Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Insight into grief

I've inadvertently created an experiment of sorts, the results of which thus far are quite interesting.

In an effort to exercise some due diligence for the book I am writing on coping with the death of a child, I reached out to two distinct groups of people, asking them to share their experiences with me.  My ultimate goal is to help parents and those close to them along their journey, in part, through sharing the collective experiences of those who have been through it already.

One group is my own family and close friends.  I sent an email, explaining the purpose of my inquiry and even questions that I'd love for them to answer, although anything they felt like sharing was welcome.  I wanted to know what their experience of Meghan's death was like, from their perspective.  Not only for me, but for others who might benefit.  I know what MY experience is and I have a vague recollection of some things my family and friends said and did, but I never asked nor never knew how they found out, what they thought, felt or said or how it truly impacted them.  Then and now.  I don't remember everything.  There were about 30 people on that list.  I have gotten exactly two responses back.  They were not the ones I thought would be the first to reply. Two others have asked if we can have a conversation/audio recording instead of them writing a reply and we are arranging for that.  Two others have said they would 'work on it', but I've heard nothing else as of yet.

No one else has even acknowledged the email.  That hurts.  A lot. I'd appreciate an "I'd love to answer but I can't until x day" or "I'd really like to, but I'm not sure I can, can I only answer some of the questions?" Really, any response would be nice.  Maybe a "Hey, I think it's great you are doing this for other parents.  I'd love to help, but it's hard for me..."

I get that I'm asking them to go back and re-live what was a very difficult and painful experience for them.  I get that it's hard.  I get that it's sad.  I get that people are busy and would rather scrub their house with a toothbrush and pull out their hair strand by strand than answer my questions.  That said, try being me.  I have no choice.  MY CHILD DIED.  Try living with that every day.  If you think it's hard for you, guess what, it's exponentially harder for me.  I think of her every day.  Every.  Single.  Day.  I drive by that funeral home every day.  I live my life without her.  Every day.  Give up your damn TV show and do something for the greater good for Meghan's sake!  I'm sure at least some of them are impacted by her death to this day pretty significantly.  Not everyone left my house, the wake or the funeral and completely forgot she existed.  My pain does not cease to exist.  I'm sure I"m not the only one.

Why are we so bad at death, grief and talking about it?!

I'm finding it hard to not be frustrated and hurt by the lack of response from my own circle of friends and family.  I hesitated to even write this rant.  Then again, I've always prided myself on being truthful, transparent and authentic.  We all make our choices in life.  I just hope we also all realize how they impact others.  I can't help how I feel.  Even if I understand the reasoning they might be using.

In sharp contrast, the other group I reached out to was other bereaved parents.  I sent a personal email to the other bereaved parents I know personally. To date, I have received but one reply, from a mom who wants to answer but can't go there yet. I get that and appreciate her saying so.   These are people who know me personally in some capacity.  I guess the personal attachment part somehow makes this harder?

I also posted a request on Meghan's Facebook Page.  I simply asked if other bereaved parents would message me privately so I could ask them a question.  I had over 50 replies in 12 hours!  Most of them were more than willing to answer my questions and about 15 of them did so within a matter of days.  They opened their hearts and shared their children, their pain and their experiences with me, so that I could share them with others.  The answers are quite similar in terms of what the helpful things people said and did were and what the very non-helpful things were.  I have been deeply touched by their transparency and am filled with gratitude that these total strangers have opened up to me about something so personal and painful.  Some of their family members shared their experiences, too.

Why did I get so many more replies from bereaved parents I didn't know?  Because no one ever asks them about their feelings or their experiences!  Because they want to share their child's life, death and story.  They want people to know about their child and how that child impacted their lives.  Because I wanted to hear it. I listened.  With all my heart.  I shed tears. I replied to every single one of them.  And again when they send their narrative back to me.  Because it matters.  Greatly.  I asked their names and they told me.

I suppose it really isn't all that surprising, although I'd be lying if I said I'm not a wee bit frustrated.  Parents who have been there get it.  We share a collective pain.  A collective grief.  A knowing.  We all know how much we needed to know what others felt, said and did when they were first in our shoes.  We want our children and our grief acknowledged.  Every day.  We want to provide that which we could not find when we were thrown down this awful path.  We wanted our family and friends to read something that gave them comfort, advice and information from actual bereaved parents so they would know what to say and what not to say.  So they would know what we really needed.  So they could hear from other siblings, grandparents, spouses and friends of their experiences, so they'd know they were not alone in their experiences.

Now I know why those books are so hard to find.  People are so reluctant to share.  Why?

I hope I can change that.  I can't do it alone.

I'm certainly learning quite a bit on this journey.  I do hope more people find the time and the courage to dive into their own pain and share their experiences with me. If we bereaved parents have to do this every day, they can surely do it for one day.  It is instrumental in my healing but more importantly, it will be so helpful to others walking this same road.

Thanks for listening.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Run Kimmy, Run. Destination, Disney!

If you follow my blog, you probably know my desire to run a 5K before I was 40 somehow grew from a personal challenge and bucket list item for a girl who not only used to hate running, but whose body railed against her running efforts at every turn, to the girl who is not only planning to run her first half-marathon, but is actually enjoying running!

WTF has happened to me?! 

It hasn't been easy.  I've been intermittently active throughout my life having done gymnastics at a young age, then roller skating for years, more than my share of aerobics, dancercize variations and working out at the gym and at home, rowing crew my freshman year in college (holy crap, that's harder than it looks!), skiing, a year of yoga (which I miss terribly) and then back to gym again.  My fitness endeavors never lasted very long.  It seemed once beyond college they were interrupted by work, kids, and other more practical pursuits. Time became fleeting and precious and there was simply not enough of it to go around.  Like many moms, I sacrificed my 'me' time for my family, my job and to allow my kids to pursue their dreams.  

Then my body and my mind went to hell.  That served no one! 

I'm a physical therapist.  I get fitness.  I teach it every day.  I understand the physiology of exercise.  My job used to be my workout when I worked full time in a clinical position in a nursing home or rehab unit.  I walked miles of hallways and flights of stairs. I got my strength training helping others get theirs.  A change of job that required me to spend more time sitting and more hours working, the stresses of every day life and finding little to no time for me at all, let alone to exercise, began to take it's toll.  

I was out of shape.  I was cranky.  I was eating crap.  I wasn't sleeping well.  I felt disconnected.  I wanted to go back to the gym or back to yoga, but there was no time, no ability to do it with any consistency.  My husband and I have taken up ballroom dancing, for 2 years now, which we love and is great exercise by the way.  You try a back to back Lindy Hop and Viennese Waltz and tell me you don't feel like you were back in step-aerobics!  The problem is we barely make it once a week to dance.  We'd go far more often (and really get our money's worth) if we could, but we can't.  It's an expensive form of exercise at that rate.  

Then I was facing 40.  I decided I wanted to run a 5K.  It was for a good cause and one I supported.  I trained for 6 months starting with the couch to 5K program.  I did it!  It damn near killed me, or at least it felt like it would, but I did it.  I could hardly believe it when I crossed that finish line at 38 minutes!  I finished upright, alive and in less time than I thought I would.  

Then, I found myself registering for another race.  I figured if I didn't have a goal, I'd never keep running.  

Fast forward 3 years.  I've run on and off.  Mostly off in the winter.  Then, this January, I saw a photo of the start of the Disney Half-Marathon.  I was shocked to hear the words, "I want to do that!" come out of my mouth!  Lucky for me, my sister and a friend are also crazy and agreed to do it with me.  We are registered for the January 2014 Disney Half-Marathon!  

Thus, the training has begun in earnest now.  Set backs due to the heat and humidity and vacation are actually frustrating me!  My buried alive competitive streak is surfacing.  Not to 'beat' anyone else, but to prove to myself I can run a consistent 10 min mile.  It's no easy goal, let me tell you.  I've recently changed to the Galloway method of run: walk: run.  I'm experimenting with ratios.  I get up early to run before work, before the kids get up, before I lose interest or get preoccupied.  Of course as my runs get longer and the daylight gets shorter, this may be more challenging.

I just returned from Disney for a vacation with my family.  It totally got me inspired and psyched up for the race.  I was thinking about actually running through the parks in the dark, and then, in the early light of day. Running across the start line, through Cinderella's castle, along the roads, into EPCOT and then across the finish line.  Receiving my Donald Duck 1/2 Marathon medal.  Cheering on my sister, who is running for the first time in her life.  Cheering on total strangers for dancing with their fitness demons.  Hearing that gospel choir propel us to the finish line.  The 20,000 people running with me, having fun, achieving their own personal goals.  Hearing the ChEAR squad cheer for us all, but especially having my parents and aunt there at O'dark thirty in the morning to support us.  Sharing the moment with people I love and care about and all those that I don't even know, but in spirit, we are all there for a similar reason, and that's powerful.

The start.  Can you imagine the excitement?!  Even for 5:30 am in January!

This says it all.  Although barely 3 miles in, this is the inspiration for so many Disney lovers who run. 
I have registered for a 10K in August.  I have a month to my first opportunity at a qualifying time for the Disney Half.  You don't have to qualify to run, but you can get a higher corral placement if you qualify.  

As my training is in full swing, I'll try to post updates on how it's going.  Wish me luck! 

Saturday, July 6, 2013

My Village Vacation Part 2: Wisdom of the Water Walking Ladies and Pool Noodle Men

One of my favorite parts of vacationing at the Village is going to the adult only pool.  Any mom would find this a luxury!  By the way, in a retirement community like this one, adult means over the age of 30!

Each village has a community pool.  There is also a themed recreation center in each village where you can take a class, hang out and gather, host a party, play pickle ball, tennis, billiards, basketball, shuffleboard, bocce and more.  The family pools are meant for visitors and their children and are avoided like the plague by villagers whose grandchildren are not visiting.  The adult only pools are all different in size, shape and landscaping.  One even has a hot tub grotto and waterfall!  Sometimes there is entertainment at the pool and a bar for your enjoyment.  There are also a few sports pools, which are as you would expect a sports pool to be.  Meant for lap swimming and water sports, they are the only type of pool not available to a guest of the Villages at all.

The very first time I went to an adult pool here at the Villages, I was quite amused.  In sharp contrast to the family pool with the noise, swimming, splashing and crowd, the adult pool was quite reserved.  Sun worship is alive and well in the over 55 set!  Their lounge chairs angled toward the sun and rotated regularly.  Their skin tanned to excess.  I suspect dermatology is a lucrative profession down here.

They spend a lot of time in the water.  The temperature in the summer is easily in the 90's most days and the water is probably 85-90 degrees as well.  It's heated in the winter and the pools are open year-round.  There has been a lot of rain the past week.  I heard several ladies comment on how all the rain cooled the pool off so it was 'brisk'.  In case you were wondering, I don't go in the water unless it's over 80 degrees and 'brisk' was probably about 82!  Mornings are by far the most popular times for the ladies.  The men tend to show up in the early afternoon, presumably after golf.  Some couples come together.  Some singles come to scope out possibilities for a date.  Yes, I've watched them flirt and even try to pick up a fellow water walker!

Family Pool

The Water Walking Ladies at the Adult Pool

As a PT, I love that at least some of the pools have handicap access.  There is a lift chair that can be used for those who cannot safely use the wide, shallow stairs to enter the water.  I also love that so many villagers who need to use an assistive device to walk, slowly make their way to the water, and once in, take advantage of it's properties to walk, float, exercise and strengthen themselves.

Pool noodles are very popular.  Many are fashioned into a seat of sorts.  Instead of swimming, however, there is a lot of water walking, 'exercise' with water weights (the ladies tend to move their arms around and chit-chat rather than actually exercise effectively with them), and floating with their noodles and gossiping.  While you might expect this to be a trend with women, men participate equally in the pool rituals.  They tend to congregate in the 'deep' end (5 feet deep) and float with their noodles in a circle, sun hats on, and share their stories and gossip, too!

It's difficult not to laugh when listening to some of their conversations.  In case you were wondering what our concerns might be when we are enjoying our retirement, I thought I'd share some of their insight and wisdom, as gleaned from the Calumet Grove pool over the past week.

From the ladies, I learned that there is discrimination in pricing for single ladies.  If you go to (didn't catch the name of the store) without a man, they charge you more!  It happened to her neighbor!  This sparked quite a spirited conversation among the ladies!  Wal-Mart is dangerous at night cautions one.  It's open 24 hours here.  Then one saw a baby frog.  There was speculation as to where it came from.  One lady said it was a 'rain frog' and got 'stuck' at the pool since the rain last night.  The consensus was it was cute.

One of the ladies was doing a modified 'fly' with her water weights while bouncing up and down.  This bouncing seems to be popular as some form of aerobic exercise.  She said, "this motion doesn't do anything for you."  Another lady in the circle was quick to reply.  Indignantly saying, "It burns 240 calories!".  I chuckled.  There is NO way what I was observing did anything particularly effective and certainly didn't burn 240 calories in an hour.  Next thing I knew, the conversation moved on to shopping and coupons.  One could get whiplash trying to follow a conversation at the pool!  There was much debate over the use of coupons and limited days and times to redeem them.  One inquired how the concept of spending $50 to get $10 off works, yet they all agreed they do it.  By the way, this is a great way to pick up some accessories!  One lady got a purse, sweatsuit and a bracelet and boasted how her husband was proud of her for saving money!

This led to questions about her husband.  Who does he golf with?  How often does he golf?  Is he coming to the pool?  Are you going to the square?  As the husband talk continued, I hopped into the pool as I was getting hot.  The lone man in the pool, probably in his early 70's was doing his water walking. He passed me and asked, "Is it ladies day at the pool?  I'm the only man."  As if I knew!  We chatted and then a couple entered the gate.  He said, "Oh, good.  Another man.  The gravitated toward each other like magnets.  The second man's wife scolded him, "Hold on to the ledge!".  He was older and more frail and walked with a cane on land.  She was eager to join the other ladies but was clearly watching him like a hawk.  I hopped back out and retreated to my chair to observe some more.

On another day, as I was walking down the stairs into the water, a sweet little elderly lady was making her way into the water.  She felt compelled to just start telling me all manner of things.  Her pool was closed.  She was glad it rained, since it cooled the water off significantly.  ( I swear, their inner temperature gauges are skewed.)  She was glad she came in the morning, since it always rains in the afternoon and she misses her water walking.  Well, that's Florida for ya, she tells me.

Another group of ladies were going on about food and recipes.  The ladies tend to talk about shopping, food and gossip about the people of their neighborhoods.  Some of them are quite flirtatious.  I learned many ways to cook eggplant!

The ladies bring pop-up hampers full of their pool toys.  Noodles, water weights, water shoes, hats and more.  They often have big sunglasses and floppy hats or visors.  I did not see a single person apply sunscreen that was not a visitor.  Although many pool goers seemed to know each other, they befriend each other quite quickly and easily and share their opinions, stories and woes quite readily.

I find the pool noodle men the most amusing.  They are flirtatious in their own right.  At times, it's like watching animals preen and parade around trying to find a mate with the added bonus of who has the best tip on where to have an early bird dinner, the best happy hour 2 for 1 drinks or who has the best joint replacement recovery story.  On my observation day I learned that if you put anything out on the curb, it's gone the next day.  Why a neighbor put out a hot water heater and it was gone by the morning!  Some guy probably sells it another replied.  One fellow had a knee replacement a month ago.  He was in the hospital one night and went home.  That PT was in there 4 hours after the surgery!  (As a PT, I'm impressed by this).  Dr. Wynn. He does the best knee around!  He boasted about his 105 degrees of flexion.  Another fellow chimes in, "Well, I had my knee done yesterday!"  It took a while before they realized he was kidding.  They debated the benefits of pool therapy and golf with knee replacements.  They agreed hip replacements were harder to recover from. Probably because none of them had one. It progressed to, "It's a little known fact you need 3 nights in the hospital to go to rehab, that's why they send you home".  They chatted about how many therapy sessions they got or didn't get an why. Another one says, "It's because of Obamacare".  Then they chatted about the new clinic.  What's the deal?  Is it like the one at Colony, because theirs is fantastic?  No one knows how you get in.  Yep, you guessed it.  The consensus was the clinic was mysterious because of Obamacare.  Let me tell you, down here, everything is blamed on Obamacare!  I forget that the South has a different perspective than us liberal folks in MA!  I was SOOOOO tempted to put in my two cents.  I know more about joint replacement, rehab and healthcare than they do, they were incorrect, at least in part, with their assumptions, and I desperately wanted to infiltrate their circle, but I was so enjoying the banter.

The conversation drifted back to joint replacements.  "Did you have the test to see if you are allergic to metal?"  Apparently, depending on what lab the test was at, they had to pay to send the blood to be tested and sent out for reading themselves.  One man paid $22 and another paid $91.  Can you guess why?  Yep.  Obamacare!  I was literally laughing out loud to myself by now!  Then, a woman infiltrated the circle!  She said she was allergic to nickel.  If she wore cheap earrings, her post holes dripped!  They looked at her horrified but had a spirited discussion about surgical incisions and allergies for a bit.  Then, out of the blue, she says, "I had cataract surgery. It's like someone washed the world!"  They entertained her, but didn't really welcome her.  She tried to participate in the conversation, but eventually bounced off to resume her water walking at the female end of the pool.

Somehow, the conversation turned to discuss the wealth of the developer of the Villages.  Oh, right, he contributes a significant sum of money to the Republican party.  They lamented it was all for naught, since their 'guy' didn't get 'in'.  They whined Hillary Clinton might be the next president and off they went again on all that is wrong with the country is because of Obama.  In case you were wondering, they believe it's because they didn't dig deep enough to expose his 'dirty laundry' before he was elected.  I was getting a good ab workout from these guys and I hadn't left my lounge chair!

Then, they were on to discussing wild drinking parties in Virginia, Fat Daddies was the place to go when they were young, the ladies from Virginia said it was where the coal miners went.  They went skinny dipping.  A man said, "Mmmmm, good place to get me some tender vittles."  OMG, you can't make this stuff up!

I tried to go to the adult pool for at least an hour or two a day.  Partially to get some quiet sun and relaxation time and partially because I love listening to the cares and woes of my parents' peers.  It wasn't all about my 'research', though. I actually got some pleasure reading in!  THAT was a miracle in it's own right!  I napped. I meditated.  I charged my solar batteries because it's a well known fact that I am solar powered.  :-)

I am home now.  I very much enjoyed the time in the Villages with my family.  It's nice to see the concept of a well-lived retirement is alive and well.  It's great to see people active, engaged and having fun in their middle and later years.  It's great to see they still seek romance, bargains and exercise.  It makes me long to retire.

Oh, right.  Back to reality.

If you ever get the chance, swing by the Villages.  Even just to drive through or take in the entertainment at the town square.  Anyone can.  I promise, you won't be sorry!