A long goodbye

It’s been a month since I flew home from Halifax, after visiting my mother for perhaps the last time. We weren’t sure how long she would last after that — no one did — but she’s clearly not quite been ready to go.

Tonight (Thursday, July 29 — it’s long after midnight and into the 30th as I’m writing this post), for the first time since I was down there, she actually told me she thought the end was near. She sounds terrible, and she’s in more pain, pain that they’re having trouble controlling, than she’s ever been in. She hasn’t been eating, though she decided she wanted spaghetti and ice cream today. I told her it was OK, that she could go anytime she wants to. And when my father got back on the phone again, I broke down. I haven’t done that since the last time.

I had been thinking that I’d like to volunteer to do some hospice work here in Ottawa — I can’t physically be with my mother, but maybe I could help someone else and their family. But I learned tonight that I’m not ready to take on the role of the supporter for someone else while I’m still in need of support myself.



If you’re ever unlucky enough to eat a Thanksgiving turkey dinner with me, you’ll understand just how anally obsessive I am with my food. My Thanksgiving plate is very beige and completely segregated. None of the foods touch each other (gravy and other sauces and condiments are completely out of the question) and each group is generally eaten before the next group is touched — no mixing and mingling of foods in my mouth, thankyouverymuch.

The plate on the left is a (mostly) properly segregated plate. The plate on the right is just so horrifying that I can't bear to look at it.

Interestingly enough, I don’t have the same fastidiousness in most other areas of my life. (Can’t really be a hoarder if none of your stuff can touch other stuff, you know?) But I learned today that it does subconsciously carry over to my Facebook account. I recently created a Friend Wheel, which maps your friends’ relationships with one another and creates this lovely little string art like image.

This is what mine looks like:

My Friend Wheel

Looks a lot like my dinner plate. The spokes of the wheel are the names of my friends. For most people, the names on their wheel form a basket-like string art picture, with links crisscrossing the circle. Mine, as you can see, does not do that. My various groups of ‘friends” do not interact with one another and stay nicely and quietly in their own little compartments. (And, yes, I realize that this shows I have under 80 “friends” — I could have hundreds, but I choose to limit my connections in Facebook.)

The OCD Gods would be proud.

Well, there’s your problem

So, despite some 5-hour Energy and a (mostly) willing spirit, I did not actually get much of anything accomplished today.

I’d like to say that I was distracted by some meaningful activity, like job hunting, but no. I got lost doing mostly meaningless crap, though I did get several blog posts written and published. (Yes, I hoard blogs like I hoard everything else; that shouldn’t surprise you.) I also changed the header image on this blog — thought it was perhaps time to retire the moody, black and white Winter shot of the Rideau River in favour of a more upbeat, Summer panorama shot* of the Ottawa riverfront — and finally uploaded some photos from my flight home from Halifax on June 30. (They’re in my Flickr photostream. Have I mentioned that I love Porter Airlines?) Sure, you could argue that all of those items were really low on my “to do” list compared to so many other things, but at least they were on the list. I could have spent the day just watching TV or sleeping.

In any case, I’m sitting here tonight (er, this morning) thinking that I can get stuck into things full on tomorrow. Except that tomorrow I really *do* need to finish up some freelance work that I’ve been putting off (payment would be nice and, so far, no one seems willing to pay me for doing nothing), and it really has to take priority over everything. So the declutter gets put on the back burner for another day. Aw, who am I kidding? Another couple of days at least.

Before you know it, another week rolls by and there I am, exactly where I started, saying to myself that I won’t do this again. Except where I do. This is where this all starts, where it all balloons into a situation you’ve lost complete control over.

How do you choose between activities when all of them have the same importance? (Forget that I’m sometimes choosing between activities that have no importance at all. I’m talking about those times when the activities really are things that have to be done sooner rather than later.) How do normal, sane people cope with this? Do they just never put themselves in situations where there is no hierarchy, no clear choice? Or do they artificially inflate/deflate the importance of conflicting obligations in order to ensure that there is no question which one must be done first?

* Panorama image purchased three years ago from iStockphoto for a different blog, but never used. See? I guess I did actually accomplish something today after all.

Round and round she goes…

…where she’ll stop, no one knows.

Spinning in endless circles, revisiting the same issues over and over and over again. Sidestepping them rather than dealing with them, only to meet them again on the next spin around the dance floor. Good evening, Mr. Clutter. How are you tonight, Mr. Procrastination? So kind of you all to stop by. Well, must dash.

I have a lot of, well, let’s call them “challenges” that I am trying to work through. Or rather, that I’m considering trying to work through. (Mr. Procrastination is a persistent suitor who keeps distracting me from actually doing much of anything, and I let him. Mr. Clutter reaps the benefits.)

The one common root running through almost all of those challenges — financial, health, career, spirit, life — is clutter. Clutter in my environment, clutter in my head, clutter on my computer, clutter in my life in general. Stuff. Loads and loads of unnecessary crap. I’ve let Chaos run rampant through my life, providing me with a ready (though pathetically transparent) excuse: “Oh, I’d could fix <whatever> if only I didn’t have this clutter problem. Oh, well. Too late now.”

I’m calling “Bullshit!” on myself.

It’s been over a year since I completed stage one of dehoarding. You won’t be surprised to learn that not only haven’t I moved on to stage two, but I seem to have gotten worse. (It’s much like dieting — you lose 20 pounds only to gain back 30.) I forget too easily how nice, how much lighter it felt after stage one, how much better I feel without the clutter. (If you’ve never been a hoarder, you can’t understand. It truly is like being a drug addict — you know it is bad for you, you know you’d feel better if you stopped, but you just can’t; the pull of the drug is stronger. And it feeds upon itself. The more clutter, the worse you feel. The worse you feel, the worse the clutter gets. )

I was sitting here today, thinking of all the things I need to do and all of those thoughts led back to this intense need to declutter first. I can’t properly concentrate on anything else while the clutter exists so I’m doing a half-assed job of everything else in my life. That can only lead to heartache, so it’s time I smartened up. (How many times have I said that?) Instead of thinking about all of the other stuff on my mind — job hunting, freelancing, health stuff, my mother — I need to spend the next week (or however long it takes) just concentrating on the one thing with the power over all the rest, the 500 lb gorilla on my back.

Edited to add: Ha, just noticed that my Jonathan Cainer horoscope for today includes the following:

You’re tempted to do whatever’s easiest. But if the path of least resistance leads round in a circle, it may be time to embrace the possibility of change, regardless of how much courage this difficult decision demands of you.

Well, there you go.

I might have to take that back, Tom

I’ve never been a fan of Tom Cruise, the actor or the person. I could go into a long, boring explanation of why, but it’s really not important.

What’s important is that, when he appeared on Top Gear with Cameron Diaz last night, he came off completely unfreaky and much more personable than he has in ages. He was quite funny, very relaxed, and seemed more at ease than I think he’s been in a long time. Doing comedies seems to agree with him.

Cameron Diaz and Tom Cruise on Top Gear, July 25, 2010

Dare I say it? He actually reminds me now a bit of John Barrowman, who is one of my favourite people (and who is incredibly funny). I’ve said some fairly uncharitable things about Tom over the years (pretty sure I’m not alone in that), but I think I might just have to take those back.

Incidentally, Cameron and Tom both topped the “Star in a Reasonably Priced Car” board, with Tom almost tipping the car over going around the last corner — it was worth it, though, because he beat Cameron’s time by a full second.

Tom Cruise's car on two wheels on Top Gear

Tom Cruise and Cameron Diaz top the Star in a Reasonably Priced Car board

Press “Play”


My life slowed down in October when my mother found out about her ovarian cancer.

It faltered, stuttered in February when my mother had her stroke.

And it paused completely in May when it became clear that my mother wasn’t going to have a miraculous recovery, or even a long partial recuperation.

My life has narrowed in focus to the daily (sometimes multi-daily) phone call. Everything that happens before and after the call seems to be just killing time until the next call. It’s not something I did consciously. It crept up on me so quietly that I just didn’t see it coming. It’s part desperate, unspoken need to have one last day talking to my mother — even if she’s more often than not somewhere else; part fervent wish to provide what meager emotional support I can to my father when everyone else has moved on with their busy lives; and part just waiting for whatever is going to happen to just happen already. (We won’t even talk about the paralyzing guilt that last item brings with it.)

I can’t live this way. Something has to change.


In May, when she could still hold a lengthy conversation without veering off into another world, my mother mentioned in passing that my brother once told her that she was responsible for my being overweight. (How we got to that point in our conversation is a very long story that I will spare you.) Or, rather, that she was responsible for my not losing the weight once I had gained it.

(I should explain. This particular brother has never had an excess weight problem. Not as a teenager and not as an adult. Like my sister, he’s always been one of those people with a need to be physically active. When we were younger, he and I looked alike enough to be twins. But we do not have the same interests or the same minds or the same outlook on exercise. He’s always been a bit of an exercise freak. He worked out all the time, ran even more, and was continually on the go. As a result, he’s always been kind of wiry. Me, on the other hand, I’m more cerebral, more indoorsy, sedentary. My pastimes were things like reading or painting or writing poetry, while his were judo, running, and suntanning.)

I’m not sure my brother actually understands my mother or where she comes from. Oh, he knows the dry facts of her early life, but I don’t think he really understands what that early life has done to her. Still, that’s his issue to deal with and really  none of my business except as I try to clean up the damage his comments leave behind.

But when you start blaming my mother for the road my life has taken, you’ve crossed the line well into my business…which, interestingly enough, is none of his concern. He has no idea why I’m overweight, or why I do or have done anything in my life. We really hardly know one another as adults. I’m not privy to the details of family conversations about my size, though I’m sure there has been one or two, but the fact of the matter is that no one involved in those conversations knows anything about me that I haven’t shared with them (or that isn’t several decades out-of-date). And I may or may not have shared the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. Some days I don’t even know what the Truth is with respect to my life and my internal motivations. Humans are complex creatures.

I don’t really care if family members talk about me, behind my back or in front of my face, or speculate to their hearts’ content about my life and my future. But I have a huge problem with people deliberately making my mother feel bad — adding to the guilt she has been carrying since she was ten years old — on my behalf. It’s mean, and it’s cruel.

Dude, look after your own house. Mine is none of your beeswax.

Pack up your troubles, kids

I frequently wonder at the choices that marketing and advertising people make. I wonder if they come up with those choices on their own, or if they grudgingly implement the desires of their clients despite their own misgivings. Are they ignorant of the connotations, or do they go into things eyes wide open, fully understanding (or just not caring).

The latest Dell Inspiron 15R commercial shows school children stuffing their backpacks and then repeatedly falling over from the weight, over which you can hear “Pack up your troubles in your old kit bag and smile, smile, smile.” *

And I wonder if the advertising people who came up with that know the history of the song as a WWI marching song, or have ever really listened to the lyrics…even just the rest of the lyrics in the chorus:

Pack up your troubles in your old kit-bag,
And smile, smile, smile,
While you’ve a lucifer to light your fag,
Smile, boys, that’s the style.

That’s right. Smoke ’em while you got ’em, kids.
You never know when a stray enemy ball might take you out at recess.

School is hell, y’all.

* The commercial version of the song was supposedly sung by James Mann, based on an arrangement of the song by the Minnutes. If anyone cares.

Lessons from a long week

I flew down home on very short notice on Saturday, June 26, to spend a few days with my mother, who was not expected to live long enough for my planned visit in mid-July.

While waiting for my plane to Halifax, I started to read Elisabeth Kübler-Ross‘ “On Death and Dying”. I say “started” because I didn’t finish reading it, nor do I think I ever will. The book and the concepts in it were revolutionary in 1969 when the book was first published. But the way we approach death and dying is different now, a testament perhaps to the far-reaching effects of her work and others after her. The book itself isn’t disturbing, but neither was it helpful to me, which is why I stopped reading it. Instead, I started researching the end-of-life process, looking for cold, hard medical facts to help me prepare myself for what I might find when I landed in Halifax.

What I found was sad and surreal but occasionally also quite funny, as only my mother can be.

A week ago, my mother was moved from her ward bed, where she was waiting to move into a long-term care facility, to a private palliative care room where family members can stay with the patient. On Monday, we all agreed to the cessation of all medication except that required to keep her comfortable. So no more cholesterol drugs, no more insulin, but lots of Dilaudid and Gravol and other goodies to ease her way. (As an aside, the new Infirmary in the QE II complex is a good place to be if you have to be somewhere like that — the nurses looking after my mother are marvelous, the palliative care room is as homey as a hospital room can be, and families are given the time and care they need. I’ve heard bad stories about end-of-life care but not there.)

I stayed overnight at the hospital for the last few days of my visit so that I could spend more time with her. The drugs and the aftereffects of the stroke (and perhaps the nearness of the end) make her hallucinate so nights can be long and sleepless, but I treasure those hours with her. They may well be the last ones we’ll share. She’d essentially stopped eating and drinking on Sunday and by Wednesday morning it looked like it might all be ending soon, but she rallied on Wednesday afternoon, enough that we actually took cheesy photos.

So the long wait begins again…or is that “continues”? Death is inevitable and near. No matter how well she rallies, the late stage ovarian cancer is going to get her, if the uncontrolled diabetes or renal failure doesn’t get her first. It’s only a matter of time. Weeks or perhaps even days. Things can go downhill so very fast. I couldn’t stay for the duration, but I call several times a day — I don’t want to ever feel like I missed a chance to tell her — or my father — how much I love them.  You really can’t say it too often. If you think you say it enough, just say it one more time anyway. The only regret you’ll have later on is that you didn’t say it more.