And They Said It Wouldn’t Last

On August 19, my husband and I will celebrate our 19th wedding anniversary. We were married in 2000, when we were both rapidly approaching our mid-thirties. We had known each other for three years, having met through a mutual friend with whom I worked.

I was 33, and he was 34, and when we got married, I was living in Mobile, Alabama, and he was living in Charlotte, North Carolina. We had met in Mobile in 1997, but he had moved to Charlotte soon thereafter, so we had a long-distance relationship, and I had no plans of moving unless I was married. I’m sure I could have found a job in Charlotte, but at 33, I wasn’t willing to make a partial commitment to a man; I needed a full-on commitment if I were going to move.

So we were married on August 19 in the historic First Presbyterian Church in Wetumpka, Alabama. When we returned from our two-week Hawaiian honeymoon, we went to Mobile and loaded a truck with all my belongings and moved them to Charlotte. I had lived in different places, so moving was not a challenge for me. In fact, the longest I had ever lived anywhere at that point in my life was nine years…moving wasn’t a problem. Of course, my family was in Alabama, but I could visit whenever I wanted, and we talked every day.

Not gonna lie. The first year was challenging. Remember, we were 33 and 34. We had both been living alone for years, and I loved living alone….eating cereal for dinner in front of the TV; staying up as late as I wanted; being in charge of the remote control; not answering to anyone…you get the picture. We were two (and still are) two very different people. He likes to be home. I like to be on the go. In fact, home, for me, is just a place to change clothes. And I’m always planning my next trip. He’s quiet. I’m not. Seriously, he is very quiet and reserved. But we were married. Suddenly, I had to be more grown up. I had to cook and eat real meals at the table instead of sitting cross-legged on the floor. My husband liked to go to bed earlier than I did, and he always held the remote control. Life was different, and when I was down, he didn’t understand. What did I not like about leaving a one-bedroom apartment? Well…that little one bedroom apartment was my space, and after getting married, it seemed I rarely had my space. I’m sure there were people who could sense the tension and thought, “They’ll never make it.”

But one year in, I was accustomed to married life. In fact, one year in, and I was flat out enjoying it. We got a dog…an Airedale Terrier I wanted to name Fannie after a college friend, but the husband wouldn’t go for “Fannie.” We opted for Annie instead. She has been gone for several years now, but I still wish we had named her Fannie.  And then, 2.5 years after we married, we were expecting a baby. We found out in May 2003 it was a girl, and we were thrilled. She was born in October of 2003, and no one ever loved a baby more than we love that girl. But again, there was added stress. We were sleep deprived. We were exhausted (mostly me). But after the first few months, we started to get more sleep. We started to have more fun, and the stress of having a baby in the house subsided. We were a happy little family of three.

It hasn’t been all fun and games. In 2005, my husband’s beloved grandmother passed away, and all of us were heartbroken. She was kind and caring, and she was a force of nature. At the same time, my mother was driving from Mobile to Birmingham (4-5 hours) all the time, trying to get my grandmother settled in to assisted living, and my daddy was having undiagnosed health issues. In February 2006, he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, and he died that same year…eight months after his official diagnosis. My heart was broken. While I had lost grandparents, I had never experienced a loss as terrible as that one. It was the hardest time of my life, at that point. I was truly devastated. My heart ached in a way I didn’t know it could.

After that, my husband had not one, but two brain surgeries, and we survived that. I say “we,” because it was hard on both of us. Physically and mentally, it was difficult for him. It was emotionally and mentally hard on me. He came back from surgery a different person, but we got through that too. You can read about it here. And then, I lost my mother in December 2017. It took the wind out of my sails. I slept for a month afterward. I had learned some coping skills after the losing my daddy, but it didn’t matter. Nothing could have prepared me for the loss of my mother. I can still get upset at any moment, and it has been 20 months since she passed.

But my husband helped. He understood. He knew that when I stayed in bed in January of 2018, I needed to be there. He looked out for me. He supported me. And then, one of my dearest friends died in June 2018 after battling cancer for 30 years. My husband supported me through that too.

We’ve had our share of heartaches, but we are a team, and we deal with them together. We have had our share of disagreements, but we’ve moved past them. Sometimes he thinks I’m absolutely insane, and vice versa. I’m not going to lie and say it has been easy. It hasn’t always been easy. I don’t always understand him, and he doesn’t always understand me, but we try.

But married life hasn’t been all about loss. It hasn’t been all been difficult. We love raising our daughter together. We love sitting out on the patio together in the evening…sipping Prosecco and listening to jazz music. We have enjoyed going to lots of concerts together. At night, before we go to sleep, we watch an episode of Chrisley Knows Best, The Young and The Restless, or CSI: Miami. He helps me plant the garden every year, and I tend it. We both love to watch college and NFL football, so fall is a busy time for us. And we try to go to all our daughter’s field hockey and lacrosse games. He brings me coffee in bed every morning, because he learned that I’m a lot happier if I wake up with caffeine. I go to bed earlier, because he likes to get to bed earlier than I do. We laugh a lot…at each other and with each other. We have fun together. We are thankful we wake up every day. We appreciate the life we have together.

Our daughter is about to start her sophomore year of high school, and in three short years, she will be heading off to college somewhere. We will enter a new phase of life, God willing. And we will have to adapt to more changes. Right now, we aren’t always on the same page for our plans for the empty nest years. But I’m sure we will find ways to compromise. We will find ways to make sure we both get to “live the dream.” He wants the Gulf Coast, and I want to travel to different cities. We will find a way to make it all happen, and we will have fun along the way….God willing.

Happy 19th Anniversary, Cary! And they said it wouldn’t last…

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Poking The Bear

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Photo by Photo Collections on Pexels.com

My husband and I were talking last night about the losses we have had to endure since we were married. He lost his beloved grandmother in 2005. I lost my dad in 2006, and then I lost my mother in December 2017. We were devastated over every single loss, and honestly, it sticks with us. I don’t walk around in a state of sadness. I’m generally pretty happy, but occasionally, the sadness will break through, but I never know when that will be. And the interesting thing is that sometimes, the grief doesn’t manifest itself as sadness. It manifests itself as forgetfulness, indifference, or anger.

The forgetful part of grief just can’t be explained. I don’t know if my brain went into pure survival mode after each loss, but in the first six to eight months after each loss, I couldn’t remember anything, and I’m known for having a good memory. With the loss of my mother in December 2017, it seems to have lasted longer. It has been 16 months (to the day) since she died, and I’m still having trouble with my memory. Obviously, I loved my mother, but I think the loss of a second parent is more difficult, even in my 50s, simply because I know I don’t have a parent anymore. It does a number on the brain. My brain seems to have channeled all its energy into survival mode, and a lot has fallen by the wayside, including my memory. In fact, I’m hoping my memory is in recovery mode now, but if I forgot something that was important to you…I’m sorry. I’ve even forgotten things that were important to me.

Indifference comes into play when I hear someone complain about something that I think is not a big deal in comparison to losing a loved one. Indifference comes into play when I think someone is making a mountain out of a molehill…and I tend to think that a lot. During the past week, my bank account was hacked, and I had to set up a new checking account. Ugh. Also, during the past week, an angry driver, who mistakenly thought he had the right of way in the Target parking lot, clipped my car. It was annoying. I know people who would have cried and would still be crying about both events, but I have the perspective of grief. I know those things aren’t small problems, but they aren’t as big as losing a loved one. Seriously, grief changes your perspective. A grieving person might even be indifferent about something that is important to you. Planning a party? The grieving person might not care about coming to your party. Don’t be offended.

Anger is a whole different beast. I’m not really into astrology, but anyone who knows I’m a Gemini would say I’m a true Gemini. I’m happy-go-lucky most of the time, and I truly want to be happy-go-lucky all of the time, but if I’m cornered or pushed too far…not so happy-go-lucky. In grief, the “not so happy-go-lucky” part is more easily triggered. It’s not something I’m proud of. It’s not something I want to continue, and I work really hard to keep it in check, but I think, in grief, we tend to wear our hearts on our sleeves. Well, maybe I shouldn’t generalize. Maybe I should say, “In grief, I wear my heart on my sleeve.” I’ve never been one to “get my feelings hurt,” and I’m still not. In grief, I don’t “get my feelings hurt,” but I do find I’m more quickly angered. That doesn’t mean I’m always angry. It means I don’t want anyone to poke the bear.

The one emotion everyone expects from grieving people is sadness. And yes, I’ve had profound sadness. For a month after Mother died, I went to bed. I barely functioned. I’ve written about it before. I gave myself permission to stay in bed for that month…crying whenever I needed to. After that, I forced myself to get up and get moving, but that doesn’t mean the sadness didn’t creep through every now and then…it still does. In fact, on the 30th of every month, I find myself calculating how long Mother has been gone…just as I did for years after Daddy died. Now I don’t have any parents. I don’t have a mother or daddy I can call for advice. Fortunately, I have some trusted family members, but they’re still not my mother or daddy.

So here’s what I’m telling you. A grieving person might be wearing their emotions on their sleeves for a long time. We all grieve differently, but don’t be surprised if your grieving friend is emotional for longer than you expect. Don’t be surprised if you don’t get the reactions you expect. Don’t be surprised if they forget things…even important things. Don’t be surprised if they are quick to anger.

In fact, I think of the grieving person as a bear. A bear lives in survival mode, except for the hibernation period, which was also part of grief for me. If there is something you wouldn’t do to a bear…annoy it, anger it, corner it…then don’t do that to your grieving friend. Look at the claws on the bear in the picture above…that’s what grief can bring out.

Simply put…don’t poke the bear.

***Please note: if you are grieving and having difficulty returning to regular life activities, please seek professional help. ***

 

 

 

 

 

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Thieves And A Stick Shift

My friend, Mary Ann, just sent me a link to a news story about some guys who attempted to steal a car from a gas station in Mobile, Alabama. Apparently, the would-be car thieves jumped into a car and tried to drive away while the owner of the car was inside the gas station.

But they failed.

They couldn’t drive a stick shift car.

To anyone under 30, this probably doesn’t sound like a big deal, but when I was growing up, lots of people still drove cars with manual transmissions. I know it’s rare today, but it wasn’t so rare back then. It was a life skill.

As far as I can remember, my family only had two cars with manual transmissions when I was growing up: a Volkswagen microbus and a Jeep. Maybe we had more, but those are the two I remember. My mother, back in the early 70s, decided she wanted a VW bus for road trips. She had never driven a stick shift, so Daddy had to teach her. Mother must have been 33 or 34. I still remember stalling out at a few traffic lights, but Mother mastered that life skill! She drove us all over the place in that VW bus. When I was 17, we got a Jeep, and that’s when I learned to drive a stick. My brother was barely 16 when we got the Jeep, but somehow, he just knew how to drive a car with a manual transmission. But then, there was that time when he was 14 and he got in big trouble because Mother saw him driving a friend’s car…probably a manual transmission…that’s probably when he learned.

My husband can drive a stick, thankfully. I learned that before we were married when a friend needed him to bring a car to him. We got into the car, and when I saw it was a manual transmission, I thought, “Oh, please let him know how to drive this car.” It sounds shallow, and I know it, but he was going to lose some masculinity points if he couldn’t drive it. Like I said…I know that’s shallow, but I just can’t help it. Fortunately, he got in the driver’s seat and drove away…without even thinking about it. In my mind, there are just certain things men need to know how to do: drive a car with a manual transmission, throw a ball correctly, and operate a chainsaw, to name a few (unless there are extenuating circumstances like a disability). It’s not like they are going to need those skills very often, but when they need them, they need them. And that day we got into that car, I would have been absolutely mortified if my then-husband-to-be had turned to me and said, “I can’t drive this car.” Go ahead…say I’m shallow. I know! I know it’s shallow, but it’s just one of those things I can’t get past!

Of course, in my daughter’s generation, there will be fewer people who know how to drive a car with a manual transmission. It’s likely there will be fewer people who know how to throw a ball correctly or operate a chainsaw, unless you can do it from a computer. I don’t even know how my own daughter will ever learn to drive a stick shift, because they are so few and far between these days! Maybe I need to talk my husband into buying a vintage VW microbus for road trips.

As it turns out, the almost-stolen car at the gas station in the news story belonged to a friend of Mary Ann’s brother. He left the keys in the car while he ran inside to get something. Lucky for him, the would-be car thieves couldn’t drive a stick. Lucky for him, he’s driving a car that requires a life skill those thieves didn’t have. Of course, if the thieves could drive a stick, they might be able to get jobs somewhere, and they wouldn’t need to steal other people’s cars. They ended up being identified by a video taken by the car’s owner, so now everybody knows they tried to steal a car and they can’t drive a stick!

Those thieves lost some masculinity points.

***To see the news story about the would-be thieves, click here.***

 

Happy Birthday To Me!

They say it’s your birthday!
It’s my birthday too, yeah!
They say it’s your birthday!
We’re gonna have a good time!
–The Beatles, Birthday

Every year when my birthday rolls around, I sing that song to myself. It makes me think of the movie, Sixteen Candles, which was released when I was sixteen (almost seventeen). You can see a quick clip of that scene here. And what 16-yr-old girl didn’t love Jake Ryan then?

TOMORROW, I turn 51. Nothing special about 51, but nobody loves a birthday like I do! Do I need fancy gifts? No. Do I need adoration? No. I just like that it’s MY day…well, it’s my day and lots of other people’s day. I have a friend in California who has the same birthday and a friend in Pennsylvania who has the same birthday too, so it’s their day too.

I love a birthday. Always have. Between the ages of two and five, Happy Birthday to Me was my favorite song. I walked around singing it all the time…year round. In fact, my family teased me mercilessly about it. As an adult, I start celebrating before my birthday and keep celebrating for a while. My husband’s birthday is six days before mine, so I wait till his is over, and then, it’s on!

I remember lots of childhood birthdays, but my sixth birthday really sticks out in my mind for lots of reasons. It was 1973, and my birthday fell on the Sunday following the Friday that was the last day of kindergarten.

1973 was a big year in my life, especially those weeks around my birthday. Not only was my birthday coming up just as school was getting out, but I was going to Walt Disney World (that’s what we called it back then) for the very first time the week after my birthday! I had two big things happening almost at once, and I was beyond excited!

My mother planned a birthday party at our home. We invited my entire kindergarten class. We ate cake and played Pin-the-Tail-on-the-Donkey, because that was what we did at parties then. Mother’s friend, Martha, was there to help her with wrangling all those kids, and fortunately, we had a big backyard, so they could move us outside. I had gotten a piece of playground equipment for my birthday…a whirlybird. I had begged for it. We all got to play on that at my party. (See photo below) We also played on the swingset, but back then, swingsets had metal slides, and in south Alabama, those slides got pretty hot. Lots of kids blistered their backsides sliding down those slides in the 70s, but I don’t think anyone got blistered at my party.

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I also remember that I got in trouble. Having your entire kindergarten class over for your birthday when you’re turning six is a big deal. Apparently, I thought it made me the boss of the world. I have a vivid memory of my mother pulling me aside…literally pulling me aside by my arm…and whispering in my ear, “You’re being bossy. You need to settle down and be nice.” I remember feeling a little shocked, because somehow, I didn’t realize I was acting like a Queen Bee, but I’m sure I was. Some people, right now, are thinking, “Some things never change!”

Maybe that day it was the pre-Disney excitement. I’m sure everyone at my party also had to listen to me say repeatedly, “I’m flying to Walt Disney World in six days.” They probably wanted to punch me in the face.

Walt Disney World was just the Magic Kingdom back then…no Epcot, no Hollywood Studios, no Animal Kingdom..and it had only opened about 20 months prior, so I was among the first of my friends to go. Big stuff, especially since I had loved Mickey Mouse my entire life.

Six was a big birthday.

There were lots of memorable birthdays for obvious reasons: 16, 18, 21, 30, 40.

And then 50 came around last year. Wow! Half a century! What a glorious birthday! Lunch and Smokey & The Bandit with friends! Surprise dinner with friends! Brunch with the family! And I went on a fabulous birthday trip and stayed in my favorite hotel with my daughter and one of her friends. We had a wonderful, relaxing suite, and I loved every minute, drinking champagne with every meal and lounging on the patio of our suite. We ate at some of my favorite restaurants in Los Angeles, and it was a birthday to remember.

But as I think about past birthdays, I realize the best thing about birthdays, aside from celebrating another year of life, is the people…people who send Facebook messages, people who call, people who celebrate and/or send gifts or cards. All those things mean someone thought of me.

My mama isn’t here to celebrate 51 with me, but I have great memories of her on my various birthdays. She was there for all my childhood birthdays and made lots more of them special. For my 40th birthday, the first one after Daddy died, we had brunch at The Grand Hotel in Point Clear and spent the day there. Ten years later, when I turned 50, she found great joy in my excitement about that milestone birthday. It’s a great memory: Mother laughing at how happy I was to be 50. Even though she couldn’t go on my birthday trip with me, I sent her pictures and videos from the trip, and she enjoyed listening to every detail.

I know she would want me to enjoy this birthday too. My friends and family should hope I don’t get too bossy, though, because Mother’s not here to pull me aside and tell me to chill out.

So, what do I want for my 51st birthday? This weekend, I just want to do whatever comes to mind. I want to relax. My husband knows I just want some rest and relaxation. Well, that and some cake. I do love birthday cake. And some Champagne. I do love Champagne too. OK, maybe brunch with the family…that rounds it out. Oh, and I want my brother to call me and sing the Little Rascals birthday song from the episode titled Feed ‘Em And Weep. It’s what we do…for every birthday. If you aren’t familiar with it, you can watch it here.

But seriously, one of the best gifts my husband ever gives me is that first cup of coffee in bed every morning. He really doesn’t need to do anything else for me as long as he continues that practice. He started doing that a couple years ago, and I am a much happier person because of it. It makes me feel like every day is my birthday!

Happy Birthday to me!

Our Marriage Survived My Husband’s Brain Surgery

When our daughter was six years old, in 2010, my husband had brain surgeries. Yes, plural…two operations that were nine days apart.

We got married in 2000, but prior to being married, we hadn’t lived in the same city. I was in Mobile, Alabama, and he was in Charlotte, North Carolina.

As soon as we were married, I moved to Charlotte into what is now “our house,” and I soon noticed he had “spells.” I didn’t know what they were, but he seemed to “lose time.”   He would suddenly start blinking hard, fidgeting, and mumbling…for 30 to 45 seconds.

I spoke with his doctor, who ran tests, and while she saw a small spot on the left temporal lobe of his brain, she wasn’t concerned.

He had a series of unexplained car accidents, always saying afterward that he didn’t remember what had happened. I knew we had to get some answers. I was angry. I wasn’t angry at him; I was angry that the doctor hadn’t addressed the problem. I called her, telling her we needed to see a doctor who could help us.

She finally referred him to a neurologist.

At the neurologist’s office, we explained everything to the doctor, who promptly told us, “He’s having petit mal seizures.” Five minutes into the appointment we had an answer.

More tests showed what appeared to be a benign tumor in the front part of his left temporal lobe.

After months of anti-seizure medications, his seizures weren’t under control. Surgery was recommended. First, he had an inpatient evaluation in June of 2010, meaning he was hooked up to external electrodes in an epilepsy ward to monitor brain activity. The hope was that he would have a seizure while there, and the epileptologist would garner useful information. After a week in the hospital, he finally had a seizure…a full-on gran mal seizure, and the doctor witnessed it.

Working with two neurosurgeons, the epileptologist scheduled surgery for that September. First, they opened his skull and placed electrodes and probes directly into and on the surface of his brain. Wires hung out of the incision while we waited for him to have another seizure, and after nine days, he did.

The second surgery was scheduled for a couple days later, and he had the affected parts of his brain removed…part of his temporal lobe, his amygdala, and his hippocampus. Afterward, he was in pain, but it soon became apparent he had very few lasting effects. His “naming center” was affected, so he has trouble recalling words or names, but the biggest loss was short term memory. It was tough at first, but we have a different normal now.

It’s hard to believe it has been eight years.

Our daughter was six years old. She had just started first grade, and while I don’t claim to be the most organized person in the world, I became even less so throughout this ordeal. God bless her first grade teachers for providing snacks, extra patience, and love.

My goal was to keep life as normal as possible for our daughter. She didn’t need to know how scary it was, and I wanted her life to continue as if nothing were going on.

I needed to be at the hospital every day, but I made it a point to take our daughter to school every morning, so things would seem “normal.” I would rush home after dropping her off and get a shower before spending the day at the hospital. Friends would pick her up after school, so at night, when I left the hospital I could pick her up from their houses.

Thank God for friends…people rallied to keep us going. People who lived near the hospital graciously offered to let me nap at their homes. People filled our refrigerator with meals. Family came in from out of town to help. Friends let us sleep at their houses when I was too tired to drive home.

Both operations went smoothly, and after a couple weeks in the hospital, he came home. It was a tough time for him because of the pain and memory issues.

On top of everything else, he was experiencing what the doctor referred to as “disinhibition,” a temporary effect of the surgery. It manifests in different ways, but his manifested in terrible language. Some people experience far worse types of disinhibition…they walk around naked, or become sexually promiscuous. The excessive bad language was embarrassing, but at least he wasn’t walking around naked or having sex with random strangers. Unfortunately, our daughter heard some words she didn’t need to know. Fortunately, the disinhibition didn’t last.

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Photo from December 22, 2010…two months after the surgeries.

Because of the seizures, he was not allowed to drive. This was a low point. He was angry.  He wanted to drive. It affected everything. I was trying to hold everything together, but on Christmas morning, I had forgotten to put his medications in his weekly container. He came into the kitchen, and when he realized his meds weren’t ready, he became angry. When I said I would get the meds, he said I was trying to control him. It was the brain surgery talking, and I knew it, but I’d had enough.

It angered me, and I said, “You know what? Manage your own damn medicine. I can PROMISE you I won’t touch it again.” And I never touched the meds again. He had to take control of his recovery at that point. I was tired. I was tired of his anger about not being able to drive, and I was tired of being the scapegoat. Frankly, I was just tired.

The next day, our daughter and I went to visit family in Alabama. I took all the car keys with me, because I knew he wanted to drive but legally couldn’t. He called asking where I’d hidden the keys, and I told him I had them with me. He got angry, and I hung up the phone, turning it off so he couldn’t call me for the rest of the day. The next day, he apologized.

I know it was frustrating to depend on other people for transportation. I’m sure he felt trapped. He had an unemployed friend who drove him where he needed to go for those months, which worked out nicely for both of them. But it wasn’t the same as driving.

Eventually, the day came that he could drive again. I joyfully handed him the keys.

He was happy.

He got in the car and drove away with a smile on his face, and immediately, things got better. The anger was gone.

We had survived the storm. Most importantly, he had survived brain surgery and was making a recovery. Our daughter had survived, and except for knowing a few more choice words, she was unscathed. Time had healed his physical wounds, but time also healed our marriage. Once he could drive again, we fell back into a happy place.

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Photo from March 2018

Sure, we’ve had challenges and had to make adjustments. My husband doesn’t like to travel and wants to be home more than he used to. His brain processes things differently. He gets headaches in overcrowded, loud places. He only likes to visit familiar places. He doesn’t mind that we continue to travel without him. I’ve told him before, “God put us together for a reason. Some women would be angry that you don’t want to go anywhere, and some would be afraid to go without you, so they would stay home and complain.” I’m not angry, and I’m not afraid. Because he doesn’t enjoy being on the go, we spend quality time together at home or familiar places.

A year or so ago, our now-14-yr-old daughter and I were talking about the brain surgery experience, and she asked, “Could Daddy have died?” I responded, “Yes. He could have died. You didn’t know that?” She said, “No.” I smiled and said, “Well, then I did my job. I didn’t want you to know.”

He turns 52 today, and we have settled into our new normal…lots of repetitive conversations and lots of reminder notes. It would seem strange to a lot of people, but it’s our normal…and thankfully, that doesn’t include seizures anymore.

Happy Birthday, Cary!