family, mental health, Uncategorized

The Working Title Is…How Do You Sing Your Song?

Any mention of the date September 11th triggers memories of the moment our lives were forever changed. Certainly, for my generation, it was our day that will live in infamy.

I vividly remember the night of 9/11 and the days that followed. The waves of fear that rolled through every attempt to reach family and friends who were potentially in the air that morning, or who were undeniably in New York, DC or stranded abroad, had us holding our breath through those disturbing unchartered waters.

Once we learned “our people” were safe, we were entombed with empathetic grief for so many that wondered, worried, feared and knew.

After what was, admittedly, a completely inappropriate amount of time, I asked my husband how this might impact our planned vacation to Disney World that was to take place in three weeks time.

After a more appropriate amount of time (two days) Pat called the Disney resort and was told they would offer us a full refund or allow us to rebook anytime without penalty. As planes were returning to the air, we struggled to decide what to do.

I talked about our quandary with a friend who also happens to be an Orthodox Jewish Rabbi. I shared with him my concern and worry. He replied by saying, “Katie, you need to live your life as if it is a song to G-d.”

(He actually said the word “God” but in deference to the Jewish tradition of utmost respect, I’m typing it the way he would.)

He continued saying, “Every day, you must sing your song in the very best way you can. I knew of a man who was afraid to travel to Israel for the High Holidays because of the unrest in the region, so, instead, he was sitting at his desk in the World Trade Center when the first plane hit.”

He implored me to take an active role in my destiny and to, “Live your life as if it was a song to G-d, every single day.”

So, despite offers of full refunds, Pat and I hopped on a plane with our girls to the Magic Kingdom where we pretty much had the place to ourselves. Mickey and Minnie were on a first name basis with Maddie and Clare by the end of the long weekend.

October 5, 2001, in the eerie middle of Main Street USA. Disney World was a ghost town

That memory and the life lesson associated with it — living your life as if it were a song to God — has been in the forefront of my mind over the past few months.

Am I doing that?  Living my life as if it is a song to God? What about the people I love? Are they? And, if so, what are the lyrics of our songs saying about who we are and what is important to us?

Earlier this year, I realized my song had taken on a much more melancholy tune and, try as I might, I couldn’t shake it. My life is blessed with family and friends who I know would do anything for me…as I would for them. I have so much for which I am grateful, and yet, I couldn’t unshackle myself from this pervading gloom. So I turned to a doctor for help; much like I would have if my symptoms were elevated blood pressure or cholesterol levels. And as a result of her care, I feel as though, once again, my song is one of hope and happiness, curiosity and contentment.

I thought about this very thing when I learned of Kate Spade’s suicide, and now Anthony Bourdain. How did their songs become so dark and painful that they could no longer manage the burden?

So much is written about the mental health crisis in our nation. In 2016, there were more than twice as many suicides than homicides in the United States. The CDC reported yesterday that US suicide rates have increased more than 25% since 1999.

The loss of these bright lights and so many others whose deaths may not have captured headlines have left behind loved ones with immeasurable pain rooted in the depths of their hearts.   And they have left everyone wondering what can be done.

The article linked here from the Huffington Post offers great direction about how to talk about suicide in a way that is actually helpful.

And, while it may sound trite to some, we can listen to my Rabbi’s advice. Live your life as if it is a song to God. If your song has taken on an atypical dark and bluesy tone that is impacting how you look at the world, then that is a sign it’s time to reach out for help to change the melody or rework the lyrics.

We also must continue to be more aware of changes to the songs others are singing. When that happens, as it has many times over the course of my brother’s life, we search for a new song with counselors as composers and psychiatrists as lyricists…whatever it takes to just keep singing.

2,997 lives were lost on September 11th in an act of terrorism that changed our lives forever. In 2016, there were 44,965 deaths by suicide. Read that number again. 44,965 excruciating acts of desperation that should also change our lives forever. We should, through our words and deeds, aim to ensure that the legacy of those lives lost to suicide is one of hope and peace, honest discourse aimed at ending stigma, inviting comfort and living our lives as if they were a song to God.

We are stronger together. And so is our song.

kmp

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family, Uncategorized

The Working Title Is…You Talkin’ To Me?

In the often quoted classic 1976 film Taxi Driver, Robert DeNiro’s character imagines what he would say if he were confronted by a bad guy and practices his response by speaking to his reflection in the mirror.

I’ve taken a hint from his playbook and often preemptively planned conversations with my own reflection. But as I look back on my first half-century of life, I wish I had done that more often.

I was reminded of that this week when the New York Times electronically reprinted an article linked here that asked the question “What to Do with Their Stuff?”. This is a topic that will hit home for many peers entrenched in the Sandwich Generation. And it certainly hit home for me.

Closing up my childhood home a number of years ago was agonizing. I kept more than I should have because I just couldn’t bear to part with the memories associated with the items. With each passing year, I find myself painfully and courageously letting go, bit by bit.

I will forever cherish my parents’ beloved Hummel collection and their wedding album, but, truth be told, I’ve stood over the trash on more than one occasion with their wedding cake topper which looks like it still has crusted frosting on the bottom and a lock of my Mom’s hair from her first haircut. Both just gross me out, and yet they have been saved from the landfill every time.

Recently I came across a super creepy looking childhood scrapbook of my Mom’s that looks more like a witch’s grimoire but instead includes a gold star from a Spelling Bee given to her in 1943, coincidentally, from the same Franciscan nun who would be my freshman science teacher, 38 years later.

And then there is this….

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I have no idea why my Mom would have an egg with the decoupaged face of Pope John Paul II, but I can’t bring myself to toss this phony Fabergé that’s been shellacked with the smile of a steadfast servant now sacred Saint.

I wish I had talked about these things with my parents. And not just about what to do with their stuff, but I wish I had the really difficult conversations like the ones Atul Gawande talks about in his book Being Mortal. I wish we had conversations about plans for aging parents, siblings or adult children with special needs or terminal diagnoses.

There were many things, generationally, that fell under the category “Of Things We Will Not Speak” and so I didn’t have the benefit of those conversations with my parents. As a result, I have been winging it for quite a while with varying degrees of confidence and success.

But that was then. This is now.

I won’t do that to my own children. I don’t think anyone should.

And so I have resolved, and not just for the New Year, but also for all my remaining days, to be open to drafting a game plan rooted in love.

Before the clock strikes midnight and 2017 is a mere memory, I resolve to write a letter to my future self. It will be my 50-year-old voice telling my presumably much older self to trust my children when they tell me I am no longer bringing my A-game, and I need help. And because I know the effect ebullient flattery has on me, the letter will ooze self-congratulations for being such a good mom who has raised capable and intelligent daughters who love me and only want for me to be safe and happy. It will encourage me to reflect on the many things I did for them over their lifetimes and persuade me to reap the benefit of that investment by letting them take charge of some critical decisions. I will remind myself that the most selfless way to show love is to accept help. I will beg my future self to remember the sincerity and clarity of thought with which this letter was written when I was a spring chicken of just 50.

And it’s not that I will seal that letter up and store it away in a safety deposit box for decades. Oh no, I will review it annually. And if one of my smart, capable, focused, kind, loving, compassionate, level-headed girls inexplicably ends up with some dumbass who has her falling into a brainless trance of bad decision making, I will edit the letter.

But if we keep our communication as open, honest and respectful as it has been, no rewrite will be necessary.

I have planned for the worst, which I think, will help me live confidently in 2018 and beyond. Far beyond, hopefully.

I just purchased a Long Term Health Care insurance policy to ensure that my daughters will not have to worry about my care should the day come where living independently is no longer feasible. In retrospect, this was the greatest decision my Dad ever made following my Mom’s death. This wise investment not only protected many of his assets, but it subtly provided context clues toward acceptance of a potential future plan of care.

I also purchased an insurance policy to fund a special needs trust to ensure proper care for my brother should I get hit by the beer truck. Knowing this gave him great peace of mind and knowing that the responsibility will not fall on the shoulders of my children or extended family members brings that same peace of mind to me.

And, to further cement for you my year-end reputation as “Buzzkill Katie” you’ll be happy to know that I also updated my advance directives and my will.

As a result, I thought I would sleep soundly tonight. Knowing that I have documents in place is one thing. Knowing my adult children now know how I feel about topics often considered taboo is even better.

But as I sit here surrounded by my toolbox of items to keep me from kicking the bucket before my time (eight hours of sleep, foods with omega-3 fatty acids, cabernet, lots of water, leafy greens, cabernet, green tea, whole grain cereal, legumes, lean protein and cabernet), I realized I must immediately prepare an ancillary document with important details that are not covered in this Giant Redwood pile of papers I just signed.

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Addendum A – Additional Instructions for My Children Should I Fall into a Coma:

The Long Term Health Care insurance will kick in and provide for my care. You just have to find a facility that smells nice and has kind people working there like the one Grandpa lived in. Check on me when you can, but please have no guilt about not being able to visit as long you ensure the following:

  1. Instruct an aide to daily pluck those damn chin hairs that started showing up unannounced. If I wake up out of this coma as the bearded lady, there will be hell to pay.
  2. TV channels should be rotated between news channels of various political viewpoints to keep my subconscious mind open to all versions of the truth. Limit news viewing to one hour a day. During the rest of the day, background noise should be calming music, binge listening to the latest Netflix series or any Blue Bloods episode.
  3. Aides should rotate reading to me from People and Us Magazine and provide very detailed descriptions of the “Stars They’re Just Like Us” photos.
  4. Let my hair go grey. These roots are coming in a bright white. What better time to test and see if it is pretty? When I start to stir out of the coma, have the nursing home call both of you immediately followed by Maggie my hairstylist just in case I hate it.

And should my time on this earth come to an end, please know it will be ok. I hope my friends and loved ones will smile thinking of me reunited with so many people I love and have desperately missed.

I have often shared my belief that God allows those in heaven to communicate messages of hope to us through a multitude of couriers. Look for my messages.

However, unlike Dad who seems to have a real thing going with those hawks, I would advise against limiting my potential mode of communication to my spirit animal, the cow. Perhaps pay special attention to all things cow related: any situation that includes a dairy product especially cheese, a fabulously prepared medium-rare steak or any number of fine leather goods. I promise you I will find a way to get my message across. I am an Irish Catholic/Type A/Gemini/Control Freak…not even death can silence my voice, of that I am certain.

Addendum B: Additional Instructions for My Children Upon My Death

Following my death, identify a skilled document forger to create an autopsy report that would indicate “the body was found to be without muscles of the abdominal wall, including the transverse and rectus abdominis and the internal and external obliques.”

After my funeral, please gather my college roommates and show them report saying, “See, she wasn’t lying. She was born without stomach muscles!” (And if Carrie pulls out her magnifying glass to inspect the document, snatch it out of her hands immediately and run away crying.)

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As we bask in the twilight glow of another year and are filled with anticipation over the untold promise and potential of 2018, I invite everyone to consider setting the stage for the things no one wants to face.

There is a simple game plan for having the tough conversations, asking the difficult questions and coming to complicated conclusions.

Surround yourself with the love of family and friends. Embrace humor wherever you can…even where it seems impossible. And always live a life of empathy.

So if you choose to pull a DeNiro and have a trial run conversation with your reflection, first wrap yourself in empathy and try to understand, appreciate and share the feelings, fears and perspective of the other person.

And, yeah, I am talking to you.

kmp

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