Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Goodbye 51

5 people that I love have lost a parent this summer.

I don't ever remember having so many conversations about death and dying before. I don't ever remember thinking so much about memorials or funerals. On July 13, I sat helplessly watching Scottie edit his mother's eulogy on a laptop in a Richmond hotel room on the morning of her funeral. Over the past 3-weeks, I've answered two separate calls from two very dear friends, only to hear that horrible pregnant pause after my second (slightly impatient) "hello?"
"Laura, my dad passed away".

What do I say to someone who has just lost a person they love?

I've never been one to give the idea of death much time or energy. As a rule it's just not something that has really interested me. Although as a kid, I would always read the obits in the paper (actually I still do -- to me they're like lovely mini biographies). But as the fifty-first year of my life comes to a close this week, I've found myself reflecting upon mortality. Not just my mortality but the mortality of the people I love. My mom, Linda had an outpatient surgery procedure done on Tuesday of this week. Before she went in she got all of her "affairs" in order. My brother Kenji and I have always been crystal clear on what she'd like to happen regarding her quality of life while she's alive ("I don't want to be kept alive by machines!") and after she leaves her body ("please no burial - I want to be cremated"). But yesterday was the first time it occurred to me that I might really have to effectuate her wishes one day — and maybe not in the very distant future.

For real, for real.

So I decided to sit down give myself an internal diagnostic check for fear.

When I think of death, am I afraid?

I think the answer for me is probably more complicated than for some of you. Because for those of you who may not know, I am a woman in recovery from a disease that wants me dead (but as my dear friend Odat says, "Will settle for destruction"). For years I lived on borrowed time, keeping my life as together as possible on the outside but killing myself a little every day on the inside. I don't mean just spiritually or emotionally (although that was definitely a huge part of it), but I mean I was literally, physically killing myself with substances. Oh, I wasn't doing it on purpose. I mean, I don't ever remember thinking, "Tonight I want to die," but the truth was that my actual safety and well-being came second to my desire to feel "good" or "normal." If I had to take or drink "more than prescribed" in order to achieve that state of being -- then I was willing. And that's how I lived for years. It was a nightmare for me and the people who loved me.

Going to treatment 8-years ago and getting sober was much more than the end "partying" for me — it was the beginning of my seeing my life for exactly what it is — a precious, temporary, gift. I almost cheated myself out of this gift, but moment-of-clarity after moment-of-clarity brought me to this place where I am now. My sons have had their mom for 8-years longer than they might have had I stayed on that path. My parents have had their daughter and my siblings have had their sister. I got to meet my Scottie and fall in love with someone as my AUTHENTIC self -- just over 8-year's ago. What a gift that was!

So back to the question, as I sit here scanning myself and thinking about death, I do come up with some actual, real fear. But upon further examination, I think that it maybe less of a fear of dying and more of a fear of not really​ living.​ What has become clear to me is that I am downright ​terrified of taking my life for granted. When I wake up with a churning stomach or when panic grips me midday, it's usually because I'm alarmed that maybe I forgot to be present or grateful for something or someone. For the first 44-years of my life, I spent so much time in a fog (with or without the help of substances), that now I yearn for the ability to be "where my feet are" and not somewhere else far, far away. And every morning when I wake up, I try to access that gratitude for life. I don't want to waste my day worrying about avoiding the inevitable (we will all suffer the same fate, or so I'm told), but rather I want to focus my energies on staying gratefully here in this life I've been gifted, one day at a time.

But continuing to live means getting older. Turning 52 means I'm solidly in the category of (gasp) "a woman of a certain age".

It's true​. I was just telling my mom the other day that when I hear on the news that something happened to a ​52-year old woman, the woman I picture does ​not​ look like me or move like me. She does not dress like me or talk like me. A 52-year old woman sounds, well -- old.
But I don't get to stay there very long. I can't. If I look in the mirror and see something I don't like, I force myself to keep looking until I can see the good stuff.

I didn't die 8-years ago. So hot damn, I GET to get older!

So right now at this moment, this idea of getting one-year older, of turning 52 at midnight on Friday, August 26 is less scary for me than it is cool. How c​ool is it that I get to; chair another school event, scream at my kids as they drag themselves out of the house in the morning, spend laborious hour after laborious hour in the gym every week, answer endless phone calls and let Justin drive me around well​ above the posted speed limit in the hopes that it will help him pass his driver's test next month. All of these things that I used to ​have t​ o do, are now things that I ​get​ to do. I got to do them for the entire year that I was 51 and if possible, I'm going to get to do them all (plus more)! for year 52.
But, don't get me wrong, " I'm not all — ​Age is just a number! It doesn't matter how you look! It's how you feel!"

I call BS on that (for me)! I would really, really LOVE to age gracefully (have you seen Christie Brinkley or Pat Cleveland?!?). I'd really love to keep my boobs, butt and skin firm. I'm going to try and keep my face line-free around my eyes and forehead (hello botox)! I'd love to find a fix for my under-eye circles that force me to wear concealer (even on my "no make-up" days) and I fully intend to keep dying my roots (for now anyway). But every time my mind gets trapped in that eddy (​It's over! It's a losing battle. I'm old!) I try to force myself to remember how utterly grateful I am to have been alive for these past 8-years. I am so fortunate to have had this time. So Yes! Even though I'm couldn't read the words I'm typing right now without my prerequisite "over fifty" reading glasses, I'm still grateful for this year that I've had and grateful (in advance)! for the year to come.

So happy birthday to me. And it is — a truly happy, grateful birthday. And thank you all for spending it with me.
Lots of love,
Laura :)

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