Tomorrow is my last day at the Pittsfield Public Library. I get a bellyache when I think about it. Am I excited for my new job at the Bangor Public Library? Yes. Absolutely. It’s like a career change! A larger library, new colleagues, new patrons, new policies and procedures and problems. It’s a new adventure for sure.
Will I miss my old job? Of course. My colleagues, my patrons, my friends, and honestly, being a big fish in a little pond can be fun. But I won’t miss the politics, the building maintenance, and a few other things and people that I won’t mention.
Two days ago, as I drove to work, I started to think about my brother. He had been a patron at Pittsfield–I have many memories of him there. As I got closer to the library, I started to cry. So much so that I couldn’t breathe. You know the kind of sobbing where you can’t catch your breath and you start to gulp for air? Yeah. That.
I feel like I’m losing Phil all over again. I’m losing another place that holds memories of him laughing and pointing out books he’s read or listened to or films he’s watched. I’m losing a place where he existed.
Once I got to work, though, I was able to calm down and just do my thing. The Friends of the Library threw me a farewell party, so I cried often throughout the day as people stopped by to wish me well.
You know…I feel a little lost. Working at a place for 17 1/2 years is a lifetime. I’ve watched so many kids grow up and have kids of their own. I’ve attended funerals of many of my beloved patrons, have given baby shower gifts to others. I will miss so many of these beautiful humans. I’m tremendously sad that I won’t see some of my favorite littles grow up, and this might sound odd, but I’m also upset I won’t see some of my favorite people die. I will no longer be a part of their lives and I’m having a hard time with that.
But, like the sweet notebook these folks gave me says, love is letting go. And it’s time I do that.
So…if you’re reading this and you’ve been one of my Pittsfield Library patrons, I want to thank you for allowing me to be part of your lives. It’s truly been an honor and gift to be a part of your journey all these years. You’ve also been a part of mine. So many of you have watched my boy grow up, have been with me as I tried to live in a world without my dear brother and parents, have watched me struggle with my husband’s health, but also have watched me become a runner–something I wasn’t when I started at the Pittsfield Library. You’ve watched me lose over 50 pounds and gain nearly 20 since I became director. You’ve also seen a variety of hair lengths and styles and eyeglass frames. Thanks for being with me through so many of my life’s changes and being a witness to this latest one.
Keep reading, my friends, keep being kind, and please keep visiting that great library of yours. Continue to let the powers that be know how much the library and staff mean to you and your community.
And thank you, from the bottom of my heart and soul, for all the love. ❤
I am shocked to see I have not blogged since January 1st. Admittedly, these past three months have been filled with…a lot.
In January, on my way to a 9-day vacation in Mexico with my beautiful friend, Becky, I got caught in an ice storm in Texas and was trapped there for nearly 3 days. While there, I read a fun mystery involving Bernie Sanders. I left it in the airport, hoping its liberal sense would permeate through the conservative air. I don’t think it worked. 😉
My time in Mexico was lovely. Visiting with Becky was the highlight, but also seeing iguanas in trees, attending an authentic Mexican rodeo, eating apples with lime juice, and drinking margaritas on the beach with my toes in the sand while chatting with one of my dearest friends. Of course, losing my glasses in the ocean wasn’t great, but being able to try out contact lenses was life changing. Next week I finally get fit for a proper pair of contacts and I’ll be able to wear sunglasses while I run. Exciting!
Another “event” that happened in Mexico–I used a Nespresso machine. This might not seem like a big deal, but oh my word, I fell in love with it–the taste, the convenience, the recyclable pods, all of it. Before I left Becky’s home, I ordered one for my house so my vacation could continue indefinitely. It’s truly a fantastic way for my day to begin.
Once I got back home, it was back to reality–work, committees, home chores, volunteering, all the stuff. Unfortunately, just a week after I arrived back home, my husband was off to Florida to help care for his father. It was a bit of a rollercoaster ride for my husband–navigating the hospital and family, lack of sleep for days, plus emotionally exhausting. He came home after 10 days, but my father-in-law entered into hospice care the very next day. He was able to go home but died from lung cancer just two days later.
Supporting someone who is grieving can be difficult, but living with that person is even tougher. I don’t know how my husband survived living with me as I grieved my brother and parents. There are never any right words or even actions, except to listen–which I’ve done, but I always think I should do more. Maybe it’s because I just want to take the pain away, but I can’t. I have learned to step away and leave him alone when it seems best but made sure he knew that if he needs to talk or hug or just be in the same room with me, that he tells me. I don’t want to hover, but man, that’s not easy. I’ve had to tell my son all of these same things because I all I want to do is stick with him and constantly check that he’s ok. I have to step back, take him to therapy, spend time with him, talk with him, and just let him know that I’m here.
Throughout these past few months, as my family has been navigating another loss while still trying to work and go to school, balance all of life’s responsibilities, and even visit a college my son is interested in, I’ve continued to hope for a positive adjustment in my life. I haven’t just hoped but have started working towards some changes. And now it looks like a major one is coming to fruition.
In my last blog post, I mentioned I need to change my work–either make changes at my workplace or look for something new. Amazingly, the Bangor Public Library, a large public library (large for Maine, anyways!), has hired me as their new Head of Circulation. Their current head of circ is retiring after 36 years–that is so much institutional knowledge I will never know, but I’m tremendously honored to have the chance to work for this fantastic institution, alongside their equally fantastic staff.
This is a tremendously bittersweet moment for me. My work as the Director of the Pittsfield Public Library (and previously as the Circulation & Catalog Librarian) has led me to people I’ve come to know and love as my family and friends. When I started there in 2005, I was still trying to get pregnant, I was 30 pounds heavier, and all my family was still alive. My brother and both of my parents used to visit me at the library. I still have specific memories of all of them in that building—the library even has several dvds that my brother donated. My son also spent many, many hours at that library. During one program, I had my boy strapped to my back as I walked around the library. When it was time to unstrap him, I couldn’t do it and a lovely older couple had to help me (the wife is still my patron–we still talk about that day).
I’m proud of the work I’ve done in Pittsfield. I’ve worked with dozens of organizations and helped connect them with community members that needed their services, I’ve matched patrons with books they’ve fallen in love with, and I’ve advocated for the library and the staff within the town government by inviting community members to tell their elected officials what the library means to them.
But it’s time for me to go. I know I can do more at the Pittsfield Library, but I need a new adventure. Working at an urban library will be a huge change and challenge, and I’m looking forward to it. I still have another month in my beautiful, small and rural library, and I hope to make the best of it.
“The beginning is always today.”–Mary Wollstonecraft (feminist/writer)
A new year, a new you. Resolutions, beginnings, fresh starts. It all sounds marvelous, doesn’t it? And right now, at this moment, I have high hopes for 2023.
Like the past 5 years, 2022 had its challenges and health scares for myself, my family and some of my friends. A few friends suffered devastating losses of partners or parents, and others are waiting for those things to happen in 2023.
Although I expect some awful events to happen this year, I’m attempting to hope for the best and soak up many, many good moments that happen.
On New Year’s Eve, my husband, son and I talked about our goals and wishes for the upcoming year. The husband’s goal? Stay out of the hospital this year. (This is also a wish for him from my son and I!) My son has a few wonderful goals like getting his license, continuing to get fit and to be more of a leader within his LGBTQ+ community. My goal and wish were basically the same: to make and experience good changes this year. That’s a nice broad, vague goal, isn’t it? 😉
I made some significant changes to my life in 2022, including adding two major volunteer positions to my weekly schedule. Each is a 2-3 hour commitment each week, but I enjoy both of them and feel tremendously better about myself as a human being because of the work. I feel like I’m finally paying back the kindness shown to me over the years by paying it forward to those that need it right now. People often say how selfless volunteering is, but for me, it’s really selfish. There’s a high involved when you help others, and it can feel a bit like the running high. Typically, acts of kindness can increase your oxytocin and dopamine, which gives you a feeling of euphoria. This is actually called the “helper’s high.” Isn’t that awesome?!?
I’ll continue my volunteer work this year, but I’m also ready for some changes to be made within my career. I don’t know what this means yet, but I know my stress level at work in 2022 was higher than ever before. Some of that was due to staff shortages, but I also tend to spread myself too thin. That has to change this year. I’ve always told other library directors that your work is not your life, so sometimes you just need to leave this stuff behind, but I did NOT take my own advice. I just wanted my library to be better and better, and it is, but I don’t need to be involved 24/7. For my own wellbeing, a lot has to change there–more delegating, more boundaries, and maybe even a career change. I don’t know yet. I just feel like something big has to change in order for me to continue wanting to get out of bed each morning to go to work.
I plan to continue to run and train for a marathon again. Why the hell not, right? If my body goes kaput, it goes kaput. I can already feel something happening to my left ankle, so I doubt a marathon is in the books just yet. But I’ll still give it a shot. I hope to at least run 500 miles this year. Again, I’ll try but do my best to not be disappointed or discouraged if it doesn’t happen.
I’ll be traveling more as long as the universe allows it. Visiting my dear friend, Becky, in Mexico at the end of this month. A work trip to Wisconsin in April. Hopefully a drive out to the Christmas Story house in Cleveland this summer. Now I need a short trip for this fall. Or another summer trip to North Carolina to see my friend, Monica, and sea turtles hatching?
This year I hope to treat people a bit better or…differently. We just don’t know how long we have on this planet, right? I’m starting to treat some folks like it’s their last year. It may sound like a morbid way of treating others but losing people I love and working with hospice patients has made me look at my world in a different light. During my brother’s, father’s and mother’s last Christmases, I didn’t KNOW it was their last. Did I ever snap at them or lose patience with them that day? I hope not. Did I show them just that little extra dash of kindness? I don’t know. If I did, I wasn’t aware of it.
So, I’m digging deep to find a bit more patience and goodwill for my loved ones. Well, I don’t always have to dig deep, but sometimes it’s necessary. But within that good treatment of others, I’m defining boundaries for myself and for my relationships. I tend to love others with everything I have and I’m not sure I can continue to do that. Or maybe I can. As I’m writing this, I’m thinking about the people I love fiercely, and I can’t imagine loving them any other way. It’s dishonest to do so. It doesn’t feel right not to love them with my whole being.
Maybe some things won’t change after all. ❤
Happy New Year to all of you. May your resolutions, hopes, or dreams be fulfilled. If none of those things happen, I hope you feel loved and appreciated. Because seriously, just feeling those things certainly feels like a dream coming true.
It’s been 5 years since I wrote my family’s annual holiday letter. Since my brother, Phil, died on July 23, 2017, I’ve had no desire to write a happy holiday letter, or any holiday letter at all. My favorite time of year became the time of year I dreaded.
I no longer dread Christmastime, but I also don’t look forward to it like I used to. I enjoy the music, the lights, the gift giving and receiving, the stories, and the movies (I’m an absolute sucker for holiday romance films). Yet all of those things blend with loss and longing for the people that are no longer here.
I’m currently in my kitchen typing this with cookies cooling on the counter and George Michael crooning a Christmas tune about heartbreak. This is my element, folks. Yet my stomach and chest are tight from all the withheld tears I just refuse to shed today.
Phil should be here right now. I should be slapping his hand as he tries to steal a cookie. We should be drinking tea at this very kitchen counter, gossiping about one of his friends or editing his latest erotica story. Instead, I keep looking beside me, just fucking wishing for him to appear.
I do understand why I’m feeling this grief so intensely this week. Besides it being Thanksgiving (which my brother came over to my house every Thanksgiving), I stumbled across a bunch of photos from the last Christmas we had with Phil. At first, I was just in awe and was enjoying seeing his face. Then I became across this photo:
This is my then 9-year-old son, leaning over to kiss my brother on the cheek. They were both enthralled with the new Yoda my son received, and honestly, they both just loved each other fiercely. When I saw this photo, I gasped because I forgot its existence. Then I sobbed. And sobbed. I rocked my body and just sat in that feeling of immense, overwhelming grief.
I took a long break from looking at any photos, then I dove in once again last night. This time, I came across a few short videos of my son as a toddler and my brother’s voice or laughter is in them. There’s one video in particular that my entire family knows and we’ve all watched it probably countless times just to hear Phil’s voice and laughter. He’s reading to my toddler and it’s sweet and funny and wonderful. My now 15-year-old son came over to me as I started to go through the videos, and he asked to watch and listen to that one video a couple of times. “I haven’t heard his voice in years, Mom. But it’s like my chest lit up when I heard him!” This kiddo of mine then thanked me and asked for a hug. ❤ I’m a really lucky mom.
So….that letter? I really thought this was the year, but I guess it’s not. I’m realizing now that I may not be able to write it again. Each year I did a bit of a recap of what was happening in all of our lives, and although we’ve made some wonderful memories in the past 5 years, we’ve also suffered so much loss that it’s difficult to do an annual letter without talking about who or what we no longer have.
Maybe a January letter about what we hope to accomplish in the new year? Maybe.
Until then, enjoy these pics of my dear big brother. If you watch the video, I hope you can see why I miss him so much. (And you can see what an annoying mom I can be.) Phil brought us so much joy and I am certainly grateful we have at least this video to refer to so we can see and hear him whenever we want. Obviously, it’s not the same as having him here with us, but it’s something.
For the past few weeks, my work has taken over my life–something I’m always telling other librarians NOT to do. But in this case, I was fighting for the library I work in and for the community it serves. It was a battle worth fighting and it looks like things might be ok. In another month the town’s budget will be voted on, and we’ll see how things turn out. The community has spoken and have shown their support for the library, its services and its staff. It was an amazing thing to see the community come together and show their love for this institution and for the work we do.
After this long, exhilarating yet exhausting week, I was looking forward to a weekend at home, reading a few books and getting some cleaning done. Yesterday morning I decided it was time to change things up. We have a sectional couch in our living room, and half of it has had some issues for some time. It was time to get rid of it.
As I pulled the cushions from the couch, I listened to Anderson Cooper’s podcast, All There Is. (Thanks, Anne.) Cooper begins the first episode of the podcast with cleaning out his mother’s apartment after she has died. This included finding some of his father’s and brother’s things. His father died of a heart condition when Anderson was 10, and his brother died from suicide when Anderson was 21. Most of the episodes talk to other famous people who have faced tremendous loss in their lives.
I had my earbuds in, listening to Anderson’s voice break when he discussed his dad, sometimes cry when he talked about either of his parents or brother. While I listened, I found myself really getting into tearing apart this couch. I took a sledgehammer to part of the wooden frame, I cut the fabric in places and other times I tore at it with my bare hands. At one point I found myself crying on the floor, thinking about my brother sitting on this very couch with me. How we would sit side by side and watch a movie and drink coffee together or talk about our latest read. I thought about my mom’s last Thanksgiving and how my son sat between us on that couch as we watched a Christmas movie together.
I was angry that my brother wasn’t there with me, helping me tear that fucking couch apart. I was angry that my mom wasn’t truly my mom for so many years before she died and devastated again that she had to die in a god damned nursing home.
And then….I wasn’t angry. Just achingly lonely. Although I have my family and my friends, sometimes the people I want are no longer here and I just feel so lonely without their presence, without their conversation and laughter and love.
Yet, what could I do at the moment? I could pound the shit out of that couch. So, I did.
This morning, though, as I drove my son to school, he turned to me and said, “You know what I realized this weekend? Right after I left work, my first job, I realized that I couldn’t share that first with Uncle or Grammy.” I nodded my head and sighed, “Yeah,” then rubbed his arm. We sat in silence the rest of the ride and told each other that we loved one another as he left the car.
As a parent, I celebrate so many of these firsts my son experiences–his first steps, first word (“no” by the way), his first ice cream cone, his first plane ride–and now I celebrate and grieve each of his firsts, and I have since my brother died 5 years ago. I just never realized that my bright, beautiful boy did, too.
When my brother, Phil, died, I was not available to my son. I thought I was to a point, but when I think about it now, and the fact that I didn’t realize that my kid would be missing his family just as much as me, I realize that I fucked up.
Yet I know I couldn’t have done anything different. During those dark days, there was a time when I was ready to die myself. I didn’t know how to live in this existence without Phil being here, too. To help my son was pretty much impossible at that time. I know I did try to listen to him and spend time with him, but once my mom moved in a few months later, my kid couldn’t count on me.
I truly hope that I’ve done better by my son since then. The amount of grief he’s had to experience would be insurmountable for some adults. He’s had to see me go through this loss while going through it himself, and literally having to pick me up off the floor. (I fainted after my mother’s funeral while he and I were home alone.)
I’ll do my best to keep the memory of my family in the present. We’ll keep acknowledging all of those firsts and talk about how proud the family would be, or what hilarious jokes my brother would tell. And I’ll keep taking my child and myself to therapy so we can continue to heal or at least function.
After all, we only have so much furniture we can tear apart.
As I continue my hospice volunteer training, my knowledge about both the dying process and ways to make those that are dying comfortable, seems to grow exponentially. For instance, the pain and suffering that some people go through as they die actually anchor them to this world. Yes, they will still die eventually, but with good symptom and pain management, you can lift that anchor and help them sail on to wherever they need to go. Of course, I will not be helping in the pain management portion. As a volunteer, I’m there to listen, give comfort in my presence (I hope) or maybe even help around the house. If I can do anything at all to provide assistance to someone in their last days, or to the families that are dealing with their grief, then I’m right where I’m supposed to be.
My training and my husband’s health has prompted some overdue conversations. My husband and I talked a lot about the heavy hearts we’ve all been carrying lately. Our son and I are always on alert when we walk into our home, wondering if we’ll find my husband dead. Although my husband doesn’t want to die, he’s not afraid to. He has his faith, so what worries him more is the journey in-between life and death, the pain and suffering that often accompanies that. I talked to him about what I learned, and hospice care is all about helping with that journey, to make a person dying more comfortable and to improve their quality of life while they are still here.
Of course, we hope he still has years left, but we never know, do we? We’ve talked about having to apply for disability because we’re not sure how much longer he can work. He’s never fully recovered from his ventilator/coma horror show in 2020, but after last year’s heart attack he’s much worse. BUT he does have good days, and today was one of them. We’re in a good space today, so we’ll take it.
Besides my hospice knowledge increasing, do you know what else has grown incredibly? My bucket list!! Wait, no, my “Life To Do List.” If you have a better name, please tell me. I’m not loving the list names I’ve found so far. I chose this name though because my list isn’t all adventures or traveling. I have things like: Learn CPR and First Aid, Take Swimming Lessons, Make Homemade Pasta. But also, of course, I have: See the Grand Canyon, Go to NYC at Christmastime, Walk the Berlin Wall Trail. And within some of my activities or adventures, I have the people I want to see or spend time with. I LOVE spending time with myself, but some of these things would be so much better with people I enjoy being with. Because ultimately? Those people are what really make my life joyful. Vacationing on an island would be rad, but what would really make it spectacular is to do it with my girlfriends. Seeing the Boston Red Sox play is an experience I only want to do with my sister, and I can wear our father’s Red Sox cap and eat a hot dog in his name.
Will I get to do everything on my list? I doubt it. Even if I have the opportunity to get really old, I’ll never have the funds to do it all. Also, I have “Run a Marathon” on my list. Yeah, that shit might not ever happen. Since my distal pancreatectomy surgery, I still can’t run over 4 miles. Yet I also haven’t been training as much so….who knows, right?
Look how damn happy I am when I run or walk! This is a genuine smile. Maybe I can do the Jeff Galloway run/walk method for a marathon? I don’t know. We’ll see. In the meantime, I’ll keep on adding to that list. And I’d love to hear what’s on your “Life’s To Do List.” If Visit Maine is on your list, I have a couch to sleep on or a tent to sleep in. I got you. ❤
I woke up thinking about my mom this morning. Actually…I woke up thinking about everything I did wrong with Mom during the last two years of her life.
I just began training to be a hospice volunteer. Much of our homework is reading about dying and watching videos about hospice care as well as the dying process. In just two weeks I’ve learned a lot about what actively dying looks like (which I witnessed with Mom) as well as what all of the signs actually mean. For instance, when someone seems agitated as they are going through the dying process, the person could have a full bladder, could be in pain, or maybe the music being played in the room reminds them of a particularly bad time in their lives.
I was with both of my parents as they lay dying. Much of the literature and information I’m consuming reflect my own experiences. Stories of people dying who talk to a dead loved one or reach out to something that you can’t see. (Dad saw his grandfather.) Stories of people dying after their spouse leaves the room or once their adult child finally made it to the hospital after they flew across the country to see them one more time. (Mom died less than 5 minutes after I left the room. My sister said it was because she was trying to protect me one last time.) As I work through the coursework, I feel like this is all in my wheelhouse–bereavement, dying, extensive grief, hospice care–these actions and feelings have defined my life for the past five years. I feel like I’m ready to listen to others now and be present for those families that are suffering and for that person in hospice care. And to be honest? Although I’ve set some boundaries in my life, I know at some point I may need to be my husband’s caregiver as he continues his congestive heart failure journey. That journey may end in hospice care. I want to be prepared and help him prepare for what that involves.
This morning, I started to doubt my hospice volunteer readiness. I watched two hours of videos yesterday about the dying process and Mom’s birthday is in two days, so of course she’s on my mind. But I felt sick thinking about Mom being in the memory care unit of the nursing home. I know she had many, many good days there, and I know I was not able to take care of her. (I tried but was not successful.) But what about once she went into hospice care? Why didn’t I bring her home? Could I have taken a leave of absence and taken care of her here? Would she still have died just three weeks after she went into hospice care, or maybe she would have lived longer?
I’ve been doing exactly what I tell people not to do. I have no idea how things could have been. She could have died sooner, or what if she lived even longer? Could I really have afforded to take a leave of absence? (I already know the answer is “no.” And if you’re one of those people who say, “If that was my mother, I would have stayed home with her,” then congratulations to you for not living paycheck to paycheck.)
Don’t second guess yourself, I tell people. I want to say I did the best I could with what I had, but I’m not sure that’s true. Tomorrow I may feel differently. I may be ok with how it all went down.
Habits are hard to break, aren’t they? I’ve bitten my nails for my whole life and I’ve finally stopped doing that…mostly. But now I tear at my nails instead. It’s marginally better? I drink coffee each morning before I do much of anything else. It’s not really the best habit because I use sugar and creamer. I’ve cut my sugar in half, but I can’t seem to get any further than that. Honestly, it’s a habit I don’t want to break.
What do you do when your habits seriously hurt your health? Smoking, drinking excessively, eating fatty or sugary foods–not to mention addiction to illegal drugs or pain medication–are all activities many of us participate in, but when your health is deteriorating due to these habits, how do you stop?
What if you are the partner, friend or child of the person with these harmful habits? How do you help the person? When is the time you step back…or turn your back?
In August of last year, I wrote this: “But…shouldn’t there be a time when we finally say, ‘I will no longer take care of you. I will remain your partner until death, but I can no longer help you if you refuse to help yourself.'”
I’ve discovered that there is indeed a time when I will say these sentences and that time is now.
After a recent hospital stay for my husband due to a medication failure, a diagnosis of congestive heart failure and a disastrous and degrading (to me) doctor’s appointment, I am stepping back. It is now up to my husband to take control of his life. He knows all of this now. We’ve had a “come to Jesus” meeting as my old boss, Bill, used to say. I won’t attend any more of his appointments unless he is physically unable to drive. When he asked if I would go to an appointment if he asked me specifically to go, I told him I’d have to answer that later. Right now, the answer is “no.” I have a list of his medications, but it’ll be up to him to let me know if anything changes. When he asked me yesterday if he should pick up canned hash to have for breakfast the next day, I told him I wasn’t answering those questions anymore. He could make that decision, that choice. And he did.
Does all of this seem too personal to put out into the universe? It is. It’s also really difficult. I know I have at least one friend who understands everything I’m feeling right now, and maybe there are more people out there who get it, too. You’re not alone.
Marriage is hard. Relationships are hard. Parenting is hard. Co-parenting is even harder. Watching someone hurt themselves when you know it affects more than just themselves, is rage-inducing.
Over the past few weeks, I’ve found myself falling back into that bad habit of emotional eating. I’ve always done that when I’m angry, and these past 2 weeks certainly proved that. Fortunately, I’ve been able to attempt running once more, and that has helped my moods tremendously. I wish it could help everyone, but at least I’m able to find patience as the result of my exercise and can listen to my son and husband when they need me. At this point I’m not sure I can do much else.
I know for a fact that some people will read this and think I’m heartless or selfish and should do more to support my partner. “You’ve been married for 25 years! You don’t just sit back while their health is in jeopardy!” But what if your own health, albeit mental health, is in jeopardy? What about your child’s? The old man can do this. He is completely capable of making good choices. I don’t care if you think I’m heartless or selfish. I know I’m not. I love my husband. I will until I die. I am still here. But right now, he is the only one who can help himself. Will I give him a pat on the back when he does well? Absolutely! But will I criticize him when he doesn’t? Nope. I’ll do my damnedest to just nod my head and say “ok.”
These changes will be damn difficult for everyone in our household. I will hope for the best, but expect the worst, which is my usual M.O. 😉 Now enjoy this song about trying to find some hope in a messy situation. Hugs to you all.
“So long as you write what you wish to write, that is all that matters; and whether it matters for ages or only for hours, nobody can say.” ― Virginia Woolf, A Room of One’s Own
I love to write. I love to write what I want to write. This might be poetry, letters, even the occasional library report can bring me joy. And I most certainly love to blog, to share my life, my running, and my adventures or lack of, with you. It helps me align my feelings, my thoughts, and my mental health in a way that allows me to keep functioning. I’ve always called it my therapy, but it’s really more than that. I tell my therapist many more intimate details of my life than I could ever share here, but I hope that in some ways I can help with this little blog–help myself, assist you with whatever is troubling you (often my brutal honesty allows you to tell me things you wouldn’t tell others), and for you to help me.
In my last post, I discussed trying to find ways to feel contentment and to explore new ways to enjoy this life of mine. I applied for my passport like I said I would, and I’ve started to create a space of my own in my basement. I want room to not only do my volunteer work, but I really, really want a place to write. In all honesty, I want a space where I won’t be asked questions or see the dirty dishes waiting for me or hear the hum of the refrigerator calling me and convincing me I need a snack. I just want to be present, with my laptop and my words and my thoughts.
Sometimes, though, I just want to be by myself and maybe a podcast or an audiobook. I don’t always need to write down my own thoughts but listening to others can be just as therapeutic. I also want and need to move my body and sweat and feel the sun on my face. (I’ve been told that I’m a bit cranky when I don’t exercise.) Running still isn’t in the cards for me, but walking is still a relief. Being outside also can feel like “a room of one’s own.”
I walked over 5 miles this morning, and as I looked around me, I couldn’t help but smile and take deep breaths and just be in awe of the beauty of where I live. Although this isn’t truly my own space, it can feel like it and it allows me to be in the presence of greatness.
Then there are times like tonight, when all I want is to be with my thoughts and my laptop. That’s when I escape to the basement. The space I’ve created is…odd. I’m using a borrowed table (which I really need to return), a borrowed office chair (which hurts my back after a bit), a small bookcase, a lamp, and a heater for later in the year. My son says it’s homey, with my rocking chair and grandmother’s knitted afghan off to the side. I have two candles in large stands and a few throw rugs under the table and in front of the rocking chair. On the wall is a bunch of Trevor Project info and this:
A friend made this poster for me for my birthday. It was first said in a text, but then I asked for it to be in a larger form because it was something I didn’t want to forget. It’s poetic and beautiful and not something I’ve ever thought about myself. For someone to see this bravery in me that I never recognized, gave me hope. It made me think that I could in fact be the person I’ve always wanted to be: a good human, one with many flaws, but a person that listens and empathizes and cares about others.
I am, most definitely, not always that person. Often, I don’t want to listen to anyone else, I don’t care about anyone else, I just want to go back to my home and crawl into bed. I have many days when it takes all my energy to put a smile on my face, place one foot in front of the other, and get through the day. But I think we all have those days, don’t we?
Although my friend sees bravery in me that’s difficult for me to see, I do want to be brave. I want to stop always doing things I’m expected to do or being who I’m expected to be. I want to take risks, but I’m frightened to do so. I suppose that’s where the bravery should come in. 😉
Is there something or someone you want to be, but don’t think you are? Is there a place you want to be in your life, but not sure how to get there?
Let’s try and figure these things out together. I’m willing to try and figure out who I am or want to be if you are. As my friend Johnny just said to me recently, “Take the leap! You won’t regret it.” Will you join me?
I’ve always enjoyed Mary Oliver’s poetry, and “Wild Geese” is one of her most popular ones for good reason. But it’s been a while since I read it, and earlier this week, I saw the first line of the poem, “You do not have to be good” in someone’s email signature. It stopped me from moving past the email, from doing much of anything really, except crying. What was it about that line that got to me?
I found the poem and like nearly every other time I’ve read it, I got stuck on the line “Meanwhile the world goes on.” I never hated that phrase until my brother died. The world was supposed to stop that day. I wanted what W.H. Auden wanted in his “Funeral Blues” poem, to “stop all the clocks, cut off the telephone.” How could the people on the planet be so cruel as to keep on living while my brother could not?
And now here it is, five years later today. This shit hole of a world didn’t stop. It’s certainly gotten worse, but it hasn’t stopped.
So, I went back to “Wild Geese” by Mary Oliver and read the poem again. I stopped at my usual line, then finally pushed on. I had never understood the poem, really, because I could never finish it. My anger and grief built a wall tall enough for me not to see or hear anything further after “the world goes on.” Now I finally see what the fuss is about.
“Wild Geese” is about living. It hasn’t been easy for me to really do that these past five years. I tried but have often failed. I did start learning to appreciate the little things in life that make me laugh or bring me joy–just watching dragonflies flit around my head made me so happy that I logged it in my brain to remember later. I have tried to cement a few friendships and relationships that I never, ever want to lose. But I also cut a few people loose that were not good for me. I want to and need to do more of that in the future.
I’m not much of a risk taker, so I won’t be skydiving or jumping off cliffs to swim with sharks. I won’t be traveling the world, only because I don’t have the financial means to do so. But I’ll at least get my passport so if a windfall of cash comes my way, I might finally be able to go to Europe or even see my lovely friend and soul sister, Becky in Mexico. But what else?
Knowing I was a step away from pancreatic cancer and also knowing that my big brother never got this second chance that I have now, I don’t want to piss it away. But unfortunately, bills still have to be paid and responsibilities still have to be tended to. Is there a way to fit in this new vigor for life into my current life?
I’ve recently begun training to be a volunteer for The Trevor Project. This will require one 3-hour shift per week and the training is 10 weeks long. It’s quite a process and I love it. I’m learning so much and honestly, it’s really difficult. But I’m so, so happy to do it. Watching my son and his friends try to live their lives and seeing how much pain some of them have gone through specifically from being part of the LGBTQ+ community, has given me the push to help more young people like them. And hopefully I can.
I’ve also signed up to train as a hospice volunteer. Training starts with that in the fall, with a 2-hour shift requirement per week. This has been a passion of mine for a while now, especially after talking and working with Mom’s hospice nurse. I’d like to be able to help patients and/or their families in any way I am able.
So…back to the “You do not have to be good” line. There is SO much in that line to unpack. First, I saw the sentence in a hospice worker’s email, and I think it’s one reason why it caught me off guard. I had forgotten the line and maybe when I read it before it just didn’t mean much to me then. But now it means everything. I think I cried because I immediately thought of my brother. Much of his life, especially his adult life, he lived with no excuses and no regrets. You didn’t like how he lived his life? “Fuck you,” he’d say and sometimes with a smile. To me he always lived as large a life as he could with what he had. He was loyal to his friends and family and loved us fiercely. He was a voracious reader and wrote humor, horror, romance and erotica, and sometimes all in the same story. He was known for his morbid and often perverted sense of humor that often had you shaking your head but also holding your belly from laughing so hard. He was a giant of a man with a giant heart.
But again, why did “you do not have to be good” resonate? Because Phil was like that. He wasn’t always “good” and certainly didn’t get on his knees to repent (he got on his knees for other activities), but he loved what he loved and loved whom he loved. And he lived. For those few 49 years and 33 days, he fucking lived. No excuses. No regrets.
I’m trying to be like my big brother. I want to fucking live, too. Volunteering at these two places is one way I can live more like I want to. It may seem like this isn’t me jumping out of an airplane, but it sort of is. This is me putting my heart out there and seeing people when they are at their most vulnerable–asking for help because they don’t feel heard or understood or loved and just want to die, and those that are actively dying or watching their loved ones go through that process. I suppose I’m trying to save lives with one position and help those die with dignity with the other.
Will these activities make me happier? Eh, I don’t even like that word right now. That’s a blog post for another time. But I think the work will help me feel fulfilled. Being a librarian was always what did that for me but being a library director is not the same. I’m fortunate to work in a small, rural library so I still get to know and help people, but nothing like what I did before. Now there’s too much of the bureaucratic bullshit and that part sucks. Right now, though, it’s where I need to be.
There are other things I need to do to make my life a better one: getting rid of more “stuff,” finding my own space in my home, eliminating more debt, writing and reading more poetry, keeping up those forever friendships and relationships, and having more new experiences. Will I have time or energy to do it all?
Probably not, but I have to try, right?
Not just for me, but for Phil. At 49 years and 39 days old, I am officially older than my big brother. It’s time for me to try and live, to prove to him and to myself, that I don’t waste this “one wild and precious life.” (Seriously, Mary Oliver was kick ass, so check her stuff out.) Sometimes that might mean I take a walk to observe the leaves dancing in the trees or to see that momma turkey and her adolescents wander the field instead of finishing a book I was supposed to read for work. Or it might mean giving up an evening of relaxing to talk with a friend who needs a shoulder to lean on. Or it could mean that I make some bigger changes in my life and figure out who Holly is.
Thanks for coming on this journey with me. I wish Phil were here, too. I know he’d have a lot to say about it, and it would probably be a bit sarcastic and/or hilarious, and also said with love.
If you ever met my brother, I hope you think of him today. I won’t let him be forgotten, so even if you didn’t know him, think of him anyway. Just know that you probably would have liked him. I certainly did.