Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Way Back When

We made a flyin' trip to northern Illinois over the weekend, so we could attend my cousin's daughter's wedding.  It was a working weekend for me since I was taking the pictures, but it was fun to see family and be a part of such a fun celebration.  If you've read this blog for any amount of time, ya'll know daddy's side of the family is large.  Really large.  Kind of like the Kennedy's without any of the money.  And several of my cousins and a few aunts and uncles live just south of Chicago in Manteno, Kankakee, Bradlee and New Lennox.  They may be in a few other burgs up there, too but there are so many of my kin I kind of lose track of where everyone is.  Poor Hubby.  Even after 24 years, he stills needs a chart to figure out who's who. 

We traveled to Manteno, driving up early Friday so I'd have time to check out the wedding and reception sites before the rehearsal and to get checked into our hotel.  Mama and daddy rode with us since they're all about a road trip to see family, especially if they can get chauffeured everywhere.  It was also a chance for us to see the town we lived in during the early part of mama and daddy's marriage.  We lived in Manteno until I was five.  Daddy worked at the arsenal in Joliet, and we lived in a small upstairs apartment on the main drag in Manteno, right across from the rail station.  On weekends, mama and I often road the train south to southern Illinois where grandpa and grandma picked us up at the train station for a short visit.  I have vague memories of those train rides.  It seemed like such a big adventure then.  It was $6 a ticket, roundtrip, and they didn't charge for me.  Which was a good thing because mama and daddy had no money back then.  In fact, a lack of money is what sent them north when I was a baby.  I didn't know the full story about that decision until we were talking on the drive north Friday. 

Daddy was a mechanic in the tiny town where we lived.  I was a baby, and mama had quit her nursing job to stay home with me.  Daddy made $55 a week, and as mama put it, they were slidin' in the hole fast.  Daddy asked for a raise.  His boss grandly offered him $5 a week more.  Daddy said that wouldn't work for him and asked for his final check.  He walked out the door, went home to mama and told her to pack.  They were going north where he heard there were jobs.  That was a Saturday.  They left on Sunday.  THE NEXT DAY.   They stayed with my aunt and uncle in Manteno until they could find a place to live and daddy landed a job.  For the next few years, we lived in that small town until shortly after I started kindergarten.  Work took us home to southern Illinois in 1969, where I grew up along with SuperCop, who was born in Manteno right before we moved south and Handy Man who came along later.

My memories of Manteno are of the train station, our second floor apartment (which is still there), the grocery store where I asked the owner to bring me a baby brother just like he shipped in baby chickens and the beauty shop where mama got her hair done and I got treated to a Dr. Pepper and  Hostess cherry pie at each visit.  I'm sure it was to keep me occupied while mama was getting her hair cut, but because it was a special treat I thought a Hostess cherry pie and a Dr. Pepper were the grandest thing outside of Christmas.  I also have memories of spending time at my aunt and uncle's house which was a loud, hoppin' place because of their six kids, five of which were all older than me.  There was always something going on there, and I loved being there.  It was very exciting compared to our house.  It was extremely exciting the day aunt Betty's pressure cooker blew up, spewing food to the ceiling and sending us kids diving under the kitchen table.  There was also the day I choked on a peppermint candy and aunt Betty picked me up by the leg, turned me upside down and swatted that piece of candy out of my mouth and across the room.  I'm not sure, but I think I saw a bright light right before she smacked my back.  Or maybe it was after.  All I know is I owe my life to her quick thinking. 

We drove by their old house Friday while we were killing time before the rehearsal, only to find that it had been torn down.  That made me sad.  I haven't been there in 43 years, but I guess I just hated to see a memory disappear.  We also drove down Main Street, where the heart of the downtown area is.  Across the railroad tracks at 720 Oak Street was our old apartment building.  It looked the same, really.  They've painted it beige and added an awning.  The yard in the back looks the same, and the upstairs balcony where mama took my picture with my birthday cake was still intact.  It all looked like it did during the big winter storm where daddy had to shovel a path from that balcony because our front door was blocked by the snow. 

We drove all over town and throughout parts of Kankakee all weekend as we attended all of the wedding festivities.  We discovered that parts of that area have grown quite a bit.  Some things have changed, much to Daddy's surprise since he couldn't remember how to get around as well as he thought he would.  About thirty minutes after our arrival Friday, I started punching stuff into the GPS instead of relying on his memory.  OR Hubby's internal compass.  The man has a severe distrust of the GPS which gets us into all kinds of trouble and makes my head spin.  Like in the hour before the wedding when we were racing across town to get to the church and they wanted to try some shortcut.  If I don't get into heaven it's likely because of the thoughts I was having during that drive.  Forgive me Lord, for I have sinned. 
It was good to see the old stomping grounds after 43 years.  And it was good to visit the little spots around Manteno that hold fleeting memories from my five year old self.  If we had had more time, we would have seen more and visited more with family.  As it was, we had a great fast weekend that created new memories.  The wedding was beautiful.  The bride was gorgeous, and everyone involved just felt darn good after seeing such a wonderful young woman marry the man of her dreams. 

I didn't take a picture of our old apartment building.  I just had this unexplained reluctance to get out of the car and snap a picture, which is so unlike me.  It didn't occur to me until the ride home that perhaps I just wanted to remember it the way it was back then.  Back when Mama and Daddy had the incredible nerve to just pull up stakes and set up housekeeping in a brand new place hours away from home in the course of 24 hours.  With a hungry baby in tow.  When I asked Mama Friday how she felt about that she just said matter of fact like that they didn't have a choice.  They just did what they had to do.  And they managed to do it with the help of family.  Some of those 23,618 family members that are scattered from one end of Illinois to another.  Like the Rockefellers, but without the money.  

Monday, October 15, 2012

I Almost Forgot my Login and Password

I haven't blogged in quite a while.  I've been incredibly busy, and I had to prioritize the things I needed to do and let fall by the wayside some things I simply like to do.  Like blogging.  And laundry.  And cleaning those pesky baseboards. 

I also needed to take a break from it to find out how I feel about it these days.  Kind of like breaking up with your seventh grade boyfriend just to see if you miss sitting beside him at lunch every day.  Do I still like blogging, circle yes or no. 

I started blogging four years ago to have an outlet for all of those things that roll around in my head.  It was also a way to develop the habit of writing every day, which is an important thing to do if you ever plan to write a book.  Which I do.  Someday, after nursing old folks and putting my child through college, I plan to take out that folder of notes I've been saving and bring to life those characters floating around in my head.  I have already named them and given them certain traits.  I even know how I want at least one of them to develop.  The manuscript doesn't have to get published.  I just want to bring a dream to life. 

But someday is not tomorrow or the day after, and in the meantime, the routine of writing daily without some kind of conclusion in sight was becoming a bit of a grind.  And in the meantime, life holds other joys I want to fully explore, like photography.  Truthfully, I was finding it harder and harder to blog regularly.  So I took a little break.  And I've come to the decision that I don't know how much longer I will continue to blog.  It will certainly be less regular than it has in the past.  I am not going to feel committed to writing every day.   

It's a part of an overall effort to take some control over the "busy-ness" in my life and make my family and my serenity a priority.  I am purposefully shedding some responsibilities in all areas of my life.  I am saying "no", and I mean it.  I roll off my committee assignments at church at the end of the year, and I've asked to be taken off a civic board a year early, in January.  I've been on that board for five years, and it's time for someone else to step up.   That means I will hold no volunteer leadership positions for the next year.  For twelve months, I will do what a lot of other folks do, I will simply show up and enjoy the fruits of someone else's leadership and labor.  I will help Hubby take care of his dad, I will nurture Teen Angel into adulthood and I will enjoy some free time.  And I won't feel guilty about it.

I will blog from time to time, but only when I feel like it.  I will post as the mood hits me, and I will use some of the time I've gained to savor some "me" time. "Me" meaning family.  I may actually watch a little television--if Dish Network quits breaking up with channels I love.  I will read more, and I will definitely take more pictures.  I hope you will continue to join me.  I have missed you, my blogging friends.    

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Gone With the Wind

Well, he may love the recliner and hanging inside the house on cool nights, but he refuses to do two things:  he won't use the litter box, and he won't wear a collar.  You are looking at the face of a very sweet kitty who has now worn and torn off six, count 'em, SIX collars.

Apparently, his opinion of collars  is the same as Hubby's thoughts on socks.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Say Hello to my Little Friend

The other day I drove to a particular wooded area to try to catch a picture of some cranes that I'd seen landing in that area when I had driven by a couple of times.  As I rounded the corner, a blur crossed my path, creating this noisy crashing sound, and I braked the car to a quick stop.  I realized it was a deer.  A young deer.  He stopped a few yards from me and stared at me, probably wondering what on earth I was doing in his neck of the woods.  I'm not sure who was surprised more, him or me.  My camera happened to be in an open case in the seat behind me, and I slowly reached around and grabbed it.  I managed one quick shot before he dashed off into the bushes.  He was beautiful, and in the 3.5 seconds I had my eyes locked on him, I felt like I was staring into the face of God.  What a lovely creature. 

I missed the cranes.  They weren't there.  But I got something better.  I love it when things happen that way.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Hanging on!

Even though the really hot days of summer are over, and the weather can be a tad cool for swimming, we decided to have one last blast to wrap up the pool season.  We have to put the cover on it soon, but we wanted one last hurrah before we start accepting the reality called autumn.  Pffft.  Autumn.  Her skies may be lovely and her foliage may be stunning, but my heart belongs to summer.  And we will miss those warm days splashing around with family and friends.  I think we had three weekends out of the entire season when we didn't have company.   We literally spent just about every weekend, whooping it up with friends.  We will miss it, so with the prospect of seven months of cool weather ahead, we wanted to go out with a bang.  And bang we did. 

It was 78 degrees Saturday, but we cranked up the heater on the pool and forged ahead.  All of our little friends paddled and played, while their mamas and daddies swam, visited, ate and played cornhole.  For six and a half hours.  Yep, six and a half hours.  And about that fifth hour when one little friend told me it was "the best party EVER", I said, "Self, life is good."  It really was the best party EVER. 

There were spills.

And chills.

Back flips.
Water gun fights.

Dunking and tossing.

And even a few wedgies.

Oh, and dancing.  Don't forget the dancing.

I looked up at one point to see a new kid in the pool and had to ask where he came from.  When everyone finally went home, there were more crumbs on the Man Cave floor than a mouse could eat all winter, the beverages were pretty depleted, and most all of the food was gone.  We're still finding random pool toys in the yard, which makes us laugh to no end.  Hubby mopped the Man Cave floor three times, and we washed two heaping loads of beach towels.  And we didn't mind one bit.  It was a great time, yes indeed.  A wonderful time.  Life is good.  Really good. 
And now to dig out some socks.  Pfffft. 

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Hula-gen Family Fun Fact #93

Hula's love of hats started before she could even walk.  And apparantly, before she even owned a legitimate hat.

Friday, September 14, 2012

If Only Troubles Melted Like Lemon Drops

Monday marked Suicide Prevention Day.  I thought about writing about Sissy then, but I just didn't feel prepared to put into words what I was feeling that day.  We passed the three year anniversary of Sissy's suicide in April, and I had the same issue then.  I didn't really know what to write.  And I have found that if I don't know what to say, it's best to just sit back and say nothing until I'm ready.  When I'm ready, the words will come.

I really can't believe it's been three years.  Time flies so fast now, that it really only seems like a year or so since she took her own life.  A lot has happened in that time period, but the memories of the night of her death are still very fresh.  While I'm a little more numb to them now than I was even a year ago, they are very vivid.  Even when I'm old, I don't think I'll ever forget that knock on the door in the wee hours of the morning.  Those moments stick with you.  They slip back into the recesses of your mind and your heart, but they bubble back up when you hear about or witness someone else deal with a tragedy.  I sometimes think the final stage of grief is being able to keeping that boiling pot of feelings at a simmer 95% of the time instead of the full rolling churn it can often be if we let it consume us.  And that churn is really what brought Sissy down.  That, and the fact that she relied on dangerous vices to navigate her melancholy days.

Sissy's depression started in earnest with the death of her son.  The day he died is the day she stopped living.  She fought it for a little while but lost the urge pretty quickly.  About a month after her son died, her husband underwent a kidney/pancreas transplant.  She spent long hours at the hospital dealing with her husband's fight for life, and in an effort to cope, she started drinking regularly to block out the nightmares of her son's drowning and her husband's condition so she could sleep.  And once she started drinking, she never stopped.  Through her husband's recuperation, their eventual divorce, his death and those early years after my nephew's death, she grew to rely on alcohol and eventually her prescription medication to get through the days.  She lived several hours away from us , and when we visited her, she kept herself together to the point that it took us a long time to realize she had an issue with alcohol.  We truly didn't realize how severe it had become until she moved to Florida following the suicide of a close friend of hers.  In Florida, she tried to take her own life. 

She called us that afternoon, and as I talked to her, she sounded distant.  When I tried to call her back later, I got no answer.  And even though she hadn't given us any indication that anything was wrong, I just had this horrible feeling in my gut that something was wrong.  I felt this panicky, sick feeling that wouldn't go away, and I called some friends of hers who lived in that same city, and I insisted that they check on her.  They had seen her only hours before, said she was fine and were skeptical of my concern.  I had to beg them to go, and they finally did.  When they arrived, they found her half dead in the garage in a running car.  It was the first of what would be many times she tried to kill herself.

We moved her home to Kentucky and for the next three years, spent just about every hour of every day trying to keep her alive.   It didn't work, and the morning the deputy knocked on our door, we knew the news before he spoke a word.  By that point, we had made many trips to the hospital with her, following ambulances, standing in ER rooms and riding the rolling coaster of her attempts to end her pain.  We had done everything we could.  And it didn't work.

It took six days to find her body and pull it from the river into which she had jumped.  For her last suicide attempt she had chosen a bridge.  She wanted it to work that time.  She just didn't want to fight her demons anymore.  And while we were profoundly sad, I was glad she was at peace finally.  So many times she had told me through tears that she just wanted to be at peace.

I think about her often.  When we drive over that bridge, I can't help but imagine what it was like for her that night.  I can't imagine the courage it took to climb onto the side and take that fateful step.  I wonder a lot of things about that jump, but I can't think about it for very long or I start to crack open the lid on a box that I don't want to crawl back into.  Because we live in her house now, I sometimes think about her when I'm lying in bed, in the same part of the bedroom where she slept.  I lay in the dark, imagining what it was like when she lacked the strength to get out of bed, when she felt lonely and when she was thinking of death.  I wonder how that felt, how she got to the point where life hurt so bad she just wanted it to stop.  And I can't imagine that feeling.  I just can't.  I've always loved life too much.  And I've always had hope.  I don't know what it's like to be without hope.  Thank God, I don't know what that's like.

I think about her when I hear her favorite song.  Just yesterday, Somewhere Over the Rainbow shuffled through my iPod.  We played that song at her funeral.   The version on my iPod is from Eric Clapton, and it reminds me of the time she and I saw him in concert together.  It was the last great time we had together, and that song makes me smile and cry at the same time. 

Back in April, I was running at lunch on the anniversary of her death, when I passed a beautiful bloom that had fallen from a magnolia tree.  I had to smile at the obvious metaphor.  Sissy was like that bloom.  Beautiful but knocked off its foundation and doomed to an early death by a strong wind she just couldn't withstand.  Lovely on the outside but likely to crumble at any time. 

Throughout our struggles with Sissy in those last few years of her life, I chose not to write about a lot of what we endured.  Partially, for the privacy of the family, but also because it just hurt too much.   Living closely with and caring for someone who is crippled by depression and substance abuse is overwhelming.  It consumes you.  And that's why I'm writing about it now.  Not because I have any great words of wisdom or solutions.  Hardly.  There are things I'd do differently if I were doing it all over again, but I know we did our best, and that's all anyone can do.  I'm writing because I have learned in the past three years that there are many people dealing with the same situation.  Because Sissy chose to die in a very public way, the whole community came to know about our situation.  Since then, several people have told me privately that they have a loved one who is an alcoholic or is suicidal.  Out of embarrassment or shame, they deal with it quietly.  And they hurt. 

If you are in that position, you are not alone.  There are people and organizations that can help.  Do not be afraid to seek them out.  I found Al-Anon to be a great help for me.  And more than once, I looked up at a meeting to see someone I knew (I live in a relatively small town) wandering in out of desperation and frustration over a loved one's addictive behavior.  They were surprised to see a familiar face but glad to have someone they could share their pain with. 

You have to find ways to take care of yourself or else your loved one's issues will consume you, too.  For three years, we went to bed every night wondering if we would find Sissy dead in the morning.  We started each day wondering if she would make it through the day.  We were afraid to go to sleep, so we stayed exhausted and sick.  I couldn't keep weight on my body.  I got down to 113 lbs, which was way too low.  No matter how hard I tried to keep food in my system, it either came back up or roared through my intestines.  You have to stop focusing 100% of your energy on the afflicted and take care of yourself.  It's okay to step away when you need to in order to keep yourself healthy.     

Know that you cannot control someone's behavior.  You can help them.  You can even save them if they want to be saved.  But you cannot force someone to want to live.  That's a very hard concept to accept.  The head knows it, but the heart doesn't understand.  Do all you can, but know that if your loved one dies at his own hands, it's not your fault.  You are not to blame.  You are NOT to blame.

I've always thought suicide was a selfish act.  And I still do, but I'm more forgiving of it now.  I know Sissy didn't want to hurt us when she chose to die.  She just wanted her pain to end, and she couldn't see past that.  I'm not as angry at her as I used to be.  I'm still angry at her psychiatrist, whom I feel fueled her addictions with a blind eye and a heavy prescription pad, but that's an entirely different post.  In the end, the blame for her death lies mostly with her.  If she had not chosen to live in the bottle after my nephew's death, she might still be with us.  Maybe not.  I will never know the answer to that question.  I will never know what triggered her jump on that particular night in April of 2009.  I stopped looking for answers many months ago because that's living in the past.  Living in the past and not the future led Sissy down a path I don't want to take. 

Her death hurt then, and it hurts today, but not as much as it did three years ago.  It gets better as time goes by.  I am a changed person because of that experience.  I hold my loved ones close, often too close, especially Teen Angel.  I live with a dread of loss.  I am wary of the willingness of doctors to dole out prescription drugs at ease.  And while I enjoy an adult beverage now and then, I'm leery of its power.  But I live passionately.  I don't just dream, I work to make my dreams come true and I try to find joy in every day.  I live somewhere over the rainbow, if you will.  I think Sissy would want it that way.