Sunday, December 14, 2014

Goodbye to a Lousy Year

2014 is almost over.

It's about damn time!

This has not been a friendly year. I can't pinpoint one thing that made it bad; it was just an overall feeling of the year

Regrets about choices made. 

Lousy bosses. 

Living in a place that gives new meaning to depressing. 



So many words to describe this year bounce through my mind; none of them positive. I know there were good times, friends made, laughs. But the negative seems to have ruled 2014.

As we face the last few days of this year, I am hopeful that 2015 is going to be our year. Better jobs, better place to live, new friends, new hopes for the new year are high and they are wide open, not locked down to a specific place or a specific job. Whatever feels right and fits us is what I'm hoping for.

All things are possible. 

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Life is Short

Life is short….

That’s what I hear at least. I had a conversation with my husband this morning about just that. In recent weeks, we have been faced with people our age dying – some suddenly, others battling horrible diseases. It’s so strange to think that we have made it to an age where our peers dying isn't all that strange a thing. Granted, dying in your late-40s is still far too young, but in a country where obesity and laziness are two of the top traits that identify us as Americans (Merica!), it’s not really all that shocking.

But with 50 just around the corner for us, we discussed what it is that keeps us feeling young, because I have to say I do not feel anywhere near 50. Holy cow, 50 is old, right? I don’t feel old. Sure, the body has more aches than it used to, but I don’t feel any different in my head than the person who met and fell in love with a Canadian boy on a hill in Germany 23 years ago.

I think that last statement is part of what keeps us young. Seriously, who can say something like that?

“I’m American and I met my Canadian husband on a hill in Germany.”

I grew up in a town where many of my peers (and family members for that matter) graduated high school and never left. Some went off to college, yet still came back to that same small town (for the record, just the thought makes me physically ill!). For them, I guess the consistency of being in that same place is comforting. To my mind, that is the definition of stagnation. Adventure keeps me alive!

“Who cares where it takes us? Let’s get on and see where it goes.”

In 2013, my husband and I went to Shanghai, China, for our 20th wedding anniversary. We were living in Japan at the time, so it isn't like it was a long trip, but still…CHINA! When we walked off of the plane, having no real idea yet of what life in China was like, we were freaking out a little, but at the same time it was so damn exhilarating! 

Excitement, fear, anticipation, curiosity…my heart raced with it all!

We soon found out that China (or Shanghai, at least) is nothing like we feared “Red China” would be. It was an amazingly vibrant city with friendly people, beautiful architecture and art, shopping, restaurants…it had everything. One day, as we were walking along The Bund, we came to a window selling ferry tickets. Because we could not read Chinese, we had no idea where the ferry was going. Mike suggested we buy tickets and get on. My initial reaction was, “What the hell is wrong with you? What if it carries us 20 miles down the river and dumps us off in some unknown place?” As his response above so obviously demonstrates, he didn't care.

We got on the ferry that day. Turns out it did nothing more than take us across the river to Pudong, but that one leap into the unknown has become my motto in life. Don’t fear where the path will take you; instead, trust in yourself to be able to deal with whatever adventure lies at the end of the path.

I think this mentality is what keeps us young. Yes, we are almost 50. Mike just retired after 24 years in the military. He has a master’s degree in health services administration. While he waits out the slow hiring process for the executive level positions he is applying for, he’s decided to go to culinary school. He’s always loved cooking and works some serious magic in a kitchen, so why not? It’s never too late to chase a dream. 

In that same vein, I am considering getting a master’s degree. I finished two bachelor’s degrees in 2001 and then decided it was more important to be home with my children, so now I have two pieces of paper that do nothing for me because I don’t have experience in those fields. So maybe a master’s degree is a good idea. Or maybe I just want to get certified to teach English as a second language so that we can go to another country for a while.

OH! And I want to get braces. I've always hated my teeth. I despise pictures of myself because of my teeth. So I want to get braces. Who cares that I’m almost 50…right?

Nothing protects us from dying. Absolutely nothing. You can be in your late 70s, having lived a healthy lifestyle forever and get cancer. Or, you can be in your late 70s, having smoked for over 50 years, be overweight, and still golf three times a week. You can drop dead of a stroke or a heart attack at 48. You just don’t know when your time will come. But I think keeping yourself alive…having an adventure every day, even if it is just to walk down a street you've never explored, or go to a city with no plan on where you’re going to go, but just to walk and see what you find – is what keeps you young. Mind, body and soul need an adventure.

Get on the ferry. I dare you.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

August again.

It's August. I hate August. Fortunately, we've been so busy this year that it has taken a while for it to really hit me.

Small blessings.

This past week I got some items back that have been in storage for more than three years. Before leaving for Japan in 2011 I put these things . . . special things . . . in storage so that they could not possible be lost or damaged in the move. Among those things were my children's baby books. My wedding album. Old photos. Bankers boxes full of all the art work created in the past 20 years by my kids.

The programs I created for the Celebration of Life we had five days after Keeghan died. A scrapbook made by a dear woman from Special Love chronicling Keeghan's week at camp, just two weeks before he died. The clothes he was wearing when he died.


One of the items I've had for a few years and have moved all around the world with me is a brown paper bag full of film canisters. Undeveloped film mostly. Back when Mike and I were young parents, we took tons of pictures of our kids. We weren't always able to afford to have all the film we took developed. Over time, I forgot about the bag, but every time we move - which is about every 1-2 years - I find it again.

Then Keeghan died. After that, every time I found that bag, I died a little inside myself because I knew that there were probably pictures of him on that undeveloped film. Pictures of my happy, smiling, seemingly healthy, precious little boy. Pictures not yet seen by anyone. Pictures that would be such a gift, and such torture at the same time.

One of the first things I noticed when we moved into our apartment here in San Diego was that there is a camera store just two blocks away. Besides selling cameras and accessories, they also develop film. It seemed like a sign. Over the past six years since Keeghan died, I've found that brown paper bag four times. Each time I have told myself that I couldn't get the film developed because I didn't know of a place to take it. Here, I couldn't use that excuse.

So I dropped the bag of film off today. It may all be for naught because, after all these years, the film may not even develop. I'll find out tomorrow I guess.

If it does develop though, August seems like the right time to see pictures of Mackenzie and Keeghan that I've never seen before. Maybe there will be new pictures of Mike and I as well. New photos of my three greatest treasures.

None of it will change anything though. In fourteen days, we will still mark the six year anniversary of Keeghan's death. Six years . . . and it still doesn't feel real. I found stories today that he wrote . . . he loved to write just like I do. One of them, a story he wrote about his dad, started with, "My dad's name is Michael. His nickname is Dork." Instant laughter, followed by helpless tears.

I miss him. So much.

I hate August.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Baby steps . . .

I took a step toward something today that was more difficult than I thought it would be, and I'm still completely terrified about it.

A few weeks ago I had an appointment at the VA Hospital here to get set up with a new Primary Care Manager. In discussing my medical history, Keeghan's death came up. The doctor asked me if I needed a referral to a counselor to talk about it. As I was saying my normal, "No, I'm fine" my husband was sitting behind the doctor nodding "yes" at me. I'm not sure why, but that reaction from him immediately had me in tears. So of course, the doctor immediately put in a referral to psychiatry for me.

I received a call a few days later from a Social Work Supervisor who was very kind, starting the conversation by extending his condolences. He then talked to me for a few minutes about possibly referring me to a support group for grief management, stating he thought that might be more helpful than individual counseling.

For the past few years, I have "used" my friends in the cancer community as my support group, but I now know that really wasn't helping. Instead, it was having the exact opposite effect, making me feel even more isolated because so many of them are not where I am. They still kiss their children goodnight. Their children have unique post-treatment issues of their own, something I will never understand, but damn it . . . they can still hug their child, tell him they love him, fight for him. They have no understanding of how helpless I feel not being able to do any of those things.

So maybe this group therapy thing will be good. I've not had good luck with individual therapists because I've never had one who actually gets it. They have education and fancy titles, but they haven't experienced it. They just don't know.  But I'm so scared. Getting into a room with others who do get it, opening up and sharing ... I don't know if I can do it. It's easy like this, behind my computer screen, no one to see how often I have to walk away and sob to get through typing a few paragraphs. In a room of strangers ... I just don't know.

But I'm going to give it a try. I called the social worker today and discussed finding groups that are cancer specific, preferably childhood cancer specific. I'm going to call a couple myself and he is going to put out feelers to see what he can find.

Baby steps. That's what it has been since Keeghan left. A little bit at a time.

Wish me luck.

Monday, July 7, 2014

Broken thinking.

life begins . . .

grow, play, listen, learn
life’s early challenges

plan, prepare, study, apply
youth’s dedication

choose, try, work, earn
high expectations

fall, plan, love, hope
a shared journey

conceive, deliver, routine, normal
life in motion

tragedy, fear, nightmare, death
wait, what?

wish, pray, beg, cower
how can this be?

struggle, hurt, question, continue
what choice is there?

different, misfit, pariah, lonely
not my fault

want, need, chance, opportunity
is it too late to start anew?

doubt, frustration, anxiety, impatience
just let me prove myself!

life so far . . .

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Backlash ensues.

It seems my last blog post has caused quite the stir. Interesting, considering I never stated the names of any of the people I was writing about. Since one of them is no longer living, I can only assume the other chose to tell everyone I was writing about her.


Keeping it real folks, I did not set out to "smear" that person. Anyone who knows me knows that writing is therapeutic for me. Something that was causing pain needed to get out of my head. I waited over two months hoping the other person would reach out. I was the one who was judged, remember? Was I supposed to be the one to beg forgiveness for my honesty? Should I have begged her to try to see my perspective? Do I always have to see things the way she does?

I became a part of this 46 Mommas group way back in 2009. I thought then that getting 46 women in one room was a crazy idea. Five years later, I still do. I've met some amazing people and I've met some nut jobs. Most of the women I've met fall somewhere in the middle. One of the challenges of joining a group like this after your child has died is that no one knows you as an actual "cancer mom." You're an "angel momma" - a phrase that bites me in the ass every time I hear it. I have been a part of conversations with other "cancer moms" where it was like everyone at the table forgot that I once actively lived the life of doctor appointments, labs, and scan anxiety that they still live. It's only when they realize I haven't said anything in a while that someone feels pity and throws me a bone - "did you ever have to deal with this with Keeghan?"

It's lonely. It hurts. It isn't fair.

But because I was friends with these people, I smiled and nodded a lot, and then cried in the car on the way home. When something happens, i.e., the death of the man I spoke of before, that I have far more knowledge and understanding of than these other people do and I express an honest opinion, I'm wrong.

So be it. Hate me. Call me names. Make yourself into a martyr. Let anger turn you into someone like the man who died.

My life will continue on. I will forever cherish the sisterhood I once felt with that person, albeit tarnished by the way it ended. Those who appreciate my honesty, understand my perspective because they have been there, or accept my perspective because they honestly can't come close to understanding it, will still be my friends.

To all of the saints out there looking down on me - I wish you well.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Be careful who you judge.

I had someone unfriend me on FB a couple years ago because I called her out for (imho) being shallow. Her husband couldn't go to a function with her (for the record, it was Wine Fest) and whined about it on FB, saying "FML." I called her out on it because I didn't think something so small called for that (stupid) phrase. She unfriended me for it, and I was just fine with letting the friendship go.

Recently I chose to end a friendship with another friend, a cancer mom who (I thought) was a good friend of mine, because she judged me on something I said on FB. I had just heard about the death of a man whose son, like my own, died of a brain tumor a few years ago. I won't lie, I thought this man was horrible. He did not allow his son to die with dignity, instead posting pictures of the child vomiting, naked and being held up on a toilet, and in the end, of the boy's ashes in a plastic bag with a face drawn on it. The man was despicable. So when I heard of his death, I posted "karma baby" on my FB wall.  I did not use his name. I didn't need to because the number of people who shared my feelings about him knew exactly what I was talking about.

Let me get something straight right up front: I am not happy the man died. That isn't what I said. But I do feel karma came back to bite him because he was so negative.

My friend never said anything about my post. A couple of weeks later though, I sent her a text message asking if she knew how he died. What I really wanted to know was if his anger over his son's death led to his own end. I have fought to control my anger ever since Keeghan died. Most of the time anymore I succeed, but that wasn't the case in the first few years. Anger ate away at me like an invisible flesh eating disease and the only cure was for me to recognize it and harness it. My friend didn't ask why I wanted to know though. Instead, when I asked if she would tell me if she knew, she replied that she would not, followed by, "Do you want to gloat?"

  1. 1.
    contemplate or dwell on one's own success or another's misfortune with smugness or malignant pleasure.

Yes, that is exactly what I wanted to do. I wanted to dwell on how much more successful I have been at what? Grieving? Staying alive after my son died? I am totally the kind of person who wants to jump up and down with malignant pleasure over the fact that this man died. At least that is what my FRIEND thought of me.

My thoughts about all of this brewed in the back of my mind for a couple of months. To say that I was angry would be a lie. Angry is far too mild a word. But it took some time for me to really analyze what it was I was feeling. This person had walked the Cancer Path with her child for a while, and the path she walked had absolutely been horrible, but her path was short and she arrived at the other side with her son still beside her. In that respect, the path she traveled with her son and the one I traveled with my son shared very few commonalities.

The man I speak of who died had walked a much more similar path. We both dealt with very young sons being diagnosed with brain cancer. Both of our sons relapsed. We both watched as cancer took away our children's ability to do basic things like walk, talk, eat, sit on a toilet without assistance. We watched our boys DIE. Our paths were very much the same. It is the way we dealt with our journeys that differed. 

When my son reached the point where his brain tumor made one eye start to turn to the side, I still took pictures of him because every moment was one to be cherished, but I never posted them out for all and sundry to see. When he needed his dad to help him sit on a toilet, it never occurred to me to run and grab a camera to take a picture of it, let alone post it online. And my son's ashes are treated with respect, always. ALWAYS.

Additionally, I have never badgered anyone to donate money to cancer research. I've never tried to make someone feel guilty for not donating, had my friends attack them on Facebook, or belittled those who didn't jump on my bandwagon. He did. Loudly, publicly, and with complete malice, all born of his anger. Anger I could understand.

This person I had called "friend" judged me - harshly - on something she had no understanding of. None. Her path didn't come close to what mine and this father's had been. Do I have the right to judge him? Most would say no, but I say yes. Tell me I'm wrong, but unless you've also walked our path, I'll tell you to shut the *#@% up because you don't know anything. Just like she didn't. 

Maybe this is a case of tit for tat - I was unfriended for judging someone, and then I unfriended someone for judging me. 

C'est la vie. 

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Does anyone wonder about the lives of old people?

I read this poem as I was catching up on what some of my friends are doing on Facebook (where, you know, I no longer post but I still read what other people say occasionally) and this caught my eye.  Our country has such a different outlook on our elder people - they're a nuisance, they're expensive to provide care for...but do we ever stop to wonder what kind of life they've led?

While living in Okinawa, I met a few ladies who were quite old. Most of them got around better than some 40-year-olds I know, yet were in their 70s! One particular lady, Chieko, was able to tell us stories of having been a small girl when the Americans invaded Okinawa during World War II. She told of hiding in a cave with all of the other women and children from her village and how, once the fighting stopped, her grandmother went out to meet the Americans. You see, the Japanese military had told the villagers not to ever let themselves be caught because the enemy would rape the women and then kill them all. Chieko's grandmother volunteered to go out and meet this enemy who was guaranteed to rape and kill her because, as she told her granddaughter, "I am an old woman", meaning her life had been led and she was ok with possibly sacrificing herself to protect the rest of those in the cave.

Of course, that isn't what happened. The grandmother came back a few days later with friendly Americans, and brought everyone out of the cave. Chieko eventually grew up and married a man who she met while he was stationed in Okinawa while serving in the US Navy. When I met her, she was close to celebrating her 60th wedding anniversary with him.

All of this I learned because I asked a question - what was it like growing up in Okinawa?

Behind every old, weathered, beautiful face there is a story of love, happiness, sadness, tragedy, and triumph. It's such a shame we don't ask to hear those stories more often.

The following is the story I saw on Facebook today:

Cranky Old Man

What do you see nurses? . . .. . .What do you see?
What are you thinking .. . when you're looking at me?
A cranky old man, . . . . . .not very wise,
Uncertain of habit .. . . . . . . .. with faraway eyes?
Who dribbles his food .. . ... . . and makes no reply.
When you say in a loud voice . .'I do wish you'd try!'
Who seems not to notice . . .the things that you do.
And forever is losing . . . . . .. . . A sock or shoe?
Who, resisting or not . . . ... lets you do as you will,
With bathing and feeding . . . .The long day to fill?
Is that what you're thinking?. .Is that what you see?
Then open your eyes, nurse .you're not looking at me.
I'll tell you who I am . . . . .. As I sit here so still,
As I do at your bidding, .. . . . as I eat at your will.
I'm a small child of Ten . .with a father and mother,
Brothers and sisters .. . . .. . who love one another
A young boy of Sixteen . . . .. with wings on his feet
Dreaming that soon now . . .. . . a lover he'll meet.
A groom soon at Twenty . . . heart gives a leap.
Remembering, the vows .. .. .that I promised to keep.
At Twenty-Five, now . . . . .I have young of my own.
Who need me to guide . . . And a secure happy home.
A man of Thirty . .. . . . . My young now grown fast,
Bound to each other . . .. With ties that should last.
At Forty, my young sons .. .have grown and are gone,
But my woman is beside me . . to see I don't mourn.
At Fifty, once more, .. ...Babies play 'round my knee,
Again, we know children . . . . My loved one and me.
Dark days are upon me . . . . My wife is now dead.
I look at the future ... . . . . I shudder with dread.
For my young are all rearing .. . . young of their own.
And I think of the years . . . And the love that I've known.
I'm now an old man . . . . . . .. and nature is cruel.
It's jest to make old age . . . . . . . look like a fool.
The body, it crumbles .. .. . grace and vigor, depart.
There is now a stone . . . where I once had a heart.
But inside this old carcass . A young man still dwells,
And now and again . . . . . my battered heart swells
I remember the joys . . . . .. . I remember the pain.
And I'm loving and living . . . . . . . life over again.
I think of the years, all too few . . .. gone too fast.
And accept the stark fact . . . that nothing can last.
So open your eyes, people .. . . . .. . . open and see.
Not a cranky old man .
Look closer . . . . see .. .. . .. .... . ME!!

Monday, June 2, 2014

No Redeeming Qualities

It has been one year since we left Japan.  Technically tomorrow is the anniversary of our arrival here, but by this time last year we had already boarded a plane out of the country we had called home for nearly two years. I wish I could say that our first year at Edwards AFB has been as great as Okinawa was, but I just can't.  As my husband says (repeatedly) every time he drives the long drive out to the base that we are forced to live on, "this place has absolutely no redeeming qualities."

No redeeming qualities.

I will say that we have met some incredible people here, but considering the fact that the majority of them hate it here as well, I don't count that as a redeeming quality. Those poor souls are just our prison mates in Hell.

And yes, I do consider this place Hell.  Consider these facts:

  • because of my husband's position, we are forced to live on base.
  • there is very little to choose from - especially of a healthy nature - for dining out on base.
  • the gym is closed on weekends, as are many of the fast food restaurants.
  • unlike any other base we have ever been to, there is no theater on the base.
  • the commissary and base exchange here are, at best, mediocre - small, with a pathetic choice of products.  More often than not, you have to travel to some other town to get what you need.
  • the base is 35 miles from Palmdale, 25 miles from Lancaster, and 15 miles from Rosamond.
Keep this in mind - if Palmdale is the arsehole of California (which many, MANY people who don't live here by choice would agree), then Lancaster is a bruise on the arse of California, and Rosamond is a pimple on the bruise on the arse.  All three places just suck.  But back to the list.

  • the overall "culture" of the Antelope Valley, which encompasses the three aforementioned cities, can only be described as life in slow motion. I've never lived anywhere so laid back in terms of arriving on time, providing timely service, or even just verbally responding in a reasonable amount of time!  No lie, I have asked questions of people before and had them stare at me, mouth agape, for a full ten seconds before even blinking, let alone providing a verbal response!  I just don't understand.
  • in order to get to anywhere of any real interest, you have to drive at least an hour. I ordered a new car for myself while still in Japan. When I took possession of it on June 10th, 2013 it had 7 miles on the odometer. It is June 2nd and it now has 19,000 miles on it. I have never driven so many miles in one year in my life.
  • and finally there is the weather.  Dry, dry, dry and more DRY, with wind almost daily.  Not just a light breeze; I'm talking 25 mph wind with gusts up to 35 mph.  So even when the weather is seemingly nice, you walk outside and are covered in a layer of dust in minutes.  Don't even think about opening windows in your house unless you want to spend an entire day dusting.
So redeeming qualities. I know people who have been stuck here for years, and all I can think is that they must have angered the gods in a BIG way in a past life to be punished so. We have a few weeks left before we will finally be paroled from our sentence at Edwards AFB, and it can't come soon enough.

Monday, May 19, 2014

Day 10 Without Facebook

Ten days without Facebook. Am I surviving? Absolutely. Possibly even thriving.

I do have a confession to make however. I never realized how many times throughout the day I "write" Facebook status updates in my head. Something funny happens and, in my head, I am immediately thinking of how I will word my witty post for the masses to read so that they, too, can enjoy the hilarity of my day. I was appalled at myself until I told Mike about it and he says he does the same thing. We both agreed that we feel a little disgusted with ourselves for having let a social network become so embedded in our thought processes.

I'm not sure what I have filled the time in with since giving up Facebook. I think my laundry might be more caught up than it normally was before. I've applied for a few more jobs online. I've read the news. I've had conversations with my husband about things other than what was going on with some person I "kind of" know on Facebook. I've written more actual paragraphs, some even with a pen and paper.

So overall I think life has been good. My husband has always said that "it takes 21 days to give up a habit" though, so we'll see if I am still happily Facebook-free in 11 days or if I am curled up in a corner, shaking, typing on an invisible keyboard in front of me because I just need to tell the world (you know, that big world of 194 friends I have) that the service I received at lunch was horrible, or that my commute to work took forever, or that I'm getting my nails done today.

I'm pretty sure the world can live without that news.

Friday, May 16, 2014

Dear Tooth Fairy...

As a mother, I am a bit of a hoarder. I saved so many things as my children were growing up - pictures doodled on post-it's, art projects from school, letters to the Tooth Fairy. I wasn't always organized about how I saved them though. Maybe it is because we have packed and unpacked ten times over the past 22 years, but these little gems from my kids show up in strange places.

Today, as I was digging through a bag of old craft projects, I found this letter. Needless to say, it was bittersweet. I couldn't tell you how old Keeghan was when he wrote it, or how his tooth came out without him having anything to leave as proof for the Tooth Fairy. But there is so much of his personality in this...for a moment, it was like he was still here.

I laughed when I first found the letter. The envelope was even sealed still! But I was on my way out to a job fair with Mike at the time, so I had to put it away - physically and mentally - or I would have buckled and been a crying mess for the rest of the day. But it's been there in the back of my mind, just waiting for the right time to pull it out and examine it. Soon after getting home, I dug the letter out again and looked at it more closely.

The first and most obvious thing that tears at my heart is just that it is his writing. He touched this! That alone makes it such a precious find. He always had such lopsided penmanship. We never understood why, but from the time he began learning to write, he wrote many of his letters from right to left. Nothing could make him do it any other way. So his letter spacing was always a bit off.

Then there are the words themselves. The fact that he asked the Tooth Fairy if she believed him and then apologized for losing his tooth is so Keeghan. He's worried about whether his story is believable, but also wants her to know he is sorry (he never wanted anyone to be upset with him).

And oh, the folding! The letter was in a standard legal-size envelope, but the letter was folded to about the size of my thumb! He was only finished folding when the paper could not be folded (easily) any further. It didn't matter that only two folds would have been enough to fit it into the envelope.  

So much of my little man is in this one piece of paper. If he was here as the 18-year-old that he should be, finding this letter would still be bittersweet because he would no longer be my little boy. Finding it now, when he has been gone for nearly six years is torture. I miss him so much. Maybe these little hidden gifts are his way of letting me know he's ok.  

I only wish I was.

Monday, May 12, 2014

Smells like Keeghan's Mama

I've never been a big fan of perfume. I always have a bottle of it around, but it isn't something I wear daily. I tend to choose one brand and wear only that.  In fact, in my 48 years, I only remember ever wearing three brands - Anais Anais in college, Estée Lauder Beautiful in my twenties, and then some time in my thirties I bought a bottle of Kenneth Cole Black for women.  My husband liked how it smelled, and that was really all that mattered to me. I still only wore it occasionally though because my husband always tells me that I smell good even when I'm not wearing perfume.

It's funny how that works, loving the way a person smells even when they're not wearing any artificial scent. During the times that my husband and I have been apart - and, as a military family for 20+ years now, we've had our share of separations - that smell that is uniquely him is one of the things I've missed the most.  I will delay washing a shirt that he wore right before leaving on a deployment for days just to be able to pick it up, bury my face in it and pretend he's still here.

When my son was alive, our favorite evening position while watching television was me sitting sideways on the sofa, him between my legs leaning back against me.  I would play with his hair, running my fingers through it and taking in that smell that was just his, the smell of my baby boy.  When we were told there was nothing more that could be done to treat his brain tumor, that we should take him home and "keep him comfortable" until he died, I would sit every night on the sofa and bury my face in his hair, taking in that smell, wondering how I would ever get through the rest of my life without it.

One of the smells that Keeghan loved was my perfume.  On the rare occasions when I would wear it, he was always the first to say, "You smell good Mama."  My husband and daughter would notice also, but never as quickly as Keeghan did.  I don't know how long it was after his death that I noticed my bottle of perfume was getting low, but when I did notice it, I started looking for another bottle to buy immediately. But I couldn't find one.  I looked in every department store, at the Exchange on base...nothing.  I could find Kenneth Cole Black for men, but not for women.

Since then, I have only let myself spray a smidgeon of perfume on, and only for truly special occasions. I took it to Shanghai, China last year when Mike and I went there for our 20th wedding anniversary, but again, I only let myself use a little at a time.  

Two weeks ago, however, everything changed.  While walking around the fashion district in downtown Los Angeles, Mike and I passed one of those perfume outlets that you usually find wherever there are knock-off stores.  I looked at Mike and he knew exactly what I was thinking and said, "Let's go in."  Walking around the store I didn't find what I was looking for, but I decided to ask anyway.  The store clerk went searching, and after only a short time, he found it!  The only large size bottle left was a display, but there were smaller sizes. Of course, there was no question as to whether I would buy it or not.  I didn't even care that it might not be the real deal.  As soon as we left the store, I opened it and sprayed some on.  And then I told Mike the story of how it really wasn't for him that I wore that perfume anymore.  I explained that, when I have it on, I know I smell like Keeghan's mama.  

I still only let myself spray a little bit on at a time, and not every day, becasue I don't know when I will find another bottle.  But for now I can wear it happily and know that somewhere, wherever he is, Keeghan thinks I smell good.

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Day 1, No Facebook, Thoughts on "Friends"

So, the experiment begins...Day 1

I deactivated my Facebook account today. Actually, I deactivated all three of them. Scary to think I had three, although one I never really used and another was my "military wife" account. But still...slave to social networking much?

There are people on Facebook I will miss, and there are certainly train wrecks that I will miss watching. There are "friends" who will probably not even notice my absence. It's a sad realization, but events of the past few weeks had already shown me that some people who I thought were legitimate, real life friends really aren't. Life is too short to waste time with friendships that only exist when it is convenient for the other person, but not when I need a friend.  

I've noticed a trend recently in people. So many seem to live in a universe that revolves around them, and the people they consider "friends" are only that when they can do something for the person at the center of the universe. They don't consider the other person's feelings, only their own. They certainly don't take into consideration whether what they are saying is hurtful to anyone else. I'm sure at some point I was that person as well.

Now, imagine each of our universes as a circle. What I want for myself is also convenient for Friend A, therefore our circles overlap in a happy way. Many other Friends overlap with my universe as well. But Friend A begins to get so caught up in her own universe, always talking about herself and her own life and accomplishments. She no longer thinks of my life in any way. Our circles are no longer the perfect venn diagram, overlapping symbiotically, yet we are trying to maintain the friendship. That is Facebook. Connections are made, "friendships" created, at a time when our circles overlap. But when those same circles become disconnected, we still hang on. It makes no sense.

So I am disconnecting my circle from 194 others. Those who know me well and wish to can still keep in touch with me. I gave everyone my email address a couple of days before deactivating my account, so hopefully those who wanted it wrote it down. Those who have been hanging on to our friendship even though it is past its prime can rest easy in the knowledge that they didn't have to deal with the awkwardness of unfriending me. I am looking forwarding to working on building more meaningful friendships through real correspondence and conversation, insteal of voyeuristic socializing through a computer screen.  Who knows?  Maybe I will start a trend and save a million postal workers' jobs!  I doubt it, but it's a nice thought.

Friday, May 9, 2014

High Expectations

I have made and lost/ditched more friends over the years than I can count. For a long time I blamed it on me just not being likable, but I don't think that is it. I think I just have high expectations. That, and a low need for female companionship. I've never quite understood women who need their gaggle of girlfriends. Maybe it is because I have no sisters. I don't know. I just know that, when put in a room full of women, I start getting twitchy after about five minutes and start scoping out where all the exits are!

This ... flaw, I guess? ... in my personality has made the last 17 years of being a military wife difficult at times. Spouse groups, for the most part, are full of women even though there are plenty of couples nowadays where the wife is the active duty military member. Guys are just smart and know to stay away from the Hen House that is the Military Spouse Group. I've tried numerous times to be part of one of these groups, and it almost always comes back to bite me.

At our first assignment, one of the other wives went to the hospital commander's wife and told her that I should not be allowed to join the group (no lie) because I was "too Army-ish." My first response was to thank her, because as an ex-Army private I was proud of my Army-like ways.  But also, as someone who was new to dealing with the Air Force, what I had seen thus far came a long way from impressing me. Of course, the commander's spouse did not ban me from the group, and we all found out later on that the wife who requested that ban was, well ... crazy. Certifiably so actually.

At our next assignment, I volunteered to be a Key Spouse only to end up being the only Key Spouse for an entire squadron, which led to some saying I was trying to be more important than my husband's rank warranted. After that, I gave up spouse activities for years. I didn't need a bunch of other women in my business anyway. But along the way there were still friends made - some I still keep in touch with, some I have written off as more work than they were worth.

For the past few years I have blamed my impatience with people on my anger over Keeghan's death. That might seem like I am reaching, but I'm not. In the past 5 years I have ended relationships with family members that, prior to Keeghan's death, I had tolerated even though they made me unhappy. Now? I have no problem whatsoever cutting ties with people who bring me down, whether I am related to them or not. Keeghan's journey with cancer taught me that life is far too short to waste time with people who contribute nothing to my quality of life.

Here's the problem with having such high expectations of people though - I want to get back out into the workforce when Mike retires in a few months, and one of the things I've also learned over the past 17 years of watching my husband's career is that having high expectations of everyone around you only sets you up for disappointment and frustration. Sure, there are some who will live up to those expectations, and they are the true gems of the world. But for every gem there are two unpolished rocks. Granted, some of those rocks are only that way because they have lacked the proper mentoring and leadership to help them become gems, so there is still hope for them. But then there's the Fool's Gold, the ones with the inflated egos who look like gems on the surface, but have no integrity or value inside. Everyone knows someone like that, and sadly, most people work with at least one as well. I had to deal with that in the job I had a few months ago working in a real estate office. A building full of fake gems that place was!

It would be ok if it was only the inflated ego that you had to deal with. I grew up with one of those. It's the lack of integrity I struggle with though. People who claim to work hard, but don't. People who have trump cards just saved up for when someone places a high expectation on them ...

"I'm so busy!"

"It's not my fault!"


... when really the true excuse is a lack of work ethic and laziness. I love to work. A good, busy work day makes 8 hours go by so much faster than a lazy day of looking at the clock.

So there you have it, my fear for the day. How will I deal with people when I am actually in the workforce and no longer have the luxury of quitting just because I don't like the work ethic of those around me (which is pretty much why I no longer work in the real estate office)? Do I lower my standards? Become the most hated person in the office? Come home and complain to my husband every night because his excess amount of integrity has set everyone else in the world up to always be failures in my eyes?

Honestly, it must be very hard to be my friend. To be my co-worker will be excruciating.

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Look Up.

Do I really have 194 friends? Can someone even be called "friend" if the only interaction I have with them is through my computer? Can life be lived without social networking?


I don't have 194 friends. I don't even truly know that many people. But I have 194 people who, for whatever reason, want to know what I have to say on Facebook.

Can someone I've never met in person, and who I only interact with online, be called a friend? Absolutely yes. I know people in just this way who have been more supportive than people I was born and raised with.

Can life be lived without social networking? Well, I am about to try. Starting Saturday, May 10th, I'm shutting down my social networking accounts. Instead of looking at my iPad every evening, I'm going to look at my family. Or maybe the television. But I'll do it with my family.

This should be interesting.

Friday, March 7, 2014

A Day in the Life . . . as it should have been

For a few months now I have been thinking about what Keeghan's 18th birthday would have been like had cancer never entered our lives.  I'm sure some would think it is unhealthy to spend so much time imagining something that will never happen, but in many ways it gave me comfort.  After a while I decided to write it down because, well, that's just what I do.

A day in the life of a boy turning 18, as it should have been.

March 7, 2014


The alarm went off, but he ignored it.

As usual.


His mom sticks her head in his door.  “Keeghan! It’s time to wake up Bubby!”

“Five more minutes?” he asked.

It was a game they’d been playing since he was little.  Keeghan never was much of a morning person.  He grew up hearing stories about how he would sleep through Mom dressing him for daycare, how grumpy he was until he’d had his first cup of coffee and cereal (his breakfast of choice since middle school).  Not much had changed.  He still didn’t like mornings, but today was different.  Today was his birthday!



So many things rushed through his mind as he enjoyed his five-minute-snooze. adult!  He’d be graduating high school soon, headed off to U.C. San Diego to study marine biology, a dream he’d had since he was five and watched a show about sharks.  He’d told his mom then that he would study sharks and their resistance to cancer so that someday he could find a cure.  Part of that dream would be coming true soon.

Eighteen also meant he could vote now.  Look out GOP because another Liberal has hit the age of majority!  

“Time’s up Bub - you’re going to be late if you don’t get up!”

“Ok mama.”

It was going to be a good day.  It was a Friday, which meant he and Marissa - his girlfriend of the past two years - would be going out somewhere tonight, but it would have to wait until after his birthday dinner with his parents.

As he came from the shower, he heard his cell phone ringing.  Digging in his backpack for the phone that was buried under 20 lbs of books, he got it just before it went to voicemail.


“Hippo Bird Day Two Ewes!  Hippo Bird Day Two Ewes . . .”

The singing continued on as he rolled his eyes and held the phone away from his ear.  “Do you have to yell?” he asked, but with a smile in his voice.  It was his older sister, Mackenzie, calling from San Francisco where she was an art student at San Francisco State.

“It’s a BEAUTIFUL morning, isn’t it Keeghan?”

“Do you know how annoying it is that you’re always so happy in the morning?”

“You miss me.  Admit it.”

“No Mackenzie.  I don’t.”

“You do.  You know you do.  Love you.”

“Love you too.  Dork.”  He laughed in spite of his annoyance with his crazy sister.  “Are you going to make it for dinner tonight?”

“Of course.  I’m flying in this afternoon.  Dad is picking me up at the airport.  Are we kicking off Birthday Week at the Melting Pot?”

“Duh.  Where else.”

Keeghan was born four days before Mackenzie’s 2nd birthday.  She couldn’t understand when his first birthday came around why he was getting presents before her when she was older.  Instead of trying to explain how the calendar works to a 3-year-old, Birthday Week was born.  It kicked off on March 7th, Keeghan’s birthday, and ended on Mackenzie’s birthday, March 11th.  Part of the Birthday Week tradition was that they each got to choose where dinner would be on their special day.  Keeghan’s had been the Melting Pot since he was 10.  

“You’re so predictable!  Well, have a good day at school and I will see you tonight!  Love you Bubby!”

“Love you more.”

“No, you don’t.  It’s the same.”

“And it’s a whole lot.“

Mackenzie had always been his best friend.  Through all of their moves growing up, going where the Air Force sent Dad, they’d always had each other.  But as much as he loved her, she was a bit much before coffee in the morning!

Speaking of coffee . . . he stumbled toward the kitchen, eyes still only half open, following the smells.  Bacon, eggs, and yes!  COFFEE!  As he walked into the kitchen, there was Dad at the stove, making breakfast.  “Here you go mister, drink up.”  Mom handed him a big mug of good-morning-sunshine, made just the way he liked it - one Irish creamer, one regular creamer.

Before he could even take a sip, Dad pulled him into a big hug.  “Happy birthday Pal.  I love you.”

“I love you too Dad.”

One thing The Fantastic Four - the family’s nickname - had always been good for is letting you know that you were loved.  

School went pretty much the way most days did, cruising through class and break times.  Keeghan wasn’t necessarily popular per se.  He didn’t play sports, yet he was friends with all the jocks.  He was friends with everyone really.  It would have been a day like any other if it weren’t for the fact that Marissa had sent him balloons in his first period class.  So as he walked through the halls carrying them (because he didn’t want to hurt her feelings by shoving them in his locker), people high-fived him and wished him a happy birthday.  

When he finally saw Marissa at lunch, he hugged her close and then said, “Seriously?  Balloons?  Did you have to?”

“Of course I did silly.  Happy birthday.” He was embarrassed over the balloons, but loved the attention.  

By the time he made it home from school, Mackenzie was already there working on making his birthday cake - carrot cake with cream cheese icing.  Again, the usual.

“Someday I’m going to make you a chocolate cake with strawberry icing.”

“I won’t like it,” he replied.

“You know Keeghan, sometimes straying from the norm is a good thing.  You should try it sometime.”


It had been a running joke between them for years.  Mackenzie liked trying something new every year for Birthday Week - new restaurant, new type of cake.  Keeghan loved keeping everything the same.  It was his own little “tradition.”

In keeping with another of Keeghan’s favorite traditions, dinner went as expected - snarky banter in the car on the way there, constant chatter throughout dinner, loads of laughter - just the way he liked it.  As he looked around the table at the people he loved, he realized exactly how lucky he was.  Adulthood was going to bring so many changes - college, career, hopefully a family someday - all the things he had planned for his entire childhood.  But the foundation of it all was the family who loved him, and who he loved in return.  

It was good to be 18.


Except . . . it wasn’t.

It would have been great.  It would have been amazing if Keeghan had experienced this 18th birthday.  But he didn’t.  He never had a girlfriend named Marissa.  She was the girl in his 4th grade class that he had a crush on when he was diagnosed with cancer.  He never went to high school.  His last birthday dinner at The Melting Pot was when he turned 12. Instead of making a big birthday breakfast for him today, we will write letters to him on helium balloons and release them into the universe, hoping our messages reach him.  

We still celebrate the day, because his life is still such a blessing to us, but the laughter and tears will be less . . . everything.  Laughter over good memories, tears over what will never be.  This is how we kick off Birthday Week now.

But oh how I wish this story were the reality.

I miss you Bubby.

Monday, January 27, 2014

The Biggest Loser in the Social War

Always look at the bright side, eh?

Ok . . . so this is me, looking at the bright side of getting up at 5:00am to color my hair.  Since I gave up using chemical dyes and switched to all-natural henna to color my hair, I’ve decided that I would rather sacrifice sleep and get up early so I can leave the henna on my hair for three hours without losing half my day off because I have a head full of mud.

But oh how nice sleep would be right now.

Oh well.  Since I’m up, I might as well do a little writing - something I haven’t been doing enough of lately.

Today is my dad’s 79th birthday.  The importance of this is that his own father died at 78.  I think that is a major feat, don’t you?  My mother and father are still alive, as are my husband’s mother and father, so I don’t know yet what it is like to lose a parent.  But having watched others I know experience this loss, I think a common theme - or maybe a better word is a common goal - is to live past the age our parents lived to be.  As if somehow the age a parent died is this wall that we all must reach and then climb over.  The beauty of my dad turning 79 today is that my “wall” is still in motion, still moving further away from me.  I can still live my life without thinking that every day puts me “one day closer to [insert age here].”

Kind of a selfish way to look at it I guess.  But an honest one.  Because aren’t we all a little selfish?  The world does revolve around me, doesn’t it?

Since I started working a few months ago, I have taken a break from my online world.  Social media, blogging, and emailing have become something I do on the weekends, and then only if there is absolutely nothing else to do.  Before I started working I found the “look at me, look at me” attitude of many people online to be slightly annoying.  Now?  It’s unbearable.  And yet, there are an equal number who aren’t constantly trying to be The Most Popular, The Funniest, or The Most Needy person on [insert social media site here], but are just saying, “Hi, how are ya?”  They are the gems of the world!  The ones who can write a post that isn’t cryptic, isn’t begging for praise, isn’t inflicting guilt . . . those are the people I now appreciate so much more than I used to.  Those are the people I aspire to be!

Of course, I understand that some people don’t have anyone to talk to outside of their online social world.  Some people need the constant reassurance that only 57 “likes” and 23 comments can give.  Some people are only happy if they are letting you know that they have it so much worse than you do.  There are wars going on all around the world that people should be following, should be caring about, and yet I can get online at any moment and witness the collective hours put in every day on a different kind of war.

My child had cancer!
Yeah?  Well, my child HAS cancer still.

My child died from cancer at age 17.

My child died at 12.

MINE died at 1!!!

I use cancer as the example here because that is the world that I am a part of.  But the same war goes on in other circles as well.  Who had the worst marriage, the worst commute to work, the worst hair day.  Whose weather is the worst today.  It’s all a game of who has it worse than someone else.

So who wins?  Because that is how it seems, that there is a winner somewhere in all of this.  Who wins at having the most tragic life?  

I want to be the loser.  I want to be the person whose life is so pleasant, so easy, so ordinary, that I become the biggest loser in The Social War.  I want to look at the challenges I have faced, the losses I have experienced, the bad days that we all occasionally have and see the bright side.  I wasn’t able to do that a few months ago.  I was caught up in the war as well, competing for the prize.  It’s amazing how much perspective can be gained just by taking time off and enjoying the good things in life though.

Who knew?