Thursday, August 31, 2006

Pay It Forward

I recently received some of my favorite kind of love: Mail Love. A fellow bookcrosser in the Netherlands sent me a book from one of my wish lists. It was a complete RABCK (Random Act of Bookcrossing) and I was reminded that in order to feel better sometimes, it's good to do something for someone else. So, today I'm mailing out three RABCKs to unsuspecting bookcrossers. I haven't even gone to the post office yet I'm feeling better already.

What have you done for someone else recently?

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Weeding Through

This morning, I unconceivably got the urge to pull weeds from the butterfly garden. Ginger was keeping me company while Ella took care of business in her egg-laying nest. I was reminded of a poem my sister-in-law Lesle wrote after the death of her brother, my husband's brother, Perry. She reminisced about their childhood as a family and the weeds they sorted through as time went on. It made me think of Gina's passing and the weeds she encountered throughout life. It reminded me that sometimes even a weed will produce a lovely blossom and who's to say where beauty lies?

When Gina was 16 she gave a son to adoption. I was six at the time and have no recollection of her "being shipped away" to her father's home out of state. In fact, I didn't learn about the adoption until 1993, when I was 27. Can my family keep secrets or what?!So the year was 1972 and Michael was born.

Michael lives in the state he was born in, has a 14-year career in the US Army, is married to Renee and has three kids. He's known about the adoption since he was 6, he is now 34. While on deployment several years ago, Renee hired a PI to find Michael's parents. Not too long after, she was put in contact with Gina's stepmom and they met. Michael was given the name of his biological mother, saw photographs of her and his grandparents, aunt and uncles. History was shared and Gina's contact information was given. The proverbial ball was in his court.

After many attempts of calling and getting no answer or picking up the phone and losing courage, he finally reached Gina in March, 2006. Over the next several months, they phoned a few times. Some of Michael's questions were answered as was Gina's prayer. She wanted nothing more in life than to have her son contact her.

When I learned of Gina's hospitalization, I called Michael. I can't remember making a more difficult call in my life. I explained to him the severity of Gina's illness, not knowing what he knew about her. I offered to contact him with updates if he wanted me to, and he did. It was the next day that I called to tell him the ultimate prognosis and that I had made arrangements to fly to IN to see her. He called me back a couple hours later to inform me of his travel plans to IN. He understood it was a now or never situation for him and chose to act now.

Gina was informed of Michael and Renee's travel plans and a friend of hers gussied her up a little bit so she would feel more comfortable seeing him for the first time. When Michael arrived, I asked Gina's visitors to leave the room so we could have that moment in privacy. I will NEVER forget the huge smile on my sister's face when she saw her "baby boy". Never. Michael hugged Gina and between them and Renee and I, the room was filled with tears of bittersweet joy.

Michael and Renee stayed for four days. They spent countless hours at Gina's bedside. When she was coherent, they'd share photographs with her and she'd just look at Michael and smile. She repeatedly told people how handsome he was. She was so very proud and I am convinced that his presence there kept her hanging on. He tended to her needs as though he'd always been by her side. I don't think there are words to describe the depth of that sorrowful beauty.

Fortunately, my brother Doug flew in from New Mexico so he got to meet Michael and Renee. They went out to lunch one day and spent many hours just visiting. It felt so comfortable, it felt like family. On Thursday night, the night before they were to leave, Michael and I stayed with Gina all night. I'd done it every night since I arrived but Michael offered to stay and give me a break. It was my intention to leave but we ended up talking until 6:30am Friday morning. That will long be a favorite night of mine.

Since leaving, Michael and I, or Renee and I, have been in touch both by phone and email. He said that now we've met, Jeremy and I should come up for a visit and I'd love to do that. I talk about him so much you'd think he was my son. He's my nephew but with a six-year age difference, I feel I've gained a brother.

It's an irony of sorts. I've lost and gained as I've weeded through this difficult time.

Sunday, August 27, 2006

I'll Miss You WaWa

My sister, Gina Marie, passed away today. I will always remember her for her youthful beauty and huge heart. She was the best big sister to have when a little sister needed one and I'll miss her.

Monday, August 21, 2006

Can You Hear Me Now?

Listen to me, I'm a klutz. I can't believe what a klutz I was at the airport in Louisville last week. I had stopped by a rip-you-off shop to buy some postcards, Maker's Mark goodies and a little something to remind me of Louisville. Like all my childhood memories aren't enough?! Well, I saw the Kokopelli painted pony and knew that was the one for me. I love the Kokopelli. I had the shopguy wrap my pony in bubble wrap even though I would carefully be transporting it in my carry on bag. Not one minute later, I stepped out of the shop and dropped the bag. thump! My pony went deaf... I knocked his ears right off.

Thank goodness for glue, made from ponies, right?

Saturday, August 19, 2006

Poultry Pebbles

Ella's eggs sure are small. She's laid three since Wednesday and I've photographed today's egg aside an egg I bought at the grocery. I was with her when she laid this morning and I'm not so sure she's doing it right. She spent nearly an hour twirling around in a circle trying to get her nest just so. After that, she stood up, flared her wings out a little, squatted a little and less than a minute later, I heard the egg drop. I thought she was taking a crap actually.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Saying I Love You

There was no second thought about going to be with Gina when I got the call. My only dilemma was deciding when. I had to make that same decision in '93 when I learned my mother had bone cancer. It wasn't until I went to her first oncology appointment that I learned she also had cirrhosis of the liver. A little factoid my mother chose not to disclose but hey, I don't blame her, who wants to admit to causing such harm to their own and only body?

When I flew "home" to be with my mom for that appointment I knew it was a part of my coping mechanism. For me, diving into the academic aspects of disease and death is how I manage my pain. My brain kicks in and I have to learn about the issues at hand. It doesn't completely sedate the emotions that are stirring inside me, but it helps me make it through.

I spent a week with my mother on that visit and it was, in essence, my way of grieving before her death. By what I've learned, that's not too uncommon when we have a loved one with a terminal disease. I can't speak for my mother, but I like to believe that it was one of the best visits we'd ever had. It was raw, emotional, truthful... real. I said things to my mother that I'd harbored my entire life, some good, some bad. The overall message was that I loved her and respected her for the decisions she believed were right and just even if their consequences came at a cost. She was my mother and I'd always hold her dear to my heart, always.

My sister Gina lived near my mother and was therefore thrust into the role of caregiver. She took Mom to her chemo treatments and sadly was the one with her when she eventually passed away in the hospital. Mom's prognosis at that first oncology appointment was three months and it was three months to the day that she passed. Gina was with her and that pained me for many, many years. I felt an immense guilt because I wasn't there. I was here in Florida when an aunt called me at work with the latest update. I drove home from work at an unlawful speed to make my last call to my mother. I just wanted her to hear me say I love you and she did. I also heard her say she loved me and it was then she took her last difficult breath.

I know that experience is different for me and Gina, she was there, I wasn't. It wasn't until I was at Gina's bedside last week that I gained an understanding of what it's like to be with a dying person. My sister had an uncanny resemblance to my mother. Gina, merely a skeleton shroud in skin, had my mother's eyes and skin tone. At times I thought I was with my mother, it was eerie and in some way comforting. I was hoping that my mom WAS there so she could take Gina's hand and lead her toward calm.

Gina's condition changed daily. When I saw my mom in her eyes, she'd thrown up blood and had a procedure done in her esophagus to stop the bleeding. There was such a vacant look in her eyes and I wondered if I was looking into her soul. For the next two days I tried cleaning her mouth of the blood that continued to settle due to dehydration. I cried and asked someone why death isn't as beautiful as it is portrayed in the movies. There was no beauty in Gina's state. Her moaning and odor and dry tears weren't the gentle release into peace that I'd hoped for.

She hasn't let go yet. Her condition continues to fluctuate and for as long as she can hear me, I'll be telling her I love you.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

I'm So Proud

Ella laid her first egg today.

Incidentally, I'm home. No, not because Ella laid an egg but because I hit a limit in Indiana. In situations like this, you sometimes see the worst in people. I chose not to subject myself to those surroundings and came home yesterday. I left after visiting Gina and exchanging I love yous. I told her I'd be back and I will, but I'm not sure when. She was moved into a nursing home last night and it's up to my niece to monitor my sister's care which is what I was doing. She is just now learning that my being there DID matter and it had a direct impact on her. Some lessons are hard to learn I suppose. I just hope that she truly grasps the depth of my wish which was for Gina to not be alone. Sadly, I doubt she will but as always, there is hope.

Thanks again for the comments, calls, emails and snail mail. Your thoughts and prayers do mean so much to me.

Monday, August 14, 2006

News from New Albany

What a long week it has been. There's too much to tell, some wonderful, some heart-breaking, some shameful. As far as Gina is concerned, she's hanging in there as they continue to manage her pain. That's all that can be done at this point. I spend every night with her in her hospital room and most of the day. It wasn't until the last couple of days that I started to leave the hospital to eat, get cleaned up and talk to people who weren't medical staff.

"Dying with dignity" holds a lot of meaning to me and that is why I'm devoting this time to be with Gina. She's too weak to feed herself and is fearful of the unknown. All I can do is hold her hand and assure her she's not alone and remind her that she is loved by many.

Thanks to all who've contacted me with warmth. It is appreciated.

Monday, August 07, 2006

It's Only a Matter of Time

Gina will be transferred to Hospice, I'm not sure when. Monday?... oh that's today. I won't know til I am able to contact someone later in the morning. All I hope for is comfort for her, I hope that's not wanting too much.

Sunday, August 06, 2006

Unless There's a Miracle

That's what Gina's primary care physician just told me. "Unless there's a miracle, we're looking at a life expectancy of several weeks to 6 months."

*breathe, Juli, breathe...*

It's daunting to think of such things. It's inevitable but I can't help but feel so overwrought with negativity when I think of my sister and her condition. She's currently fluctuating through incoherency due to the elevated level of amonia in her body and yesterday she didn't know her own daughter.

Her doctor said that nothing was "imminent" at this point and I took that as his polite way of saying I didn't need to rush up there. As it stands, I plan to go "home" in October so I'll keep that time frame for travel.

So what about a miracle? Well, I'll leave that up to those who put a lot of weight into such things. I do believe things can improve and I believe in the power of positive thinking (prayer, for some) and the strength of a person's will. I also believe that people know when they want and can put up a fight. In some cases, it's more comforting to rest and let go. I'm not sure what my sister's thoughts, wishes and wants are but I support her fully in whatever it may be. I told her six years ago that I was more than willing to test my liver's capability for a partial transplant. The ball was in her court at that time. She had to prepare her body (to be eligible she HAD to quit smoking) and obtain the information required to have the testing done. Nothing was done and I fear it's too late now. If this incident encourages her to stay in the fight then I'll surely be on her team and will do what I can to help. She and I will have to have that conversation next week when she's hopefully feeling better and resting at home.

Saturday, August 05, 2006

The Late Night Call

There's an unwritten rule in life that states bad news rings the phone late at night. Last night was one of those nights for me.

Around the year 2000, my sister informed me that she had Hepatitus C and liver disease. My sister is one to avoid the truth so what she failed to say is that she had cirrhosis of the liver due to alcholism. It's an ugly truth and I suppose I can't blame her for wanting to keep it quiet but she forgets who I am. I am her younger sister, the one who watched alcoholism distruct the lives of those I love. I've lost two of my beloveds to a disease that shouldn't be kept quiet. Hearing her news was difficult. I still felt the deep pain of losing my brother and mother even though more than 7 years had passed since the second funeral.

At that time, she was given 6 months to 2 years to live. A rather bleak prognosis but it was time. She had time to get her affairs in order, to be with her twin daughters, to cherish a day. But my sister has rarely had a day worth cherishing due to many poor decisions she's made. I'm sure I sound judgmental but we all know the truths that are tucked away within the fibers of our families.

My niece called at midnight to tearfully tell me her mother was in the hospital and her liver was failing. Although she's outlived the initial prognosis, the one given now is less optimistic.

By what I've gathered at this point, Gina, my sister, will be in the hospital for 2 to 4 days as they try to stabilize her. She's suffering from toxin poisoning and dehydration and is in immense pain. I called her today but she was not able to take my call due to her pain. That makes my pain twice as bad considering she is in Indiana and I'm in Florida.

I'll make a decision on travel after I've had a chance to talk with her physician, which will hopefully be later today or tomorrow. In spite of my attempts, my thoughts don't lead to much hope for my sister. Frankly she's done little to help her situation. There are steps she could have taken that may have been to her benefit such as quitting smoking. Because she's a smoker, she's not eligible for transplant. Her liver is gone, her condition has worsened and if she makes it to Christmas, it will be a surprise. With that said, my level of optimism is what it is.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Why We Fight

If there's one thing I believe in life it is that not one politician can be trusted and that big business owns and operates the U.S. Call me a cynic, I'll accept the title. What you can also say is that I'm an educated cynic. I'm not one to just pronounce an opinion without doing research to form a firm base for that opinion. I do obtain my information from a variety of sources, as one who has studied journalism and a person with common sense, it's only right to do so.

One common source I use for information gathering is documentary film. As a proponent of independent thought, I favor independent film. The bulk of documentaries that I've watched lately have been a cause for pause. I'll admit that watching these films stresses me out a bit because I'd love to be one of those people who just stays in line and follows the path that is set before them. I'm no trail-blazer and I'm no where near being an activist but I do quietly support certain causes. Two that come to mind are the boycotting of Exxon and Wal-Mart. I believe we, American consumers, have a loud voice when it comes to letting our wallets do the talking.

For example, I haven't pulled into an Exxon station in years and Wal-Mart has been off of my list of shopping spots for well over a year. I don't only watch out for falling prices, I watch out for the mountains of shit that such corporate mongers create and convince consumers to climb. I can be as thrifty as the next bargain shopper and deciding where I pass the buck is a part of the shopping experience. A lot of time it means just saying NO. No to the increase of unnecessary consumption and no to certain retailers and corporations. I try to spend with a conscience, one without guilt.

Many people are familiar with Morgan Spurlock's Super Size Me which encourages us to evaluate what we eat, reconsider the convenience of fast-food and question the ethics of McDonalds in particular. As more food for thought, I strongly encourage everyone to watch the following documentaries on Wal-Mart:

Wal-Mart: The High Cost of Low Price

Frontline: Is Wal-Mart Good for America

The last documentary I watched is still playing over and over in my head. Why We Fight takes a thorough look at the U.S. as it becomes a militaristic empire. The content made me uncomfortable for a couple of reasons. One because I am married to a former Marine, I'm the sister of a former sailor, and I'm the daughter of an Army "lifer". The military has been a part of my life whether I chose it or not. Secondly, truth can be a hard pill to swallow. Taking an objective look at what I've believed as truth is alarming. I know how the media can impact its viewers and readers and what is reported starts its spin from its original source. In this case, the U.S. presidential administration, both current and previous.

I appreciate the research and the sources used in the film and encourage others to watch it. Watch it once, then watch it a second time with the additional commentary on. Watch the special features and then let it sink in. Eugene Jarecki's film is one to be watched and discussed and considered.