Thursday, November 28, 2013

for all this I give thanks...

THANKSGIVING DAY… Thursday, November 28th… I woke up early this morning, having gotten a good night’s sleep.  I immediately began to think about the meaning behind this day – as I do every year, in part, I think, because I am a writer and archivist of the family.  Two-thousand-thirteen was a tumultuous year – Angie has been sick and in-and-out of the hospital since early January; Ashley, Stephan and Daisy moved back into my house in early summer and are now waiting to hear if they have a house of their own; Christopher is in the first serious romantic relationship I have known with Chelsey; Erich is approaching his first Christmas as MPU Lead at Sears; Chris H is once again working, and he and Nick are still with me; and I returned to school at NIU in the Fall despite reservations about Angie’s health, and have enjoyed every moment on campus, relishing the independence that my actions presage.  
Events in the lives of our extended family also took center stage at various times during the year – Kathy was diagnosed with Breast Cancer, and underwent surgery; There were many births among the rented kids and their growing families – Jeff and Olivia Mueller welcomed a new little boy, as did Jennie Irving.  Ryan and Sara Rodgers welcomed a little girl, as did Lila and her husband.  Sean Rodgers and his wife, Ashley, welcomed a second little boy into their family as well.  Paul Fina received his Doctor of Pharmacy degree.  Rose Carr celebrated 10 years cancer-free and Sara Rodgers celebrated her 5 year cancer-free re-birthday.  For the last couple of months there have been 8 adults, 2 dogs (for a while it was three), 8 cats and a turtle named Frankie sharing 1311 N. Church Street and although there have been some rough patches, we haven’t killed each other yet
My Papa has been gone 41 years and Erhard’s mother, Lina, has been gone 17 years, both October 18th; Erhard’s father, Joseph, 13 years June 15th; Mama, 6 years May 12th.  Erhard, was gone, 2 years this October 13th; Steve, a year September 22nd, and Mike Ruszczak a year September 26th. Praise the Lord; we lost no one this year, although Angie did give us a series of frights with her health.  Time has dulled some of the edges of sorrow, but never for more than a few heartbeats at a time.  Yet we survived.  We laughed.  We celebrated.  We moved forward.      
I have been so blessed these last twelve months, rescued from disaster and my own devices more times than I can count.  My faith in God and his angels has been made stronger; my love for those I call my children, and rented children deepened beyond even what I could have understood just a year ago.  My extended family, my friends… whatever is good and holy and sacred in my life I have once again been shown is best expressed by your love, your faith, your assistance.  I am fortunate that my daughter-in-law, Ashley, whom I adore, and I have become even better friends since she has lived under my roof – to her immense credit in putting up with all of us.
To say I am thankful seems trite; the actual emotion runs so much deeper.  I have learned to not take anything for granted because over the course of this year there have been many times when even putting together a complete meal was a greater challenge than could be met on some days.  We came very close to having utilities turned off and had health concerns unaddressed, sometimes for weeks.  Automobiles didn't always cooperate with our budgeting plans and long-deferred, but now pressing household maintenance threatened to completely disrupt our lives.  Yet we came together and persevered, and triumphed in both large and small ways over the challenges presented to us.  Without my family, extended family, and friends, tough times would have been catastrophic. 
There is little editorial to add, words fail to convey everything I feel, yet as a wordsmith, they are the tools I have been given to communicate my love, my appreciation, my awe.  There has always been some debate as to the exact details of that first Thanksgiving, who brought what, who was present… but at the center of that story is a cautionary tale of pride broken into humility and elevated to gratefulness – our own lives, my life mirrors that process, sometimes daily.  As we gather with family and friends this day… May serendipity surprise you, may the Lord bless you… may the joy be overflowing…

Saturday, December 29, 2012

2012 – The Year the World Didn’t End

It’s ten-after-three in the afternoon, December 29th, 2012 and I am contemplating the conclusion of another year.  So much has happened in just the last few months that it almost seems like the first part of the year didn't happen.  All this year there had been talk of the great Mayan Apocalypse of 12.21.12 – a day that actually slipped by almost unnoticed in the end.  But so much has changed that maybe in a way my world really did end and I am just now coming to terms with just how different life is.  I entered twenty-twelve never thinking I would be here right now.  Plans were in place for me to graduate with my Bachelor’s degree last May, our finances while decidedly more touch-and-go then when Erhard was alive seemed to be holding together, and my brother Steve and I embarked on a whirlwind of outings that brought us closer together and me some real measure of comfort as I learned to deal with life as a widow. 
And then September happened and everything just fell apart.  Steve became seriously ill on my birthday (September 9th) and entered the intensive care unit the next morning.  Within the span of a week-and-a-half I was reinstated as his power-of-attorney-for-health-care and I had to make the fatal and horrific decision to stop life support and let him go… while still in shock I reached out to my sister-in-law just at the moment she was calling me to let me know that her brother (and my brother-in-law) Mike had died suddenly four days after Steve.  That had to be the most surreal conversation I have ever had in my life – the two of us trying to come to terms with the fact that BOTH our brothers were suddenly gone.
School became a blur, even as I had made the decision to graduate in December (something that didn’t happen) and scraping together the money for my brother’s final expenses and some large expenses coming due at the same time wiped out every extra cent I had without the possibility of any more self-generated income.  I suddenly became a dependent again – something I can’t begin to describe.  Ever since then I have lived in the margins of my mind – equal parts focused and determined and desperate and grief-stricken.  October and November blended into each other, the holidays came and while there were moments of great contentment and joy a part of me felt out-of-sync and emotionally absent.  Somewhere in the back of my mind I knew there were solutions to be divined and made tangible but they were always elusively just out-of-reach.  I am left feeling helpless and free-floating in some abysmal mire waiting for the mental fog to clear even as I reach for just about any substance to keep my mind altered. 
Now as the clock ticks off the last hours of the year I am again faced with new situations that I would truthfully just rather not deal with but for which there is no other choice but for me to act in a responsible manner.  Early next month my sister, Angela will undergo eye surgery to restore her vision.  The concept of Angie as blind and frail at 49 years old never pinged my radar but as of this Thanksgiving reality came home when she came for dinner and it was obvious that her health had taken a serious downward turn.  The prospect of one more caregiving role is almost too much for me to contemplate but here I am. 
If I should dare look away from this situation and focus on my own life I am left contemplating the fact that my car is now seriously on the fritz – needing both a new thermostat and tires.  I am so far behind in my schoolwork I have decided to not enroll in any more classes until I can complete the legion of incompletes currently on my transcript, even though that means I will have no health insurance and only six months before the first of my student loans need to be factored into my expenses. For the first time since Erhard’s death not a single bill has been paid this month and I am not sure that there is enough anywhere to cover the cost, despite the fact that both kids and renteds have stepped up to fill the gap.  I can’t even bring myself to gather up the bills although I know instinctively that I will have to have this done by Monday.
Yet as I looked around this morning after waking up hours later than usual because I was unable to sleep until past seven-this-morning I felt a security and contentment as I gazed around my cluttered, mismatched home and realized that I loved this place and my life and I had to ultimately prove that no, the world really didn’t end. 
I know that I face months of therapy and assistance before my equilibrium returns completely but for right now, this moment, I am okay.  I am safe within the cocoon of a loving, large, raucous family and extended family and that none of us are willing to watch the others sink.  Sitting at my feet is a mixed-breed puppy too large to be recognized as the baby he still is, offering me his warmth and comfort and unconditional love.  The house is dark yet the lights on the Christmas tree twinkle brightly just a room away reminding me of the riotous mix of colors and styles that make up the life and the living space I occupy.  I have just gotten up and lit the candles in the foyer that keep watch over the memorial to my mother, brother, and husband.  A little less darkness in a space that is far more used to light than gloom. 
While far from gourmet there is food in the cabinets for human and critter alike (both dog and six-cats worth). Beyond my melancholy I know there is still joy and love enough for me and everyone I care about… even if reaching it is more laborious than I would like.  I am content with my humanity, my spirituality, even my weight – which curiously hasn't changed much in the three months I have stepped away from daily measuring and recording – a small tidbit of trivia that actually makes me quite proud.  I am not where I want to be but where I am is alright for now. 
I have not given up on the idea and practice of interdependency even as I wrestle my ego into submission whenever I have to ask one of the guys for something – even something small.  I have a role to play in this world and something to contribute even if right now I don’t know exactly what that is… and somehow, in some strange weird bohemian kind-of-way that knowledge comforts me.  Life is broken but repairable.  Just like the nooks and crannies and garage spaces I have cleaned out of late I can clean out the clutter of my loneliness and despair and make room again for contentment.   Routine activities bring me solace.  The simple acts of life maintenance remind me that I am really still alive – that once again, the world really didn't end.
I am not sure exactly what 2013 holds for any of us – there is always the hope that it will somehow be better than what came before, but no guarantees come with living this real life.  If I could wave a magic wand over my world I would enjoin the spirits of the universe to bring us safely back here twelve months from now better than we ever were in the past – that all of us will find 2013 a cherished year.  But I have no magic, only a ditch-digger’s shovel resourceful enough to find serendipity alive and well after the sweat and tears dry.  

Thursday, December 27, 2012


It’s snowy and frosty outside… the quintessential White Christmas.   Right now the house is quiet, neither man nor dog yet roused from their slumber.  I am reflective maybe even melancholy as I gather my thoughts to write this.  Last year this house was still reeling from the death of our beloved father and husband, Erhard.  This was the day, one year ago, I found out my brother was in the hospital – the beginning of the ordeal that would eventually take him from us.  This year they are both gone, joined un-expectantly by my brother-in-law Mike.  The loss threatens to wash away any joy.  Last year at this time there was at least the security of finance – and Christmas was a time when I could be generous, this year we struggle to make even basic obligations and the gifts under the tree are few and meager.  So much has fallen into ruin.  But in the midst of this I can hear the refrain of a beloved hymn:  “Yet in the dark streets shineth the everlasting light…” and I am reminded of all that we still have…
This was the year I had to let go and allow others to take care of me – something I have never done (and still find excruciatingly difficult).  The gnawing dependency slays my ego but warms my heart.  As a family – birthed, extended, and rented – we grew closer to each other.  And in the end it became all right.  Less stuff, but more care.  Commitment trumped currency.  Sense overrode sentiment as I made decisions that I thought impossible just a year ago.  But in the end it came down to love – and I found within myself a love for all my friends and family that surpassed what I could bequeath them, because now I had nothing tangible to give.  It showed itself in a myriad of random acts of kindness.   And I am reminded that Christ, unlike Santa, did not enter the world bearing an arm load of material gifts.  He came and gave himself. 
To each and every one of you I give myself this day.  My love, my gratitude, my energy, and when possible, my optimism… when I am in grief I ask you gather round and remind me of your love – and how that never fails.  I am not the only person that has lost loved ones during 2012 and I am aware that for others of you this day may well be tinged in grief as well.  Let us reach out to one another… each of us pointing to that everlasting light.  I wish all of you… sincerely… a joyous day of celebration in remembrance that our hope has re-entered the world – as a child – pure, unabashedly in love with us all, ready to steady us as we count down these last days of 2012.   

TWELVE, TWELVE, TWELVE -- 12.12.2012

An apocalypse (Ancient Greek: ποκάλυψις apocálypsis, from πό and καλύπτω meaning 'un-covering'), translated literally from Greek refers to a revelation of something hidden, although this sense did not enter English until the 14th century. In religious contexts it is usually a revelation of hidden meaning - hidden from human knowledge in an era dominated by falsehood and misconception. In the Revelation of John (Greek ποκάλυψις ωάννου, Apocalypsis Ioannou), the last book of the New Testament, the revelation which John receives is that of the ultimate victory of good over evil and the end of the present age, and that is the primary meaning of the term, one that dates to 1175. Today, it is commonly used in reference to any prophetic revelation or so-called End Time scenario or to the end of the world in general. WIKIPEDIA

Armageddon (from Ancient Greek: ρμαγεδών Harmagedōn, Late Latin: Armagedōn) will be, according to the Book of Revelation, the site of a battle during the end times, variously interpreted as either a literal or symbolic location. The term is also used in a generic sense to refer to any end of the world scenario. WIKIPEDIA

Thursday, August 23, 2012

AUGUST 22nd 2012

In just a little under a week I will begin school again... the summer has gone by quicker than I had thought possible, but it was full and productive. Now in these last few days I turn my attention once more to my education – I have started to complete my previous semesters' work and by Friday I will have some idea about selling Erhard's car, making this month's bills, and registering for additional classes. Then a week from yesterday it's back to school!
My weight continues to puzzle me – I know I am getting at least some exercise and most days I do pretty well in the eating department, but progress is slow and I still weigh far more than I think I should at this point...SIGH. Tried SparkCoach but can't afford to stay with it right now – money is SO tight. But one thing I can do is be more vigilant about what I eat and when I record and if I workout, so ultimately I will become my own coach. I have been using Pinterest as my “vision collage” maker and I love it!
Taken all together I'd say I have arrived at a tentative state of contentment. What isn't the way I would like is certainly heading in that direction. Even my loneliness has made me more aware of the choices I need to exercise in my life. For now the greatest commitment I can make to myself is the promise to do my best in every endeavor...  

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

UP THE DOWN STAIRCASE … July 31st 2012

 I have made real progress these last few weeks, checking items off my to-do list with regularity. I was scheduled to see my therapist today however she postponed our session until next Tuesday to take care of other matters. That leaves me to my own devices with regards to drawing up the next set of tasks for my agenda. These last couple of months have been an emotional roller-coaster, especially in the areas of school and finances. Financially, I have come to the end of any and all monies previously dispersed under Erhard's name. I am, in a word, flat broke.
On the plus side however I did manage to Erhard's title to the '96 Lincoln and can now sell it – giving us another couple of months of monetary self-sufficiency – although that statement is predicated on my being able to sell the car for cash-up-front-and-in-total. The paperwork for school has been completed and sent and now it's time to start on my missed assignments. So that's definitely on the agenda. Driving home from Chicago I made the decision to straighten up the house from the top down – no major cleaning, just a quick tidying-up. This will clear a mental and temporal path for me to start on my assignments. In addition, I should probably go ahead and run a load of laundry too.
For the last 2 months I have relaxed my adherence to SparkPeople's trackers in order to determine whether I could maintain my weight loss without the daily recording, but I have discovered that this isn't true yet so beginning tomorrow I will return to keeping daily logs. Although I didn't gain back anywhere near what I would have in previous diet incarnations I still have 50+ pounds to lose before getting down to my ultimate goal weight of 135 pounds. SparkPeople definitely makes a difference!
I have begun to list items on eBay again and already have some sales that need processing. Right now selling off as much of my things as I comfortable can is my only hope of generating some income. I do need to get the i-cash forms notarized as well and apply for DHS assistance and any home improvement grants available for the Signal Hill area. I also have to file my guardianship status form so that I can continue as Angie's guardian. More items for the agenda.
Beyond these tasks I have come to the conclusion that now is the time to start working on the new garage. It looks like as flea market exploded in there! I simply can't tolerate the mess anymore, seeing as how my entire house has been cleaned and the old garage is still pretty much intact. Not to mention the fact that I want to hold a garage sale in the near future and there are plenty of items that could be sold online or donated outright. So I think I have my plan-of-action in mind. If I stay on task each one of the items I mentioned can demonstrate real progress by the time I see Dr. Garcia on the 7th of August. Just one more thing to note... I am going to try my level best to extend my allocated medications farther than I have... preferably into at least the middle of August. In the past it has been too easy to run through them like candy and then suffer later. This is one demon I have been wrestling with for many years and this time I will make real, tangible progress towards its defeat.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012


I don't normally share the contents of my therapy sessions, but since little else in my life really feels normal anyway, I have decided to open my thought processes up to a little observation in the hopes of more accurately communicating just what's going on with me these days. I will not belabor the details of sadness but will admit to it still being a large part of my every waking and dreaming minute. Sadness has caused me to retrench back into myself in many ways that I thought I had long since retired in favor of being more open and present. The resulting stagnation has produced little except miscommunication and misunderstanding and my further emotional recoil. It is a toxic, dangerous spiral.
About two months ago I began therapy through NIU. While I had hoped that in the ensuing years since last I sought help some sterling-silver panacea had been developed to rid me of my emotional ills, the truth is that while productive and beneficial, this therapy requires the same old slop of work and determination that it has always demanded. There are the celebratory epiphanies and desperate agonizing periods of regression. So while my life is not currently in the throes of downward spiral, my days and nights are spent living in what can best be described as a sine wave.

As a result, my therapist and I have worked to construct a clean foundation with which to begin the transformation of this up-and-down pattern with something more approaching contented forward progress. After much introspection it has become clear that for me to begin, three items need to be addressed first: Make the decision to finish or leave school; Ruszczak Family Conference and Shred my old therapy notes. For some of you reading, the first of these will be surprising, since almost everyone who has ever known me knows how much I have talked about finishing my degree. But as a precondition for this process to work, all should-have-s and must-do-s have been swept off the table, everything in my life had to be recognized as being completely optional and driven by my choices and decisions alone. This implies my ownership of what happens from here on out.
Over the last nine months the volume of work required to complete my schoolwork has become almost overwhelming, and the heart and soul of my desire to finish this degree has been dying of malnourishment as I have turned my attention to almost everything and everyone and where else. So the time has come to recognize the crossroad and choose a direction – either I finish my work and graduate this December 16th or I withdraw from school and petition to have my last year erased. Every other option has already been considered and eliminated. It's do or do not.
The second of those – the Ruszczak Family Conference – comes down to some very practical and currently salient questions regarding the continued financial stability of my household , most notable me. Before leaving for therapy this afternoon I sent away what amounted to the tenth monthly installment of household bills – ensuring that everything is now paid until the end of August. But I am at the end of my financial rope and have no further ability to conjure additional string out of thin air without the input of the rest of the family. I am proud to say that we have managed to stay afloat for far longer than I think anyone thought possible last October – but I am unable to continue this without reinforcement.
The last one may seem out of place – surely shredding one's previous notes could not compare in urgency with the other two – and yet for me right here and now it ranks as highly as those having to do with far more tangible concerns because of the emotional investment I have accumulated in the keeping of those note for so many years post-therapy. I have not looked them at any length for twenty years and yet they represented for me my proof of life – the repository of my mental energies and insights. But I require that energy in the here and now and so I must move beyond yesterday's answers and gnosis even at the risk of having to relearn some of their lessons. They represent the me that was becoming the me that was, and do not speak of or to the person writing this blog today. I have managed to purge a considerable amount of “stuff” these past months and years, but the time has come for this particular set of notes to go.
For anyone who has ever sought to encapsulate their life into writing – whether journal, fiction or notation, the weight of this decision will be obvious. For anyone who has ever been in therapy, the decision to destroy the old and move beyond its boundaries will be apparent. I am both agonized and excited.
My next session is one week from today, and this is what I have pledged to accomplish during this time. Your encouragement, suggestions, and prayers will all be appreciated.