Sunday, July 29, 2007

July 29, 2007

Life gets harder sometimes. I have been scrambling around, trying to find a new job and getting prepared to say good-bye to all the people at work I am so fond of. It’s been difficult even to think about that without getting teary-eyed. Then something happened that knocked that whole stressful scene out of the park.

My Mom has been having a terrible problem with severe dizziness. It is worse when she’s sitting up, so she spent weeks and weeks lying flat on her back, and as a result she lost a lot of muscle. That’s a dangerous thing when you’re nearly eighty years old. Although she has Brenda to help her, Brenda told me Mom needs more help than she is able to give. In the week before I lost my job I had been trying to hire someone else to fill in for Brenda (believe me, that made losing my income even more upsetting to me). Eventually, Mom ended up in the hospital when she was unable to get out of bed. The hospital resisted admitting her at first, because she is apparently completely healthy. All the tests they have done to figure out what’s happening in her head have been inconclusive.

On Friday the 13th I called her to say hello. Calls to her have been short because her arthritis makes it uncomfortable for her to hold the phone to her ear, but she talked to me for about forty minutes. She gave me her instructions for her funeral and messages to give other people. She said, "I’m dying. I can feel all my systems shutting down," although no doctors agree with her on that point. In fact, a decision had been made to send her to a special facility for intensive physical therapy, but she indicated she wasn’t going to bother with that, as she was going to be dead in a few days. If she didn’t agree to participate and make progress, she would be booted out of the facility. As she doesn’t have the financial ability to hire full-time help (and neither do her children at this point) that would mean she’d end up in a nursing home.

Robert and I immediately drove to Michigan. We met with my brothers and Mom’s priest, Jannell Glennie, who gave us good advice on how to deal with someone in my Mom’s state of mind, to get her focused on getting better. I am glad to say we were able to use that advice and she’s doing much better now, and working very hard at physical therapy. She can walk for quite a ways with her walker, but balance is her main problem, and she needs help standing up and sitting down.

The main reason she is feeling better is that she has some hope her dizziness may be correctable with surgery. We are waiting for an August 14 meeting with neurologists, and have asked for a consult with an opthomologist. I don’t know what will happen if it turns out there isn’t anything we can do for her. She always has to be hopeful, and she has so many plans for the future. She loves living in her house and having kitties around. So please keep her in your prayers, that she’ll be able to do that soon.

I had been wondering how the hell to find the silver lining in the black cloud of losing my job, but I guess it is that I have the ability now to stay with my Mom and do what I can to help her through this tough time. (Robert had to go back to work--Mom’s friend Ed Noonan has lent me a car so I can go back and forth from the facility to see her.) I also get to help my brothers, who are going to be carrying the load of her care after I go back to New York (around August 15). I have been collecting all the stuff she needs for her medical visits and keeping her mind occupied.

I am also working almost around the clock sorting through boxes and boxes (and they go up to the ceiling in some of the upstairs rooms) of papers that my Mom, the archivist, has collected. She has saved photographs and news articles about all the things our family has been involved in for over fifty years, and THAT’S A LOT --Boy Scouts, bagpipe band, city politics, St. Katherine’s Church, hundreds of museums projects and business ventures, and artistic pursuits. She also seems to have saved every graduation announcement and wedding invitation (for every wedding) of every kid we ever knew. Many of those things are more important to other people than they are to any of us, so I am sorting out zillions of piles of things that we will eventually spend billions of dollars in postage, sending out to millions of friends and relations.

This has me feeling overwhelmed at times. I’m afraid that last night a small bottle of vodka and some orange juice (and brother Chris, too) helped.

The most overwhelming part is knowing that the work my Mom has done is valuable, but I don’t know to whom. She has been working on a history of her family and the little town in Kansas where she grew up. She has rolls and rolls of microfilm copies of old newspapers, and boxes of ancient photographs, and she has typed up perhaps 100 years' worth of old letters and diaries. I feel a great weight of responsibility to make sure it goes where it is supposed to go, but I don’t know what to do. I don’t feel that Andy’s kids are very interested in this history, and Tim’s Lindsey is too young to be interested. All I can say is, "Argh!"

Anyway, I have to get ready to go to see Mom. I am trying to spend about six hours every day with her at the facility. I have been reading old family letters to her, then I’ll box them up and send them to the Kansas contingent of cousins, as many of the stories in them are about their childhoods. I have also been reading Mom letters from her sister Joanne, who died only three weeks after Mom got married in 1949. Joanne was only one year younger than Mom, and was the sister she was closest to. Mom said she was so upset about Joanne’s death (she had an unexpected allergic reaction to a medication), and felt so terrible that her sister didn’t get to have her own family and live a longer life, that she has hardly ever spoken about her. To her surprise, Mom has found she enjoys hearing the letters. They’re all about boyfriends and dances and "wolf hunts," and she realizes now that Joanne packed so much into her twenty years of life that it makes it easier to think about her.

When Mom was at her very low point, she asked me to take her cats. This is the only time that Robert, always supportive of me, raised an eyebrow. He loves me and knows I love my cats, but poor Alice’s latest blunder (she has decided the place to take a dump is in our new library, and she soaked a shelf of his books, ruining them) (I say, hey, that’s one way to get rid of some books around here...) has been rough on him. Creaky old Alice will actually tinkle in the litter box downstairs, then crawl up a flight of stairs to do this other business on the carpet. What the hell is going on in her senile kitty head? Thank God I have a carpet cleaning machine that works like a dream.

Mom has five cats, and with the exception of her kitten, they are quite timid. I’m not saying her cats are DUMB or anything (cough-cough) but even if I get one calmed down enough to pet it, it fails to recognize me the next day as "that nice lady who petted me," and I’m once again, "The intruder! Oh, God!" Not only do her cats not recognize me from day to day, they don’t recognize me from room to room. "Intruder in the dining room! Oh God!" "Nice lady with cat food in the kitchen. She’s probably OK." "Oh no! Intruder in the bathroom! Hide! Hide!" In spite of this, I am getting quite fond of one she calls Pookie, who looks like a big white watermelon with golden eyes. Let’s hope, for theirs and Mom’s and Robert’s sake, it will be absolutely unnecessary for her kitties to move anywhere.

Anyway, I have to run. My Mom likes to get cards and letters, if you want to send them, to Patty Hogg, at 401 High Street, Williamston, MI, 48895. Keep those good thoughts comin’!

Sunday, July 1, 2007

July 1, 2007

Even before I got the June letter ready to go out, new things happened that required another letter. So there are two of them here for you. Also, more photos, out of order.

This is a view from the footpath, that might give you some idea of how steep the slopes were, on our way to the falls. Or maybe not. Those were really tall trees.

This is the very top of Kaaterskill Falls. It is hard to get perspective in a photo, but this top tier is 175 feet tall. There is a shelf, about fifty feet deep, at the bottom of this, that you can walk on. There's a shallow pool there, then the water falls an additional 85 feet to the ground. Kaaterskill Falls are taller than Niagara Falls, but perhaps with just a bit less water volume...

Anyway, here's the July 1 letter:

I think no day goes by, for the past two years, that I don't thank God for giving me the gift of my job at Robert's firm. It is so pleasant to work for such competent, decent, generous people, and my job is relaxing and fun. The best part has been that Robert and I get to work together. Our long commute have been wonderful for our marriage--we have that block of time every day that we get to spend all alone, to talk about everything and make fun plans for the future. It has been a dream job for us.

So we were EXCEEDINGLY BUMMED when, on Friday, they called us in to tell us that they were going to have to let me go because of some upcoming changes in the firm. Two of the partners had announced their intention to retire at the end of the year, then a recent Supreme Court decision has made it just about impossible for people to bring class action lawsuits against companies who lie to their stockholders. About half of the firm's business has been representing employee retirement funds against companies like Enron, to try to avoid disasters like Enron. (Apparently, having to deal with pesky lawsuits that prevent the sacking of people's retirement funds is is bad for big business.) Anyway, most of the work I've been doing has been reviewing documents for these gigantic cases. With the current case load, and nothing big on the horizon, they no longer needed two litigation assistants. Other support staff are also being let go. This is bad news, but at least I'll have three more weeks at work, then six weeks' of severance. Then God knows what. It is also possible that Robert may lose his job later this year. (We are keeping that from Robert's mother, for the meantime, because she'll fuss too much.)

This makes everything scary, because without my job, we can't afford our car payment, and without Robert's job, we can't afford our house. Even though I'm sure we will ultimately be fine, I am so depressed out about this you can't imagine. I'm sure we won't be able to match our previously ridiculously high salaries, and with two elderly mothers, we desperately need the vacation time we've both finally accrued. With new jobs you have to start all over again, at zero. But I have always believed that God really likes me, and always has an interesting plan for me, if I will only keep my eyes open for the opportunities shown to me. After all, at one point, God revealed my good pal Robert to me in a different light than I'd ever looked at him before, and you know, that turned out pretty good! I think this change is an opportunity in disguise, if only I look at it the right way.

Even having that understanding and faith, I had a pretty crappy weekend, working desperately to fend off panic feelings and depression. We went to see Pirates of the Caribbean on Friday night, thinking that might help. I have loved these fun, swashbuckling movies, but the third one was a bit ponderous. Also, I couldn't get that heroic music out of my head, and I had dreams about sword fights every time I closed my eyes. That, and worry, kept me from sleeping. I think I finally dropped off at 5:30 a.m., but woke up an hour and a half later, unable to go back to sleep.

I decided to avoid thinking about it (HA!) by keeping busy with yard and house work on Saturday. At about two p.m. I decided a glass of wine might be just the thing, and I ended the day in such a stupid state, I couldn't believe it. It was fireworks night in Beacon, so we went to the sports field where they are held. We were planning to meet up with our friend Roy and his squeeze, Anne, so I brought a big bedspread for us all to lay down on. Roy wrote the next day in an e-mail that he was sorry they couldn't find us in the crowd. I told him that was not surprising. Impaired by too many glasses of wine, I had not dressed appropriately for the after-dark temperatures. Also, my head was throbbing and spinning so much, I laid on the grass and rolled myself up in the bedspread like a mummy, only peeking out at the end to watch the quite fabulous display in the sky. I'll tell you, alcohol for medicinal purposes is a crap shoot. I felt like crap and had a headache later, but I slept like a sack of rocks!

By Sunday, I was ready to give up on feeling sorry for myself. Robert and I took a drive into the Catskill mountains, to Kaaterskill Falls (In New York place names, the suffix "kill" is the Dutch word for "stream"). It was a pleasantly cool day, in fabulouly gorgeous surroundings. In spite of a bad beginning (Robert had researched three different well-critiqued restaurants for us for lunch, only to discover that ALL THREE were closed, and for sale), we had a lovely adventure.

There are signs posted all over Catskill State Park, advising people to stay on the trails to "prevent fatalities." The hiking books are also full of dire warnings about how many people plummet to their deaths there every year. So we started on the trail through the gorge to the falls, with no intention of doing anything but sticking to the path. It started out very rocky and steep, but forest service workers have moved the huge rocks around to make natural-looking stairs. We followed those along a pretty stream, for about half a mile, enjoying the lush forest scenery. Then the terrain changed a little, and we had to concentrate on the path, that had smaller rocks and ropey tree roots sticking up out of damp and crumbly-shale earth. We finally made it to the bottom of the falls. In all, they are too tall to get in the frame of any single photo, and without much water volume. From a distance they looked like a long, wispy feather against the rock face.

We could see people walking around at the very top of the falls, and sitting on the deep rock ledge. We followed what appeared to be the trail upward, but about halfway, we started running into places where the path appeared to go in two or three directions, and there were no flash marks. In retrospect, it was easier going up than coming down because when you are focusing on what's above you, you don't really realize what's below you. It was easier to jump over that two-foot space where the path had crumbled and slid down the hill, when I wasn't looking at where that earth ended up.

At the rock shelf we were on good old granite, and had a nice chat with a couple who were having a picnic there with their two teensy kids. The kids were eating a mango and were covered from head to foot with mango bits and juice. There was a large, shallow pool of clear water there, where they could get cleaned up. We took more pictures, then started the trek down.

Oh, my God.

That's all I can say. I can't recall being so scared out of my wits than I was on that walk, except maybe the time a few years ago when Robert and I found ourselves on the freeway, with a speeding car hurtling toward us in the wrong direction. It was impossible to find a clear path, and hard to find sure handholds in soil and loose gravel that frequently gave way to landslides. I found a whole new meaning in that term, "tree hugger." We did a good deal of the descent sitting on our butts, aiming toward trees and things that might break our fall. (I have a great photo of the back of Robert's pants, taken afterwards, but I didn't use the digital camera...) We would follow what appeared to be the safest route only to find ourselves at the edge of a six foot drop-off, to a two-foot shelf, above a thirty foot cliff, with no way to go back up the way we came. It was just dreadful.

But I guess it's the kind of dreadful we'll do again.

I guess that's enough for this post. Send a line! Let me know you're alive!