2009: A year that changed my life

Life

Here we are, another year later. It has been bittersweet. It was the best and the worst year of my life all at the same time. It has been a year that has changed me forever.

Up until a month ago I would have said that this was one of the best years of my life. I turned 40, and while that could have been scary and terrible, I have decided to look at my Forties as the prime of my life. Because, really, it is. I feel really good about myself and have more confidence than I have ever had. I have thought a lot about my life and what, exactly, I want out of it. What is important and what isn’t. At 40 I think that this phrase sums up my thoughts on life: “wherever you go, there you are.” In other words, I’m not going to be happy trying to run to or away from things. I am not going to be happy getting things. Happiness is always there, accessible within me all the time.

That said, I am proud of myself for picking myself up out of Spokane and finding a place to live that I love. As much as I tried to find happiness in Spokane I realized that I needed to be somewhere else. I don’t know what it is about that town that oppresses me so much but it always has, even growing up there. I loved the friends I made there, and I love my family. But the vibe of the town doesn’t jibe with me. I do believe that cities have certain “voices” or “vibes” or whatever you want to call it. Spokane doesn’t do it for me. But this little town of Sandy does. I love it here and am so happy to be living here. I feel so blessed. I love living so close to Mt. Hood and I love seeing its beauty everyday (well, when it’s clear out). So in that sense, I feel like 2009 treated me very well.

However, this is the year I lost my step-dad. This has been the most devastating and painful experience of my life. It is still so raw and I tear up whenever I think about it. I still can’t believe he’s gone, even after watching him die. So that part of 2009 completely sucked horribly. But I also learned things from that experience that have changed me forever. I learned about Karma. I learned that in the end, things don’t matter, money doesn’t matter. The only thing that matters is love. Doug was a very giving and loving person and he left this world with his family and friends by his side. That’s karma. I also learned that there might be something beyond this life. I know that sounds all weird and metaphysical and I understand that this is very debatable. But this experience with Doug made me think about the afterlife a little bit differently than I have in the past.

So that was my 2009. I hope that next year is filled with less drama.

I don’t have any resolutions but I do want to do one thing. Learn how to play the banjo. I finally got my banjo last night and I can’t wait to learn. I declare 2010 The Year of the Banjo!

Hope you all have a happy and peace-filled New Year.

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Happy Holidays!

Photography

Happy Holidays!

I don’t have any Christmassy pictures for you this year because I didn’t put up a tree and I’m not going to Spokane to be around anyone who cares enough to decorate. So here’s one that I took today on our walk at Wildwood park. It was a gorgeous day today and the light was beautiful. Doesn’t get better than that, in my opinion.

Have a wonderful Christmas!

 

One Year Ago

Photography

 

I thought it might be fun to see what I took a year ago today and, behold! It was Snowpocolypse! :Shudder: I hope I never have to go through that again. My back hurts just looking at this picture. this was the view from my sidewalk when I woke up the morning after the Big Snowstorm.

I still haven’t picked up my camera. What is up with that? Why do I not want to take pictures? There must be some psycological reason why. I don’t even want to touch the camera, for some reason. Weird.

I bought a banjo today! I ordered it from the Banjo Hut this morning and it should be delivered on the 29th. I can’t wait!

And while I’m updating, in the knitting department, I’m almost done with my Zick Zack tunic. I’m about to cast off the epic cowl neck. I’ve tried it on and it fits great. Finally, an FO I’ll be happy with!

Amazing Grace

Life, Thoughts and Opinions
Willie Nelson

Image by Behind The Music via Flickr

I thought I should check in on the blog since it has been awhile and my last post was so sad and blubbery.

I haven’t picked up my camera since the day my mom told me that Doug didn’t have very long to live. Almost 3 weeks. It’s weird. I don’t understand this. You’d think I would find solace in some kind of creative activity like photography but I just don’t have any desire for it. I have been knitting like a maniac. Knitting has been a huge comfort to me. I’ve been working on my ZickZack tunic and so I kind of have something to look forward to as I finish it up. There is something about working with your hands that is very comforting, you know?

I’ve been reading all of the cliche books about the afterlife and things like that. Yes, this is one of the symptoms of grief. But it actually is helping me. I just finished a really interesting book yesterday called Many Lives, Many Masters by Brian L. Weiss that is about past lives. A coworker had just finished it and suggested it to me. I finally read it yesterday and, wow. It’s really interesting. I’ve always been kind of interested in these kinds of things. I don’t know that I’ve ever really believed in past lives. I haven’t discounted it as a possibility because, quite frankly, how do we even know what lies on the other side. But this book is really interesting because it is written by a highly regarded Psychiatrist who was very scientific and not religious at all. He happened to stumble on “Past Life Regression” during a hypnosis session with one of his patients. This book is the story of that experience. I really like the book because it is presented in a very non spiritual, non religious way. It is not all new-agey and weird. So if you are at all interested in these kinds of things I highly recommend it.

Going through the experience of watching Doug die was really eye-opening for me. Someone mentioned the word “humbling” and that is exactly what it is. It really made me realize how precious life is. There were some things that happened that I can’t really ignore and I don’t think were coincidences. The fact that both my dad and his best friend called at the moment that he died was really weird. There was something on another level going on there that I can’t explain.

There is another thing that happened that is too strange to ignore.

The evening of his funeral my sister and brothers and their kids, along with some of Doug’s friends were at my mom’s house. Everyone was drinking (some more heavily than others) and we cried and talked about Doug all evening. At one point my sister brought out some records from Doug’s vast collection to play. Records that reminded us of Doug. I knew instantly what album I wanted to listen to. Willie and Family Live. My mom bought this album way back when Doug and she were dating and I’ve always loved it. It has always reminded me of Doug. The reason why I love Willie Nelson today is because of this album. So I really wanted to listen to some of it that evening. (On a side-note, each of us siblings picked out a different album that reminded us of him. It was kind of neat to see which ones each of us picked). We put it on eventually and listened to one side of it. That side ended and I noticed the music stopped so I went to turn the album over (I had to re-learn how to use a record player really quick). I got it going and we had it playing in the background again. I noticed after a short time that the music stopped again. I thought “wow that’s weird. It doesn’t seem like enough time has gone by for a whole side to play.” So I went in to check on it and I was right. It was still going, I could hear the vibrations of the grooves of the record but it wasn’t coming out the speakers. For some reason I decided to let it go. I fucked around with the knobs a bit to see if I could get it working again but then just left it playing like that after I couldn’t get it working. After a few minutes the music started again, and kind of loud (probably because I turned the loudness up when I was messing around with it). Since it was louder than background music we kind of couldn’t ignore it. Guess what song was playing? Willie Nelson’s awesome rendition of “Amazing Grace.” My sister stopped in the middle of the living room and said, “listen to what song is playing. Amazing Grace. I love this song.” And we all sat and listened to it. His best friend (the one that called when Doug died), who had been nipping a little too much on the Irish Whiskey, started singing it. It was a beautiful moment. The speakers worked fine the rest of the night, just as they did forever and always before that evening. There has never been a problem with those stereo speakers. Ever.

I sort of thought about this on the drive back to Oregon the next day. I decided to download the “Willie and Family Live” album from iTunes. I listened to Willie sing “Amazing Grace” again. Really listened to the song, the words and the music. I realized at that moment that Doug was sending us a message. I know it. And this is exactly how he would send it. He loved Willie Nelson and if he was gong to send us a message with a sappy song like Amazing Grace  it would be Willie Nelson’s rendition of it. The song directly after is “Take this job and shove it.” How beautifully irreverent is that? That was Doug. Slightly irreverent, but very genuine.

I know it might seem crazy. But I was completely sober when this happened. I was driving that evening and made a point not to drink. And I had gotten over that zombie-like phase of the grieving process. I was very much in my right mind when this happened. Doug was telling us not to worry and that he is O.K. He’s more than O.K. He is in that horribly cliched “better place.” And you know what? It gives me lots of comfort to really know that. I still miss him though. I still wish he was still here to talk to. But there is  some comfort in knowing that he’s doing just fine.

What happened

Life

I really feel like I need to write about what happened this past week. This experience, as horrible and heartrending as it was, has changed my life in many ways.

A week ago Monday I was hiking on the Salmon River. I was standing on the bank of the river with Raf and we were listening to the sound of the water rushing by. We remarked to each other about how good the salmon fishing must be here and we stood there, taking in the beauty and serenity of the place. I thought to myself, “I can’t wait to get Doug up here so we can take him fishing.” I thought that it was just what he needed to help him on his road to recovery. My mom and him were planning on buying a travel trailer so that they could come here and stay for awhile when they wanted to get away from Spokane and I was really looking forward to having them here.

It was that evening when my mom called to tell me that Doug didn’t have much longer to live. I didn’t know what to say or think. I kept hearing about how he was going to be released from the hospital and he would be home soon. How did it come to this? I asked my mom if I should come home but I already knew I would. I felt compelled to go. There wasn’t any question I needed to go and I needed to get there right now. I thought about waiting until Sunday (since I have Sundays and Mondays off) but that thought didn’t stick very long. I just needed to get home to see him.

We drove over Thanksgiving morning and it was a difficult drive. A part of me knew that it would be the last time I saw him alive and it was breaking me up inside. I cried almost the whole drive. I was afraid of what I was going to see. I was afraid of seeing him laid up in a Hospice bed. On the way there I called my mom and asked her how things were and she said that he wasn’t eating and that concerned me. I felt so helpless.

We got there, finally, and I saw him laying there. He was awake and I asked him how he was doing. He said, “I’m just glad to be home.” He hated staying in the hospital and he was glad to be home with his family. He didn’t look good. He was in bed and he couldn’t talk very loudly. But he was coherent and he could talk to us and be a part of our conversations. He asked for some of his favorite Thanksgiving foods, one of them being Pea Salad, his mother’s signature Thanksgiving dish. He would eat a bite but that would be all. He wasn’t drinking much fluid either. I was really concerned about this. I encouraged him to eat and drink so he could “get his strength up.” I was still hopeful that he would recover. Well, hopeful or in complete denial. The rest of that day and evening he talked to us as much as he could and even told a story or two.

We spent the night at our house (that we trying to sell) and we came back to mom’s house early the next morning. He was pretty much in the same state. Still asking for a bit of food here and there. Still talking to us. My mom said that the night before he asked her, “Could you get me the phone, I need to call my mom to tell her I’m coming home.” That kind of gave us all shudders. The Hospice nurse came and basically laid out the reality of the situation. They were surprised that he survived Thanksgiving and were happy to see that he was still talking. But she explained to me that eating is “not helpful to him right now because his body can’t handle the digestion process.” That kind of made it all real to me. My mom was asking her about care and trying to figure out in her head if she had enough money for a nurse to come a couple of times a week to take care of him. She figured that she had enough for 3 months. The nurses looked at each other and one of them said, “honestly, that won’t be an issue.” This is when we all just realized the situation. He really was dying. And he could be gone very, very soon.

My mom called his two best friends to tell them that if they wanted to visit they needed to come that day. The were planning on coming Saturday but it looked like Saturday would be too late.

They came and we all had a great visit. His best friend stayed for about 4 hours and we heard the other side of Doug’s crazy stories. It was fun. He even laughed a few times. Later on in the evening he started coughing and I asked my mom if there was something we could give him to alleviate the congestion. I seriously had no idea what was going on. I thought we could just give him a pill and he would be alright.

doug-pebble-beach

At one point he said, “Hey if you go by there again could you get me another hat?” So I asked if he was talking about when we visited Pebble Beach. It made me feel good that he was thinking about that. They came to visit me in Santa Cruz the weekend of my graduation from library school and I made sure to take him to Pebble Beach because he was a avid golfer. I even bought him a baseball cap as a memento of the day, which he wore all the time (and is wearing in the photo in the previous post).

Raf suggested that we spend the night at my mom’s house so we could stay up with him and she could get some sleep. I fell asleep at around 10:00 and woke up again at 2:00 am. I was so tempted to sleep through the night but I forced myself awake and I told my mom that she could go to bed. By that time he was asleep and pretty unresponsive. He started the death rattle. At the time I didn’t know what this was. I thought he was drowning in the fluid accumulating in his lungs. It was horrible. Eventually I started crying because I knew the end was near. Again, I felt so helpless. I wanted to help him but I didn’t know what to do. All I could do was cry. Eventually I decided that I needed to talk to him so I sat next to him, took his hand and told him that I loved him very, very much. I told him that he had been a good step-dad and a good friend and that I was going to really, really miss him.

Around 6:00 my mom got up and she rattled around the house, feeding the dogs and doing her morning routine. When Doug heard my mom’s voice and the dogs barking he smiled from ear to ear.

I woke my brother up so he he could be with his dad. we spent the next few hours trying to figure out how to alleviate the “congested breathing.” We called Hospice several times and eventually they said they would send over a nurse.

The nurse finally arrived and she began administering to him. She checked his heartbeat and was about to check something on his back when she stopped mid-sentence and said, “I don’t mean to be blunt but can you hear the way he is breathing? There periods where his breathing stops and then he takes a deep breath. This means he is actively dying. You need to come and tell him it is ok for him to go.” So my mom sat next to him and started talking to him. Then my brother did the same and so did I. He took a few more breaths, then they stopped. Then he would breathe again and then they would stop. Then he took one more breath. As he was doing this we were crying and telling him how much we love him and that his parents were waiting for him and he should go to them. My mom said to him, “Doug, I will be o.k.” And then that was the last breath he took.

while all of this was happening my cell phone rang. I thought to myself, “who is calling me? I’ll have to deal with that later.” Then, just as Doug was literally breathing his last breath, my mom’s land line rang. I answered it and it was his best friend, the one that visited the day before. I couldn’t believe it. I told him what was going on and he said, “don’t say another word I’m on my way over.” He came over and he ended up taking care of us that morning while Doug’s body lay in the other room.

The person who called my cell phone was my Dad. When I told him the situation he said, “I was concerned and I felt like I needed to call you.” It was really freaky. But it made me feel good too, that he could, somehow, know that I was in the worst pain of my entire life and was there to help me.

It was the most difficult thing I have ever done in my entire life. It was the most heart-wrenching thing, watching him die, and watching my mom say goodbye to her soul mate. But you know what? I would do it again in a second. Doug was a good person. He was a great step-dad and was so good to me and Raf. I can’t even think of a time when I’ve gotten mad at him for anything. He was always there for me. I can’t think of a time scarier than being on your death bed. If there ever was a time when Doug needed those he loved, that was it. I am so grateful that I was able to be there to say goodbye to him and help him to the other side.