“Choose to Remember”

Erma’s left to go about her day after coffee and conversation with her best friend. She leaves Sylvia to contemplate the day and so much more.

As we finally come into summer weather, I think often of my family, extended and adopted, as well as my many friends- both near and far- who will be celebrating big milestones with and for their loved ones and the country with great fanfare and zest. My heart becomes instantly full. And then, just as quickly, I grow agitated and even a bit sad and disgusted.

I thought about this long and hard before I decided to share these thoughts, and then I remembered, that each of you has the option to either read and reflect or skim and skedaddle. So, I’m sharing because -to me- this is the stuff that we are meant to share, so that we can help each other through the rough spots. And one day each of us has or will have a couple, several, or many very rough spots. That is inevitable.

When my mother became ill in 2007 and she and Dad came to live with me and my family in California, everything changed. Family dynamics. Relationships. Life in general. My mom fought her battle miles away from many, but still she felt connected to the world. She was still a citizen. Still a mother. A nana. A friend. A sister. An aunt. She received calls, cards, visits, emails, etc. That ability to communicate is so often, too often, taken for granted these days because perhaps it requires so little forethought to text or communicate via technology. (Communication though does require thought– for now anyway.)

When one is fighting for life, it is an internal war of massive proportions. Your loved ones try to empathize and offer support and help to fight the daily skirmishes. The war though, the one that will inevitably be lost, which is really not a defeat but a matter-of-fact in life, is a solitary one. Death. Mom fought with all her might. People admired her strength, her guts, her spirit, and her grace. And indeed, my mom was strong, gutsy, spirited, and graceful. My mother was also a fairly private person who had a very public illness. An illness which everyone- EVERYONE- is touched by and despises.

Here’s where my thoughts, sadness, and disgust come into play. Woe is not I. Woe is WE. We fail in so many ways.

My father as you all know battles another dreaded disease- Alzheimer’s. He’s in the late stages now. He, unlike my mother, was a very public person, yet he has been saddled with a very closeted disease. It is we as a society comprised of supposedly loving families and friends who fail. It’s not that people don’t care. It’s not that awareness isn’t growing. I think it’s this simple and this heart- wrenching. The man that people knew is closeted. While he is locked away in his own mind, it is the key that everyone throws away that makes me sick to my stomach. He can no longer walk the streets. He can no longer go to the coffee shop and shoot the breeze with his buddies or those about town. He can no longer enjoy a meal in his family’s presence. Whereas my mother had the choice as to whether or not she would continue to do those things, my father does not. And therein is where my sadness and disgust emerge.

Alzheimer’s does steal from the person who is afflicted, but my sadness isn’t for my father or for myself. I am saddened by and for the many who don’t see him, or their own friends and loved ones with the illness. Dad is not dead. “Life is for the living” I hear time and again. Guess what? The smiling man who looks fabulous in yellow is very much alive. His pleasures are few, but if you could see how he still enjoys a jelly donut, holding a hand, or someone who smiles at him in passing, you’d know he’s very much here. He’s not the same man at a glance, but he’s the same man. And for the record, I am not a wonderful daughter. I’m just a daughter, a human being, who is doing the best she can. I’m the girl who still sees the light and laughter in the man who taught her to step outside of herself and give back to the community and world at large.

So, during this ensuing week of remembrance, post Memorial Day, remember that the sorrow you feel and condolences you offer to the caregiver while appreciated are not warranted and do not make the caregiver necessarily feel better. I am caring for someone who is still alive. Very much alive. It is a slow process of dying, but the end is not here. In my mind and in the eyes of a power greater than any of us, my father and others who live with this disease are still human, still feel, and still contribute. They are teaching us to value life. I and others who have Alzheimer’s in their faces each day would much rather you see, really see, that our person- our father, husband, brother, uncle, and friend is still there. Is still here. Send a card. Make a visit. It may be hard for you, but trust me, the small battle of getting through the day would be so much easier for the Alzheimer’s patient if he or she was not totally forgotten and closeted. Being locked in his or her own mind is bad enough. And I guarantee that if what you are looking for is a moment to stop and appreciate what you have and to get outside of yourself, Alzheimer’s is the wake-up call.

Remember. Remember. Right now you have that extreme luxury.

Wishing all of us peace, joy, and the power of remembering what it means to live and love fully and with intention and purpose.

So many things come to light when Sylvia sits out in the sunshine on the cove.

From Sylvia & Erma on Mother’s Day

This mid-May, Mother’s Day nor’easter on the Cape awakened me on multiple levels today (and too frequently last night if truth be told). However, in Sylvia-and-Erma fashion, I’ve tried to make sense of the morning chaos that Mother Nature has seen fit to bestow upon us, although admittedly my success may be lacking.

I’ve often felt that on days like today the gods are weeping- well, more like sobbing it appears as I look out my bedroom slider on the cove.  Yep, definitely sobbing.  Bawling, in fact.  You see, at the risk of sounding soft, gooey, and maybe even a wee bit emotional, my take on today is that the heavens have opened, and mothers, grandmothers, aunts, nieces, sisters, and all the little girls who were never given the chance to become any, all, or none of the aforementioned, are worried to the point of tears-for those of us who are here and remembering them oh-so-fondly at this moment and every single day we must live without them.  What are their worries you ask?  After all, how lovely it must be to have eternal peace! No homework to do for the little girl? No fear of not being invited by the cool girls to the slumber party?  No worries there.  For the nieces and aunts, no fear of the secrets they shared and kept just among  themselves – without fear of ever being revealed to their sisters or their mothers. For the sisters, no worries about who is the oldest, middle, or youngest; who will take over the position of matriarch in the family when Mom and Grandma have passed; who will be the glue? All of those worries, their worries, have hopefully been replaced by infinite bliss and the newly generated wisdom of what they have discovered as the meaning of life: live each day as if it is your last. Love passionately- whether it be for another person, humankind, or a slice of this earth. Care deeply. Laugh hard. Practice self-care. Dream of who you may become. Leave behind the parts of you that are draining. Love yourself as you are at this moment. Their worry, the worry of those women and girls, young and old, who weep for us this Mother’s Day is that we fail to appreciate the present.   

They weep because they know that missing them does not change the outcome. They shed tears for us with the hope that we learn from their successes, their failures, the dreams that either reached fruition or never came to be. But above all, their tears fall upon us to wake us up to the fact that we have what they don’t: life. Live it with purpose. With wild abandon. With determination. With fear. Yes, with a bit of fear.  Be afraid that if tomorrow never comes, you won’t have experienced the one thing that only you can possess. Love of self.

Mom, don’t cry.  I’m learning.  

“All that I am, I owe to my mother.”

Sylvia Knows Heaven on Earth

I don’t believe in heaven. Not as a destination anyway. Well, let me further amend that to say that I don’t believe that “good” people -those who lived life both honestly and vulnerably, with purpose and love in their hearts for themselves and the world around them, those who atoned for their “sins” (you know, those so-called egregious lapses in judgment for which we seek forgiveness and absolution throughout life, not hurriedly as we stand at death’s door)- I don’t believe that they simply, miraculously, and invisibly rise to the sky, “up to heaven” upon death, and gain actual wings. I’m not deluded or crazy after all, though I’m certain there are many who would say differently.

When I look to the sky, whether it is just to the level of the horizon as I watch the fiery orange sun come up to touch the still-sleepy blue sky or straight up into the depths of the black night canvas that on some nights appears riddled with stardust and on others is so dark and vacant that no strangers have even dared to stop at the countless, lightless inns above, I picture heaven. It’s not a place at all. It’s a feeling. For me.  It’s the promise, the hope,  and the possibility that a new day brings. It’s the unconditional love between a mother and a child, between a daughter and a father. The seamless and steadfast love between friends who are also soulmates.

I’ll find heaven today. It’ll be in my child’s laugh whether I hear it over the phone or recall its hearty playfulness when I read a text from him. And most assuredly, I’ll see heaven in my father’s smiling eyes today. I’ll find her right here in all that I do today and in everything and in everyone who loved her and who loves and supports me. Seven years without her – some might say “hell on earth” and oh, I’ve said that quite often!   Today, I’m going to tell myself that I’ve been blessed to know, feel, and experience heaven on earth.  I had a mother who shared and who continues to share life’s bounty and beauty with me. Now and evermore. 

“A mother’s love is a slice of heaven.” (~k. morgan)

(Photo credit: Florence McGinn)

Allow me to introduce you…

Welcome to my world! Well, actually it’s a world that I hope to share with other women (of a certain age– or any age where real life has you wondering if being a woman is so great) and even those men who want insight into the female psyche.  It’s true, you guys don’t know everything, and you are more than welcome to read some of my “stuff” and entertain the notion that women only get better, brighter, and sexier when they just don’t give a fuck about impressing you or anyone anymore. 

Pour yourself a cup of something- java, tea, or perhaps something a bit stronger. Pull up a chair.  I’m opening up my trove of writings, musings, and snippets from my one-day-to-be-published book, baring more than a bit of my soul in the hopes that no one ever feels like they are in a bell jar, on the inside looking out.

So, there it is. A glimpse into the title of my blog. Wondering why Sylvia is looking for Erma?   Well, it’s not meant to be a riddle. It’s not overly intellectual or pretentious. It’s quite simple.  I feel that if Sylvia Plath, one of my favorite poets and authors of all time (who also happened to be incredibly tormented), had had a circle of female friends that she could have shared her angst and sorrow with, women with whom she could have heard the words, “Really? Me, too!” how her life might have changed, especially if that circle included the likes of Erma Bombeck, housewife turned satirist extraordinaire. Perhaps Sylvia would have endured. Perhaps, she still might have seen fit to stick her head in the depths of that oven.  I don’t know. I’d like to think that one of our own, one of her contemporaries, would have been there to show her that the bell jar can be lifted in a variety of ways…and sometimes it takes a village, or at the very least one or two very determined women who want nothing more than to see every other woman in their shoes walk a little bit more comfortably. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying that Erma could have cured Sylvia’s mental illness; I’m merely pointing out that she might have helped Sylvia look outside of herself and find that bit of hope we so often need- that perspective that each one of us lacks- and Erma might have made Sylvia smile or laugh about the most inane things at just the perfect time.  Those times when she felt there was no escaping the bell jar.

Sometimes I’m Sylvia, and sometimes I’m Erma–in my mind anyway. So, here’s the deal. This blog is about cutting through the bullcrap and showing you, all of the other potential, would-be, could-be, unrelenting, extremely fine women out there, that you are not alone. Ever. You AND I are in this together.

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