dear anna . . . a letter to a friend who has passed away

the heavens

 

Dear Anna,

I can only guess at how things are where you are–either  a heavenly paradise or a deep void or something else entirely that our small, living, human brains cannot even conjure up. I hope from wherever you are and whatever your reality now is that you can see what goes on in the life you left behind—well, the good things, anyway. But if you can’t (and, yes, I think you can), let me fill you in.

Your two daughters have grown into amazing young women. When you left them, they were just fifteen and a day shy of fourteen years old. They were at the beginning of high school, a time no parent should miss, a time in which no daughter should be without her mother, but left you did by no fault of your own. No matter how hard you clawed at this world, grasping at branches that turned into rootless twigs, reaching for crevices in boulders that crumbled at your fingertips, you could not stay here. A bigger mission, I’d like to think, awaited you on the other side, something so amazing that we could never quite understand the why of it, but it needed to happen even if it meant separating you from the only loves you knew.

I keep in touch with your girls by text or email. Brian and I see them several times a year, to celebrate their birthdays and during Thanksgiving, Christmas, and spring break times. Your older girl is now in college. And a good one at that! She is a freshman at California Polytechnic University, San Luis Obispo (or Cal Poly SLO, as we call it), in that school’s top-rated engineering program. She lives near campus (yep, she is no longer at home full-time) and has made a bunch of friends. She plans to become a civil engineer, like her dad, and she has worked hard to do just what you expected of her: get into a good school and work toward a great career.

Your younger, more social and daring child, will be graduating high school in June already. She has high hopes of becoming a doctor, in part (but mostly) because of you. She felt helpless not understanding what you were going through. Studying your illness gave her strength and opened her eyes to how difficult an end you endured. Her grades are excellent. She got into every single UC school, and she should be on her way toward her career in a few short months.

Your husband is plugging away at work, missing you terribly, and looking forward to the day when the pain won’t be so bad. As hard as he fought to keep you here, he is trying at least that hard to forge a new life without you.

And the rest of us? I, for one, don’t go a single day without thinking of you. You were such a huge part of my life, and you continue to fill my thoughts. I think of the good times we had, like shooting the breeze while cracking crab legs at a buffet, and the difficult ones too, seeing you endure another demoralizing chemo treatment, listening to you describe how you could literally feel your life slipping away from you, “like my energy is leaving my body,” you’d say. And I knew just what you meant.

I think of you when the good times roll, like when the family and I are on vacation, or I am out with your girls celebrating a birthday lunch, and when life is not so spectacular. You actually help me get through the crappy stuff, you’ll be happy to know, because I always think, “Gosh, what Anna wouldn’t do to have to pay for a huge car repair or to have a migraine if it meant being here with her family one more day.” The small stuff is just that. But what you went through, my, that’s the big event we all fear.

I still work from home in my editing career, but now that I don’t have any minor children here needing me daily for rides or moral support, I took a job in a library, where I can be around some of the inanimate things I most love: books. I don’t see my old gang of friends much at all any more. Also free of young children, they’ve gotten on with their lives and have taken jobs that have shrunk their free time but given them a sense of purpose that had been on hold.

Time certainly moves, on and I have made some new friends at work. There are so many nice people at the library, and I’ve become quite close to a few of them, close enough, in fact, that I’ve told them about you. I just wish the story I tell of you had a different ending. I still am too busy for my own good and would love to see things settle down  so I can just get to stuff I want to do instead of stuff I think I have to do. I’m bringing in a little more money (and I stress the “little”), but because I’m home less often, some of the household projects that we talked about my wanting to get to years ago, go unaccomplished even now. I still can’t seem to get the nerve to hire someone to come in and do some of the stuff I don’t have time to get to. Some things never change, I suppose—like the ratty living room furniture that I spend money on covering with slipcovers but should just replace.

So, as you can see, dear, Anna, life goes on pretty much as it was but in bigger and bolder ways. Life is pretty good for all of us, with one thing lacking. And I’m pretty sure you know what that is.

Love,

Rose 

 

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brad’s status–a lot of us can relate, i’m sure

brad's statusWe might all learn a thing or two from the new film Brad’s Status. The movie explores middle-class discontent and the way comparing ourselves with others in this world of ubiquitous reminders via Facebook posts and Instagram stories can drive us to be miserable, when most of us are way more fortunate than we think and maybe more than we deserve.

In the movie, the middle-class Brad Sloan (Ben Stiller) contemplates/overthinks what he deems to be his boring, unassuming life. On first look, Brad has it pretty good. He runs a nonprofit and his wife, Melanie (Jenna Fischer), is likable, smart, and has a decent, busy career herself. His son, Troy (Austin Abrams), is not only a good kid, but bright enough and musically talented enough to be applying to and interviewing with top-notch East Coast universities, including Harvard. Brad lives in a tidy Craftsman home in a nice neighborhood of medium-sized Sacramento, California. So, what’s not to like about all that? Let’s ask Brad.

The audience learns through Brad’s voice overs just how unhappy he is. To Brad, his life pales in comparison to his college buddies’, one a successful movie producer featured in Architectural Digest for his lavish home; another a hedge-fund owner with an equally wealthy wife, four blond, rambunctious kids, and one private jet; a third who made it big in the dot-com craze and is now retired and living with two young girlfriends in Maui; and a fourth who is a successful pundit and author who is pulled in many enviable directions.  What’s prompted Brad’s over analysis is his and Troy’s East Coast trip, where Troy is to tour and interview at some of the schools on his radar, including prestigious Harvard. We learn that Brad hadn’t been accepted into his first-choice school, Yale, and see that he’s surprised (and envious) that Troy has a good shot at Harvard.

On the trip, Brad finds out how out of the loop he has become. He wasn’t invited to his L.A. friend’s opulent wedding, for one, and he feels his status, already teetering,  has not plummeted.

Of course, our Everyman does get a rude awakening, when he, of course, discovers that his friends’ perfect lives are really not so much. But the slap in the face comes late and one gets the sense that Brad may end up dipping back into the pool of despair on occasion but, for the most part, will stay on dry land.

A show of hands on who can relate to this scenario? Although we are witnesses to how good Brad has it–for God’s sake, he should be happy alone that he has just one kid to worry about and one college education to fund–we can see where he gets off feeling in the dumps about his life. Haven’t we all scoured Facebook pages, drooling over photos of our friends’ European vacations, their kids’ graduations from great schools and with exemplary grades that got them a choice of several jobs to turn down in order to take the one with the most amazing pay and benefits, and the new house/grandkid/car/kitchen–fill in the blank–that we wish we had? I know I have. Looking at my life as a married, college-educated homeowner and parent of four healthy and good kids, I think quite a few people would be envious, but the way you hear me talk of it on occasion, you’d think I lived on skid row and had a mountain of insurmountable problems to climb up and over each day. Truth be told, if we have a roof over our heads, our good health, and someone to love and be loved by we’re doing OK, my friend.

If we’re to learn anything from Brad’s Status it’s this: Be happy with what you have, be thankful for what you’re given, and stop envying those you think have it better than you. Everyone has his or her own problems or internal demons to work through even if on the surface they look like gods and goddesses.

 

 

my silver linings playbook for the new year

new-years-ball

Here we are again at the start of a year that will, from the looks of things, be full of changes and challenges. I see some good things on the horizon, like paying off a big loan this year, and I see some things that could be horrific (I already touched on that back in NovemberBut one thing I would like to accomplish this year is being more grateful and in being grateful, I cannot focus on the negative. I must find those silver linings even if I have to look through hundreds of dark clouds to do so.

How this year will be different:

  • I will write at least one blog post each week, and I will end one posting with three things I am thankful for that happened that week, even if it’s that the cats only threw up three times or that I was in line at the DMV for forty minutes less than usual.
  • I will explore my city more and enjoy the great things it has to offer. In other words, I’ll appreciate what is available to me. I live in a part of the country that people fly and drive to from all over to visit, but I sit at my desk and work in my house day in and day out, some weeks barely getting out more than a couple times and within a five-mile radius of home. I choose to go someplace fun each week. Even if I have to take my laptop with me to work there, I will get out and see this city.
  • I will not belabor bad things I have no control over. The dilemma of anxious control freaks such as myself is we worry about everything, much of which we can’t control. Unless ruminating over the horrible consequences of something that may or may not happen is actually going to help put a plan into action, I choose to not waste my time and the finite space within my brain worrying about it.
  • I will not feel as though everyone’s life is so much better than mine and be envious of the good things that happen to them. I have a terrible habit of doing that: I’ll hear something positive that a friend of mine has accomplished, like she got a new job or a new kitchen or a new car, and I’ll compare my crappy sporadic paychecks with hers or my fifteen-year-old vehicle to that shiny new one sitting in her driveway and feel bad about myself. Well, no more of that. I have been trying hard to get more and better work and I could afford a new car and a kitchen if I wanted one, but it’s not all that necessary right now. So no more comparisons. I will feel happy for her, and that’s all.
  • I will realize that others’ lives are not all they appear to be and be thankful for what I have and when things go well. A friend of mine who I never think has to struggle as much as I do told me a story of something frightening that happened to one of her children when he tried to do the right thing a few weeks ago. On the outside, her life looks better than mine, but I went home that night and thanked the heavens that I don’t have a child struggling with such an issue right now. My kids may not have the greatest jobs or be in fulfilling relationships, but at the same time, they’re not in difficult, dangerous situations either.

And that brings me back to my premise of feeling grateful for the things that are good in our lives. We all have something to be thankful for and this week, for me, it was:

  1. Having my healthy, well-rounded, smart kids around me over the holidays and getting to reconnect with friends and family members I don’t get to see all the time.
  2. Getting to enjoy a nice lunch with a view and a walk with my husband on New Year’s Day.
  3. Being alive and well.

Goodnight.

missing my friend on her fiftieth birthday

I should be out to lunch, raising a glass, giving a toast, and celebrating one of my dearest friends’ fiftieth birthdays today, but she is no longer here. She passed away one year and nine months ago, leaving behind a husband and two darling teenaged daughters.

I miss Anna so much at times that my heart hurts. I’ve lost parents (both of them) and parents-in-law (both of them too), but nothing has wrenched my heart as much as losing my dear, dear friend. Not only do I lament the days I personally didn’t get to spend with her (and her fiftieth birthday would have been a big one, at that), I am saddened for the stuff she is missing, like seeing her daughters ace the SATs or watching them drive off for the first time on their own, brand-new driver’s licenses in their wallets. She’ll never get to see them collect their diplomas or their degrees, or walk them down the aisle for the last time as single ladies. She’ll never meet her grandchildren, call them by name, or see what color their eyes are or who they favor in appearance, their beautiful daughter or the putz she married. She’ll never get to spend her husband’s retirement traveling or doing the things one just can’t do when there’s a full-time worker in the household and he has a schedule to keep to. She’ll never get to age gracefully or die naturally.

I, of course, am especially sad for the girls. They’ll never get to do spa days with their mom or listen to lectures about boys and fast cars and what to not do on grad night. From October 2014 on they’ve been without the one woman they should have been able to rely on for advice, support, and love for the rest of their lives.

And I’m sad for her husband, my friend, who wakes up to an empty bed in the morning and sees the same image when laying down his head every night. He turns fifty tomorrow too, but since that fateful day in 2014, there has not been any celebrating on these two days in June that used to be so joyous.

I know if there is a heaven and if God lets in those good folks who are not card-carrying members, which I hope is the case, Anna’s up there watching her family and friends carrying on. She’s whipping up her magnificent eggrolls for the lord above and planning the day when we can all again sit around the table as she blows out candles.

I miss you and I love you, Anna.

 

with one more birdy in the driver’s seat, this mom’s feeling empty-nest doom

empty nestIt’s 2:00 p.m. Usually at this time on a weekday in the spring, no matter what I’d be in the middle of, I’d be lacing up my tennies, gathering up my purse, my phone, and a good book and rushing out to my car to drive to my kids’ school. There I’d park for the twenty minutes or half hour or so before one or more child climbed into the backseat or the passenger seat and we’d either head off to another school or straight home.

I did that for 25 years in a row. Until today.

Today, my youngest took the keys to our 20-year-old secondhand car with him–along with the car, of course–and drove himself to school. This is the first time in a quarter century that I haven’t had to ferry one or more child to school or pick him up. That’s a long, long time, people. And with that one demotion, I feel my life as a full-on parent slipping away.

Some moms and dads would be delighting in the fact that they didn’t have to retrieve their kids from school ever again. They’d be thrilled to be able to stay at work or continue that book or not have a project interrupted. I, on the other hand, am feeling saddened. Twenty-five years feels like a long time, for certain, and I’ll admit that at times running out of the house at 2 on the dot was a pain in the backside, but a part of me enjoyed it. I liked seeing my kids for the first time in hours and going over their days.  Those close quarters inside the vehicle would be where I learned about so-and-so’s getting called into the principal’s office or a friend’s not making the soccer team because of grades. I got to hear about the accomplishments of a good mark on an exam or an impending award or the heartaches of someone’s name-calling or someone else’s mean-girl moment. Sure, there were times I wanted nothing more than to continue what I had been doing uninterrupted at 2 p.m., but for the most part, I enjoyed the routine. I enjoyed, I suppose, being needed.

This having all four kids as drivers is a plus, for sure, but allow me to wallow for a while more, won’t you, in the fact that this job I’ve been doing for just under half my lifetime is coming to an end. Yes, I know one day all little chicks must fly from the nest, but this mama bird will not be giving them a big push.

 

week one weight update

vector-of-a-cartoon-fat-woman-trying-to-trick-the-scale-while-weighing-herself-outlined-coloring-page-by-ron-leishman-24874[2]

I’ve been on the weight-reduction and -maintenance program, the one in which you get points for food and can take them away with exercise, and I’m doing OK. I was hoping to have dropped two pounds by week one, but I’ve dropped just one. Still, I am putting on muscle weight–I can feel it–and I’m noticing my cheekbones are coming back into definition, my chin is getting smaller, and my girth is reducing.

I understand that weight loss is more apparent in the beginning, but because mine so far is slow and steady, and I have a history of putting muscle back on the more I exercise, I’m taking this as a silver lining and that my weight loss will be gradual but obvious.

I haven’t cheated at all, unless you count a Costco sample of Chicago-style popcorn cheating. I also went to the movies this past week, Friday, and I had a smallish bag of Target popcorn there, plus water. I figured it was about 6 cups of popcorn. But that’s all I had in the middle of the day between my usual morning meal of an egg and sourdough toast and a small evening meal. And I took my morning walk and then a longer, 45-minute walk at the nearby lake with my son in the afternoon. It was a great day. I love going to the movies and am glad the 6 cups of popcorn didn’t hurt me much. I also liked that I was able to make up for the calories by walking more than usual later in the day.

I don’t have a long way to go in my goal. Fifteen pounds isn’t 50 or 150 and I feel for people who have that much to lose. I can only imagine how discouraging it is to give up stuff you love, add in more exercise, which is often hard to accomplish when carrying extra weight, and not get the results. My weight gain has been gradual over the years–four babies in a thirteen-year span and then middle age and a desk job following directly afterward–so I assume my weight loss will be as well. It’s basically about being cognizant of what you put into your mouth and adding movement to help take away the calories added on.

It’s possible to shed the pounds one day at a time and I’m happy with my results so far.

will watching weight work ?

So I never thought in a million years I’d join a weight-loss and -maintenance program, but I have. Since one can do it from the privacy of his or her own home, I gave it a shot. I signed up for the three-month initial program and will track my progress on these pages.

I don’t know what to expect. Will it be difficult (I assume it will be) and will it impose on my lifestyle (I would guess it would)? I still cook for a family of four, so I can’t eat what I want when I want for dinner without having to prepare two separate meals, so the program I’m following allows participants to eat real food as we count points for food totals and exercise. It sounds like a reasonable plan, I don’t have to attend meetings (there’s online support), and I don’t have to buy prepackaged meals, which I’m sure would taste like cardboard and the portion sizes would suit no one bigger than Barbie.

My niece (and Oprah) signed on to this program recently and my niece has already shown improvement after just a couple months. Of course she’s in her early thirties and has yet to have a baby, so her body can’t be compared to mine apples to apples, but it’s nice to see her results. Like me, she loves to play board games and this is a game of sorts. Participants go onto their personal web dashboard and type in what they’ve eaten for the day and what type of exercise they’ve gotten. The dashboard will tally the points, letting participants know how much more exercise they may need for the week or how much less food they should sock away. More exercise equals more food and vice versa.

It might be fun to see if I can meet the end-of-week totals and reach my goal weight. My goal is to lose fifteen pounds–those nasty fifteen that, honest to God, seemed to materialize overnight once I hit fifty. I also want to stop looking like a dark-haired female Michelin Man. As I uploaded photos from the past year to my computer today, I was shocked to see–on a 22-inch HD computer screen no less–just how big around the middle I’ve gotten. We don’t carry weight well in my family at all. It all settles around the middle and under the neck. (Why couldn’t we have gotten saddlebags and big thighs instead?) The estrogen from menopause sends fat to the midsection already, so I didn’t need my family’s apple-shaped physique to add insult to injury, but what are ya gonna do? It is what it is. And hopefully, it won’t be there for long.

I never thought these “diets” worked. I was a busy young woman who had trouble finding time to eat and therefore had no trouble keeping off the pounds, but I would watch other coeds and coworkers struggle through these programs. The weight would be lost, then come right back on, and the women would be miserable while trying to stay on course and not cheat. They would talk about the weigh-ins as if they were comparable to being sent to the guillotine. I was happy I was able to regulate my weight by eating well or not eating enough in college, with two or three part-time jobs at a time along with a full course load to deal with. That was followed by multiple jobs after graduating and then by running around after the babies and being too poor to buy goodies in my mid to late twenties. When my thirties hit, the weight began settling in, but I still could fit into a size small or medium. By baby number 4, I was in my late thirties and it was harder to lose the pregnancy weight and then keep the pounds off.

Throughout my forties, I and a couple friends would do a weekly three-hour hike up and down mountains and I was able to maintain my weight sufficiently. But by my fifties, menopause made weight loss much harder and my friends became too busy to go on a weekly hike. Now we’re lucky to get two in a year, while we used to go every Wednesday morning, come rain or come shine, for years on end.

I’m still a bit cynical that this program will work, but I will try my hardest to stick with it. Once in a while it’s good to be proven wrong.