Saturday, February 21, 2015

Searching for Reality

I read somewhere, probably on Facebook, that we are born in a day, die in a day, and we can change in a day. Let me tell you that death --of one's mate, lover, soul, conscience, and best friend for more than four decades -- causes major changes. Changes so huge that the brain cannot fathom it. He is gone. The words mean nothing.

He is dead.

No response.

I watch for his face in crowds. I wait to hear his voice -- always. I listen for the sound of him, breathe in hoping to catch his scent. My brain is sure that he will soon be home from work.... He will fix the window, the faucet, the stove. He will pay the bills and discuss investments with me and do the taxes. I wait.

Nearly three months later, my brain continues to disconnect from 'reality' and question just what is real? I can't truly be living in a world without my Derrol. He cannot have left me. We were two halves of a whole and wherever he went, I went. Wherever I went, he went. How could he leave and not take me with him?

Then the brain begins to question memories. Was he really part of my life? Am I only fantasizing about the years we spent together? The sons are real. A living testament to the man who helped mold them into the young men they are today. And yet, there are gaps in the memory. Most of the experiences are frozen somewhere and I am unable to thaw them enough to bring them to life. They reside in that same 'as told to' realm as baby pictures. I look at my mother holding this baby that is supposed to be me and I accept that it is part of my life, but I have no real connection to it.

This unreality is punctuated by sudden outbursts of sobbing that seem to have been squeezed right out of my soul. Loud, sloppy crying that scares the cat. That scares me by the intensity. I cry until my whole body is heaving, until I curl up around myself and let the seizure take me. I cry until my hands are dry and I'm dehydrated.... I don't know why I am crying. Nothing in particular started it. Perhaps a tone of voice, a bit of sympathy might lead me down that path. At first I couldn't listen to oldies music -- the Beatles, Queen, all of the songs of our years of love and companionship and friendship. Sunday -- the day he died -- is hopeless. The usual rituals are to be avoided. I wander around from room to room, searching for him. The cat watches.

Often the cat abruptly raises his head, ears alert. He stares into nothingness. Stares at the place where my Derrol was last alive. And I look, but see nothing. Hope stays alive and I speak his name. "I miss you," I add. "Please come back...." And then I feel guilty because he has moved from pain, disease, suffering and despair to a better place. My Protestant training says he is in a better place. I don't believe 'he' resides in that box of ashes on the book shelf.

Those warriors who have gone before me through this valley of death tell me that grief is like waves of the ocean, like a roller coaster, unpredictable and surprising, always striking when you least expect it. Washing over me and then leaving me adrift in a tidal pool of tears and aloneness. It is easier when I am alone. I can just let it run its course. I can let the grief toss and beat me up and then go away. There is no need to be strong, deny it, put on a happy face, feel compassion for others, worry about their feelings. I can just deal with the grief one-on-one. Some days I come out the victor, feeling strong and able to put it in its place. Weekends are the worst and usually grief rolls over me like a steam roller. Weekends were our together time. Or I seem to remember it that way.

Essays I have written about him, about us, help me to remember that there was an us. A Derrol. My written words seem to create a memory that seems familiar. I can hear him as he reads it saying, "Is that part what you call literary license?" And my response, a bit defensive, saying, "That's how I remember it...."

Are those memories simply me concocting happier times?

I fear the day when my brain reconciles with reality. When it hits me that he is truly gone. It hits me like a slap on the face when I see my status listed as 'widow.' I wear the gold ring. I am married. I repeat that mantra in an effort to believe it. I do believe it, I just don't feel it.

Married until death do you part. No, it doesn't work that way. Married until all of your senses, your heart, your brain, your being comes to terms with this crack in the universe, this shift that has left you on one side and him on another of a divide that can't be traversed.

Until that time when reality rights itself, I live in a fog, a half-life. I keep living until I am actually alive again. Perhaps this is the essence of purgatory -- that tweener stage between life and death, between heaven and hell.

I continue to breathe. Forget to eat and then eat as if I am famished. Feed the cat. Brew the coffee. Wash the laundry, dishes, floors.... A robot going through the motions. My computer brain runs the show, the human brain is frozen in 'search mode.'

I cling to living until I am alive again. And, silly as it sounds, even to me, I cling to the hope that he hasn't gone, that he's only around the next corner and if I walk a little faster, I will catch up to him, feel his strong arms around me, his whiskery face rubbing my cheek, his lips on mine. His scent filling my nostrils and his love enveloping me....  I wait for that day. It only takes a day, a moment. I was born in a day, married in a day, fell in love in a day, gave birth in a day, and yet each day I do so miss that man of mine.

The tears are gathering. I must stop and wait them out.... They seem to wash away some of the pain and allow me to go on a bit longer, a bit stronger.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Touch Someone Today! Hugs Could Heal the World!

Leo Buscaglia said, "Too often we underestimate the power of a touch, a smile, a kind word, a listening ear, an honest compliment, or the smallest act of caring, all of which have the potential to turn a life around."

Since moving to Florida I haven't entered into the community on a one-on-one relationship. I skim along the surface without getting involved with anything but my day to day life. I float through a sea of faces and no longer look to search for someone I know -- there is no one. They all live in another place, it seems like they live in another time as well. Detached, I think I'm unemcumbered by others' expectations and demands. It is a kind of freedom. I tell myself this over and over, and then that thought creeps in "No man is an island."

After a half-decade I now see familiar faces behind the counters at the local grocery. I don't know their names, except for one woman, about my own age, who works there carrying out groceries. We exchanged first names. Connie.

Last year, about this time, she helped me get groceries to the car and she asked the usual polite questions. It just so happens that at that moment I didn't know if my husband would live or die and her kind inquiries loosened my grip on a flood of tears. Without hesitation she pulled me into a hug. I could smell her perfume on my shirt for the rest of the day. It reminded me that we don't really need to know each other to care. And it amazed me at how deeply her simple act of kindness touched me.

Yesterday Connie, who I hadn't seen for awhile, helped me with my groceries. We both were having a better time of it. Her husband had had successful surgery and mine was doing great. We shared a hug and much to my surprise the tears sprang to my eyes. I may be free and unfettered as I skim through the community, but I'm also giving up hugs, smiles, handshakes, and encouraging and caring gestures. Just being touched brought such a deeply emotional reaction, that I was shaken even after arriving home. Even after putting the groceries away. Even now, a day later.

I wonder about people who live alone, or are in nursing homes or haven't been touched for years. What would happen if someone hugged them? We watch animals and see that they require contact with their fellow pack mates. Our cats snuggle, pat each other, wash each other. They know the need for touch. This website can tell you more about hugs.

That touch or my reaction to it, showed me just how I spend my days. Most of the time I hide behind shields or have my armor in place. I'm courteous, thoughtful, polite, but distant. Most of us, sadly, are comfortable with this kind of public behavior.
Recently while watching the events unfold in Egypt, I was drawn to the way the people touched each other. A hand on a shoulder, a hug, a slap on the back. Some carried the wounded or hurt in their arms. It didn't seem to matter if they knew each other or not. Their humanity connected them.

They also worked together, set up areas of need -- clinic, food, latrine, and 'safe zones' where people could go to rest and rejuvenate. Whoever organized these rallies of hundreds of thousands of people took into consideration the human needs. We often forget that we have such needs.

That hug yesterday was a most welcome act of kindness. I wish I were a hugger, but it isn't 'natural' to me, except with my closest family members. My kids tease me that I'm a tree hugger. Well, maybe it is time to expand my range of hugs to include some others, like me, who need to be reminded that someone still cares. Still sees them. Heaven knows we need some more positive things, need to see our leaders being better people, more compassionate, more responsible, more involved in elevating all mankind, not just those who can reward them. Maybe you and I must set the example for them.
Charles Kuralt, known for his years with the TV program "On the Road with Charles Kuralt" believes that "The everyday kindness of the back roads more than makes up for the acts of greed in the headlines." I want to believe that he is right.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Mother Goes to Jail, Kids Go to Inferior School

An Akron mother was sentenced to jail for attempting to enroll her children in a better school. She is divorced, lives in public housing as too many divorced and single mothers do. According to Ohio laws governing school enrollment, her children should have been enrolled in the school that served the area where she resided. This school has a 76 percent graduation rate and met only 4 of the 26 standards on the Ohio Department of Education Report Card.

I have some confusion. I thought it was the father, but others have said the grandfather resides in the suburbs. The school district in his area has a 98 percent graduation rate. It meets 26 of the 26 standards. Needless to say the Akron District school that served the mother's area was primarily serving a black demographic. The Copely-Fairlawn School district that provided education for her husband's area boasted a student body that was 75 percent white students.

The mother was sentenced to five years in prison with all suspended except for 10 days. She must serve 80 hours of community service and is on probation for three years. She had been working as a teacher's aide at the high school in Akron and was 12 credits shy of earning her teaching degree at the University of Akron. Now, because of this felony conviction the mother will not be allowed to teach school in Ohio.

The father or grandfather is not touched by all of this, yet he was just as involved as the mother. And they both thought that since the children lived at least part time at the suburban address that they were not doing anything illegal. In fact alot of people do this and get away with it. In fact this mother Ms. Williams-Bolar is the only one prosecuted for this 'crime.'

I understand the schools must maintain order. Must have limitations and laws governing enrollment. Yet they just put a woman in jail, ruined her chance for a better life and to practice the profession for which she is training because she tried to get a reasonable education for her children.

She was fighting for her children.

The school was fighting to enforce a very un-American bureauecratic administration. America is founded on trying to have a better life for our kids. We all know education is the bedrock of such a move out of poverty and violence and yet the very institution that says it is sworn to education our children filed charges against the mother and blocked her children's access to a better education.

Does the school system work to make all educational institutions equal? Apparently not or not effectively and NOT in time to help Ms. Williams-Bolar's children.

Recently several of us have gotten together on my facebook page and discussed abortion rights, pro-choice, pro-life, etc. And the one thing some of us keep bumping up against is the quality of the life of the child. Whether pro-life or pro-choice, we agree that we ignore the child after it is born. If people are against a mother's choice and they want to save the baby at all costs -- then why do they abandon it after it is born? Why isn't there a system to care for and nurture and love that child after it is born? I suppose this question is more strongly in my thoughts after a recent news story about a mother who left her 7 month old son with a babysitter for several days. Evidently something she has done quite often. The babysitter said she took a nap. Awoke and couldn't find the baby. It was found in a picnic cooler which was placed outside of the home. The baby was dead. I don't want to let my imagination dwell on what that baby went through in those seven months. Seven months of torture or a quick abortion?

I worked for a short time at a children's services agency that took care of among other things abused and neglected children. A county agency. I worked in the office and when they picked up a child it sometimes fell to me to keep an eye on the children while paperwork was being filed and caseworkers were dealing with tearful and angry parents. That was more than 30 years ago and I can still see this beauiful little four-year-old boy. He had such blue eyes, coffee latte skin and such sorrow and confusion. He also had lacerations and abrasions where he'd been tied up. Around his neck, his wrists and his ankles. He had cigarette burns on his face, on his scalp, his neck, his shoulders, his belly, his back, his buttocks, his genitals, his inner thighs, behind his knees and inner elbows, on the bottoms of his feet.... I grieve for that child who stood silent in my office. His eyes so full of pain I couldn't bear it.

Here we have a responsible mother who is working hard to better herself, get out of the housing development she was cast into after her divorce and at the same get her children the best education she can. Now I know doubts creep in. Maybe this woman was not Mother Teresa. Maybe she has dark secrets and maybe she isn't a great person. And you can wonder why she is divorced. But is that really important? And who are we to judge?

She didn't lie. Her children do live with their grandfather or father and they live with her. Someone ventured the opinion that she was probably taken to court because she fought the administration so hard....

What would you do if you could get your children into a clean, violence free suburban school or keep them in a dirty, below par -- WAY below expectations -- school plagued with all of the inner city drugs, violence, and risks?

Why aren't we stepping up to stand beside Ms. Williams-Bolar of Akron, Ohio? Is it because she is black? Is it because she is an example and we support the school red tape rather than a quality education for her children? Is she not beautiful enough? White enough? Educated enough? Rich enough for us to care about what happens to her and her family?

If she was trying to abort her babies there would have been marching and picketing and pamphlets sent and hate mail. Some feminist women might have rallied around her to protect her right to end the life of her baby. But she wasn't doing any of that. Ms. Williams-Bolar was stepping up and fighting for an education for her children. She wasn't just making do. She was attempting to make her life better. It is after all what the Conservative Right say she should do. It is what the Liberal Left encouarge her to do.

Yet there is an outcry against supporting those who live in poverty. Somehow it is their fault that they are not rich, powerful, beautiful, successful, healthy and contributing to the community. There is a movement to stop supporting people like Ms. Williams-Bolar in her time of need. Some do not want to give her hand outs. They say she should make her own way. And that's exactly what she's been doing. She isn't alot different than a popular author -- Rowlings is her name I believe. Might have heard of her little series of Harry Potter books....

A felony? Really?

What a shame if all of the people in Akron enrolled their children in a better school system instead of allowing their government to keep them prisoner in an underfunctioning sham of a school.

Is this really what America is all about? The more I think about this situation and the way we uphold institutions that ravish our powerless population, I am ashamed and enraged. And I want to know what I can do to eliminate the ineffective 'welfare' system. The ridiculous excuse for public education. The employment/unemployment training for new jobs (McDonald's here I come).... How ridiculous!

How long do we look the other way and wonder why so many gangs are forming and people are carrying guns and violence is up? How long do you think the anger can continue to build before it bursts out in carnage and distruction? How long can we imprison mothers who fight the rules and regulations and institutions that destroy their children why proclaiming that they are helping them....

For want of a 'proper' residency form according to the school's very narrow definition, this woman goes to jail and her children are confined to a school that WILL DO THEM HARM.

I know what I would do for my children. What will we do for Ms. Williams-Bolars? And all of the others who are working hard to make a better life for their children? You realize that we are all one job loss, one catastropic illness, one divorce away from being in her shoes....