Livelihoods, Passions, Relationships

I just returned from a very quick 3 day trip to Corvallis to attend Jasper’s honors thesis defense. I brought my mother with me, we drove her little car, and we picked Emerald up at the Portland airport along the way. Jasper passed his defense with only minor revisions, and technically hasn’t graduated yet, but it is just a matter of time. This summer he leaves for a 12 month intensive to get his masters in Education and a teaching certificate. Emerald has already returned to the river for the summer, and I joined her for her first commercial trip down the Owyhee. She spent the winter serving sushi and ice cream, but also freelance writing and updating social media for pay. While the kids have both been out of the house for a few years, this next year marks the transition to true adulthood. I had a lot of time to think during those many hours of driving this last month. What does the “transition to adulthood” really look like? What did it mean to me? What did it mean to my mother, her mother? What will it mean for my children?

Emerald, my mom and I all shared a hotel room for a couple of nights. We did some long driving together. I enjoyed listening to my mom relate her stories of her emerging adulthood to Emerald. Though I had heard the stories before, I always glean a little something more from the narrative. My mom’s parents divorced in the 40’s. Her mother needed to earn a living, combined it with her passion for New York City, and spent most of her free time hunting down the next husband rather than being much of a mom. My mom was raised mostly by her grandmother, even returning to those grandparents when her mom remarried and she was unhappy. My mom went on to college and married my dad the day after graduation. It was what was expected. She did love him, and they had 3 kids. But my mom always worked, she pursued her passion for a higher education. When my parents divorced, she was able to take care of herself financially. Any relationships she formed after that were because she wanted to, not because she needed to. She passed those values on to her children. “Always be able to take care of yourself” was a message I heard loud and clear.

I was engaged to a man when I was in college. We made it most of the way through professional school and respective internships, and then I was abruptly dumped prior to my final 9 weeks. I lived with my mother through that (planned, as my final internship was in her geographical area) while I completed my studies and passed my boards. I worked for my dad as a roofer for a month to make enough money to get me and my little car to a free place to stay in Tahoe, and then I began to look for work. I was employed full time within a month, developed passions for mountain biking and telemark skiing, and within a few months had moved out of the free place to digs of my own. I decided that whole “wait for marriage” message I had absorbed in high school was for the birds, and enjoyed a series of flings, short term relationships, and a few longer ones. I was heart-broken again, and I broke some hearts. I met Jim during this time. He was one of the flings. I have friends from those days that will always be in my heart. I was taking care of myself.

Lor and I

Lori and I, Donner Lake

Teresa from Tahoe, on the Owyhee

So, now my kids are in the transition to adulthood.  I go for days without the “mommy radar” going off, and often, I just take care of myself. Money that my grandma had due to a succession of marriages (something she advised me to do, that I ignored) passed on to my mom, which then passed on to my kids in the form of fully paid college. It has made it easier on my kids than many. Because of this, they have had the luxury of being able to meld passions with emerging livelihood. I love seeing Jim in their passions. Emerald is a truly elegant boater and skiier. Jasper is an ultra-focused athletic dancer with a desire to teach. They both relish time away from all media, and they both know how to play, talk, and cry. While they both value their family of origin, I see them developing deep relationships of their choosing, which they enter into with their whole hearts. They are taking care of themselves.

E boat

Emerald, teaching me how to tie a knot.


Jasper at the mom’s day performance, that I missed.

So, like many kids of today, they are still on the family health insurance and cell phone plans. The cars are registered in my name and they get boring things like car insurance for their birthdays. But they are not eating out of my refrigerator, sleeping in my spare room, nor am I the first one they call when they are lonely or broken hearted. What does this transition mean to them? I don’t know. You will have to ask them. They take care of themselves.


Thesis defense…or an excuse for Kookies.

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couch lounging

I’m sick. So is, or has been, the rest of the town. It is a beautiful sunny day, and I sit here on the couch with my thermometer, the 3rd hankie of the day, nasal spray, and liquids. I have a cough. It is productive. That is good. I rallied enough to do horse chores this morning, and it sent me right back to the couch with the fever climbing again. I  have beautiful views out my windows, but I’d rather be out there in it. Or have gotten up to run to the setting moon this morning. I’m tired. I’m tired of feeling sick and tired.

When I was a kid, my parents never made a big deal of being sick. If you were sick enough to stay home from school, you were sick enough to stay in bed. No special toys, no special privileges, no bringing the TV into the bedroom. And if your cousins came to visit, and you had the mumps, you did not even get to come out and say hi. If you were sick, then rest and recover. Don’t get me wrong, they took care of us. Fed us soda crackers and 7-up only to clean up the puke 15 minutes later. Rubbed Vics on our chests and covered it with hankies. Checked our temps and smelled our throats, and took us into the doc if it was strep. But being sick was not very appealing. We got better fast, went back to school. By the time I got to high school, I never got sick. Had perfect attendance until my senior year. Then I threw a mystery fever. My mom, who was the only parent home at that time, would not let me go to school. She let me bring the TV into my room. She went and bought my favorite food. I asked her for a fresh pineapple (an unusual treat), and lost all the skin on the roof of my mouth. She told me that perhaps the mystery fever was the only way the universe could get me to slow down for a few days. I lost my perfect attendance. I rested, and recovered.

When our kids were little, I adopted what I liked about my parent’s approach. No special toys, no special privileges. Basic food and care. Doctors appointments for ear infections, strep, and dislocated fingers. No afternoon activities if you were sick from school, and fever had to be gone for 24 hours before you could go back. Rest and recover. They did not get TV in their bedrooms, but I did rent movies for them, and sometimes got sucked into them myself. By the time my kids were in high school, they were rarely sick. I called them in dead for the first 3 periods if they were up all night working on a project, but they were rarely sick. Jim and I did not have much time for illness. He learned pretty quickly that it was far more work to prepare for a sub than it was to just take cold remedies and and go in and teach. He had various aches and pains, and would end up on antibiotics every couple of years for something, but he did not even have a regular doc. I had no time for being sick. I remember one Thanksgiving having the stomach flu. Sick the day before, rallied to cook for the day, and then sick the day after.  We rarely took time off from exercise, with the justification that “I don’t stop brushing my teeth when I am sick, why would I stop running?”

The first symptom of Jim’s glioblastoma was sickness. He puked in a school assembly. He’d been feeling a little crummy the Labor Day weekend before, did not go boating as planned, and did not even want to join Jasper and I on a mountain bike ride. But, because it was so much work to prepare for a sub, he went to school that Tuesday, puked, and came home mid day. By Wednesday, when he showed no interest in going to school or prepping for the sub, I asked him to go to quick care to rule out swine flu which was going around at that time. When I got home from work and he hadn’t, I dropped him off there, went home to make dinner for Jasper, and went back and picked him up. The quick care doc gave him pain and anti nausea meds and ordered an MRI for the next day. Jim went to bed. Rest and recover. Thursday morning MRI, Jim’s last conscious effort was to try to call the sub to let her know he would not be in that day. Less than 30 minutes later he was in an ambulance. Friday he lost a chunk of his frontal lobe, and life changed forever as we know it.

So. I am sick. Being sick is not very appealing. If I miss work, it doesn’t go away, I just have to reschedule it. I have a big TV in my living room, but watching stupid TV series or sappy movies is really only fun if I can snuggle a kid while I do so. I’m not exercising, missed swimming and a run, and even decided to keep my germs out of the yoga studio. At the first sign of a bronchial cough, my wife tells me I should head into the doc. I think I still have a little bit of PTSD about going to the doc unless it is a routine wellness visit.  I rallied enough energy to make Thai chicken soup. It is my favorite food. And, if this fever persists for another day, perhaps I’ll head into the doc. He’ll just say it’s viral, and I’ll feel so lucky. Rest and recover.

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Grief-The Universal Emotion

I have, yet again, been thinking a lot about grief. My online dictionary defines grief as “keen mental suffering or distress over affliction or loss; sharp sorrow; painful regret.” Then there is that bible study I remember from my childhood. A biblical scholar could probably name the book and verse, but I just remember the message. There was a mother whose child had died. She asked Jesus to bring her baby back to life. He told her to visit the village, find one household that had not suffered loss. If she could find one, he would bring her baby back. She toured the village, she was not successful. But she came back changed. She realized she was not alone. Loss, and grief, are universal truths. Loss is defined as “the state of being deprived of or being without something that one has had.”

After Jim died, I wrote about grief. I wrote a lot, almost everyday, at least a few times a week. It was a way to ease my suffering and my sorrow. It was cathartic. I also read a lot about grief. I subscribed to a widow’s blog, where different folks wrote once per week about their grief process. It was important for me to know that I was not alone. I was looking for a road map, a way to make it through a valley that in many ways felt darker than death. In writing and reading, I was looking for light in the darkness, joy in my sorrow. I found some. It helped.

As time and healing went on, I wrote less. Days would go by where I read the news instead of widow blogs. I came to realize that there was no emerging on the other side of grief, but I became more comfortable with it inside of me. I absorbed it, and let it just be part of who I now am. I also realized that I had nothing new to say. Loss and grief are universal truths. There was nothing I could write that had not already been written, and by someone trained to write more than evaluation reports.

I fell in love again. I married a man that I met when he was recently separated, and then divorced. I once had a friend tell me that of the two pivotal events in his life, cancer and divorce, the loss of love was much harder to bear. Cancer was not personal, his divorce was filled with painful regrets. I got to see this first hand with my new husband.  My personal grief did not go away, but it expanded to include his.

Everywhere we turn, there is loss and grief. I spent yesterday skiing at the Palouse Divide. It was the John Crock Memorial Cabin dedication. I spent some time following his beautiful widow down the trail. The late Nancy Taylor’s husband was up there with his new girlfriend, we swapped taking photos. Today is the 1 year anniversary of the shootings in Moscow that killed 3 members of our close knit community. There are multiple occasions going on in town for that event. Friends and family of mine made it through their first holiday season without a spouse or partner, parent or child, that they lost to death, divorce, or separation. Folks are newly diagnosed with terminal diseases or life altering conditions. Everyone is scrambling to find a new normal.

Grief is a universal emotion. If we love, we risk loss. We will lose the people we love, the places we care for, our old passions and livelihoods. We will lose our youth, our health, and eventually our own lives. I don’t say this to dismiss our keen mental suffering. It is a perfectly normal response to feel sharp sorrow. I also know that, just because I have been “on the front lines”, does not mean that I have any magic words to make your sorrow better, to take away your suffering. I just hope we can all take comfort in knowing that we are not alone.

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Never Forget

Family ForeverIt is Friday, September 11. 9/11 is a day that flags fly at half mast. 9/11 is a day most of the country, if not the world, will never forget. We stop for a moment. We think of where we were then, how the day unfolded, who we were with, what happened in the immediate aftermath and in the months to come. And why. The whole world is still pondering the why.

Giving Back6 years ago, on Friday September 11, a surgeon removed a good chunk of Jim’s left frontal lobe and confirmed a diagnosis of glioblastoma. I still ponder why. I remember what happened in the immediate aftermath and in the months to come. I remember my kids arriving and the friends that surrounded us with so much love. I remember how very long that day was. I remember collapsing, finally, into a puddle of tears on the hospital lawn late that night.

Better ManI have the day off of work. I think I will ride my bike on the trails that are Jim’s legacy. I will stop. I will never forget.

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I Ran

RunI’ve been told that as a little tyke, I was late to walk. Doesn’t surprise me given my basic lack of coordination and balance in any sport that actually requires that. I don’t remember, so I can’t tell you when I started running.

I know that as a young kid, I wanted to be able to go into the woods down the street like my brother. I was not allowed to. I would sneak out and follow him anyway. Then I worried about getting into trouble, so headed for home. I ran.

Then I learned about stranger danger, and was petrified to walk home from diving practice alone after dark. My parents refused to give me a ride the 1.5 blocks home in a safe suburban neighborhood. I ran.

A group of girls would gather after dark at the high school track. They would talk about boys. I ran.

I went to a track meet in high school and watched a young lady run the mile. Knowing I could at least beat her, I went out for the team the next year. My coach thought he had a new Freshman. I was a Senior. I ran.

I worked at a camp in the summer, and would head out after all the staff was supposed to be in bed so I could spend more time with my boyfriend. At about 2 am, after one more kiss and knowing that in less than 4 hours we’d be in charge of 10+ kids, we parted ways for bed. I ran.

In college, I did not know anyone. My roommate was potluck, and most of my high school friends stayed behind. A friend from that same camp told me about 10k runs…and that there were very few women runners. I ran.

I had a friend in PT school, who also ran. We would solve all the problems of the world in the three miles we could fit in between classes. We ran.

Another friend signed up for the 20 mile race from Madison to Stoughton, but then had a schedule conflict. She asked me if I wanted her entry. I ran.

I worked in Glacier Park for a summer with my fiance, and met 2 girls that had to stay in shape for X-Country in the Fall. We met early in the morning, and often hiked late into the evening. We ran.

I worked at another summer camp, and found, during training, another counselor who was training for a marathon. We ran.

When my engagement broke up, this same friend told me about a cabin in Tahoe that needed a caretaker for the winter. The snow was hip deep most mornings. I ran.

I met Jim in Tahoe when he was a biathlete recovering from back surgery. A few years later, after much healing, he wanted me to move to Corvallis where he was in graduate school. I was torn between that or the Mid-West where I had family and friends (including another boy). I knew that if I moved back to Chicago, it would not be safe to run there in the morning. I chose Jim. I ran.

We had little tykes, and I just needed a 30 minute break from their beautiful faces. Jim would man the fort. I ran.

Our border collie got older, and could not mtn bike anymore. We ran.

The dog died. I missed someone/something counting on me for a run, so I asked a couple of women I knew if I could join them on their shorter marathon training runs. I got another dog. We ran.

The women finished their marathon and the group morphed and changed. We settled into just 2 of us, and then we were 3. We ran.

Jim built trails on Moscow Mountain. It kept him away from home a lot. Most of the trails were too steep or technical for me to bike. I ran.

Jim got sick. It was incredibly stressful. knowing I had 2 other women and a dog counting on me to just show up kept me sane. We ran.

We talked. We ran. We cried….well that made us walk sometimes. We met at the same place and the same time 2 days per week no matter what the weather. Folks called us….dedicated, when they really wanted to say crazy. We ran.

Jim got really sick and started to need more and more care. I timed all his drugs so that I could be pretty sure he would sleep until 7 am. We ran.

Jim died. We ran.

I visited my kids in far away towns. I always brought my shoes. I ran.

I met Greg. He was into yoga and horses and lived in the boonies outside of the wind farm. I ran there, but I also would drive into town to meet the girls. We ran.

I learned that new love was fabulous and comforting, and that it was truly OK to be in love and yet have separate passions. Greg did not have to run. I had my girls. We ran.

We moved and in the process I started having knee pain. I listened. I stopped running for 6 weeks. I went on the river. I tried to bike and do yoga. My knee felt better, sorta. I had a wedding coming up. I was a little stressed. I found out that running uphill felt great, so I had Greg drop me at the Palouse river on his way to work. I ran.

The girls came out here to go with me until I could do 4+ miles again. We ran.

I decided to get my knee looked at. I got over my PTSD of the Gritman MRI center and had a picture or 10,000 taken. I met with the orthopod yesterday. Wanting it be at least slightly symptomatic for the appointment, I agreed to do the usual 4.7 miles on mostly pavement with the girls the morning before. We ran.

He says it would be good to scope it and clean out the debris of the torn meniscus. He also says that degenerative arthritis is setting in. Minimal now, but will get worse much quicker if I run. He’s advising that I stop running.

I don’t know how to do this.

orthopod note

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Grief Regression and Progression

I am coming off of a sad week. I’ve said before that grief is cumulative, and I still agree. Every loss brings up previous loss. Living with an open heart welcomes in the beauty and joy of this life, but it also allows in the pain and suffering.

On Tuesday, I finally got over my PTSD of the Gritman imaging center and went in for an MRI of my left knee. It had been bothering me for a few months, but with a wedding and endless house projects leading up to that, there just wasn’t time. Got a call later that day to find out my mom’s dog died. Less than a week before, he was still leaping 6 ft fences in a  single bound. A few days of lethargy, one missed meal, and a lick on the hand rather than a mid-air slurp of my nose alerted my mom that something was definitely not right. A trip to the vet, a large mass, most likely cancerous, bleeding into his abdomen. He never came home from the vets. I cried.buddies

On Thursday, it was Jim and my wedding anniversary. Being newly remarried, I was not sure what to do with this day. I woke up sad, I ran, I went to work, the day passed and I think I was the only person to remember the date. I got a message that afternoon that one of the babies I work with had died that morning after a long and heart breaking illness. The combination of relief and grief is especially hard to process.  I cried.August 2006

On Friday, I had breakfast with another widow here in our community. She is just a few months out, and we talked about details like how long you wear your wedding ring and credit cards. We discussed the whole PTSD of emergency rooms, MRI images and hospitals. How our kids are handling their grief, and the pros and cons of staying put vs moving as far away as possible. We talked of the “sanctification” of the dead spouse, and how difficult that is when you remember the bad times alongside of the good. Breakfast ended. We went our separate ways with a promise to meet again soon. I cried.

This weekend, I lost myself in chainsaw work and yoga classes. Making and eating good food. Hugs from my honey and conversations with good friends. Touched base with both of my kids and spent time with all the furry creatures in my life. It’s hard to remain sad when I am so surrounded by such abundance. Happily Ever After?

This morning, I got my MRI results. Torn meniscus with bony and cartilaginous bruising. As I suspected, but a bit of a bummer none-the-less. I did not cry, and I will run tomorrow.

For today, I will go to my little guy’s funeral service. I will stop at my mom’s and pick up all the scrap lumber she salvaged from her 6 foot fence extension to turn it into a chicken coop in the Spring. I will realize that just like Jim was not a saint, neither am I, and that, perhaps, is a harder realization than anything else. Just because I lived through his death does not make me immune to future pain and suffering. I am no more equipped than anyone else to have the right things to say or do in the face of someone else’s sorrow.  Just because Jim and I made it “til death do us part” doesn’t mean this current marriage is happily ever after without effort, resettling of priorities, and thoughtful communication. This afternoon, I will continue battle with sweet briar roses, I will kiss that sweet man when he comes home, and I will do a little research to be better prepared for my upcoming orthopedic consult on my knee. I will sleep in the arms of the man I married, and feel blessed far beyond what I deserve. Just Married

Perhaps the greatest comfort of all is in knowing that we are all individuals and we are all human. I cannot take away the pain and suffering of another, but I can stand by and bear witness.  Everyone walks through the valley that is darker than death, they must walk alone, but everyone walks it. Grief is as unique as the circumstance, yet universal. It is the price we pay for love. I will cry, but I will also laugh.

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Snow CountryGreg and I are in Utah. He is here for work meetings, and I tagged along. We are staying in snow country for the first few days, and will descend to sunshine and 80 degrees by the weekend. I brought gortex and hiking boots, shorts and flip flops. Greg needed the car today, so I went for a long walk…and then I slept all afternoon. We are staying at a ski resort. It is beautiful, but too warm for good snow. Strangely, I feel no compulsion to ski. Perhaps it is the crappy snow. Perhaps it is being suddenly thrust into 9000 ft of elevation with its corresponding fatigue. Perhaps, gasp, I am getting older. Perhaps I am just plain tired. Perhaps I just want my partner by my side as I explore new places, sights and smells. Whatever it is, it feels good to be gentle with myself for a day.

The Moscow HouseNow that the Moscow house has sold, I finally feel free to dream about the new abode. Waking up every morning to the sound of thrushes, outside chores that involve my body and my mind, coyotes singing every afternoon as the sun descends beyond the ridge, and waking up in the night to true darkness rather than mistaking a street light filtered through the curtains for the moon. On the plane to Utah, Greg and I worked on lists. List of things that we dream of for the place. Lists of those things the contractors need to do, those we will do together, and those that we alone need to take care of. Lists of what needs to be done this summer before the wedding, what can happen late summer, and what can be put off for another year. As we were driving from the airport yesterday, Greg’s coworker asked about our plans for a honeymoon. It wasn’t on either one of our lists.

The kidsAs a kid, I got sucked into what the media said love should look like. Fall in love. Get married. Go on a honeymoon to some exotic local, preferably with sugar sand beaches and drinks with umbrellas. After the honeymoon, settle back into a cute house, have a few kids and live happily ever after. It was a nice dream, and remained largely intact, tempered only by the addition of getting through college and getting a real job first. Then the guy I had fallen in love with, the guy I was engaged to, the guy I had made plans with for that honeymoon and that cute house somewhere out west, abruptly dumped me. Whoa, I had to revise my dream.

Then I met Jim. I did fall in love. We did get married, and we joked that we had a mortgage, a station wagon, a dog, the two kids, and would grow old bizarrely together. We worked our way out of debt, replaced the station wagon with a truck, buried one dog and adopted another, and fed those 2 kids until they were all grown up. We learned that happily ever after meant a lot of hard work, and I learned that illness and death can bring a pretty abrupt end to the dream of growing old together. By the time we met, I knew that I would go stir crazy lying on a beach, and that sugary drinks gave me an instant head ache. I had moved West, and that meant family and friends were traveling from all over the country for our wedding. We did not want to say good bye to all of them after just one afternoon, so we took 13 of them down the Rogue River on a 4 day float trip. We rowed and cooked food. Our good friend Mikey staked out the honeymoon suite at every camp. We drank beer instead of Mai Tais, and some of the beach camps had sand.

Rudd RdIt is different to fall in love after 50. Different to be with someone that does not share my history. Different to be widowed, and have a partner who grew up with another woman. I understand that happiness takes work, and I welcome that. I hope to grow old with Greg, but I know, acutely, that there are no guarantees. Folks will be traveling from all over the country for our wedding. We will not want to see them for just an afternoon and then say good bye. After a year of building and bleeding money in that process, I feel no need for a trip to an exotic locale, and anything more than a single beer or a glass of wine just results in night waking and hot flashes. Since the first of this year, I have been spending all of my spare time readying the Moscow house for sale, and Greg has taken on the lion’s share of decisions for the new place. If we are lucky, we see each other early in the morning, and have dinner together long after dark. To me, having just one place, and sharing that place with our loved ones is all the honeymoon I need.

Inside Rudd RdGreg is on his way back to the resort from his day long meetings. He has dinner tonight with the guys, where the talk will be all shop. He has advised, and I have concurred, that it would be best that I not join them. I’ll grab a salad and a single glass of wine and head to bed early. Tomorrow, the guys all leave and we have a few days off to explore and be together during waking hours. Having him by my side as we hike, drive, eat, and sleep is all the honeymoon I need.Multitasking

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