The Grateful Book

September 21, 2015

IMG_2084 (2)
For several years I was mired in grief as I struggled to come to terms with those feelings of loss we all have when someone close to us dies and we either ignored the signs or felt helpless through the process that, in many cases, lasts for years.

As my grief cycle lost some of its hold on me I started reading again in my search for stepping stones to help me rise from a serious depression to a brighter life. I also turned to friends and relatives and my new boyfriend and they have all stood by my side as I slowly beat back the viny tendrils of my own mind that were trying to hold me back.

One of the suggestions I came across was called The Grateful Book. That’s not the name of a book, but is an exercise to help turn the tables on the mind and it has been of immense help to me.

The premise is simple

  1. Buy a brand new spiral notebook and a pen that you can keep by your bed.
  2. Each day, either before turning out the light at night or before rising in the morning, write down 10 things you are truly grateful for. (For me, this usually takes up most of a page so I just use a new page for each day.)

The page of my book from this morning follows as an example. However, to give you a better understanding of WHY I write what I do let me tell you where I live and what I saw yesterday.

I live in an apartment in a barn. The apartment was converted from a farm manager office with the horse stall next to it remodelled into a bedroom and the storage room behind converted to a bath room.

There are three other 12′ x 12′ ‘apartments’ in this facility that do not have bathrooms or windows, but there is a common kitchen and a toilet in the office in the second barn. The people in the other apartments bathe late at night, with a hose, outside in the dark. There is no hot water.

In comparison, my 700 sq.ft. apartment is the Taj Mahal. I have two window air conditioners, a small window, a real stove and refrigerator, and a full bathroom with hot water as well as my bedroom.

Yesterday, the woman who lives with her husband in one of the rooms proudly showed me their home. It was spotless, smelled of cleaning products, and had a dresser, a mattress on the floor, and storage bins stacked in one corner. There was a coffee pot on the dresser and it must have been over 100 degrees in the windowless room. She had a big smile and was so happy to show it to me.

So, here is this morning’s page from my Grateful Book:

  • I am grateful every day that I have a boyfriend who is a good man and cares about me.
  • I am grateful every day that I have a kitchen with all the appliances I need and extra ones that are convenient.
  • I am grateful every day that I have running water and a functional indoor bathroom where I can privately bathe.
  • I am grateful every day that I have lots of clothes for any weather condition.
  • I am grateful every day that I have boxes and shelves of books to read about a variety of subjects from humor to self improvement and education to science fiction.
  • I am grateful every day that I wake up each morning to the sounds of life all around me.
  • I am grateful every day that I can watch the sunset from my front door.
  • I am grateful every day for the incredible beauty I see in clouds, water, trees, flowers, animals and the faces around me.
  • I am grateful every day for my functioning brain and the creative thoughts I have as well as all the memories of my life.
  • I am grateful every day for the taste of clean water, the smell of coffee, the sounds of birds, the sight of growing things and the touch of others.
  • I am grateful every day for the lifetime of hugs I have received and for each one I will get in the future.

Sometimes I have a particular person or event on my mind and what comes to mind is all the things related to that. Many themes repeat, like my boyfriend, my sister, my friends, adventures and travel I have enjoyed, moments I remember, my animals, vehicles that are old but functional, my job, educational grants I’ve recieved…

At first it was hard to think of a single good thing to be grateful for. Then, as I got into the thought patterns of actually seeing what is around me, it became easier and easier to be grateful for everything.

IMG_2056It’s hard to believe, as I sit here inside a solid building and type on my computer that is connected to the rest of the world through the internet while a cool breeze from the air conditioner wafts the warm scent of toasting cinnamon English muffin through the air and a little black and white cat stretches in contentment and companionship next to me, that there are places in the world where bombs are falling, homes are being invaded, women are not allowed education or employment. And that my very neighbors don’t have bathrooms.

How can I NOT be grateful for what I have and where I live?

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You can find the original episodes at:

Of Dogs, Knee Surgery, and Large Horses (Part 1)

Of Dogs, Knee Surgery, and Large Horses (Part 2)

Of Dogs, Knee Surgery, and Large Horses (Part 3)

Of Dogs, Knee Surgery, and Large Horses (Part 4)

Of Dogs, Knee Surgery, and Large Horses (Part 5)

Of Dogs, Knee Surgery, and Large Horses, Part 6

My eyes slowly opened and I lay still for a moment wondering why I felt so heavy, then I realized that I had bandages on my knee…oh yes, knee surgery….oh crapp! I fell.

Now fully awake, though a long way from feeling it, I scooted to a sitting position and removed the bubble-wrap ice-pack extension from my knee. Under that was more wrap, and the instructions were to leave that on for 36 hours. Even the wrap felt hot, and I had to go to the bathroom, so I decided to put new ice in the machine on my way back to bed.

I flipped the light switch on, swung my legs over the side of the bed and glared at the crutches, still wary of using them and feeling more than just a little woozy after my traumatic night. I didn’t realize just how ‘woozy’ I was until I tried to stand up and flopped in an uncontrolled ‘whump’ back onto the bed.

OK…now I was frightened in a different way. It was no longer the crutches I feared, it was my own balance. So…I carefully stood again, took up the crutches, and concentrated my way through the apartment to the bathroom. I sat down (do you know how hard it is to sit down when your knee doesn’t bend?) and wondered how to change the ice in the Ice Man.

Gathering my resolve, I crutch-hopped back to the bedroom, stopping at the freezer on the way to pick up the small bag of ice. Once leaning on the side of the bed, I bent over and removed the top from the machine. I don’t know exactly what I was expecting, but an almost-overflowing reservoir of warm water was not it. Now what? I couldn’t carry it, or drag it over the lip of the door, or pick it up even if I got it there. Back to the kitchen I went for a large, deep plastic or metal bowl and a cup. For the next 10 days the procedure for emptying the Ice Man was to scoop water out of the machine until the bowl was about half full and sit the bowl on the bedside table. I would move to the doorway, pick up the bowl and shift it to table at the end of the sofa, move a few steps into the kitchen area, and move the bowl to the work table, move a few steps and transfer the bowl to the sink, follow the reverse track back to the bedroom, refill the bowl and do the whole thing again.

By the time the third trip was completed, the ice man was back in working order and velcroed to my knee, and I was propped up on pillows in bed I was ready to go back to sleep… and Rally barked at the door. Fortunately, there was a plug between the Ice Man and my knee so I could disconnect it without completely removing it. This was the last time I got up for a bathroom trip without waking her to go out at the same time, and it was the last time I got all the way back to bed without making sure she was back inside first.

Refilling the Ice Man took three round trips the first day, then I remembered the walker Dad had loaned me. It was still sitting at the front door. On my next bathroom trip I made a detour and traded the crutches for the walker. This gave me a lot more stability, and after that first night and the fall I never took another pain pill, but even so I was shaky for another few days as the drugs worked their way out of my system and my muscles grew accustomed to my new mode of mobility. At first it took three trips to get enough water out of the machine, but later I became an expert bowl shifter and I managed to get it done in two trips.

I checked the clock…7:00 am. Is the doctor’s office open that early? No answer. The next time I woke it was 8:30 am so I tried the doctor’s office again. No answer, but this time I listened for the message to end so I could leave a message and discovered that there was an emergency number. Awesome! I left my name, phone number and a brief message about what happened, then went back to sleep.

When I woke later the sun was up and my clock told me it was 9:45 am. Still no message from either the doctor or his emergency number, so I called again. No answer. That’s when I remembered that it was Saturday. Still, someone should be checking the emergency messages. I left another message and spent the rest of the day propped up in bed drifting in and out of sleep and waiting for a return call that never came. I was up and down several times through the day changing water in the Ice Man, pretending to work on my blog, and telling parents, family and boyfriend about my fall, making light of it, and worrying myself sick.

Through this time the Ice Man used more ice than my freezer could produce, so when one of the horse owners I usually chat with knocked on the door to see how I was getting along, I asked if he could bring me some ice later in the day. Fifteen minutes later I had two large bags of ice and he even emptied and refilled the Ice Man for me. Martin continued to check with me each day for the next two weeks to make sure I had ice. I hope he knows how much that meant to me at the time, and how grateful I am to him for his concern.

Another who checked on me several times and brought a bag of bananas, oranges and apples when he heard I was eating cookies for most meals was Cal, the gregarious farm manager. Usually seen in the driver’s seat of truck, tractor or ATV, he always has time to stop in for a chat, normally with a son, nephew or grandson in tow.

Vickie, another boarder and registered TB trainer fed my horses for the first week, after which she followed the racing season to Virginia with her 7 horses. At that time Ernesto, another TB owner, graciously took over the feeding of the horses and, by that time, I was able to take over the feeding of the cats.

Five days after the initial surgery Dad and Carolyn returned with bags of groceries, including a roasted chicken, some microwaveable foods which turned out to be my main source of food for the next week. However, the best gift they brought was a plastic chair that would fit into the bath tub so (with a plastic bag taped around my leg) I could take a shower. What bliss!

Looking back, I don’t think I would have made it without all my friends at the barn.

To Be Continued….

You can find the original episodes at:

Of Dogs, Knee Surgery, and Large Horses (Part 1)

Of Dogs, Knee Surgery, and Large Horses (Part 2)

Of Dogs, Knee Surgery, and Large Horses (Part 3)

Of Dogs, Knee Surgery, and Large Horses (Part 4)

Of Dogs, Knee Surgery, and Large Horses, Part 5

I woke up in the wee hours of the morning and lay there for a moment in the dark wondering where I was and what woke me up. BARK!! I had fallen asleep well before my normal bedtime, and my dog didn’t get her usual early evening constitutional so she was standing at the door. Every few minutes she would give a short, urgent bark. ARGroan!

I tried to roll out of bed to let her out and almost fell on my head. Something was wrapped around my leg! Then the events of the previous day seeped into the mush that filled my head and I remembered the surgery….and the fall. I reached down and felt around my knee to see how big it was and realized that I couldn’t find it under all the wrappings.

For some reason, as I lay there alone in my apartment with my dog barking at the door, this struck me as funny and I was overcome by hysterical laughter. Then, an intense feeling of sadness and abandonment rolled over me in a wave and before you could say ‘post traumatic stress syndrome’ the tears were rolling down my cheeks and I was sobbing as uncontrollably as I had been laughing a moment before. Fortunately, before I could get entrenched too deeply in this frame of mind, the cycle was interrupted by another bark from the direction of the door and a suddenly urgent bladder.

And the reality of my situation thundered in on me. I was afraid to try to get up. I was afraid to use the crutches. And every living creature in the apartment had to pee. Soon.

legphoto 2I’m not sure if it was the drugs or the nerve block, but I was certain that I had very little time to do SOMETHING or I would have to find someplace else to sleep. So….I sat up, got my crutches lined up, and slid my legs off the bed. OK…so far, so good. Then I very carefully bent over and disconnected myself from the now warm ice pump. I stood up on the crutches and swayed back and forth before staggering like a drunken sailor through the house, throwing open the front door and watching Rally trot out, then I turned, waited for equilization of my internal balance bubble, and hitched-slid, hitched-slid, hitched-slid my way to the bathroom. I forgot to move the crutches out of the way when I tried to sit down and nearly spun myself to the floor again, but managed to catch the edge of the door, disengage the crutches and settle onto the toilet. Aaaahhhh!!

legphoto 14I was there for quite a while. Thinking about the trip back to the bedroom. How I would place each crutch for maximum stability. I could turn the lights out on the way, and tuck myself safely back into bed. The ice water was warm now, and I could feel my leg swelling the longer I was more-or-less upright, but I couldn’t think of a solution to that at the moment, so I decided to leave it for the next time I woke up.

Finally, all my decisions made, I worked my way back to the bedroom, swung my legs back into bed, flipped the covers over myself…..and BARK!! Rally wanted in. Sigh….maybe she’ll change her mind, I thought…. BARK!! No, she wasn’t changing her mind. I sat up, swung my legs back out of bed, braced myself for the pressure under my arms and on the heels of my hands (they already felt bruised after only one trip to the bathroom) and staggered back to the door. Naturally, my blind/deaf dog was standing three feet from the door and I had to reach out and touch her with the crutch before she realized the door was open, while at the same time fending off the barn cats who were attempting to sneak into the house. I would have let one or two in to comfort me, but I didn’t think I could bend over to clean out the litter box.

Eventually Rally ended up inside, the cats remained outside, and I was ready to collapse. How do people who use crutches all the time survive it? I wondered as I sat there gathering strength for the trip back to the bedroom. I would like to say that I surged to my feet, took control of those crutches, and marched in a frog-hopping sort of way straight back to bed, but instead the trip was completed in a 100 year old geriatric shuffle, and probably took several minutes.

By the time I had reached the bed I was freezing—except my knee, which was on fire—and I could barely lift my legs far enough over the edge of the bed to be safe.

Too tired and defeated to even cry, I tucked myself in the best I could, huddled under the covers, and slipped again into a mostly drugged sleep.

To Be Continued….

So….my horse was fine and my knee hurt like hell. Am I on Candid Camera or something? Or a victim of one of Murphy’s more sadistic Laws?

superwoman

Can You Find Super Woman?

OK, it didn’t hurt like hell all the time, only when I walked, or rode, or tried to sleep. The rest of the time it was a strong and active ache. For about a week I was hobbling around like a 100 year old woman with arthritis, and for another two weeks I was not hobbling, but it was only because I am superwoman and I refused to show signs of weakness. After all, I had places to go, people to see, things to do. I couldn’t stop, or even slow down, for an injury. Animals depended on me. But, when no one was looking I lifted my leg into the car with my hands because I couldn’t get my leg to work that way.

Meanwhile, Olivia went lame again. What was wrong with that horse? A call went out to the vet, who spent three hours at the farm blocking, ultra-sounding and x-raying. Diagnosis: she will not get better (more about that in a future blog). No more riding Olivia. Fortunately, she was gorgeous, had fabulous movement, and was a good age for breeding so away she went on lease to be a mommy. A great life for her; one less horse to worry about with a bad knee.

photo 02Finally, in the dark and secret hours of the morning, when no one could see me, I took an aspirin …I ….TOOK ….AN ….ASPIRIN. I, who NEVER take pain medication unless on death’s bed, took an aspirin. That’s when I decided it was time to see a doctor. Well, I thought defensively, I just spent hundreds of dollars to find out why my horse is lame, and the results were somewhat frightening. Was I not worth that? That thought was immediately followed by: Doctor??  What doctor?

Dear Me…I had been in Florida for five years and had not been to see a doctor once. Or to a hospital. Or a clinic. I didn’t know any doctors. As a disgustingly healthy person, what need did I have for doctors? So I called around and, after speaking with several friends, I had an appointment—in a month—with a well respected doctor. Isn’t it funny, once I made the appointment my knee felt better. I almost canceled several times but, just as I was making that decision and reaching for the phone I would step slightly wrong and the knee would hurt again. I somehow knew that if I canceled the appointment Murphy, with his fist full of wretched Laws, would raise his evil head again and my leg would fall off. So, after about a year, that month passed and I met with the doctor. Following the Torture Of 1000 Questions and a cursory exam, she gave me instructions and off I went on my merry way.

From the doctor’s office I was sent to the vampire house where (pleasant surprise) I really didn’t feel a thing, and from there I drove to the MRI/X-ray building. It was quite amazing to me that everything was right on schedule. I waited less than five minutes at each house of small horrors, then had the joy of waiting for the doctor to call with the results.

To my shock, the first thing I was told was that I had high cholesterol—both ‘good’ and ‘bad’–and that, no, they don’t balance out. This is something that I don’t understand. If one is ‘good’ and the other ‘bad’ isn’t that like plus and minus. If you have similar amounts of plus and minus you end up with a very low number. NOT! I, who normally prefer to eat chicken and fish, was told to cut back on my red meat. I wondered how I was supposed to do that?

Oh well, that wasn’t my big problem, the big problem was that I had a new appointment with a specialist. Why? Because there was a tear in my ACL. Naturally, the appointment was a month away.

Another year that lasted a month passed and the great day arrived. And I spent all of 15 minutes with the doctor. He pulled my knee this way and that, told me it was swollen, the joint was loose, and that the MRI and X-Rays showed that I needed surgery. Why? Because I had torn my ACL almost in two, and a section of the meniscus was pulling off the bone. And, guess what? They don’t get better without surgery. Then he asked me if next Friday was OK.

WHAT?   Who was going to look after the horses? The Rally Dog? The cats? ME!? How long would I be off? How long before I’d be normal? (Ok…I do realize the ‘N’ word is not one that is normally usually associated with me, but to me I am ‘normal’.) I had almost a week to figure all this out.

To be continued….


Ode to Monster Kitty
Something has happened to my soft gray buddy,
he’s been missing in action for quite a while.
I’ve looked and called to no avail,
no answer is found, no sign of his long tail.

Found alone and crying in the middle of a field,
wet and cold after an especially heavy rain,
Monster Kitty was about the size of a mouse-
a soft, gray ball of wet fur yelling in hunger-
tiny, vulnerable, and screaming his outrage.

Light as a feather and barely able to see,
already he was a miniature fighter with fists waving,
ready to take on the world and size be damned,
Hissing at my approach, warning my dark shadow
that he was tough and would fight to the death.

He grew from finger-sized to super-sized,
with a tail that he carried high in the air
a long gray monkey tail of defiance,
at once a challenge and an announcement
that Monster Kitty had arrived on the scene.

As he grew from tiny kitten to gangly catten,
he murdered scarves, attacked shiny dust motes,
and annoyed the hell out of older Ezaroo cat.
A fearless king of the house from the beginning,
he was not above stealing Rally’s dog food.

In his Catten years he was a quality entertainer,
dragging hair ties and pillows around the house,
laying in wait around every corner to attack,
climbing the tree to the sunny apartment roof,
then leaping to a cushion held over my head.

Monster Kitty was an extraordinary cat,
curious about everything and always learning.
He learned to open drawers while I was at work
and reclaimed all his toys from their hiding places,
then brought them to drop on my keyboard with glee.

His energy seemed unlimited–especially at night,
when I was combination trampoline and launch pad.
Never especially affectionate, but still my friend,
he was often opinionated and quick with claws,
but when he allowed a cuddle I felt blessed.

Monster Kitty, your loss is a shadow on my heart.
I miss hearing you run on the roof like an elephant
as you blasted around chasing mice for hours.
I wonder where you are, and what you’re doing now.
You’re such a handsome boy, did you find safety?
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MamaCat

Expectant Felines
Expectant Felines
find comfort in strange places
just before birthing.

kittens

Newborn Kittens
Staggering fur balls,
strange mewling, sucking noises;
new kittens nursing.

tinyKittens

Kittens
Seems to me that kittens
romp like crazy between feeds,
then sleep in soft balls.

cattens

Catten
Cattens spend their time
practicing mouse destruction
on other cattens.

MonsterKitty

Cats
Cats sleep in the sink,
and tell wild tales every night
of their catten days.

Why I Am Writing This Blog

February 19, 2011

I take it upon myself to write this blog in memory of a most wonderful person, and with the hope that it will help others make it through their loss.

Ted was everything to me and wore many faces through our relationship. He was friend, lover, defender, provider, safety net, carpenter, mechanic, electrician, house cleaner, window washer, yard man, computer geek, entertainer, nurse, comforter, warm arms, snow shoveler, source of knowledge on a seemingly endless range of topics, foot warmer, weatherman, maintenance man, bill payer, keeper of special dates, dinner date, interesting conversationalist, challenging chess and backgammon partner, sensitive to my changing female moods, and the keeper of my heart.

He filled our house with his presence and it was transformed from an ordinary building into a warm and inviting home, a sanctuary from the craziness of the rest of the world. His very presence brought a smile to my face and his loss has left a monstrous and bottomless hole that sometimes seems to suck the life from me. I fight constantly to keep from falling endlessly into it.

Originally this was supposed to be a blog about my horse in training. I didn’t think I was ready for this, or strong enough. But, somewhere along the way, the best laid plans are waylaid by unforeseen turns in the road, and when I sat down and started writing this is what came out.

Of course, very few of those reading this blog have ever met me or my husband. It doesn’t matter. I think loss is much the same across the board and many of you who have been through the loss of someone close to you – friend, partner, family member, spouse or child – will understand why I am doing this. Hopefully you will join me and relate your stories in the comments section.

My husband was a wonderful person with so much more he wanted to do with his life. Instead he was dragged through his last two years willy-nilly with little choice of direction. Forgive me if, at times, I sound bitter or angry. I cry often and since I live alone now I don’t try to keep the sobs silent. I let them rattle the windows and echo off the walls of the house that no longer feels warm, but is empty and cold without his presence.

It may take me some time to get through the story because this is not just a rendition of what happened after we heard about the cancer, it is also the story of two lives that intertwined through over 35 years. It is a story of love that grew through time, laughter, tears, pride, anger, sadness, disappointment, triumph and joy. It is a story of great loss followed by dark clouds of depression, anger and confusion interspersed with occasional bits of color that open the door for hope.

I promise you now that the story will be told in its entirety, and that I will be adding to this blog at least twice per week. It is important to me that I do this. I believe it will be a comfort to tell the story, and I hope that readers will understand the hospital procedures and effects of cancer treatments better when hearing it from the family’s perspective, rather than the doctor’s.

If you’re reading this blog because you’ve lost someone close to you and you feel alone, trust me, you are far from being alone. I hope that in some small way reading this will make you realize that life goes on – sometimes in spite of our wishes – and that there are still many reasons to carry on. Please feel free to comment, either on what you see here or on your personal experiences with loss. Also, I would like each and every one of you who have been through a similar experience to know that I am deeply and sincerely sorry for your loss.

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