Happy Birthday

My 70th Birthday is tomorrow—Yikes! How did that happen and where did the years go. In February 2021, when I was 68, I got breast CA.

My 70th Birthday is tomorrow—Yikes! How did that happen and where did the years go to?

In February 2021, when I was 68, I was diagnosed with breast cancer. After two surgeries—a lumpectomy and then a mastectomy, I finally started chemotherapy on April 20th.  Two days later was Janet’s 69th birthday. I was feeling OK despite having had my first chemo infusion two days earlier, so when Bill invited me to her birthday party I decided to go. All her kids were there (except John, who has no interaction with his father), and they had a cookout. I managed to eat a hot dog, hamburger, and salad. The whole time I was there, Janet sat in her living room rocker, bundled up in a blanket. She was always cold because she had no meat on her—she was skin and bones. Everybody kept asking, “Mom, come and eat” at which she waved her hand in disgust, as if we were offering her worms, so she never had one bite. I started to speak to her when I first got there, and she conspiratorially said to me that she couldn’t talk because Bill would hear her. I told her that Bill was outside cooking with two doors closed and she still said her famous, “He has big ears.” I asked if he had bionic hearing, and she didn’t answer me.

I was told that day that the stem-cell transplant done for her MDS had basically stopped working and she had developed leukemia. Bill was talking about getting her another stem-cell transplant and the kids and I looked at each other with a silent acknowledgement that this was a crazy idea: that putting her through that horrific regimen would be a total mistake, and for what?  She had severe dementia at this point and I’m not sure how she got it but apparently, she had been in a steady decline for several years, according to April.

Fast forward to July 2021: April told me that she was not doing well. At first, she was in the hospital and Bill, in his hope to prolong her waning life, was still almost force-feeding her. This caused a huge rift between the kids, especially April and Bill. April just wanted him to stop trying to keep her alive and just let her go and he refused, thinking (selfishly) that he just didn’t want to say goodbye. Finally, they got her in home hospice with a hospital bed for the living room and that is where she stayed until she passed. At first April told me that it would not be a good idea for me to visit her since she was sleeping most of the time, but one day she texted and said if I wanted to, I could come over to the house that day because she was somewhat awake. I went over and she actually recognized me which gave me some solace. She was in and out of consciousness at that point and the hospice nurse said it could be any time. We were essentially on death watch. I don’t know the exact date that she died, but it was around July 20st or so. But on July 23rd her funeral was held. I know this so well because it was the day before my birthday. At that point I didn’t mourn her the way I would’ve if she had died suddenly, because she had been slipping away from me gradually over a period of years.

So, today, July 23, 2022, is a whole year since her funeral. She never even made it to 70. We used to joke that we would be in a nursing home and still trying to sell houses (that thing we did for a few years, among others, when I moved here}.

Now here I am, alone—my two best friends, Janet and Jane, have left me. I am now on the cusp of my 70th birthday and I feel so lost without them. Jane died a few years before, of what I do not know. She had MS, a heart condition, and diabetes, and she wasn’t even that old. When she died, I was so upset and devastated because I had just spoken to her recently and she seemed like she was doing well. Her family had all but abandoned her and they never even had an autopsy done to determine the cause of death. I suspect it was a heart attack. But the building super got into the apartment when nobody had seen her for a few days and found her. She was only 63.

I feel like a survivor, having gone through so much in my 60s, namely the horrific spinal tumor on T3 of my spinal cord, which prevented me from walking properly, and had constant nerve pain, a partially paralyzed thin right leg, which was cold to the touch from the knee down, etc. It was a nightmare and lasted for 4 months until it was diagnosed and I had surgery. Luckily, the tumor was benign as meningiomas usually are. Then there was the recent cancer diagnosis, and everything related to that—and here I still am—Still Standing (as Elton John’s song goes). Then of course there was the constant trauma due to having a mentally ill adult child living in the street.

I have been stressed and depressed about the idea that I would be officially OLD as DIRT, but now that the day has almost arrived, it is OK. I have a sense of relief that I basically look the same as I did last year and haven’t changed much. I always thought that when you turned 70, you were officially OLD and turned into a pumpkin. Wow, how that has changed. I see people like Becky who will be 75 in August, and she is on the go travelling all the time. She has an amazing zest for life that I wish I had. I asked her how she felt to be in her 70s and she said she loves it. Conversely, Margie will be 70 in December, and she said it didn’t bother her at all.

As of this writing, things have gotten infinitely better: I finished chemo and am on drugs to just prevent recurrence. I am grateful that it was Stage 1 and not metastatic and we want to keep it that way. Joseph has a subsidized apartment now (although he still has crazy thinking), he is on meds, seeing a shrink and therapist, and sounds somewhat sane when I speak to him (but not always). David now speaks to his dad, and Joseph which is monumental.

Yes, hopefully this next part of my life will be easier with less problems. But life is life and there are no guarantees that things will go smoothly, but if I keep on trucking, going forward one day at a time, try not to get bogged down with the small things (which is not always easy), try not to compare and feel jealousy (which is sometimes my nemesis), I may find that I can get through and maybe just maybe be happy. Happiness is something I almost never feel, but every once in a while, it comes over me when I am outside on a sunny warm day walking in the morning. It is sudden and swift and surprises me. It’s as if a ray of sunshine has opened up in my soul and I can breathe for a little while. The trick is keeping that feeling for more than just a few minutes. Maybe this is the decade that I will finally find the elusive and lasting feeling of happiness for no special reason other than just being alive.

Moon Tales

We gathered in our living room back in 1969 as a family. We came together to watch the first man to walk on the moon. We were awestruck.

We were a real family that night—just like any other.

It was four days before my birthday, July 20, 1969, and my most wonderful memory of that famous day was that my crazy, dysfunctional family, came together as one.

We were a family in name and proximity only—four people who just happened to be living in the same apartment, never spinning in the same orbit.  It is something I never really noticed before until my first husband brought it to my attention once.  As an outside observer, he said, “You just live in the same space—like you were just thrown together—and you all don’t even seem related.” That was us—each one going our own separate way.  It seemed perfectly normal for everyone to eat at different times. Nobody waited for anyone else because we were on totally different schedules. My dad worked two jobs and had to eat early to go to his nighttime job at the post office. I would always try to avoid him when he came home about 5 pm. If it were the summer, I would deliberately stay outside until he left. On school days when I was home, a distinct feeling of dread would engulf me when I heard the key in the door and I would think, “Oh, he’s home” and would have to endure an hour of criticism about everything under the sun—nothing was off limits. When he left, I breathed a sigh of relief.  My mom, who worked full time as a legal secretary, would always come home later than anyone so she would leave little notes on the small kitchen counter telling us what was in the frig that we were supposed to heat up for dinner. It was always something different for each of us but we would know who the instructions were addressed to by the title: M (for Marilyn), S (for Sam—my dad), and G (for Gordon—my brother). Those monikers stuck because I still call my brother G and he still calls me M.

I guess I didn’t know any better because my best friend, Janet, had a very strange, dysfunctional family too. In fact there were many parallels. I think living in a large apartment complex in Manhattan did not foster closeness in families. So, I simply thought it was normal to have everyone doing their own thing.

But when I look back on that magical late afternoon on Sunday, I can still feel the excitement. The anticipation was palpable and all our petty differences, and our apartness, were forgotten. I remember not even believing that a man was actually going to walk on the moon and that we would be seeing this on TV—it seemed more like a dream than reality. Never in my wildest dreams did I think that this bright mythical sphere in the sky would become real and tangible. That afternoon we gathered together in our living room in front of our black and white TV—a family, an honest to goodness family—sharing a moment in history—awestruck. It brings a smile to my face when I look back at that day and I am still in awe. After many visits to the moon, it became almost commonplace, but in 1969, for that one moment in time, we, and the entire world were united and I had a real family.

Picking Our Families

If only we could pick our families. We could go online to a dedicated site named Design Your Family or Pick Your Family, and plug in specific criteria such as physical characteristics, temperament, personality, interests, etc. There would be almost unlimited choices and we could mix and match until we achieved the perfect combination of traits that would satisfy us.

The possibilities would be endless—parents, siblings, children, spouses, and maybe even friends too. For those who are not computer savvy, Walmart would offer a specific department where there would be a Kiosk. If you did not want to use the Kiosk, you could just find a limited selection on the wall being sold at a discount. Here you would have instant gratification and pay right then and there and take your new family home with you. But, the problem is what do you do with the old models—the parents, siblings, kids, spouses who drive you crazy? I guess you could trade them in for newer, more efficient models—with energy ratings. You can take your old husband who never satisfies you, trade him in, and depending upon how much you want to spend, can purchase the model guaranteed to induce an orgasm every time. No more family resentments, squabbles, or problem children either—all that would be replaced with a blank slate for you to muck up all over again. The beauty of this is that you can trade in your family members again and again so you never have unresolved lingering issues; just trade them in and start from scratch. This service can be expanded to EBay as well. But, an issue is what would happen to the models that don’t get sold, like those poor sweet lonely Christmas trees that are still waiting for a home by Christmas Eve. Where do they go? It is so sad to see them crying out, “Please BUY ME, PLEASE,” and you know they are unwanted.

Maybe that is what would happen to these discarded family members. And how about me—what happens if I get traded in? We’d all live in fear that we’d be sold in Walmart for a discount. Am I so perfect that my family would want to keep me; I think not? The more I consider the logistics and consequences, the more this idea needs more work and may have to be shelved, but can be revisited in the future. So, for now, I guess I will muddle through with the family God has given me. But maybe I need to get in on the ground floor of this innovation before Amazon picks it up and Jeff Bezos makes even more millions on my idea.