Ghosts of Christmas Past

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I realized some time ago that my last blog was posted November 25th, 2014. Just another sign that 2015 has been slipping away in a haze of elder parent care, career change, parenting, and oh yes: let’s toss a bone to my struggling marriage. Somehow after 17 years of Nuptial Bliss… chronic illness, encroaching perimenopause, and generalized malcontent have finally ended the Honeymoon.
I took a social media break in an inept attempt at gifting myself more time for Self Care & Reflection. I do find that in life, just as in caregiving and airline travel, one cannot care well for others for any extended period of time if some semblance of Self Care isn’t practiced.
While on some level I may have done a good job tending to my patients, my elderly father and my teenage son, the 30 lb weight gain paired with my smoldering rage, painted another picture that neither my husband nor I were enjoying.

It wasn’t so much that I was overwhelmed and unable to find joy in reading about the happiness & celebrations of others, but that I was overwhelmed unable to find my own joy.

I’m not blaming any one person or event, but 2015 has been a year in which I have often heard Lucinda Williams in my head:

You took my joy
I want it back
You took my joy
I want it back

During my “break” there was a little Self Care (extra naps), but little written proof of my Reflection. So here, now, I present my return to writing, my return to finding the joy in this, The Hardest Season of the Year for me…

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The Early Days

1972. Parents were still married, though not for long. I had had my left kidney successfully removed at UCSF earlier that year. Fritz still had an open heart to his odd little sister, and I had my first Familiar, in the form of a Siamese cat who had been sleeping with me since I was in a crib.

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1974. Parents divorced; the first of many driving trips to Oregon to spend holidays with Bob King’s family. Our father’s people: people who loved sports, and card games, and thought I was the wee queerest little imp in the world.

We would drive from the Bay Area to Bend and/or Portland in Bob’s red 1969 VW Squareback. Mom would rage, cry and be generally inconsolable for several days prior to our departure. Fritz hated those trips; for several reasons, I am sure.

*Note: Bob still has (and wears), this White Stag winter coat. I have a photograph of him wearing it in Red Square, Moscow with Nadia (aka The Cold Russian Wind, aka My Evil Russian Stepmother).

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Expectation Management

1979, Berkeley. This was Bob King’s daughter, Kristin Applegate King, at age 10.

*Note: There was no hyphen in the name yet; my last name was King, my father’s last name. The middle name given to both me and Fritz was Applegate, our mother’s maiden name. Mystery solved for those of you who have wondered what the hell that was all about. One of my favorite life moments was during the summer between high school and college. I went to the Social Security Administration office to drop my middle name, and hyphenate the surname to Applegate-King. I had my ID, and my personal check made out for $25. The guy at the office looked over my documents, looked at me, then asked “What are you, one of them ‘Women’s Libbers?'” I keep waiting for the opportunity to meet Gloria Steinem and share this memory with her…

Our parents were solidly, ferociously, spitefully divorced by this time. Alternating years were spent with either the King families in Oregon, or with our mother’s parents nearer to Berkeley.
My maternal grandparents were 1) an unapologetic atheist, born to a non-practicing Jewish mother in 1899, and 2) an agnostic from Canada who was in fact an atheist who felt that agnostic was just a more polite term.

Perhaps needless to say, there were never any visits from Santa. Nary a one. No Cookies left out for him, nor carrots left for his reindeer, so really, who can kvetch? My grandmother Esther made a wicked good apple pie, so that’s what really matters to me during the holidays: pie.

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They Melted Her Cold, Cold Heart

2002. Bend, Oregon.

My husband, the inimitable Mr. Blitch, grew up on a farm in Northern Florida. And Santa, I’ve been told, made numerous visits to the Blitch Family home. Despite the warmer climate, Santa and his reindeer would come. The cookies and carrots were eaten, and Santa’s actual presence was undeniably evidenced by sooty boot prints and snow and ice found on more than one occasion near their fireplace.
(Nurse-speak: Santa. AEB: cookie crumbs, hoof and boot tracks, detritus from The North Pole.)

Mr. Blitch and I married in the late 1990s. We were both potters, we were both in better health, and our shared passion for art and Golden Retrievers fed our fire for each other.

On Thanksgiving morning of 1999 (“Magic Stick Day”), we learned I was going to become a mother of a Blitch. I knew then, that my life would be changed in astounding ways. What I could not anticipate however, was that Christmas would also never be the same for me. There was no way I could be prepared.

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Changes and Losses

My childhood home in Berkeley was sold long ago, but my father held onto his Marin County condo until just this last year. Together, we packed up and sold the home he had purchased when I was 5 years old. We spent the very last night there, amidst a small pile of boxes, and on New Years Day I drove him to his new home here with us in Oregon.

3 months later, we received word that both my Uncle Frank and Aunt Donna were in the last stages of their respective battles with cancer.
Frank was dad’s elder brother, Donna had been a high school classmate of theirs in the tiny town of Marcola, Oregon.
Donna and Frank were both still living at their home in Bend, neither able to care for themselves or each other any longer.

I’ve been an oncology nurse for 8 years now; this was the first time I had been called upon to bring my skills with Palliative or End of Life care into practice with family members. Not just once, but twice. Donna died on March 3rd. On March 18th, I spent the night with Frank on his 83rd birthday; he was at St. Charles Hospital that night. We transitioned him to Hospice, and he died not long after, on March 31st of this year.

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March 2015. Bend, Oregon. This was Bob & Frank a few days before Aunt Donna died. Frank came to me that night after I had taken Bob to a motel to rest. I was sleeping on the floor next to Donna’s hospital bed in the family room. She had lung cancer, Frank had bladder cancer. He woke me up and said he wanted me to help him pursue his right to Oregon’s Death with Dignity Act.

In the end, as in many cases, this was not necessary; or perhaps I should say his disease progressed too quickly, and we didn’t get to the point of seriously investigating this option.
In my years of working as an oncology nurse, I have learned that often simply having that conversation with a trusted family member or medical provider can be empowering and provide comfort to a person. Cancer takes one’s power away like no other force.

My dad and I have been been in a strange state of shock and sadness for a year now. In his words, “It’s just too much. Too much all at once.”

So this year, I’m looking hard for my inner Elf. My dad needs me to be that person, my son needs me to be that person. And Mr. Blitch, well, he needs and deserves his Happy Elf Companion and so much more.
I’m working on it, guys.

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4 thoughts on “Ghosts of Christmas Past

  1. This put tears in my eyes. “Too much all at once” is exactly right. As your friend I witnessed your above story and have marveled at your fortitude. In my own history, I’ve felt at the end of my rope attempting to care for an elderly relative who wasn’t even as close as a parent relation. The journey can be exhausting on so many different levels. Give yourself, or dare I say your elf, time to heal. And, as the flight attendants say, please don your own oxygen before assisting family members. Self care is not selfish. It is necessary in order to be available as a balanced person for those around us, especially if you work in healthcare. Peace.

    Liked by 1 person

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