- Humor. This has to be the best part of being human. The ability to find humor in the world. I love finding that there is joy in sadness. Laughing so hard that you cry is an amazing feeling. Try it, you will like it.
- Pain. Yeah, I know, humor and then pain. It goes hand in hand with humor. There is always pain in life but what we do after the pain is life. Losing a loved one, we find the strength to keep living. Relationships end, we find new ways to love. Losing a job, finding a better one. Pain makes us alive.
- Compassion. I have learned a lot about compassion this year. Finding ways to help people in our families and in our communities. Embracing the differences and learning tolerance. Still working on all of that.
- Determination. Finding ways to make things happen but doing it in a way that makes sense in our lives. Supporting other people in those journeys.
- Forgiveness. This is one that we all need to do better. Forgiveness does not let others off the hook. It just gives you peace. Judgement has no place in our lives but people will still do it. We can forgive them their limitations. It will bring us peace and does not encourage others to continue.
Blogging is an interesting activity. One that allows for a lot of self-censoring. I have wanted to write so many things and say so much, but I have hesitated a lot of the time. I think more thoughtfully about the things that I want to say rather than just spouting out some moment of frustration or rage. I am have been searching for something to do with my time. See my previous post about not having been selected to do something this coming year. Then it dawned on me that I had the answer right at home.
When my parents were visiting in March, we took a trip to Barnes and Noble. You remember that store. The place where they sell the books. The paper books with pages and all. I spied a book that I wanted. You actually get to write in this book. List Your Self: Listmaking as the Way to Self-Discovery. I am not sure how much self-discovery I am going to make but I knew that it would start me writing again. Sometimes it takes a little inspiration.
I also decided to participate in a 365-photo challenge. I need to take a photo every day of the year. I am actually committing to both. Tomorrow I will start both. I will post them here.
I hope that you will follow along all year. It should be an interesting journey for sure.
I cannot seem to quit. I have been in Toastmasters for almost 17 years and in the last 18 months, I have contemplated quitting more times, than I have thought about staying in. I even recently applied to work on the Regional level to see if it would bring back the enjoyment. I was absolutely relieved that I was not selected. I applied because I was encouraged to apply. It was not even on my radar but when someone asks if you can serve, I tend to say sure. If I had been selected, I would have pushed through but I would have been miserable. I am very thankful for the wisdom of the selection committee. Thankfully, there were better people for the job. Now I can breathe a sigh of relief.
I recently read another blog post from a friend about quitting. She discussed when feeling like quitting to look back on the reasons that you started your journey. I thought about this a lot today. Why did I join Toastmasters? The first and most obvious reasons were that my boss at the time told me to. She wanted me to improve my training and speaking skills. I stayed in Toastmasters in her honor after she died on 9/11 at the World Trade Center. I dedicated my first Distinguished Toastmaster award to her. Since that time I got two more DTMs and led the state to success.
The another reason, I was living in Arizona and just moved her from Florida. I was divorced, my mother was dying and I was living with a man that I knew there was no future in the relationship. I needed an outlet. I needed to get out of the house and meet new people. I filled my life with things to do and people to spend that time with. Most of those people are now my dearest friends.
I wanted to get management experience. I needed to get some management experience because I was going nowhere in my career. I gained the confidence to go back to school and get two degrees (and despite the rumors, I actually did complete all my coursework). I am now managing small IT projects and working in an entirely new field from the one I started Toastmasters in. I also tripled my salary.
I met someone I am spending the rest of my life with and I met him in Toastmasters. It was part of the plan. To meet a like-minded, successful, ambitious man. It did not happen for many years but it happened.
I think I have reached all the goals I wanted to reach. Perhaps, that is why I am so empty when it comes to Toastmasters. I have actually done all that I set out to do. I had thought about running for our Board of Directors but after seeing the emotional, physical, monetary, and psychological toll it has taken on other people, it is no longer an ambition or a dream. I never say never but it is not on the radar. Not a blip.
So if I have accomplished all that I set out to do, is it not the logical conclusion to bid farewell? To move on to the next chapter of my life? Can I stay in a club knowing there is nothing more for me to accomplish?
My hope is that my home club builds its membership by next October. If that happens, I believe I will move on. My other club is social, fun to be in, less stressful. That is where I probably want to be. I always said I would be a Toastmaster until my last breath but time may have come to close that chapter, and let the breath out.
Yesterday my husband and I went to see our dear friend Liz. I almost did not go. A deep part of me worries that if I see someone I love in the last moments or days of their lives, I will never remember them any other way. However, I know this is not true. I do not see my mother that way and I sat with her as she took her last breaths. Therefore, I got my crap together and we went to see Liz.
Liz is leaving us soon. Love and her family and a steady stream of so many friends surround her. Music is filling her room. She is snug in the comfort of her own bed surrounded by the things she loved. Loving people are caring of her beloved cats. This is the best way for her to go. If there ever was death with dignity, Liz is a very dignified person.
I have known my friend Liz for about 14 years. She is about 5 feet of determination, opinion, love, and feistiness. For years, Liz keep telling me that my face was too pretty to have bangs down in front of my eyes. Every time she saw me, “Your face is so pretty, stop covering it up!” It was SO annoying but eventually she wore me down and I do not wear bangs anymore. We often talked about music and theater. She took me to several Mercury games. She is a woman I respected because she did not take any grief from anyone. She came to my bridal shower just thrilled I was marrying my best friend. Moreover, she always gave me an honest opinion whether I wanted it or not. That is Liz.
Last year I did a photo essay for a photography class I was taking. I wanted to capture women not smiling in one photo and not smiling in another. I knew I wanted to capture Liz. When I was composing the piece, I thought of her in movement because she was always moving. I also wanted her to be blurry. The first photos in the piece were of a young girl. Her photos crisp and clear. Liz’s photos are blurry and out of focus. Time for us when we are young is crisp and bright; time when we are older is less clear and blurring faster and faster. Below are my photos of Liz. I asked her to be serious and not make any faces. She tried but could not quite do it. Even her serious one has a glint of mischief in it. That is Liz.
I gave copies to Liz’s family yesterday. It made me feel comfort knowing I was able to give them some comfort too. My art will help them in their time of grief. I know the pain and sheer beauty of what they are going through. Being with your loved one as they leave this world is both the most terrifying and the most beautiful thing.
My world will be a little less bright without my fiery, small friend. I will surely grieve her absence for many years to come. I am so thankful that I got to see her one more time, tell her I love her, kiss her head, and wish her an amazing journey to what lies beyond. I am happy I decided to go.
“You are doing a beautiful thing.”
“I know how much I treasure the photos of my baby we took when he died.”
“I wish I had taken photos at my husband’s funeral.”
“I would never do that and cannot imagine having photos of their funeral.”
On Saturday, Tim and I had the honor to photograph a funeral. Some people may find this foreign to them. It certainly did to me. We do not do that in my family. At least not that I have ever seen. I had always thought I would never be able to look at something like that. Until you take the photos.
This was not the funeral of someone who had lived a long life. This was the funeral of a nine-year-old boy. It was hard. It was emotional. It was devastating to watch even through a lens. I will never know what they were going through but I hope that our images will bring them comfort. Comfort may not happen in the next weeks, months, or years. Someday.
I do not know if I can bring myself to go in to the details. The sights. The sounds. The emotion. It is still so very raw for me. I was simply observing and capturing. Capturing the grief of others.
What I will share are the things I learned from Saturday.
1. I am an artist. I never fully felt it before Saturday but now I know that I am. My art changed and although it will never see the light of day, what I captured on Saturday was the best work of my life.
2. Grief takes so many shapes and sizes. No one expresses it the same way. We can't know what they feel inside or how they want to express that pain. Be patient with those who grieve.
3. Children are resilient and amazing people. The bravest people. The can speak with more grace about their friend dying than most adults. And then go play with each other.
4. There will be sounds that will live with you forever.
5. Even people who deal with death everyday still weep. Because we love and feel and it doesn't end even in the profession of helping the dead.
6. Take the photo. Do not wait. If you do not hire us, hire someone. Your children, spouse, parents, friends – will want the photo. We do not know when we will not get to be in them.
I never got a chance to meet B but I know I will love him forever. He gave me a gift. I discovered so much from this experience. I know that as hard as it was to do the shoot, I would do it again for another family. I now know the importance, the beauty, the love that can be expressed through my lens.
Over the Thanksgiving week, my husband and I traveled to Indiana to visit his family. Both of his parents (divorced for many years) live in the Indianapolis area. His brother also lives there. Therefore, we could see almost all of his immediate family in one trip. We had planned a short trip, just a couple of days to avoid the worst travel times. We found a lovely Airbnb to rent and secured a rental car that had a heated steering wheel. Where was this invention when I lived in Boston?!
We arrived late on Tuesday, found some food after some hangry exchanges in the grocery and managed to be settled in to our accommodations. Because of my CPAP, we slept on the opposite sides of the bed. Which I think greatly affected our sleep patterns. Nevertheless, we managed to get up and out of the house in time the next day to have breakfast and to pick up my brother-in-law. We decided to spend Tuesday at the nursing home my father-in-law currently lives in. It is called Golden Living but I called it the Nursing Home of Sadness or NHOS.
My father-in-law has Alzheimer’s. I have seen it before. It is really the most horrible thing to watch someone go through. He did not immediately recognize his sons and I must have been a very new person to him. He is bedridden – much to his own making before his memory loss started. There is no getting out of bed. He watches TV. He sleeps. He eats his meals in bed. This is how it will be for him until he dies. We sat with him for several hours. I ran an errand so I left for about an hour.
I took some time to walk the halls of the NHOS when I got back from the errand. The other residents were mostly sleeping or watching TV. There were some women in the common room doing their nails and chatting. The dining room had some residents in it chatting or reading. There was one woman who was starting her first day there. For the most part, it was just sad and scary to me. There were some good things about it. The home is actually not terrible. It was clean, there were things to do, and the staff was friendly and attentive. Not the worst place to be but certainly not, what I want.
I started think about my current physical condition. I lost a lot of weight a couple years ago, its crept back on. I still have knee pain and when it is bad, I do the old woman shuffle. I thought about what my physical condition would be at 72 if I did not stop making excuses and get my ass moving. I keep thinking about the women in the room across from my father-in-law. Both asleep in their wheelchairs with the TV on and nothing else to do.
When we were alone later that night, I told my husband he had my permission to push me off a cliff before I live in one of those places. My father-in-law did not take care of himself, his relationships, or his finances to make his situation better. I can certainly see how it that is going make the next years worse than they could have been for him. I do not want that kind of life. Ever. I do not want to live in a NHOS. The time is now. No more excuses. I just need to think about those two women and my father-in-law and that is enough to motivate me.
It is has been a hard week. Monday I was sad all day and blogged about the grief training running all over me. Tuesday was my mother’s birthday. She would have been 72. In the afternoon, I learned that a dear friend’s mother died that morning. One, two, punch. Then I started really paying attention to the news and all that Harvey Weinstein stuff came on my radar. So it has been a week of some serious PTSD. Because like most women in the world, I have been sexually harassed and sexually assaulted by a man. A man in a power position. Then I was slut shamed and received death threats because I told the truth.
I belong to a wonderful organization that empowers people to find their voices. We help you build self-confidence and to grow personally and professionally. Women make up more than 50% of our organization. Unfortunately, we still have a gender gap in this organization. In the 90 plus year history women have not held positions in leadership as much as they should. We were only let in to the organization in 1973. There have only been a handful of women Presidents (there will be another one coming up). There have been very few women champions of our speech contest. We have made strides on a local level with lots of women running and holding positions in leadership. I say this because it needs to be said. I am not admonishing us. I know we can do better. Like politics, more women need to run for power positions and win. It is hard. I know all about wanting to run and actually running.
In this wonderful organization, I was sexually harassed and sexually assaulted by a man in a power position. I will admit that only until recently I did not think that I had been sexually assaulted. After the recent trial involving Taylor Swift I have come to realize that grabbing my ass when I neither want you do that or gave you permission to do it is in fact sexual assault.
The man in question put his hand on my rear. And squeezed. At the time I did not believe it was happening and I believed that because I was fat there was no way a man would want to do that to me. Yes, I really thought that way. I let it go because I believed it was an error or a mistake. It happened again six months later and I let it go again because he was on our Board of Directors. I did not want to cause problems (I was already called a problem child by some of my local leaders). I did not have the power position to make anything happen. At our yearly convention when he did it a third time. Then he insisted that he kiss me, and take a photo. I have the photo. I am smiling, looking happy that this man is kissing me. Inside I was dying.
A few months later, he came to visit our local conference. There he sexual harassed a guest. Not even a member of our organization. When I learned about it, I offhandedly joked about the same man toughing my ass. My mentor encouraged me to include my story and file a complaint. Many other women told their stories. The complaint was made and all hell broke loss.
My name, which was supposed to held in confidence, was given to my harasser. His allies then started harassing me. I received text messages, emails, mail to home, death threats. I was telling the truth yet I was the one being slut shamed and harassed. And it wasn't just from his supporters. Even the woman who was my local leaders threatened and accused me of causing problem. Nothing like getting berated by your leader and a woman for doing the right thing. There was an investigation and he was removed from office and banned from our organization.
This is why women do not come forward - we cannot believe it happened. We are ashamed it happened. We fear the repercussions. We are not believed even by other women,. Harvey Weinstein had so much control and power in Hollywood that he could literally kill your career if you did not sleep with him. It was known throughout the industry that he was at best creepy and at worst a rapist. It was known in my organization that my harasser did not have a filter or know what boundaries were but he got elected to our board anyway. I get why we do not report more. Would you want to be threatened and harassed because you were assaulted and harassed?
Just today, Oliver Stone came out in defense of Harvey Weinstein saying, “It's not easy what he's going through either". I bet it is hard for him to finally be called out for his actions. However, probably not as hard as it is being raped. I know that he has not been convicted of a crime but here we are again. How many women have to come forward for us believe the victims?
We cannot continue to defend these predators. We have to make it ok for women to feel empowered enough to speak out. I wish I had done it sooner. I could have prevented so much pain for others. I am tough; I took the threats and nastiness and have not only stayed in my organization but became an accomplished leader. We can do better with our policies and I hope that as more women move in to power positions they can make changes.
I believe these women. I believe the women who have spoken about so many men. False reporting is a rare thing. Women are telling the truth yet it is hard for some to believe them. I told the truth and so many people called me liar. Probably still do. I know the truth. I spoke the truth. My silence was not golden at all. That is why I cannot be silent any longer
Yesterday, all day I felt sad. A lingering little depression that was holding on to me. I thought it might be about my visit to Weight Watchers on Saturday and how horrifying it was to get on the scale. Maybe it was the momentary fight with my husband over something small. On the other hand, maybe it was my lack of enthusiasm for the extra-curricular things in my life now. Nope. None of those. I did not realize it was October 9. Which leads to October 10, which is or was my mother’s birthday.
There have been 14 other birthdays like this one. The ones without her. Every year I think, it will pass me by and that I will not run me over like a train but I am perpetually wrong about that. I recently saw an interview with a Virginia Tech shooting survivor and she said that the brain would start to prepare you for the anniversary. Almost subconsciously. So perhaps my brain was getting me ready for today. I did not see that train coming until it was over me. Here I am, laying on the tracks, unable to move.
I was recently talking to my brother and he expressed he is still frustrated with our mother. She was the great withholder. She was never 100% honest with her doctors or us about her health. She kept so much hidden from us that once the point of no return had been reached we were just coming in to picture. She was terrible about the truth sometimes. It frustrates and saddens us both. We both if we had known more could we have done something different for her or made her be more proactive in her health. But we will never know because we never knew everything.
This morning on the way in to work I realized that my sadness yesterday was also about the number on that scale at Weight Watchers. I am not as healthy was I was two years ago and that should scare me. I am 47 and while my mother would have been 72 today, she will forever be 56. Only 9 years older than me RIGHT NOW. I had the same revelation in 2014 and it really needs to stick in my head more often. I need to live longer than she did. I cannot control other things in life but I can control myself. I will not leave behind a daughter and a son, but I would be leaving so many other people. That makes the train hit a whole lot harder.
Losing a parent is a terrible thing. Losing anyone important is horrific. I have many widow friends who have taught me more about grief than I thought possible and I listen to them for words of wisdom. This journey is one that does not end. There is no station of peace at the end of the line because the tracks just keep going in circles. I will just keep doing this for as long as I am alive. Because I miss her. Every. Single. Day. What I can do on this journey is look out the window, enjoy the view, think about how much I love her, stay on the train, and hang on for the next tunnel.
I am done sheet caking my feelings. Thank you Tina Fey for wrapping my feelings up in to one brilliant SNL moment. I have certainly had enough sheet cake one lifetime.
I felt all the feels that I can about the 2016 US Presidential election. I supported other women. I tried to limit my news intake. I gave back. I sought support. I have been feeling all of this for the last 11 months and now it is time to stop mourning the nation’s loss. I need to move on. I need to feel different feels and get on with what is important to me. They say you do not get over a loss you move on. Time to move on.
I am not sure how many other liberal minded women have gained 40 pounds in the last year but I did. My perpetual state of anxiety, rage, and depression has truly affected my life in so many ways. I have eaten my way through these feelings. I am sickened every day by everything the Cheeto is doing that I am depressed. When I am sad, I eat. I eat my feelings. I have eaten so much. Now I need to stop eating.
Why did I let this election, this monumental defeat cause me so much strife? Really? Seriously? Most of the country elected a man with no political experience. They rejected the most experienced candidate in decades and she would have been the first woman president. It is also because that man was so offensive to not only women but also minorities. His attitudes, behaviors, and words were so morally reprehensible. Republicans were so desperate to be in charge they embraced a misogynist, xenophobic, racist, nationalist asshat. To live under a Trump presidency is downright scary to many, many women (and some men as well).
I went through all the emotions – denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. I accept that he is president. I also accept that I no longer respect the office and that every day is a shit show. I will be waking up every day until this nightmare of over wondering…why… how… It will not go away. However, I need to move on and live in this new, horrifying world.
There will be moments when I want to stuff 42 Twinkies in my face. And if there is an impeachment I will celebrate by eating a sheet cake. To get through it all I will continue to work with women who want to run for office. I want to reach my personal goals and run myself. I mourn what could have been. What should have been (3 million more votes… damn Electoral College). I know it is time to channel my energy in to the positive. Time to think before eating that pint of Halo. Time to resist, affect change, and take care of me.
On Monday August 28 I celebrated 25 years cancer free. It has been an interesting journey from 1992 to 2017. The person that I was then is certainly not the same person now. I took some time on the beach in Maui (my husband took me there to celebrate) and thought about what has happened and what I want to accomplish in the next years. I don't want to say the next 25 years because I have no idea what I want to be doing at 72.
In 25 years since that diagnosis I have had some major life experiences. I saw a friend give birth, I got divorced, I moved across country, my mother died, I lived on my own, I met my husband, I got married, had a 20 different jobs, changed careers, got Bachelors and Masters degrees, ran a non-profit and now I think about running for elected office and am desperately trying to make a difference. So the last 25 years has been a rollercoaster. And it has been a wonderful ride.
In the next year I want to take life one week at a time. I want to work on my health. I want to spend more time with friends. I want to help women run for office. I want to write and blog more. I want to declutter and simplify. I want to travel. I will be happy and healthy and live every day for the gift that I was given so long ago. It truly is a blessing to be a survivor. It is not lost on me that Dr. Hunter was right when she told me on March 1, 1992 that if I was going to get cancer Hodgkins was the one I should get. Seeing what cancer has done in the lives of other people, it was the best case scenario.
I looked out at the ocean in one of the most beautiful places in the world, took it all in and sighed a breath of release. Those 25 years were hard and wonderful and blessed. I took another deep breath and thought about the future. I thought it was time to really use the gift I was given. Live a good and wonderful life. And so I shall.
Rose Swearingen is a passionate public speaker and loves to journal about whatever comes to mind. Check out previous posts at Committed Cutie.