Thursday, November 30, 2017

grief / joy

2017 November


Recently I reread a post to our now defunct travel blog, in which I memorialized Greyla, who had been our 'final' dog and also our travel companion. She left us in November 2014, eleven months after my Daddy died. Daddy was diagnosed with stage 4 non-small cell lung cancer in February 2013. We left Florida, and returned to Pittsburgh, in order to spend time with him. During our stay in the only campground open in winter in the Pittsburgh area, our then nearly 14 year old dog, began to present symptoms which lead to her having major surgery just a couple of weeks before her birthday. At the time, I told God that I could not handle losing both my Dad and my dog in the same year. 

Seemed like God decided otherwise. My Dad passed away in January, 2014. We had Greyla with us until November, 2014. Both gone in the same year, granted eleven months apart, but still… I supposed that God decided eleven months was enough space for healing. It really wasn’t.

All of this has resurfaced in the past couple of days. I have begun to revisit the cumulative grief, and to a lesser degree, the joy, that we experience when we open our hearts and allow ourselves to love.

The catalyst for the current examination of joy, and grief results from our current experience as foster parents to a lovely, sweet, gentle, 12 year old black Lab, named Coco.

Coco was taken to the Beaver County Humane Society by the son of her previous owner, with the request that she be euthanized. The shelter staff explained that they could not, in good conscience, euthanize her simply based on her age, but offered to take her into the shelter, and try to place her, if they would sign Coco over. 

Coco’s entrance into our lives and hearts came a couple of weeks later.

Ray and I often do cat transports for Beaver County Humane Society, and also happen to be friends with the veterinarian currently working at BCHS. Those two things worked together to effectively draw us into the world of fostering, which we had never even considered prior to August.

Before Coco came into our lives, I had been adamant that I was done as a dog parent. I had loved Blue, Jake, Baxter, Katie, and Greyla. I had cried tears of loss with each of them, but especially with Blue, and Jake, and Greyla. I had changed. I now appreciated having a clean house. I was so certain that dogs were part of my past, and not of my future, that we adopted a bonded pair of kitties. "Yes!" I declared,"Cats are so much easier than dogs." And I enumerated all the ways in which that was so. 

Yet, when we sat in the visitation room, at the shelter, in August, with Coco, she began to worm her way into my heart, stink and all! Jump ahead, from our initial meeting with Coco, on August 16, to the day we brought her home, on August 19, to how we have fallen in love with her, to very recently, when we became worried about her health. 

A few weeks ago I began to notice that Coco’s breath was getting very stinky. My concern was that she might be developing a renal issue, although her fluid intake and output remained consistent. Then last weekend, I noted that her water was tinged pink after she had been drinking. I tried to examine her mouth, using a flashlight, but couldn’t really notice anything wrong with any of her teeth, the roof of her mouth, or her gums. But then, I am not a veterinary medical professional. So, I contacted the one person I could access easily at the BCHS, via messenger on Facebook. She, in turn, contacted the medical person from the shelter. 

Then later, during business hours, I was at the shelter for a transport, and spoke with one of the technicians, who said that there would be no Vet available until Tuesday, since the shelter is closed for business on Sunday and Monday, and this was Saturday afternoon. I said that I understood, and that I would’ve texted the Vet personally, but really didn’t want to impinge  on our friendship, especially since it didn’t seem to be life threatening, and the amount of pinkness left behind in her water seemed to be lessening. Of course, her breath was still atrocious! But, it kind of was beginning to match her general metabolic stench, for which we have not yet found a cure.

Weird, huh? Coco is old, and stinky, but we love her! She is simply a sweet, gentle, amazingly non-reactive, dog. She is sweet with our kitties, and with our next door neighbor’s kitties, as well. When we are out walking, and dogs bark at her, she never reacts. She is the most "chill" dog we have ever known. She is very predictable in her day to day habits. She eats what we give her. She takes her medication, her supplements, and anything else we offer her, without any drama, or problem. She actually prefers when I place the paste-like probiotic she takes, in the palm of my hand, and allow her to lick it off, rather than placing it in a syringe and squirting it into her mouth. She never has attempted to get on any of the furniture, or the bed. She dislikes being too warm, and often opts to lay directly on the tile floor, instead of on the rug, or on her bed. She barks only when she is needful to go outside to pee or poop, and then it is generally one, sad, plaintive "wooof". She is simply, a good dog. And I love her! And, she loves me. She usually will follow me to whichever room I am in, and when I go into the bathroom, she stares at the shut door, until I once again emerge. 

So, grief and joy… currently the grief is because we will, in all probability, lose Coco sometime within the next 2-3 months. She has an infected, cancerous growth under her tongue. I can, today, type that without immediately being reduced to a sobbing mess. She is on antibiotics to try and get the infection under control. So far, her appetite is not affected, nor is her ability to chew. She does not exhibit signs of pain. So, the plan is to offer palliative care, observe and treat any pain development, or appetite issues, and help her to feel loved, cared for, and comfortable, until the end of her days. The joy currently comes from remembering how sad and forlorn she looked in the kennel at the shelter, and knowing that she has been happy here, with us. The joy comes from waking up in the middle of the night, and hearing her snoring on her bed, in the corner of our room. Joy comes from simple things, like taking her for walks around the neighborhood, watching her scarf up her kibble and bone broth, seeing her stroll to the kitchen after our walk, because she knows that’s where the treats are, and she knows that she gets a treat when we get home. Today, joy came from watching her catch 6 hulless popcorns in a row with missing. Joy comes from knowing that she has known love in our home. 

But, grief and joy come and go, and not always in balance.

Hearing the diagnosis on Tuesday afternoon was a gut punch! And it opened unexpected flood gates to past grief. But, I am blessed to have a good friend who offered support, and insight. I am also blessed to have a "pollyanna" husband, who even in the midst of this circumstance, which affects him too, was able to find good. It is a hard situation, but we have been through hard events before, and come through, so I have faith that we will ultimately be OK. 

In the meantime, we will walk our sweet old girl, brush her, give her treats and medicine, put bone broth on her food, cook her brown rice because she likes it, let her sleep where she wants, listen to the sound of her snoring, help her to live a happy, loved rest of her life, and be grateful that we brought her into our home, our lives and and our hearts!    

Saturday, November 18, 2017

Driving Anxiety

2017 November 18

From a Facebook post by Anxiety & I:

"The thing about an anxiety disorder is that you know it is stupid.You know with all your heart that it wasn’t a big deal and that it should roll of of you. But that is where the disorder kicks in; Suddenly the small thing is very big and it keeps growing in your head, flooding your chest, and trying to escape from under your skin. You know with all of your heart that you’re being ridiculous and you hate every minute of it. The fact that many people don’t recognize or have patience for your illness only makes everything worse."
This is so true. 
My experience with anxiety/panic has become intensified since our involvement in a seven car collision in late October 2016. I cannot say that I never experienced anxiety related to driving prior to that incident. I can say that the anxiousness was never debilitating before. I could always mollify any anxiety by preparation. If I blocked out a course to follow, I was usually OK. If possible, when time was not a factor, I often would travel secondary roads. The advent of Google Maps and street view, which allowed me to familiarize myself with roads and landmarks along my route, was a definite boon. Yet now, today, well over a year past the accident, I find myself becoming a total basket case when required to drive on certain 4, or 6, or more lane highways, particularly in high traffic situations.

I know that what I am freaking out about is performing a common action (driving a car, in traffic, on a multi-lane highway). I know this is something I have done without incident in the past, and hope to do without incident in the future. BUT, in the here and now, I am flooded with anxiety that expands and grows until the panic is all I am aware of,... well, that, and the tunnel vision, the inability to breath normally, the sometimes crushing chest pain, facial tics - and the fear - and the anger! 

I get angry!
I get angry with myself for feeling this way. 
Angry at other drivers who don't seem to have any fear of anything! 
I get angry with passengers who don't "get it", with family who seem completely unable to understand why their wife, sister, friend, is hyperventilating behind the wheel.  
Angry - mostly at myself for allowing(?) this disorder to consume me and become such a huge part of my life!

I am angry now, just thinking about my inability to simply drive on a multi-lane highway to go visit my pseudo grand kids, my friends, even my nearby family. If I can't get there on a "back road" - a 2 lane road, with top speeds of 45mph, I can't go! Oh, there are a couple of local 4 lane roads I drive on, but never with complete ease or with anything resembling relaxation. 

This is NOT how I planned to spend my retirement! I hoped with free time, would come visits to friends and family; jaunts to the Great Lakes, searching for beach glass. Instead, my panic keeps me prisoner.  I want to be able to get in my little Subaru and drive to have lunch with my friend in Ohio; to visit N and G, outside Montreal; to travel to the UP again; to vacation with my brothers and sister anywhere; to finally meet up with people who have become good friends via the Internet. Those things are not going to happen as long as anxiety wells up, leads to panic, and as in the latest attack, cause me to think I am having a stroke, because of the tics I can feel happening in my face. Those came along with the shallow breathing, the crushing pain in my chest, and tunnel vision. Add to the mix the fact that my brain seems to lose the ability to think rationally, to view the problem and find any solution. Even if the person next to me becomes aware that I am in dire straights, unless they know to give me specific, detailed instruction on how I should proceed, what they say will not penetrate my brain in any useful way. It truly is a nightmare, and when I am in the middle of it, it feels as if there is NO ESCAPE!

When I try to ignore it, to press on, as I did on the way home from the family vacation my brother invited me to share, I ruin the experience for everyone because of my crippling panic. Where the post says, "You know with all your heart you are being ridiculous and you hate every minute of it," that is absolutely the truth! I knew I was NOT having a stroke, as I drove along I-64, outside of Norfolk. I knew I was being "ridiculous" and I DID hate every minute of it! But, I was powerless to stop it! 

Saturday, November 11, 2017



Our Eva, one of the bonded pair of kitties we adopted from the Animal Rescue League, through their foster Mom, Jackie, in January 2016, is back in our home again. She had been out and about to places unknown for part of the summer and fall. She escaped in the wee hours of the morning, on August 24, and remained an escapee until this past week, when we were reunited.

Now is a period of adjustment. 

The adaptations are not just for Eva, though a few things that directly affect her have changed since she left so abruptly. It is also, a time of adjustment for Tubbs, Eva’s playmate and friend. There are modifications to be made by the humans in the house currently, as well, since there is an additional person present for a few months. It seems as if the only creature with no need for any adaptation relating to Eva’s return, or the presence of another human, is Coco, our foster dog. Coco is about the most 'chill' dog I have ever met! Relatively non-reactive, in any circumstance.

There have been some big changes related to the cats: their play areas; the placement of their litter boxes; location change for feeding of dry cat food. Some of these modifications happened bc of the need to keep Coco from eating the cat’s food. Some reworking, like their play area, and moving litter boxes happened because of our friend coming to visit. We needed to give PK a room on the second floor, and use of the half bath next to her room. The room chosen for her stay is at the rear of the house, and formerly contained the large cat tree. The cats previously had use of both bedrooms on the second floor as a romping area where they chased one another to their heart’s content. The half bath was where one of their litter boxes lived. Tubbs seemed to be adapting to the cat tree being in the front room, and the placement of the litter box in the corner of that room, as opposed to in the half bath, since PK’s arrival nearly two weeks ago. Of course, all of this was before Eva returned. Since her return three days ago, I’m guessing this has been a lot for her to habituate to. PK, too has to make adjustments now that there are two cats attempting to reclaim what is meant to be her room.

Poor Eva seems a bit more skittish than she used to be. She always was profoundly reactive to sudden movements, and to loud noises. She is even more so now. She used to be a very quiet cat, who rarely meowed, and when she did it was very softly, barely audible. Never once did I know her to hiss or to growl. All that has changed. It makes me sad to wonder what kind of situations she faced that she has developed into a hissing, growling, loud meowing creature. She and Tubbs were best buds. Not so much, at present. To his credit, Tubbs seems to be able to give Eva wide berth when she needs it, yet continues to approach her periodically, as if trying to jog her memory -- "remember when we used to play like this?" 

I see gradual, tiny improvements in Eva each day. Last night, I went to bed before Raymond, and I was surprised when Eva jumped onto the bed, curled up next to my tummy, allowed me to pet her, and purred, contentedly. It didn’t last very long, though. She heard PK coming down the stairs into the kitchen, and that was enough to cause her to bolt. 

An advancement came today, as she ate both her morning and evening wet food in the place where we have always fed the cats. Another positive development happened when Eva stayed put, eating her wet food this evening, after Coco entered the kitchen. Coco sat with her hindquarters very near to Eva’s, and Eva stayed, eating. Yesterday, that action would’ve caused Eva to dash from the room. In fact, yesterday, Coco simply entering any room where Eva was, would cause her to run for the basement.

I guess readjustment comes in baby steps. I truly hope that Eva regains her sense of peace and trust, especially where Tubbs is concerned. Still, it has only been 3 days, and she was gone from us for 67 days! 


2017 November 11

One of our two cats, Eva, AKA 'Eva Diva', has been returned to our home, after spending nearing eleven weeks at large. We are ecstatic to have her home again! The strain we felt, caused by her unknown fate, was horrible.  Many people encouraged us continue to be hopeful. They sited examples of cats who had been gone for up to a year before suddenly reappearing. But, as time passed, we were less and less hopeful that our Eva would ever return to us.

We fielded and reacted, over the months, to phone calls in response to the flyers we plastered around our area, as well as posts on various social media sites, and correspondence with various area shelters. We made trips at 10pm to investigate "a cat on the deck that might be yours", as well as long drawn out vigils in the very early morning in front of a house where, "I have been feeding your cat for a month". None of these produced even a glimmer of our Eva. 

We set up a trap, baited with sardines and dry cat food, and included clothing with our scents.

We climbed through the woods, searching tree tops.

Kind neighbors searched the Park nearby each time they walked their dog, and walked around the area, calling her name.

We went door to door in the neighborhood and a couple of blocks beyond, passing out flyers with Eva’s name and picture.

Yet, ten weeks and five days passed, and we had no idea what had become of Eva. Ray, ever an optimist, insisted that she simply had been picked up by someone because she was a sweet, friendly kitty. While, I, the depressive, pondered the possibility that she had been killed by a coyote, or worse. 

Then, on Tuesday evening, November 7, we went to Carnegie Music Hall in Homestead, for a concert. I turned off my phone, so as not to have it be a distraction from the music. There was also a Penguins game that evening, and as I shut my phone off, I saw that the Pens were ahead, 2-0.

During intermission, Ray went off into the crowd, while I stayed my seat, pulling out my phone, intent on learning the current score of the Pens game. Imagine my shock when I turned my phone on and saw numerous messages in a variety of formats, from Jackie! (Jackie was the young woman who had fostered Eva & Tubbs after they were spayed and neutered by the Animal Rescue League) The very first thing that caught my eye was a picture she sent. A picture I KNEW immediately to be Eva! 

It seems that someone of one of the social media pages had made the connection between a cat their grandfather had taken in after feeding it for awhile outside, and my and Jackie’s posts of "lost Eva", on social media!

I was ecstatic! I called Melanie, the woman whose PapPap currently had Eva. I messaged, and then called Jackie, who confirmed what I thought : THIS IS EVA !!!!!!! 

When Ray returned to his seat, I filled him in on everything that had transpired. He, too, was 99.9% certain that this was indeed, our Eva! 

Because we were in Homestead, and our kitty was in a warm home in Harmony Township, Melanie and I planned to meet up the following day, after she got home from work, at her Grandfather’s home. It was going to be a long day of waiting, especially after such a long time missing Eva. But, I understood that Melanie wanted to be present when we came to identify Eva, especially since she orchestrated the reunion. But, also, because her PapPap had grown fond of Eva, and he is of frail health, and she was concerned for him. 

Melanie called, and we planned to meet at her Pap’s house at 6PM. Her Pap is a sweet, kind soul. He was gracious to us, even as he teared up over Eva, whom he called, "Bubbles". But, I’m getting ahead of myself…

When we came into the living room, PapPap was sitting in his recliner, watching TV. Eva was sitting on the sofa, behind and to his left. Melanie was present, as was her husband, sitting at the other end of the couch from Eva. 

Eva had her head down as we entered the room. I saw her, and said, "Eva... Eva Diva", as I would’ve if I were calling her to come eat. When she heard my voice, her head snapped up, she looked directly at me, and her already big eyes became saucers! It was amazing! After months of looking, seeing cats who were sort of like her, but not her, this was simply a miracle! 

We spoke with Pap at length, letting him know how grateful we were for his kindness, and his empathy toward Eva, and how we had grieved her escape since late summer. We wanted to tell him he could come visit her, since we only live ½ mile away, but Melanie had asked me not to make that offer. Pap struck me as a sweet, kind, gentle human being who is perhaps in frail health at this point in his journey. He was concerned that we had a litter box for "Bubbles", "because, you know, she’ll use it!"  I was touched deeply by his concern for this "stray" cat he had been feeding and then brought into his home because the weather had turned too cold/wet for her to be outside! After the emotional ups and downs over the past ten plus weeks, while Eva was missing, this neighborly, compassionate, considerate, elderly man restored my crumbling faith in the goodness of people.

Eva, our little Diva kitty is HOME!!!! 

Monday, October 23, 2017

A Day Trip

2017 October 20

A Day Trip

We are on a two week vacation in Corolla, NC, the far north end of the Outer Banks, in Currituck County, North Carolina. By "we", I mean my three brothers: Vinny, who rented the house and invited us along; Dave, who lives in Vinny’s house in Pittsburgh; and Mike, who lives in a different neighborhood in Pittsburgh. 

Even though Ray and I spent nineteen months living in our RV on Hatteras Island, I had never been to the Shackleford Banks of NC, and thought this might be a pleasant excursion for us. So, I spent some time planning and figuring both the time and distance elements, and asked the brothers if they’d be up for a "day" trip. Vinny declined, but Mike & Dave were up for it, so I made reservations on the ferries from Harker’s Island to Shackleford, and Cape Lookout, as well as for the ferry from Cedar Island to Ocracoke, for part of our return trip. We knew the drive through NC would require us to depart no later than 5 AM, as the map app said it was a 4 hour and 40 minute trip across NC and south to Harker’s. The ferry service said to arrive 30 minutes prior to your departure time, which we managed easily.

We discussed with the ticket agent the times for pick up from Shackleford to go to Cape Lookout, as well as the time needed to drive from Harker’s to Cedar in order to arrive in time for the 4 PM ferry from there to Ocracoke. It was decide that we would spend just about an hour on Shackleford, followed by the ferry trip to Cape Lookout, where we would spend about two hours, so that we would allow enough time to drive the distance to Cedar Island for the return journey.

We had beautiful weather, not too hot, a gentle breeze, and we enjoyed ourselves. The only thing we might’ve done differently would be to reverse the time spent on each island. It would’ve been nice to have additional time on Shackleford, to walk the trail at the center of the island, because that was where the wild horses were spotted. It also might have been better to plan our arrival on Shackleford to coincide with low tide, which might’ve made for better shelling. (Alas, my search for a whole and complete Scotch Bonnet remain unfulfilled!) Due to the restraints of the ferry system currently on their winter schedule, our options were somewhat limited, if we planned to ferry to Ocracoke, instead of driving back the same way we came.

In any case, we arrived at the ferry in Cedar Island in a timely fashion, and I was congratulating us on how well everything had gone, and how it was wonderful that we had managed to navigate without any glitches or wrong turns!

By the time we departed the harbor at Cedar Island, I was looking forward to napping. According to the ferry schedule, the ride to Ocracoke would take 2 hour, 15 minutes, and I planned to sleep for as much of that as possible. I was very tired, because, for some ungodly reason, the morning of the trip I had awakened at 1:37AM, and had been unable to fall back to sleep before our planned 4:45 AM departure from the rental house. It had been an exceptionally long day, and the fact that I was the only driver was adding to my stress. The saving grace was that there weren’t any major interstate highways or major traffic arteries to be dealt with along the way. I managed a 30 minute nap, which was good, but not optimal.

We arrived on Ocracoke 15 minutes ahead of schedule, made a quick stop at the Lighthouse for Dave to shoot a couple of photos, then off to the other end of the Island, in hopes of catching the 6:30 PM ferry!
Alas! That was not to be. There was a car in front of us refusing to drive the speed limit, and just enough traffic coming in the opposite direction to prevent me from passing her. The upshot was that we missed the ferry by about 30 seconds! So, we sat, first in line for the 7PM ferry. Not what we hoped for, but, still not so bad. And, really, our first actual glitch of the day!

We boarded the ferry to Hatteras and departed Ocracoke at 7 PM, expecting to arrive between 7:45 - 8:00. 

Dave & Mike were both trying to nap, after inquiring as to my need for   
a navigator for the balance of the trip. I assured them both that I was now in familiar territory, so they could rest & relax, which they were attempting.

The ferry ride was relaxing and I was comfortable since this was an area with which I am familiar. That is, until as I could see the lights of Hatteras off in the distance, and the ferry began to make a sound I had never heard it make before. The sound was reminiscent of gears grinding. It was not a sound a non-swimmer wants to hear while sitting in her car, in the pitch blackness of the night, still a good distance from shore. 

The sound repeated several times, as the ferry backed up, and turned in a slightly different direction. This scenario played out several times. At one point when we finally seemed to be moving in the appropriate direction, I feared we were going to crash into the ferry headed in the opposite direction!  At no point in this drama did anyone attempt to explain to the passengers exactly what was happening, or why. It was all the more unnerving because of our exhaustion, I’m sure. I have made that ferry crossing numerous times in my life, including times when our ferry followed behind a dredger because the channel was too shallow. So, I do know that there can be issues due to channel shifting, but my fevered imagination was cooking up scary stuff during that exceptionally long ferry ride! We docked in Hatteras Village at 8:30 PM! 

We then had to drive the length of Hatteras Island, across the Bonner Bridge, and north on 12, 158, and 12 again, to reach our rental home in the Villages at Ocean Hill! We arrived in the driveway at 10:35 PM! 

L—O—N—G  day to say the least! 

If you plan to travel to Harker’s Island in order to visit both Cape Lookout and Shackleford Banks, I would recommend finding accommodations for an overnight stay, especially if you plan to ferry from Cedar Island to Ocracoke. 

A better plan might be to plan a visit and vacation somewhere along Emerald Isle, and day trip from there. Traveling from the far reaches of the norther Outer Banks to the Cape Lookout area might work better during a time with longer daylight hours, especially, if, like me, you don’t like driving in the dark. 

It is definitely worth the trip. 

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Prayers Answered, (Even Unspoken Prayers...)

2017 October 14

Here I sit, in the backseat of the Subaru, while V drives, along the PA turnpike, with Mikey in the front & Davey sharing the back, headed to NC. My anxiety levels are high. My ability to hear front seat conversations is low. Davey is napping. 

My anxiety stems from driving (which I am not even doing!). It also arises from worrying about Ray, Coco, & to a lesser degree, Tubbs. An additional source of anxiety stems from the fact a friend is coming to stay with us in Ambridge, directly from this Corolla trip & will stay for a few months. It's not that we didn't invite her. We did. But anytime there is change of any kind, my anxiety goes skyrocketing off the chart. 

So, as I was sitting here, in my uncomfortable backseat, staring at the back of Vinny's headrest, and fighting overwhelming anxiety that seemed to want to become full blown panic, I remembered the tiny essential oils rollers I put in my pants pocket, 'just in case'. Then, I glanced over and saw, in the seat pocket in front of Dave, the extra, extra copy of "PLAN B" by Anne Lamott, that I purchased at a library book sale months ago, planning to share it with someone who might need/love her words as I do. I think I was currently that person! Having just reread, the first sharing in the book, called "ham of god", I am certain that God's plan was for me to have this book with me for just such a time as this!

I am breathing easier. I offered both prayers of supplication AND thanksgiving. And I am writing, again. 

All these things are answers to prayer, spoken, unspoken, but ALL shared with my Creator, who indeed, hears, listens, and answers.

Saturday, April 22, 2017

2013 July 28

At 63 Years Old

Before I begin what will likely be a rant, perhaps a little background information is in order. I have been happily menopausal/post menopausal for about nine years. That in itself will give you some indication of what this rant will encompass, so if you are offended by discourse regarding female issues, stop reading NOW!

My reproductive system has never really been user friendly. I have endured PMS, infertility, arrogant fertility specialists, and assorted surgeries, pains and discomforts over the years. Once having come to terms with all of the challenges offered up on a monthly basis by my uterus, ovaries and fallopian tubes, I settled in, and learned to "tell time" by the passing of each menstrual cycle. If nothing else worked well in that system, it was, at least, regular as clockwork. For me, a month was the length of time from the beginning of one cycle to the next.

When menopause began, I actually felt a little sad, in spite of the tempestuous relationship with my lady parts, because it required me to rethink my time passage measurement. But, as women always do, I adjusted. And I cruised along becoming comfortable with a new season of my life. 

In many ways, a very pleasant season. No cramps, no mood swings, no sudden gushes during a period caused by doing something strenuous, like lifting something heavy no unexplained cravings for chocolate, no emotional outbursts - none of those unpleasant, annoying aspects of womanhood. Learning a new way, albeit "normal" way to measure time transit seemed little to take on in exchange for loosing so many annoying things.

So, in this new found freedom, I have cruised through the past nine years. Granted, my family doctor, who does my pelvic exams, would occasionally bug me about a uterine polyp with which she was concerned. Mostly, I have been able to ignore her. However, once we were in Pittsburgh for an extended period this late winter into early summer, I could ignore her no longer. (The reason I was ignoring her requests to have the polyp checked was that it required me to visit the gynecologist whom I did not like. And because I was too lazy to seek out a different gynecologist) To placate her, more than for any other reason, I scheduled an appointment with the dreaded gynecologist.

Poor Raymond. I made him go with me, even into the exam room. To my dismay, his impression was that, "he seems like a nice guy". That really isn't relevant, though. The initial exam, concurred with my PCP's concerns, and I was scheduled for a procedure, to remove the polyp and biopsy it and my uterine lining, with was "too thick for someone so far post menopausal". Suddenly the lovely period of detente between the lady parts and I was at risk.

The polyp was removed and was benign, as was the too thick uterine lining. It seems that although I am indeed post menopausal, my ovaries are producing more estrogen than is considered normal, which in turn, causes a thickened uterine lining. Both the Gyne and my PCP are concerned that left to its own devices, this lining might decide to evolve into uterine cancer at some point. In order to combat that possible issue, they both think I should follow a course of treatment that would require me to take 10mg of Provera (a hormone my menopausal self no longer produces ~ progesterone) for ten days at the beginning of each month for three months. In fairness, the gynecologist wanted me to take it for June/July/August, but I didn't start it in June, as I waited until I talked to my PCP, to get her take on it. Since I trust her, and since she seemed to make a case for taking it, I acquiesced, and decided to move the treatment to July/August/September. Since my next appointment with the gynecologist isn't until late September, I figured it really didn't matter.

So, on July 1, I began my first month taking Provera. The doctor had warned me that if I had been prone to PMS symptoms, they could return with this medication. PMS would've been welcome! Instead, I became a screaming, psychopathic, irritable bitch! There is no other word for it! It was as if my evil twin had taken up residence and even though I wanted to, I could NOT evict her. I hated everything and everyone! I was critical of everything Raymond did or didn't do. I was cranky beyond measure. I cried or yelled, more or less constantly. Everything and everyone irritated me to the point that I wanted to slap them, or worse. In a word, I was UGLY! I was SO UGLY that I couldn't even stand myself! It seemed like the longest ten days of my life! I can only guess how long it felt to my poor husband.

In the midst of the early days of July on Provera, I also began a course of Medrol (a steroid - yet another hormone!) this one for the treatment of the severe arthritic changes in my cervical spine which were causing problems with a nerve root. I asked the pharmacist if this would interact with progesterone which was already recking havoc with my personality. He said that it might "intensify" thongs for the first few days, but somehow thought it reassured me when he told me, "it's really not a 'you' thing - it happens to everyone taking progesterone". I was not comforted!

The pharmacist was correct, though, as the steroid for the arthritic stuff didn't seem to effect me as badly as the other hormone.

Finally, day ten arrived. No more Provera. Thank you, Lord! I won't say I mellowed out immediately, but there was light at the end of that tunnel. 

Remember the joke about the light at the end of the tunnel being the oncoming train? Yep, there it was three days later, as promised by the gyne, the light at the end of the tunnel that turned out to be my first period in nine, did you hear me, NINE!!!! years! While I knew this was the expected outcome resulting from dumping progesterone in my body, it still came as a general shock to my 63 three year old system!

Let me say this as simply as I can: at 63 I am too old to be standing in line buying tampons and pads! Granted the whole period was over in five days, but it sucked! I don't want to have a period at 63! especially after not having one for 9 years! The whole process, from the crazy irritable person inhabiting my body, to the shedding of excess uterine lining, to finally staring to feel human again took up more than half the month of July! I don't want to repeat that process in August and September! 

Yesterday, while driving to Adams, NY, Raymond and I were discussing all of this. I said that I was leaning toward stopping the Provera. He was enthusiastic in his support. Until he questioned why I was doing it in the first place. When I explained to him that the doctors were concerned about the thickened uterine lining developing uterine cancer, he suddenly had a change of heart, and thought I should take the remaining course of Provera, in spite of the maniac we both fear I will temporarily become.

I'm still not convinced. As I told Raymond, if I'm 63 and on a scale of 0 to 10, with 0 being no chance of cancer and 10 being cancer, I am at 1.5. And if I have been at 1.5 for at least 9 years, what are the odds that I will develop cancer? And if I do, couldn't they just yank my uterus? Raymond's response was to question whether that type of cancer would spread if it did develop. 

So… here I sit, just a few days away from the beginning of the next month with  no idea of what I am going to do. Take it, or not, that is the question. I do not want to become a screaming mimi for for the first ten days of August. I also do not want to deal with having another period. I hate the whole process. It feels so unnatural. Yet, I certainly do not want to develop uterine cancer. But the question remains, if I have had a thickened uterine lining for the past nine years without it being positive for cancer (it has been pre-cancerous - but NEGATIVE for actual cancer cells), what are the odds that I WILL develop cancer? I don't want to tempt fate. I have been down the cancer road with my bladder and am grateful for how contained any abnormal cell growth there has been.

I'm thinking phone calls to both docs are in order tomorrow. Perhaps the severity of my reaction to Provera will decrease with each consecutive month. Perhaps it won't. I need some straight answers and NOT simply, being told this is what we generally do. In spite of the song, I am NOT everywomen! I am an individual and perhaps this is not the course of treatment for me. I certainly don't want to take medication that in the long run, may not really have any effect. But, on the other hand, I don't want to see my uterine lining morph into cancer. What's a 63 year old to do?

Oh! and just a little side note. When I asked the gyne if we couldn't just do a hysterectomy, back in April, his response was, "I can't in good conscience take out healthy tissue." So, if it's healthy, why am I taking Provera and scheduled for yet another biopsy in September? It all seems rather convoluted to me. Perhaps I should've called him while I was harboring my angry twin during those early weeks in July. 

Sunday, March 26, 2017



September 21, 2016, would’ve been his 91st birthday. On that date, he had been gone from our lives two years, eight months, and twelve days. It feels both so much longer, and shorter, simultaneously.

Sometimes entire days go by and he doesn’t cross my mind. Other times, I am steeped in memories and plagued by things unsaid. To say, "I miss him" seems a gross understatement, yet what more can be said?
Lots, I suppose. 

He lived 88 years, 3 months, and 19 days.  

He was a good man; An exceptional husband; A kind father. He was a hard worker; A strong union man. He was a respectful human being. He had a soft spot for indigenous peoples, in particular the children, and to that end supported a few charities for Native kids. He was a man grounded by family, faith, and responsibility. His faith lead him to support some Catholic charities. He was an athlete, a baseball player, specifically, though he played some sandlot football, too. He was a story teller. He liked people, and they liked him. He was easy to be around, a comfortable personality. He had many jobs over his lifetime, and he did each one to the best of his ability. He was the union steward at one place, and he enjoyed that role. He also worked as caretaker of the Slovenski Dom (the Slovenian Hall), a fraternal organization in Lawrenceville, for many years. Part of his role there required him to tend bar in the evenings and on weekends. It was the place where my brother Vinny thought Daddy was happiest.

Perhaps part of the reason for his contentment at the Slovenski Dom, was his familiarity with the place. During the Great Depression, Daddy’s own father also held the position of caretaker. And though his parents owned a house on 57th Street, during the Depression, the family lived in the apartment that occupied part of the first and second floors of the Slovenian Hall. So, when Daddy returned there in the 1980s, with some of his own children in tow, it must have been a kind of homecoming for him. A return to a place of simpler times and memories of his own childhood, since he was probably a preschool age kid when Pap-Pap was steward at the Slovenski Dom.

His life wasn’t easy. He was a first generation American, born to immigrant parents, in the period before the Great Depression. Yet, all the photos I have of him as a youngster, show him as a happy, caring, animal loving, and cowboy loving, kid. He grew up number four of six children, though there were nine years between him and his next younger sister, Rose Marie, who wasn’t born until 1934. So, I’m guessing, for all intent and purposes, Daddy was treated as "the baby" for at least eight of those nine years. His next oldest sibling, Jimmy, was two years older than he was, to the exact date, September 21.

I loved Daddy’s stories of growing up in his extended family. I loved hearing about the aunts and uncles, cousins, and just good friends and neighbors who populated his youth and young adulthood. The stories were always happy ones, revolving around family and group activities, like playing pinochle, listening to radio dramas, or music. The home my Dad grew up in was a welcoming one, a gathering place. 

I know that Daddy, (AKA: William, Bill, Billy, Will, and Buzzy), loved music, and had a decent tenor voice. He sang in the Men’s Choir, at St Mary Assumption Church. He enjoyed playing characters in local theater productions. In one of those performances, he portrayed what  Dr. Larry Canjar said was a great "old, Jewish, immigrant accent". Daddy told me that the director of a local theatre group saw one of his performances and wanted to cast Daddy in a production in Oakland, but Daddy declined. Maybe if he hadn’t fallen in love immediately after World War 2, and straightaway begun a family,  he might have tried his hand at acting.

Instead, at eighteen, he went off to be a soldier, in the European Theatre. In doing so, he followed in the footsteps of his two older brothers, Joe E. and Jimmy.  

Will left Pittsburgh, in November 1943, shortly after his eighteenth birthday. It must have been both scary and exciting for this young man who had never been out of Pittsburgh, and rarely out of his neighborhood. Traveling with other young men, uncertain of their final destination, knowing only they would ultimately be off to "fight the war". It had to have been hard on him, too, especially when he missed his first holidays with his family. Holidays were always an important to Daddy’s family. And, Christmas, without fail was always special, both as a holiday and a holy day for Daddy.

Daddy did his basic training in Georgia. He shared stories from basic training, where he met a young man from New Orleans,who became his friend and bunk mate. Jim Byrnes was the gentleman’s name and they maintained a lifelong, long distance friendship. They sent letters and exchanged Christmas cards, and on more than one occasion, Mr Byrnes invited my Dad to New Orleans, but Daddy never went. And it was a deep blow to him when he one day received a phone call from Mrs Byrnes, saying that his friend had passed away. 

There were stories about the other recruits, and stories of playing baseball in the red Georgia clay. But, of the time after basic training, spent in Ft Lee, New Jersey, little was said. From NJ, he and his comrades in arms, headed to England, and then to the European Theatre. 

He never really spoke of his deployment in Europe.  He shared transport stories of sea sickness. Daddy shared reminiscences of the brief layover in England. There were tales of the cold forests of central Europe, on the way to Germany, where he got frostbite on his toes. I remember his accounts of trying to keep warm in the back of transport trucks. But, never did he talk about the war, combat, what he saw, or did. 

Once, in the mid 1990s, while watching a TV news segment about the U.S. Holocaust Museum, I asked him if he had been near any of the concentration camps when he was in Europe. He became very quiet. A look came over his face that I cannot describe, except to say, a darkness. He paused. Then he said, "No. But I smelled them." I asked a few more questions, but he answered tersely, so I didn’t press. At one point, he said that some of the other guys in his unit went into the camps, which had already been liberated, but that he did not. I know little about his wartime experience. It was not something he wished to share.

At the end of the war in Europe, he returned home, to the Pittsburgh neighborhood of Lawrenceville, where he picked up where he had left off. At least that’s what I assume. How different it must have been, though. An innocence lost. Daddy returned home, as did his oldest brother, Joe E. Uncle Jimmy, with whom Daddy shared a birthday, was shot down somewhere over France, lost his life, and is buried in France. So, the house on 57th Street was a little emptier, and touched by the sadness of losing their middle son. Although I am certain there was some of what we now call survivor’s guilt, Daddy got on with his life. The sorrow of losing Uncle Jimmy, was something I realized more from watching the women in my Dad’s family, in particular my Gram, and my Aunt Barb, who was the oldest of the siblings.

But there were happy stories after the war, and Daddy shared those, too. I especially loved hearing about interactions between my grandparents, from Daddy. Theirs must have been a happy marriage, especially based on the reports from my Dad. It seems that my Gram was a strong, sensible, kind woman, and that she, perhaps, "ran the show". There was a lot of good natured teasing between Daddy’s parents, at least according to Daddy’s shared recollections. I loved hearing the stories of his parents, Rosie and Joe, in which Daddy would always speak in Pap-Pap’s accented voice. I so miss hearing that! I wish we had made recording of those stories.

In January 1949, Bill married Jean Marie Brogan Savage, a girl from the neighborhood, who lived six houses up the street. She may as well have been from another galaxy. Neither her Scots-Irish family, nor Daddy’s Slovenian family approved of the union. I’m not sure why, really. Perhaps it was cultural, just a desire to keep to their own ethnicities. Perhaps it was because Jean was adopted. Perhaps it was because Jean’s parents looked down on immigrants. Or maybe there was some other reason. I simply do not know. I have some ideas and suspicions, but no actual knowledge. But, marry, they did!  And with both families in attendance, they were joined in holy matrimony at St Mary Assumption Church, with a reception luncheon following at the Fort Pitt Hotel, in downtown Pittsburgh. They honeymooned in New York City. 

When I look at their wedding photos, I see two people very much in love. My mom, Jean, has been gone since August 1976. But even in the intervening years, Daddy never stopped loving her. In fact, when his granddaughter, Hannah, was in college around 2009,  she asked for me to email her a photo of her grandmother. I sent along Mummy’s senior portrait from high school. I shared with Daddy, Hannah’s response to seeing Mummy’s photo. Hannah said that her Grandmother was "quite the looker". Daddy smiled broadly, and replied simply, "I always thought so." Even after so many years without her, he still loved her, deeply.

Daddy was a kind man. A gentle man. Although, he could get riled up at times. Discussing sports sometimes made him agitated. Especially, baseball. Most especially the Pirates, under Clint Hurdle. He could also get fairly worked up about union politics. He was shop steward where he worked for many years and often became irritated with his union brothers because he felt they lacked follow through. Yet, in spite of his strong union stance, he maintained a positive working relationship with both owners and management, as well as with his union brothers. My Dad was a reasonable and balanced human being, who in most instances saw both sides of an issue. Even in the turbulent late 60s and early 70s, I never heard him speak unkindly of any of the players on the stage of social change. I never heard him speak derogatorily of civil rights leaders, though I remember hearing such hate speech from various Uncles in the family, but never from my Dad. He respected people - all people - even his oldest daughter, the rebel and hippie. 

If I regret anything in my younger life, it is any pain or embarrassment I caused my Dad. I was the epitome of the strong willed child! I was thoughtless and headstrong. I often say that I thought I had all the answers, when, in truth, I didn’t even know what the questions were. Yet, I remember my Dad coming to my defense against drunken slurs against me made by one of his in-laws. I remember Daddy coming to my high school graduation and my nursing school graduation. Was he perfect? No, and neither are ANY of us. I am grateful that one of the final interchanges between Daddy and me included me saying, "I’m sorry, Daddy. I never meant to hurt you." To which he replied, while looking deeply into my eyes, "I know, kid." God! How I miss him!

He was a good listener. I miss being able to talk to him. I miss having his ear, knowing that whatever I told him would go no further. He was not a man given to gossip. I miss the fact that he listened yet never felt compelled, as some men (and women) do, to try and fix whatever was wrong. He truly listened, knowing that sometimes the person talking just needed a comprehending ear. How I pray to be more like my Dad!

When I said that his life was hard, part of the reason for the difficulty was that our family grew rapidly over the years. From their first child, a girl, arriving a month after their first anniversary, to the appearance of five boys, then another girl, and finally, the last boy, my parents embodied "the good Catholic family" of the 1950s to 1970s. I am not certain of the motivation behind having eight children. To place the blame of the Vatican seems a bit unfair. And we were an oddity, even though we were not the only, nor the largest family in our immediate neighborhood. In really thinking about it, though, most of the other Catholic families on our street, consisted of three kids, maximum. So, maybe we were an oddity, but I never realized it at the time.  

My Dad did not graduate from high school. I am not certain of all the facts or reasons, but I do know that he left Central Catholic HS after 2 years. Without a high school diploma, even in the 1950s, jobs were hard to come by, especially when relying on public transit. My Dad never learned to drive. In fact, he had no desire to learn, and no extra income to purchase a car, anyway. And I remember when I bought a used car in the 1980s, he kept asking me, "Why?"  He was a believer in public transit, and thought the "need" for everyone to own an automobile was ridiculous.

Early in his experience as a father and husband, I remember him being organized, neat, and trying to impress those qualities on his kids. In the basement, he had a workbench with a peg board behind it. On the pegboard, he kept his tools. And on the pegboard, he had drawn an outline of each tool, so that even as a child, I could see by the shapes, which tool went on which hook. I remember having a fascination with Daddy’s tools, especially his hand drill. And, I also remember his displeasure when Mummy or one of the children would remove some implement and NOT return it to its place on the bench or board. After awhile, I think he became less stringent in his organization, maybe because living with a messy wife and a bunch of kids can do that to even the most organized individual.  

There were times when we kids were growing up, that the gas or electricity to our house was shut off, because we were poor. In spite of those occurrences, and the embarrassment it must have caused Daddy, I remember those as fun times. It is my belief that my perception was mainly the result of Daddy’s attitude. He made a game out of being in the dark, when our electricity was off. We got to carry old, kerosene, railroad lanterns upstairs to the bathroom, and sleep with oil lamps in our bedrooms. He made it a fun experience! I remember Daddy putting blankets over the dining room table to make a tent for us kids when the gas was off and it was a very cold early March. He made it seem like an adventure! We got to "camp" in the dining room. I remember telling him a few years before he died, how many pleasurable, good memories I had from those times. He said that if he had known it was enjoyable, maybe he wouldn’t have worried so much about us.  

Daddy liked to cook. I remember him making pigs in the blanket, potica, donuts, and potato chips. He also baked from scratch chocolate cakes with delicious, cooked, butter cream frosting. His spaghetti sauce was extremely tasty. And he was always willing to try different things. I remember making collard greens and neck bones for him after I had been exposed to some down-home southern cooking, and he liked it. Some of his sons seem to have inherited his gift for cooking and baking. 

Daddy seemed to lose a little of himself when Mummy died. He was only 50 when she died as a result of lung cancer, so he had spent more than half of his life to that point, as Jean’s husband. Perhaps he felt lost. I have often reasoned that were it not for his youngest son, who was just five years old, he might have allowed himself to die of a broken heart. To his credit, he hung on. He was a survivor, in every sense of the word. 

He lived longer as a single parent than he had as a married Dad with a partner. He always was willing to take his children back under his roof if they asked. In nursing school, I returned to his home for a period of time, after a failed marriage and relationship. At the end of his life, he lived in a home purchased by my brother Vinny and shared with Daddy and two other unmarried brothers. I think Daddy did much of what he did because of a deep ingrained sense of obligation. His duty to his family, his spouse, his children, his faith, and even his country, sometimes led him down roads he might never have traveled except for his imperative of living up to a commitment. That is something about him, that I have come to appreciate more deeply as I age. Mostly, though, I am simply grateful that I am his daughter, grateful for him as a husband, father, son, brother, friend, and grateful for his example and perseverance. And though he never told me he loved me until I was in my 20s, he showed his love everyday, and for that I am especially grateful.

Anger, and why?

2017 January 31

Today I decided to take a break from Facebook. The decision came after yet another day spent in anger and frustration, which has become my default emotional setting since early November. The election of Donald Trump, what it represents to those of us who consider ourselves relatively centrist, has been too much of a dividing factor. Too often, I find myself reading things on Facebook, posted by people to whom I am related either by blood, marriage, friendship, or deep caring, even love, and theses things anger me. The anger comes because I cannot fathom the way they are thinking. The anger comes because I KNOW the people to be kind, caring people, people I trust. Yet, each time someone says, "Give him a chance", my blood pressure rises, because I cannot simply wait and give a chance to a man I feel is unqualified to lead. And I cannot understand the people who do not see him as unqualified.

I have many friends with whom I stay in touch using Facebook. There are people whom I count among my closest friends, whom I touch base with daily via Facebook. There are people whom I initially met online, who I have come to think of as good friends. Some I have had the pleasure and joy to meet in real life, others remain online friends until such time as our paths should cross. There are people numbered among my Facebook friends whom I met because of our period of living an RVing lifestyle. Some people I have known in my past, and have been lucky enough to reconnect with because of Facebook. Some are former employers, former co-workers, former members of my old Church, and family and extended family - I value these friends, all of them. 

In spite of the deep need I have to somehow remain connected to these people, MY people, I am facing a conundrum: to continue along as I have been for the past few months, or to take a break. I need to explore possibilities, because to continue along as I have been would be detrimental to my fragile emotional health. I tend to see the world in black or white, lacking shades of grey. It is a tedious mindset - one that tends toward the "all or nothing" kind of thinking. Over my adult life I have tried desperately to change that thinking, so that I could embrace the full spectrum of people and events, experiencing them in all their shading from darkest through all the in-betweens to lightest, with every nuance possible. Most times, I am able to function in this manner, seeing that few things in life are all bad, or all good. I recognize that people and ideas are complex and I try to refrain from making judgments based on limited information, whether about people or their ideas.

However, in the time since the election in November, I find myself thrown for a loop. I am too often inundated by opinions of people I care about, but find myself with absolutely no understanding of how or why they have arrived at these opinions. It seems as if there has been a terrible breakdown in our ability to communicate, because if I disagree with them, or they with me, anger seems to result as people’s default position. I cannot do this anymore. 

I have spent the past two days simply wanting to cry, because of all this turmoil. I feel isolated. This is not how I want to feel, nor is it how I wish to live.

Addendum to the portion written on January 31:

I took a very brief vacation from FB. I adjusted my social media settings, my friends list, and my expectations. In addition, I took a step back in an attempt to get greater perspective. But, in rereading what I initially wrote, I realized that some of my frustration and anger had originated as a result, not of the election, though that was contributory, but rather, came from the accident that occurred during our return from the vacation trip to North Carolina. Having been the sixth car of a seven car pile up affected me deeply, in ways I never would have anticipated. But that’s a subject for another blog post, yet it seemed important to document that here, now. If only to document that there is never simply one cause for anger, and/or frustration, because nothing is that black or white.