@ awkward intersections in my brain

0280_0065117080 (2)When talking about my family,  siblings and birth order invariably come up in conversation.

Ever since my older sister Ellen died suddenly two years ago,  so much has changed. That includes the “birth order” convo.

Now, when it comes up, I now find myself reaching an an awkward intersection inside my brain–every time.

I’ve always been interested in the subject of birth order, and eventually bring it up with all my friends and colleagues. (How could you not be?)

“I’m one of eight kids; five brothers and two sisters. I was fourth,” I say. Sometimes, I’ll add in a p.s.—“I was the quintessential bitter middle child.”

Other times, when reminiscing about my father, I’ll share this anecdote: “My dad was a lawyer, and absolutely loved it. He wanted all eight of his kids to be lawyers, too. He’d tell me, ‘Lefty, there are so many f**** a******* who are lawyers. You can be one, too.’” (Was that a compliment or an insult?)

I then go on to say that he ended up with four lawyers out of 8— 50%; not bad at all. And it’s at that exact moment that I now  pause and mull it over in my mind:  Should I add the caveat?

I am one of eight—but now we are seven. He did have four kids who grew up to be lawyers–but now there are three.

A little over two years ago, our sister Ellen Marguerite O’Hara, died suddenly. Getting used to speaking of her in the past tense?

It’s taking longer than I’d anticipated.

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10.10.15

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I’m easing in this rainy Saturday morning. Sifting through bills, sipping on an underwhelming cup of coffee and adding tasks to my online to-do list. (Latest entry: ”Buy quality coffee beans at Cafe Lladro in Bothell.”)

My phone buzzes with a new post alert. I glance down and read it. It’s one of the those Facebook messages, alerting me of a friend’s birthday.

“Today is Ellen O’Hara’s birthday.  Reply to post a wish on her Timeline of reply with 1 to post “Happy Birthday!”.

I sit, motionless, listening to the pouring rain. Memories of that last horrific day in March of 2014 return.

It was late afternoon on the 10th floor of Spokane’s Sacred Heart Hospital–the cancer floor. A harpist from the hospice had just finished up playing at the foot of my older sister’s bed. Two former colleagues of hers were knocking on the door, having ignored the “no visitors” directive.

I let them in. Ellen awoke. They had no idea how bad off she was, and spent a few minutes trying to banter. “Ellen, are you gonna come to St. Patrick’s Parade this weekend?” She shook her head slowly, back and forth. It was a “no.”

They continued on with their attempted chit-chat, about what I can’t really recall. After a several  more awkward minutes, I told them that she was exhausted and they should probably go.

The second guy had one more question: “Ellen, any words for everyone at the office?”

Ellen stared intently at them both for several beats. She was heavily medicated; pain meds administered every 20 minutes, with one simple click. On this, what would be her last day of life, even when she was asleep, my younger sister and I made sure of it (especially after the night prior, when Ellen’s pain meds ran out for an unthinkable 20 minutes).

Yet now, she was all all there. She slowly, weakly lifted up her arm and waved her hand back and forth, once. Just once. I could hear what she was saying: “Buh bye!” 

The two former colleagues departed. Ellen died hours later.

I return to my tasks at hand. Two years ago, I would have added “Call Ellen and wish her a happy birthday.” Today, I have only old photographs to study, vinyl records to play, candles to light, beer to drink, and memories to mine. (Such is life…and death.)

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The day those five trusty words finally failed me

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Five words have managed to get me through most of my life: “It could always be worse.”

I can’t count the number of times I’ve said that phrase, and it always managed to make me feel empowered and strong. Until the day it no longer applied.

It was that horrific week in March of 2014, when my older sister’s scheduled hysterectomy never happened. Those nightmarish five days when the truth was finally revealed, and we discovered that her stage 4 uterine cancer had spread unabated.

I’d had a sinking feeling when I first heard about the hysterectomy a month prior. My younger sister, Regan, the eternal optimist, did not appreciate my negative attitude. I’d just witnessed the rapid decline of several family members of a close friend from ovarian cancer. I couldn’t shake my feelings of fear and dread.

Ellen suffered terribly and died unexpectedly on March 15 just after midnight.  On that last day of her life, Regan and I had left the hospital around 11 p.m., after our eldest brother Tom arrived from California with more family on the way.

Ellen had been asleep, but still moaning intermittently despite powerful IV pain meds she was receiving. We debriefed him–most importantly to ensure that her pain meds absolutely, positively did not run out.

The prior evening, her nurse had been busy with other patients–and Ellen went 25 minutes without any painkillers.

It’s truly unfathomable, the suffering she endured. Even with the potent cocktail of opiates and who knows what else she was getting every 20 minutes on demand, she still frequently said her pain was “off the charts.”

Tom was standing by Ellen’s bed as we left the room. We arrived back at Ellen’s house on Spokane’s South Hill around 11:30 p.m.. opened a bottle of wine, collapsed into her couch and stared at each other, silently.  

The blur of the past week? None of it seemed real, even now. We sipped our wine and sat quietly. Then, Regan reached for her phone, checking for text messages.. We’d asked our brother to send an update after we left.

“We haven’t heard from Tom.” She dialed his number, and winced as he delivered the news. “I think Ellen just died.”

Later that morning, around dawn, I awoke, unrested and bleary-eyed. The dream I’d been having faded to the background; the nightmare was all too real.  

Those trusty five words?  This time, they most definitely would not apply.

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My minimalist “spice girl”

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I loved the show “Bewitched” as a kid–and especially envied the instant room transformations Samantha managed to achieve with one twitch of her nose. Perhaps that magical power impressed me the most because the house I grew up was eternally messy.

The residence at 4571 Encino Avenue was a sprawling rambler in Southern California’s San Fernando Valley. Graceful old oak trees provided a glorious canopy; shelter from the blazingly hot summer sun. It was home to eight kids, two parents and an ever-changing menagerie of pets.

It was also usually a mess. I remember being amazed at the homes of some of my friends and neighbors–clean, pristine, everything in its place.

I was reminded of Samantha the other day. I’d returned home after a day of work, and wandered into the kitchen to make a snack. I opened a cabinet to get some salt, fully expecting to have to sift through an unorganized mish mash of random spices.

I stared in amazement for several beats. Spices jars were neatly lined up in perfect rows, carefully arranged on a shelf that allowed for maximum visibility.

Then Bree emerged from her room, beaming. “Do you like it, Mom?”

Things are looking up in here in “Bree’s Company.” (Who needs Samantha when you have the help of two minimalist millennials?)

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“Bree’s Company”

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I’m living a sitcom life.

It’s called “Bree’s Company,” and it features a colorful cast of quirky characters.

Let’s start with me, a young-at-heart freelance writer, former “Valley Girl” and bonafide late bloomer. (At least, that’s what I like to tell myself.)

The cast also include Gio, my ex-hubby. We divorced 8 years ago, right when the Great Recession was taking hold. Our daughter, Bree, was going to start 10th Grade, and after renting expensive apartments for a while–we decided to pool our resources and buy a modest rambler. The plan was for all of us to coexist until she went to college, at which point I’d move out, he’d stay and we’d continue gaining equity over the years.  Plans didn’t quite pan out that way, though. (I’ll explain more later.)

Gio has a great relationship with his girlfriend of several years, and most nights stays at her place. But all his stuff (a lot of stuff!) is here in this little 3 bedroom/1 bath rambler with no garage and limited storage options. He and I both have accumulated way too much stuff over the years — but happily, downsizing is in full swing.

Then there’s the star of our show — Bree. Her full name is “Gabriella Mary,” and she also answers to “Gabby.” She’s a senior at Western Washington University, a creative writing major with a psychology minorr. She and her fiancee, Jeshua, moved in last month. he’s taking two online classes this summer, and will finish up in December. Jesh is busy looking for a job in tech. Their entourage also includes two cats, Giles and Charlie, who have fortunately settled in peacefully with our Jake.

Last night’s revelry involved an abundance of red wine and a magnetic poetry smackdown followed by an hour’s worth of wrangling over where to order pizza — and you know what? It was a great Saturday night.

It’s “Bree’s Company”– and so far, it’s working out swimmingly.

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The upsides of getting downsized

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Yesterday unfolded beautifully. Enjoyed a chill afternoon hanging with one of my favorite people in the world. Leisurely conversation and coffee at our our go-to spot near the shores of Lake Washington. Then an evening spent bbq-ing old-school on my little Weber charcoal grill with the perfect soundtrack courtesy of Galaxy 500.

Today is Monday. For most of my working life, I’ve never been ready for Monday.

One of the upsides of getting downsized? I am looking forward to seeing what the day has in store. So far, swimming at the Y tops my list. Oh, and then maybe even spinning at 4:30 p.m. All within a few miles of my home.

(Happy Monday, indeed.)

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A well-spun tale

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Today at 4:30 p.m., I slipped on my bike shoes and made my way across the workout studio to my chosen yellow bike, halfway across the back row.

For the next hour, I pedaled furiously to the actually tolerable playlist of Rachel, the superfit instructor. She  led us through sprints, climbs and steady paces. It was relentless. Several times during that hour, the thought of cutting it short came to mind, but I pedaled it away. I kept going and going — and lived to tell about it.

It’s been 6 or so years since I fell off the spinning wagon. Looks like I’m getting back on. Sure, I’m definitely hurting a bit at the moment, but it’s not too bad — and that’s really, really good.

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