Est Bonum Vitae

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Seventy-five is harder than I thought. Seventy didn’t bother me much, so I didn’t expect 75 to be that tough. My friends and family say, “75! Three quarters of a century. Wow! That’s a long time.” They also note, “It is just a number.” I remember being one quarter of a century and thinking that was old. I got pregnant that year, apparently believing I was quite old enough to take full responsibility for a newborn child. Brett is 49 now. Forty-nine! That affects me almost more than my being 75.

Okay, okay, 75 is just a number. Everybody says that. But, listen here. It’s a big number. It’s just plain weird to think I’ve been teaching for 50 years and driving for more than that. This is my last quarter century. Or, maybe it’s my last five minutes. I need more than five minutes, however. I have way too much stuff going on.

For one thing, the book is turning out to be a force in my life. There is so much to do if you want to market a book! I’ve learned how to manage a Website and add new articles, then optimize them for Google. I have a Facebook page for the book and a Twitter account.  I’m figuring out how to live with death as the focus of my work. I’ve made four presentations so far this year, have five more lined up and several new inquiries. Each presentation begets presentations. I’m doing the keynote for the Society for Research in Adult Development in June in Boston. I’m doing a presentation at the Harvard School of Psychiatry and Law this summer. My co-author, Dori and I are planning one in February in New York.

I have noticed after all these years of working, that my priorities have always revolved around the goals of other folks: raising two kids as a single mom, tagging along with Larry to the ends of the earth, helping care for my Mom and Dad when they were failing. I haven’t really been the decision maker. I have always the preferred the role of “right hand woman.” It started in Junior High when I ran for Girls’ VP—not President. I’ve been the Associate Chair of the department, the Co-director of the program, the “Associate Dean,” of the School. I’ve advised Presidents, Provosts, Deans and Chairs, but I never wanted to be in charge. It seems to me that the Person in Charge has to listen to too many complaints.

With the book and the website, I’ve finally stepped up to the complaint desk. It is truly my project.  I’ve heard all kinds of complaints about facts, fonts and grammar. I’ve had a thorough critique of my sub-heads. People all over the world can critique my work or just complain about it. And I am still taking care of other people’s projects, including their kids.

I’m taking the grandkids a couple of days a week. I’m not up to all four of them at once unless I have help.  I keep the older ones overnight on the weekends now to give my daughter a break.  I take the little ones around Santa Barbara as often as I can. Last time, we went to the Natural History Museum and saw the taxidermy exhibit. It’s one of the few things I remember from 70 years ago—the taxidermy at the L.A. Museum of Natural History. Lukas loved it—he’s four.

I’m finding it increasingly difficult to stay organized. I spend half the time looking for phone, or my drink, or my glasses. There are so many more things to keep track of than there used to be. We have cell phones and glasses and water bottles. You have to bring your own bags to the grocery store. I’ve gotten a smart watch so I can remind myself what I am supposed to be doing, but I forget to use the watch.

So, I write things down on old fashioned lists that I forget to check. I remember how impatient my mother got with herself when she reached this stage. I know it is scary. I don’t see the point in being mad at myself about it. I forgive myself. My lifelong tendency to spill things, bump into things and drop stuff has only gotten worse. My feet hurt from the neuropathy I developed after chemo. My back aches. I have allergies and a touchy stomach.  Not bad for 75.

I notice that I have taken to calling everyone sweetie. I can’t remember when this started, but I realize that my European and Middle Eastern friends are very affectionate in their greetings when they know someone. I have taken this to greater heights, by calling everyone sweetie, whether I know them or not. I do wonder if that bothers them. I call my grandkids sweetie too.  It’s just that I’m so much older than almost anybody.

And then there is the whole thing about the future. It does seem scary at times what with global warming, school shootings, thousands seeking asylum, and it’s hard to know what to make of those things. Older people have been worried about the future since the beginning of time. However, this is the first time we are on the verge of frying.

I worry that a day will come when I no longer understand what is going on. This has already happened to me watching television commercials and listening to alt rock. Also, I don’t understand Lincoln in the Bardo although it won the Mann Booker prize for fiction and rave reviews from the New York Times. I hope it’s not a sign that I am slipping.

I’m looking forward to the future though. I hope to own a self-driving car before they my kids take my car keys away. I’m planning on virtual reality to take me on safari in Africa or down the Amazon without the sunburn and mosquito bites. I’m hoping for a personal robot that will carry my glasses, my drink, and my phone around, remind me what I am supposed to do next and clean up when I spill things. Once I have all of this in place, I expect to manage the next twenty years and find out whether 95 is harder than 90.

 

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Galapagos Notes

 

tortoise
We boarded the Panga, starting out Galapagos adventure in a rubber dingy with high spirits and good memories of last year in West Papua, New Guinea. We had joined Larry’s sister, Dale, her son, Logan and Kelly, Logan’s fiancé, as well as Kelly’s parents in Quito several days earlier. There are only 14 people on the cruise, so we constitute half of the larger group. When we arrived at the catamaran, our naturalist introduced himself. He was born in Galapagos, educated as a chemical engineer in Mexico, and had worked all over the world as a diver for a big Mexican oil company. He also earned a master’s degree in something like “ecology and conservation.” His name was Edwin, same as my father. I am an instant fan.
Our quarters are fine, exactly what I expected based on the 360-degree video of the rooms. It included a nearly queen-sized bed up against the wall of the cabin, making it easier to sleep because we one of us does not have to worry about falling out of bed. The shower sprayer hung above the bathroom sink, so you have to take the toilet paper out of the holder when you take a shower. Common arrangement in sailboats. Clean and doable.
Then the engines started up, and our cabin was wracked by the level of noise I imagine you hear when landing in the baggage hold of an old Airbus. And I found out it goes on all night. And, we can’t change cabins. I am began to fear losing my mind. And Larry had a case of tourista and the toilet isn’t working, so I opened the window in the bathroom, allowing hordes of mosquitos to swarm inside. I am crying now and carrying on loudly about the noise because we cannot hear each other if we don’t shout. I slept in the lounge that night with two other guests who tried to sleep in a room on the other side of the motor and one of the staff members. And I was seasick.
I spoke to Edwin about changing cabins, who promised to take it up with the captain. Later, he told Larry that there was no chance of that, even at the small city where half of the passengers leave and a new group of passengers gets on. No chance. Period. I found out there are two more nights that the boat is on the move all night. We can reach other ports during the day. Dale has an extra bed in her cabin and is willing to share. She is away from the motor. Okay. I began to believe I could survive.
Our first stop is Genovese Island. The wake-up bell rang four times, and we all arrive up for breakfast between 7 and 8am. However, it is really only from 7-7:30. Then, we are to be on the Panga for a ride to the island and a hike that lasts until 10. Edwin tells us about adaptation: how tiny changes in lowly creatures inspired Charles Darwin to change our whole view of the universe. It was, in fact, awesome to contemplate. And it was quite hot. And I could not really tell the difference between the small brown finch, the medium brown finch, and the large brown finch. We did see several iguanas and some red-footed boobies.
After the hike, we were free to swim for an hour, blessed relief from the heat, but I missed my floaty board. I didn’t bring it. I’m not a strong swimmer, but I love to float around in the water, thus the floaty board. It is a paddleboard and with a tether. A few of the women on the Panga had floaty board envy when I brought it out the next day.
In the afternoon snorkel, there were the shallow inlets, inhabited by big and small creatures alike. In this season, they seemed fat, fine and happy. The water was cloudy with food, nutrients that bubble up from the bottom of the sea, swept along by the Panama current. Thick schools of gray fish swarmed by, each four to five inches long, oval-shaped, adorned by lemon yellow tails. They swam off, a wall of yellow arrows faded in the gray distance. I turn my facemask around to the left. Good Lord!
It’s a sea lion. A Galapagos sea lion. Not a seal. Definitely not a seal. Seals have no ears, Edwin explains. My whole body jerks away from his ear-toting face. Kelly, in her maroon swimsuit, swoops toward the sea lion in her maroon swimsuit, following his motions in large, loopy back flips and front flips, a graceful dance in a sunlit sea. This is good. This is very, very good. There are hammerhead sharks too and a sea turtle.
After Genovase, there are two days where the motoring is all over by evening. This is a relief and because I have arranged with my sister-in-law to stay with her on two nights when we sail all night, I get some sleep. I needed it because the schedule was hectic. Up at 6:45 every morning. Breakfast at 7am. Hike at 8 am. Swim or snorkel at 10pm. Lunch. Hike at 1 or 2, swim or snorkel at 3 or 4. Briefing at 6:45. Dinner at 7. Logan, Kelly, Dale, Larry, June, and Ralph all found this schedule fabulous, except for Logan, who complained there was not enough swimming. I drop out of the morning slate after a brush with sunstroke while walking over hot lava. A lyric from a Noel Coward song comes to mind, “Mad dogs and Englishmen go out in the mid-day sun.”
The Ecuadorian government schedules all excursions so that tourists don’t end up falling all over each other. We often passed the passengers from other boats returning from our destination. All the passengers are white. The only native people tromping across the lava are the naturalists assigned to these groups. Even the iguanas hide in the shade of low-slung brush.
I slept late as I the next day, grabbed some coffee, and sat down to write on the boat. This is how I like to spend my adventure vacations. Taking the morning off to read or write after everyone in the boat (cabin, hut) have gone out hiking (scuba diving, bird watching). Then, I snorkel or swim in the afternoon. I ditch the morning hike twice. Deborah from D.C. joins me. She and I have bonded over the difficulty of the hikes and the heat of the lava. We are the whiners. We also gossip about crew and the passengers that are the “other” group, a family of seven Argentinians who got onboard at mid-week. Deborah is now a part of “our” group.
And then, there are the nights. Quiet nights anchored in some far-flung bay two and a half hours from Quito by plane. On the top deck, a set of wicker couches sported canvas cushions. There is just barely enough room for Larry and me to lie, side by side, on one of the couches, staring up past the unfurled sails to the stars. One night, late in the trip, we crossed the Equator. We had been checking in with Orion every night. You know Orion, right? When you pass the Equator, suddenly (I am not kidding), Orion looks like it is upside down and backward. Neither Larry nor I could conger a reasonable explanation.

We snorkeled around enchanted, remembering, as Edwin warned, to take it slow; let the animals come to us. Out in the open, there were schools of transparent fish that boasted a dark outline around the edge of their bodies and a small black stripe down the middle, purple tropical with gold markings, polka dotted boxfish and huge parrotfish. They vanished in water thick with tiny organisms. Hordes of anonymous gray and black fish scurried below us. Then, all of a sudden, there was a sea turtle the size of a coffee table. Right by my side or three feet below me. He seemed completely oblivious to my presence, but for the sideways glance now and then.

Other hid in the crevasses, like the white ray with the four ray babies. I spot the ray. Logan dove down to check out the babies. Kelly spotted an octopus, pointing to a tentacle poking out from a tiny cave. Some things zipped by us—like a pod of maybe four dolphins. Our guide yelled at us to get in the boat. NOW. We scrambled in and took off to play with dolphins. They acknowledged us, jumping out of the water, but continued their mission. No cavorting with humans today. We turned around, heading back to the rocks, and jumped overboard.
A coupled of penguins dove of the rocks and there were more hammerheads, though I didn’t get to see one and everybody else saw three. On the other hand, I was the first to see the white tipped shark on the final snorkel. He swam around right under me with his skin smooth as satin and silvery gray. I wanted to touch him, but we had taken a vow to stay 6 feet away. This is a good rule, but it is hard to obey because the animals are often closer than that when you see them, like the white fin shark. The white fin almost ran into Logan’s face as Logan ascended from a dive. Startled, Logan spewed bubbles as he gasped and the shark took off in the opposite direction. They are quite timid, actually. Not all sharks are at all like the ones in the movie Jaws.

This is a place where sea animals are welcome. Mammals, birds, turtles, sharks abound and they are not frightened. When we arrived in town on Santa Cruz, the place where my guide grew up, a big sea lion lurched up from the beach, scooted across the plaza and slide into a shady spot on a bench in the plaza. I bought a tiny little beach dress made out of a heavy fabric, allowing me to parade around without a bra on without feeling weird. Life is definitely getting better.

All is nearly forgiven, but I still think I will write a letter to the owners, about my own misery, of course, but also about the misery, this must cause the crew. The noise causes them endless trouble with passengers. I know because our naturalist looks weary when I ask about it and there are many people in the world like Deborah and me who have trouble sleeping. Deborah also asked Edwin if she could move as she was next to the generator. Neither of us got to move. Maybe this was due to the status of the family that boarded mid-week. He was currently the ambassador from Argentina to Chile and had been the Ambassador to the U.S. under Clinton.

This trip challenged me to “make it work,” as Tim Gunn says on Project Runway. I found myself a quiet bed. I figured out how to make the toilet flush and kill mosquitos. I got the cook to make me breakfast in the late morning. I got Edwin to turn off the lights in the lounge because they shone through the glass door to my cabin. I am very happy with myself about that. I am also happy that I took those mornings off to think to write and think.

I am also certain that I am not going to the Amazon with Larry and Dale in the fall. I am going to New York to visit friends and see a Broadway show.

Happy Holidays

Christmas Scene. Holiday Greeting Card Design

Dear Friends:
Here we are, on the verge of a new year. We celebrated harvest as our chance to express gratitude for the abundance we experience around us, despite all our worries. There are many things to worry about, of course. There is small stuff, like whether we should downsize or just remodel and “age in place,” as they say. Medium things, like whether we should support Medicare for all, or work toward a more rational system of immigration. Then, there are the big things, like whether we can save the planet, whether we can end poverty, whether we can find peace and purpose in our lives.
Which sends me off on a riff about a sense of purpose. A purpose for one person might be quite different from another’s. My husband and his sister find meaning in adventure. They want to see everything—Africa, Antarctica, the Amazon, Machu Picchu. They want to hike up things, see a long way, and learn about the local people. They take public transportation and eat at tiny restaurants that serve local food where you have to point at stuff so the waiter can fill your order. My friend Kevin wants to live the carefree life he never had as an adolescent. He’s making nice headway on that.
My son finds his purpose in being a father. My daughter this year has found her purpose in keeping her sanity. My dear Manuela (my daughter-in-law) is redefining her purpose to move back into the world after five years as a full time mother. My friend Daneen seems to think that keeping three children under the age of 7 alive for another year is purpose enough.
I have found a sense of purpose in trying to help people who are facing the end of life, or who are caring for someone who is. People see this as a very noble pursuit. People come up to me at public events where hospice volunteers help out and thank me for my service, as if I were a veteran, even though I’m just serving those who are dying, not dying for those I serve. I have started a website for my work, or rather two. http://www.judystevenslong.com, and http://www.dyingwithwisdom.com. What a trip it was to learn how to put up a website. I felt plenty overcome many days, but I was finally able to get great help. Manuela designed judystevenslong.com. When she showed it to me, I took it as a great compliment because she said she tried to reflect who I am.
We are doing really well despite the challenges we have encountered this year. As most of you know, my son-n-law, Don, died in July of this year. His journey inspired the main idea for my website—that how one dies is likely to reflect a lot about who one is. It’s not a one-size fits all matter. Alexis, my daughter, did an amazing job of caring for Don and the children through this difficult year. The children are resilient, as promised in the literature on the subject. Lily, my 10 year old granddaughter, starred in the 5th grade play this week (it is the last year of elementary school for her, sigh). She starts middle school this fall. She also made honor roll again and has been invited back to the elementary school next year to tutor kids that need help in the 5th grade.
Emmy has the guts, at the age of 6, to volunteer to sing a solo in the school talent school. She will be the youngest of the soloists, I think. Her teacher tells her she is very brave. He mother tells me she doesn’t really know the words.
Kaiya wants the black boots that go with her new Anna outfit from Disney. Lukas needs a backpack because he is starting preschool. Another Christmas, the end of another year. We’ll be glad to say goodbye to 2018 and hello to the pleasures and purposes of 2019. I hope you find a purpose this year that lights up your life, busies your brain, and supports your sanity.
Love,
Judy

My book is out!

Living Well Dying Well Cover4_only (3)

As many of you know, my son-in-law, Don, died on July 29, after a yearlong battle with stage 4 brain cancer. I have much to tell you about my experience of the last few months of his life, and I am trying to figure out how to share it. It has been intense, and the meaning of it keeps shifting, along with the emotions. I look forward to putting it together with you over the next few months. I will say this; we are less exhausted now and are able to think about something else, at least some of the time. The children, Lily and Emmy, are doing well at the moment, and continue to have access to whatever kind of support they need.
In the meantime, the book I have written, Living Well, Dying Well, is now out in paperback. My co-author, Dohrea Bardell, and I dedicated the book to Don. It is available on Amazon for $19, and half of the proceeds go to Fielding Graduate University. We don’t expect to become rich and famous, are proud of the work and excited to share it with you. I hope it helps the people who read it. You, my readers (or at least those of you that sometimes read this blog), have helped develop my ideas from cancer to retirement, and through this difficult last year. I realize those of us who want to live a long life have to learn how to cope with loss, especially as millions of baby boomers enter the last stages of life.
Living Well, Dying Well is a guidebook to coping wisely with death and dying. It outlines the many choices available today, from how to extend the healthy life span, to how to plan a funeral, how to understand deathbed visions, and what to say to people who are dying. It’s based on the latest research, but also on common sense. If you do read it, I would really appreciate your feedback on Amazon. Buyers prize reviews by verified purchasers. You can click on the title above and it will take you to Amazon,

Right now, I am busy building a website where I can share my work. Wow! I never thought I would attempt that at my age. This month, however, Marilynn Price-Mitchell, the most productive person I have ever met in my life, has been an inspiration to me. She graduated from Fielding and published a book in her mid-sixties. She used her research to build a successful practice as a consultant and speaker in the area of teaching civic responsibility. Over the past 6 years, she has attracted over 2 million people a year to her website, placing it in the top .01% of all the websites in the United States.
She is my hero, and I am only 10 years older than she was when she started. Ten years is nothing, right? Talk to you soon,
Judy

Indonesia

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As I notified you in my last communique, Larry and I went to Indonesia to dive (him) snorkel (me). The time we spent in the ocean in Raja Ampat (it means the Four Kings, and it was a Regency under British rule) was amazing, but this note is about our sojourn in Bali. The first three days, we stayed in a Grand Hyatt. I wrote something for you about that and send it along soon. The last five days we spent in Ubud. Ubud is a city, but also a Regency. They have a royal family and it is quite wealthy and powerful. They also seem pretty beloved by the people. Since I had worked every morning in Raja Ampat (you know, like Ernest Hemingway in the Florida Keys or Singapore), I thought I would try to get away from death, you know, from writing the Book on Death and Dying (not the title).

We had been told by some friends that seeing a Balinese family cremation was an interesting experience, as they cremate several bodies at the same time, since individual families cannot afford big funerals by themselves. But, I decided not to try and figure out how to find one and how to get there, but just enjoy the wonderful resort we had booked in Ubud. On the way to the resort, however, our driver told us that we were lucky to be in Ubud at this time, because the King of Ubud had died and a procession to the crematorium would take place the day after tomorrow. My path yawned before me. Of course, Larry has a second cousin who happens to live in Ubud and can get us onto balcony above the procession where his friend owns a shop on the main street. Are you kidding? Apparently, I am not to escape my education about death this week.

So, as we stand on the balcony (there are no lights or air-con in the main street stores, as the lines have been cut so the floats can get by). Hundreds of people in little bands representing Hindu temples, clans, and (I think) motorcycle organizations parade by. The people in each group wear the same outfits—sometimes traditional looking and sometimes basically black tee shirts tout their organization. We are wearing sarongs because two elderly women accosted Larry on the street, wrapped a sarong around his waist, and wouldn’t let him go until he bought two.

In the second act, the musicians arrive—several bands of drummers, mostly. Then come the princesses in sedan chairs and full regalia atop floats with a floral theme, carried by a number of very fine looking young clan or temple members. The third act begins with the passage of a two story float in the shape of a black bull with golden horns. It is carried on the backs of maybe 60-100 young men, of whom, I believe our driver is one. They change the bearers from block to block, however, so I can’t make him out.

The second act crescendos in the appearance of a two story float in the shape of a black bull with golden horns in which the old King will be cremated. Despite the bull pyre, Larry continues to believe that it is the Queen who is being cremated, and denies that the driver said anything about the King. The third act crescendos with the passage of a float that appears to be a four story tower with the heads of various gods perched on the front of the first three floors. Above the third godhead, is a balcony on which sits the casket of the dead King (upon which sits the new King). The priest stands aside the casket on the right. The new king is waving to the excited throng lining the streets. Then, he leans back on the casket and takes some selfies. Yes. Selfies.

The tower has gigantic wings on either side, which make the float too wide for the street. The wings tear the limbs off of the trees that line the street, until one of the wings falls off. The float lurches to the other side of the street, narrowly missing two beautiful blonde girls and, apparently, injuring one of the bearers. This doesn’t stop the parade for long, as an ambulance is following the tower and the injured bearer is whisked by his comrades from under the bamboo lattice, on which they carry the tower, into the waiting ambulance.

We left shortly after that only to wonder all afternoon how the casket got from the third story of the tower to the inside of the bull. They must have had a door in the bull’s rear end, I venture, and they slide it into the bull that way. We didn’t stay for that part. It was way too hot and the crowd was huge, but it does leave many unanswered questions in one’s mind.

The selfies thing is clearly the most remarkable. The young king threw his legs over the balcony, smiling and waving to his people, and snapped the pics. He did not seem to be in any kind of mourning and nothing I’ve read about Hindus and death explained his laughter. The only thing I have to go on is that old Aztec word: joy/pain. Even in the midst of the hardest things, something can happen that makes you feel grateful to be who you are, that gives you joy. The people also seemed joyful to me. Perhaps, as they truly believe that the King as gone on to something better in the next life. It may also be necessary to belittle death. They also do that in New Orleans. On the other hand, the Hindus revere their ancestors. There is a temple to the ancestors in every home where the ashes of the ancestors are kept.

I like that idea. All of the white guys around me agreed that they thought they’d like a similar burial, I like a simple temple dedicated to myself.

Signs and Omens

 

jabberwocky

Dear Readers:

I have good news! My son-in-law, Don, who, as you may know from my last blog, was diagnosed with stage 4 brain cancer in August. Recently, we found out that he has a genetic marker that is associated with better treatment outcomes. We learned that his tumor did not originate in his brain tissue, but grew on top of a tumor of a different, more benign type. This gives him a better chance. His December MRI was very good—no cancer and we have renewed hope. He has also been cleared to go back to work in March, but must still have MRIs every eight weeks for….we don’t know how long. Nobody in the cancer business will commit to anything much (as I wrote in the set of blogs called “Cancerland” which set me to blogging in the first place). but we are cautiously optimistic.

I have finished my project for Oxford University press, the bibliography in Adult Development. What a nightmare. It consists of annotated entries for the 100 most important articles in my field.  This is the 2nd edition, so it was a little easier, but keeping track of 100 references while I sent the manuscript back and forth to my co-author, Steve Page (a Fielding grad), but us in revision hell a couple of times. Revision hell arises when you can no longer figure out which version is most recent.

I have also finished a first draft of my book on death and dying. I wish the title could be “The book I wish I had when my Mother died,” but I fear it is both too long and too narrow. But, that’s the idea I want to convey. I haven’t shared it with you because it has taken me a long time to get the voice right. And, it is also connected to an amazing string of circumstances that have driven me along this path, including my cancer and Don’s cancer, and Alice in Wonderland. The recent part of the story began when I wrote a first chapter that had to be thrown out because it was way over-intellectualized. It was a history of attitudes toward death and dying over the course of civilization, beginning in Sumeria. As my editor said, “This is not a good place to begin.” I knew he was right, but I was confounded by the idea of starting all over again.

I had realized dimly (even before I sent the first chapter to him), that it was the wrong approach. It was the way I approach everything—first from the mind. I needed to start far away and creep on the thing. When that approach failed, I felt completely out of gas. In desperation I contacted the Universe. “Hey,” I said. “If I am going to do this book, you have to give me something. I need inspiration.” This is where Alice comes in. Alice in Wonderland was one of my favorite stories as a child. I briefly considered changing my name to Alice, though I never got the nerve to tell my Mother that. What came to mind, finally, was Alice asking the Mad Hatter “Are we dead yet?” Mind you, Alice never really says that in the book, so I was off on a search for what she did say. I sure remembered something about being dead.

So, it turns out that the first thing Google brought up was a set of articles by literary critics who argued that Alice in Wonderland was a story about dying—down the rabbit hole we go. How surprising! Alice came back to me just when I needed her. It also explained my fascination with Alice as a child. I have been thinking about death and dying for a long time indeed. Then, just about the time that I was writing about how people learn to cope with a terminal diagnosis, we learned that Don had brain cancer. I was beginning to wonder why this was happening to me. Six years ago, when my friend’s daughter committed suicide at the age of 12, this journey began when I went to Hospice of Santa Barbara for help in supporting my friend. Two years later, I was diagnosed with stage 3 colon cancer. Two years later, Don was diagnosed. I couldn’t shake the feeling that, somehow, I was stuck in a weird place.

I began to worry that people around me would die in traumatic ways because I was writing the book. As a developmental psychologist, I know that this kind of thinking is typical of four year olds, but I couldn’t stop feeling that I had somehow been appointed as the Angel of Death. In fact, I was worried that someone I knew would be murdered when I wrote the chapter on the subject. And, believe it or not, a friend of mine called to say that someone had tried to murder him. He had spent 36 hours in a coma, but, thank God, he had survived and was going to be okay.

You may want to steer a wide path around me these days, though I have finished the first draft of the book now and don’t expect more weirdness. I’m polishing it chapter by chapter and taking it with me on my vacation this month. We are going to Indonesia on a diving trip that Larry is planning. After the diving, we travel to Bali where I do know that a favorite tourist activity is participating in a funeral. That sounds like a perfect capstone to the story. I’m hoping the Universe will leave it at that for the time being. We return on the 5th of March and we leave on Monday.

I think I’ve said before that Carl Jung felt life should be lived mythologically and we should take advantage of the strange coincidences that mark our journey through this world. I’ve been taking his advice as best I can, so here I am, trying to make sense of it all, bumbling along, crafting my narrative and calling upon the Universe to make it worthwhile.

 

Christmas 2017

christmas 2017

 

As you may have noticed, I have not written in some time. Last I wrote was about how happy things were in moment, as I recall. I have been reluctant to write you for some months now since the news is distressing and I didn’t want to write until we had something hopeful to say. As some of you know, my son-in-law, Lily and Emmy’s father, was diagnosed with Stage 4 brain cancer in August and it has been very up and down since then. The low point was just two weeks ago, at the end of the chemo and radiation (it lasted six weeks). The good news is that we are past that dark moment and Don is recovering nicely from the doctors trying to kill every cell in his body and all the drugs that go with it to control the side effects.

I have started letters two or three times, but became quite nervous about the effect it would have on you (my readers), ruining some nice day you were having. I know from my own case as well as from telling people about Don, that it can be very jarring to hear that someone has cancer advanced beyond the first stages. We are praying hard and holding out every hope that the MRI in January will show that the tumor has been defeated. All of your best wishes and kind thoughts have been appreciated so far and I know all of you who are just finding out will join the chorus. Thank you for that.

Meanwhile, we are learning how to find the joy in the moments we have. Don and Lex and the kids are on a lovely trip to Pismo Beach to recuperate after the treatment and the fire.  Good Lord in Heaven. The fire. Can you believe Santa Barbara and Ventura had a terrible fire on top of everything else? I don’t mean to be a whiner, but….come on! Our friends who lived in the hills were all evacuated. At the high point something like 18,000 people were out of their homes. Some of our friends came to stay with us until they found something more permanent (they were out for two weeks). The air quality around our house was so bad, they needed to get over the mountains to regain their sanity.  We were in Seattle most of the first week on a trip we had planned months ago, thank heaven.

When we got back, the ash was still falling and we were all wearing masks (man! I’m glad I’m not a surgeon or a wall board guy). We took Lily and Emmy and went to Cambria to see the million Christmas lights at the Christmas market and get away from the air here. It was absolutely wonderful to breathe your way through tunnels of Christmas lights. Manu took her two kids, Kaiya and Lukas, to Hermosa Beach to stay with friends because the baby’s nose had started bleeding from the pollution. Brett stayed here to work at the restaurant, but he was distressed because Santa Barbara was a ghost town and his normally busy Holiday season was dead as a doornail.  Many businesses were really hurt by the smoke and fear.

On the other hand, we got to witness an amazing display of smart planning, competence in motion, and downright heroism on the part of firefighters from all over the country. You might drive by a truck from Montana Fire or one from Colorado as well as all up and down the coast. Day after day they fought it like it was a dragon. They called it “The Beast,” and as you watched it crawl across the landscape, it retained the shaped of a dragon for quite a long time before they began to contain it. But, contain it they did. Today, we were surrounded by people smiling and breathing easily as they returned to their homes. The town was flooded by relief and last minute shoppers. What a fire it was. They say, by the time it is done, it will be the largest fire in California history.

The skies are blue again. They cancelled the Air Quality Warning. They sent most of the firefighters home for Christmas, though the fire may burn quietly for another week or two. The grocery stores are jammed and here we are ready for Santa. As Emmy informed Larry and me early this week, we have to be sure to take the fire screen down so that Santa won’t have trouble getting in. I certainly don’t want any more trouble! May your holiday be everything you wish for and your New Year twice as nice.

Love,

Judy

 

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