Thursday, November 11, 2010

Memories.. can be debilitating.. and liberating at same time.

A reader recently wrote and asked why I am not writing my memoirs in chronological order. I tried to explain that these are memoirs, not an autobiography in the true sense. Memoirs allow us to retell things as we remember things.

It’s funny how our memories work – the way we remember events. Sometimes the memories flood in and ravage you, just like a rogue wave in the ocean. No warning. Knocks you off your feet, leaving you gasping for air, scrambling to regain any semblance of balance. Sometimes they sneak up on you, triggered by any one or combination of smell, taste, gesture, or sound. It might also be a spoken phrase, tone of voice, song playing in the background. Other times you are jolted awake by the recurring nightmare that dissipates like smoke, not allowing you to hold the memory and ironically keeping you from letting it go at the same time. Sometimes you might find yourself struggling to remember something. You might think back to events preceding or following the event, to try and rekindle the memory.

So given the fact that memories are not recalled in a systematic way, you might understand why sometimes my stories will come to an abrupt end and leave you hanging. It is not that I don’t want to go further, it’s not that I want to tease you, it is just that sometimes the memory is inaccessible, sometimes I am grasping at the smoke…never able to see the images clearly.

I am sure if you have ever survived a trauma you will understand what I am talking about. They have a label for this: PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder). Many survivors live with this on a daily basis- victims of molestation, neglect, sexual abuse, spousal abuse, and soldiers, to name a few.

PTSD has a way of causing victims yet more pain, through loss of self, loss of memory, loss of self-esteem, loss of trust, and on and on and on. As we heal, we find the memories surfacing a bit at a time.

If all of my memories flooded back at once, I am sure I would be in a loony bin right now.. or worse. My higher power gauges how much I can deal with at any one time and only allows those to come through. I take a deep breath… let it go and move on.

If I had not gone to therapy, if I had not self medicated, if I had not broken my consciousness into several pieces and hidden them away someplace deep inside where they remained safe.. who knows where I would be.. or even more importantly - IF I would be.

When I force myself to try and remember something too soon, before I am ready; I feel a disconnection. I leave my body and I numb my feelings (emotions). I find myself observing me from outside of my body. This is the only safe way for me to re-experience the events, without opening the wounds. You see, I am still afraid. Very afraid. Afraid of some of the memories.

I feel them clawing at the outer shell of my sanity. I dare not turn around to face them.. not yet. Soon. When I feel safe. When I am empowered. When I have the weapons cocked and ready. Until then, I will walk briskly down this path. Trying to convince myself that I will not be hurt again. Assuring myself that the past cannot catch up with me until I am ready. I have to be ready to defeat my demons once and for all. But there are so many.. so many.

Sometimes I need a rest. I guess that is what my “real life” is all about.. resting between the stories. Time to spend working, studying the mundane, playing at renaissance faires, loving my family, baking, spending time with my pets. It is at these times that I try to find time to heal the little girl inside, the one who was neglected and abused. The one I abandoned in the past when I ran to the streets. The one that lived her life as a victim. A victim I will be no more. I have made the choice to go back to that little girl and forgive her. To forgive that teenager. Forgive myself for walking that line myself as a mother.  

And then- once recharged, I find the courage to face another dark memory. Reveal it to the light. See it for what it is or is not. Let it go. Let it go.
I deserve more… but until I release that which I have kept locked up all these years I can never be free. Not really. As Janis once sang: “…Freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose…”

Monday, November 8, 2010

Jail bait © Dakini 2010

Jail bait © Dakini 2010

Cindy was my best friend growing up. She lived about a mile away in Blue Mountain, New York. We lived in the middle of nowhere, but then again, we lived about 9 miles from the quaint little village of Woodstock. Woodstock was the place for artists and musicians to come and hang out. It was bohemian before it was hip. You can just imagine how much trouble we could get into there. 

Cindy and I were joined at the hips from the time we were 13 or so. We were constantly on the phone talking to each other, in those rare moments when we were not face to face.

She came from good German stock. She lived with her mom and four siblings (from what I remember) in humble home on Blue Mountain Road. At the back of her property you could find a small babbling brook. There were many evenings spent playing on the hill which led to that stream. On warm summer nights we could look up at the sky and watch the bats dart about, catching small flying insects like mosquitoes and no-see-ums (gnats). 

I remember when I lost my virginity (by date rape) and was afraid to tell Cindy about it. I thought she would think I was a whore. My sense of self worth was non-existent back then. 

She and I experimented with various drugs together. I was the adventurous one and always got us in trouble. Her mom used to hunt us down when we were out where we were not supposed to be. Cindy thought it was because her mom knew everyone, I think she was psychic on some level. 

Like the night we pulled, or I should say, tried to pull, that classic trick: "you tell your mom you are staying at my house and I will tell my parents that I am staying at yours." It worked fine with my parents; they were in their own world of denial when it came to me. Cindy's mom, on the other hand was very protective about her children. She checked up on Cindy and discovered we were not where we said we were going to be. Of course not, we were off to meet boys in the Village of Woodstock.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Soul Journey of Grandma Kitty

Soul Journey of Grandma Kitty

This is the journal is a collection of short stories to depict the journey of the soul of my mother, as she transitioned from this life to the next. Mom’s driver’s license listed her name as Catherine Helen Fries. She hated the name Helen and wasn’t too fond of the name Catherine either. I know that my grandma’s name was Helen, but not sure why she chose to go by the name of  Kitty. Mom had even changed her last name at one point in her life. Being Italian in New York City in the 30’s was not a very popular thing. She changed her last name from Siracusano to Syracuse. I never understood why. I think Siracusano is a great name, one I am proud of.

Funny thing, not too long before her passing, she had a need to order a certified copy of her birth certificate. When it came, she thought there was a mistake because the name on the certificate was not one she recognized. Katharine Helen Siracusano. She told me that if she had known that was her name, she would have loved it. Here she was, 80+ years old woman that just discovered her name for the first time .

Mom preferred to be called Kitty by her friends; Mom by her children; and Grandma by her grandchildren.

She was born on Sunday, March 9, 1919 in New York City and died on Tuesday, December 16, 2003. She was 84 years 9 months and 1 week old when she passed.

Mom had been living in Escondido, California for a couple of years and was starting to show signs of age. She suffered from heart problems, high blood pressure, COPD (chronic obstructive lung disease) caused by many, many years of smoking non-filtered Camel cigarettes. In the end, it was the emphysema that took away her ability to enjoy life to the fullest. She was having problems with breathing which affected her mobility somewhat. It got so bad that she found herself tethered to an oxygen tank the last few months of her life.

During the great fires of San Diego County, in October of 2003, the smoke was so think that Mom had to be evacuated. Smoke is deadly for those with breathing disorders. My sister Dale  took Mom to Santa Monica (120 miles north, in Los Angeles County) to stay with some family friends until the smoke subsided. It was during this trip that Mom first complained that she was having problems swallowing when I took her out to dinner at a local kosher deli. Mom had always loved the deli style roast beef sandwiches. The kind that are filled with succulent, rare roast beef. The  kind of rolls that you can barely wrap your hands around, let alone your mouth. This was her night out and I wanted to make sure she enjoyed her meal. She took a few bites and looked up with a strange look on her face. She said the meat was too tough and she could not swallow it. She complained to the server. I asked them to replace it with Mom’s other favorite, chopped chicken liver. Again, she could not swallow it. She complained about the bread being too dry. She was so upset by that time, she got up and stormed out of the restaurant. The wait staff did not want to charge us for the food. I explained that there must be some other problem and left enough tip to take care of the bill.

At our friend’s house we made a bowl of soup for Mom. Again, the same problem. She could no longer swallow.

After several trips to the doctors, they were unable to determine the exact cause for the problem. It was assumed that she had suffered from a stroke during the trauma of the fires. The doctors told us to “wait and see”.

I am not sure if you have ever had to deal with this type of situation. At first you are in denial. This can’t be happening. Then you get angry and try to find things to blame. The fires. Those idiots that started them. I blamed the doctors. Why couldn’t they find a problem? Why couldn’t they fix it?

Early in November, my brother Ron, and his wife, Linda, came to visit Mom. We ran around to various doctors where they proceeded to poke and prod her frail little body. Again, no definitive answer. They just said: “wait and see”.

Mom was able to get a little food down, mostly broth, liquids and of course, ice cream. During  the Thanksgiving celebration with Dale, Mom had trouble talking. It became clearly evident that there was something was wrong. Very wrong. We could no longer “wait and see”. We knew her end was approaching fast.

I was living more than a 100 miles away from Mom and was not able to spend much time with her. My sister, Dale was living just a few minutes from Mom but had a life of her own to lead. Brother Ron was living thousands of miles away on the other side of the country. But here we were. The three of us – trying to make a determination as to what to do. Ron and his wife were worried and thought the best course of action was to put Mom in a home. I guess he must have forgotten how very stubborn Mom was. Dale and I knew she would have no part of that!

So Dale and I sat down with Mom and asked her what she wanted. Mom’s only wish was to not be left alone. She told Dale that she wanted her at her bedside when she made her exit. Her biggest fear was to come to the same end as one of her neighbors: dropped dead at home and left for days until the body was discovered.

We decided it was time to hire someone to look after Mom. We were lucky to find a lady that was looking for room and board in exchange for being a companion for mom and to prepare her meager meals for her. We were glad to have someone to stay with her and look after her to make sure she made all her doctor’s appointments and to help her keep on her medication regime. Little did we know that in a few short weeks Mom’s condition would fall so far.

I was coming down to visit Mom on a weekend trip. It was Friday, December 5th. I was planning on just staying for the weekend, and I don’t know what inspired me to pack a week’s worth of clothes in my car, but there I was: heading down the 405 on a Friday night. I knew I had a long 2 to 3 hour drive ahead and I decided to ring up Mom and see how she was. The live-in answered the phone and seemed to be quite upset. She told me that Mom had not been eating at all during the past week. When pressed, she told me that Mom had not been drinking any water either. Apparently on one of the trips to the doctor’s that week, Mom was given some medicine in pill form. Now the doctors had it in the files that she was having problems swallowing and I guess they just thought that it would not apply to pills. The live-in said that Mom was not able to take the pills and that should could not handle the situation. She asked for me to come down as soon as I could and settle her account so she could leave. This was not what I was signed up for this weekend.

When I got there tried to assess the situation. I found some antibiotics and steroids and anti this and anti that. Mom’s house had turned into a pharmacy! Mom had asked the live-in to crush the pills and put them in water so that she could take them. I was livid that the doctor’s would not have given her at least liquid medication or an injection!

I helped the live-in gather her items, wrote a check from Mom’s account to settle the payment due her and then saw her out of the door.

I tried to spend time with Mom, but she was not doing well. I called Dale and we met together at Mom’s. We talked and decided we could not do this alone. We had to find help. We ended up hiring another live-in, Rosa. Rosa was the embodiment of compassion. She was such a sweet and loving soul.

On Sunday, December 7th we were finally able to get the hospice ordered. Things were rolling along. December 8th I went to work and appealed to my boss for time off. I was granted as much time as needed. December 9th I drove down to spend the remaining days with Mom. I stopped by and picked up a large bottle of Gray Goose Vodka. (My intentions were to give it to Dale as a Christmas present).

When I got to the house Dale was there with Rosa (the live in nurse). Mom was set up in her living room in a hospital bed provided by hospice. She was only able to get up to go to the bathroom with the help of the Rosa. We had all her supplies out there including a portable commode. I brought in a bag and a handmade journal that I had found in my car.

Dale and I would often sit at the side of her bed and talk to her or read to her and sometimes sing to her. Sometimes she would be coherent and sometimes she would drift. She was able to carry on some conversations with us and other times she would be talking to those we could not see.

I decided to keep a log of what was to transpire over the remainder of Mom’s days.

The series of entries that follow are from that log:

Tuesday, December 9th, 2003

“Packing the Tibetan Bell”

Mom asked for a box for her Tibetan Bell. She was very insistent that I bring her a box and it had to be perfect. I brought her different boxes until I was able to get just the right size. When I asked her why she needed one, she said “I know what’s coming.”

Then a bit later she said: “my spirit is on the floor and it won’t get up and go!”

“The Blond Haired Angel”

We noticed that Mom would be surprised by something or someone. It was like someone was sneaking up behind her and making her jump. She asked who it was that kept popping their head around the corner of the bed (from behind her) and then running away. We told her that we didn’t see anyone. We asked her to describe what she saw.

She said someone was poking their head around from behind her bed and from behind her. When we asked her to describe this person Mom became very animated and said: “he has a BIG FACE”. As she said this she held her hands up around her own small little face and showed how big it was. She had a very big smile and her eyes got really wide. “He has lots of curly blond hair”. She kept looking around her shoulder as if someone or something was playing peek a boo with her and then she said with a stern voice as her Italian roots shot out with strong animation she thrusted a sharp hand jester using her thumb to point the angel of death to the door: “Get lost!” “I’m not ready yet.”

“Dale’s Spirit Guide”

Dale and I had gone out for coffee or food and came back in through the front door. We walked into the house and Mom asked Dale: “Who is that man with you?” Dale asked Mom to describe him. Mom answered: “He is tall and has dark hair” Dale said it was one of her angels, one of her spirit guides. Mom never questioned it.

“Uncle John”

Out of the blue, Mom started to talk about her brother-in-law John. John had been a New York City policeman and had been diagnosed with cancer of the mouth. John had killed himself. This is what she had to say:

“Uncle John was at Lillian’s house, eating dinner. He had a tooth that broke off… but he was stubborn and he left the table. He went out to the garage and blew off his head.”

“The Bird”

Some days it seemed like Mom could see things that were happening outside of her scope of view. When she would talk, we would listen. This time she said: “there is a bird outside”. At this point we wondered if there was one and were curious if she was looking at it from another perspective, but then she continued: “…it wants to take me to fly away with it.”

As this occurred I reached for this yellow journal to write down what she said. Mom got quite agitated and yelled: “DON’T GIVE IT ANY MONEY!”

“The man is messing with the machine”

Sometimes Mom would see other things that no one else could see. One night she was very afraid and became disturbed. She was pointing to her oxygen machine and had a look of fear across her face. She asked us “why is he touching the machine?” We asked her to describe him and she just said it was a man that was messing with her oxygen. At this point she was taking off her oxygen tube.

Later she repeated: “my spirit is on the floor and won’t get up. I want to go… but it won’t get up.”

“Ron’s Coming”

Dale and I decided to tell our brother Ron, that Mom was failing in health rapidly. We made sure that she was not around when we called, in fact called him from outside of the house. We told him that hospice had been out, that we had a live in nurse and that she would not live to see Christmas. Ron and Linda were working at Disneyworld and were going to have to leave their contract early to come see Mom. Dale and I decided to not tell Mom that we had called Ron, as we did not want her to be upset.

The night we called Ron, Mom became extremely agitated and got up out of bed and wanted to walk around. She stopped and sat down on one of her dining room chairs and was visibly upset. She looked up at Dale and me and said with a scowl: “someone told Ron and he is coming out. He is leaving by coach in the morning. He is sad. I don’t want him to ruin his plans. Why did you call him?

She was afraid of ruining his time at Disney and did not want to be an inconvenience. However, little did we know how connected she was. Somehow Mom knew I had called Ron. However I did not know that he was thinking of coming out.

Wednesday, December 10th, 2003

I called Ron in the morning and he told me that they decided to drive the motor home out and was hoping to make it before she passed. He told me that he was leaving the next morning and he was upset because he was going to have to forfeit going back to work at Disney since he could not give them a two week notice they got/were fired.


The hospice Chaplin would come to visit Mom and read to her from the bible. Dale and I were not thrilled with the fire and brimstone lectures and asked her to refrain from spewing negativity at her. However, one day she asked Mom about Dad. Mom looked up at the ceiling and said: “He [Harry] is the best person up there and he is waiting for me behind those golden gates.”


Mom made the following statement which neither Dale or I understood: “There is a short man with dark hair by the bank.” She then called out “Jesse?” as if she recognized someone. Then she added: “there is a heavy set blond man with a cart.”

“Rafe and Dale”

My son, Rafe and my sister, Dale had been having some challenges with their relationship. Mom was not made aware of these differences but again, she showed us that she did know.

Dale and I were standing next to Mom and Dale left the room. As soon as she was gone, Mom looked straight into my eyes asked “Is Rafe going to make up with Dale?”

“Mr. Nobody”

When Dale and I were little and something was discovered to be broken Mom would ask us “who did this?” of course, we would answer “not me!”. Then Mom would say: “Well I guess it was Mr. Nobody then.”

We were surprised when Mom spoke out from nowhere: “Mr. Nobody came and he beat me to the bathroom.” We asked her to describe Mr. Nobody. She said he was a tall, dark haired man.

“Waking the babies”

Dale and I would spend some time singing to Mom. We sang songs that we knew and liked, one of them being Summertime, by Janis Joplin. After Dale and I poured our hearts into one set Mom turned to us and said: “Shhhhhhhhh you’re waking the babies!”

Random conversations with people or things we could not see:

“Hey Johnny! You are the only one that agrees with me.”     She was engaged in a conversation with someone, but we only heard this end of it.

“Johnny, do you want some grape soda?” she asked of her invisible visitor.

“Baby Jack is sleeping” as she looked down at the floor at the foot of her bed.

“A place for Mom”

As the days passed it became very clear that Mom was fading. We invited other family to come and visit. We knew it would not be long.

One night Dale and her daughter, Gretchen and her friend, John and I went out for dinner. When we were ready to sit down I grabbed another chair and brought it to the table to make room for Mom. I forgot that she was not physically with us.

Thursday, December 11, 2003

I had spent the night at Dale’s and when I arrived at Mom’s at 11:00 am she was eating fruit. This was the first thing she had eaten in weeks. I was shocked and surprised all at the same time and not sure what was happening. Mom looked up at me and seemed afraid. She asked sheepishly: “Are you going to be mad at me if I get better?” I responded, “No, of course not!”

Mom had made some random statements that day:

“Who is that man at the wall?” she asked. We of course, could not see anyone and again asked her what he looked like and what he was doing. She responded:

“The man came through with a bouquet of flowers and I asked him 3 times where he was going. He said Orlando is not that far.” (Ron and Linda were driving from Orlando, Florida).

Dale and I had decided to hide Mom’s valuables to prevent anyone from taking them. There were a lot of people coming in and out of the house that we did not know. We thought the best thing to do was to pack it up and put it in Dale’s car for her to bring to her house for safekeeping.

One thing that still baffles me is the way that Mom was able to see what was going on outside of herself. Sometimes she could even sense what we were thinking, it seemed. 

“She keeps thinking that someone is stealing the jewelry – they are not.” I responded to her that I had sometimes had thoughts that things were stolen, but were not.

“Skinny Girls”

As I mentioned previously, Mom had a lot of visitors that we could not see. The closer she got to passing, the more visitors showed up, it seemed. At one point she had a few in the room with her and said the following:

“Who am I supposed to look at – this skinny girl here?, or here?, or here?” (she pointed to several areas in the room as she said this.) We asked if she knew who they were and she responded: “Yes, I think I do.” We asked her to describe them and she only replied that they had brown hair.

Mom began to become fixated with the door to her house. Where the bed was situated in the living room, she could see her front door to her left. One day, she spoke to the live in nurse Rosa:

“Rosa, could you please open the door to let him through?” “There is a man and he needs to get through.” She would not settle back down until someone walked over to the door and opened it to let the man get through.

One day Mom said that she needed to look for her Visa Card for her car. She wanted us to search her bedroom. I asked “again?” then she and Dale sang a song.

Mom loved to entertain and be entertained. She used to perform on stage when she was young and was actually Miss Newark in 1937. She admired singers and performers and had secret crushes on people like Willie Nelson. Mom had a neighbor that performed at lounges and off Broadway. She was very impressed with his list of places he had performed. When Dale and I told him that Mom was not well and that she had always hoped to see him perform he decided to conduct a special performance for her, in her front room, on her death bed.

Jerry, was his name. He came over and sang for Mom. She held a microphone but at this point, was too weak to sing. However, her eyes sparkled and her face lit up as she moved her lips to the words of some of her favorite show tunes. Dale made an audio tape of the event.

Friday, December 12th, 2003
We were circled around Mama’s bed and when Gretchen came in from LA with her friend John, Mom looked over to Gretchen and said “I'm dying for a soda in her playful way with her dark humor.  Gretchen couldn’t believe that we didn’t get her a soda, cause we weren’t thinking clearly and thought it was bad for her health. What were we thinking??? Mom got her coke and enjoyed her last sip holding Gretchen’s hand in gratitude. Love’s energy was powerfully felt in this room. We were all connecting with Mom as she was slipping into the unseen world with her consciousness.

Dale heard an organ playing the same three chords over and over again. She asked the others around the bed, do you hear that organ? We all had a funny look on our faces, no one heard it but Dale, but I think Mom heard it to. It is said that we all have a soul song that is played as we enter this world and when we leave it. Dale heard the organ for about 4 times in the last few weeks of Moms life.

The last night of Moms life just before she had slipped into a comma, after not eating or drinking for almost three weeks she insisted on getting up and going to the bathroom, she refused to mess her bed. The aid helped compassionately. I just marveled at the great dignity, inner strength, and powerful intention that Mom had.

It was clear that Ron was not going to make it. At noon Dale whispered into Mom’s ear that Ron forgives her for everything, and that he knows she did the best she could and that we all forgive her and love her with all of our hearts. That it was ok to go and leave her tired body and slip into her new light body.

Mom left three hrs later 3PM. As she left, her granddaughter Laura called and wanted to say goodbye….but it was too late. Dale held her hand as she took her last breath. She watched as her eyes widened one last time, and saw light emanate from the top of her body…..she was home now… Love is all there is in the beginning and end.

End note:

Songs we sang:

Church in the Valley
Me and Bobby McGee
Silent Night
God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen
Deck the Halls
This little light of Mine
Jingle Bells
True Love
Joy to the World
Que Sera Sear
Pennies from Heaven
Lord’s Prayer
You are so beautiful to Me
You are my Sunshine