Friday, August 31, 2012

The story of should's and how things are

It has been a trying summer. I'd love to say that I have enjoyed walking the dog along the trail or writing or trips. But things haven't turned out the way I had envisioned them.

This business of having a story about how life should be gives me big trouble. I used to think lots of things with certainty. Lately, I seem to feel a little unmoored without the comfort of my story.

I hate coming to the realization that I am not in control. I know it intellectually. But  I keep getting the same life lesson reinforced so much that I feel like my rigidity has turned to mush. I worry that in the process I will lose my moral fiber or integrity.

I can't prevent the people I love from making life choices with impacts that portend more hurt and suffering, ... and even death. Of course, we all will suffer and eventually die. But why increase the likelihood? And then, I am off to the races worried about their health, their mental health, and their souls. It is like watching a train wreck taking place.

These feelings didn't start with my father's death this summer. This has been a cumulative piling up of things falling apart. But Dad's death reminds me of his impact on my life and this business of hypervigilence and the belief that I need to try to control life.

In the midst of the chaos in life, my heart still feels. It feels love. It feels betrayed. It feels confused. I can't tell if this is between me and the people in my life, or if this is between me and God.

On the other hand, things could be worse. I took the dog to the garden with me yesterday off-leash. He stayed close for a while and sniffed deer tracks nearby. Before I knew it, as I became engrossed in picking squash, he left me. When I realized he wasn't there, I whistled a call he usually responds to. But no Finn.

I walked around the area. No rustling of leaves in the woods nearby. I rushed to the house and got my daughter and the car. We drove to look for him. Our first check was a neighbor's down the hill. I tried to stay calm, but inside I was panicking.

My mind was busy imagining how he had low vision and might get into trouble if he went too far. What if he made it to the C&O trail, and as friendly as he is, got in the car with someone? Another thought was how he'd been picked up at a shelter before the Collie Rescue folks got him. Maybe he was a runner and was just waiting for the right time to leave us. Or, I have a million things to do and I don't have time to be doing this right now. Then there was the persistent thought, I am so in trouble with my family and the Collie Rescue people if I can't find him.

Our neighbor said he had been visiting his place but went back up the hill towards our home.

Sure enough. He was back near the garden, looking happier for the expedition. And, my thoughts were: bad dog, you gave me quite a scare, and damned if you don't look happy.

Monday, August 6, 2012

No time for grieving or Sherman's March

My dad was a complex person. He could be tender, sweet, and loving. He could also be temperamental, fierce and violent. He did mellow with age.

However, it was no surprise when a rare violent wall of weather hit the region the day after he was found dead.

Derecho. I never heard of it until afterward it struck. A wall of wind associated with thunderstorms. As soon as I heard about it, I thought Sherman's March. Then I immediately connected it with Dad and his death.

Dad died on a Thursday. His body was found mid-afternoon. In what started out as a typical day turned into a long and exhausting day. EMT's, followed by police, then the funeral home staff, and finally, the new parish priest responded over a period of several hours. All made their way into my parent's rustic farmhouse at the end of a dirt lane.

The day had built up lots of heat and the family house has no a/c. The EMT's stayed outside, instead of with me and my sister and Dad, to wait on the police who had difficulty finding the farm. A fly was starting to hang around his body. Who knows how long he'd been dead. But when the funeral home staff moved him, the unmistakable odor of death was compressed out of him and hung in the air longer than the undertaker said it would.

Partner went to work the next day and I took off to meet with Mom and a sister to make funeral arrangements. Mom was determined to have a traditional timeline as if he was being buried, even though he was being cremated. Funeral home visitation would be on Saturday afternoon and evening with the memorial service at the little country church Sunday afternoon. And, we would be providing the food and setting up/tearing down at the church ourselves per Mom's wishes.

Family had been notified and the out-of-towners were coming in. There was a plan.

At our evening meal that Friday, I told Partner how wonderful the yard looked and fortuitous it was that the house was clean. We could relax about being host and hostess in the midst of whatever would be unfolding.

Later that evening, Mom and I were checking in by phone about details regarding the next few days.

Partner kept saying in a steady voice, "a really big storm is coming," as warnings were flashing on the internet.

Lightning and winds picked up until the weather was howling. Our electric began to flicker. Meanwhile, I had been trying to get Mom to realize that a storm would likely be hitting the farm which is about 12-15 miles east of my house. With the phone propped between my shoulder and ear, I started filling containers with water at the kitchen sink in case we lost power. (Wells need electric to pump water.) Finally, the lights went out and I told her to get serious and fill her tub with water in case she needed water to flush the toilet.  People were coming to stay and we would need the basics. Then I hung up.

The lights did a little more flickering and then there were bright flashes as electrical sounds and smoke began to fill the kitchen. Partner walked around the house muttering that we had a problem.

In an even tone, he told me, "Call 911," as he went from one electrical box to another. Because he was so calm sounding, I almost didn't hear him. Then I realized that his stress response is to sound quiet, calm, and unconcerned.

Using my cell phone because my land line was now dead, I found myself talking across state lines to get a 911 center. The person stayed with me until she transferred me to my own state and county's center, saying that the 911 centers were flooded with calls.

The new 911 person stated, "The fire department is on its way. Go out on your porch.”

I told the 911 lady, "You've got to be kidding!"

We ran out to the car with the dog and a flashlight since our porch is unprotected and the wildness of the storm made the idea of standing out on it unfathomable.

As the lightning seemed to create a constant source of illumination, the devastation was sinking in. Large limbs were down. Green leaves were shredded lying on the ground. A limb landed on our tractor crushing the canopy. Trees had been uprooted.

After the rescue squad made it past downed limbs in our driveway, they then began the process of seeing what was going on. In their muddy wet boots and clothes in the midst of the storm, they tromped through every room and closet in the house.

There had been a flash fire in the house, but it was out. A large surge protector by the major electrical box in the laundry room had exploded, but the wires to the box had not melted. Sandy-like dirt was everywhere in the laundry room and now tracked throughout the house. Our air conditioners and lights had been damaged. But we wouldn't know that until the next day when our power returned.

We went to bed at 11:30 p.m. exhausted, not worrying about the stuffy heat in the house. The house and the yard were a mess. But, we were okay.

The family gathered the next morning at the farm. Mom was also without power. We would learn that the church where the memorial service was to be held was dark, also.  It would be days before they would regain electrical service.

And so, that morning, before the afternoon and evening funeral home visits were to begin, our family worked.

Did I mention that a heat wave started in earnest? There is nothing like no power, no water, and conditions hotter than hell to add to an already grim situation.

We moved food from the farm to my recently deceased grandmother's home 20 miles away because it had power. We would clean the main floor of the house which just had the estate sale the prior weekend - no furniture, but crud left from 60 years of living. There would be air mattresses for sleeping and showers/toilets for all of us without power. We told the kids (now adults) that this would be just like camping.

When I called a friend during the peak of the storm on Friday night, she suggested, with some humor, that I tell the angels to help move Dad on to the other side. With Dad's death, I felt like a vacuum had formed and all kinds of chaos would be ensuing.

What would happen now that Dad was gone? If the storm was any indication, what next?

The day the EMT's were at the farm, one of them asked why a step ladder was on the front porch roof. My mom used it to sweep snow off during those big storms in 2010.  She'd been harassing Dad to remove it. The derecho blew the ladder down for her.

But the big surprise was the large bank barn. Dad's barn has been trying to fall down for the past 20 years. Family members often gnashed their teeth about the danger the barn posed. He would ignore them. I remember praying for a lightning strike to finish it off, probably five years ago, thinking this might minimize the risk of someone getting hurt. The main barn wall facing the house still stood at Dad's death. The storm finally finished it off.

As a nephew said after Dad's death but before the storm, "now maybe the barn can fall since he is no longer here to keep it up." Who knew it would be down the next day?

During the initial days after Dad's death, I reflected on the ancient wisdom of "out of chaos comes order" or the cycle of life model where there is birth, death and resurrection leading to new growth. I had the feeling that we were still in the midst of the death part.

With only more chaos to come, my attitude evolved into let the hilarity/fun begin which made curiosity and flexibility a core aspect to coping over the next few weeks. I probably also looked a little disrespectful and just plain weird to others. I just hope I was able to keep most of it to myself.

As someone who has worked in the field of pastoral care and geriatrics, I've seen all kinds of ways people approach grief. But so far, the map called Normal doesn't seem to be working for me. I'm told that map isn't particularly useful to others, either.