Tag Archives: stress

broke (a confession)

Money has been flowing like water through my fingers. An expensive month I could say, kicking a pebble on the ground with the toe of a dirty sneaker, and I wouldn’t be wrong. But I still feel like a failure. There were many months when the flow appeared abundant, and I spent and I spent. Some costs were unavoidable, others were simply for pleasure, to relish in the joys of the physical world. Now, savings gouged, I feel queasy. I could have done better.

My shoulders slump with the responsibilities of the middle-aged: it seems that everything matters more now.  My choices impact not only my future and my partner’s future but my daughter’s as well. I say I desire fiscal responsibilty and frugality at home but I promptly trip over hedonistic roots and stumble on my way to a more free financial future and meaningful life. There is so much to want in this world.  I want the pizza and beer.  I want the coffee in a paper cup. I want the shoes. I want the bike.

But more importantly, I want peace. I want love. I want undisturbed sleep, I want to worry less. I want more time with you. I want more time with myself. I want to make fewer decisions. I want a healthier, safer world. These things are harder to come by. So I get the pizza and beer, the coffee, the shoes, the bike. But the wanting continues.

the spinning wheel

I have been quiet lately, as I have been undergoing a challenging transition.  Amidst the tears and the pain, I know that I am growing and becoming. My life is going to be entirely different than I imagined, and my future is unknown.  But today the sun is shining, the birds are chirping gently, and despite the emotional storms of the past few months the morning breeze is gentle, as though the breath of a higher power is caressing me gently with the soothing reminder: yes, Katy, you will be okay.

And I know I will be.

Life cycles forward.  There is comfort in this spinning wheel of destruction, death, rebirth. It is the natural order of everything. We break down so we can begin again.  We fall so we can fly.


the last thanksgiving

Thanksgiving 2011 was the last holiday my mother lived to see. I hear Grandma’s voice in my head (regrets are as useful as tits on a bull, Katy) but still, I find them creeping in, uninvited guests that stay long past their welcome.

It was a special day, the last Thanksgiving.  My coworkers gave us a full Turkey dinner, more than enough delicious food to feed the family for days on end.  Mom was strong enough to eat a little and enjoy the company of her dear ones. The day was full of gifts from start to finish.

But I was tired.  I was angry.  I was overwhelmed with the relatively simple task of reheating our Thanksgiving feast from AJ’s. I tried to coordinate everything seamlessly, and never before had it been so difficult to ensure all the food was simultaneously hot to be served for our 10 or so family members.  I had mixed success, and it frustrated me. Thank god I didn’t try to actually cook. When I wasn’t feeling full of gratitude and surrounded by love from all directions, Thanksgiving found me to be an irritable bitch.

I know Thanksgiving also carried sadness for Mom. She always loved to cook huge meals for her family members during the holidays, and she always make it look easy.  Her eyes grew glassy when she saw me running around the kitchen and she said softly “I’m sorry I can’t help.”

I was sorry too, profoundly sorry.

I know I told her that day that I loved her, I was grateful for her.  But I was fearful, and the months of protracted loss had chewed me up and left my insides looking like a seasonal squash.  I was angry that I was sharing my last Thanksgiving with my mother.  I had lots of expectations to let go of- years ahead of beautiful holiday dinners, perfectly prepared, cooked with her at my side.  I did the best I could do, but I wish that I could have released, let go, allowed myself to be rooted in that special day, that special moment, and feel the joy of having her with me, of being her daughter.

She knew my heart as well as anyone, and she knew I loved her.  I just wish I could have done things differently. It would have been more enjoyable for everyone involved.

This Thanksgiving I miss her, but I have also done some recovery. I have a wonderful life, full of blessings.  Today my heart isn’t like a the limp guts of a stringy squash; rather my heart is full of gratitude for a multitude of things, but especially gratitude that my life started with this tremendous woman, that I was able to know her and call her “Mom” and share my life with her for 31 years.

Thanks for the wonderful memories, Mom.  You were incredible.

the last Thanksgiving, 2011

the light amidst the struggle

One morning this week, I spied a woodpecker perched on a tree outside of the Cancer Center. Such athletic, flighty creatures, it seemed odd that he remained perfectly still, appraising me and the rest of the world around him with his unblinking eye.  Only a few feet away, I stared back and sipped my tea and my bones started rattling deep, deep inside:

I don’t want to go to work!!

Its odd, I almost always walk through the doors of the Cancer Center with a smile on my face, eager to see patients and start my day. But its been a struggle lately.  I’ve been tired, and working so very hard.  The endless stream of emails, prior authorization requests, distraught patients, hospice talks, conflict between staff members, and ever mounting pile of unsigned notes are taking their toll.

Or is it something more internal that caused me to be frozen under cloudy sky, unable to walk through the Cancer Center door?  I haven’t been taking care of myself as well as I could, but its not all been miserable either- I have been eating pretty well, and taking my dear dog for runs in the dark November mornings.

And then there are the anniversaries that quietly haunt me.  The anniversary of the day I napped next to my mother and noticed she was breathing differently.  It was so subtle, it escapes description.  But I knew something was different.  And she smelled different too- not bad, just ever so slightly different. The dying process started with a whisper on November 13th, 2011.

And then on November 14th, I got the call at 6 in the morning that she was hospitalized with a bowel obstruction, and in a matter of minutes I was barreling down the highway again in my Corolla, headed to Phoenix and biting my nails I could make it there in time. Turns out, we had quite a bit more time: almost a month.

Then there was the cascade of events and phone calls and praying and weeping in lobbies that lead her to be sent home on November 15th with hospice care. It felt so right and so wrong and so unbelievable, a dream and a nightmare.

Life had a singular focus: my mother.  There was no room for the stuff that doesn’t matter, like work stresses.  There also wasn’t room for a lot of stuff that does matter.

So, this year I’m doing well.  I smile a lot, and even have started worried about some of the small stuff again.  But this year, on November 14th, I struggled to go to work. I stood outside of the clinic under a grey sky, longing to stay still and sip tea and stare at beautiful birds. I had little to offer to the patients waiting for me, but I gave them what I could.  I needed not to give, but to receive.

It wasn’t an easy day for me. But perhaps the universe understood my plight, because when I came home there were two packages waiting for me: dried corn from my mom’s dear friend, and a book from my dear sister.

I don’t always get what I want, but sometimes I get what I need.

a flare

20120607-180528.jpg Sometimes, we manifest our emotional state physically.  I am covered with a red, bumpy ,somewhat-itchy rash. Dermatitis disgustingus. Mom’s Funeral Part Two is this weekend, and I have been struggling with agitation that I don’t know how to express.  I have to go to work, do the laundry, and act normal when what I really want to do is pull out my hair and scream and break a plate or two.  So.  I try to behave normally, and smile, and be a good wife or nurse or grocery shopper, whatever the situation calls for.

But oh, the body does rebel.  There is fire on the inside and, now, on the outside too.  No hiding it anymore.  You can look at my wrists or my thighs or behind my left ear and see the truth,  even though my lips will tell you I’m fine, I’m great, I’m doing well.

Maybe this is doing well.  Maybe this flare of emotion and skin is part of the release, part of what will set me free.  I can only hope so.  In the meantime, I’ll be perfecting the art of scratching myself in public without being noticed.


connection to the past

I’ve started to say that Mom passed away last year.  As opposed to “December,” “[X] months ago” or “recently.” Maybe because it does feel like a new year.  The garden is bursting forth with life.  We are already sweating during hot afternoons.  Tucson has been sweltering the last few days- an early summer, it seems. Already, we have broken 100 degrees, and my shoulders are burned from long, slogging jogs with Bruno. The cold rains and short daylight hours that colored my Mom’s last days seem like a long time ago, seasonally speaking.

I’m playing harp more than I have in years.  My dear friend Kathy is getting married on Saturday, and I am providing the music during the ceremony. These days, I’m practicing furiously to try to rework rusty pieces and learn a few new ones too.  My sheet music is totally disorganized, and in between the loose papers I have old recital programs, notes from my harp instructors… even an old bus schedule, circa 1999, which would bring me from South Minneapolis to St. Paul, where I studied in college.

Music speaks to the core of all of us, provides a soundtrack to our life.  This is especially so if you are a musician. I work through this repertoire from 10+ years ago, and I feel the heat from the stage lights shining down on me, blinding me to the audience present.  I feel the anguish of my failures– for some reason, those are more vivid in my mind than my successes. When I play these old pieces, I also remember my mom sticking her head into my room when I was practicing. She’d beam an encouraging smile and exclaim “I just love that song!” or “Sounding really good!”  I feel her hugs after my recitals, hear her voice on the end of the line asking “how did it go!?!” when I’d call her after completing my juried performances.

The notes, the rhythms connect me to the past in a palpable way.  I play these songs and again am transported back to an earlier time.  Maybe jr high, high school, or college. A time when I was focused on music, and I had a living, breathing mother.


growing up

I’m back in the home that used to be my mother’s.  My stepfather, who is the full-time caregiver for my grandmother, is in the hospital.  He has a skin infection that will be easily treated, however without his care there is no one else for my grandmother.  We are working on options so I can return to work soon, but for now I am on grandma-duty.

Fortunately my mother married a man who was willing and able to care for her mother after she passed.  I don’t take this for granted; he certainly could have declined this role. Yet even with his devotion I feel an added responsibility I never felt when Mom was alive. I am Grandma’s closest living relative, and there is only me. She has outlived both a husband and a longstanding romantic partner, as well as her only child. She is not able to care for herself independently, and I have a responsibility to ensure that her needs are met.

This is the source of some anxiety.  I haven’t yet recharged my batteries from Mom’s long illness and I worry about meeting Grandma’s needs if and when my stepfather is unable to do so. I also feel the burden of a small family.  I have no sibilings with which to share caregiving; my stepsister lives in another country. At many junctures during my mother’s illness I felt alone. Not to minimize the losses of my stepfather or Grandma, who arguably have had their daily lives more disrupted than I by her death. However,  nobody else was losing my mother in the same way I was.  No one else was watching this mother die of cancer.

Maybe grief is always lonely.  Maybe a brother or sister would have been disruptive, angry, drunk, high, unavailable, busy doing other things or otherwise a total pain in the ass. Any wishes I may have for more help in caregiving aging relatives is not only pointless, it illustrates the impossibility that I wish for: that my mother wasn’t dead.

Her passing has made me grow up.  I don’t have children, so with this loss I entered a new realm of responsibility for another human being. It also has provided a taste of getting older. I now understand the sting of watching the generations before me die, removing the meaningless yet symbolic distance between myself and the end. And I understand how difficult it is to say goodbye, to let go.  And what is getting older, if not a process of letting go?



yoga’s bad girlfriend

The pendulum has swung: I’m finally back to doing yoga. Again.

I always wanted to be someone with a practice. I’m not clear what that looks like, exactly, although I imagine it involves sitting a perky, well-shaped ass on a yoga mat more often than once every few months. What I actually am is a girl who’s dabbled on and off for the last 13 years and still can’t wrap her leg in Eagle pose or place her heels on the floor in Down Dog. From the years of running marathons, my hamstrings are so tight you could use them to pluck out a tune.  I’m not flexible. I’m not graceful. But I do keep coming back.

My most admirably dedicated practice of yoga occurred during Freshman year in college.  It was 1998, before the yoga craze really hit the Midwest.  I borrowed a tattered copy of Richard Hittleman’s Yoga, and followed along with the daily exercises every night.  Yes, even when I came back to my dorm room drunk. I’m not sure one receives the full benefits of yoga when intoxicated, but I was curious enough to try it out.

(FYI, doing Shoulderstand in the study lounge is not a great way to make friends.  People tend to think you are weird)

Some months later, I left the above-mentioned university and moved to an apartment in Minneapolis.  I believed yoga could be part of addressing some of the issues that had caused me to leave college in the first place, and wanted to move beyond Richard (even though I never did master that headstand away from a wall). There weren’t many yoga studios to choose from back then, but I signed up for classes at the one within biking distance of my apartment. I also brought my best friend and her mother along for the ride.

It was in this small, white-walled studio where we were berated weekly by a sharp-tongued Yogi who probably loved the discipline and hated teaching.  Or at least teaching flabby, distracted beginners such as ourselves.  I mostly remember feeling terrified throughout our classes (please don’t make fun of me! please don’t should at me to straighten my knee!).  At some point I figured yoga should be more about fun, less about abuse, and I blew off the staid yoga studio and its resident drill-sargent.

And I stopped going.  And I stopped practicing on my own.

Then, later, I started again.

The pattern has repeated itself for more than a decade.  I practice for awhile, daily even.  And then after some weeks, months, maybe a year,  I need a break like a bad girlfriend.

I always thought someday things would be different, and I would move beyond the status of yoga’s favorite fair-weather friend.  My life would change.  I would be different, somehow transformed into a yogini with 6-pack abs, a jaw-dropping hanumanasana and a perpetual yoga buzz.  Well, I’m now in my 30’s, still inconsistently showing up to yoga with my tight hamstrings.  No magical transformations, although I’m learning to accept who I am, as underwhelming as that may be. I may never get that one pose down.  I may never practice daily for months on end.  I may never do a teacher training program.  I may never be anything other than what I am– someone who loves yoga, but loves a lot of other things in life too.

Instead of focusing on the reasons why I stray, maybe its better to examine the reasons why I keep returning. I love yoga, have from the very first time I tried it. It feels great.  It helps me approach life in a more balanced, thoughtful way.  I breath deeper, smile wider when I do yoga.

In my grief, yoga has much to offer me, and maybe I will keep my practice going tomorrow, or next week, or next month. Or maybe not.  Either way, I’m glad I have yoga in my life to whatever degree I am ready for, and its always there for me to come back to.


Yeah, right. Photo retrieved from http://www.rocketboom.com

a life’s purpose

A certain school of thought purports that everyone has a life purpose, a mission, something that one must learn or do in this lifetime which illuminates a fundamental truth about his or her existence.  Its a nice idea, isn’t it?  It gives some order to the chaos, and clarity during the murky hours of life.  You could probably fill the Library of Congress with books, audiotapes, magazine articles with titles like “Identify Your True Calling” or “Finding Your Life Purpose (and then following through!).” This attractive concept garners some consumer spending.

I don’t know if we all have a life purpose. It can be hard to identify a unifying theme that ties together a long, complex and dynamic life.

My mom had a purpose, however, and hers was crystal clear: to be of service.

I naturally didn’t know her as a child, but suspect in many ways she took care of her mother from the very beginning. She dedicated her career to raising money for a range of causes she believed in, from providing family planning services in the 1970’s and 1980’s to community wellness services to seniors during the 2000’s.  She was almost always smiling, a big, infectious smile that made others feel good.  Blessed with tons of energy, she pumped it into her family, her friends, her colleagues. Kind, reliable and hardworking, she unfailingly did whatever needed to be done for everyone else. She listened, she gave, she shared. She had little inclination towards religion, but was more Christ-like than most anyone I’ve ever met.

Her own needs often fell away in the face of serving others, and this continued after she was diagnosed with cancer.  Until the end.  She pushed Grandma’s wheelchair until she couldn’t walk.  When she was actively dying, she tried to eat soup so Grandma wouldn’t worry about her.

During her illness, qualities that I often admired also frustrated me, pissed me off.  I wanted my mother, the constant caregiver, the ridiculously generous, to finally take care of herself a bit.  I had nightmares that all this outwardly focused kindness was depleting her, and if she could harbor some for herself perhaps she could beat that lymphoma.  She naturally attracted a lot of needy folks, and I would glare at the other patients in the clinic waiting rooms who would hone in and start blabbing to her about their problems: leave her the fuck alone. And then I’d shoot daggers at Mom: stop encouraging them!

She was aware of her life purpose. We talked about it once on a walk outside of MD Anderson Hospital.    I think I was lecturing her to go to a yoga class, get away from caregiving Grandma for a bit so she could focus on healing.  We sat down next to a fountain, surrounded by a bed of flowers.

“You know, this sounds kind of funny, but I’m here to take care of others.  You can best support me by letting me do that, because its what makes me feel good.”

I’ve often struggled with loving people as they are, and not as I want them to be. During Mom’s illness I was challenged again.  I wanted her to be someone more selfish, more normal.  But that wasn’t her. She needed to stick with her mission, her purpose.  It was the only way of being that worked for her.



We aren’t all meant to be servants during this lifetime– I know I’m not.  But we can be inspired to follow our own path with the unwavering dedication that my mother followed hers.

another anniversary

Think of how fast a year can pass.  A flip of a page, the flapping of migratory birds, the relentless return of liquor-soaked annual traditions, punctuated by “I can’t believe its been a year!”

And yes, a year can also be so full of heartbreak it draws out into eternity.

They say the first anniversaries after a loss are the worst (I’m not sure who “they” is, but they are always wise and insightful).  The anniversary today is of my mom’s CT scan.

retroperitoneal masses from lymphoma.


Tests are just tests.  They are often wrong.  They are often misleading.  They don’t dictate who lives and who dies.  They simply provide information, which sometimes doesn’t even matter.  But this particular CT scan gave information that really did matter– it told the story of a drug resistant lymphoma.  If you are unfortunate enough to develop cancer, your best hope is you have a cancer that responds well to treatment, and my mom lost on that roll of the dice. In fact, she ended up on bad side of the odds at every turn in her cancer journey.  Patients aren’t often told “you have an 80 percent chance of cure!” at diagnosis and are dead the next calender year.

The February CT scan results were the turning point where it became apparent that she, in short, was screwed. It would have been better not to know, but I knew. 

In the following months,  I wish I had laughed more, had more fun with her, falsely comforted by a belief that everything would be okay, because it HAD to be.  Instead, I was bottled up with fear, the unfortunate daughter with too much medical knowlege. 

Many people have told me that my experience in cancer care helped my mom so much, and I know at certain junctions it did. However it also hurt me, and maybe her as well.  Hope is so important, and one year ago I lost it.