Originally posted on “ARE YOU THERE, ERMA? IT’S ME, SYLVIA.”: Sylvia and Erma are spending the day with their respective families – giving thanks for the meal they’ll share, the orderly chaos of the kitchens, and their children who wish to forego the turkey for the pies that have been freshly extracted…And Still I Give Thanks
“Here’s the thing though, Erma. I’m tired.”
“Sylvia, that is a Wednesday whine not Wednesday wisdom.”
“Here’s the thing though, Erma. I don’t care.”
“Sylvia, that is a lie. Couldn’t be further from the truth.”
“Erma, well it could but okay. Here’s the thing. Really, this is the thing…”
“Sylvia, before you go on, let’s just say that there is no one thing. Not a single, damn thing…ever.”
“Erma, there it is. That is exactly the thing.”
Here’s the thing about people with good hearts:
They give you excuses when you don’t explain yourself. They accept the apologies you don’t give. They see the best in you. They always lift you up, even if that means putting their own priorities aside. They will never be too “busy” for you. They make time, even when you don’t. And you wonder why they’re the most sensitive people, the most caring people, why they are willing to give so much of themselves with no expectation in return. You wonder why their existence is not so essential to your well-being. It’s because they don’t make you work hard for the attention they give you. They accept the love they think they deserve- and you accepted the love you think you’re entitled to. Don’t take them for granted. Fear the day when a good heart gives up on you. Our skies don’t become grey out of nowhere, our sunshine does not allow the darkness to take over for no reason. A heart does not turn cold unless it’s been treated with coldness for a while.~Najwa Zebian
Routine. Wake up. Make coffee. Tend to dog. Drink coffee. Walk dog. Household chores. Write. Shower. Write. Periodic glimpses of social media. More chores or errands. Etc., etc., etc. Wait, Jeopardy. “This is Jeopardy.” (Oh no, Alex Trebek passed.)
Coffee and conversation with a friend. Lunch with a friend. Walk or ride the bike. Dinner or drinks with a friend. Shopping with a friend. Or maybe all of the aforementioned absolutely solo because you don’t wish to inflict you on anyone else. Read a really good book.
Wake up next to the person you love. Wake up next to a person who makes you feel loved. Wake up and laugh with a person who makes you laugh. Spend the day with someone special who gets you, makes you feel alive, and who makes you laugh, cry, and feel all your feelings without shame, guilt, or a need to apologize. (Okay, this part might be a dream, but it could be true–especially if you ever recognize that you are the person you need to love; you are the person who makes you laugh; you are the person who gives yourself permission to feel all of your feelings.)
Read everything you have written thus far and resist the urge to scrap it.
Do all of the above every God damn day of the week and realize that this is your life, but it doesn’t have to be.
Write about how God damn grateful you are to be here.
Now, think. Are you living or lying in state or in a state?
Sylvia and Erma, where are you today?
Sylvia: Erma, I’m always so damn emotional.
Erma: You are emotional because you feel deeply. All strong women do!
“A strong woman is one who feels deeply and loves fiercely. Her tears flow as abundantly as her laughter…”
(Native American saying)
#strong #empowered #bffs
Sylvia: I’ve been sitting here with my coffee waiting for a daydream, but nothing is happening. What are you up to today?
Erma: Not a whole lot. I’m doing what I do best- making lists and micromanaging others’ lives. Sorry. Not funny but perhaps mildly amusing. And what do you mean you can’t have a daydream? Of course, you can.
Sylvia: No, I’m serious. I really can’t. I pour the piping hot coffee, sit at the head of the table, and let the steam wash over me, all the while hoping that the fresh brew will stir something delicious within. And nothing. Nada. Zilch. Not a single spark or errant provocative thought. Sadly, Cam and/or anyone else who might scratch the proverbial itch is nowhere to be found.
Erma: Oh, nonsense, Syl. Cam’s there, after all you conjured him up a few times before; and if he’s not, someone else is ready to jump in, stir the pot, and get your juices flowing. You know what you really need though?
Sylvia: I’m almost afraid to ask, but you haven’t steered me wrong yet, so what the hell? What do I need to get my mind moving in the right direction?
Erma: Jelly doughnuts. You need one or two jelly doughnuts to go with that coffee. Trust me. What you need is in the filling!
It’s now a good two months into the new year, and as I have done almost every year for the last six or so, I remain true to my one and only resolution and vow: this year will be different. I, along with Sylvia and Erma, have consumed enough coffee to wake the dead on a slow day. I’ve had it black, sweetened, flavored, and iced. In a mug, a delicate bone-china cup, and an insulated tumbler. I’ve cried over it, had it come out my nose while laughing, and even choked on it. Coffee isn’t everything, but God and the gals can attest that it sustains me most days. However, sadly, it is no longer enough. I need filling. We all do!
I’ve no other choice- well, I do, but I’d rather try options that are less harmful to me body and soul- so, jelly doughnuts it is!
Erma has been overwhelmed and more than anything else desires time to herself- time to inhale, exhale, and repeat. Sylvia craves space of her own- both mental and physical room. Time and space provide each of them the framework within which they can refuel and remain whole.
Take an hour. Take a day. Take a week. Walk outside. Sit in a café. Treat yourself to a spa day- even if it’s makeshift in the privacy of your own home. Whatever you need to make yourself feel whole, discover what that is and do it. Now!
You cannot be whole without the time and space to feel all that you are feeling!
“Each day holds a surprise. But only if we expect it can we see, hear, or feel it when it comes to us. Let’s not be afraid to receive each day’s surprise, whether it comes to us as sorrow or as joy, it will open a new place in our hearts, a place where we can welcome new friends and celebrate more fully our shared humanity.” ~Henri Nouwen
Long-distance relationships of all kinds are bittersweet. There is a heaviness in the heart with each hello because Sylvia knows that a “see you soon” or “until next time” is inevitable. She is always riding waves of emotion, especially as she hangs up the phone after an amusingly long call about nothing and everything with her bff; exchanges the last late morning text with her sister before they each go about their day; and kisses her dear dad’s cheek after their much-too-short visit. Today, she focuses on the sweet. The only thing bitter will be the convenience store cup of coffee she should not have bought while she was out doing early morning errands.
Always choose sweet!
“Friendship is always a sweet responsibility, never an opportunity.” ~Khalil Gibran
Out on the deck and under the umbrella, before the real heat of this August day, Sylvia wondered. Would it be more of the same? Coffee, household chores, lists. Or would she experience something new today? Perhaps a first of the best kind? As she gazed out into the woods behind the house, her curiosity wasn’t piqued by the panoramic view of the landscape that had recently changed in her life. From the quiet, seamless lines of blue where sky meets water on the cove to the lush drapes of greenery that fortressed her now, the change marked a beginning and an end. Or an end and a beginning. And that is where she stopped. The order of things had her baffled momentarily, yet with the very next sip from the sweaty tumbler of iced water, she was struck by a concept that she had never really thought about until that very second. Beginnings and endings are always, always, always firsts.
Sylvia: Firsts are daunting, anxiety-ridden, and paralyzing, Erma.
Erma: Firsts are exciting, hopeful, and motivating, my friend. Just think. When something unpleasant ends, it’s the last of it. That leaves you open and eager for the next step, a new lease, a new beginning.
Sylvia: I get that, but it also signifies the end of an era, a final point in the history of a relationship or process. That’s sad, wouldn’t you agree?
Erma: Sylvia, stop. Not every morsel of life needs to be qualified as happy or sad. It’s not that simple–or in your case, that complicated. Some times, most times in fact, firsts and lasts just happen. It’s not until you look back and you are in the thick or thin of another life experience that you can even begin to really define the impact of a beginning or an end.
Sylvia: Okay, for once I’m going to sit back with my mouth shut and let you explain. At this very second, every first of my life is flashing before my eyes and as I see each of them again, I’m becoming more and more distraught. Trapped somewhere between nostalgia and progress.
Erma: Jesus, Sylvia, it’s now afternoon, and we’re just beginning. No pun intended. I’m going to grab something out of your wine fridge. So, clear your mind, and don’t think until I get back. Seriously. Do not think at all. Do not deliberate, contemplate, and above all, do not ruminate. I’m going to share with you the best and worst of firsts over a nicely chilled Pinot Gris today. You’ll see. You can’t catalog the moments of your life as happy or sad, or as beginnings or endings for that matter. You can only define each moment as a first, for better or worse.
Firsts are when and where life takes place. All of it. Every moment. Some actions and events seem repetitive, and indeed they are! That does not mean that they aren’t different though. Two moments in time are never identical. Erma learned this powerful tidbit over the last seven-plus decades, and that fact alone imparted credibility to her words, even as she explained how brushing her teeth each morning had become firsts for her. She illustrated how she had gone from grinning ear-to-ear as she brushed her pearly whites each day of her teens and twenties to watching a reflection of a waning smile as she lost enamel and gained wine and coffee stains in her forties and fifties. And now, as she thought about those decades of brushing, Erma introduced more examples of firsts. Caps, crowns, root canals, veneers, and partials. “See, Sylvia. There are no instant replays or do-overs. Each brushing is and was a first. Each day is a first.” All of this seemed obvious and a bit comical as Erma so often tried to weave a lesson with just a dash of whimsy. It should have been clear, but it wasn’t to Sylvia. Until she and Erma mulled it over and hashed it out, Sylvia hadn’t considered that firsts represent both the best and worst of life.
Through smiles and intermingled tears of joy and sorrow (none of which either woman could attribute to the rich, sweet, golden elixir or to the fact that they had consumed the entire bottle of it as they indulged in one of their ordinary chats), Sylvia sat looking out on the verdant scenery she now called home. She reflected on those singular firsts which transported her from joyful and full of hope and pride one minute to melancholy and brimming with fear and guilt the next. First friend. First sleepover. First move. First date. First kiss. First one to travel abroad. First “D” and “F”. First one to graduate from college. All her firsts. She paused, took a breath in, and then exhaled. She began again. His first breath. His first tooth. His first word. His first step. His first tumble. His first day of school. His first heartbreak. His first paying job. His first apartment. She beamed for a split second. She hesitated, looked out to the woods beyond the fence, and started again. The first time she heard the word cancer. The first night without her. The first morning they woke up to her empty room. The first time he left the water running. The first time he forgot she had passed. The first time he couldn’t remember her name. The first time he needed to be fed. The first time he looked at her and somehow spoke more clearly than ever with his eyes because the words were no longer there. All firsts. Each and every one was the very last first of its kind. The best and worst of firsts, indeed.
Sylvia (sighing) : I get it now, Erma. It’s how you look at it and what you learn from it.
Erma: That’s right. You’ve got it, my dear. Love it or hate it? That’s not the point. Appreciate it all. Every first is your last first of that kind, with that person, in that place, at that moment. Beginning or ending.
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.
How ironic that one tiny, fleeting moment can fill the heart, and that the resulting fullness renders one nearly weightless!
Savoring moments like velvety spoonfuls of an ice-cream sundae, Sylvia and Erma discover the key to successful dieting.
Being happy. Zero calories.
Erma: Sylvia, you can’t measure the immeasurable.
Sylvia: Thank goodness, Erma. That explains why I’m at my lightest when I’m at my happiest.