Monday, September 23, 2013

My son:

My son has agoraphobia. It started with a panic attack while he was at the movies watching "The Lion King", I believe it was in 1994. He struggled with the attacks on and off for many years. It runs in the family , I had them in the 1970's and they lasted 7 years. Daughter had them too. Bob was still working at the time and I remember that at times he just had to run to the back rooms of the shops to calm down.
There was a progression , they came more often and lasted longer. His fear of getting an attack multiplied , often we had to go and get him on the road as he was totally frozen behind the wheel of his car. One time he was in the back at Walmart and saw no way out. they would not allow him to use the back exit door. His dad and I rushed to help him out, by then he was calmer.
My experience had been that most doctors thought you could control these emotions and get on top of them....I survived with Valium and did not get addicted but it was in the 1970's.
Bob did not have help at all. Neither did his sister.

The attacks escalated so one day he and I on my way to work, he stopped abruptly and said he could go no further. It then took several short trips with his wife to get him home only 2 miles away.
I think then agoraphobia set in.

A move of his family had to be made to Texas, I am not sure how he did it as I was not there but without help his condition did get worse. When he returned to NC ,his sister picked him up, he was pretty much medicated and does not remember much of the trip at all. To make things worse they broke down with a U haul attached to the car. Sabrina had to hire the right transport to hook up the car and leave him alone till she got the help. Bob called me in tears, he had no idea where he was and what to do. It was a frantic moment as he obviously was not clear of mind.
It took until 1 year ago for him to find an agency which would allow home visits.
I felt like kissing the feet of the psychiatrist. It took many trials to find a drug which kept him calmed down but that does not mean one can just go out and stay in the outside world.

Last year he did drive around for a mile or two but then dropped that scenario and stayed more in house.
He did start to visit a couple of people next door. That helped a lot as one gal is also in the field of mental health. But then they had to move a month or so ago and Bob's world collapsed again. To make things worse he lost his best counselor as another company purchased his agency.

He was so down that I just did not know where he would get the power to continue to fight.
Last Saturday he texted his sister. "Can you drive with me? In case I get stuck, you can drive me home!"
She came and off they went. He did go into one store. Then he drove to a place where he had volunteered for a while at a Gem Museum. He  went inside albeit the way down (not easy to get out) is several steps. He always has to know he can get out quickly. He stayed one hour in the museum and admired the new specimens. No one there was from the old gang. Then he drove to visit his friend and tattoo artist which is several miles down the main highway. He went in and talked a bit then came home while stopping at BK to bring back a hamburger. It took them almost 3 hours for the trip. He recorded everything on his phone.
He sat at the table with Brie and I and said it was all just very "weird". He did not feel elated, terrified, nor could he find any emotions for the day. He said he was void of feelings, period.
Then he opened up a bit on facebook:
First his sister's entry:
I share my brothers journey as a reminder to those whom do not understand mental health. He has been agoraphobic ( no not a fear of spiders.. Look it up and educate yourself) for over ten years now. With mental health always being last on the list of help, it wasn't until last year that he was finally able to get someone to come to the house. I recently shared pictures of him in various locations. This is the first time in six years that he has managed to go that far and enter a building for an extended period of time. His strength surpasses that of anyone I know, having suffered with panic disorder for seven years myself, I still have only a small clue of what he has gone through. He has so much to offer society, my only hope is that society will give him a chance, welcome him with open mind and arms and not judge. I adore you brother, more than you will ever know!
and then his:
I was just thinking about some of the things we take for granted. Simple everyday things to most, but in a certain light, kind of frightening and abstract to others. I have been away from society for so long that I wonder if I have lost any social skills (and if much). Being out yesterday can best be summed up best as "stranger in a strange land." I didn't feel like I was supposed to be there nor did it feel like a place I remember. I handed my debit card to the cashier and almost said "Do you still do this?" I had been out of it so long that I had no idea. At the drive-through I stalled for a moment because I wasn't sure what was the next step in the order of things. I am hoping that I get that back, but in many ways it was inevitable to lose some of that. It's all been eBay, Amazon, Facebook and very little actual human interaction. You people scare me at times, but I scare me too, so I guess we're even. At any rate, I hope to get out more and finally shake this off. Then I can have my cabin 300 miles away from people by choice. It would take something pretty incredible to ingratiate myself back into the old model of life. A bit terrifying in itself if you step back and admire it outside the frame that holds it together. Camus said it took greater strength to live and he wasn't joking. I guess I'm hanging on because I'm still thinking there might be something incredible out there in the mist. As terrifying as it is to go looking, I have nothing else to do at this point in time.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

The "POESIE" BOOK 1942 part one

If I told you that I am the only one left alive to tell this story you surely would wonder if I am in lalaland and ready for the straight jacket.

My story I have lived and still around to tell it.

In 1942 Belgium, middle of a war, I had my Holy Communion. Very important for young Catholic girls.
I was 10 .
It was a very hard time for all of us but I had maiden aunts who always spoiled me.
They surprised me with a gorgeous "Poesie" book.
It was the trend of the time to get one of these books and have your friends write in it or do a drawing.
This book was pure luxury, faux suede in nuances of grey and "Golden" letters to tell us it is indeed for poems and whatever else.
I stroked that book a thousand times over the years.

The importance of the book is truly not so much about my school friends who wrote known poetry but most of all that grown professional men in wartime sat down gifted me with their own poems and illustrations.
Let me explain: My house was situated about 100 yards from the electrical plant which was bombed and a target. In 1939 the plant started to built a bunker. Quite large with different rooms. My father who was a policeman in that district was watching the construction and was told that a bomb could land on top of it and the walls would not budge.

At least this is the story he told me and my Mom.
The plant gave us permission to go in it day or night and take shelter.
We did not have time to use it before the invasion because it all went so fast and we changed flags in no time.
Equally fast the German army decided to put a huge cement fence around the whole plant properties which included around the bunker.
Mom and I could only look at that wall and our hopes for safety were gone.

My mother was a woman with determination in her eyes  she decided to go talk to the commandant at the plant. She dragged me with her, both of us trembling and trying to look brave. My mom was fluent in the English language but did not know a word of German. She told me to kick her if she started in English.

We stood in front of this neatly uniformed officer and started to explain with gesture ...bunker climbing over...bombs falling....permission to go to the bunker over the fence. She had even drawn a picture. He had other things on his mind and quickly dismissed us with a "JA".
Triumphed we marched home and asked father to fix it so we could climb over that cement mountain. He got two ladders and we started to learn how to use them.One on each side.

My mother has always been like a Rubens model, she was heavy, but she could beat me in running and climbing. I was all legs and did not quite know yet how to use them, they seemed to grow an inch every day and I had extra length that I was not quite used to.

So our adventure started which would last till our liberation in 1944- the war not over yet as it lasted till 1945 and the Battle of the Bulge had yet to happen .
Daily alarms let the workmen and engineers free to come in the bunker if they wished. The people involved with work that could not be left were stuck in the factory.

My mother at first was very uncomfortable. She was the only women in there and she was afraid of men.
I on the other hand had lots of attention. Rooms full of fathers telling me stories was just up my alley. Soon groups were formed and card playing was the entertainment. I knew how to play whist, my grandfather had taught me. I had a memory like an elephant, I knew and constantly counted the suits. So I became the partner of choice, the man would ask me in advance like with a dance card to play with them.
They would say" Jeannot next alarm is my turn, play on my table!
Mother did always play with others, she never got a chance to be in my corner.
She did not allow to play for money but the guys would slip me a centime or two and I would always have left over but returned it for fear of a spanking when I got home.

The bunker had it's own generator or such an item that we did not often sit in the dark. Even so we often had days without the electricity in our house, My mother took up taking care of the wounded as there was a sort of small infirmary . It was said that when a man came in with part of his scalp cut that she saved his life and bandaged him until the electric little van from the factory could take him 7km away to Gent and a clinic.
She was good at that she should have been a nurse.

How often did we have alarms, almost daily because we were also on a flight path for other cities and as soon as airplanes had been spotted the alarm went off. They did not know who would get it so they did not take chances. I could hear my mother ramble when the siren started and she was mid stream to cook on her coal stove, had to remove it all and then start again later.

Mother always told me we were bombed 13 times. The factory was hit quite often. One  time bomb landed in our yard in a deep hole stand waiting. My fearless father wanted his picture taken with it and we did not have a camera so he borrowed one. He picked up the bomb and my trembling mother had to take his picture. What a stupid thing to do. I think he knew more about the bomb than he was telling us.
Then the soldiers came and took it away.

So in between the card playing I begged my  partners to write in my poesie.
My mom did not like that, she said they had better things to do than writing in a girl's poesie book.
Well, she lost in that game. Many did. Therefore I am writing this because I was the only kid in there during the whole war and of course no one who was there then is alive anymore. My own Mom left us in 1993 and she was 83 and young when we were bunker occupants.

To think that engineers, workmen, (remember we were very class conscious in those days) but regardless of blue or white collar workers they replied to this girl's pleas.

I did forget to mention that mid stream the Germans put  barbed wire over the fence. That was more tricky to get over in a hurry while sirens are blasting away or a squadron is over your head flying too low for comfort. We did not wear slacks in these days, Mom and I had to repair many a dress or skirt because we just hung in the barbed wire. The one day I took the climb too short and landed on the wire with my thigh.
No doctors near us, no cars to take us, Mom doctored me up but I still have the patterns of  open wounds (4 of them) which I claim as my "war injuries".

Our cat knew way before the alarm that planes were on the way, she was so adept on climbing over the wires and sat by the bunker door waiting for the first visitor. My father used to say that she knew when they took off in England.

Here a few examples of the men who made my heart sing with their entries in my "Poesie" book.
Hero's of a different kind to a child in her early teens.

Two brothers took the time to do these little vignettes.
They were both engineers in the drafting department.

 Translated somewhat : twelve years , how lucky is the child who can live without worries with mother and fatheer.
Twelve years what a great time even if the war is raging and humanity has hate and destroys all that is good.
And with days loaded with sadness and sorrow , clouds covering o ver you with the years, perhaps with a tear you will feel better remembering your twelve years.

a workman at the plant.

The book, like myself is a bit ragged.
The spine is giving out (how well I feel that one)
the color has vanished for both of us
the skin .....well..let's not go there.
But this book has been with me from the time I left Belgium 1953
then Canada till 1955
then New Jersey till 1962
then California till 1970
then Spain Costa de Sol till 1974
then North Carolina
The Poesie book never left me neither did my Holy Communion dress and I am no longer Catholic...go figure......Oh! I forget I have the Catholic GUILT still.

This was an engineer in the plant who was also a writer, my mother would type his manuscript in the evening in the plant while I slept on the chairs. One day he asked my mother if I could live in the summer with his family. His house was a few miles away from the danger zone and I do not believe that area was bombed by mistake either. The writer had 2 daughters 2 and 4 years older than I. I was completely at home in what they called le petit chateau."La Tourelle" , at one point I slept in the tower. Even so they had maids I was like a member of the family and roamed all over and ate with them. My only problem was that Mr. Ryffranck wanted me to drink water with the meal. Mother had never insisted in that. I just hated it and still do.
He wrote the poem and the eldest daughter signed it. She may still be with us.
The second daughter passed on after the war in a horrific car accident.

The top brass at the plant had a plot of garden and a gardener, so it was instructed at the gardener to make a nest under the hedge and when there were eggs he was to place one egg every day just for me.
Their gardens touched ours just separated with hedges. My daily egg hunt was always a pleasure, if the gardener would have a lot to share he would put more in the nest. I could not thank that man enough, he helped my family during the whole war.

I asked a friend a few years ago to show me where that "Tourelle", we could not get near it but here is a photo taken a few years ago. Obviously everything around it now is new.
The poem he wrote : On the road of existence
goes dear little Jeannot
serene full of hope
happiness is not a vain word

Be always good and sincere
adore your parents
joy has no other mistery
than your work well accomplished

from this cruel war
perhaps you will remember sometimes
also think of la Tourelle
which gave you shelter under her old roof.

I think about it often.
The fun was when I went home and refused to dry the dishes.
I said the maid could do it.
Mother said: Look in the mirror, you are the maid.

And now we have a few from friends and my mom:

My Mom with photo,.
cousin Jeanine pencil,
last one second cousin Stephanie also my teacher and a great artist.
Mom would always give me cyclamen for my birthday (our house was cold enough to keep them for a long time).
Not all my entries are in here and some will come in part II and have changed my whole life.

I posted this in honor of the grown ups who took the time to humor me and enter something I always cherished.
It was war time but I did have some fabulous people around me who cared.
I am wondering in our busy days today if a 12 year old would approach a CEO and ask to write a poem or draw something in her book what the answer would be. I can only hope it would be YES.

Friday, September 13, 2013

FALL 2013

Walking Bijou ever so slowly because I am watching the wind pushing the leaves towards me like a ballet of colors. It is really cute, dancing leaves. I stop at the end of the street and see the same scenario from a different direction. It makes me think of Leo Buscaglia , in one of his lectures he said that he had a "leaf party". Instead of gathering all the leaves in neat bunches and clearing his lawn he told his guest to go outside and get an arm full of leaves and bring them inside. Once the floor covered every one danced in the leaves and had a great time. I am guessing he had a maid to clean up.
I would love to see that  in my is not going to happen because Brie would have my hide.

The garden started gorgeous this spring, basket drooping with all sorts of flowers, all sorts of colors.
I was in heaven, then started the rain summer, every day rain for how many weeks? The flowers started to droop then rot at the stem. I no longer looked outside. I did not want to get involved anymore and clean up the weeds which took over my hosta garden. Besides that the mosquito population has surpassed all the other summers. One comes inside with bumps on arms, legs etc....I stay in!Period!
Having said that when I finally made it to the entrance of the garden with Bijou wondering why I am so slow and he truly wants the reward when he goes in, then I see almost in my face the green hummingbird, he is so gorgeous with luminous plumes as he buzzes around and does acrobatic flips in the air. He does not seem to see me. He just hangs around very close and I stop in my tracks to admire. At the same time Bijou is pulling at his lead and runs towards a chipmunk who was in the squirrel feeder. This year we have tons of chipmunks. I watched him run in a zig zag fashion between the weeds and the hostas and for a moment I forget that I have not taken care of my garden. The little "friends" have tons of places to hide and the hummingbird finds a sad looking bunch of left over flowers.
I forget my neglect guilt for awhile, this was fun, Bijou thinks so too but he still runs for the steps and his treat.
Life is good.
Meanwhile my black walnuts are falling and so are the chestnuts, better duck them.
The squirrels are running about with nuts in their mouth larger than their heads.
I let them have the whole lot and be prepared for winter.


With the new dining room set up I promised Brie I would have people over now and then and get out of my "Greta Garbo" style of wanting to be alone.
Early on in his disease, old Bob, did not like people in the house.
Workmen in here became a nightmare.
He still knew most of the family but he did not enjoy them coming in either.
To avoid his rambling and discomfort I pretty much locked the door and we became
a twosome for the next decade.
Looking at the changes in my life, I had a lot of anger, so I put my gorgeous mahogany dining room table on the side walk and a big sign "FREE". The chairs had been my grandfathers so I gace each of the girls 3 chairs. Poof dining room gone.
I had several sets of Limoges china (I am after all an antique dealer) both girls got a set I am not even sure Sabrina wanted it. Bobby wants nothing.

Somehow in my very busy mind I felt better. No more people over, no more cooking for others, "just you and I ,my love" is what went through my mind.
That became quite a chore as he wanted less and less food. His teeth became bad from the medication but I did  not want him to be more confused with dentures. I made all soft food.
Often 3 choices. Flan, rice pudding, very well soaked bread pudding. Often he would refuse all 3.
Finally we went to the bottle stuff but that he did not like much either. He lost weight and I worried about stuffing him with anything he would eat.

After 13 years Bob gave up , he had been a fighter. Well at the end he became a fighter. The kind gentle soul was lost. We knew all along that he would die, Alzheimer is a dead sentence the minute they give you that diagnosis. How many years you have is a ???????

I was totally lost when he was gone. A lot less work and yet I even missed that. It felt strange to sit and relax. It did not feel right. Within six months almost to the date I was in the hospital and had a serious surgery. I kept hearing the words from our meetings at the Alzheimer group :"Every one in our group has been ill or died within 6 months after a loss".
Say what? Here I was in a hospital and I did not truly want to go on. I wondered why I had even come out of the surgery. It would have been so good to go to sleep on the operating table and not wake up.
Did I think I would meet him somewhere? Not really but there is always that slight hope...will we meet again...will he show up one day in my bedroom like a cute cloud who would come and go....Nah...
I am realistic. I have seen and lived in too many situations.

My return to my own reality did take time. Depressions came and went like the summer storms. Dark clouds over my head and then wake up to sunshine one morning and be happy to be alive. Then by evening the cloud comes and gets bigger and darker. I go to bed and cry some more.
My big helper and truly my own Valium pill comes with 4 legs. My Bijou, Maltese, knows me. He looks at me with his big black eyes and come to lick me, hugs my body in bed and I sleep protected.

I decide to take up a hobby, years ago in the late 1960's and the hippy age, Bob and I, we made necklaces and sold them in his shop. Not much design then but lots of color. We went to Venice and stocked up on Mille Fiori Beads and sold them all a week after we got home. I love beads. I was in my element. Bob too loved beads he had made a giant curtain to fit between our door opening. He was a demanding beader all of his had to be real vintage crystal beads. The sun would play in them and it was a spectacular albeit very heavy piece. Later he sold it to the Shilling heiress who was a good client of ours. So....I decided that I could go back to that and make necklaces.

Equipment had changed quite a bit from threads to the enormous selection of beads on the internet.
With daughter's help I opened a mini shop in a small mall with other dealers. I did well for almost 3 years and then the mall had to close and we were all out of selling spaces and had to leave within 7 days.
At this point I figured that I am 81 1/2 with the 82 looming very closely and it was time to just stop.
Last Christmas I was working late in the evening to get enough stock together and now I like to go to bed early with my kindle, enough work.

So that period gone in my life and finding more and more of who I am  when I am riding solo , I decided to clean my work studio and try and find space for the hundreds of beads I have in stock. Change the studio back to a dining room. Not fancy like before but what they now call country chic. Found the table and chairs at a consignment shop, got my loyal family painters on the job and voila. A new phase coming.

I promised Sabrina that I would put the dining area to use and invite people.
People? I can count my real friends on one hand. After all I had shut the door a decade ago.
So to make good at my promise I asked my good friend L and C for lunch.
They have taken me out almost every week and L. being a proud male will not let me pay.
Time turning the tide.

I was delighted when an email told me they would come and then I sat down and panic set in.
What to cook? I suddenly felt like a new bride who is expecting her mother in law to show up for lunch. Mind you, my friends are very low key, do not expect a gourmet lunch like at the Tour d'Argent.
Somehow I just did not remember what I had ever fixed for lunches...yes...I had done the Belgian Bouche a la reine, but it is so hot to turn on the oven. I went blank again and Brie said:"Mom, just do cheeses a glass of wine and grapes ". OK that sounded easy. So I had a table with 5 different cheeses and different ham and salamis wrapped around mozzarella, Kalamata figs, croissants, Asiego buns, grapes and melon. For dessert I did turn on the oven and made my mothers flan.

I was a hit. My guest seemed to enjoy it a lot. Table was full like a buffet and enough choices.
I stopped shaking and started to enjoy this renewal. It would have been so much better if I had been able to hear them. Their voices are on the low sound , but then I just occupy all conversation and tell them my life story. They are gracious and let me do my monologues they are used to it by now.

Next invite is out to the kids for Christmas eve like we always did when daddy was alive.
I know what to cook then and the kids will help and bring stuff.
Life is good.