Sunday, May 31, 2009

My mother is, well, apparently indestructible

96 years old. A broken leg. Internal bleeding. An endoscopy. A mass in her stomach. Four transfusions. 3 1/2 hours of surgery to repair the leg by putting in a plate, under general anesthesia. Possible stomach cancer. Morphine causing itching which made her scratch her face for more than ten days. (No one figured this out until the last days.) Horrible pain whenever anyone moved her. Some cursing. This to a lovely, Orthodox Jewish nurse who came to clean her up:

Mother: "Go to hell and get out of here."

Nurse: "Helen, I don't want to go to hell. It's very hot."

Mother: "Well, then go somewhere else and leave me alone."

And now she's back in room 509 at her nursing home, exactly two weeks from when she went into the E.R. at Maimonides Hospital. I can tell you that it was an extremely difficult two weeks, I was pretty sure this was going to be it, and we're still waiting for the stomach biopsy results. But I have a friend whose father is, I believe, 103 - and he just found out he's got pancreatic cancer and it hasn't killed him yet. I think that there's no way we're going to live this long. We've ingested and breathed in too many toxins.

Anyway - it was a roller coaster ride, each day not knowing what we were going to hear next and yet somehow my mother is not ready to go.

So this weekend, once my mother got settled in, I have to say that I had a fantastic time, making up for the stress of the past two weeks. I went to two parties on Friday night and danced till one in the morning and then today, my group of women from Mama Gena got together to perform our tribute to Mama Gena (re-written lyrics to the song "Mamma Mia.") We had a ball. We all love seeing each other and rehearsing, then performing our song to an audience that enjoys it and then going out to catch up on each other's lives over sangria's and margaritas. (And quesadillas. What can be wrong when you have Mexican food?)

It was an excellent weekend. My mother's back home, the weather is extraordinary, I got to dance and sing and we had so much fun! Saturday night was a low point, but I called my friend O, who is dealing with lymphoma and we had a long, lovely talk.

I am grateful for all the good that is in my life. Next Sunday Steve is leaving for a month in California and then Zoe is going out on June 14th to explore living in San Francisco. Big changes. Sometimes I feel very sad and I also have had some wonderful times as well. Even with all the stress and all the emotions, I feel more alive than I have in years. And - I can fit into my skinny jeans.

Next comes bringing in money. That's the next big challenge.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Approaching life as an experiment

Yesterday, in the midst of a day of challenges, I read this Pema Chodron quote from "No Time To Lose:"

"My teacher Trungpa Rinpoche encouraged us to lead our lives as an experiment, a suggestion that has been very important to me. When we approach life as an experiment we are willing to approach it this way and that way because, either way, we have nothing to lose.

This immense flexibility is something I learned from watching Trungpa Rinpoche. His enthusiasm enabled him to accomplish an amazing amount in his life. When some things didn't work out, Rinpoche's attitude was 'no big deal.' If it's time for something to flourish, it will; if it's not time, it won't.

The trick is not getting caught in hope and fear. We can put our whole heart into whatever we do; but if we freeze our attitude for or against, we're setting ourselves up for stress. Instead, we could just go forward with curiosity, wondering where this experiment will lead."

We are waiting for results of the biopsy of the mass they found in my mother's stomach. She is also supposed to have surgery tomorrow on her leg. (We've been waiting all week.) She is not in great shape. Yesterday, they put a screen in her inferior vena cava to prevent blood clots to her lungs after the surgery to repair the leg, which we've been waiting for for a week. Normally they would give her blood thinners, but because of the mass in her stomach, which is bleeding, they can't.

It's hard to sit in the hospital room for too many hours, seeing my mother in so much discomfort. A friend of mine called me yesterday morning and said take time every day to do something for yourself, and I have been doing that. Wednesday afternoon I met a friend in the newly restored Washington Square Park (the fountain works again!) and we sat on the grass and ate a falafel. It was a gorgeous spring day and it was wonderful to be there with her.

And then yesterday, I took a long walk in Central Park. I find so much pleasure in nature and living around the block from Fort Greene Park is also a great gift for me and especially for my dogs.

If I just take all of this a day at a time, one moment at a time, I seem to be able to handle it. And to my readers (all two of you) thanks for the words of encouragement and support.

Today I am going to a production meeting for the Midtown International Theater Festival. The dates of my three performances are at the end of July and beginning of August. I'm not sure anyone will be in town, but hopefully someone will be able to attend.

I'm going to drag myself into the shower and try to make the best of this glorious day.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

My mother

Yesterday they finally did the endoscopy and found a large mass in her stomach. They cut a piece of it to biopsy and won't know the results for a week to ten days. My mother doesn't realize much of what is happening to her, just that she is in a hospital and people won't leave her alone. They are constantly taking blood, giving her sonograms, IV's, nebulizers. I have asked that they not disturb her unnecessarily. Still, they have to cover their asses with tests before doing anything. She gets angry and curses sometimes, but mostly she is sleeping and occasionally moaning and saying "Mama." Interesting how often people call for their mothers when they are in discomfort. I frequently heard that in the hospice when my mother was there a few years ago.

Today they are doing surgery on her leg to put in the plate and hold the femur fracture together. The past few days have been really difficult. This is definitely an exercise of one day at a time. I feel terrible that she is going through this. I assumed that she would never have to go to the hospital again. The nursing home she has been living at for the past three years has hospice care and "my plan" was she would eventually die there, peacefully, with minimal medical interventions.

But we all know how plans go.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Fierce Grace

You know how, if you look for it, every day brings you something you didn't expect, some lesson or comfort that you really needed. Well, maybe it doesn't happen to you, but I think if you're looking for it, it shows up.

Yesterday I was having trouble taking a deep breath. I tried everything, meditating, walking, sitting in the park, walking in the park, making phone calls, all that I had left to try was a tranquilizer and I finally did take something to go to sleep.

I was sitting by my mother's hospital bed yesterday, we were both having trouble breathing. I watched them take blood, give her a sonogram of her heart, make her drink fluids, clean her up, give her more morphine and do everything but take her down for the endoscopy she needs, so she could have the surgery to repair her leg and get out of the hospital. She was annoyed that people were bothering her, but mostly she seemed to be in a drugged state of obliviousness. (Actually, I was a little jealous.)

Anyway, I brought a Netflix DVD with me that I'd been meaning to watched called "Fierce Grace." It is a film about Ram Dass, both his history and his present life, since he had a stroke. It was exactly what I needed to see. He said when he first had his stroke, he thought nothing of God or any kind of spirituality. He just lay in his hospital bed in the E.R. looking up at the pipes and wondering if he was going to die. He said that made him realize that he had quite a bit of work left to do.

He's lost the use of the right side of his body and his speech is halting, but his mind is sharp and he keep learning. He talked about his guru in India and one thing the guru always used to say was "suffering brings us so close to God." Ram Dass said that "his stroke gave me a whole new incarnation." He was busy making interesting plans for his future and suddenly he was fighting for his life. Of this new life he has had to create he says, "I'm at peace more than I have ever been before in my life. I've learned how to settle into the moment and this moment is all right."

A couple in the film talked about the murder of their young daughter and how devastated they were. They received a letter from Ram Dass, which eventually enabled let go of their grief and go on with their lives. It's a moving letter, I would include it here, but it's almost too hard to read. If you know anyone who's gone through a devastating loss, I would look up Ram Dass's letter to Rachel. It's easy to find.

Yesterday, "Fierce Grace" gave me a great deal of solace and I recommend it.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

The sadness I feel

Well, there's no denying that this is a difficult time for me. Last night I went to a place called Friends In Deed. It was created almost nineteen years ago in response to the AIDS crisis and it has grown over the years to include any serious illness and caregivers, essentially helping anyone who is grieving about pretty much anything. I went there a couple of times when my mother was in Jacob Perlow Hospice a few years ago and it helped. They have what is called "The Big Group" - it's based on twelve steps principles of sharing and anonymity, but there is a leader, unlike AA or Alanon meetings.

It's a safe place to open up about what's bothering you and I like the leader of the evening sessions, Cy O'Neal. She started FID, along with Mike Nichols.

I don't honestly remember much of what I said when I shared, I think I mostly cried. And I did try to write down what Cy said. I think it was something like this:

It does seem that the old adage "when it rains, it pours" generally is true.

When you look back on a really traumatic situation from your past, you realize that as bad as it was, you also got something really important from the experience.

In my case, a few years ago, when everything else was pretty much falling apart, I eventually got a solo show out of it, the knowledge that I am pretty strong, that most friends are there for you when you need them, that I have a relationship with something, I'm not sure what - but it's a power greater than myself (not a guy with a white beard - but something). I learned that feelings move through you and it's better to feel them than to avoid them and that my mother and I have a deep connection of the heart and even though she has driven me (and pretty much everyone else who knows her) CRAZY sometimes, I will always love her.

That stepping up and taking care of someone who is ill is worth all the sadness and the anxiety. In the end, you know you did what you had to do.

And if you need to take the time to grieve, it's okay, it won't last forever.

I'm not so good with crying, I've always been able to express my thoughts but actually crying or showing emotions has been uncomfortable for me. But now I seem to have no choice in the matter, so I just let the tears come.

And I want to add that I am grateful for all the support and phone calls. It seems like almost my entire high school class has been sending me love on Facebook. I don't remember some of them and I am amazed at their interest and I'll take whatever I can get. And although sometimes I think this is too hard, I know I'll get through it.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Weekend update

No one ever said life was going to be easy. My mother has had a rough few days. When she arrived at the hospital she was in terrible pain. Her femur (the bone from knee to hip) was broken badly. They gave her morphine, but when they had to move her leg to take x-rays and put it in a splint, she let out some blood curdling screams.

Her anemia was so bad they had to give her three transfusions and admit her to the hospital to stabilize her condition. Last night they put her leg in traction. Sometime either today or tomorrow they will decide whether or not they're going to operate to put in a plate. Thank God for my mother's aide, Janis, who met me at the hospital Friday afternoon. And my friend Mia generously offered to go with me today.

The hospital, Miamonides, which is in Brooklyn, is quite good and all the doctors and nurses have been fantastic.

Did I mention the word grateful?

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Raining hard

Okay, so now besides the separation I just got a call from my mother's nursing home. She fractured her leg (probably when she was turned in her bed, because she can no longer walk) - and she has severe osteoporosis. So they gave her some pain meds tonight and tomorrow morning at 8 a.m. they will send her to the E.R. for treatment.

They can't operate on her, there's no point in putting a pin in her leg because the bone would shatter, that's how bad the osteoporosis is. They will probably put a splint on, but they have to bring this poor 95 year-old woman to an E.R. to treat her leg. It seems crazy to me that they can't do this at her nursing home, but they can't.

I have to remember to breathe.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Thanks, Winston

"A pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity; an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty."

Winston Churchill

Early this morning I saw that quote and it lifted my spirits. I am having a tough time right now. I wake up in the middle of the night, as I've written about before, and it feels like my world is falling apart. But when I wake up in the morning, somehow I feel more optimistic and less afraid. This morning, the positive feeling came when I read that quote. I've read it before, but it had special meaning for me today.

I have always found a way to get through difficult times. Friends of mine are fighting for their lives. A billion people in this world go to bed hungry, with no access to clean water, no money and in desperate fear for their lives. That is incomprehensible really, but true.

What I am going through is painful and challenging, but it's a process of grief and mourning and then opportunity. I would love to know that my life has more meaning than to just mope about getting a divorce.

My four day birthday weekend in Miami with my community of women was amazing. I can't say much about it other than to say it was the highest of highs and also moments of really deep sadness. When we weren't in sessions with Regena, we were at the beach or at the pool. For me, there is nothing more healing than the ocean. I also wore a bikini for the first time in over twenty-five years. A hot pink bikini. With polka dots. (There will be no photos posted, I promise.)

On Friday night a group of us went to a Greek restaurant called Opa, where we danced on the tables with some very attractive young men and a couple of belly dancers. I can't remember the last time I had so much fun. Why are there no restaurants like this in New York City? I need to dance on more tables.

We floated in the ocean and had long conversations and shared our desires. We sat around the pool at one in the morning and looked at the full moon. The women who come to Miami for these weekends are all ages: twenty-two to seventy something. Mothers and daughters come together. There are all kinds of professions: lawyers, professors, actors, writers, veterinarians, physical therapists, social workers, teachers, dancers, financial advisors - there was even a fantastic opera singer who performed. I have never cried as much as I did this weekend, or felt more comforted. There are cancer survivors, women who have gone through difficult divorces, women who are estranged from their children, who have lost jobs.

There are also many women whose lives are going really well, better for having connected with this community. My friend Polly shared a hotel room with me for two nights and wouldn't let me pay my share. She generously told me about her divorce and then about her wonderful recent marriage to a man she dated in college, who she deeply loves. She gave me advice about my job search and a list of books to read.

I am looking for the opportunity in this difficulty and what I am finding is love and friendship.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Off to Miami

I love the fact that the last post was titled "Fear" and this post is "Off to Miami."

I am off to be with my women friends - all 160 or so of them and Mama Gena. We are going to have fun, to swim, to dance, to party and to generally do what I haven't done in many many years. Flirt. Well, I have flirted, but not with any serious intent.

I'll write when I return and hopefully I'll have some good stories to share.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009


Why is it in the middle of the night that everything always seems worse? Particularly at around 3 a.m. When I wake up at 3 or 4 a.m. and I can't get back to sleep it's because I am running a long list of catastrophes like a loop in my mind:

Poverty...terrorist attacks...Republicans back in the White House... cancer...homeless...lonely...nervous friends... jobless...fat... broke...addicted to something...lost my sense of humor...(I think I already have)...horrible blind dates for the rest of my life...

You get the picture. There's an actual prayer line you can call twenty-four hours a day - it's Silent Unity - and there's always someone on the phone to talk to. You have to listen to a message for about five minutes before you reach someone, but that is good because you generally fall back to sleep while listening. If you talk to the minister in training (that's who is on duty) you tell them what you need help with (I asked for my friend O, my daughter and myself) and for the next thirty days someone out there in Kansas City will be praying for you every day.

A friend of mine told me about this twenty-four hour hotline. If you can't sleep and even if you don't believe in God or any kind of whatever, it's still a good resource, a person to talk to in the middle of the night. Here's the phone number: 800-669-7729.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Is anybody happy? I am!

I just have to share that despite a really difficult day, filled with many emotions - I just got word that my solo show was accepted into the Midtown International Theater Festival! And that terrifies me and also excites me.

I don't know the date yet, but I'll post it as soon as I know.

Is anybody happy?

As the news of our separation begins to spread, I have had a number of conversations with friends who have expressed unhappiness with their relationships.

"Oh, God, I would love to leave my husband, but I'm terrified of being alone. I just can't handle it. But I would leave, if I could...I really would. He's driving me crazy. You are so brave. I wish I could do it. You're doing it for all of us."

First of all, let me say I am not brave. I was up last night at 3 a.m. with a bad headache, praying for pain relief and the ability to fall back to sleep. And a lottery win.

Is anybody happy? Let's start with the definition:

1 Feeling or showing pleasure or contentment. 2. Fortunate. 3. (of words or behavior) very suitable, pleasing.

Unless you are clinically depressed, or dealing with a serious crisis, I think most people show pleasure or contentment some of the time. Fortunate? A lot of us who don't have jobs now are not feeling fortunate and that is clearly putting a strain on relationships. I would bet that the divorce rate is up right now.

I do know some couples who have the kind of relationship I would like to have. Here's the story of one of them.

"A" was married rather young, around 26, to a man, "P" who she met at work. He was (is) seven years older than she is and he was either married or separating from his first wife. They seemed to be so suited to each other, A & P, they had very similar backgrounds, the same sense of humor, they almost looked like brother and sister. I remember at one of A's birthday parties, P made a toast that was so loving, I felt a bit envious. They had two kids, two years apart, and when the kids were young, they moved from the city to the suburbs. This did not please A, but she felt she had no choice, since P was a control freak.

P traveled often for his work and I remember being a little surprised whenever A said, "Yay! I'm so happy when he's away!" Steve traveled too and though I enjoyed having the time with Zoe, I did miss him.

One summer everything pretty much imploded between A & P. A had an affair. When it turned out that P had already had one, with one of their close friends, it became clear that the relationship was over. They lived together for a time in that War of the Roses way, but once they sold the house, A began a new life that included dating. She also found a good job, it didn't pay too well, but she enjoyed it. Her two kids, ten and twelve at the time of the divorce, were definitely struggling and it was a bad time for A, who had very little support from her family.

She put herself on a few dating websites and proceeded to go out with pretty much every decent guy in the tri-state area. She slept with a few and tried hard to find a little bit of happiness where she could.

Then one day, a few years into her new life, she told me she saw a guy (L) on-line who seemed thoughtful and attractive. He was wearing a baseball cap in his photo that had the letters of her favorite radio station. After a few emails back and forth, L requested that they meet, since most of the time when you are face to face, you realize that there's no way you're going to like this person.

So they met. And that didn't happen. They liked each other. Immediately. I remember A saying, "I like this guy....but he's so different from anyone I've ever dated."

And one of her friends, it might have been me, said, "And is that such a bad thing?"

Clearly it wasn't. They fell in love and although it wasn't easy, they both have two kids and bringing together two families is always a challenge...and they both have difficult ex's...despite all that, it worked out. Brilliantly.

In Yiddish the word "beshert" means soul mate. A & L are soul mates and it is a pleasure to know them and witness their love. I am so happy for both of them and I hope someday that I may be fortunate enough to meet my beshert.

In the meantime, I'm just going to try to be happy and get through the nights. And I think I'll go buy myself a big bottle of Advil and a few lottery tickets.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

A warm body

The other day I was talking to a woman who is in the process of separating from her husband, although he is resisting moving out. She said what she is afraid of most is being alone and although the relationship is terrible, she knows what she will miss is... "a warm body."

It is hard to give up that human contact, even if it isn't ideal.

Yesterday, my friend Sheila and I went to visit my first boyfriend, Warren, and his wife, Barbara. Warren and I went steady (remember that?) in ninth and tenth grades and I loved him and his entire family. They were in my life when things were difficult for me and they practically adopted me. They were the first family I met in real life that could have qualified for their own TV show. I never saw so much love and warmth in a home. His parents adored each other and all their kids, they had five - two sons and three daughters. Warren had a band in high school called "The Lost Chords" and his passion was music.

His first marriage was to someone we went to high school with and they had two daughters. The marriage didn't last and they had some very rough years. Fortunately, both daughters have done really well and are thriving. One of them is in medical school and the other is in business school. I met them when they were little girls and I hope to see them again someday.

Seventeen years ago, Warren met Barbara through a friend and they have a great relationship. She is lovely. Barbara is a social worker and Warren works as a mortgage broker - but his passion is still music and he is extremely talented. He wanted Sheila to come out and record in his studio (years ago she sang in his band). My job was to bring her there. After we arrived by train, Warren drove us around Plainview, the town we all grew up in. We saw our old homes which looked completely different, and we even went into our old high school.

Then later, after we had a delicious lunch, Warren and Sheila recorded a song Warren had written and then Barbara, Warren and I sang back-up. He has a great studio in the house.

It turned out to be a really fun day and I guess one way of having warm bodies in our lives is going out and finding them.

Which brings me back to that saying I wrote about a few months ago, "Go where it's warm."