Dying Alone

My neighbor, Eva, and I share a wall. It divides our apartments, intersects our lives, leaving jagged the edges where we do not meet. One of those edges was Harriet, who shared a wall with Eva.

This past week, Harriet died. She was found in her favorite chair. It seems hers was a peaceful death but it required a police presence to prove, so for a while her apartment was a crime scene.

Our apartment complex is a 55+ community, and most of us are well beyond middle age. Death is part of the deal of living but in the tenor of these times, death by natural causes has to be proven when a woman dies alone.

We should have known is what Eva and I say to one another but we never know death’s arrival.

It is not that death visited, it is that death came and no one noticed. For days. And then, someone did.

When there was no answer on Harriet’s landline, an extended family member called the police. Later, Harriet’s son, Dave, arrived. To be fair, the police could get here more quickly. Dave lives an hour away

No neighbor checked on Harriet with any regularity, if at all. Eva tells me she is working through her guilt. She and Harriet have a history, and it’s a good one, but their daily strolls around the apartment complex are long gone, almost another lifetime.

Only a few walk with us forever. Yet, living in a community where moving out usually means either nursing home or death, it seems as if connection–being good neighbors–would transcend our differences. It doesn’t.

Harriet’s death troubles me, too. Like Eva, I know I could have done more, much more. I didn’t try hard enough. When Harriet’s chihuahua, Hal, was dying, I did everything I could except give Harriet the one thing she needed, support.

She was angry, afraid, lashing at everyone. Losing Hal was losing her connection to life. All I needed to do was listen. I don’t remember doing much of that. Nor did I see her often after Hal died.

Son Dave took Harriet to her appointments, picked up her medications, and brought her groceries. He saw to her needs but he never came just to visit. That was not their relationship, and both accepted their differences. They loved, regardless.

Dave is not a talker. He just gets on with the next thing, which rarely works out for him. Like the time he brought Harriet a new-to-her recliner. She loved overstuffed recliners and wore out at least three in the time I knew her. It was where she watched TV, slept, ate, and smoked.

She all but burned up each chair. Harriet had congestive heart failure and terribly painful neuropathy. Heavily medicated, she would fall asleep in her chair, cigarette still burning. Eva tells me Harriet had all but quit smoking but just a couple of months ago, Dave brought another recliner. It had bedbugs.

As Eva says, some people are born under a dark cloud, and Dave is one of them. So it seems.

Pencil-thin, husky-voiced, and quick with a southern-spun retort, Harriet never pretended to be what she wasn’t, which is not to say she usually told the truth. Like all of us, sometimes her lies caught up with her, but she held onto them as long as she could.

I could have offered Harriet more. I didn’t. I live with that jagged edge, but in pain is the expression of experience. Mine is not to fix anyone or anything but to meet people where they are, as they are, and walk with them long enough to hear their story. In death, there are no more chances except for the living. Thank you, Harriet.

Eva says we should go no longer than two days without calling each other. Okay, I say. Maybe Eva wants Harriet to know that she, too, is grateful.

Note: For a bit more about Harriet and Hal, you might enjoy “Love Lives in Inconvenient Places.”

Inside Hopelessness Is a Bit of Badass

What I return to, time and again, is the sliver of hope slipped inside hopelessness. It’s so easy to miss–it’s like a well-kept secret–for without hope, hopelessness does not exist. That is so badass.

I, as a sexagenarian, have this conversation regularly with my neighbors. Some are my age but most are septuagenarian and octogenarian. I don’t gain much ground until I remind them about “badass.”

That always brings a smile. It’s a generational thing as to why they grin. I have to cite the Urban Dictionary to remind them badass is a good thing, a powerful, authentic, compassionate way of life. But I know it’s the word “badass” that takes hold as hopelessness finds itself at the curb, albeit momentarily.

A sliver of light lives in unlikely places, no matter how long the darkness lingers or how immense its presence. It is not like hope belongs to only one generation at a time. With historic eyes, hope transcends.

Badass is not an easy sell at any time. Some days, being badass means the right thing to do is way too hard. Being aware is not easy in an existence that is ever-changing. It’s not easy living from the inside out.

Being badass means meeting the storm, knowing that loss looms, accepting all escape routes lead back to the beginning. The only way through is forward. Life gives us hopelessness and within it, hope.

I have learned to lose myself in the rage of hopelessness’ storm. That takes a few badass turns of thought, believe me, but being in its storm is the only way to center myself, to sit in its eye, the hope in hopelessness.

To watch a warbler arrive. My barren landscape brighten with yellow and black, breaking through my black-gray fog. I get a glimpse of the world going on around me, as it should, for no storm is everywhere.

Nor does the winter warbler stay. It is mine to find my way to the self that is still. That journey is never the same nor should it be. It would be pointless to go through a storm and not be changed.

I don’t think it’s a matter of the storm’s rage, although I cannot say I am not affected by its ferocity. I’m just not there to do battle. I let the storm exhaust itself. Rage will do that, when left alone.

And the body adjusts to the ravage that is any disease but it does have a special appreciation for rest in any storm’s aftermath. Being has been through yet another storm and will never be quite the same.

On any day, the body delivers all it has to offer. That may be the best definition of badass yet.

*Badass note:  I’m being quite selective in my definition of badass here, confining it to ethical, authentic, and compassionate behavior. The Urban Dictionary provides alternatives here. 

Feast for Three

Cooper Birthday 12; KMHuberImageThanksgiving of 2012 I was mostly vegetarian, mostly Buddhist, completely wary of my every decision. Mostly was my middle ground I told myself but mostly is milquetoast, no matter where on the path.

If I could not see beyond the point of my own nose, a beagle named Cooper could. He was not fazed by my timidity, and to prove it, he gave me all the patience he had, often disguised as curiosity.

Dogs love unconditionally, and sometimes, we are fortunate enough to have a dog fall in love with us, which is to say we fall as well. I did, he did, and for two years, we were.

Regular readers may remember some of our moments. I often do but every Thanksgiving since 2012, I take a moment to be grateful for Cooper.

Maybe what I remember most is the angst of being almost vegetarian, unable to understand the obstacle is the path, and I was on it.

I meditated about buying a turkey. Can you imagine? Me, either. Groundlessness–impermanence–was new to me but through Cooper, I opened to change.

It is a heady combination: canine love, meditation, and yoga. It becomes a practice, a path of one obstacle after another. Some more easily resolved, like purchasing a turkey for Thanksgiving.

It was not about me–never had been–it was about Cooper. Love can blind that way–I’m grateful every time it does–each moment comes only once. It was Cooper’s last Thanksgiving, and we made a day of it.

Feline EmmaRose was just as delighted with turkey. I remembered that for her remaining years with me, our years together without Cooper.

I have not forgotten our feast for three nor have I set such a banquet again. Its heady aroma returns every Thanksgiving for love never leaves.

2012 was yet another year that some believed the world would end, as if existence is a day on a calendar. One day or forever. How are they any different.

The Other Side of the Wall

Saturday, I read an exchange between Jack Kornfield and Pema Chödrön about ”shortening the fuse,” loading up language for an assured explosion.

My mind went to social media warriors lining up on respective sides of the middle–no one’s land–where no one goes because it means giving up ground. There seems none to give.

And then I found a remarkably insightful article regarding secret Facebook groups. Think about it. Secret groups for free speech in a republic whose constitution protects freedom of speech for ALL.

I am a member of more than one secret group and am not averse to joining others. It is the tenor of these interesting times in which we live, unfortunately. We are closer to being underground than I ever thought possible.

It is a war. I see that now. I am on one side of a wall but it is in no one’s land where I found myself Saturday. I cannot lay claim to taking the first step.

It was my wise neighbor, Grace. Literally, there is an apartment wall that separates our lives but it joins us as well. Where we live is our bond.

Together, we weather the changes in the management of our apartment complex. We have no input but we do have a suggestion box. Such is the tenor of the times.

Grace is not a member of  #TheResistance and is always relieved when I do not cause a “revolt” in a meeting with apartment management. Often, she will put her hand on my arm.

I do not wear my pink pussy hat or my Nasty Women Project shirt when she and I go out, especially not to a meeting with management.

Maybe I’ve been walking this wall for a while. It’s not as noticeable as I thought it would be.

Grace is important to me, for where we live, friendship is not for the faint of heart. Ours is a 55+ apartment complex–low income–for many of us, this is our last home. It’s a shorter friendship for life here.

When Grace and I discussed Puerto Rico, both of our hearts closed. We could not bridge the divide. It surprised us, and it hurt. We discovered the wall.

I cannot say when or if I would have called her, again. These are dark days for everyone; loss looms on both sides. After all, we are losing the middle. The world feels fragile because balance is.

It is Grace who goes to the wall with the announcement: ”Judgment Day has arrived.” I am stunned because I feel that, too.

However, Judgment Day appears to have more than one cause–our apartment complex gates are now operational.

Neither one of us can understand the need for gates. They are anything but a security feature and present mobility issues for both of us. We are not an exclusive community.

Yet, what seeks to exclude brings Grace and I to the wall, the fuse no shorter.

KMHuberImage; Gulf of Mexico, FL; St. Mark's Wildlife Refuge

By the Light of the Moon

We come to recognize that we lead more than one life, its iterations multifaceted. We are one being–an explosive body of energy–exploring what it is to be alive.

My current life began by the light of the moon, August of 2010, sitting on a single bed, one of three pieces of furniture I had not sold or given away. I shared it with Gumby, an elderly, diabetic beagle. We were surrounded by boxes of books, an ottoman that doubled as a linen chest, an antique rocker from my childhood.

I was not unhappy but I was scared. In fact, I was more content than I remembered being in my then 58 years. The bottom of the abyss can feel that way, a beginning. There is something about starting anew; maybe it’s that beginnings never end.

Yet on that day in August, death was close. I could not or would not see it. In my eyes, Gumby grew younger every day. I did a lot of lying to myself then but not about managing her diabetes.

I was meticulous in giving her insulin and managing her diet. It would not be enough, ultimately, but in that August, I needed her to walk me through the moonlight, and she did–for miles–every day.

Sometimes being surrounded by uncertainty is the way to see through fear. How else to look through the life lens, wide-open. Death is not always believable in its first glimpse. It’s only the last look that stays.

I think that’s because life does go on and in its absence, we have memory, its edges soft–fears faded–we will never live that moment again. We know how it turns out.

So this life I lead now began with a dying beagle whose blindness led both of us into the life I have now.  Gumby only stayed a month after we stopped walking by the light of the moon.

Without her, I cannot know when or how I would have left my other life. It doesn’t seem possible. Certainly, the path would have been different.

Morning after morning, I sat in the dark that comes before dawn–sometimes with moonlight, sometimes not–always staring at a computer screen, waiting for the daily inspirational quote from Oprah Winfrey’s newsletter.

Every quotation seemed to be just what I was feeling. Another sliver of light. I wasn’t looking for answers.  I had learned about answers; they are a dime a dozen. Ephemeral.

St. Mark's Refuge; Gulf of Mexico; KMHuberImage

I wanted to stay curious, to find a way to courage, to face questions I had not yet discovered and when I did, ask them aloud. I was tired of being afraid.

I wanted to be Gumby, starting every morning with a walk, unable to see yet confident in the path. I wanted that kind of trust. Scent memory was her GPS.

It has been years since I glimpsed her face in another animal or had a quick flash of memory that seems so real. For a moment I am with her again, walking for miles, never knowing where we are going but always finding home.

It took me years to trust my GPS.

The more we discover, the more lives we live. Like the moon, they have their phases, waxing and waning. A life can only be dark so long, maybe no longer than an eclipse even when it feels an eternity.

Never fear the path for it is always home.

One Storm at a Time

These past two weeks have been a bit of a hurricane for me, a storm within a storm but today’s post focuses on Hurricane Irma.  She took her time crossing Florida and many parts of the state are devastated and without power.

At times Tallahassee was in Irma’s path but she turned northeast, not before disrupting the city–enough to be under curfew for a couple of days.

Floridians know the hurricane season is far from over.

It may seem quite odd that I turn to the trees during storms but I do. Today’s post, I Talk to Trees, is about just that, specifically the small woods outside my window.

I offer a swinging bench to sit for a bit to read the full post on Aim for Even.

Wherever you are, be safe. There’s only one of you, only one. ❤



Survey Says…

Living on a fixed income can confine–no doubt about that–my budget is the same bottom-line every month but cost overflows require a constant balancing act.

So, I have been looking for ways to supplement my income. While costs will ever be fluid, I need to work within my current frame of life, which includes aging and chronic illness.

It is not that my current frame is without flexibility for it is not. Neither chronic illness nor aging confine but both, too, have a budget. To overrun either is to exact a cost on myself that is rarely made up next month or in this lifetime.

When life expands, so does its frame but it has to be life doing the expanding rather than egomania or placing myself within a frame that does not fit.

So, I started taking online surveys for payment–in cents, usually. The best surveys pay a dollar or two and some up to five but these are not the usual fare.

I’m conscientious in my work–surveys interest me–I’m curious what others measure. The surveys also mirror my own living within the frame that is my life.

Specifically, my experience as an aging, disabled woman living in Florida. Any one of those labels will disqualify me and frequently does. This is also true if I choose the label retired.

Often, my own blend of chronic illness is too rare (or too common) to warrant a survey but diabetes, hypertension, and cholesterol seem to be current hot topics for surveys.

But my label bias is showing. For me, labels are difficult, a lifelong issue, but I do recognize their importance in providing context.

And although I have not been in contact with anyone else who participates in these surveys, I suspect they, too, find themselves disqualified for their own group of labels.

I don’t want to get worked up about labels, which I am wont to do.

The surveys that I am offered most frequently have to do with gaming videos, although I do not own an Xbox or virtual reality equipment. I’m not into role-playing games, either.

I am, however, fascinated with strategy/puzzle games, mysteries mostly, forcing me to focus on the story’s task at hand. Similar to reading, I am immersed in a story that is not mine. Freely, I admit to this escape.

These games help me find the way through my fog, when my brain is more mush than matter. Now, I have surveys, too–similar but not the same–it is the absence of story that sets the two apart, I think.

Surveys end–happily or no–while at game’s end, these “mysteries” reveal a successful strategy. On some days, that is a better use of my time.

Of course, there are surveys I reject outright but I admit I am most careful with the qualifying questions, if the promised payment is larger. I, too, have my mouse and cheese moments.

Always, the mouse runs the maze for cheese, seeking at least the regular fare but a larger reward is even better. Any extra effort is only a problem when the reward is denied without explanation or is less than promised.

If I value my time in terms of dollars and cents–within this context–I am well on the way to passing our national debt, maybe as soon as the end of next week.

It’s not that I don’t value my time–I do–but in my current frame, these surveys add more than the time they take. Again, it’s context.

No matter how bad a day is for me, physically or emotionally, I find enough brain cells for surveys, not because they are witless but because they help me find the way to mine.

I am not caught up in the ego of discomfort or frustration. Rather, I am in life as it is–with my pain. It sits with me. I sit with it. I learn something.

Every day is not a jackpot, and every day what I want will not fit within my frame but every day, I have my space. It is enough.

Why chase cheese if it is not on the day’s menu?