riding bitch

The life of a writer and survivor of loss.


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Daily Prompt: An Unlikely Friendship

A while back I blogged about my mother-in-law. Today’s post is about my father-in-law, Ray. He is my late husband’s father, and like Kaz and my own father, is African American. Unlike Kaz, my father and me, he is also deeply religious. I mention this only to underscore that, despite our different views on many topics, Ray and I have become good friends. We’ve never met in person, but we’ve talked on the phone every 2-3 weeks since Kaz passed away two years ago.

Ray lives in Florida, about 1.5 hours away from Sanford. The other night, while discussing recent events in that city and how we wish people could relate to each other in a more humane way, Ray said: “Did I ever tell you about my friend in the KKK?”

Me: “Uh, no.”

Ray: “It started in the late 70’s. I was living in Tuson, Arizona at the time and had just joined this club for racing radio controlled power boats on the lake there. After a while, I noticed this one White guy wasn’t talking to me. In fact, he just ignored me altogether. I asked some of the other members, ‘What’s with that guy?’ They said, ‘Oh, don’t bother with him, he’s KKK.’

Well, I wasn’t gonna let something like that stop me from talking to him. One day I noticed that his boat wasn’t doing too well. So I went over to him and asked if he’d considered using a different propeller. He just looked at me strange. I told him, ‘If you use the __ propeller, you might get a better result.’ Then I walked away.

The next time I saw him, he said, ‘Hey, I changed my propeller. You were right.’ And we started talking. His name was Pat and his wife had recently left him for the preacher who lived next door.

After a few weeks of friendly banter, I said, ‘Pat, can I ask you something?’ He said, ‘Sure.’ I said, ‘Are you in the KKK?’ He said he was. I said, ‘Can you tell me why you don’t like Black people?’ He said that it says in the Bible that G-d cursed man by making him Black. I asked him to show me where in the Bible it says that.

For the next few weeks, he tried to find the passage, but of course, he couldn’t. Finally he came back to me and said, ‘I couldn’t find it.’ I said, ‘Cause it’s not in there, Pat.’ He said ever since he was a boy he was taught that Blacks were inferior. I said, ‘Do you think I’m inferior?’ ‘No,’ he said. I said, ‘Do you dislike me?’ ‘No, not now,’ he said.

After that, we became better friends. He left the KKK. The night he invited me over his house for dinner, my wife still stayed up all night worrying about me. We didn’t have cell phones back then. I told her I’d be fine, but you know, she couldn’t help it. When I finally came home, she was so relieved. I told her, ‘All we did was play pool.’

A few years later, we decided to leave Tuscon and move to Florida. When I told Pat, he started crying. ‘You’re my best friend,’ he said. We were both crying. It was sad. But you know what? To this day, Pat and I speak on the phone once a month. He’s still my best friend. I would do anything for him, and him for me.”

I thanked Ray for sharing this story, and all night kept thinking about it. The next day I called him again to ask if I could blog about it. “Sure,” he said with a laugh.

Ray, this one’s for you.

[In response to today’s Daily Prompt: A friend in need]


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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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Darcy Thiel Talks Publishing

If you’ve been following the Industry Friday series, you are familiar with guest blogger Darcy Thiel. Darcy has written a book about losing her husband to cancer in 2010 and up until now she and I have been discussing our experiences with caregiving (her interview with me is here http://helpforhealing.wordpress.com/2013/03/02/guest-blog-part-2/). Today we discuss the process of writing the actual book and getting published. The timing couldn’t be more perfect because tomorrow is her book’s launch party! I’m very excited for her.

Q. What has been the most challenging aspect of writing your book Bitter & Sweet?

A. It feels sometimes like “grief brain” is permanent. So accomplishing anything can be hard on some days, much less a huge project like writing a book. Two things were hard. One thing, were the days when a wave of grief hit. I could talk/write/process for days and even weeks like I was just telling someone else’s story. Then for no reason that I could identify, it would be a crying, grieving day and the subject matter was larger than life. The second part was learning new things. I would have given up at least a trillion times if my dear friend Brigitte wasn’t working with me full time. She does all the research and information finding. She has the patience of a saint coupled with a brilliant mind!

Q. How did you secure publishing?

A. We have actually “self-published”. First, we had to form a publishing company, which meant forming an LLC. It is called Baby Coop Publishing, LLC. Once you do the research, it’s tedious but not difficult. You fill out forms and then do legal notices in the paper. Total cost is about $350. After that, we did our research (ok, Brigitte did) and came up with what we thought were the best options. Lightning Source is the company that distributes our softcover book. All of the files were downloaded to them. They have certain companies they distribute to, but it’s most of the biggest in the industry. When they get orders, they print and ship. It’s called “print on demand.”

For the ebook versions, we went with a company called Book Baby. We are still in the process of downloading and revising with them. I thought this would be easier, but it has different challenges. Every reader (Nook, Kindle, Kobo, etc.) looks different. So it’s very hard to design something that looks good in every version. We are hoping to have that released within another two weeks.

Q. What do you hope readers will get out of reading your book?

A. My dream is that my book will be useful and helpful to people in the same way that other books helped us. You have listed a bunch of books and what you have gotten out of them – I’d like to be on that list some day. For a person struggling with cancer, they can find inspiration in the way that Tim dealt with his illness. For a person handling the tasks of being a caretaker, it is full of helpful ideas of how to be a patient advocate. For loved ones and family, it is full of practical ways of how you can truly be a support to the people you care about.

Q. What do you hope to achieve with your book?

A. The previous question answers the more spiritual goals of the book. On a practical level, I would love to pay off the mortgage of the house before my social security runs out! But the reality of how much money you make on a book is very small indeed. When you realize how many books you have to sell to really make a living, it’s almost impossible.

A much for practical goal for me, is that I am hoping that the book will help generate more referrals to my counseling practice. That is my main profession and passion and I will be doing that for many more years than I will be writing books.

Thank you, Darcy, and good luck tomorrow!

For more info on Darcy Thiel, please visit her at
http://www.marriageandfamilycounseling.net
http://www.helpforhealing.wordpress.com
http://www.linkedin.com/in/helpforhealing

The very touching video trailer for her book is also available here: http://youtu.be/Xapeagk_5tE

Happy creating!


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Mother-in-Law

Last night I had a great conversation with Kaz’s mother, whom I still call my mother-in-law even though I’m a widow. She’s a lovely woman, intelligent, gentle and sweet, a former social worker who used to work with teenagers in the D.C. school system. We had met only once before Kaz got sick, but saw more of each other during the year of his illness. She helped me take care of him in the very end, and we were together when he passed away (she on one side of the bed, me on the other).

Though it was a sad and stressful time, the experience bonded us. Kaz used to tell us (together and individually) that he wanted us to keep in touch after he was gone. “It means the world to me that the two of you get along,” he would say. Privately, I promised him that I would look after her since he wouldn’t be able to. He was her only child and she was getting older.

Anyway, last night, when I was sharing with her the Vermont saga, she reminded me of a moment we shared with him the week before he went on hospice. We were having lunch in the hospital restaurant, talking about movies and television. Kaz told his Mom that I had worked in many areas: directing, writing, producing, editing. On a whim I asked him, “So, what do you think I should focus on the most?”

He thought about it a moment. “Well, I know what a control freak you are,” he said. “And the best way to have the most control is to write. I think you should focus on writing. That way you can control everything.”

“He knew how talented you are,” his Mom told me last night. “And he believed in you. So I think you’re doing exactly the right thing. You’re following your passion and dreams, and that’s exactly what he would have wanted you to do.”

Sometimes I feel like our shared experience helps keep him alive in some way. She knew him one way. I knew him in another way. Together, we remind each other of who he was, who he became, how he grew, what he believed in, what he liked and what he didn’t.

The irony is that she lost her son but gained a daughter-in-law… and I, who lost my mother 20 years ago, gained a mother-in-law. I think Kaz saw this before we did. He always had a certain wisdom, as if he could see farther down the road than the rest of us.