A Great Day!

My youngest grandchild, shown in the photo below is in his “mom or dad only” phase, as he should be at the age of two. He flashes us a smile from time to time and watches us with interest, but only mom and dad can hold him or bestow kisses. The hat you see in the picture is sported whenever he is awake and he pulls it over his face like a shield, flashing his eyes only when he deems it proper, sneaking in a smile from time to time. His brother is a bit more gregarious, runs to and fro as you chase him for a kiss or a tickle, letting you catch him as Blake watches from the sidelines.

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With that said, I will tell you why Father’s day was the best day.  We all gathered to celebrate our dad’s. The food was flowing and the two babies warmed up and interacted with one and all at their own level. Blake even popped out from his hat long enough to shove in some meatballs. He sat and played in the sand with me and played with his little tykes car. Grandkids are great, you get the fun and hugs and don’t have to do diapers or discipline! When it came time for them to walk home I went on my usual chase to give Logan a hug and a kiss, a chase he has come to expect. I caught him, took off his hat and planted a kiss on his head. He wiped it off.

I turned to Blake, expecting him to pull his hat down and hide. I bent over and said “Love you Blake, come back soon.” To my surprise he took off his hat and pointed to the top of his head, telling me to plant a kiss on him! I planted that kiss and he smiled, then put the hat back on. It was one of those break your heart, tear forming minutes you get now and then. The image is  frozen in my mind. It was father’s day, but I feel I got the best gift of the day.

I have snapshots in my head, from different eras, permanently etched in my mind. My oldest daughter running from the bath, naked as a jay bird, her blond curls bouncing on her back as she mounted her hobby-horse, she was all of two. Or her posing on a frosty November day in a paper pilgrim hat, nervous as all get out over her part in a school play. My son, standing by a lake at a local park, clapping his hands as the frogs croak around him. I can still see his joy, just him and I alone, all was right with the world. My son watching me open a Christmas gift he made himself. Elise on the porch, no more than six, telling me she wished my pain was a balloon so it would fly into the sky and disappear! She was so deep and serious she made me believe her idea. Jimmy’s eyes lighting up when he saw a train, or the light bouncing off his long blond curls as he ran after a butterfly in the front yard. Emma playing with my paint tubes as she learned her colors, the sun streaming through the patio door, highlighting her face as she smiled, proudly naming off the colors. All these snippets are burned into my brain like buried treasure.

Blake taking off that hat and pointing to his head, and the look of pride on his father’s face was the latest.  Treasure these snapshots, and your family.  These are the riches you are looking for. You need money to live, but you need memories and family to live well.

My Moms

This week many of us in the U.S. and other parts of the world are focused on the tragic shooting in a Colorado theater, and rightly so. These victims deserve our attention and respect, their families need our prayers and support.

Nobody heard the cries or felt loss when a woman in Ohio took her last breath. Nobody knows that this woman became a sister to my mother, whose own marriage left her alone with a child most of her life. Nobody knows that this woman treated me as one of her own. She propped up my mother, showed me how a woman could survive, alone with five children after divorcing a cheating husband and led by example by working in a man’s world in the 1960’s to pay for a home and a steady life for her kids.

The world doesn’t know, or care that she was there for every birthday, holiday, marriage and birth. While we were not bonded by blood, we were family. She was by my side the day I closed my mothers eyes after she took her last breath. I called her my other mom, and if you knew my real mom you would know what an honor that was.

Nancy raised her kids, paid off her house, saw her kids through school, divorce, parenthood and health issues, she was never one to turn her back on anyone, and if you were in trouble, you couldn’t find a better ally. She buried her parents way to early, her brother and two grandsons, standing tall as she tried to be a rock for the rest of us.

Never one to date, she folded when an old flame came calling. We were so happy to see her grow this relationship. She was finally doing something for herself and her last few years were filled with travel and love.
She took her last breath yesterday, seated at the table with the family she loved. She didn’t want heroic measures, or to live attached to a tube or machine and her wishes were honored.

This will not make the national news, but it has impacted hundreds of people who’s lives she touched.

RIP Momma Nancy. You are loved.

Families, Mom’s and Death.

I have avoided thinking about my demise for years. I know I am going to die someday, I just didn’t want to actually face it.

I did learn a lesson when my mother, diagnosed with stage four cancer, got busy taking care of business instead of floundering in self-pity. She sorted drawers, and after offering it all to me, sold her 5,000 plus volume library and her collection of eastern artifacts. I battled conflicting emotions’  as she asked me to box books, deliver statues or deposit payments in the bank. All of these items were what made “her… her.” I didn’t want to be a part of wiping her out, removing all the things that built her home! My poor dad hovered in the background, afraid to make a move while trying to support her needs.

One day I took a chair and locked eyes with my mom.

“I don’t like this!” I said forcefully. “This feels like you are giving up and I am helping you do it!”

Tears filled her eyes, a sight I had only seen twice in my life as she struggled for words. Moments later, her face composed she told me to sit still and shut up! I did as I was told, lol. I was mesmerized as she began to speak…

“As you know, my childhood stunk, I survived  abusive step-mothers, thyroid and weight issues and more. Then I met your father and my life changed. The only sorrow I had then was the news that I would never carry a child to term if I got pregnant. You proved them wrong, you were my miracle baby. Your father and I vowed to keep you away from the cruelty of our families and we vowed to protect you, and I won’t stop now. I can’t leave knowing you will have to wade through a ton of possessions and paperwork, I want it all taken care of now.” she said intently.

I tried to end the conversation because I was REALLY uncomfortable but she wouldn’t back down. Grabbing my fidgeting hand she forced me to sit still, locking me in her steely gaze.

“You need to know that you are my rock. My relationship with your father has been touch and go but no matter what, you have been here. When I am upset, you listen. When I am mad, you listen. When I am sad or need support, you are there. Every time I reach my hand out for comfort, you are there to take it.”

I lost it here…mom sat back and let me have my fit, just for a short time before taking charge.

“If I am going to die, I have to know that you and your father will be ok. I don’t want you weeping over boxes as you gather my books and Orientals. I want you to spend time with me now and move on later. I need to know that my passing will not strain your body due to your disease. I want to know that your limited energy will be available to take care of your father, he can’t even write a check and he has no idea of how to pay the electric bill or cook dinner. All I ask is that you don’t let them put me in the hospital. I want to be here, in my home when my time comes.”

It took almost twelve months for me to sell all the books, meet with her lawyer, get my name put on the checking account, savings account, savings bonds and house title, but she was bound this would be taken care of before she left. She trusted me to look out for my father.

The morning I got the fateful call from my dad I was not prepared. He said that he had fallen asleep for about two hours and when he woke my mom was unresponsive and gasping. I flew to the house, a mere mile away to find an ambulance backing into the drive. My dad had called paramedics, the one thing my mother asked me to “not” let happen.

They bundled her into the squad and drove her to the local hospital where we were mired down with reams of paperwork and well-meaning nurses. I was angry, all of this red-tape  cut into the time I could be holding and talking to mom. My dad, convinced that someone could save her held fast to his decision to call for help, but I heard the doctors say that she was in for “palliative care” all they could do was drug her up and keep her comfortable until she passed.

I played along for a bit, out of respect for my father, but I ended up snapping. Mom’s last wish, her ONLY wish was that if she was to die, she wanted to do it in her own home! Thankfully, a few doctors and nurses helped me convince my dad that she would not survive more than twenty-four hours.

I was torn between comforting my dad and fulfilling mom’s wishes. I climbed onto the gurney, spooning her onto her side as I know laying on her back was painful. When she finally moved, it was to place a hand to my face as she uttered one word, “home.”

She never let go of my face or hand as she kept repeating “home, home, home.”

Torn between making sure mom’s wishes were fulfilled and doing what my dad needed was heart-wrenching, but I had to side with my mom. I asked the staff if there was a quick way I could get mom home and back on her couch, but they passed me from person to person. I finally got pissed and told the staff to call somebody, ANYBODY that could transfer mom to the house before I picked her up and walked all the way! Waiting for an answer I climbed onto the gurney, embracing her from behind as laying flat hurt her back, letting her know I would get her home if I had to throw her over my shoulder and carry her. She squeezed my hand and relaxed.

The ambulance staff showed up thirty minutes later and respectfully wrapped and loaded her into the squad. Once home, lounging on the couch she had slept on for years, her face relaxed and she smiled. It was here that my father and I spent our last twenty-four hours with the most important woman in our life. We held her hands, we rubbed her feet, administered pain medication and told her all about family events. My son, daughter-in-law, their son, my granddaughter, husband, aunt and my mom’s best friend were all present when she took her last breath. My father yelled for me to do something, but once I gazed into her eyes, I knew she was gone. I felt for a pulse and watched her chest, praying that it would take a breath, but it was obvious she was gone. Leaning in for a kiss, I moved my hand over her face, closing her eyes so she could rest.

She NEVER let the cancer rule her, she ruled up to the last twenty-four hours. She dictated where she would sit, she watched Susan Boyle videos online and sat in her usual chair with pride. A mere twenty-four hour period took control, but she stayed on her feet, ruling until the end!

In the days after her death, I realized what a final gift she had given me. Knowing she wouldn’t be here to help me through this loss, she did all she could to take care of the clutter and legalities. A wise woman my mom.

I decided I need to think about the legalities and give the same gift to my kids. I don’t want to face it, hell, I don’t want to go! But I will, so I need to draw up papers and leave my family with a legacy like the one my mom left. I don’t want them bogged down in a sea of possessions and paperwork. It is morbid and not pleasant to talk about, but you are giving your family a great gift by purging belongings and tending to paperwork long before you check out.

Give it some thought. Who would raise your kids you if die in an accident? What will it cost for your family to retain legal custody of your home? How can you word a will to keep it out of probate? Who get the Christmas ornaments, the furniture, the home and everything else?

This was a long ramble and a doubt that many of you are still reading, but for those who are, please know that my mom filed papers to name me as co-owner on all of her savings bonds, checking and savings account. She had my name put on the deed to the house and gave me her most treasured mementos with hand written notes listing the history of each item.

Thanks to the notes, I know that odd, faded teddy bear pin was the first gift my father bought her with his meager wage. I know that the pearls were given to her by a life-long friend so she could wear them at her wedding. I have a box full of history and memories that would have meant little to me if she had left without telling me about each one.

Nancy the Great!

Nancy, such a common name for such an uncommon woman. I have my disease to thank for placing Nancy in my life. Alone, in pain and looking for help I turned to an online support group. It was here I met my long time friend “C.” “C” and I got to know each other after he threatened to boot me off the group for joking around with a few folks, something against the rules. (Not so much against the rules, but i was doing it in the wrong way)

Long story short, he and I became friends. When he founded the FMS Community I jumped on his train to help however I could. I became a moderator on the support group and began to work with both “C” and Nancy. Egad, was that really eighteen years ago?

No slacker herself, Nancy, a former financial whiz from Boston, stricken with her own chronic pain founded a 501(3) non-profit org. called the “CSSA.” She was president, treasurer, researcher and public relations. She and a small group of others collected donations, networked with medical professionals and published  a newsletter mailed to subscribers, all while dealing with her own health and family issues and…keeping up with her job as moderator for the Fibom-L online support list. She is also a talented photographer with work in quite a few collections, I am lucky enough to have one of her framed works.

I watched with cautious eyes when I realized she was caring on a “flirtation” with my pal “C.” Not out of jealousy as I am in a long-term, stable relationship, but out of concern, not wanting my friend to be hurt by a conniving woman! Worry quickly morphed from respect for a strong woman to love for a dear friend. Her and “C” met in person and never parted again. They not only joined in marriage, they blended the two organizations and we became one happy family, with Nancy handling the financial reins and legalities of maintaining a 501(3) non-profit standing.

Fast forward to 2012, my strong, intelligent, compassionate friend who wielded her computer and cell phones like weapons as she cut a swath through research, misconceptions, myths and lack of support for very real, very painful conditions, can’t even turn on her own computer.

Diagnosed with Stage 3 dementia at a young age she can’t remember how to use her computer or dial a phone. Her short-term memory is sketchy and her health is failing.

I am angry, PISSED that the universe has handed her one more blow. It’s as if taking away her health and striking her down with chronic pain wasn’t enough. The fates that be weren’t happy until they took her mind too!

I am grieving for “C.” He was a thriving musician, disc jockey and printer before chronic pain and other conditions took control of his life. He is a caring, open-minded, generous and intelligent man who had lived alone for far too long before he found Nancy. Now he struggles with her comfort and his own feelings of loss and anger.

IT’S NOT FAIR DAMMIT AND IT PISSES ME OFF!

Those who can approach their doctor and mention the term Fibromyalgia without getting laughed out of the office as the doctor tells you it is all in your head can thank Nancy. In our day nobody believed our pain was real. We were fed anti-depressants and told to lose weight and exercise more. Hell, I was 120lbs soaking wet with a highly physical job, and they STILL told me to lose weight and exercise, and maybe see a shrink.

Nancy fought day and night, shelling out thousands of personal dollars to find answers. She offered support and information to those floundering in a sea of medical professionals that thought of us as a joke. She met and worked with researchers on the cutting edge of progress. She formed friendships with medical professionals and authors who suffered from chronic, unexplained pain and fatigue who wanted to find answers. She worked with Devin Starlanyl and others, keeping up with research and funneling that knowledge to us via CSSA.

This is a personal blow for me, but I want every person who can now talk to their doctor about FM, CMP, IBS, Sjogrens and other conditions without feeling like a mental case to give credit, and thanks to this hard-working, generous, genius of a woman.

It is time to let her rest and be taken care of, but dammit, if I have anything to say about it she will be thought of as a champion, a loyal friend and dominant force in the fight against an uneducated system that refused to look for answers until public outcry backed them into a corner. Nancy stood at the front of that mob, using her phone and computers like an electronic megaphone.

I thank you and I love you Nancy. My world is better because you are in it.

c2012 Jane Kohler

All that is Cleveland Ohio – It’s a Good Thing.

Ohio, Cleveland in particular has been raked over the late night comic coals for years. When will people stop making jokes about the fire on the Cuyahoga river? The last fire was in 1969 people! Give it up. It was one incident that mirrored the collective thinking of the day. Run your factory, dump your waste into the river and move on was a phenomenon taking place all over the country, yet Cleveland seems to be the one forever embedded the countries collective memory. Thankfully the story drew attention to the problem and many investigations spurred changes to the laws regulating our natural resources.

I am happy to report our rivers are clean and thriving with wildlife. You can fish off a handy pier or swim, jet ski, water ski or sit and dangle your feet in the water as you bird watch. You can take a trip on the GoodTime III and tour the sites nestled against the mighty Cuyahoga River. Our water ways and marshes are full of loons, cranes, eagles, owls, song birds, fish, mammals, amphibians and reptiles.

We are proud of our “Emerald Necklace,” a connected series of undeveloped land designated as state parks that travel from one end of the state to the other. I am lucky that a short five-minute drive will place me smack dab in the center of these habitats. We have free access to over twenty-one thousand untainted acres of wilderness where we can walk, hike, ride bikes, go horse back riding, swim, fish, take structured nature hikes, learn about local flora and fauna or just lay out a blanket and read. A short drive from anywhere will have you immersed in nature, marsh life, wet lands, bird sanctuaries, spawning Salmon, rivers, lakes and local animals. Lose yourself in majestic trees, hidden trails, bubbling creeks or challenge yourself on an intense hike over foothills and rough terrain. This vast amount of protected landscape is a true gift given by our forward-thinking elders.

If nature is not on my agenda I can hop on I71 and be in Cleveland proper in under twenty minutes. There you can visit the West Side Market for the freshest produce, meat, cheese, bread and anything else you can think of to eat or cook with.

I can attend festivals that honor our many immigrants, their food, art, dance, drink, clothing and culture.
In one trip I can tour the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, the submarine S.S. Cod or the restored ship known as the William G. Mather.

If I am looking for education, I can go to Baldwin Wallace University, Kent State, Ohio State, Miami University and many others. I can also hone my skills at Cleveland State, Tri-C or the Cleveland Institute of Art.

A single square mile known as University circle is filled with world-class centers of education, medical training and arts & cultural institutions like the Cleveland Museum of Natural History, Cleveland Museum of Art, the Botanical Gardens, Cleveland Institute of Music, Cleveland Institute of Art, Severance Hall, the Cleveland Orchestra, Western Reserve Historical Society, Crawford Auto-Aviation Museum, The Children’s Museum, James A. Garfield Memorial and Cleveland School of the Arts, all a mere four miles from downtown Cleveland.

In the mood for a fantastic stage show or a good movie? Head to Playhouse Square, the home of magnificent theaters restored to their former glory. Here you will find the Allen, Hanna, Ohio, State, Palace, Westfield, 14th and Kennedy theater. You can experience Broadway, comedy, concerts, dance, plays, opera, family shows and more, all available by car or public transportation.

Lake Erie is surrounded by miles of beaches from Sandusky to Ashtabula. Countless protected areas provide swimming, boating, fishing, diving and anything else you can do in the water. Picnic and camping areas retain a small town feel while offering convenient perks.

Medical experts at the top of their game call Cleveland home. People from all over the globe turn to Cleveland for treatment.

I can turn one way when I leave my drive to experience downtown and all it has to offer in less than twenty-minutes. Or…I can turn the other way and find myself driving simple two lane roads dotted with farms and forests, stopping now and then for a garage sale, flea market, wineries, farmers market, ice-cream or a home cooked meal at a mom and pop eatery.

I have it all! Clean beaches, education, entertainment, nature preserves, foothills and rivers. I can attend local theater at our college or take in big name stars performing in Playhouse Square. We even have a few drive-in theaters up and running, talk about a treat!

I have traveled over this country and I spent time at places I felt I could stay in forever. The U.S.A. has a lot to offer, but I find that what I need is right under my nose. When you hear the name “Cleveland,” I want you to think theater, mixed cultures, music, NASA, public assistant programs, farmland, architecture, nature and good people doing their best to improve their environment.

c2012 Jane Kohler

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Lessons From Grandpa

My grandpa was a unique man, given the times he lived in. He grew up without airplanes, T.V. and supermarkets. He was surrounded by people who all thought, and looked like him, yet he never let that form his core being.

Despite his sheltered upbringing, he never shied away from those of different beliefs, color or race. He was shunned by the majority of his family for embracing people of color, differing religions and social standing. He fell in and out of marriages as he discovered his wives were not as open-minded, or caring as he. Three marriages in all.

My mom, his second born, tried hard to make her marriage work, but my father’s change of religion drove a wedge between them. My mom and grandpa became each others rock, clinging to each other through every storm. I was lucky enough to spend large amounts of time with my grandpa, who in many ways, had replaced my father.

My grandpa ran the largest greenhouse in the country during WWII. (No, I was not alive during WWII, my time in the greenhouse came much later.)  I grew up in that greenhouse, working the conveyor belts, making baskets and tending to the many greenhouse cats kept to keep the rodents at bay. When the work day was done, grandpa and I would often walk by the river or find a nice patch of ground for a picnic. It was during these down times that he filled my head with much of what would become “me.” Things that just seemed right, common sense thoughts that riled others.

He was the voice of reason, common sense and peace in my life, a voice that plays in my head whenever I face a new dilemma.

Things I learned from my grandpa?

* Don’t let stereotypes sway your judgement when meeting new people. He told me every person he worked with was just like him. They had families, they loved, they slept, ate,  celebrated, supported each other and felt loss, just like I did. He said they worry over sick kids, homework and mourn their dead, just like us, they just do it with different colored skin. He also told me he had learned a lot of great things from people from different cultures and if I was smart, I would keep my ears open and learn as well.

* He told me religion is very sacred to each person and that I must respect each person’s belief. He encouraged me to learn about multiple religions and pick the one that felt right for me or embrace them all. He often told me, as we sat at the river bank, that any place can be sacred, if we look for the beauty and be thankful for it. He told me that sitting at the edge of the river, marveling at nature, the local creatures and trees in the forest could be as powerful as any church. If I appreciated, and thanked “my” god for this world I was doing ok.

He said no matter my beliefs, the important thing was to “do unto others.” Treat people with kindness, understanding and a lack of judgement as we never knew what burden people are dealing with when we encounter them. He told me to help those in need, care for those in trouble and never feel like I was better than anyone else just because my life was going well at the time…it could change at the drop of a hat.

* He taught me to never hate my father for letting his convictions get in the way of his family life. He told me my father was following a path he believed in, but he loved me and would be there if needed A.S.A.P. He convinced me to keep my father in my life, to be patient and understanding. It was trying at times, but today my dad and I are closer than ever.

* He taught me to be tolerant of sudden change. When my uncle, his sixth child joined the National Guard during the Vietnam war, he left a clean-shaven youth working on a teaching degree. The same uncle returned home four years later with long hair that framed his face and fell down his back. When my uncle entered the house for his home-coming dinner he was met by his mother, aunts, cousins and a bevy of other family that jumped on his long hair. After an hour or so of badgering my grandpa stood up and told them all to “go to hell!” He said “my son left here a caring man trying to do the right thing, and the same man returned to us! His appearance doesn’t change who he is.” I realized he is right. You can have long hair, tattoos or piercing, but none of that changes who you are. He was the voice of reason in uncertain times, and he molded me in many ways.

* He taught me to appreciate nature, embrace all people, beliefs and to search for reasons for someones behavior before having a knee jerk reaction. He encouraged me to learn something from everyone I met and to fill my life with great people.

* He hit me with the hard reality that not everyone who meets me, would like me. A hard pill to swallow, but I understand it now that I have met people who I didn’t like, but couldn’t quite put my finger on a reason why.

* He told me that the whole world was a temple if I embraced it. He said if I found a brick and mortar building to worship at I should embrace it. If not, revel in my fellow humans, honor nature, help others and promote goodness while battling evil.

I embraced his teachings. I don’t see people with labels stapled to their foreheads, I see them as people working, paying the bills, raising kids and cleaning the toilet.

I sowed my oats. I sneaked out of the house, drank, partied, had sex, but I kept returning to the life his words formed. He laid the groundwork for living a life full of people, tolerance and acceptance, I am just thankful that I was smart enough to listen to his lesson so I could incorporate them into my own life.

Thank you Grandpa for giving me the tools I needed to break way from the small minds in my hometown. Thank you for making me feel special and empowered. My hope is that I am embedding these same values in my kids.

c2012 Jane Kohler

 

Rats! My Bad Day Melted Away.

I had one of those days we can all relate to. The alarm malfunctioned causing a late start for everyone in the house. Then came the stress of meeting our schedule while half-asleep. The front tire on my truck was low, making the hurried trip a white-knuckle experience. After that nothing went right. Spilled drinks, dogs throwing up on the floor, broken cups, spilled soup, lost shoes etc. Nothing about the morning was pleasant.

Then I finally got an hour to myself. The minute I entered my art studio the day changed. My four fancy rats, who have the run of the room during the day ran over looking for a chin scratch and cuddling. I plunked down on my chair with a soda and they climbed my legs to assemble on my lap. They took turns pushing and shoving for a coveted massage. The youngest, just three months old climbed up to his favorite perch, the back of my neck near my ear as the others licked my hands, nose and lips.

In between the love-ins there was a lot of posturing for position and play. I plied them all with carrots, yogurt covered fruit and hay then watched as they tended to the serious business of grooming themselves and each other before settling into nap time.

I felt the stress of the morning melt away, I even surprised myself with an occasional chuckle. One of the greatest stress-relieving techniques are my rats. They are not everyone’s cup of tea, but I love my boys. If you don’t like brightly colored, affectionate, clean and highly trainable rats, I suggest you find a pet, any pet that can take you out of yourself. Relax, let the outside world go and be the whole world to your tiny friend. They give more than they take.

c2012 Jane Kohler