Constipation

Yep.  Today, I am going to write about poop.  An online dictionary defines constipation as “a condition in which there is difficulty in emptying the bowels, usually associated with hardened feces.”  As some of you know, I am the founder, pastor and sole worshipper of the religion of joan.  (Religion with a little “r.”  Thank you J.B., for your spelling suggestion.)  The book that rests in the pews of joan’s church is, “The Bodymind Workbook,” written in 1990 by Debbie Shapiro.  This is my bible.  In this literary gift to the world, Ms. Shapiro explores how the mind and body work together.  Chapter Six is titled, “From Abscesses to Ulcers.”  In just over 70 pages, she covers nearly every physical ailment and illness-the body, and connects them to their likely mental counterpart- the mind.

On Page 124, she writes about Constipation.  The first sentence covers the physical definition, and then she goes on to explain its mental component.  “A lack of muscular movement indicates that we are trying to control events, to hold on to them for fear of letting go.  This implies a lack of spontaneity and go with the flow attitude, a desire to control due to insecurity, for if we are feeling very insecure then we will want to hold on to everything we can…..Relinquishing control implies a deep trust and ability to surrender to what is.”

I first looked up this condition many years ago when my then young son, Mark, was potty training.  He mastered Number 1 early and easily, especially for a boy, however, Number 2 proved to be a bit more challenging.  He did eventually conquer dropping the deuce, but was prone to bouts of constipation.  His poop schedule would often allow five or more days to pass before he would go, causing his belly to become distended.  I often likened this to the photos you see of starving children.  Their faces are drawn and gaunt and their limbs are thin like spaghetti, yet their abdomens are large and protruding.  This is how Mark often looked.  He was a thin and smallish child, yet he would have this large and somewhat hard stomach.  I would refer to it as his “poop belly.”

Reading Ms. Shapiro’s definition of constipation triggered my “lightbulb” moment. Mark was holding onto his poop as a means of control. He understood very little about his dad’s long illness and untimely death, as he was so very young.  He did, however, intuitively know that things were amiss within our little nucleus.  One moment we were a family of three and in an instant we were reduced to two.  When I was hospitalized for nine days in September 2003 for reasons associated with my Leukemia treatments, my sister had to step in and take care of Mark.  While staying with Betsy and her family, Mark was unable to poop.  She was eventually forced to treat this current bout of constipation with an enema.  My cancer diagnosis and subsequent treatments, which had arrived just 21 months after Alan’s passing, invaded Mark’s newly created safe, stable and secure world.  He had lost his power yet again.  The only thing that he could control were his bowels.

In the months prior to Mark’s passing as well as the nearly three months since that unimaginable day, I have been experiencing my own bouts of constipation.  I initially blamed this condition on menopause, because frankly, I blame EVERYTHING on menopause!  I recently retrieved my handy-dandy bible from its perch on my bookshelf, leafed through its worn pages, and located Constipation on page 124.  As I ponder the mental connection to this physical condition, I focus on the word “control.”  I am completely aware that I am experiencing “control issues,” as this is my go-to vice.  Anorexia and traumatic life events have attempted (without much success) to teach me that I am in control of next to nothing while in my human form.  I can control what shirt I put on this morning, or what I might eat and drink throughout the day, but the BIG choices or life events are mostly managed by the divine.

If I was capable of being 100% in control, Alan would not have succumbed to a rare cancer when his son was just three years old.  I would not have been diagnosed with a different rare cancer when Mark was five years old.  AND, Mark himself would not have been diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes when he had only inhabited this planet for seven years.  What loving, caring, devoted mother would allow these horrific events to happen to her only child?  And more recently, if I were the CONTROLLER OF ALL THINGS, I most certainly would not have allowed my 20-year old son to die alone on the floor of his dorm room as the result of a diabetic episode.

And so, in an effort to nurture my body, which includes allowing my bowels to move in a more frequent and natural rhythm,  I am incorporating more fiber in my diet in the form of fruits and vegetables as well as occasionally sprinkling MiraLAX into my morning coffee.  As a means of healing my mental state, I must allow myself more time to delve into and work through my grief.  This includes relinquishing control of that which is uncontrollable.  Daily, I must repeat a phrase I learned some time ago:  “Let go, let God.”

And you thought this post was going to be about poop……………

 

 

 

9 + 1 = 10

The birth of a child.  There is no other miraculous event in the life of a woman that has this much meaning attached to it.  From the moment the infant is placed into our arms seconds after birth, we the mothers are overcome with intense feelings of awe, joy and love, and a fierce need to protect this tiny human from harm.  As life moves forward and our love deepens, an often unfounded fear is also developing far within the recesses of our minds. We live with the remote possibility that one day this being could become seriously ill or injured, or possibly even die.

In my small world, I know nine (9) mothers who have buried a child.  Unlike a book or garden club, this is a group that no woman chooses to join.  In recent years, it had crossed my mind that it was somewhat odd that I am personally acquainted with so many women who have lost a child.  I now know why.  On March 6, 2018, I joined their club. It took me some time, but I have made contact with all nine mothers, many in person and a few via written correspondence.  Five (5) of the mothers live within my zip code, one (1) lives in the area, and three (3) reside in another state.  It is now vividly apparent that when our paths crossed some time ago, it was for this reason.  Connecting with them has provided me with a sense of empathy and understanding that only a card-carrying member of this group can fully comprehend.  They have shown me how to grieve with grace, and how to move towards acceptance and peace.

For one, the loss has spanned nearly two decades, but for many others, only a few years have slipped by.  The one common thread is that no matter how much physical time has transpired, the loss still hurts.  Tears are easily summoned when they speak about their child, and the hole that was carved into their heart remains.  The edges of this hole, once jagged and raw, have been somewhat smoothed over with the passing of time, but the hole itself is permanent.  I am honored to know these women, and am grateful for their friendship, love and support.  We are kindred spirits who share one of life’s toughest lessons.

Thank you Dauna, Debbie S., Debbie V., Dottie, Kelli, Kristi, Linda, Rita and Susan. 

Here are a few additional notes about our club:

Two (2) of us lost our only biological child.

There are 10 children who have passed, two (2) females and eight (8) males.

Five (5) of them died as the result of illness.

Five (5) of them died unexpectedly.

Their ages at the time of death range from the youngest at just seven (7) to the oldest, a mere twenty-two (22).

Their names and ages at the time of their passing are as follows-girls first and then boys in alphabetical order:

Kelsey  Age 16

Natalie  Age 18

Arun  Age 11

Blaine  Age 22

Brody  Age 7

Grey  Age 16

Isaac  Age 17

Mark H.  Age 20

Mark V.  Age 18

Tim  Age 19

9 + 1 = 10.  I Googled meanings of the number 10, as I am the 10th member of this club.  The number 10 is the symbol of love and light.  The 10th member of a group is always an old soul.  This is significant information for me, as it completely ties into my (finally) completed motivational speaking piece.  With each passing day, I am more convinced that this is my current life’s purpose: to share my family’s story and possibly enlighten others about the evidence of the perfection of the universe and all that is divine. I am ready to take my show on the road.  I already have one presentation scheduled for June 21st.  Stay tuned for more information…..And as always, thank you for reading.

P.S. While this post speaks about mothers who have lost children, I do not want to discount or ignore the fact that when a child passes, the loss is also deeply felt by the father, siblings, other family members and friends.  With Mother’s Day just nine days behind us, I chose to acknowledge moms only with this particular piece.

 

 

7 Weeks

It has been seven weeks since my son passed away suddenly and unexpectedly.  I have learned so much.

I have learned things about my son that I did not know, but that is a good thing.

I have learned things about my son that I did not know, and that is a bad thing.

I have learned that people do not know what to say, and that is okay.

I have learned that people say and do the wrong things, and I forgive them.

I have learned that when you ask people to open their wallets and donate to a foundation working tirelessly on finding a cure for your son’s disease, they do.  More than $4,000 has been raised to-date in my son’s memory.

I have learned that people will send you cards and emails with caring words of sympathy and hope.  Some are even from people that are unknown to me.  I have received over 100 notes.

I have (finally) learned the exact cause of my son’s death after waiting for what seemed like an eternity.   For over 12 years I lived with the knowledge that Type 1 Diabetes could take my son’s life.  And.  It.  Did.

I have learned that parents can bury a child, even though it defies what we consider to be “normal” in the chain of life events: Children bury their parents.  Parents don’t bury their children.

I have learned that returning to work less than two weeks after my son’s passing did NOT provide a sanctuary away from my grief, so I quit my job.

I have learned that grief is both mental and physical.  My body has been out of sorts since hearing the words, “Your son is deceased.”

I have learned that it is okay to pass along his clothes, shoes, diabetes supplies and more. It is comforting to have others make use of his things before they go out of style, or in the case of insulin, expire.

I have learned that sometimes when I am donating something of his, I stop and wonder,  what if he comes back and I have given away his things?  The author, Joan Didion, referred to this as “magical thinking.”

I have learned (actually remembered) that when you see a Cardinal, it is a representative of a loved one that has passed.  They are paying you a visit.  I have seen LOTS of Cardinals, or perhaps it is the same one?

I have learned that he can still “mess” with me from the other side.  The alarm in his car goes off suddenly and repeatedly for no humanly logical reason.

I have learned that I begin every day thinking about him, and I end every day thinking about him, and I think about him nonstop in-between.  And when I wake in the middle of the night, my groggy thoughts immediately turn to him.

I have learned that his passing has created a ripple effect like the one that occurs in a body of water when you toss in a large rock.  The rock’s impact on the water creates small waves that drift on and on.  So many people have been affected.

I have learned that I miss him EVERY DAY, but I already knew that I would.  He was my son and only biological child.

I have learned that I still have many questions, and I know that some of them will never be answered.

I have learned that he is okay.  Early one morning during a hazy state of sleep, I heard his distant, almost whispering voice say,  “I am home.”

I have so much yet to learn.  It has only been 7 weeks.

 

 

 

 

 

Reading Recap #2

It has been many months since I last shared my reading list.  A new job and kids home from college resulted in a change in my unemployed, semi-empty nest routine. My reading time is mostly relegated to bedtime where after turning a few pages, my eyes begin to close and I nod off.  Below is a list of nine books I managed to remain awake long enough to complete.  There are two works of fiction, six memoirs and one WWII era history lesson.

“Glitter and Glue,” by Kelly Corrigan (Memoir)-This book was recommended to me.  The author, a college student at the time, travels to Australia where she runs low on funds and becomes a nanny to a family that has just lost their mother.  While caring for this grieving family, Kelly begins to understand more about her own family and upbringing.

“Home is Burning,” by Dan Marshall (Memoir) – A humorous, and at times raw read about a family dealing with the serious illnesses of BOTH parents.  The mother was diagnosed with cancer when the author was 10 years old and then later, the father is diagnosed with ALS.  The family unites in caring for their parents, coming together once again under the same roof.

“The Boys in the Boat,” by Daniel James Brown (Non-fiction/History)-The true story about nine Americans and their quest for a gold medal at the 1936 Berlin Olympics.  This one got off to a slow start for me, but quickly picked up.  Not only a WWII history lesson, but also a lesson in the sport of collegiate rowing.

“The Last Mile,” by David Baldacci (Fiction)-I am not usually a fan of the murder mystery novel, but I enjoy the lead character.  I was first introduced to Amos Decker in another Baldacci work, “Memory Man.”  The storyline kept my interest, and I knocked this one off in about a week.

“Love Warrior,” by Glenn Doyle Melton (Memoir)-Ms. Doyle is a recovering alcoholic and bulimic, now married and a mother of three children.  After her husband’s confession of infidelity, she shares how she was able to save her marriage and learn more about her strength, or “warrior status” along the way.

“Shockaholic,” by Carrie Fisher (Memoir)-I have read several of the late Carrie Fisher’s works.  I was not familiar with her experience with electro-shock therapy, though I was familiar with her troubled life.  Always funny and brutally honest, this book did not disappoint.

“Gratitude,” by Oliver Sacks (Memoir)-Just four essays written in 45 pages about the author’s coming to terms with his own impending death.  Just short enough for me to read in one sitting and BEFORE I drifted off.

“The Art of Baking Blind,” by Sarah Vaughan (Fiction)-An entertaining story about contestants in a baking contest.  While the contest is the focus, the reader is entertained by the back story of each of the competitors.

“It’s Okay to Laugh (Crying is Cool, Too),” by Nora McInerny Purmort (Memoir)-Nora’s story reads like too many today.  A young wife and mother, who becomes a widow and single parent at the hands of cancer.  Funny, honest, blunt and easy to read.

End of the Unemployment Line

Joan. Got. A. Job.  I start a new full-time HR position in less than a week.  The U.S. unemployment stats for June 2017 just decreased.  Here are a few stats of my own as I searched for a new employer:

I was jobless for 141 business days.

I applied for 26 positions, both full-time and part-time.

I worked with two local staffing agencies.  I signed up with one in February and found them to be a bit unorganized and scattered with poor follow through.  The second one appeared to be more organized and thorough, but I never had a chance to really utilize them.

I completed four phone interviews and five in-person interviews.

I was fortunate that I could be picky in my search for what I hope is my last long-term employment home.  I interviewed prospective employers just as they interviewed me.  I did find some of the process to be a little disconcerting.  I passed on a position where the Director of HR (one of three people interviewing me) made what I believed to be an inappropriate comment.  Also, there appeared to be a lack of follow through after the selection process was complete.  I still have yet to hear back about at least two positions that I interviewed for.  I find that to be rude and inconsiderate.  I was told by a recruiter that she hears about unprofessionalism quite often from their recruits.  WOW!  REALLY?

I do feel that I made good use of my “down” time.  I was able to chauffeur a friend to appointments as she was unable to drive for a bit due to a foot injury.  (I call her Miss Daisy, but she goes by J.B.)  I had a few marathon luncheons with some great ladies, and spent many hours volunteering.  I watched a little morning TV as I performed chores, as well as lots of HGTV, mostly during the winter.  I took a Tuesday morning spinning class where I met a few nice, mostly retired women and worked up a sweat thanks to Chris the Brit.  I wrote, though not as much as I had intended.  I did complete my motivational speaking piece and my son helped me convert it to Power Point.  Now, I just need to find some folks to motivate!!!

In the end, the job that just felt right was one of my easiest interviews.  My new boss was friendly, laid back and did not grill me with a list of obscure and unimportant questions.  I am hopeful that I can call this place home for the next five to ten years.  By then, the kiddos will be out of college and we will be of a “certain” age.  I can already see the light in my retirement tunnel!

Dog Gone

It has been nearly a month since we said our goodbyes to our beloved yellow Labrador Retriever.  We rescued her in May of 2006, just two months after we put down our Rottweiler, Fritz.  I was ready to be done with pets at that time, but with the passing of my spouse in 2001 and now the dog, my family kept getting smaller and smaller, leaving just me and my then eight-year old son.  Also, the boy had never known life without a dog, as Fritz was our “first-born.”  We adopted Biloxi Blue just shy of her second birthday.  (We got her from a Lab rescue in Indiana.  I recently learned that in all of the years that Jan and her friends operated the rescue, they were able to find homes for over 700 Labs.)  Upon bringing our new dog home, my son had trouble remembering her name, so I shortened it to Lexi and then later tagged on “Lou.” So, Biloxi Blue, which to me sounded like the name of a race horse, became Lexi Lou.

Miss Lexi provided us with companionship and unconditional love for just under eleven years.  She was sweet, affectionate and hugely loyal-a word in the Lab world that can be synonymous with shadow or stalker.  Wherever I was, that was where Lexi had to be.  She followed me from room to room as I performed chores, sat outside the shower while I bathed, and insisted on joining me for “other” bathroom duties as well. She was exhausted on Mondays from all of the “shadowing” that went on over the weekend.

Her passing has been exceptionally difficult not only because her daily presence is missed and my daily routine has drastically changed, but also because she is my last dog.  I will blow out 57 candles on my cake in August.  I do not want to take on another 10-13 year commitment to a pet.  Mr. Joan and I are semi-empty nesters, and want to enjoy the freedom to pick up and go at will.   I will always cherish the love and affection provided by all six of the dogs I have shared a portion of my life with-Kessie, Shosha, Misha, Natasha, Fritz and Lexi.  And while I am fairly certain that there will be a “grand-dog” in my future, my days as Dog Momma have come to an end.  I would like to think that I have been a good Mom to my four-legged family members.  My own mother used to joke that in her next life, she wanted to come back as one of my dogs!

There is so much I already miss about having a dog in my life.  I miss your sloppy kisses.  I miss your insistence on being a lap dog, though the smallest dog I owned weighed 40 pounds, but most were 60-110 pounds.  I miss our daily walks, which provided us both with exercise, but also enabled me to meet tons of neighbors over the years.  I miss the back and forth of a great game of fetch.  I miss the way you hung your head out the car window, the wind blowing back your ears.  I miss the smile on your face.  Yes, dogs do smile.

I like to believe that we are reunited with our dogs when we cross over, just like we reunite with our family members who have gone before us.  So, until we meet again, I will miss you.

Reading Recap

My sister recently mentioned that a former high school classmate maintains a list of the books he reads during the course of a year and then shares said list with friends. What a great concept!  I am stealing his idea, but with a Joan twist.  I will publish my recommended reads on a quarterly basis.  Here is a compilation of books I have read January through March 2017:

Hillbilly Elegy by J.D. Vance-This is my first memoir of the year, and one with local ties. Mr. Vance chronicles his life in Middletown, Ohio where he was raised mostly by his Kentucky native grandparents.  The book covers alcoholism, drug abuse, poverty and much more.  It is a rag to riches kind of story, with the “riches” being his ability to graduate from both The Ohio State University AND Yale Law School.  I devoured this book in a matter of hours, and highly recommend it.

Coming Clean by Kimberly Rae Miller-Continuing with the memoir theme, I stumbled upon this book on a Google search.  Ms. Miller is an only child raised by her hoarder father and shopping addicted mother, who has hoarding issues of her own.  Her home definitely qualifies for an episode of Hoarders with its endless stacks of paper, trash, rat infestation and more.  This was another easy read and one that held my attention as the depths of her parents issues became worse with time.

Difficult Women by Roxane Gay-This a book of fiction, though one that reads like a memoir or an anthology on the trying and traumatic lives of women.  This book is not for the faint of heart as it contains graphic depictions of sexual violence, adultery and more.

When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi-This memoir was recommended to me from two separate sources.  The book is the story of a 36-year old Neuro surgery resident who learns that he has a terminal form of lung cancer.  He chronicles the details of his diagnosis and treatment as a physician who has now become the patient.  The book reminded me of Tuesdays With Morrie by Mitch Album and The Last Lecture, by Randy Pausch Read all three if you are so inclined, but be sure to have a box of Kleenex nearby.

Memory Man by David Baldacci-This is my second book of fiction this year and a murder mystery.  While not my typical read these days, it is a page turner.  The story revolves around a former detective whose life becomes unraveled with the murder of his family.  A school shooting sucks him back into police work as he and his former colleagues work to solve two mysteries in their small town.

In addition to books, I also gobble up my monthly issue of The Sun, a magazine overflowing with great stories-both true and fiction-poetry, and photography.  It contains zero advertising.  I have subscribed to this little gem for many years and highly recommend it.  However, reader beware.  The magazine leans to the left, so may not be suitable for those who lean to the right.  I also flip through the monthly issues of the Costco magazine and the AARP Bulletin.  The latter is addressed to Mr. Joan.  AARP tracked him down as he turned 50, but I remain off of their radar.  Perhaps that is due to the fact that I was granted a do-over of my 40’s and therefore am a mere 46 years of age.

A big thank you to Mr. F., my former high school English teacher, who shared a must-read book list with me.  I intend to seek out several of the titles for my future reading pleasure.  Also, a thank you to family members who loaned me a few books from their own collections.  My neighborhood public library has been a great source of reading material as well.  If you know of any good reads, especially memoirs, shoot me a text, email or a message on Facebook with your suggestions.

Happy Reading!