1. Mel Dion says

    As a mother of two young children, I knew it would be a problem when their father left. It had happened before, but this time I knew he’d be gone for a long time, if not forever. The other difference for me this time, was that I no longer cared if he came back. I knew life would be changing – for better or for worse – and I was ready to deal with it. The uncertainty of the future couldn’t possible outweigh the agony and anguish of our daily lives together.

    When he left, I had a couple choices about how to support the kids. I could go back to work outside the house or keep running the construction business he’d started. I’d been involved with the business. I’d learned to cover for him on the days when he couldn’t work. I’d taken the kids with me on Fridays to deliver payroll, meet with clients, check jobsites and pick up receipts. I’d learned how to estimate the jobs and turn in the drawings when the jobs were complete.

    I swear I’ll deny it if you ever tell him that he gave me the greatest gift by leaving. What he did for me was make me step up to the plate, learn on the fly, survive or sink. I chose to keep running his construction business. The amazing part was that even though I thought I was scared and faking it for quite a while, I eventually succeeded. I’d enrolled in the school of hard knocks, and earned my degree. By the time he came back, with tail tucked between his legs, I no longer needed him to run the business. I’d run the business and supported the kids.

    Because of that experience, I had the confidence to go out on my own, earn my own contractors license and build some amazing projects. After that, I was able to come back to Santa Cruz and start my own business. I’m still able to support my kids as they make their way through college.
    Thanks for leaving.

    • Debbie O says

      Mel – I admire your courage and applaud your success! Isn’t it odd, that as human beings, we so often will not break out of even unhealthy patterns until forced to do so by outside circumstances more painful than our current reality. And sometimes, like you, we discover our wings.

  2. Jenny B says

    I’m living with the purgatory of my son incarcerated. I believe he has learned what was imperative for him to learn with the bitter but necessary jolt in the 14 months he has been locked up. My son is tall: 6′ 4″, tough, lean, built. He executes hundreds of push-ups alone in his cell each week, is reading “Crime and Punishment,” his moniker is “white boy,” and he tells me he does not need friends. He has learned not to be a friend. He has learned not to trust other wards or staff.
    On my weekly visits we talk openly, we do not skirt subjects, sometimes we play, “O.G.” – one of the card games he’s picked up from other wards in California’s Youth Authority System. I bring rolls of quarters to buy him vending machine food. Feeding him even bad food gives me a snippet of what feels like my lost motherhood. It’s not home made shepherd’s pie, or baked chicken, but boneless chicken wings, candy, soda, or bad coffee. Sometimes we laugh. I keep him updated on our extended family, and our dog Hank, who is now 10 years old and his first dog.
    The attorney who was able to strike a deal with the D.A. to keep my then 17 year old son out of adult prison, says to me when recently asked if we can get a hearing sooner than the slated parole date of February 2013: “There’s nothing to negotiate. The deal was made and he has to walk it out. He brought most of this on himself. Not all of it, but most of it.”
    My son stole concert tickets and an iphone using a pellet gun as his weapon. A year before this he had stolen my mother’s car, and driving inebriated, had damaged another car (hit and run) and nearly hit a pedestrian. At that time my mother and I met with a Corporal of the Pasadena Police Department requesting that they press charges so that my son could be mandated to return to his drug rehabilitation program. No charges were pressed, and my son continued to careen out of control. As he says, “I wasn’t going to stop if I wasn’t forced to stop.”
    My insoluble problem is not that my son got in trouble. My insoluble problem is that our culture is one of aggression and violence. We not only perpetrate aggression and violence under the guise of patriotism, we revere those who willingly put on a uniform to kill. And our prison industry in a huge, powerful business that is run by one of the strongest unions in our country.
    My biggest fear for my son is that being kept too long in a penitentiary system will do the opposite of what a college education is designed to do. Instead of helping him to become independent and learning tools for making a living and contributing to his community; being locked up instills anger, mistrust, and hostility. Instead of getting an education that will lead to worthwhile employment, his education will be one of self defense and isolation. He will not learn not to survive well, but instead to thrive on a culture of incarceration. The cost of adaptation to our penitentiary system would be an enormous loss to him as an individual, and is of enormously high real cost to us as tax payers.
    A black acquaintance recently said to a group of which I’m a member: “my nephew is 24 years old, he’s not incarcerated, he’s in college, and he doesn’t have children yet. In the black community that is successful.”
    And we as a state and country are watching enormous cuts in education. Prepare then for a hikes which will be proportionately necessary in our prison system, which is already astronomically high. One inmate on death row costs California tax payers 308 million dollars, one youth in California Youth Authority costs 150 thousand dollars a year – more than a Harvard education costs for a year.

    • Debbie O says

      Jenny – It is hard to even fully understand the difficulty of the decisions you have had to make regarding your son, as told in your story. My heart goes out to you, and your son.

  3. Debbie O says

    “Honey, I don’t think I will go to radiation today” My father looked up at me from his bed as he spoke the words I had been both dreading and longing to hear. I breathed out slowly, steadied my voice “No problem, I’ll let everyone know. Does this mean you would like to have something for breakfast this morning instead?” He nodded slightly, closed his eyes and sighed deeply. Relief for him, too? Nowhere does it say that acceptance comes without pain or sadness.

    When my father was diagnosed with cancer, it was a shock to all of us. After living with over a decade of heart attacks and strokes, no expected this new invader. I know I had expected the call, for years now, letting me know my father’s heart had finally given out for good. Instead, it was his lungs that betrayed him. A cancerous lesion, growing for years unnoticed in his lungs, had sent its murderous progeny to his brain. That would be the precipitating factor, more than his tired physical body could bear. Well, the brain metastasis and the radiation to “cure” it.

    Over the past few weeks, we had developed the kind of off kilter “routine” that happens when your world shrinks to the care of someone terminally ill. My mother and I had worked through a partnership for his personal care with my part being the less “personal” aspects of his daily hygiene. Each morning he would arise, force his ever more reluctant body to bend to his will of survival. Even if it meant the pain of dressing, nausea of eating and exhaustion of the daily radiation treatment to his brain.

    I was the driver. That was my most important job. Every morning I felt more complicit in the illusion of curative treatment as I drove him to hospital to irradiate his brain. After each such treatment, Mom and I would surreptitiously support him as he struggled to stand moving from the wheelchair to the car. After one particularly difficult session at the hospital, Dad slumped weakly in the front seat and silent tears began to slide down his cheeks. He softly apologized to us both for being so much trouble. My Mom reached forward from the back seat, wrapping her arms around him and reminded him softly thirty seven years ago she had promised to be with him in sickness and in health.

    I was the driver. So I choked back my own tears, stuffed down my own despair and instead gently secured him with the seatbelt and started the car. I felt both honored and embarrassed to be present in this moment of intimacy between two people who had weathered so many of life’s challenges together. That morning we drove home mostly in silence. My father quietly weeping in my mother’s backseat embrace.

    It wasn’t too much later that I lost my job as the driver. No more trips to the hospital. Just the basic activities of daily life had become an overwhelming burden. And my new job was companion, hand holder and listener.

    Somewhere during this time, hospice entered our lives. The year was 1986, and the hospice movement was still in its infancy in the United States. There were lots of rules and conditions, but it offered us the only option to keep my father at home to die. What I remember most was the hospice nurse . She came regularly to check on all of us but mostly Dad. She showed us how to care for him once he could not help us with this anymore. She taught us what to watch for, listen for and report on as his physical condition declined. She became our link to the “outside” as our own world shrank first to the house, then the bedroom and, finally, the bedside.

    My Dad died at 1am on April 1, 1986. None of us who knew him ever thought that was a coincidence. He made it o April Fool’s Day because he didn’t want anyone to cry at his death, because he had beaten death back so many times before and fooled us all. The hospice nurse came during the early morning hours to pronounce my father dead.

    She sat with us around the kitchen table where our family had shared so many meals and conversations waiting for the funeral home to arrive. What was most memorable about that night was that somehow we found the laughter along with the tears . The hospice nurse laughed along with us as we told stories on Dad and ourselves. The funeral home hearse arrived just before dawn to take my father’s dead body away. The hospice nurse comforted us in this moment of terror and somehow coaxed open our clinging hearts enough to let him go. Then she, too, took her leave.

    We floated through the next days, adrift, cut loose from the anchors of the routines that had defined our days over the past weeks. And then, the family was suddenly together again, sans one, and life was chaotic with schedules, routines, arrangements, meals and shared memories. At the memorial, just before the service began, I saw the hospice nurse slip quietly into a row at the back of the chapel.

    I felt my spirits lift just to see her. I think this must be how combat veterans feel when they come across someone who was “there” and can understand, without words, all that the experience encompassed. I planned to find her just as soon as the rituals were over to thank her, again, for her steadfast support of my father, my family and me.

    But by the time the well wishers surrounding the family thinned enough for me to step away, she was already done . However, in that one gesture of coming to his memorial, the hospice nurse had turned my father from a patient into a person. I am forever grateful to her.

    I was twenty-nine when my father died. Over the years of childhood, alcoholism, adolescence , illness and, finally, sobriety I traversed the fields of feelings for my father from idealizing him to anger at his many weakness back to a deep and abiding love. When he died I mourned not just the loss of my parent but also of a mentor who has never been replaced. My role in my family, and my own life, changed forever.

    I am now fifty-five years old. I became a registered nurse in 1995 and for the past sixteen years have practiced hospice nursing. Caring for my father at the end of his life, with the support of the hospice team, was literally a life changing event for me. At first I volunteered with hospice but soon realized that wasn’t enough. So I left my corporate job, went back to school mid-life to become a nurse, a hospice nurse.

    I am grateful every day to have found a way to repay what I received. I am grateful every day to be able to perform a “job” that feeds my soul as well as my family. Even after all these year, I miss my father. I always will. But his last gift to me transforms me still, every day.

  4. Nikki Di Virgilio says

    On September 29, 2011 my vehicle was struck from behind by a tow truck traveling at highway speeds. In the car were my two daughters and mother. From witness account, the car somersaulted in the air, as if a gymnast, and as it performed a headstand, my 11- year old daughter was ejected out of the sun roof onto the side of the road.

    The next week was spent in the hospital where she was on bed rest after a break to her arm, and four fractured vertebrae in her spine, which required a three hour surgery to insert hooks and pins. Prior to this accident, I had given my inner victim the boot- you know the one who uses every experience in life to show somehow there is no personal responsibility and although we may own some of the “good” experiences in our life, surely we don’t own all of them, especially the “bad” ones.

    I remember this moment, in the hospital hallway where I would sit and look out the windows at the mountains and palm trees to take a break from my daughter’s bedside. The victim returned briefly to show me how she could be useful during this time. But I knew her ways, and I wanted something more. I wanted to see this experience with new eyes, eyes which could go beyond the superficial- beyond the catchphrases of – oh, you poor thing and see not only the mystery of my own being and how I invited this situation but the mystery of the universe, and as difficult as it was, and some days continues to be, was a perfectly orchestrated event. My 11-year old daughter could have ended up in a worse place when she was ejected from the car, than on a thick patch of grass. I could have lost my mother, who was trapped in the backseat. Or my other child who was a passenger and had just woken up from a short nap. And for a brief moment, as the car spun out of control, I wondered if this was it for me.

    This experience is layered. Difficult lessons continue to unfold. There are still physical, emotional and mental challenges that may be present for several years, but I am not a victim. If anything, I am an observer and a student of my life, watching and learning as this great layered mystery continues to unfold.

    Thank you for this question- it shows me, as I have spent a couple weeks working on query letters pitching agents, that I do indeed have words and a message to offer.

  5. Violet says

    There is a silent trickle of a river I know. Since I was a child it was a safe place for me. I’d have a picnic lunch on the banks enjoying the heat of the sunshine and the cold of the river as I dangled my feet. This was my world and I could go there any time I needed to and no one could find me. This became my definitions of both safe and freedom.

      • Violet says

        I wish everyone a healing quiet place that matter in one’ heart and with nature. It is the most peaceful answer to corporate existence and even mild exceptence of it. We are people in a world of life, all live, not just human desire, power and profit. How have you treated all that live with you today?

  6. Bobbie Anne says

    When I had an accident and was told I couldn’t walk after my operation. Now I believe in self-reliance and positive thinking. Besides, my husband went to work the next day. So I had to manage. And I did. I was temporarily in a wheelchair. The silver lining is I’m blessed that it wasn’t permanent. I am walking with a cane for balance these days and I thank God that I’m able to do it. Plus, I was able to spend some time writing. I went back journaling, and I am ever so greatful to being able to write in this forum as well.

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