Friday, November 20, 2015

You Can Go Home Again, or at least Next Door

taken from next door

When I was a kid my parents built a house at Lake Tahoe. We spent the entire Summer up there with my mom and my dad would come up on "weekends." (Because he was self employed, the term "weekend" was however he chose to interpret it.)  Those were fun years. We swam in the Lake, went barefoot all summer and just had a great time.

We practically lived outside, especially on the giant back deck of that house.  My sister recently found this picture of me on the deck, probably late 70's or early 80's I'm guessing.

Tahoe is a year round place so there were many ski weekends up there too. Generally those were without my parents as my dad was not a fan of the ice and snow. One winter of being snowed in for several days was enough for him. As we entered young adulthood that was really ok. We had a lot of fun in that house.

As we got older and had families of our own, we would come up there with our kids too. They had just as much fun as we did. We always took a picture at the same place on the deck, in fact the picture above is the same spot from a different angle. I know there's one of  Steve and I just after we were married and one after Eddie and after Tim was born. I could find those if I really search, but we will have to settle for this one from 1994, the year Maggie was born. She is five months old in this picture, but spent the first 3+ months in the hospital. And if memory serves me correctly, we made a run to the Truckee hospital the very night this picture was taken
Steve, Maggie, Eddie (6) me and Tim(4) August 1994

 As it turned out, Maggie couldn't really handle the altitude (Tahoe is at 6500 ft), so we didn't go up there much once we figured out that was the reason she got sick every time we went up there.

Time and life goes on and things change. My dad was also having trouble with the altitude given the changes in his big heart, so the house was sold in about 1999.

In an amazing coincidence, my friend Eileen and her family purchased the house right next door to my parents place at Tahoe. Not that it would have mattered, but they had no idea of my connection to the house next door when they bought it.  You can see Eileen's house in the background in this shot of my mom and I probably from my high school days.

 Eileen has let me stay there a couple of times, most recently last month when I went up to visit Tim. Rather then spend the weekend in a hotel in Reno, she suggested we use her house. I quickly agreed.

As luck would have it, someone was staying in our old house and I was able to get inside and look around. It was all updated and fancier than when we lived there, but really very much the same. It was basically a 2015 version of  a 1968 house.

The biggest change was to the deck where we always took the picture. Instead of a giant deck that wrapped all the way around the house, there are two separate decks. I'm not surprised. It was amazing that deck lasted as long as it did.  Despite the changes, the spot we always took the picture was right where it always was and I asked the folks there to take a shot of Tim and I in the exact same spot.

Both Tim and the trees are a lot taller and the view of the Lake is all but gone, but that's what 21 years will do. I was surprised to learn that his memories of the place are foggy, but of course they would be. He was really little when we stopped going up there, but he does remember a ski weekend with Steve and Eddie and some cousins. Maggie and I were probably watching chick flicks at home in the City. 

It was great to get to see Tim and spend the weekend in such a beautiful place, even enjoying the first snowfall of the season. And it was such a bonus to get inside our old house and remember so many fun times. 

Saturday, October 31, 2015

Because Halloween, my brother

Happy Halloween everybody!

This was Maggie's Christmas, Birthday and 4th of July all rolled into one. She loved Halloween and all the crazy costumes Steve made for her.

This photo came up on my facebook "Memories" page yesterday and I had to laugh and send it to her brothers. This is a sentence she made on her talker one Halloween past

If you can't read it is says "Tim I am excited because Halloween my brother" 

It's been a long month of October anticipating this day and missing her more and more as it approached. But now it's here and all I can think of is her joy. That's a good thing.

Because it's a tradition, I offer you the parade of Maggie's costumes.

Have a wonderful enjoyable day...

"Because Halloween, my brother"

Saturday, October 17, 2015

Party Day

I'm off to a party today. It is a party to honor Tyre, Maggie's friend and prom date. Tyre passed away a year ago this week, about 8 months after Maggie did. So the two of them are together. Today they can look down on all of us and giggle, which is what they always did when they were together.

Here they are as prom dates - though this as taken in Tyre's hospital room. He couldn't get out in time for the prom, so we did pictures in his room. It's one of my favorite pictures and is displayed in my dining room. I absolutely love the way he is looking at her.

I'm not going to pretend that this will be easy, because I know it won't. It will make me sad, but it will also be fun, Not sure that makes sense to everyone. I have learned, though, that things can be fun even when they make you sad. I know I will see lots of the therapists that worked with both kids as well as teachers they shared and perhaps families we all knew.  These people were an important part of my life for a long long time, and in a way I lost them too

So I am re-entering Maggie's World for a few hours today.  I miss being part of it.

Friday, October 2, 2015

Telling the Neighbors

We have lived in this house since 1987, which is a very long time. We know our neighbors, some better than others,  and have either nice conversations or pleasant encounters depending on the relationship. I can honestly say we don't have any bad blood with anyone.

Many of these people I've know for many many years, other I've seen but don't know very well at all. It's so weird to have to tell them about Maggie. It goes without saying that Maggie was pretty well known, or at least well recognized,  in the neighborhood. If the wheelchair wasn't enough, Maggie was outside for several minutes each morning as we waited for the school bus and every afternoon when she arrived home. This day in age, that's rather unusual. You barely see most kids. Folks would wave at her and she would wave back when I prompted her.

It's a strange responsibility to tell neighbors you see but don't really know. One neighbor from the next block was walking by some months ago and said, "I haven't seen your daughter lately." When I told him she had passed away I though he was going to cry. I wanted to hug him for asking and for his sweet reaction too.  I avoided telling a woman I know up the street when she walked by asking how everything was because her little kids were with her. I didn't want to upset them and figure that is news for a parent to tell (or not tell)  a kid. Later that day I went up and knocked on her door to tell her and her husband.  Let me tell you, there is just no good way to do that.  

Recently I have had encounters with two neighbors I don't know very well. Both are older than I by 10 and probably 20 years One lives up the street and is something of a socialite. The other lives a couple of blocks away and is the dog lady of the 'hood. The socialite  has always been very pleasant to me, but I don't really know her very well. She has some sort of non profit that purportedly helps the disabled, but I've never really been able to suss out exactly what service they do.  Because of that she loved to talk to me about Maggie. Many of her notions of  and terminology about dealing with the disabled are terribly out of date, but her heart is definitely in the right place. The dog lady is something of a know it all, but also very pleasant. Everything relates to dogs. Everything. And you can be pretty sure that whatever you are doing with your dog isn't quite right, but she's happy to instruct you how to do it better. After months and months of quickly waving and ducking inside I had to tell them about Maggie.

I ran into the dog lady at the corner market a couple of months ago and told her Maggie had passed away. Of course she was very kind, but then said she knew how I felt because she had to put her dog down. I just walked away. She was completely clueless that maybe her comments were inappropriate, and I'm sure she completely equates the two situations. I don't. I experienced both situations in the space of a few short months and I can assure you they are very very different. I've run into her again at the park now and then and she has decided I will never feel better - ever, as long as I live and tells me that. Now I do my best to avoid her.

The socialite was a different story. She was walking by the house, which may be a first in the 28 years I've lived here. I've never seen her outside her car unless it's right in front of her own house. I decided it was time to tell her about Maggie. She was lovely, though she used a few of her out dated expressions, I took no offense. She's very sweet, but it's just too hard to take.

A day or so later I found a note in my mailbox that had a bow around it. I though we were invited to a wedding or something. It was just a lovely handwritten note offering her condolences and her insights into losing a loved one, especially a person with special needs (not her words). It was really quite extraordinary. I realized though that had she said those things to me in person it would have been really strange and at the same time if  the dog woman left a note stating her observations it probably would have been quite lovely. Sometimes the medium can make or break a message.

I don't have a pithy ending for you. I'm just relaying another strange layer of this world I live in. As you get farther out in your circle, it becomes a different kind of strange. The inner circle of family and friends knows and tells the next circle of people for you and that continues as long as there are people we know in common . But then there are the outliers, the people who aren't really our friends, but acquaintances. If we don't tell them they won't know and Maggie was a tangential part of their lives too.

It's just so strange.  And it really doesn't get easier.

Monday, September 28, 2015


For years I have heard people talk about "triggers" or warn someone that a certain article or discussion might have triggers for some people. I knew what it was, and respected the concept, but couldn't really relate. I didn't have any that I personally recognized. Perhaps that is because I was lucky and had never really experienced such a profound trauma that could be triggered. 
That's not true anymore. 
For those of you who may be unclear on the concept of triggers, I took this definition from
trigger is something that sets off a memory tape or flashback transporting the person back to the event of her/his original trauma.Triggers are very personal; different things trigger different people. The survivor may begin to avoid situations and stimuli that she/he thinks triggered the flashback. She/he will react to this flashback, trigger with an emotional intensity similar to that at the time of the trauma. A person’s triggers are activated through one or more of the five senses: sight, sound, touch, smell and taste.
While it doesn't always happen, it has happened often enough that I have to acknowledge that I believe I now have an official trigger bringing me back to last February. It happens only when I'm alone in the car and have to pull over for an ambulance with its siren going.

The other day I was driving home and heard a siren but didn't know where it was. It appeared several blocks in front of me as it came over a hill. I really didn't need to stop, but I always do. There was a car double parked and the ambulance was going to have to go around it and I figured with my luck I would be right in the way at the moment he needed to come into my lane. I had already stopped and was thinking about this and doing the rough calculations in my head (which if you know me is a hilarious concept). This thought process was more to justify my decision to be ultra cautious and pull over.

As everyone likely does, I  wonder who's in that ambulance and what happened and hope it will all be OK. I don't really feel sad or scared or anything except passing concern and good citizenship for getting out of the way.

 When the ambulance passed me I realized I was crying. And that's not the first time that has happened.  Perhaps that is due to the fact that I know first hand that sometimes it isn't OK for whoever is in that ambulance.

When the realization hits  I am suddenly sitting in that ambulance early on Valentine's Day 2014 with Maggie in the back heading for the hospital, knowing in my heart that this is the end. So I sit there on the side of the road for a few minutes as the other citizens move on. One guy gave me a strange look as he passed me like "Move it sister, show's over."  I smiled at his ignorance of my personal hell.
The feeling doesn't last long. I don't weep for hours, In fact generally the realization, the memory and the reaction are simultaneous and then it's over. I never feel it coming. It just happens.

Who knows if it will always happen - in fact I'm not sure it always does. Obviously I can't avoid these situations and they don't happen so frequently that it's disruptive. It's just something else out there in the world that I cannot control. I have decided to simply embrace it.

Sure it makes me sad for a few minutes, but that almost always "triggers" something about her that makes me laugh or smile. And there are a of more of those memories than the sad ones.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

City mouse, country mouse

I am a city girl. I like the energy of the City and try to take advantage of the amenities it has to offer. I spend part of every day in Golden Gate Park or the Presidio. I hit museums all the time and have season tickets to the theater. I love hearing people speak so many different languages when I'm out and about and enjoy the diversity here. I follow the San Francisco Giants religiously - even in odd years when they don't win the World Series. Football is less my thing and the 49ers left town for Santa Clara, but I still pay attention.  As my life turned out, being close to excellent medical care was another huge perk. I have no doubt that Maggie lived as long and as well as she did because of the easy access to excellent care.

I don't live in a bubble, though. There are negative things about living in the City too. Crime, Parking tickets. Prices. Crowds  But we take the good with the bad and practice vigilance and tolerance and patience. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't,

One thing we generally don't have to worry about in San Francisco is wildfire. (Not so true in Oakland, however.) Sure there are fires and people get displaced all the time because of them, but they are not wildfires that burn down entire towns.*

Though we are almost all city based, last week my family had to sweat through the terrible Valley Fire which has burned nearly 600 homes in Lake County. My sister Mary, who was probably the most City of all of us, moved to Lake county many years ago. She became a country girl. Well, sort of.

ok, that's not really them

She and her husband Channing have a beautiful house with a sweeping view. I took this from their living room when I visited in March

That view was very different last Saturday. This picture was also from their living room, taken by my brother in law as he was evacuating. He said just 10 minutes earlier the sky was clear and there was no evidence of fire, but the wind was roaring and that fire just appeared from over the hill jut as a fire truck came up the driveway and told him to get out. 

This is from the bottom of their driveway.

That house was right in the path of the fire.  Mary was not at home, she was here in the City attending a Giants game when Channing called to tell her he was being evacuated. This was the third wildfire to threaten them this summer, but the first that actually required evacuation. Channing was without transportation as his truck was being repaired, so he met some neighbors and left for Lower Lake to the North. Then they were evacuated from there as well and he went to another friend's house to the Northeast.

The fire flattened much of Cobb and Anderson Springs and then moved through the town of Middletown just to the south of them. The picture of the "Welcome to Middletown" sign burning was hard to look at.


 News reports were sketchy and we had no way of knowing if their house survived. We kept telling each other Mary and Channing were safe, which was the most important thing. Of course they were also separated by the fire so each had to fret and worry without the support of the other.

This went on for days. We listened to reports and knew the wind patterns. Every afternoon was a new concern. We knew the fire was in their development, but it is a huge place and it seemed to still be south of them. Mary stayed with my sister Ellen for a couple of days and with another friend for a couple of more. She went to work - and three of her co workers were in a similar position of not knowing. It was stressful and frightening.

Of course we kept saying it's only "stuff" and it doesn't matter. That's only partly true. Of course it's only stuff.  But it does matter. Of course lives matter more, but losing everything you own along with your house really does matter.  

Thousands of fire fighters were on the job and the fire was 5%, then 10% then 30% contained, but roads were closed and we had no idea about her house. I'm sure we were driving Mary crazy with our phone calls and texts, but we all felt so powerless and wanted to help.

The fire stated Saturday evening and finally on Thursday - five long days later -  my sister Ellen provided the information we needed. The father of a friend of hers was able to get into the area and sent a video of Mary and Channing's house still standing and safe from the fire. Ellen texted it to all of us. I was on the campus of San Francisco State University when I received that text and just started to cry in front of all those fresh faced students. It was such a huge relief - and it wasn't even my house.

My sister and her husband were finally reunited and able to return to their house on Sunday - eight days after Channing evacuated with only his computer under his arm. They were without power until Monday but that didn't matter. Now they have only to throw away the bad food, get the smell out of the refrigerator and restock, which is no more than a minor annoyance.

They know how lucky they are. They can sit in their living room and go back to those sweeping views, but it might be difficult to look at for a while because the landscape has changed a lot. And they know that many of their friends and neighbors, including one of Mary's co-workers, were not as lucky.

Joni, another sister, is planning a golf tournament/fundraiser to help the victims of the fire and I will post information about that when it's ready. In the mean time please consider doing whatever you can to help the people who were so terribly affected by this fire.

We City mice have to do our part. So many people will need help.

* Ok, there was that incident where most of the City burned following the 1906 earthquake, but I like to think 111 years of progress might keep that from happening again.  Right? Right?

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

What a long strange trip it's been.

I took a trip to Seattle last week. We spent four days with Steve's friend Chris and it felt like we were gone for weeks.  It was a great break.

But traveling is still so odd for me.

 As we sat on the plane waiting to take off, I felt so strange. After years of being tethered to home, it's still really odd for me to just GO somewhere. We had maybe three weekend trips in the 20 years we had Maggie and each took incredible planning and arranging and pleading and begging. We've probably had five overnight trips in the 18 months since Maggie passed away and it only requires finding someone to watch the dog. It just doesn't feel right and I wonder if it ever will.

It's not guilt, I don't feel guilty at all. And it's certainly not gratitude. Not at all. I wish I still had those issues in my life. It's just strange to not have to worry about the things that ran my life. I can just go anywhere I want anytime I want, but I don't feel free.

I feel like I have an excellent secret that others cannot really understand. Having Maggie in my life was like traveling to an exotic land. I had experiences that I can't really explain. Those experiences shaped me and made me who I am. Now that exotic adventure is over and I'm supposed to get back to "normal," but I don't even know what that is.

Perhaps I'll figure it our, perhaps I won't.  It doesn't matter. I'm still reveling in the experience. It was a great time.

"Lately it occurs to me...what a long strange trip it's been."

And if I'm going to quote the song, we should get to listen to it.