riding bitch

The life of a writer and survivor of loss.


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Public vs Private Grief

On the way to Joshua Tree this past weekend I told the two other people in the vehicle (a male/female couple) about this blog. Both were old friends of my late husband Kaz. Both were very helpful to us when he was sick. And both have lost one parent to illness, so they know about loss and grief. Perhaps that’s why I felt safe mentioning the blog.

Though I’m gradually becoming bolder about it, I’m still a little shy about the blog. Shy when it comes to people I know. I think because this is where I still talk about my grief, about Kaz, and our time together. It feels like most of our friends and family have moved on, not in a bad way – that’s what you’re supposed to do – but in a way that makes me feel guilty about “going there” around them. I often get the urge to bring him up with people who knew him, but then think to myself, Why go back? Why dredge up old memories and make everyone feel bad? What’s the point?

There have been times when I couldn’t help but get emotional, like at the Clutch show a few weeks ago. There was another moment back in February, before returning to L.A. from Vermont, when I was having drinks in Brooklyn with Kaz’s best friend and my brother-in-law. The former was explaining to the latter how he and Kaz had met and become friends. As he told the story, which I had heard before, I started silently crying. I’m not sure my brother-in-law noticed but the best friend did. After a few minutes, I excused myself to the freezing outside in order to regain my composure. I felt guilty for crying in front of him, for ruining the moment by making it sad instead of joyful.

I wish it were easier to show emotions and talk about grief, death and the ones we’ve lost. But I’m also not sure it’s right to burden people with my emotions. I sense that people don’t want to talk about these things, don’t want to dwell or be reminded of their own hurt. I feel both responsible towards them and still responsible to Kaz for putting up a good front, as it were.

I felt this much stronger in the first few months after he died, like it was my duty to publicly represent him and us with dignity and poise. We had just recently been married so the feeling of US and this new role of both ‘wife’ and ‘widow’ brought up all kinds of associations. Images of Jackie Kennedy and Coretta Scott King flashed in my mind’s eye and I told myself that, given a choice, he would prefer me to be more like them and less like the widow who throws herself onto the casket as it’s lowered into the ground.

I wasn’t perfect. I did have moments. But for the most part I handled myself with an almost stoic resolve, which of course made people think I was much stronger and more together than I actually was.

Nowadays, it’s more difficult to keep that up, or perhaps I care less about keeping it up. So, when I get emotional in front of certain friends it’s like breaking precedent. And perhaps even more stange because it’s been almost two years.

This period in particular, between March 24th (the day he had the seizures) and May 3rd (the day he died) are the toughest of the year. Last year it felt like I was re-living every painful day of those 6 weeks. This year the painful memories aren’t quite as vivid. But I’m missing him something terrible. And trying not to feel guilty about divulging that even here, lest I bring you down as well (which is not my intention).


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A Reading List for Grief (Part 1 of 3)

If you are grieving, or even if you’re not, you might want to check out some of these books. They are all fine books on their own, but it just so happens I read them all after Kaz died. I have broken the list into three parts. Part One lists the books I read in the first 6 months (in chrono order). Part Two will list the books I read in the following year. Part Three will list some of my favorite quotes from these books, as well as what I’m reading now. I’ve included the first line from each book under the title.

A Grief Observed – C.S. Lewis

“No one ever told me that grief felt so like fear.”

This book is such a classic, someone handed it to me at Kaz’s memorial. Author C.S. Lewis describes his experience of losing his wife after her long struggle with cancer. Amazon describes it as “a beautiful and unflinchingly honest record of how even a stalwart believer can lose all sense of meaning in the universe, and how he can gradually regain his bearings.” Of course, when I read it, I related to the former not the latter, so the end of the book when he describes his renewed sense of faith annoyed me. But it is a beautiful book, very well-written and accessible. Might be interesting to read it again.

The Year of Magical Thinking – Joan Didion

“Life changes fast.”

Described as “an unflinching account of the sudden loss of her husband which occurred while their only child was in a coma in a hospital, this book is considered another classic. The language is sparse, simple but expertly put together to place you in the mind of a woman who is in the midst of both a huge loss (her husband) and a huge crisis (her daughter). As she jets back and forth from NYC to Los Angeles, the story also jumps around in place and time.” Interestingly, I had the opposite reaction to this book than to A Grief Observed. I related to the end more than the beginning. It’s hard to articulate, but Didion’s writing style is both emotionally distant and emotionally powerful at the same time. I found myself unable to read more than a page or two at a time, and would have to leave the book alone for days in between.

The Alchemist – Paulo Coelho

“The boy’s name was Santiago.”

I had read this book before and loved it. After Kaz died, I saw it on the shelf and decided to read it again. Honestly, I think this is one you can read over and over and each time find something new. The story is about a young shepherd who decides to leave the comfort of his simple life in a small Spanish town in search of treasure in Egypt. Along the way he meets all kinds of interesting characters, falls in love and learns about himself and life. It’s not about grief, but about accepting change, following your passion and “listening to the signs” the universe gives you. Because it’s told in a parable, it doesn’t feel preachy. I found it very inspiring and meaningful when I read it the second time.

Man’s Search For Meaning – Viktor E. Frankl

“This book does not claim to be an account of facts and events but of personal experiences, experiences which millions of prisoners have suffered time and again.”

Kaz’s best friend had recommended this book to us during the year of his illness, but neither of us read it. After he died, I decided to see what it was about. Frankl was a psychiatrist who lost his parents, brother, and pregnant wife while he was in four different concentration camps, including Auschwitz. The first half of the book is about his experience in the camps. The second half is his philosophy on how he and others survived, which (put very simply) he says was a combination of luck and attitude. It’s a fascinating and surprisingly easy read. You might not agree with everything he says, but for a man to have gone through that much loss and still be able to see the positive in life, is really quite remarkable.

Bridget Jones’s Diary – Helen Fielding

“Sunday 1 January – 129 lbs. (but post-Christmas), alcohol units 14 (but effectively covers 2 days as 4 hours of party was on New Year’s Day), cigarettes 22, calories 5424.”

After reading those heavy books, I needed a break and read Bridget Jones’s Diary. It was highly satisfying. I laughed out loud many times. Then I watched the movie and laughed again.

If you would like to share what you read, are reading, or think we should read, please do so in the comment section.


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Rolling with It

A friend recently said reading this blog is like “riding a rollercoaster.” I guess he’s right. There are and will be peaks and valleys as I continue to straddle the past and the future, sorrow and hope.

If you’ve ever lost anyone close, you know how hard it is to ride those waves of emotion that hit without warning and leave you breathless from impact. One such wave hit me this morning.

It was pre-dawn, the moment when the night’s darkness hasn’t yet started to lift. The past few days I’ve allowed Ruby out of her crate around this time for a bit of snuggle time before our busy day begins (I know I’m breaking crating rules). This morning, as we lay in the silence/darkness, the puppy fast asleep, a wave came out of nowhere and I started sobbing.

But I couldn’t pinpoint the trigger this time. Was it the pressure of the warm little body next to mine reminding me of the larger warm body that used to lie beside me (and she can never replace)? Was it the hour itself, the same time I used to wake him for medication when he was on hospice? Or the semi-dark lighting, in which we would sometimes wordlessly make love before our alarms went off (in happier days), after which he would rise out of bed smiling, “Good morning” and head off for the shower.  [I once asked him if he ever flashed to our morning trysts later in the work day, like during staff meetings. “Yeah, and I also whistle in the elevator on those mornings,” he answered.]

Maybe all of the above. It lasted a while this morning, until the sun came out. At one point, Ruby woke up and rolled onto her back to look at me curiously. “It’s okay. I’m okay,” I told her. She rolled over and went back to sleep.

Later, after dropping her off at daycare, I listened to his voicemails I still have saved:

May 15, 2010 Hey babe, what’s going on? I guess you’ve gone to sleep already. Just walkin’ home from the Metro, figured I’d give you a call and see how you were doing. But I guess I’ve missed you, so I will catch you tomorrow. Have a good night, sweet dreams, love you, talk to you later, bye.

February 20, 2011 Hey babe, how’s it going? Guess you might be sleeping already, it’s a little bit after 11. Give me a shout if you can tonight or gimme a call in the mornin’. Hope you’re having agood night. Love you. I’ll talk to you later. Bye.

March 5, 2011 Hey, I just wanted to say hi and I love you. I’ll talk to you later. Bye.

March 21, 2011 Where you at woman? Where you at woman’s phone?

April 3, 2011 Hey babe, I’m home. Gimme a call when you get the chance. Bye.

March 21 was when I asked him to call my cell phone which I had once again “lost” in the apartment. On April 3 he was in the hospital recovering from seizures and on lots of medication. His voice changes from message to message but not the emotion within.

Sound waves, like  emotional waves which still reach me today.

I have learned the best way to deal with a wave is to roll with it, allow it to carry me out, making sure to stay afloat but trusting that eventually it bring me back to shore, naturally.

Are you familiar with these waves? How do you deal with them?


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Crating

On November 6th, 2012 President Obama was re-elected — and Ruby started crate training.

Which will have more impact on my life?

No disrespect to the President, but in the near future I would have to say the crate training, which I was inspired/shamed into trying after a potential dog walker came over last night and basically told me I was doing everything wrong. Considering I had spent practically the entire day recovering from a terrible hangover due to celebrating my late husband’s 45th birthday at his favorite strip club the night before, I had to agree with her.

I promised to start immediately and do my homework. From my research these are some do’s and don’ts and my scorecard so far:

1. Crates should be large enough for the adult dog to stand, sit and stretch out. (The crate I bought is big enough, yay!)

2. Place the crate in an area so She is with you and part of family activities, even as an observer. (check!)

3. At night the crate should go in your bedroom. (check, as of last night)

4. Never take a pup out of a crate when she is fussing, as this rewards bad behavior. Wait till she stops fussing for about five minutes, and then take her out without a big welcome. (I did this wrong last night and this morning)

5. Be sure to give lots of praise when she’s inside, lengthening the periods you leave her in. (did not praise her enough)

6. Close the puppy in the crate at regular one-to-two-hour intervals, and whenever she must be left alone, for up to three or four hours. (we just started last night, but noted)

7. Never clean up a mess when the puppy is watching.(guilty as charged)

8. To prevent mistakes, don’t let your pup have the run of the house. If you must leave the room, even for a phone call, crate him or take her with you. (again, guilty)

9. Start a regular feeding schedule. Confine her after eating for 10 to 15 minutes, and then take her to the elimination spot. Say “Go pee.” PRAISE him after he eliminates. (I have been praising her, but not telling her to “go pee”)

10. Do not turn around and head home as soon as he poops. (guilty)

11. After a half hour of play, crate her for a nap. Every hour (or so as she ages) take her out to pee. If she pees, give her play time, if not, back into crate. Just remember prevention of mistakes, and rewarding for good behavior. (noted)

Approximate puppy bladder control:
6 weeks—elimination every hour
2 months—pup should have 2 to 3 hours of control
3 months—4 hours
4 months and up—5 hours
Many young dogs can go all night at 3 months.

12. Always take the puppy out the same door, the one you are going to want her to signal at. Bells work great for some owners. The dog will learn to swat the bell to get the door to open. (I only have one door, no bell as of yet)

Part of me is feeling like “what the hell did I get myself into? I need to be writing a pilot and finishing my book!!”

Another part of me feels like A. I need to suck it up and step it up, and B. she’s worth it.


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Ruby 2

Ruby.

Four legs, white face, chest, paw, tip of tail, everything else a honey brown. 15 weeks.

We have known each other exactly one week and are still adjusting.

It must be so overwhelming to find yourself in a new environment, living with a stranger and introduced to so many new things at once. I’m pretty sure she knows I’m her mommy now. At the very least, she knows I’m the person who feeds and walks her, cleans after her accidents and snuggles with her at night.

I’m starting to get a better sense of her energy cycles, when she’s up and when she’s down. The first night she stayed up until after midnight, but I think it must have been nerves because now she gets tired about 9pm and will sleep through the night.

Other changes: the first night I took her out for a walk she practically walked in circles. Now she walks in a straight line but the first 10-15 minutes continue to be challenging. She will just sit there, not budging, whimpering, and looking over her shoulder at the apartment building’s front door.

Honestly, I’m not sure she realizes what the point is (she’s not housebroken yet). It’s also very distracting and sometimes scary, especially at night. She stops every 10 feet to stare at a tree, a car, a shadow, a person approaching 100 yards away. Everything arouses curiosity and/or apprehension.

But once she gets in a groove she’s really good, trotting right beside me, glancing up at me periodically. She still tries to run up every set of stairs and down every driveway. I have to keep reminding her, “We don’t live there.” When we do finally get to our building, she runs up the stairs with such enthusiasm it totally warms my heart.

After walks she plays for about 20 minutes then passes out. She sleeps in all kinds of funny positions, and sleeps so much that I actually Googled “how much do puppies sleep” to make sure she’s okay. Turns out puppies sleep almost 18-20 hours a day!

I’m trying to gradually teach her how to be by herself. So far, she can handle about 20 minutes and, interestingly, prefers to hang out under my desk instead of the crate I bought her. This weekend we’ll try a little longer and see how she does. If she doesn’t destroy the apartment, then the crate will be used for discipline purposes only.

She’s amazing. I’m exhausted but feel incredibly blessed to have this happy, warm, furry bundle of joy in my house. I can’t wait for all the adventures we’re going to have!!


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Ruby 1

According to the Urban Dictionary, the phrase “road dog” means “close friend; a traveling companion that one is most often seen with; a person going with you during your travels.”

Example for using it in a sentence:
Guy#1. hey are you going to the national hobo gathering?
Guy#2. nah man I’m waiting for my road dog to get out of jail.

I’m waiting for my future road dog to get out of jail too, though in her case it’s a dog shelter in Long Beach.

I met her at a pet adoption fair last Sunday and was compelled to hold her. She was so calm in my arms that I almost started crying. When I got home, I couldn’t stop thinking about her. The next day I emailed the shelter lady to inquire about adopting.

But am I getting her for the right reasons? And am I a suitable mom? Several things worry me.

1. I’m still grieving my late husband. Every day this week I cried on the way to work, and before going to bed. It felt as if he died a few weeks ago, not 17 months ago. I’m not like this all the time (anymore) but these sudden waves still catch me off guard.

2. I’m a writer who needs her space. Will I still be able to write with a puppy around?

3. I’m actually not allowed to have pets in my building unless it’s a service animal. My therapist is going to write a letter saying I need an emotional support animal (ESA), so we should be okay (unless she barks a lot or bites someone).

4. Do I have enough patience? Patience has never been one of my strengths, though I do feel like I’ve grown quite a bit in the last couple of years.

5. Am I prepared to commit to someone again, knowing that her life will be in my hands and one day I will feel the pain of losing her?

6. Will she like motorcycles?

I suppose time will tell. All I know is I miss having love in the house. I miss taking care of another, and I’m tired of thinking about myself (or the past) all the time.

This is a picture of my future road dog, Ruby. She’s the one with the white face, cocking her head at camera. Maybe one day she’ll be riding in a sidecar, wearing goggles, her little ears flapping in the wind.