Pat just had a massive stroke; he’s in a coma on life support and not expected to make it back to us. Knowing that he wouldn’t be talking to me (but who knows, might be able to hear me) I stopped at the hospital today to visit him.
His son, whom I’d heard about but hadn’t met, eagerly accepted my meager offering of stories-about-his dad while I held Pat’s hand and hoped maybe he was enjoying them too. My favorite story about God & Pat & me is one I shared here five years ago (and I’ll say it’s worth a read—not for the writing, but for the wow-factor of a true story).
Another favorite that I shared with Pat’s son was one he used to tell, about his days as a cop. Whenever someone came as a ride-along, the officers would put him in a hat that said “JAFO,” and explain that it meant “Justice Affiliate, Friend of Officer.” It would ensure his safety, they explained, by making sure other cops knew who he was. It actually stood for “Just Another Fucking Observer.” Pat always led to the point that each of us should engage in our own Recovery, rather than being a JAFO in our own life.
I’d say he took his own advice. He survived being shot twice, beat throat cancer, was riding his bright orange Harley Davidson last time I saw him… I’ve often sat in the back row of A.A. meetings between two men who totaled 80 years of Sobriety between them. (I always figured it’s a good seat if I’m book-ended by “old-timers.”) Pat’s daughter committed suicide just weeks after my husband Keoni did, and the two of us sat through a lot of meetings holding hands and crying together. I’ll miss my bookend. And I promise, Pat, to keep LIVING so I don’t merit a JAFO hat.
Post-Script 1/3: Pat passed away shortly after my visit. I’m so glad I went.
My mother used to tease that she had found me in a pumpkin patch, and my sister under a cabbage leaf. Secure in our elementary knowledge of biology (and the baby-book photos of her bulging belly) we didn’t think twice about our origin, despite her joke.
I used to make a similar wisecrack when my teens were small, asking them (usually in moments of amused exasperation), “Who spawned YOU?!” …which always prompted a giggly response of, “YOU did!”
With a shifted perspective, those jokes come to mind now… I am eagerly observing the emerging personhood of a little guy who grew in his mommy’s heart instead of in her tummy. I’m always greedy for news and photos of him, delighted by his smiles and grateful for his medical progress…
He’s not my son now, but I’m the pumpkin patch where he grew.
For most of my pregnancy this boy was my baby. After all, it’s a natural assumption, when you find yourself “in the family way,” that this new person will, in fact, become part of the existing family. The pregnancy was NOT intentional (I’m in my 40’s—and did I mention my kids are teens?)… but it’s not the first time that God’s plans have trumped mine, and I do my best to roll with that.
I dreamed last night that I was back in Safe Haven, the psych-facility where I recently spent ten days, and the dream felt comforting. The place is well named.
My cell phone was one of the things I missed most in there—not for calls, but for Google (I hadn’t realized how many things-a-day I look up!) and for the camera, and for texting. This post gets doodles instead of photos, because I didn’t have my camera!
We were allowed, between group-sessions and scheduled activities, to take turns using the phone at the nurse’s station. My first day (when I was still miserably trying to claw my way out of there) I was calling my husband nearly every other hour. That’s a lot of calling for someone as phone-phobic as I am, but I was raw and out of my comfort zone and looking for the balm of his voice.
Technically, I could have announced my intention to walk out at any time—despite the lock-down conditions, I was on a voluntary hold—but I was looking for someone to tell me it was okay to go. Let me be more honest: I was trying to manipulate the psych-doc into telling me it was okay to go. But by the fourth day, I told her I was maybe doing TOO well. She mistook my announcement for another attempt to get myself released, but I corrected her interpretation. “I’m actually afraid to go home right now. I think I’m feeling TOO good.”
Yesterday my dad should have turned seventy. He passed away this year on my birthday, so this weekend we’ve been missing him on his.
Ironically, I could still practice my favorite joke-ritual, which was not to call my dad (whose depth of phone-phobia was rivaled only by my sister’s and my own) on his birthday. I even found him a card one year that offered a “no-call” option as a birthday present. (Actually, I usually did call anyway—and this week I’m glad of that.)
One of the horrible ironies of memorial services is the fact that grieving people are expected (worse: expect themselves) to brilliantly and eruditely sum up LOVE, as it applies to a suddenly-missing person, at a point in time when their hearts are most broken and their brains are most fried. In such a case, the best you can hope for is that God will get some of the right words into your mouth (or out of your pen), and that the other people missing him will be able to fill in the rest through their love and memories.
The single story I most wanted to share about my dad didn’t seem appropriate for either the obituary I wrote nor the eulogy at his service. Somehow, alcoholism (in either the speaker or the deceased) doesn’t seem like a welcome subject in those venues… But this story says SO much about my dad, and here’s a place where I can tell it. Continue reading “Addendum to a Eulogy”→
There are some phone calls in life that a person wishes never to have to make. Three months ago I had to make several of those calls on a Sunday morning: breaking the news to Keoni’s children and his parents that he had just shot himself.
And “breaking” is precisely the word for this. Utterly in shock myself at my sudden and unexpected widowhood, I heard hearts break with every one of those calls—the daughter’s screams, the mother’s anger… And I felt at the time as if I were the instrument of all that breakage. As my own shock wore off a little, my thinking shifted: yes, I’d had the heavy task of imparting news, but I wasn’t the one who’d made the choice that created that wake of heartache.
There’s no way around it: the sound of that single shot, fired inches from my face, signaled the abrupt alteration of every aspect of my life. It was literally the starting-gun to an entire new (unasked-for) chapter of Life, with an entirely alien new set of labels… Widow. Single mom. Unemployed. I had to close our restaurant at his death, and I was suddenly out a living as well as a spouse.
For now I won’t rehash the three months of grieving—and ongoing healing—except to say that it feels like it’s been a lot longer than three months. It seems like I’ve lived three years since that Sunday morning, and my grief counselor (knowing I have a biology degree) even explained the brain-physiology behind my apparent mental time-warp. I shared with her at one point how messed up my sense of time was; as an example, I’d called my doctor’s office in those first few weeks for an adjustment to my antidepressants, and then found myself wondering later why I hadn’t yet heard from the pharmacy in the week or so since I’d made the request. It took some focused thought to realize that it was only 3pm on the same day I’d called the doctor—but it honestly felt like a week. That severe “time distortion” continued for a good month and a half—so I felt as if nearly a year had passed already.
My grief counselor also commented that I could be the “poster child” for having the tools already in place to heal from trauma. With a lot of prayer and unfailing support from friends & family, along with the social network and tools-for-living found in Alcoholics Anonymous, healing has been happening.
I won’t lie: I know now more than ever that it’s messy being human! I was so relieved to find laughter again in a day, but felt guilty at the same time. All too often, missing-him took the form of being angry at him. In packing for the move to a new home, I came across what seemed like a million mementos from the five years of our marriage, and I could never predict whether any one of those memories would make me smile, or rage, or crumple up crying.
I will also say, though, that I have been determined, even from that first week, that I AM NOT DONE LIVING.
(I hope that the other people who loved and miss him will not take it amiss that I prefer today to talk about living—and finding joy—rather than dwelling on grief or bereavement. The grieving process is by no means done, but “Grieving Widow” just isn’t a role I feel meant to wallow in—and I don’t intend disrespect to anyone by making the conscious decision to focus on Living rather than on Loss.)
Those of you who have been reading here over the years have heard me say (repeatedly!) that God’s plans (especially in times of crisis) are better than anything I could come up with—and there’s a reason why “God’sHumor” is a good-sized tag in that sidebar to the left… Chief among the things I wouldn’t have thought to plan for myself at this point would have been meeting someone new. No, let me say it straight: coming to love someone new.
Wouldn’t have been my plan, but I’m at least wise enough not to turn away from the Blessings God puts in my path… I met Dustin in A.A. shortly after Keoni’s death—he’s Sober and Spiritual, fun and feisty, intense and energetic, and (no question, the seal on the deal!) my kids took to him instantly.
Our first “date” outside of time spent at our A.A. home group was a demanding hike up Boise’s Table Rock plateau with my son Christian, followed in short order by stringing Christmas lights and putting up a tree (things I hadn’t done for seven years—and now I know the kids had missed it), family poker games, home magic shows, trampoline basketball, hiking and playing games of “Capture the Flag” in the Boise Foothills…
We were having dinner at the kids’ favorite cafe recently and I noticed the older couple at the next table watching us closely. When they finished their meal, the wife came over to us to say (actually with tears in her eyes) that we were sitting at what had been their family’s regular table, and it was a joy to see kids and parents actually talking and laughing together. “You have a beautiful family,” she told us as she left. It was that same evening that Elena Grace (who usually takes forever to warm up to people) chirped brightly from the back seat: “Mommy, you should marry Dusty!”
Even when the kids aren’t around, I’m enjoying our playful spontaneity… Just before Christmas we spent an evening at a local entertainment place (“scouting” before bringing the kids… yeah, that’s our story!) playing laser tag and racing go-karts. A few nights before that we sat on top of Table Rock to watch the sunset and moonrise. We play poker (always with something significant at stake; my new short haircut is the result of one of those games!), spend evenings singing country songs together, read aloud to each other, work out together… We laid down the “ground rules” right off the bat that Parenting & Sobriety absolutely come first in the relationship—and we’re beginning every day with coffee & prayer & A.A. reflections, and hitting an A.A. meeting together every day.
And yes—Living from the Heart, I’ve already followed my daughter’s directions.
Quietly, in the back yard with just the kids and an ordained friend to officiate (after Dustin asked Christian’s permission) I married him.
When Dustin shares during an A.A. meeting, he often wraps up with a favorite quote of his—and as we were slow-dancing in the half-packed kitchen at midnight (among stacks of packed moving-boxes) I was thinking we need this one on a plaque on our wall:
The Secret to Life… is to LIVE!
EDIT November 2016: OK, it felt like a happily-ever-after when I wrote the above post, but there have been some twists & turns & lessons & LIVING in the two years since. In other words, there’s more coming…
My sister and I used to play the Milton-Bradley board game Life, moving a plastic car along the predetermined path (adding pink or blue pegs to represent spouse and kids), and marking the “mileposts” of American living by paying or collecting money for various events. I suppose this game is intended to represent how life is “supposed” to proceed—go to college, get a job, marry, buy a house, buy insurance, buy stocks, get a dog, get a promotion, fix your roof, pay off student loans, pay property taxes, pay income taxes, pay for kids’ education… And eventually retire—either to the Poor Farm or to the Millionaires’ Estates…
In retrospect, it’s not a very interesting game. A player’s individual outcome depends entirely on the spin of the wheel (and the specific “events” on which the plastic car lands), rather than resulting from any choices or actions on the player’s part. What is interesting about this game (again, in retrospect) is the picture it paints of American assumptions—specifically, the events that are expected to compose a Life. (That, and the fact that a player’s success is ultimately measured in money.)
I didn’t question those expectations as a kid counting board-game squares with a game-piece populated by pink-and-blue pegs, and still wasn’t questioning them when I turned thirty. After all, I seemed to be squarely set on that standardized and circumscribed track—complete with husband, house, and a pair of “pegs” (one pink, one blue) in the back seat of my minivan… But this week (my 40th birthday!) I find myself reflecting on the unexpected twists my life has taken in the course of the last decade.
Ten years ago I probably imagined I could write my life-story, at least in its outlines, all the way to the end without waiting to live it. I didn’t foresee any drastic deviations from the proscribed path, and that vision didn’t vary much from the Milton-Bradley version. But God, in his infinite wisdom and humor, had other ideas. (As my A.A. Sponsor says: “If you want to make God laugh… Make PLANS!”) Instead of the conventional course I had calculated, my map of the last decade consists of curves and curlicues, spirals and swivels, U-turns and dead ends and leaps of Faith… I have definitely departed from the predestined path of the presumptive game-board.
I’ve been entertaining myself today by imagining a game-board re-write to reflect the reality of my thirties. It’s altogether a richer journey than my designs of a decade ago, but not at all what I’d imagined… Here’s what some of the squares would say in a “Kana” edition of Life…
[We begin at Thirty, with stay-home-Motherhood and two small children…]
You hit your limit on watching Sesame Street and decide to get back in the (outside-the-home) workforce. Take a full-time job teaching English and science for the state-sponsored online high school.
Spend a week aboard a sailboat in the San Juan Islands, earning your sailboat Skipper’s Papers. Charter a sailboat Christmas week in the British Virgin Islands with two small sailors-in-training.
Defend your Master’s Thesis in Creative Writing and publish some poetry. Discover that you prefer writing nonfiction! (Although your Master’s program doesn’t offer a “nonfiction” emphasis, this bit of self-knowledge will come in handy down the road, with the invention of the Blog!)
Move into an administrative job as Curriculum Director for Idaho’s online high school. Fly around the country giving presentations, publish academic articles, co-author a book chapter, and establish a national reputation in your field.
Move out of your house and your marriage and reimagine yourself as a Single Mom.
Take your first-ever solo vacation: another live-aboard sailing week to earn advanced sailing certifications.
Buy a house of your own, to be christened “The Gingerbread House” by your kids. Demonstrate to your kids (and to yourself) that you can mow your own lawn, change your own flat tire, and generally Take Care of Things by yourself.
As Taking Care of Things takes its toll, your alcoholic tendencies get increasingly out of hand. You get sent home from work and suspended, pending a review by the Board of Directors after a month of outpatient rehab treatment.
Having been given a generous second chance at the job, you blow it almost immediately and get sent home again, this time with a termination letter.
Go to jail for Driving Under the Influence. (Do not pass “Go,” definitely do not collect $200. There is no get-out-of-jail-free card.) Embark on a year with suspended license (get to know the public bus routes!) and brace yourself for two years of Probation and peeing-in-cups.
Two days before Christmas, call your ex and ask him to take the kids so you can check yourself into an inpatient rehab center. Spend the evening building a gingerbread house with your kids and then drop them off with their Christmas presents. The artificial Christmas tree will never make it out of the box.
Check yourself into Rehab, subject yourself to a strip-search and confiscation of your toiletries (including feminine hygiene products—although why you need to be protected from those is a mystery). Meet the Old Hawai’ian Guy, introduced by the ward-nurse as “the guy who takes care of everybody.” Engage him in a gripe-session about having to ask a male nurse for your “female supplies;” because this is your first-ever conversation with him, he will dub you “The Maxi-Pad Lady.” Spend Christmas day constructing the exact same gingerbread house you just built with your kids, playing badminton in the hospital cafeteria, and singing a karaoke duet (with the Old Guy) of the Beach Boys’ Kokomo. Fall asleep clutching your childhood teddy bear, hating Rehab, and missing your kids.
Check out of Rehab several weeks later with no earthly idea what to do with your life. Offer to rent a room to the Old Hawai’ian, who needs a new place. Begin addressing the “what-next” question as a team. Get your first tattoo: a honu (turtle) with the Hawai’ian words Huaka’i Kapono—a reference to Recovery that translates loosely as “Spiritual Journey.” Realize that you love Ink.
After five months of fruitless job-hunting (your impressive resume no longer being worth the paper it’s printed on in the field for which you trained), you beg your parents for a business-start-up loan to open a Hawai’ian BBQ restaurant with your Hawai’ian Guy. Your parents are blessedly willing to believe in you despite yourself, your recent history, and your lack of business background (or, for that matter, kitchen skills; your mother had already given up on you in this regard when she sent you off to college with a cookbook titled “How to Boil an Egg”)…
Creativity, Desperation, and Determination seem to make for a workable business plan. Several months after opening, your new restaurant holds a top spot in the BBQ category of UrbanSpoon, and you begin catching up on your bills.
Call your Sister and your Guy’s best friend on a Monday night and ask them to meet you at the courthouse before work the next morning. Marry your Hawai’ian with those two cherished witnesses, and then head over to open your restaurant for the day.
Enjoy the restaurant’s success, and family life, for a year before throwing everything away (not “losing it”—throwing it away) by picking up the bottle again. Your house goes into foreclosure, car repossessed, business gone, and (WORST!) you lose your share of custody of your kids.
Sober up again, find a trailer to live in, eke a living by freelance writing, and fight your way back to the most important thing: time with your kids. Learn how to blog. Find joy in writing, and in simple things that don’t require money. Practice gratitude. Remember, in this round of Recovery, to continue nurturing your marriage and praying with your husband—things that helped you both to stay Sober before.
After a couple years of bartering and scrounging and scraping by, your husband ages enough to cash in his retirement account (from the career he crashed-and-burned through drinking), and that it’s enough to re-open the restaurant. Immerse yourself for a year and a half in a second round of (successful) restauranteuring… And then remember again, just before your 40th birthday, that you love to write, and “dust off” your dormant blog…
I suppose it’s a common enough (if self-indulgent) urge to take stock of your life when you hit a birthday ending with a zero… And I wonder if it’s also common for people to find themselves shaking their heads at the unexpectedness of their path so far. I’m betting it’s far more common than a “Life” boardgame (or a million other cultural and media messages) would have us believe. (And I’m damned sure that “more money” doesn’t constitute an automatic win.)
Sure, some of the events of the last decade are things I hadn’t yet planned at 30, but they at least fit with my ideas about myself (like the career in online teaching & the move to administration). But there are so many more things that I never, never would have believed (at 30) a part of my future. Divorce. Arrest. Career termination. Academic failure. And that “unexpected” category includes the positive twists as well; I would have laughed my ass off at anybody who foretold I’d own a restaurant!
If I’ve become any wiser in the last ten years, it’s a simple matter of acknowledging the Journey. I accept now that God’s plans are better than mine; that even trials and tough spots can contribute to growth and joy; and that (even when I think I have a plan) I truly have no idea what’s in store for me on the road still to come. Today, I’ll focus on today’s segment of the Journey, and whatever it brings. Huaka’i Kapono.
I’ve been keeping journals since I was six years old. That first diary is a real gem, with one-sentence entries like: “Today I went crazy and thawt I was a frog.” I wish I remembered the story behind that… The trouble with keeping journals, though, has always been the fact that when you have the most material to write about, that’s just the time when you have the least time in which to write it!
Traveling is a perfect example. Just when you’re experiencing the most new things that you’d like to record, you’re too busy experiencing them to write about them. So my junior-high journal records every detail of school days—even though I had 180 of those every year that were almost exactly alike—but it just hit the highlights of the weeks my parents took us to Europe.
For the last couple years this blog has replaced my journal, and that same principle applies to the last couple months. More stuff has happened in the six weeks since I last wrote than in the whole previous year when I was writing near-daily posts about whimsical every-day stuff… We’ve had momentous events and joyful events and serious events and exciting events.
Three of our kids had birthdays (hey, that’s a big deal when you’re under-eighteen!), two of our kids had new babies, one of our kids got married… The child who hasn’t spoken to us for a year since we “practiced tough love” and asked him to move out is talking to us again. (Yes, it’s because he wanted something from us. But—here’s progress—he’s still talking to us even though he didn’t get the thing he wanted.) We’ve been busy preparing for the opening of our restaurant. Keoni is recovering from two major surgeries (spine and knee replacement). Not one, but three in-family “feuds” have come to happy ends—the aforementioned son is back in our lives, my ex-husband and I are enjoying cordial communication after five years of near-war, and Keoni made peace with an uncle who’d been holding a grudge. And some deeper currents that maybe won’t be up for public consumption (because it’s not just about me—and as open as I’m willing to be about myself, its not my call to make that choice for other people just because they happen to be in my family)… But with all that going on, I haven’t made the time at the keyboard.
And… I miss it. So here I am again. But now there’s the second conundrum: when you’ve gotten behind and have a whole lot to say, it’s hard to figure out where to start or what to catch up on first… I guess I just have to remind myself that I won’t cover it all in a single post. Rather than trying to tackle all that today, I’ll just get the ball rolling with one funny little “small-world” story.
My A.A. Sponsor, Shannon, takes a trip to Mexico every year, to an off-the-beaten-path spot, and she has gotten to know some of the local folks (she attends A.A. meetings while she’s there) as well as some of the other visitors who come there regularly as she does. When she got back from her annual trip this year, she called me up with a story. She’d been chatting with one of her friends down there, another U.S. citizen who visits every year, and the topic of talk had turned to writing. The friend is a writer, and Shannon mentioned that she had a sponsee who’s also a writer. When she referred to me by name, her friend exclaimed, “Not ‘Kana’s Chronicles‘!” Turns out she’s a reader here. Is this a small world or what? :)
When I started out “journaling” here, I didn’t expect any readers aside from my husband and my parents—but I’ve come to love the connectedness of our community. And I’ve missed it over these last couple months! I have reading to catch up on, as well as writing—but I’d like to think I’m back. And clearly I have a lot of story-telling to get on with! Thanks to all of you who make it a PLEASURE to write here. I love you guys.