’s not because I think my arms are sexy. So now you know.
Speaking of acting like a grandma, I ran into a grade-school friend, the boy–because we were the same height–who was my boy/girl line up partner from Kindergarten to First Communion to 8th grade graduation at St. Bartholomew. I ended up in line BEHIND him for a change, at the CVS. Where I was buying cat food. And ice cream. I’m not making this up. It was Ben & Jerry’s Cherry Garcia. And gravy-lovers chicken feast.
I will probably never blog to list things that were UN-bright spots of my week, but finding out after two decades that my husband eats a Klondike bar with a plate and a spoon was unwelcome information. It might have even been a fork. I couldn’t watch, so I’m not sure. But I forgave him, because he also wordlessly handed me the very last dregs of the leftover mashed potatoes before putting the bowl in the sink. Oh no, I’m sorry–NEXT to the sink, because he apparently thinks it looks better to have dirty dishes on the counter than in the sink.
Hey, follow Lin-Manuel Miranda on Twitter. I don’t think you’ll be sorry.
Today will never happen again. You will never be this young again. Don’t cling too tightly on to the last remnants of this day with clenched fingers. Instead, open your hands and release it, with palms up and fingers out, knowing that all the experiences and moments of the day, good and bad, have become part of you, like a spill of wine that can never quite be erased. You have been flavored and stained, marked slightly and changed by this day. Now, you have the opportunity to let that set and cure, to become part of you forever. You are present, lying in the stillness you’ve created to allow the spirit of this day to land on you lightly, to seep in and become another seasoning in the you who shall arise tomorrow, and be present once more; as young as you will ever be again.
There was a big, fat, cheeky, cheerful squirrel (as is the case on most days) performing acrobatic stunts and possibly saying “na na nana boo boo!” (in the language of squirrels) as he faced Jane’s wall of glass this morning from his perch atop the vertical slats of the wooden fence.
It was six degrees Fahrenheit. I know this because my Volkswagen told me so as I drove my creaky, holiday-overstuffed body to practice yoga this morning.
These are the mornings I want to stay in bed, to plead the case to myself that if I just stay home from yoga and diet for a few days, I will feel SO MUCH BETTER about going. Because for the past 60 days or so, I have been traveling, drinking, eating sumptuous roasts and the fatted calf and the sacrificial lamb and Burgermeister Meisterburger’s turkey leg…and the cookies. And enough chocolate for an entire neighborhood’s Halloween. And I’ve loved it, but my scale says I’ve loved it ten pounds worth. And my skin is itchy. And my sinuses are sneezy. Even my elbows are fat, or it feels that way. Zippy pants make muffin top, so I had to temporarily abandon them. So I want to hide for a week or two, get myself back in order, and then come out.
If I weren’t teaching yoga now, there’s a decent chance that I would have done just that. But I can’t, because later today, and tomorrow, and going forward, I have a commitment to teach yoga. (I don’t call it a job.) A commitment that I love, and that I live. Because part of the reason I WANT to do it is to share it with others. So, as I always joke to my husband at this time of year, some days my success is that people can come to my yoga class and say, “See? She can do it, and she sure isn’t shaped like a yoga teacher!”
And that’s okay. Because that really IS a success. I’m happy to support that line of thinking.
Back to the squirrel. (“Look! Squirrel!) This morning’s squirrel was fat and sassy, but his (or her) girthy butt was out there, confident as ever. That extra fat, designed to keep him warm and fed during the winter, did not hold him back from leaping with abandon towards a nearby tree branch. It didn’t stop him from balancing and then running on a wood track maybe an inch wide. He didn’t fall, he didn’t balk.
His body didn’t forget what to do. It didn’t lose strength because it had more to carry, it gained it. His power was palpable, the sinew twitching beneath his meaty haunches.
He was also full of joy. Strong and free, season be damned. He was in a good mood.
Sometimes this Tarzan-esque squirrel, or another member of his brood, will taunt us through the window, luring our drishti away to follow his antics, stopping just short of jamming his little squirrel thumbs into his ears and waggling his tongue at us. He is playful but business-like.
If you’re feeling the same way as I am, hesitant to drag your holiday-plumped, pale, wintertime self to do anything physical, come on out.
You’re strong, and your body hasn’t forgotten it. You’re stable, and you will see that you can count on it. You’re flexible, in body AND mind, and that’s what will get you there. And you’re beautiful, which you will realize as soon as you join the rest of us on our mats and see the whole group of us as individual, lovely disasters.
We’re exactly where we need to be.
Have a day! No pressure!!
Funny, when I started this blog years ago I used the word “musings” to describe it, but I’m not sure I have done that at all. I think I tend to use Facebook for my musings, Twitter for my criticism (most people I know in my age group and older are on Facebook so I can be meaner on Twitter and still not blow my cover), and Snapchat for…well, snapchat.
I avoid writing unless I feel I have the time and inspiration for a full, concise essay with a message and hook and an ending. Why? No one sees this anyway, for the most part! So I’m gonna MUSE!
Yesterday evening, I realized as I stood in line for fresh peach ice cream, a seasonal offering at Mitchells, that at that very moment when my husband and I were capping off a long day of sun, food, and cocktails in the searing late summer Sunday heat, a boy I went to high school with–and with whom my husband would eventually cross office space with–was sitting at a service to bury his 19-year old son who had committed suicide. We had visited with the family at the wake earlier in the day, not knowing what to do or say besides a hug, tears, and the promise of prayers. Being thankful for our mental health and that of our children, my husband and I, murmuring taboo words about what life would be like for this family now that every day would cease to be about managing the lifelong depression and emotional chaos of this boy. Realizing that on the day of his birth, they had a perfect baby and life was just beginning, and no matter what happened in the years after that, on one blissful day that baby was fresh and new like we all are once and nothing was “wrong.”
I wouldn’t look at the poster boards of photographs of the boys as a child. I didn’t know him, had never met him. I didn’t have waterproof mascara on. I was afraid of touching that place which I wanted to avoid.
And then, fully appreciating the possibly obscene juxtaposition of our day vs. theirs, we went off to enjoy Cleveland’s refurbished downtown areas, waterfront, dinner, drinks, ice cream. Celebrating our own fifteen years of wedded bliss, and bliss is pretty much an apt description of it. Why do some get so much on their shoulders, and all that has been on my shoulders, it seems, is the sunshine that I seek so fervently this time of year?
So why write when I have no pat answer or cute meme to punctuate these thoughts? Musings. I’m just musing. And that’s how it works.
And a few less important things that really take up room in my head: I want our local weather person to stop telling me whether to eat my meal on the patio or in the air conditioning. I want her to stop instructing children what weight jacket to wear to the bus stop, and for the sake of all that is meterological I want her to stop sharing recipes. Just tell me the weather. I can make the rest of the decisions on my own.
I think BlueApron or whatever this gourmet food delivery and recipe thing is called is stupid. How hard is it to go the store and buy the six items needed for a recipe? This is another reason why people hate Americans. I know I’m right about this, and I know you probably feel the same way about some things I do, like posting yoga poses and swishing with coconut oil and still having a land-line. But these are my musings, so today I’m right.
Now, after months, I wrote something. So now I’m free to go make a playlist for my noon yoga class, because I feel like that’s fun and this is work. Why, I’m not sure, because I get paid for the yoga and not for the writing. Which is another hilarious turn of events since my intention was not to necessarily teach yoga. But two great yoga jobs were tossed into my lap like a hot potato (vs. a football, because if you toss a football into my lap I will let it fall because I think football is mostly unnecessary in my life, but a potato (hot or otherwise) I will never let pass me by) and I am completely, unexpectedly energized by teaching.
Have a day. No pressure, it’s Monday. Open heart and no complaining.
Walking On Water
In the summer of 2013, I was 44 years old. I feel like myself only in summer, the kind of person who is miserable for the long Cleveland months when the temperature is below, say, 64 degrees. Obviously, I live in an inhospitable climate. But during the summer months, I am alive. I carry spare shoes everywhere with me in my car to walk outside, I practice yoga in parks on tree stumps or bridges, and I don’t begrudge the ugly humidity that makes everyone look shiny and slimy, with dirty hair. I love and embrace it all. It’s easier for me, no doubt, because I am currently taking a break from employment to finally go to college full-time, so I don’t need to put on layers of spackle and hairspray, dress in a suit or Spanx, or worry about armpit stains on my blouse. I gladly parade my sweat as I walk with my ear-buds tightly placed, eating as many meals outside as possible and refusing to come indoors. These summer days, as hot and oppressive to some as the whoosh of air which accosts your face when you open an oven on Thanksgiving, are what I spend the rest of the year waiting for.
This past summer, however, my Polish/Irish/Lebanese fair-in-winter, olive-in-summer skin had barely seen the outdoors. It was the summer of Hap—that’s my dad’s name—again. Two years prior, it was also a summer of Hap, when my dad took a final rapid slide down into a well of a dementia marked by hallucinations, violence, and delusions. Since then, my mom and sisters, along with our husbands and children, had visited him daily in his residential nursing home—a nursing home made necessary by his physical strength and that of the aggressive delusions which plagued him; hallucinations of people harming us, his family, which left him no choice but to try to take down the aggressors. Our dad, our defender.
Over time, Hap grew weaker, physically and mentally, and then, the summer of Hap 2013 became about his final days. He had been hospitalized for a while with digestive issues which seem unresolvable at that point in his illness, and then he had been sent to hospice-care to transition through to death. My family members and I had seen nothing but the inside of his medical bedrooms for the better part of two months. In the end, we were grateful that his final time occurred in the summer, because his grandkids were home from school and around to visit him, and to spend time within the cocoon of the very last days we would all be together as a complete family, the finals weeks, days, hours, minutes with our beloved mentor and patriarch, our team captain.
The time was rich; irreverent, fruitful, angry, dark, food-filled, and emotional. We ate fistfuls of Honey-baked ham and packaged cookies to pass the time. We talked, recalling old memories…we sang (John Denver, poorly), we mocked each other. We chastised my dad, who was mostly unconscious and certainly unaware by this point, for keeping us cooped up all summer. We made funeral arrangements. One day in July, I slipped out into the sunshine to a waiting bench near a statue of Jesus, and I wrote out my dad’s eulogy in longhand, a speech I had been giving in my head for years, knowing always that it was incumbent upon me to try to do this remarkable man justice in words. A nun saw me from the window of my dad’s room and assumed I was sunbathing. I did not correct her. There was something perversely funny to me about tanning in the back of a Catholic institution meant for the dying.
After more than a week in hospice, I looked at my calendar one day at my dad’s bedside, and realized I had signed up for a stand-up paddleboard yoga experience on Lake Erie for the next day. I’m sure it had seemed like a grand idea at the time, a group decision with a couple of yoga friends. The daughter my dad had known would never have attempted this—I was not an athlete by any means, spending much of my life a little overweight and a lot under-exercised. I was not a strong swimmer, if you could call me a swimmer at all, and I don’t know if you could. I may or may not be able to keep my head above water and make some progress in a time of trouble on water, but I’m not certain the resulting action could accurately be labeled “swimming.” Yoga was the only exercise I did, and even that was the result of my recent search for peace during my dad’s illness, not any physical prowess. I also have a healthy fear of large bodies of water, and no confidence in my ability to perform this scheduled outing. It was decidedly out of my comfort zone.
I texted my yoga-friend Jenny, because the excursion had already been paid for, and I hoped that she could find someone to take my place and enjoy the experience. But as the day went on, I felt a nagging pull at my consciousness to consider leaving my dying father’s bedside for a few hours to do something completely out of the ordinary. I was scared, not only of being able to navigate the actual physical activity, but that after all of these days and nights spent in this room, my dad might slip away during the one time I was absent. To be truthful, I also feared the impression it would leave with others: my family, the nurses, the general “people” who would undoubtedly ask, “what kind of daughter would leave her dying father’s bedside to go play watersports on a summer evening?”
I think it was that final bit, though, that actually convinced me. My dad, a man of many unique and wonderful characteristics, was most known for walking his own path, no matter what anyone thought. He sold investments to wealthy clients wearing a Cleveland Indians tee-shirt (he was about to be buried in one, too). He drove goofy vehicles which had personality (most recently a cobalt-blue turbo-charged Subaru) no matter how luxurious a car he could actually afford, and he took his wife (our mother) on all of his business trips because he wanted her to see the world with him. If he knew that I was bailing out on something I’d committed to simply because I was afraid of how I would look to other people, he would shake his head at me. It began to occur to me that this activity could actually be a tribute to my dad, that he would get me through it and inspire me to appreciate the beauty and accomplishment and camaraderie of what I was about to undertake.
I had a talk first with Paula, the wonderful hospice nurse who had been taking care of my dad every weekday of his hospice stay. She was a friend by then, it being such an intense time for sharing family stories and feelings with intimate strangers. She also knew my dad, his physical condition, very well. It had started to deteriorate more rapidly, and we knew the end was nearer than it had been. I asked, “Paula, what should I do? If I have a thing to do tonight, do you think it’s okay for me to leave to do it? Or is he close?”
Paula (who by the way, my dad would have absolutely loved and would have probably nicknamed something like “Scrappy” because she was small but fierce), looked towards my dad’s bed, looked back at me, and repeated both actions. Then she said, “You know him. What would he tell you to do?” Well played, Paula. And right on. So, with the confidence born from the knowledge that nothing else can possibly even matter when you’re about to lose someone forever, I walked out of my dad’s room that evening, not knowing if I would see him again alive. Of course, as I grasped his hand and kissed him goodbye, I said (as I always did), “See ya tomorrow!” But I felt like something had changed. Something bigger was happening, and it almost felt as if my dad had already left that body.
Incidentally, one of the most valuable things about hospice for us was the way that it gave us our dad back, restored to his old self in a way. The dementia had been so grueling, and his perceptions and statements so out of character, that once he was debilitated enough that he could no longer speak, we were left with his beautiful blue eyes (for the first day or two, until he became semi-conscious at best) and the feeling that he had been delivered from dementia, and instead lay dying here as his former self, in his right mind. The hospice caregivers changed his bedding every day before we even arrived, shaved him, brushed his teeth, washed his hair, made him look like he was in his own bed at home, no longer hooked up to IV’s or tubes. So when I leaned over him that day, he smelled of shaving cream, toothpaste, and soap, just the way I remembered him. I carried that smell with me as I drove away, recalling how it would come down the stairs ahead of him on Sundays, when he was the last one ready as the rest of us waited to leave for church. A man with a wife and three daughters is last in line for a shower.
The day was one of the hottest that July, maybe in the nineties. Despite that, I drove to the lake with my windows and sunroof open, drinking in the moist heat and the dangerous feeling that I was somewhere I was not supposed to be. I felt fragile, and grateful that the friends I was about to meet for this excursion were not close friends yet. They were women around my age, with similar interests and problems, compassionate and supportive, but I knew they would not ask me questions, hug me too tightly or lingeringly, or ask if I was okay. They knew, probably better than I, what I was there for that day and the restorative power it might have over me. They had each already buried a parent. Their support was silent, but loud. The remaining participants were strangers. It was a welcome feeling to just be an anonymous body as we all schlepped the cumbersome paddleboards off of a trailer and toward the Great-Lake Erie. Only my two yoga friends knew that I was in a liminal space, “the one whose father is actively dying.” But we couldn’t concentrate on that: we had to worry about getting up, and then staying up, on the boards bobbing under us on the water inside the break wall of the lake.
Once we were all assembled and following the leader, I noticed bystanders watching from shore. Looking through their eyes, I realized that we looked fierce, like models on a women’s magazine, unaware of our ages and instead feeling like lithe, strong teenagers. We had on an assortment of swimsuits, board shorts, yoga clothes. No cell phones, no watches, just sweaty hair up in ponytails because all of us still wear it long (I heard somewhere that if a woman can remember Gerald Ford being President, she is too old to wear a ponytail). We attentively listened to Deanna, our instructor, who seemed to embody light: blonde hair, bronzed skin, with a strong and casual manner, competent. We were in good hands. We had already developed some confidence in our strength through yoga, these friends and I, but we were all shy about our abilities on this giant, often angry lake. There was little conversation, only concentration, bodies held at attention, and deliberate motion.
As we traveled up the shoreline, past indescribably unique and lovely homes and a bit away from the safety of the shore, Deanna led us through yoga poses. Yoga inherently employs “pratyahara,” the act of suspending the senses, of coming inside…so while there was a handful of us sprawled out some yards from each other, going through the same motions, we each practiced in isolation. I could feel my friends Jenny and Beth near me, all of us supporting each other with our presence, with our intention, and our breath, sending waves of friendship out from our hearts even as we were fighting hard to maintain various balances on a floating board. We generated immediate and copious sweat, which ran down not just our faces but our entire bodies, pooling in our bellies when we lay on our backs, making our hands slippery when we stood inverted in downward dog. We were ruddy, our ribcages heaving with exertion, slow, steady exertion. It was like being squeezed out, a sponge from a pail of water. Loose hairs frizzed around our faces or stuck to our temples. Any remnants of old mascara had long since smeared away.
I opened my eyes and squinted around me, the glare of the fiery evening sun slapping the dark glassy water, the sky so bright my friends were rendered just silhouettes to me. My eyes burned from the salty brine of sweat, wind, and emotion. It occurred to me that my dad was just such a silhouette now, too. I suddenly felt positively impervious to any attack, ten feet tall and bulletproof. I was aware of my upper arms and shoulders rippling in smooth strength as my paddle dipped into the water, pushing my hips forward, potent. I was as strong as I had ever been, as beautiful as I would ever be, and as capable as any other person on the planet. Without warning, I sensed my dad’s presence so strongly around me that I said aloud to my friends, “I know now that there is absolutely no place else on earth that I should be at this moment then here on this lake with you.”
I wondered if this sudden peace and feeling of connection with my dad meant that he was slipping away, even as I was gliding along in this moment of bliss. I contemplated what I would feel like if my dad took his last breath while I was on this lake, while my mom and sisters sat close and held his hands and spoke soft words to him. I knew in that moment that it would be perfectly correct if that’s the way it happened. My inner voice reminded me that I was the one who lived next door to my parents, I was the one who worked with them for fifteen years. Maybe it would be a wonderful gift to my sisters for them to finally have as much of a portion of my dad as I had always been so spoiled to have. If he passed away in my absence, I would not regret my decision to choose this spiritual experience of my dad on this lake.
At the end of our practice, as we drifted, lying on our backs on the paddleboards with the cinnamon-hot July sun setting behind us, I closed my eyes and felt buoyant in mind and spirit. This body of mine, this body of water, and this body of friends and family was stable and certain. This mighty lake may as well have been the very palm of my dad’s hand, and the deep, wide well of his heart. I relaxed. I thought of my dad’s broad, brown hands and how they had held me up on countless summer vacations, held me by my ribs in oceans and hotel pools, tossing and playing with his kids like toys. We were never afraid. He always caught us, held us aloft. He always would. The palm of my dad’s hand, the palm of our Father’s hand. More gargantuan and mighty than this lake, but tender, both.
Swirling, floating, feeling more accomplished than the accomplishment merited, I sensed rather than saw the sun melt low and hot into the horizon, and wondered without fear or anxiety if my dad’s light had just dipped below the surface of this life. I celebrated Savasana, the yoga pose of relaxation, drifting on a trembling sunset, feeling and tasting hot, wet salt on my face, sweat mixing with healing tears, as welcome as they were valuable, flowing unchecked. I never felt closer to my dad than at that moment; I’d never loved or appreciated him more.
Let me move that for you…
These days, as I consider my designated intention for each morning’s yoga practice, my mind inevitably travels to those friends, family members, or acquaintances who are struggling with a challenge. Some of the first who come to mind are those experiencing physical illnesses like recurrent cancer, undiagnosed pain, systemic or autoimmune diseases, and other physical complications which, frankly, may exist completely without hope of resolution. While these are not necessarily more or less difficult to manage than other forms of dis-ease, unease, hardship or disability, the physical aspect reminds me: it is truly a privilege to be able to move our bodies in physical exercise.
I happen to hate exercise. I am lazy by nature, and it is an effort just to get myself out of bed every morning, not because of depression, despair, or any valid reason at all—other than my preference for being as languid as my black cat for as much of my life as possible. I do not appreciate my own sweat, and in fact I am tremendously distracted by it, even during yoga. A competitive bone does not exist in my body—if you want to win, I assure you, I want you to win, because clearly it must be more important to you than it is to me. You may find me walking to music almost every single day that the temperature exceeds 60 degrees, but you will never find me running (as the joke goes, if you do see me running, you’d better run too!) I have weak knees, a family history of arthritic joint replacement, giant boobs, and a surly attitude when it comes to exertion. (Eyes up here, please.) I am not a strong swimmer, I cannot shoot a basketball, and I have gone to tennis “lessons” for the past four summers without ever actually playing a match (don’t judge, it’s a social thing). Golf may be on the future agenda, but there’s a certain petite friend of mine named Vicki who hopes I borrow someone else’s driver next time I try.
Even yoga and walking were activities I embarked upon for reasons outside of the physical. Yoga was for anxiety, when I had such a feeling of generalized unease about my life and family that I developed a constant eye tic. Dr. Google advised me to avoid caffeine and try yoga or meditation, and the rest is decaffeinated rock-n-roll history. Walking is, similarly, free therapy for me: almost everything I have committed to paper (including my dad’s eulogy) has been first written in my head on a long walk, past ducks and lakes and dog-walkers, often laughing or crying behind my sunglasses as a Billy Joel song in my ear buds takes me back to high school, or the Coal Miner’s Daughter soundtrack reminds me of the family vacation in Nashville when a boy gave me a peacock feather to put in my hat at Loretta Lynn’s ranch. The fact that my body is moving, breathing, and benefiting from yoga and walking is just a lucky, unintended consequence of something I would be doing anyway.
But now, I can’t deny that both activities, and every other new experience I have had the confidence to attempt because of them (stand-up paddleboard, riding a mechanical bull) have been so strengthening and liberating that I now appreciate the fact that I am in a position to participate. I am able. My parts work.
A friend of my husband could no longer walk the golf course comfortably because of congestive heart failure. A yoga pal enduring treatment for her fifth cancer doesn’t have the luxury of trying to practice standing on her head, because she is too weak from chemotherapy to even leave the couch to vomit. A relative can’t engage in her beloved gardening successfully anymore because some core abdominal muscles were re-appropriated in a post-cancer reconstruction surgery. Amusement parks and airports are no longer places a senior citizen can easily venture across without wheels. Countless people close to me want to do more than their bodies will allow them to do, but my long, boring history with HIPAA prevents me from providing further thumbnails.
Every day that I wake up and can physically do what I desire to do, independently, I am gifted. One day, an accident may happen, or a phone call will bring a diagnosis, or a flu bug may render me too nauseated to move, and whether the roadblock is temporary or permanent, it will be unwelcome. Too many of us don’t exercise, but we should—because we can. My eyes can see where I am going, my legs hold me up, my stamina is plentiful enough…I can move my body, so I must. Whether or not I want to, I will do so for those who cannot move theirs. Exercise, like aging, is a privilege denied to many.
Now, come on, sixty degrees….