Bird Dog

What I did on my summer vacation, in 100 words or less:

Learned how to paddle-board, commandeered an emergency boat ambulance, raced two stubborn men to ERs in states three thousand miles apart, held an estate sale, sold a house, sold a car, moved my father from his island cottage to a senior living facility, honed my physical therapy, occupational therapy and nursing skills, fixed a sprinkler system, published an essay, approved my mother’s memory care plan, ran 50 miles in the Grand Canyon, wired an entertainment system.

And killed a bird. 

******* 

Killing the bird is symbolic of every challenge my husband and I’ve met together over the past year, from the unexpected death of his daughter to this endless summer of syringes and blood draws from a hip infection so serious, it required surgery and an eight-day hospital stay.

He’s been mostly housebound for the past month, imprisoned by both house and head. His mind is as active as the legs that took him through seventeen marathons, eight triathlons and innumerable spin classes he’s taught for the past two decades, but neither sitting still nor sharing his feelings comes naturally. He’s not one for psychotherapy, as old-school as they come. Relying on another for much of his daily needs is nearly unfathomable.

And last week, when our dogs had half killed a bird in the backyard and weren’t up to finishing the task, I killed the bird because my husband could not.

It had happened once before, this epic fail of our bird dogs, and then, he quietly put the bird out of its misery. Now, like the numerous household chores he handled and I took for granted over the years, the bird was my responsibility.

My tears went beyond the loss of a bird’s life; I mourned the loss of our normal routine.

I mourned my husband’s anger. I mourned his apathy. I mourned his daughter, who never saw her fiftieth birthday. I mourned his Mini convertible, garaged for weeks, silently awaiting its twice-a-day gym run. I mourned his running shoes—all 16 pairs—that haven’t budged from the closet floor in a month, remaining out of reach by even the grabber, a device that assists him in dressing.

But this tool, and the walker and shower chair, are not who my husband is.

He is an athlete, coach and motivator. He is as tough as he is strong. I hear his voice in every race I run, every weight I lift, every tear I shed: Pain is temporary. Quitting is forever. Suck it up, buttercup.

Gradually, he lets me in and together we peel away the layers.

We speak of living life on life’s terms, of new careers; of addiction and mental illness, of grief, of childhood; of Hawaiian vacations, of future workouts. We’re in this together, I remind him, something he once told me during a health scare I’d had years ago.

And, as it has with the loss of his daughter, our relationship grows deeper and the bond of our marriage stronger than either of us could ever imagine.

Boston Strong, he reminds me, we’re a team. And just as sports will always be a major player in our lives, so will our spiritual fitness.

Drama-rama

Life Lessons from a Former Drama Queen

It began five years ago as I helped my father through his third wife’s death. Almost simultaneously, I plunged headfirst into to the muddled Alzheimer’s world my mother had newly inhabited. Both parents lived on the east Coast and for the next few years I cared for each of them in their separate island homes, leaving my immediate family to fend for themselves three thousand miles away.

When it became clear my parents could no longer live on their own, so began the process of packing up each parent, selling houses, and moving them into their respective senior living communities.

In the midst of that chaos, the Universe decided I could handle more, hurling the sudden suicide of my husband’s daughter into our lives late last year.

Together, we ride the waves of grief—random and epic, with no expiration date—and again unwittingly find ourselves in a trajectory of trauma: a hip injury complete with an aggressively virulent blood infection.

My husband, a fitness trainer, is the healthiest, most active person I know. Suddenly reduced from teaching three cycling classes a week to being housebound on a walker and relying on me to give multiple injections of antibiotics for two months is the uninvited guest at our party, much like my recently-acquired career in caregiving.

It would be easy to resume the role of drama queen, one I relinquished long ago. After years of swimming through the murky haze of an alcoholic life and navigating the even rougher waters of early sobriety, I finally learned that when I stop running the show, I’m free to accept life on life’s terms.

Today, I remain open-minded and willing to do whatever comes next. My caregiving resume has expanded over the years and I continue to engage the essentials of drama-free life: Self-care. Rest. Support Groups. Meditation and exercise. Compassion. Find humor wherever you can. Because, in the immortal words of the Jimmy Buffet song:

“If we couldn’t laugh, we would all go insane.” 

Word Wizard

4:00 am, Sky Harbor. Gate agents, harried already, check in bleary-eyed travelers. The sky slumbers in the curious blue-gray of first light.

I’m in panic mode, as lost as a wizard without a wand.

Because somehow, with all my careful summer vacation packing, I forgot a pen. Newsstands, most offering more snacks than periodicals, have yet to open.

And neither the lone restaurant, where bored passengers wait in line for day-old sandwiches and coffee, nor the gate agent can locate any form of writing instrument. Pens are fossils now, as dinosauric as the newsstand.

We’re boarding in three minutes, the robotic voice says over the PA. Writing radar strong, I spy a ballpoint, its French blue cap poking out of a cup of paper luggage tags. The nod to old-school irony is not lost on me.

Mightier than the sword of technology, I shove the pen in my backpack and pray it’s not out of ink. It’s not. The magic from my PaperMate wand flows before we reach cruising altitude.

From the disconnected solitude of 35,000 feet comes the wizardry of words: an essay, short story outline and flash poem.

And I am free.