Wednesday, April 29, 2020

Death in the Time of Covid

Joe is in hospice.  The grief has hit me hard. I want to be with my family in Pennyslvania.  But covid has stolen that solace.  I'm a thousand miles away, and unable to help. 

Thursday, April 23, 2020

Covid: Body and Soul

In the time of Covid, with my body under threat, I've noticed a difference between the faith I think and the faith I feel.  I'm not sure I trust the head faith--the part that counts on a persistence of soul or spirit—to survive an actual threat to my existence.  I do trust my experience of nature: peace, presence, participation, union, order.  I trust the inevitability and rightness of my body dissipating into carbon and water, gases and ions, that will enter the soil and feed the plants.

My grandparents were farmers.  My grandfather grew sweetcorn, asparagus, apples, grapes, peaches, muskmelons.  He seldom spoke, but they say that birds would sit on his shoulder.  I think of him as a “green man,” connected intimately to the soil and the cycle of seasons.  Green things flourished under his care.  My grandmother took over the finances, monitored the stock market, stored up money that would help to support two more generations.  But my grandfather knew how to coax crops from the earth. 

Sunday, April 19, 2020

Exhausted, Empty, Angry

Today I feel useless.  Exhausted, empty, angry, and dull.  I don't like what I'm writing.  I can't summon the will to sanitize doorknobs and light-switches (preferring a potentially fatal disease to housework, apparently). I'm furious at Max for playing computer games all day in his darkened bedroom, and hurt by his refusal to join my husband and me on a bike ride or hike. 

My husband says he'll talk to Max about whether the expensive culinary school Max has his heart set on is realistic. Whether any college will be open for face-to-face classes next fall.  But he doesn't.  He'll also agree to pick up after himself and sanitize surfaces--and won't.  It all falls to me. I let it, because after all, my husband is "working," and I'm not. 

Or am I?  My writing is work.  Parenting is a hell of a lot of emotional work.  And surviving a pandemic is pretty damn labor intensive too.

I need help from my beloveds. But maybe they feel as empty as I do, just as stunned--all our power to act thwarted.

Tuesday, April 14, 2020

Truth and Lies for Living at the Time of COVID

The author Kate Bowler has stage 4 colon cancer.  She’s written a book called “Everything Happens for a Reason: And Other Lies I’ve Loved.”  She stresses our inability to acknowledge that sometimes life just sucks: that suffering does not ennoble us, that death is difficult and frightening and lonely and sometimes humiliating; that cruelty rains on the innocent as well as the wicked; that we can’t “believe” or “visualize” our way out of the tragedies that will befall us.

These are also the lessons of COVID.   They are stark, unyielding, uncomfortable, unpopular.  Religion has few answers.  There is no fairness or justice or mercy or rationale or protection or escape.  Even the idea of an afterlife has no comfort for us now.

After a lifetime of struggling with childhood abuse and its aftereffects, I've concluded that no God could have wanted or planned such suffering.  At the same time, no God prevented it, and no God saved me from it.

Friday, April 10, 2020

Joe, Cancer, Covid

Joe is out of the hospital but still in misery.  He fell a few days ago and now has intense pain in his leg and groin.  He still has a bag outside his hip collecting urine and apparently a pad that soaks up blood clots leaking from his bladder.

He says food tastes like metal.  One small can of Ensure and V-8 juice are all he can manage in a day.  And there’s the other humiliating problem: constipation.  He needs laxatives, and Renee has to clean up the mess. My delicate, 90-lb. sister has stepped up like a trooper, refusing to let anyone else take over this most intimate of tasks.
The two of them are alone in the midst of COVID.  No one else is allowed in the house.  I am far away and helpless and already grieving. 

A few years ago, my 22-year-old cat OJ started having seizures that left her drooling and unresponsive.  In between, she would stand facing a corner of the room for hours.  When I took her to the vet, we both sat on the floor with OJ.  Dr. Hanson offered a range of tests and treatments.  Then she peered at me,  noted the tears rolling down my cheeks.  It’s my job to offer whatever I can to keep her alive as long as possible, she said, but it may not be what you want.  I looked at OJ.  No treatments, I said.  I knew it was time.

I think medical doctors have the same belief.  But I don’t want them to offer false hope, offer therapies that will only prolong a painful and humiliating decline.  I want him to forego these treatments and enter hospice, receive massive doses of morphine or opioids or whatever will leave him floating on a cloud of drug-induced bliss, or at least free of pain.  I want him to die in the way and at the time he desires, not in the terrible solitude dictated by Covid, but surrounded by loving family, and in full possession of himself.

Tuesday, April 7, 2020

What Will Get Me Through

Yesterday, walking outside alone, I breathed in the sweet scent of cedar shavings.  Noticed the soft touch of sun on my cheek.  The stillness of the neighborhood, the whipping call of a cardinal high in a tree, a chickadee's three-note whistle.

These are the things that will get me through this sad and desperate time.  Not hopeful words, not falsely-optimistic projections, not the belief that God will protect me from tragedy and death, not imagining the things I'll do when this is over.  Not even a belief that some part of me will persist after death.

Just the body reveling in nature.  Just being here now.

Sunday, April 5, 2020

College/Corona: What I Want to Say

We’re sitting at the dining room table in front of Max’s laptop, waiting for a video call from the admissions counselor at a culinary school in Denver.  Max is wearing shorts and a tennis shirt; I’m wearing a crumpled knit jacket over a T-shirt advertising a bluegrass festival held 10 years ago.  Suddenly it occurs to me that this may be an interview—should Max be wearing a coat and tie?  Too late. 

Suddenly I remember to ask Max: Is it okay if I ask questions?  Or do you want to do the talking? 

Yeah, you can ask questions, Max says. Most of mine have already been answered.   

I must’ve looked doubtful.  I mean from the last time we talked with her, he adds.

He’d had three questions:  Do you have a culinary arts program? How about a tennis team?  A gaming club?

That was the sum total of what he needed to know.

Meanwhile I was fretting about the sticker price: tuition is $33,000 a year.  Add another $13,000 for room and board.  So far the school has offered $16,000 in financial aid.  Not nearly enough.

Max doesn’t want to hear it. Anything’s possible, he tells me, looking pleased with himself.  Impossible has the word “possible” in it

Precisely at 1:00, Max dials the number and the admissions rep—Lisa—answers right away.  Max puts her on speaker.  Hi Max, she says cheerily, and they chatter on.  I begin to form a picture: southern twang (Texas or Oklahoma?), late 20s or early 30s, petite, slim, blond hair, business-casual dress, an open-face, and a stunning lack of self-doubt.  She probably married in her early twenties, had older teens of her own, and went to church every Sunday.

Finally it was my turn.  Here are the top three things I wanted to know:

  • What are your contingency plans for COVID in the fall?  (Are you really going to pretend this will be over by then? Please stay closed.)
  • Can he defer entrance for a year? (He’s delusional!  He thinks he’s going to be a famous chef and run a Michelin-star restaurant!)
  • Can we get more money?  (I already know the answer is no.)

And then the lesser—but equally important—items:

  • What is the primary instructional style?  (Are the chefs going to be mean, like Gordon Ramsay?)
  • What’s the first-year retention rate? (Do the kids have nervous breakdowns under the strain?)
  • How do they evaluate the students?  (Are there tests and quizzes?  I hope to God not, because Max hates reading, writing, memorizing—studying in general.)
  • What’s the gender ratio? (Does the poor kid have a shot at a girlfriend?)
  • Is the school in downtown Denver? (Is he going to get mugged?)

Friday, April 3, 2020

If I Die

I’m 64 and a half, with a wonky thyroid, and I wonder how vulnerable that makes me when it comes to COVID.  I can’t isolate myself forever.  If I get it, there’s a chance I could die.  I want to look that possibility in the face.  If I knew I was going to die, what would I want to leave behind?

I would need to leave comfort and courage for my beloveds.  I would need to leave them all of my love.  I would feel terribly sad at what I would lose, but know I’d received so much more just by being here, alive on earth.  That just lately I had stepped fully into myself, and it was worth it, every painful step of the way. That I’d had a good life, that I had learned so much. That I didn’t know what was coming next, but I wasn’t afraid.  That I felt surrounded by love. That I would be with them whenever they cried out to me; that I would hear them, and I would answer.  That love is a viscous liquid, the fabric that undergirds the universe: the trees and flowers and rocks and sky.  That what we call “reality” is malleable, that it bends the same way that light and time and space bend.  That one poke anywhere sets all things to trembling.  That when I’m gone, love will be everywhere.  

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Forging the Second Self: A memoir in progress.

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