Sir Digby

scuffing one’s toe at the abyss

Today my lithotripsy procedure was moved up a few hours. As it worked out, the family and friend who’d planned to accompany me – to give me moral support and to drive me home – weren’t able to be there. I got to check in alone, fill out paperwork alone, receive my IV alone, and be wheeled into general anesthesia without saying goodbye to anyone.

It suited me, to be honest.

Illness, accident, and then death: they come for us all. When I arrived at the hospital I parked my car in the sunshine and looked out over my beloved Aberdeen. Any time could be one’s last; I suppose when heading off for a drug-induced near-death sleep, it’s as good a time as any to appreciate these sorts of experiences. I wouldn’t want anything different. I am happy with what I have.

But of course – I woke again, and lived to see another day.

And now that I’m home, and the house is quiet, I’m thinking on how quickly life changes. We have yet another mama kitty here in our home, with her five (thankfully healthy) little two-week old kittens. My children are navigating teen- and preteen-life and there have been a few surprises: some pleasant, and some less so. My halftime job is heading into a period of intensity: Friday, a man screamed at me on the phone, for no other reason than he is a very unhappy human being and he thinks abusing a woman in the clerical field will make him feel better.

A friend of mine passed, suddenly, on April 27th. My heart still hurts over this one. Thanks to the internet, and a passionate community of friends, I have been able to trade stories, to see old photos, and to process the grief. It is a welcome experience. I need people. Maybe on the terms that suit me best, but I need them all the same.

Then home. And housework, laundry, filing papers, paying bills. And kitten handling and maintenance. Life’s a full time job!

Sir Digby

dancing / kneeling

Today would have been my father’s 71st birthday. I miss him terribly. He taught me so much.

 

After he died I wrote his obituary – I believe I began it with his body still in the room. Re-reading it now it fucking kills me he never knew my daughter’s real name. He never knew how homeschooling would go for us. He didn’t know Ralph and I would get through some hard years and build a strong marriage.

He never saw me get sober. I don’t think my dad thought of me as an alcoholic but I know he knew I was troubled. It is only through some ministration of divinity I am not in personal agonies that he died before I could make direct amends to him.

I don’t believe he “knows” somehow, anything, now. Or that he is “with” me in some way, watching over me like those maudlin Family Circus comic strips. I believe we have been separated in some profound way and his form will never be reassembled again. “Everything dies”, and from that stark sentence springs a beauty so fierce I want to cry. From that stark sentence springs a faith that is simple and indefensible.

Sometimes I think it was my father’s gentleness, and his witness to my life that enabled me to survive so many trials. My father didn’t rescue me from so many perilous situations, but he seemed to know a lot more about me than anyone else did. I didn’t think anything I did could separate me from his love.

As he sickened and died it was my mother and I alone who stayed witness. Sometimes I think that is a bond she and I share that could also never be broken. I remember watching him in his deathbed and watching him waste away and feeling a profound, keening helplessness that was beautiful in its simplicity. I could cook or clean but nothing would change a thing. I could wait on him but he needed me less and less until he left.

I can remember the panic in my mother’s voice as my father fell into the suffocating last moments of his life, not enough oxygen. She cried out for me while holding his head to her breast. It was a horrible way to die maybe, but we do not know how exactly the body suffers, and our own time will come soon enough. There is no part of me that regrets being there. I only hope I offered him some sort of comfort, some sort of Presence, just like he’d given me.

My heart breaks to think about it. Today would have been a wonderful day to remember him in some way, besides the small slice of lemon meringue pie (his favorite) that my mother procured me. I would have liked to do more – but I was tired, preoccupied, I had a hard day of my own. I know that sometimes these milestones pass and there is only this scuffling sound and an inert sadness.

But even so: one never knows. Tonight in searching his obituary I find his Guest Book hosted by the mortuary; I had never seen these notes before. There is a glimmer of something; someone out there cares. Whatever struggles I go through, mediocre or keenly-felt, there are those who care and who are there to keep pace.

a little bird that has broken out of the egg

The rain starts only a few minutes before Ralph arrives home to take me to the memorial service. In the temple the room is full and I can immediately experience the love, respect, and profound sense of loss that the attendees feel for the departed. Ralph and I put our fresh-baked cornbread at the food table and enter in to take seats towards the back of the room.

The service is long, thoughtful, and very lovely. There are many warmly-shared memories and many fond laughs. I am sitting to the left of my husband and to the right of the many colored-glass windows. The room is warm and only a little humid from the new rain. My clothes are very threadbare – I’m wearing the best I can come up with, yeah, but it’s not great. However as I sit I reflect on my friend and my self-consciousness gradually ebbs away. I experience my friend’s warmth, her kindness, her toughness, and her fully-lived life. I can hear the lush rain and the highway and a child talking in the back in a sing-song.

I think on my friend and her generous spirit. I know something of her life and what Could Have Been, handfuls of pills and a suicide attempt alone in an apartment, discovered by one of her children that way, the death she’d been hurtling to many many years before. And yet here is a room full of family and friends who loved her in decades of sober life since then, a joyous life and an electric one. She was a tough woman and she was a stage beauty and she brought joy and a lifeline to hundreds if not thousands. When I first met her she would point with a half-formed claw and beautician-nails and she’d shout advice at me – and that advice was always good.

Ralph later tells me there was a bird flitting up by the utmost purple pane of colored glass during the service.

***

Today was hard. Some of it was due to the phone calls and the meetings with those in dire, dire need. Some of it is just, for us, circumstances are pinched. It takes some degree of fortitude, patience, and faith to not become tired or overwhelmed by some of these circumstances. We have come to much debt and since we pay these bills on time it leaves precious little for food money or the type of expenses that come up. Today we had enough gas to get around and we currently have food in our fridge and we have grateful, amazing, beautiful, well-cared-for children.  I continue to apply for appropriate work, hoping for employment if that is the right thing to do, and I continue to be grateful for the many gifts we receive. Our life is a day-to-day basis but it is experienced as a gift, something greater than I could have expected years ago.

Because, I also remember harder times. I remember what my husband and I have been through together. There isn’t much I can do about our circumstances but continue my practices of gratitude and, I hate to use the word, chores. Chores, and helping others in the modest way I can, are my lifeline when there are so many things I can’t do. I cannot provide financial security for my family, at this point of time. I cannot at this moment even see my way out of our fix. But – there is so much I can do! There are dishes to be done and laundry to be folded and clothes to be sewn or mended and there are children to be cared for and held close and there is correspondence to be made and other people’s birthdays, and events – and just caring for one another.

Participating in the caring for one another, and working my chores, have become useful meditations for me, and I hope I get many more years to keep practicing.

“life’s a bitch at it’s best”

I just found out my friend Sandy died yesterday. A moment where I hear the news and I can’t hear anything else for a couple minutes.

I am Okay. Mostly I am having a painful but sweet experience of pure love… the grief is inseparable from the gratitude. She was a wonderful woman – I’d mentioned her only a few days ago, because she was/is tough as fuck and taught/teaches me to be grateful and to keep things in perspective. She was fucking BAD-ass. I learned a lot of wisdom from her – including what’s quoted in this post title.

Sandy wasn’t just a friend, she was a mentor to me and the first mentor I’ve lost since I got sober. She pointed at me the other day in a room full of people and called me a Miracle. And yeah, that was really nice to hear because coming from her, I know it’s truth.

Loss isn’t so bad, not if we appreciate things while we have them. Sandy is another example of how this is true. I expressed my love to her freely and she knew I loved her, and I knew she loved me. I will be at her memorial service.

I am sitting quietly with this loss. We’ll see where it goes.

era

Today I couldn’t face saying goodbye to my xtracycle. If I would have, I would have cried, in front of Terry & Ralph and maybe they would have thought me a fool, and I just couldn’t face it. So I took an extra-hot shower while Ralph wiped the bike down and took it in to trade in at the bike shop. And now it’s gone and I even walked in my garage thinking it was there, already, and felt a pang.

This bike was a big, big part of my life, and of the kids’ life, for over five years. I could and did take my children everywhere on this bike (as well as lots of other kids and a few grown-ups!). I was biking the Hogachillun on it up until today. In fact, Phoenix – for the first time – rode with her brother on the back, just the other day. Fond memory: biking around Lake Quinault and SMOKING two city-cyclists with their fancy gear and fancier bikes – while going uphill, and while hauling my child (and that may have been how I ruined my knees! so: comeuppance).

I don’t know if anyone reading understands, but in this moment it is difficult for me to move on after several years of packing the kids around, all marsupial-like.

"Do They Like Riding On The Bike?"

 

PROOF

 

Adventure Necessities

 

We Embark

 

This Bridge Makes Me Sh*t My Pants

 

Kelly + Coffee + X = Heaven!

 

Transporting:

 

This Is How We Do It

 

Docs + Fishnets + Bike

 

Mittens May Hamper Agility

 

Goodbye, X. You were an amazing family vehicle.

***

My new wheels:

New Wheels

 

The upgraydd is a Trek 520, with Ortleib roll-top pannier bags. Today, with the trade-in of my bike, we paid off the layaway. I took the new bike on a couple rides, about ten miles total. Just like my first day with the X, this bike felt new and strange. Very different stance, very different weight, handled differently. I did manage to carry books, my purse, a camera, and a potluck chile relleno. It made me feel like maybe I still had a cargo bike. Kinda.

i’m grateful for cancer

I know I recently wrote a bit about my father… this piece, however, was written a while back, at the request of the editor of Grays Harbor College’s zine.

I’m grateful for cancer
by Kelly Hogaboom
Originally published in “The Diversifieds”, Grays Harbor College Aberdeen WA, Spring 2012

Happy Father's Day, Dad

Caption: My father and I, Huntington Beach CA

My father was first diagnosed with cancer in 2000. I remember where I was when my mother told me – I was eating a white fish sandwich and fries at, of all places, the Southshore Mall food court. I was stunned to hear the news, although even in that split second it wasn’t the spectre of Death and Doom I sensed. I was shocked, sure, and over the next eight years I’d experience a lot of sadness and sorrrow. But I don’t remember being frightened or angry.

I learned so much during his illness as he received treatment and surgery, then went into remission. During this time I discovered much about him, a lot about my family and friends, and a great deal about myself. I took time out of work when he’d have his first radiation, his first chemo, then his surgery. I travelled to be with him. I do not know how glad he was that I did this, but over time it made me more centered, stronger, calm in my convictions that if I was a welcome presence for someone, I wanted to there for their big journeys. And, thankfully, he was there for mine – I remember he had a fine new growth of hair for my wedding, some months off chemo. That day we all celebrated his life and that of my new family.

Don’t get me wrong, there were disappointments along the way. His illness had been missed a full year before by a doctor who dismissed blood in his stool. I think my mother might have been angry about this. I accepted things as they were – for the most part. Sometimes my mind would churn on the “What if…?” I remember this mind would also hook on strange yet strong desires – like that he could live on and be there when my children graduated high school. Why this particular milestone, I do not know (funnily enough, they’re homeschooled now anyway!).

Always Bitchy
My father, during one of innumerate rounds of chemo. The staff were always so kind and professional.

During this time my grandmother in California fell very ill to a stroke, and my experiences with grave illness were very much with me. I packed up my new husband and baby and we flew down to be with the family, despite some protestations of my employer. She died after five days and I grew all the more. I was living life, not avoiding its terms.

My father’s cancer returned, this time blooming throughout his body. Again: chemo, pills, appointments. He had to stop long-distance running, a passion he’d excelled at since we’d moved to Grays Harbor. In September of 2006 he called us where we were living – Port Townsend, Washington – and let us know there was a job opening in Aberdeen that would be appropriate for my husband. I’m smiling as I write this, because my father rarely called me for any reason. We knew we was asking us to his home, asking us to bring our small children and spend time with him before he left.

When my father died in August of 2008 I was with him. My mother and I nursed him at home with the help of hospice. This too had its surprises and challenges, but it was deeply satisfying work. On August 22nd I stroked his hand and held him and spoke, only a little, and calmly, as he struggled through his last breaths. I felt brave and very Present, filled with transcendant love, shining bright within my body out through my fingertips. When he finally drew his last breath my mother jumped up to make a phone call. It was as if I had all the privacy in the world. I put my head on the bed and cried sobs from the very heart of me, the deepest I have ever cried.

After he died, many expressed sentiments. Some seemed to understand my mind, many did not. A surprising number couldn’t bring themselves to visit, or speak to us at all. I learned a lot there, too.

Brevity prohibits me from listing the many things I learned along the way from my father’s illness, treatment, and death – and especially that year and a half after we moved to be close to him, when every day I saw him I was filled with joy, a knowledge of how precious he was to me. It wasn’t remission or pills or chemo that gave me these things, although I am grateful such options are available to those who want and can have them. But cancer gave me these things, that enlightenment, that knowledge of how deeply I loved, the ability to slow down and savor our time together.

I could write so much and the many moments of deep satisfaction and awareness this process afforded me. But it is not necessarily afforded everyone – my journey was not my father’s, nor my mother’s or brother’s, and they may have very different experiences to report. When it comes down to it, this is what I believe: the journey my father took is one we all take – in some form or other – and I am grateful I do not experience anger about this. Just sadness, and then: gratitude. Life is an incredible blessing and experience.

Kelly

So tell me, tell me did you really love me / Like a friend?

Ed- this post was written for the Unschooling Blog Carnival’s tribute to fathers.

My Father, Sailing To Catalina

My father was intelligent, soft-spoken and thoughtful. He was educated but more importantly, self-educated and confident in himself. He was an atheist, but one of the more spiritual people I’ve known. He had a sharp mind. He could finish any crossword puzzle and remember any fact he’d read. He could conduct himself like a gentleman, and often did.

But he was also irreverent and profane. One minute he’d be telling a simple and profound Buddhist koan and the next he’d be loudly cursing at the dinner table, bitching that the utilities company had sent him a cheeky mailing for being a few days late on the light bill. He’d be all wound up and talking about what jackasses they were. He’s probably sitting there with his shirt off. And his teeth, a half-gold-filled mess from a barfight in the Navy years ago, talking a little too loud with like, scrambled eggs flecking into his beard.

My father was a long-distance runner, a pursuit he started in his forties when we moved to Grays Harbor in 1984. He was avid and solitary in this pursuit, patiently and daily working running into his schedule. I always understood he was taking care of his mind and spirit as well as his body. And his daily work in taking this time for himself was a wonderful example for me. Later, when I got my hardest assignments ever, the boot camp of early parenthood (so many diapers and cleaning and breastfeeding and constant housework), and then the daily work of managing my own Recovery from alcoholism, my father’s own patience, persistence, and daily diligence already lived within me, a wellspring to help me take care of myself.

Burger King, I Think

My father taught me the honor of any work well done. My first memories of him as a working man were in southern California where he suited up and showed up as a janitor (we didn’t say “custodian” back then). Later, my Buddhist practice taught me the same lessons. I could have my elbows in soap suds and spraying diapers day in and day out, and have the ringing commentary of my ex-coworkers in my ears (“It’s a shame you’re home with kids… you had such a good brain”) but I honored myself and my work.

My father enjoyed my children, and he defended my fierce desire to do better by them. My brother and I attended public school, but my father always told me he thought homeschooling was the better choice for any child. This was said so simply and I always understood that whatever reasons my parents had to send us to school, they had done the best they could with what they had. And yet later, when I brought my kids home from school, I knew I had his support in pursuing a different path than how I’d been raised. He said to me simply, only months before he finally succumbed to cancer, he worried I wouldn’t have enough time to myself if we homeschooled. 2008, and he was the one person who asked me how many hours I’d had to myself since the kids were born. It brings tears to my eyes to remember today.

Always Bitchy

Earlier in life:

My father watched me at age seventeen as I sat at the dinner table quietly, broken and hurt from the failed and abusive relationship I’d tortured myself with during my young adulthood, culminating in an abortion that had left me empty and sad and alone. I stood up from the table and went up to my room and sat on my bed and he alone followed me and held me when I cried, because it hurt so much. I don’t think we said a word about it.

My father was a gentle man, and this quality is amongst my most treasured to reflect upon.

Despite his example, I didn’t grow up to be a gentle woman. In fact, I was not a gentle child,  teen, young adult, or mother. I have a violent nature. But throughout my troubles my father was patient, and persistent, and he loved me. He was a lighthouse, because throughout my problems I perceived that Gentleness was possible.

My father was nurturing and loving. He was quiet and his actions spoke for him more than his words did. I miss him so terribly that I can’t write more than a reflective sentence or two without crying. I will always be grateful for not only the gift of life, but the gifts of nurture, serenity, and personal integrity.

My father was there for me when I entered this world, and we were there for one another while we shared the road together. I was there for my father when he died. I had this profound honor. I nursed him and held his hand and tried to gently guide him as he breathed his last. When he died I was left alone with him.

And I put my head on his chest and I cried like I’ve never cried before or since.

My Father

My Father, Straight-Arrow

burn it as fuel for our journey

This summer while waiting for a friend I sat in a sunny living room and talked with a young man and his mother. The young man was a little more interested in my conversation than his mother seemed. He was watching a documentary I’d seen not two weeks before and had really enjoyed. He and I had a brief but interesting discussion and I thought how pleasant it was to talk with someone who had such a spark and such an intelligent mind.

Today that young man committed suicide in that same home I sat in a few months ago.

I know the family. They are friends. If I sit here and feel stunned and think maybe there could have been something, some clue, something I could have done, I can only imagine what his close friends and family must feel. As a mother it is painful to consider the implications of today.

We are all, each of us, such crystal-clear and breathtakingly beautiful phenomenon. The idea that someone can suffer so much as to end such a living breathing unique manifestation is quite sobering to comprehend.

Today, the 27th, is the monthly date anniversary for sobriety. I had forgotten until I saw the date in a book. My friend gave me a little gift. Afterwards I took my children to the Y to go swimming and, while they cavorted, attended a Board meeting for the local Buddhist group where I was indoctrinated into service. I picked up lunch for the children and met another friend back at the Y and we ate and talked and enjoyed each other’s company.

Today is a day for holding tight that which we value.

waiting in a car / waiting for a ride in the dark

Just the other day a girlfriend told me a loved one in her life had metastatic cancer. I had the presence of mind to ask her if she’d been through this before – cancer; she said No. She also related she hadn’t been through death of someone close, yet. Over the course of the next forty minutes, we both shed some tears. What I believe, because I know this woman a bit and know some about her past, and know what kind of friends and spiritual practices she has in her life, is that this will be very good for her. And it will hurt very much.

All I have to offer is my own experience, or what others have related to me. I was remembering my dad got pretty low when his cancer returned. It’s like, we’d been all excited years back after he had his surgery (before I got married), and we were so relieved after he went through the gut-rending radio and chemo and all that. The surgery was deeply disturbing and it left him physically changed. Everything changed. He got back up to running but at times was too ill to do so (he was a long distance runner who adored the practice), he couldn’t even walk around in his tightie-whities anymore in the house, as he had a colostomy bag and was of course quite shy about that. His hair changed, his appetite changed. Our hopes for the future were smashed in some cases, or caught jaundice.

In the last year of his life the news just kept getting worse, I guess “worse” is a judgment – I guess what I mean is, we knew his time was ticking down. Anyway I remember visiting one afternoon and he was drinking this huge glass of wine and it was early in the day. My mom, dad, and I all drank alcoholically but my dad and I were a lot the same, drinking at night and rarely acting much different, at least to outside perceptions. Seeing him with a huge glass of Uncle Carlo, and him so quiet and depressed, it hurt. I talked to my mom later, likely unskillfully and without tact. But, I was just worried; it hurt to see him go through depression. The next day my dad showed up at my house and was all pissy. “You’re saying I’m drinking too much?” Believe it or not, this exchange meant a lot to me. We were talking about something real, something intimate. It seems like something families should do.

Some people in our lives viewed my father’s cancer and demise as some kind of pathetic tragedy or whatever. I never felt this way. I felt sad, but I didn’t feel piteous about any of it. My memory is, I felt so gifted to be given this time to reflect, and love and serve, and really really really appreciate my father (and the rest of my family). And yeah, it hurt. It hurt him, I know, in his way, and it hurt me in mine. It hurt lots of people, in their own way.

I was privileged to be there with him while he died. I nursed him and I took it seriously. I learned a lot. I remember the last thing my father ate. A plum. I got to learn, while his appetite waned, that you can’t “make it better” by fixing food. Food is a kindness but there comes a time we are beyond it.

I cry when I think about my father, because I loved him very much. Despite a lot of difficulties, I did well during his death. I don’t know if he did or not; only he can judge that.

Death is like birth, an incredible opportunity to live life and to experience the incredible gift.

***

In my “writings” section, which if you haven’t figured it out is where I’m more likely to be all opinion-y and uppity and tell people how to live their lives, I responded to a question posed: Is unschooling a form of anarchy? I wrote that thing fast, as I had kids swinging off my arms etc. Anyway.

***

A bonfire with friends, just the other day:

Giant-Ass Fire

Skyline