Friday, November 16, 2012

Has it really been 5 years?

Exactly five years ago this weekend my life imploded with a cosmic *SMACK*.   Life as I knew it was over [for the whole gory story go here LifeQuake ].  LSS - marriage ended on Friday, Mom died on Sunday.

It would be easy to say that I grieved, did the emotional and psychological work, and moved onto a wonderful new life in record time and with minimal disruption.  It would also be a lie.  The combined losses of my marriage and my mother, in that order in that many days flattened me. 

For the first while, I went into autopilot.  I knew what I was supposed to do and what the 'right' responses were and I kept to the script.  Honestly, the 'role' of responsible, directed woman planning both her mother's funeral and her husband's move from the matrimonial home at the same time came easy.  It felt like I was in a 'Lifetime' movie. . . perhaps being played by Valerie Bertinelli (before she lost the weight -- we want authenticity here).

I wrote the obituary and the euology.  I sat with my siblings to select a casket and plan the order of service.  I scurried around the music store to locate a copy of the sheet music to Amazing Grace (I still shake my head in wonder that it doesn't appear in the hymnal of the Church I attended as a child).

I gave Renfrew the time and space to move from our home to a nearby friend's house with the plan that the Pumpkin and I would move to the City once we found a place.  But for the time being, she and I would stay in the house.

Three weeks after my LifeQuake, I went back to work.  My siblings and I had cleaned out most of Mom's apartment -- shredding 30 years of bank statements and old cheques, receipts for everything from utilities to her Readers' Digest subscription.  Furniture that could be used by family members was re-homed and that for which there was no current purpose was donated to the nearby thrift store. Everyone who wanted a memento was allowed to take something that reminded them of Mom.

It was time for things to get back to "NORMAL"... Normal, I now know is simply a setting on the washing machine.  That December was unquestionably the lowest my life has ever been.  Slowly, and I do mean S L O W L Y, I started to find a new way to be in the world.  During the course of my journey I learned some pretty amazing truths:

Failing at marriage did not mean I was a failure.  My marriage was, truthfully, everything to me.  I had made that commitment with the view that it was irrevocable.  Divorce was NEVER in my playbook.  But I had to recognize that marriage was making Renfrew miserable and he did not believe that it could be fixed.  I had no choice to let go.  It was a slow and sticky process and I am the first to admit I did not handle it gracefully at first. I cried buckets of tears.  But as the 'process' moved along, I began to realize that the ending of marriage did not nullify the years we had shared -- most of them pretty happy.  

Don't get me wrong, there is still a small part of me that mourns not having a life partner to whom I can say "remember . . . ." and have him smile.  The shared history still exists, but it is no longer accessible.  I just read in a book about marriage end (a memoir by a woman who lost her husband not to your average mid-life crisis, but to his gender change to a woman) that one of the hardest losses in a divorce is the loss of the collective memory of a family.

Slowly I cried less and smiled more.  I would heal and the edges would soften around the wound. Then something would pull the back the scab and I would bleed tears again.  At some point, the tears more or less stopped.  My focus moved away from what was lost to what remained. . . a beautiful child and a friendship with her other parent.

My kid is both smarter and stronger than I ever imagined. Shortly after we separated, we (I) dragged the Pumpkin to a clinical social worker.  I figured she'd been handed a couple of biggies, just like I had been and as a good parent it was important to give her someone to help her debrief.  Her assessment of our separation:  "If living together makes you unhappy, why would you live together?"  Wisdom from the mouth of a 9 year old.  In the intervening time, she has continued to grow -- and WOW.  She is self-possessed with a confidence and sense of humour about life that will take her far.

Forgiveness is truly the path to Peace and Happiness.  Along my way I discovered A Course In Miracles .  It is not a religion (and I remain as irreverent as ever), but a spiritual mind training program, the goal of which is to FORGIVE everyone for everything as a way to PEACE. 

Trust me, I did not WANT to forgive Renfrew for pulling the plug on our marriage.  I was hurt and, for a time, I was pretty good at trying to reach out and hurt him too.  It wasn't until I was given the 'miracle' of seeing things a different way, that I forgave.  It was a conscious choice I made initially for two people:  my child and myself.  I knew carrying anger and resentment toward her father would spill over onto her.  I also got really tired of trying to move forward with that stone around my neck.  I set it down . . . at first for only seconds at a time, but eventually I left it in the distance. 

I have gotten SO MUCH out of that one choice.   In addition to a child who sees her parents behaving like adults, when Renfrew married my Wife-in-Law (or WiL as I'll call her) three years ago, I got a friend and another co-parent for her.   Seriously, Renfrew always had great taste in women (with a few exceptions that occurred during his post-marriage break up craziness), so why would I not like his choice in a partner?  And if I did, what on earth would it say about me?

Now, I am substantially healed.  I am not the person I would have been if neither of those losses had happened.  I am stronger.  I am more cynical.  I am more patient.  I am less trusting.  I am more at peace.  There have been losses and gains.  It was a weekend . . . and I sincerely hope I never have another one like it.

Monday, November 12, 2012

This is not a light, fluffy post . . .

Although much of what I read on a regular basis is pretty fluffy - - psychological thrillers, serial killers, all manner of supernatural creatures (except sparkling vampires, even I have standards), self-indulgent memoirs - - I occasionally read something that makes me stop and think.  Yes, every once in a while I read a book that raises questions that are larger than can fit between the covers.  A Handmaids Tale did that.  To Kill a Mockingbird did that.  Most recently, I read a book called "Unwind", which is part of the genre known as 'young adult fiction' aka something my kid would read (and she has).  This book raises more issues than Readers' Digest.

As with many books that encourage reflection and question commonly held views, it is set in a dystopian future where the Second Civil War (known as the Heartland War) has been fought over abortion and the right to life.  The two sides, polarized and neither willing to consider the other's side are bent on destroying each other -- the original issue all but forgotten.  In the midst of this with both sides holding intractable positions, the military (who have been caught in the middle and who are, frankly, tired of the fight) make a proposal:

“With the war getting worse,” says the Admiral, “we brokered a peace by bringing both sides to the table. Then we proposed the idea of unwinding, which would terminate unwanteds without actually ending their lives. We thought it would shock both sides into seeing reason–that they would stare across the table and someone would blink. But nobody blinked. The choice to terminate without ending life–it satisfied the needs of both sides. The Bill of Life was signed, the Unwind Accord went into effect, and the war was over. Everyone was so happy to end the war, no one cared about the consequences.”

In trying to be King Solomon, the military unwittingly sets up an even more grotesque tableau.  Abortion is outlawed.  But this does not lead to a culture of pre-marital celibacy or vigilant birth control use.  Every indication is that unplanned pregnancies arise as often as they do today.  The difference is that pregnancies are all carried to term.  After that, well, the swell of unplanned and unwanted babies often end up in State Care Homes . . . a newer version of orphanages.  As these facilities fill to bursting, children are periodically sent to the Harvest Camps to be unwound, thus freeing up space.

Another possibility  is that the unplanned infant gets 'storked'.  Upon giving birth to an unwanted child, the mother can essentially drop the baby on someone's doorstep and it becomes a strange game of finders-keepers.  That is if the finder gets caught finding the baby -- it is theirs, just as if that person had delivered it -- no give backs.   However, we learn that some stealthy finders simply 're-stork' the baby to a neighbour before anyone has noticed.  As can be imagined, this can have disasterous or fatal consequences for the baby.  The helpless infant gets passed from home to home with no one providing 'care'.  One of the central characters experienced such a scenario resulting in the death of an infant after several days of being passed around.

One of the characters considers the question this way: “[w]hich is worse, Risa often wondered, to have tens of thousands of babies that no one wanted or to silently make then go away before they were even born." 
Unwinding, as we learn, is a process where youth between the ages of 13 and 17 are systematically disassembled and their body parts used for transplant into other people.  They are not 'killed', as the live on in a 'divided state'.  The unwinds are a mix of kids from the State Homes, surrendered children whose parents have signed them over (usually because they are difficult to manage or have other behaviour issues) and Tithes.  Tithes are children who were specifically born to be harvested.  Seriously.  They are seen as an altruistic gift from their parents to society.

Perhaps the most disturbing chapter in the book tells the story of a character who gets 'unwound'.  His thoughts, interspersed with the comforting words of those engaged in harvesting his body, are both serene and horrifying.  Essentially, unwinding is seen as okay as essentially ALL of the person continues to live.  Body parts that wear out or that are defective in members of the population are simply 'replaced' with portions of the unwound.  An endless supply of young, healthy body parts for transplant -- everything from limbs and organs to skin and tissue.  The more you are willing to pay, the better quality your new parts will be.  The corollary to this is that treatment of illness and disorder is taught less and less in medical school.  Why treat an old worn and damaged heart, when you can just replace it with a 16 year olds?  Teeth are replaced in their entirety and a full head of hair is just a surgical procedure away. 

"[O]f course, if more people had been organ donors, unwinding never would have happened... but people like to keep what's theirs, even after they are dead. It didn't take long for ethics to be crushed by greed. Unwinding became big business, and people let it happen."

I was very impressed by the author's use of his characters' voices to discuss large issues:  WHEN does life start; WHEN does it end; WHO makes those decisions; WHO should be making those decisions; WHERE are our memories stored.  He doesn't give the answers, but rather let's the characters put out the possibilities for discussion. 
“I wrote Unwind for lots of reasons, and it poses questions about a lot of subjects. To state it briefly, I wanted to point out how when people take intractable positions on an issue, and stick to extreme sides, sometimes the result is a compromise that is worse than either extreme. I meant it as a wake up call to society -- and to point out that sometimes the problem IS that we take sides on an issue, when a different sort of approach is needed. It's also to pose questions about what it means to be alive.
Where does life begin, where does it end -- and point out that there is no single answer to these questions. The problem is people who think there are simple answers. People who see things as simple black-and-white right-and-wrong are the type of people who will end up with a world like the world in Unwind.” Neal Shusterman

Like life, this book is about more than the issue it is about.  It is about what taking sides without questioning does to a person.  Belief without examination and critical thought is limiting.  Being able to say both what one believes and the 'why' behind it is what makes us human.  When I took mediation training I learned a lot about positional thinking.  When two people are locked in a conflict, until they can at least consider that there is another way to view the situation, nothing can be gained or changed.  This book is a consideration of what happens when society itself becomes so positional that no resolution is possible and the only alternative is something that neither side would have imagined.
To put it in the words of the author:  You see, a conflict always starts with an issue–a difference of opinion, an argument. But by the time it turns into a war, the issue doesn’t matter anymore, because now it’s about one thing and one thing only: how much each side hates the other.