My Gump Ride…putting the past behind me so I can move on…

December 1, 2018

3:38:45am

“That day, for no particular reason, I decided to go for a little run. So I ran to the end of the road. And when I got there, I thought maybe I’d run to the end of town. And when I got there, I thought maybe I’d just run across Greenbow County. And I figured, since I run this far, maybe I’d just run across the great state of Alabama. And that’s what I did. I ran clear across Alabama. For no particular reason I just kept on going. I ran clear to the ocean. And when I got there, I figured, since I’d gone this far, I might as well turn around, just keep on going. When I got to another ocean, I figured, since I’d gone this far, I might as well just turn back, keep right on going…My mama always said, “You got to put the past behind you before you can move on” and I think that’s what my running was all about.”

I’m putting the past behind me so I can move on….and I think that’s what my riding has been all about. I have ridden for 3 years, 2 months, 14 days, and 16 hours. I’m pretty tired…think I’ll go home now…

And just like that, my riding days was over…so I went home…

Daylight
I must wait for the sunrise
I must think of a new life
And I mustn’t give in
When the dawn comes
Tonight will be a memory too
And a new day will begin

Memory – Barbra Streisand

Why I have annoyed all my Facebook friends with hundreds of photos of my bike rides for two years now…

October 27, 2018

For ten years the hubby and I searched for that perfect community. We had come a long way, driving the 1 1/12 hours both ways to the kid’s third Jewish day school in her lifetime, incorporating our shopping for chagim (Jewish holidays) into the fold, me oftentimes thinking I should just get a job here to justify the travel. After nine long months of three-hour-a-day driving five days a week, we had a two-week break for Passover, at which time I proclaimed to the hubby, “We’re moving to Cherry Hill by next school year…”

By that time, the hubby and I had been together for almost 21 years – he knew me well enough to recognize that I was serious…this move was going to happen within the next three months or else. So, on October 1, 2009, Erev Sukkot, we packed up the kid and our morbidly obese guinea pig named DJ into our two cars and headed west. Upon our arrival, I directed the movers up and down the endless sets of stairs as the hubby assembled the sukkah that would stand unadorned for the first time in ten years, only because our new community had come to our rescue thanks to the friend of a friend (the mother of the groom from the February 26th wedding we attended in Israel this year – A lawyer, a judge and a barrister walk into a bar/The Wedding…Monday, February 26, 2018) who invited us for first lunch and whose friend/neighbor insisted on having us the second day and so it went – every meal we had received an invitation from other guests we had eaten with each meal, leaving me not having to unpack the kitchen for the first two weeks of living in our new (very old) house.  It was as if our dreams had come true. We were now in a place that accepted us for who we were in a Jewishly diverse community and everything was at our fingertips for the first time in over 20 years. Of course, because this is the way our lives together have mostly gone, it was too good to be true…

The only thing stopping me from truly enjoying my new habitation was the nagging feeling that I had abandoned my parents who now lived the 1 ½ hours away. Up until that move, we had spent the last seven years a mere five miles from them (less than ten miles the eleven years before), my parents spending all their available time hanging out with the kid. And, by the summer of 2010, after seven years of working at that Jewish camp I just couldn’t get enough of, I found myself discontent and no longer wanting to be there. While the hubby and the kid let me know how miserable they both were with the daily torture of living amongst 500 other souls 24/7 for nine weeks straight, thanks to much better cell phone reception, I was listening to my mother’s concerned voice daily complaining about dad’s eye sight worsening and increasing loss of memory. He had difficulty driving, leaving them incapable of running errands and going to appointments, stranded in a house that had become way too much to manage. By the end of that summer, mom called to tell me that dad had been diagnosed with dementia. After seven summers, the kid and I having abandoned Peepaw and his pool, I was ready to go home. Forgoing the end of summer camp staff gala, I packed up my belongings, quietly sneaking them to my car while the rest of the staff partied in the dining hall. That night I stayed in my bunk and cried myself to sleep. As soon as the sun peaked through my remnant-curtained window, I tiptoed to my car and slowly drove away, knowing this would be the last time I would be in this place…

Death would enter our lives with a vengeance, refusing to leave for six…long…years…overshadowing any possible happiness in our lives…

By October of 2016, I’d had enough of Death’s all too frequent visitations and searched for a way to deal with the immense loss the hubby, the kid and I had endured since leaving camp that summer in 2010. I mourned over the summers missed with Peepaw playing beat-up-the-kid in his swimming pool, knowing our summers would never be the same again. I lamented daily for months over the senseless loss of my sister two days before Christmas, regretting the many occasions where I just didn’t take the time to pay a visit. I cried for my mother’s sorrow, losing her only sibling, having reconnected with him recently after a twenty-year absence. I shed tears at my dear friend’s funeral, for the loss of a beautiful life and friendship that had had its ups and downs in the years prior to her death. I sobbed with despair over not having answered the phone that afternoon mom called begging me to come to her house while she sat in the driveway all alone with dad’s lifeless body in her arms. I wept over my mother’s dying body, reliving the last time I saw her, yelling at her about how I needed time for me and my family and storming from her inpatient rehab room, stress and exhaustion having gotten the better of me. I grieved alongside the hubby when he lost both his parents and quickly joined me as a member of the “Orphan Club.” But, for some reason, it was Michael’s death that brought me to this blog.

I think I knew two years ago that this would be some form of therapy for me. I needed something to make Death go away and let me be. At first, I wrote almost daily or, at the very least, once a week. Over time, my posts grew more intermittent, sometimes forgoing my writing for weeks and even months. I also noticed that my posts had become less and less about Death and more about the life I was continuing to live with the hubby and the kid, so many new paths being forged over the past year. As the third anniversary of Michael’s passing quickly approached, I found myself wanting to get back to the point; that this blog was about Michael and our shared love of cycling. However, not realizing it at its launching, it has really been about coping with death and loss. The therapy I received and still receive from cycling lead me to this place. I have shared my life with many family members, friends and strangers alike throughout the world and pray that my stories have made an impact on everyone who has read them.

So why was it Michael’s death that provoked me to start this blog? Looking back over those six long years, it was his passing that generated a response I had never experienced before. After speaking to Kathy on October 25, 2015 and her informing me that Michael would be dead within 48 hours, a yowl burst from my soul so forcefully I almost passed out. Seemingly selfish and insincere, I went for a bike ride to clear my head and think about my next move. By nine years, nine months, three weeks and one day, he was my older brother…the only brother I have ever known. We shared a special bond, he being the oldest child and me being the youngest.

By the end of that ride, I knew I was getting on the first flight to Milwaukee. Impulsively boarding that plane on October 26, 2015, I finally recognized how cunning Death is in seizing life and how precious every single moment matters. This was the second chance I hadn’t had all those other times Death cheated me. In the end, this blog has helped me heal from six long years of grief…and now it’s time for me to truly enjoy this habitation…

On September 16, 2015 at 11:38:45AM, five weeks and six days before Michael died, I got on Ole Bessie for no particular reason and decided to go for a little ride…

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Gotta do what you can just to keep your love alive
Trying not to confuse it with what you do to survive

In sixty-nine I was twenty-one and I called the road my own
I don’t know when that road turned into the road I’m on

Running on Empty – Jackson Browne

“I had run for 3 years, 2 months, 14 days, and 16 hours.” – Forrest Gump

 

 

Halloween at the cemetery…

“When my father died, my mother was still alive. And I think when your second parent dies, there is that shock: ‘Oh man, I’m an orphan.’ There’s also this relief: It’s done; it’s finished; it’s over.”

Roz Chast

October 31, 2016

When I was younger, I had friends who would go to the local cemeteries on Halloween, looking for ghosts or the dead rising from their graves. I never went along – too creepy…

One year ago today, on Halloween, we buried my brother…today, on Halloween,we buried my father-in-law, Jesse…today my husband became an official member of the “Orphan Club.” We have lost all four parents in the last three years. We are now orphans together, living among the ghosts of our families.

Although it may sound indifferent, at some point you will have that moment – the one when you think to yourself, “I am so relieved…I no longer need to worry about my parents…I no longer need to wonder what‘s going to kill them or how they’re going to die…or where they’ll be or where I’ll be at the time. I no longer need to worry about when…” You will feel guilty over thinking all these thoughts, but don’t – you’re human and you’re allowed to feel this way.

Toward the end of his life, my father would apologize repeatedly over being a burden to me. Yes, he was a burden – “a load,” “a weight” – but I didn’t mind. After all, I had burdened him for decades, not just a few years. Caring for an elderly parent is a burden – it’s frustrating, it’s exhausting, it’s depressing – but you do it because they made you…they gave birth to you…they fed and clothed you…gave you shelter…sent you to school…paid for college…launched you…helped raise their grandchildren and great-grandchildren…you do it because that’s life.

My father-in-law was also a burden, but it never stopped his sons from making sure he received the care he needed at all times. We nicknamed him “Godzilla” because nothing seemed to stop him. After a double mini-stroke in the 1990s, he was diagnosed with diabetes and resorted to daily insulin injections. Eventually he would end up on dialysis three times a week and lose one of his toes to gangrene. Bypass surgery on his leg earlier this year nearly killed him, leaving him aspirated and in a coma for months. Convinced we would lose him at that time, decisions were being made as to whether or not we should continue life support…and then he woke up…and he was pissed

He was discharged from the hospital and sent to inpatient rehab, followed by his return home with a full-time aide. Eventually gangrene would return, leaving him with one of two decisions: (1) have his leg amputated from the knee down, or (2) go home and allow gangrene to take over his body until dead. Surviving surgery was minimal, but dying from gangrene wasn’t exactly an alternate choice. Asking his Rabbi for advice, he was told to leave the decision to G-d. He opted for surgery to “save his life.” Three days later, G-d made His decision…Two and a half years after losing his wife, Katherine, of 67 years and two and a half years of living in isolation and loneliness, diabetes eventually claimed his life.

When you lose your parents, you lose your connection to the past. You lose connection to your family. You lose your sense of existence. You start thinking about all the questions you forgot to ask. You can’t just pick up the phone and fill in the blanks…or tell them about your day…or just say hello…or just say I love you…This Friday, my husband will absentmindedly pick up his cell and call his father to wish him a Gut Shabbos…and we will cry together…as orphans…

Today I went back to the place I visited October 25, 2015 – the day before I flew to Milwaukee to see my brother.

I noticed more details I hadn’t the first trip – the etchings of little turtles and birds on the observation platform; the marlin house built and donated by a local birder; the accuracy of the sundial (it was 12:22 when I took that photo); the little duck footprints on the boardwalk…It looked about the same yet a little more overgrown than before – time had passed, another year come and gone.

I still miss my brother’s texted weather reports he would send to my mother daily (a ritual I kept up with him after my mother’s passing), but I don’t look for them like I did earlier this year. I miss the silly jokes and cartoons on his Facebook page, but still post an occasional funny on it. I miss knowing I can call him just for the hell of it, becoming angry that I didn’t call more often, but I talk to him daily in my prayers.

When my mother-in-law died, my brother called to ask if he should come to her funeral, but I said no, given the stage of his cancer and undergoing chemo at that time. I’d like to think that Michael will be one of the souls waiting for Jesse when he passes over…

 “A time to be born, a time to die
A time to plant, a time to reap
A time to kill, a time to heal
A time to laugh, a time to weep”

Turn! Turn! Turn! – The Byrds

“I had run for 3 years, 2 months, 14 days, and 16 hours.”

Forrest Gump

Back in the saddle again…

October 26, 2016

When my father retired from IBM, I remember my mother complaining about how he would sit around in his pajamas all day and watch old Gene Autry movies. It only lasted about three weeks before he got up and decided it was time to start the next phase of his life as a non-employee.

For over 30 years my father went to work Monday through Friday, every day wearing a suit and tie. Every meeting, every conference, every event, every business trip my father wore a suit and tie. Every Father’s Day we would buy him a new tie…because that’s what he wore…every day. If daddy decided he was going to wear his pajamas for three weeks straight and watch old movies all day long, that was his prerogative. I never worried about him during those weeks. He spent his entire adult life building a career and providing for his family…wearing a suit and tie. To NOT wear a suit and tie was a dream come true, let alone at age 55!

I recently found a photo of my sixth birthday:

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I laughed and cried when I saw this photo. Despite my father being away on business, he came home in time to give me my present:

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This is Teddy – he’s now 45-years-old and has been with me ever since, through every minute of my life.  He lost his clothing and shoes at some point (theory is that ole Dressy Bessy, Teddy’s first and only squeeze, took ’em), but he’s not embarrassed. He’s had ear, eye, chest, arm and leg surgeries over the years, all performed by Dr. Daddy, but he’s still in one piece. He now lives in my closet, but it’s insured safety from our cats. Every time I look at him, I think of that 6th birthday party…and I think of daddy.

My father wasn’t always there when we needed him, but he was there when it mattered. I thank G-d every day that my father was privileged to retire so young. He had 25 years of retirement – 25 years of cruises with mom from the Mediterranean Sea to the Gulf of Alaska…25 years of gardening and chasing critters from eating his bounty…25 years of playing “beat up the kid” in his pool…25 years of garage sales…25 years of New Years and Valentines Days, St. Patrick’s and Easters…Mother’s Days and Father’s Days and anniversaries and birthdays…Independence Days and fireworks and sparklers and Labor Day barbecues…Halloweens and Thanksgivings and Christmases…25 years of all this with his children…grandchildren…and great-grandchildren…

Wearing his pajamas and watching old movies all day long later in life worried me more. Dementia robbed my father of his ability to think about getting dressed. Watching the television was disturbing and unpleasant. Travel was impossible. The pool was gone. The last garage sale sold off the remainder of their belongings before moving to their final home. Holidays, anniversaries and birthdays were somber, me and my sisters having to take my father out to buy gifts because he could no longer drive. There were no more fireworks and the barbecue rusted out back. I prayed for G-d to have mercy on his soul – my father knew he couldn’t and didn’t want to live this way. His soul was granted peace before it was immersed by dementia’s grip…and I thanked G-d for his mercy.

One year ago today, I flew to Milwaukee to say goodbye to my big brother…

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…and there was my sky…

I prayed to G-d for mercy once again…and I thanked him…

The orthopedist told me to “give it one more week…” Guess what I did today?!

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Screw ’em!

“Whoopi-ty-aye-oh
Rockin` to and fro
Back in the saddle again
Whoopi-ty-aye-yay
I go my way
Back in the saddle again”

Back in the Saddle Again – Gene Autry

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E5F-O_19lSI

I had run for 3 years, 2 months, 14 days, and 16 hours

Totem: /ˈtōdəm/ noun; plural noun: totems: a natural object or animal believed by a particular society to have spiritual significance and adopted by it as an emblem.

“You do not choose a Spirit Guide as your personal spirit guide. The Spirit chooses you and they decide to whom they will reveal themselves and make their friend.”

“Each Animal has its own Medicine which is unique to that specific creature as gifted by the Great Mystery and its spirit cannot be chosen like the color of your car.”

“Discovering who your animal guides are is a process of paying attention to the spirits around you and following the signs. It is a process of developing your inner knowledge and spiritual understanding.”

Takatoka – Manataka American Indian

My father was diagnosed with dementia in August of 2010. Over the next two years, he would slowly fall into Alzheimer’s monstrous grasp. Dad knew he was losing what was left of his brain, his daily frustration towards the end becoming grossly apparent. I still remember the exact moment that he forgot my name, only to be followed by, “I know who you are, but what’s your name again?”

In June of 2012 we moved our parents to Mount Laurel, New Jersey, a town about 10 minutes from where I currently live. Aside from being more than an hour away from each child and the house being too large for an elderly couple, my father’s dementia caused him to become solely reliant on my mother – a wife who had spent the past 58 years of her life being solely reliant on her husband. It was a terrible move- it took three years to sell their house and purge 58 years-worth of lifelong treasures. My mother complained about how much she hated her new home (three years later she would insist on dying in that home). My father cried over his inability to remember where he lived, carrying in his wallet a small laminated note card I made for him showing his name, address and telephone number.

My father died suddenly on April 1, 2013. He suffered a pulmonary embolism while bringing in his recycling bin and collapsed in the driveway. My mother would later say she thought he was joking around – after all, it was April Fool’s Day…

I will admit, I felt relief for myself and my family, but mostly for my father. In the end, we knew he didn’t want to live his life this way. He was clear-headed enough to know what was happening to him and dreaded the day that his brain and body would be consumed by this horrible disease.

As my husband and I were leaving my mother’s house the day after my father died, a flock of wild turkeys ran from the side of a neighbor’s yard and right in front of our car. Although wild turkeys are not uncommon in our area, we were surprised by their sudden presence. For the entire week after until his funeral, wild turkeys came out of nowhere, running through my mother’s backyard and all around her neighborhood. Then the turkeys started showing up at my house…

I remember thinking at that time how I couldn’t feel dad’s presence anymore. When my sister died less than three years earlier, I felt her presence almost immediately and have felt her every day since. I started thinking about all dad’s silly sayings, “Take all you want, but eat all you take.” “For crying out loud!” and his all-time Thanksgiving favorite, “Pass the turkey, turkey.” That’s when it dawned on me – the turkeys were my father’s animal guides! All this time I was feeling his loss, but he was right there – I just wasn’t paying attention. I could now feel his presence, knowing he was right there with us, watching and guiding…

Wild turkey teaches you how to project your voice and your truths. It is important to know when to say your message, truths or opinion; and how to say it clearly and loudly enough that other people take notice.

After the funeral, the turkeys disappeared. I felt sad and hoped it didn’t mean dad was gone forever – now I truly felt his loss. Over the following days and weeks, riding my bike seemed to be the only way of comforting my sorrow. I had my go-to place (remember, it’s where I go when I don’t want to think about where I’m going), the Cooper River. One of the other things I like about this ride is that part of the route runs parallel to several dirt trails, offering off-road cycling with some interesting photo ops.

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Thinking again about my father, a lone turkey suddenly darted out from my right side, across the path in front of me and off to my left. It ran quick enough so that I didn’t need to brake and kept riding on through. And then I smiled with tears in my eyes…thanks daddy…see ya later!

“Bone for bone we are the same
Bones get tired and they can’t carry all the weight
We can talk until you can’t even remember my name
Daddy don’t you worry, I’ll do the remembering…”

Remembering – Ashley Campbell

“I had run for 3 years, 2 months, 14 days, and 16 hours.” – Forrest Gump