Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Only at Christmas Time

There's something about the day I decide to put up our Christmas decorations each year. I get excited initially - I LOVE how our house looks when it's festive - cozy, colorful, magical, even. But the process to get it like that, has become a cathartic release for me, and I don't know if I block it out after-the-fact or what (see last year's blog post on the exact same day)... but yesterday was that day for me. I put on my "Holiday Hipster" Pandora radio station, and started taking the plastic bins off our garage shelves. I decided to not get EVERYTHING out this year. The garlands, the table-top decor, and the tree, of course, but not all the little knick-knacky stuff. All of a sudden I felt this insane pressure to get it all done before the kids got home. I wanted them to experience the magic the second they walked in the door. I felt bad for the mood I was in before school. I was tired, hormonal, un-caffeinated, and all of a sudden unsatisfied with their level of productivity around the house - not practicing piano every day, not reading extra books, not keeping the playroom clean, etc. I took away Monday-Thursday iPad privileges, and told them we were going to revamp the chore list that they CLEARLY do not read on a daily basis. Not my finest hour, but the truth (which I told them after school) was that Mommy is a little overwhelmed emotionally, and I unleashed on them - so I apologized for it.

It's that time of year, sure - I miss my Dad of course, but the pain on my heart this Christmas is due to the fact that this will be Forrest's last Christmas season here on Earth. His prostate cancer is started to take it's toll. His back legs barely work. He hasn't walked with us to school in the morning for about two weeks now - he just can't keep up at the pace we need him to, and he doesn't have much desire to even hike up the hill that leads out of our street. He wears a makeshift "ninja belt" - a cut-up T-shirt with a maxi pad because he is a bit incontinent. His bodily functions are a chore, and there are some days when he's laying on his bed and just looks like he is "over it." But then there are the moments, like the cuddle sessions on the couch, or when we lift him up to sleep in our bed at night with us, that it feels like nothing's wrong. He still loves to eat, he just has a smaller appetite. And when the kids' piano teacher Paul comes over, you would never know that anything is wrong, he gets so excited. Solon and I both know we are holding on to those moments to justify keeping him around longer. But I realized this past weekend that that's not fair to him. So I got the decorations up, listening to Christmas music that all of a sudden just felt so depressing, as Forrest slept on his bed behind me. Forrest loves the Christmas tree - I have pictures throughout the years of him sitting on our (HIS) red couch, admiring the tree - and I want him to enjoy one last tree. I made some salt-dough ornaments and pressed his paw print into them, which he did NOT enjoy, but he has been such an integral part of our life for 12 years - I had to do something. I FaceTimed with my Mom, and we had a good cry. This is a hard time of year for her. Christmas was Dad's favorite. And it makes her sad to see her daughter sad, so we let it all out...

When Solon got home, we looked at our very full December calendar. How do you pick a day to say good-bye? Between the after-school classes I'm teaching, piano lessons and gymnastics, Quincy's birthday, and Christmas? This weekend? No way. Too soon. I'm not ready. Next week? Right before Quincy's birthday - wouldn't that be cruel? Is two weeks too long? Will Forrest be really hurting by then? So many reasons to consider... We decided on a date, but took the night to sleep on it. After everyone went to bed, I sat on Forrest's red couch with his head in my lap. The only light in the room, came from the mix of old twinkle lights and new LED's on my tree, and a single strand that hung on our fireplace. I stroked his ears as we sat there, and told him that I was going to make the next couple weeks special for him. Lots of snuggles, lots of treats, sushi for lunch on his last day. So now we have to tell the kids. They have known this was coming since June, but back then, it felt so far away. I decided to tell them on the walk home from school today. I had been crying all day, and I needed some fresh air. I picked the kids up, feeling a little embarrassed with myself as I passed the front of the school, where earlier this morning I had burst into tears TWICE when talking with friends who are both dog owners. (Sorry Phil and Chiaty)

Quincy asked me how my day was, and I replied, "Oh, it was okay..."

"What do you mean, 'Just okay'?" Quincy asked me curiously.

I thought to myself that now was just as good a time as any, so I answered, "I'm sad because I made an appointment for Forrest's last day."

"What do you mean, Forrest's last day, Mom?" Paloma wanted to know, but was cut off by Quincy, who simply asked, "When Mom? What day?"

I answered completely, "A nurse will come to our house on Saturday, December 16th at 3pm. She will stay with us for a little while until we are ready to let him go. She said she would put a blanket over him so we wouldn't see the needle. The first medicine will put him in a deep sleep. The second medicine will rapidly turn his body off. It will just look like he's sleeping when he takes his last breath. He won't feel anything but peace," I assured them.

Quincy looked at me and said, "I'm glad I'll still be able to snuggle with Forrest on my birthday, Mom." And then, Paloma burst into tears and sobbed (LOUDLY) for 2 blocks. It was rough. But I told her it was okay to cry. I had been crying all day, and when our minds and bodies need to cry, it's best to get all the tears out.

Since writing is my therapy, I sat down to get this all out of my system. This is another one of those moments that one day we'll look back on to see how we powered through, but I've got to say, I don't know which pain is worse. The pain that results from an unexpected death, or the agony of counting down the days until someone takes their last breath? It's BRUTAL. Forrest has been with us 12 years - since the beginning of our marriage. If you still don't understand just how much we love this dog, I'll share this: When I was pregnant with Quincy, a large percentage of people we know told us that once the baby arrives, we wouldn't be able to dote on Forrest as we had pre-kids. "You won't have as much time for him. You'll see," they said. Nine years later, Forrest is still the first one fed every day, my co-pilot on long car rides, Solon's weekend nap-buddy, and the last one to get my affection at night. He is our son. And we will miss him immensely.

* * * * * *

Some joy from the last few months

Camping fun with our AWESOME neighbors

Just delivered cookies and cards to the
Piedmont First Responders 
who helped out with the Sonoma County fires

Halloween Fun - WonderWoman, (Kid) Deadpool, Frankenstein and his Bride

Thanksgiving with family down in Campbell

Forrest a.k.a. Daddy Boy a.k.a. Old Man Gully

Please keep us in your thoughts and prayers on December 16th. We will need all the strength we can get.

Saturday, September 23, 2017

The Shift

I've noticed a major shift in life as I approach the end of my 30s. In my late teens I completed high school, went off to college and embarked on the beginning of adulthood. In my early-mid 20s, I met and fell in love with Solon. The year before and the year after Solon and I got married, we attended about a dozen weddings, and a few years after that, most every couple we knew (us included) were starting to grow our families. My early 30s were filled with new beginnings with our kids and the experiences that they added to our life. But as I started to move through my 30s, I became acutely aware just how short life is, as I (and the people around me) started to experience the loss of loved ones.

When I first created this blog in 2008, it was because I was expecting the birth of Quincy any day, and I wanted to create a record of our life to share with friends and family who didn't live near us, or who we didn't get to see a lot of. And I also created it to preserve our memories in digital form, for our kids to look back on the beginning of their life - a digital scrapbook of sorts. The first 6 or 7 years of my entries featured a majority of celebrations, holidays, vacations, and happy adventurous memories, but there has been a definite shift in our life in the last two years, and I know my most recent posts reflect it. As much as I would love to keep this digital scrapbook a happy place - a record of just the good times - I would be doing my children a disservice if we did not mention the struggles and the painful moments as well. Because we will all face them, eventually. And we all fear the idea of not being able to get through them. I want to show my kids that we can, and that we did.

In the last two years, our family has suffered profound loss. It started with losing my dad in August 2015. THE MOST HEARTBREAKING MOMENT OF MY LIFE SO FAR. Since then, we lost our Great Uncle Ralph (11/15), my mom's dog Che (who I had to put down) (4/16), my Great Aunt Eleanor (7/16), young Makenzie Rae (10/16), and this summer, our dear family friend Larry Vipond (7/17), and while I was back in AZ, we said goodbye to my Aunt Georgina - the first of my mom's siblings (8/17). Peppered in between these personal family losses, were the shocking deaths of many musicians and others who had influenced our lives. It has seemed, that as common as weddings were to us in the years 2004-2006, and babies in the years 2008-2012, that 2015-present day seems to be where our family is experiencing profound loss. The next big loss will come when we have to say goodbye to our Forrest, who is slowing down at a rapid pace. I cannot imagine what our life will be like without him, and believe me when I say that we are cherishing EVERY SINGLE MOMENT that we have with him.

I understand that this is all a part of the "Circle of Life". I get it. And I wouldn't change the amount of people (or creatures) I love, or the deepness that I love them, for fear of the heartbreak I will experience when their moment is gone. (And we're only here but for a moment, aren't we?) But that doesn't make it any easier. My children have been exposed to more death (or "real life")  by 6 and 8 years old, than my brother and I had experienced by the time we were teenagers. In some ways, I guess I'm grateful for their maturity and understanding of death, because I was terrified of it until I was much older. These sad occurrences are what drives me to fill their lives with joyful moments, new discoveries, fearless (okay, semi-fearless), sometimes spontaneous, adventures. I have to. This is probably the most bittersweet part of all of it. LIFE GOES ON. Whether we are ready or not. We have to allow ourselves to grieve the losses, cherish the memories, and keep moving forward. WE OWE IT TO OUR BELOVED ONES TO DO JUST THAT.  We keep living, one day at a time, with their memory in our hearts.

In my iPhone, I have a few voicemails saved from the last three years. Two are joyous messages. Two are painful. They are a constant reminder to me about the preciousness of life. I listen to them when I need perspective on what is important. They remind me to continue to love fiercely, and unconditionally.  They remind me to live each day to the fullest. They remind me that I MATTER to someone, even if I haven't physically seen them (or hugged them) in years. And one of them is just an everyday message from my Grandma, that I save because I love hearing her voice, and at 94-years-old, she continues to live her life with class, and grace, and she never leaves the house without lipstick.

While there is always heartache hidden in the corners of life, there is most definitely love and happiness bursting through the seams. If I give love, I will receive it. If I choose to be happy and radiate positive energy, it will come back to me tenfold. I hope I convey that in the day to day, even through the moments I pause to grieve. And if you are someone reading this right now, who has gone through a bunch of shit (for lack of a better word), and you are suffering alone, or having a hard time seeing through it to the good that awaits, please trust that you ARE NOT alone, and that GOODNESS awaits, and that YOU MATTER TO ME, and to others. If you are reading this, you matter to me. Reach out to someone if you need to talk. And if you're someone on the flip side of everything I've just mentioned, check-in with people in your life who have just been through something heavy. Chances are... they will need to release something. You don't have to have any answers, you just need to offer an ear.  Life can be HEAVY, sometimes. Having someone there... or BEING that someone, is a gift we all need. Let us be gifts to one another.

Here are some of the bright moments since my last post... it was a very full summer:

Snuggles with Forrest

A visit from Aunt Shelley

Dog-sitting Miss Maisy Mayflower

Much-needed Mommy's weekend off 
with Christina in Las Vegas

Impromptu visit to the California Railroad Museum in Sacramento

The four of us visiting Sean in Benicia

Post-game beers with our co-ed softball team "Beach Bums"

 Henna tattoos at the company picnic

Human bowling at the company picnic

 A visit to Lucy & Bob's in Sonoma

 Seeing Paloma's prize-winning drawing at Zachary's Pizza in Oakland

 Dinner with our cousins in Huntington Beach
Visiting with Morgan

Lunch at Grandma Chacha's
 Dinner with AZ family
 Much needed pool time

Getting my Frida fix!!
 Paper Flowers at The Heard Museum - Phoenix

 Dinner with Gaga

 Snuggles with Aunt Shelley

Bunny & Breezy! Big H.S. Seniors!

AZ Family

 Much-needed Scrabble Night!

Our godsons have girlfriends now!!!

Friends since the womb

 My "big brother" bookends!

Extended family

Cousin love

Cousin Diego! The new architect in the family!

One last hug from my Grandma, Mama Mimi 

Aunt Nancy and Uncle Bill

 I want to be like her when I am 94

Saying goodbye to my Mom is always hard - 

These pictures were filled with smiles, despite the loss that hit Tío Raul, my Mom and her siblings that week we were in Arizona. We maximized time with family, so we could be there for each other, sharing many memories, laughter, and tears.

In loving memory of my Tía Georgina...
Cancer may have taken you from our presence, 
but we will always carry you with us in our hearts.