Saturday, September 6, 2014

Three Weddings and a Funeral

A strange thing happened last week.  I learned that a dear woman passed away at the age of only 45, and then spent hours in a group chat message on Facebook, occasionally crying-- from laughter.    The next day, I attended her funeral service, and left with a light heart and a smile on my face.  Now, before you start calling me Chuckles Inappropriate or Jerky McAwfullyrude (both names you can save for this guy who, I'm so glad to say, was the guy I punched for giving me a wet willie years ago) please let me explain.

Deresha "Dee"
Dee was my manager for the 5 years that I worked at Hops Restaurant, Bar & Brewery starting in 2001.  She was a really good boss, but more than that, she was a caring, generous, kind, funny, direct, hard-working person.  I cannot recall a time when she was late to work or missed a shift.  She was a single mom of three daughters, and yet still managed to be utterly dependable as an employee, which is very rare, from my experience.  She was promoted to General Manager of the restaurant, and worked diligently to ensure quality food and service every single day until the bankrupt parent company closed our doors for good.  I remember her being really good at staying just enough involved in the personal lives of those of us who worked for her.  She always knew who was dating whom, who was mad and why, who was having problems at home, so nothing we did ever seemed to surprise her.  However, unlike every other almost every other restaurant manager I've known, she didn't cross the line.  Her relationships with her employees were always appropriate; she didn't hang out with us outside of work or blur the lines between boss & friend.  Dee was remarkably forgiving, except of laziness.  She had a fantastic sense of humor, a sharp wit, and was a true, rabid fan of wrestling.
This picture makes me wonder if there are things I enjoy that are as mind-boggling to others as wrestling is to me.  I just don't get it.
After a friend broke the news of her death to me, I sent a message on Facebook to a few other Hops friends with a link to her online obituary.  Within a few minutes, several of us on the group message contacted other former co-workers and added them to the conversation.  By the end of the day, there were more than 30 people chatting, reminiscing, sharing stories about Dee, and remembering all the time we spent together.  The activity sidebar on my page was filled with old friends becoming Facebook friends, having just found each other after years.  The Facebook conversation even included updates about former coworkers who don't have Facebook accounts, but who were thought of and phoned by friends who had been silent for months or years.  It was a truly happy, fun, LOL conversation, and one unlike any I've had before.

I was glad to be able to attend her funeral service, and saw there the Hops kitchen manager and his wife.  I have no idea what the average number of funerals attended is for someone my age, but I would venture to guess that the 6 or 7 services I've been to is pretty normal.  Every funeral is different, of course, but Dee's was different in new-to-me ways.  Her family and many other attendees wore all white, for one thing.  The change from dark attire was not mentioned, but I feel that they must have chosen to wear white in order to remember that they were celebrating her life and focusing not on grief, but on her peace and freedom from pain and sickness.  One of Dee's daughters sang a beautiful solo, unaccompanied by any music or fanfare.  I got goosebumps when she broke into tears in the middle of the song and the crowd picked up singing right where she had left off.  Her voice was passionate and rich and I could have listened to song after song.  A granddaughter of Dee's, about age 7, wrote and recited a short poem that was completely heartfelt and managed to be funny without being the least bit disrespectful.  Others stood and spoke about Dee, reflecting on her love for God and family, her stubbornness, wit, kindness, and strength.  More than one person remarked on how she never complained of pain or suffering, despite having been wheelchair bound or bedridden for 4 years before her death.  It was a beautiful service, and a loving remembrance of an influential woman.

By my count, Hops produced three weddings, six bridesmaids, six children, and hundreds of lasting, true friendships.  Working at Hops may have also been the catalyst for a few divorces and some criminal activity, but I chose not to count those.  I realize that Dee was not Hops in a literal sense, but for those of us that worked with her there, there's no talking about one without the other.

Former Hops employees have circled heads.  Just sometimes, though.
Met each other and her maid of honor at Hops.  Incidentally, Dee died owing me $100 for a bet I won about whether or not these two would stay together.
I realized something rather profound about Dee.  She changed the world.  She was born about 20 miles from where she lived and died, and her time was relatively short.  She worked in restaurants all her adult life.  She didn't earn a doctorate degree or run for political office or donate gobs of money to charities.  She didn't travel the world, invent new technologies, or cure disease.  Yet, she changed the lives of so many people who knew her, and she used the talents and gifts she had to make her world better.  Obviously, I can only speak of her life changing influence for myself, but I can attest that she challenged me, encouraged me, made me work hard, and ultimately helped make me who I am today.  She had the unique gift of being able to give someone advice in a roundabout way that made the person think they knew what they should do all along.  She could also seem mean and sharp tongued.  As one of my friends put it, "I always thought she was mad or hated me, but then she would secretly be doing something nice for me behind my back."  Dee didn't want credit for her kindness, and she was too good of a manager to be sweet all the time.  She did what needed to be done, and complaining about the hard things or applauding herself for the remarkable kindnesses were both a waste of time.

Speaking of wasting time, she would probably have stopped reading this post wayyyyy up there, and rolled her eyes about my going on and on for so long.  The thing is, it's hard to say good-bye when there's so much else to say.  I'll conclude with this:  Helen would have wanted random acts of kindness done in her memory.  I believe Dee would want us to get to work, and to work hard at everything, no matter how insignificant it might seem.  You might not realize whose world you're changing, just by being in it.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Losing Words

I have 4 blog posts queued up, waiting to be finished.  One tells about Rip Claw, and how we finally finished the lengthy process of gifted testing and enrolled him in the program at a new school.
Well, Gifted, anyway. 
He'll start later this month, and we have high hopes that he'll enjoy 2nd grade in a way that he was not able to enjoy kindergarten or first grade.  In another post, I excitedly started to share my Summer Reading list (#1- Nica of Los Angeles by Sue Perry [Bonus! If you want to solve the vague mystery of my real first name, check out the dedication page. That's me!] #2-#5 Connie Willis' time travel series starting with Doomsday Book and ending with All Clear. #6- One Summer by Bill Bryson which I know I mentioned before, but still haven't been able to talk to anyone about, so I'm pushing it on you again.  Read it!) by rambling on about a dream I had where the ocean turned into buildings.  Two posts are mostly about my running, but also about racing, Facebook, training, life, job searching, migraines, blogging and cheesecake.
Homemade cheesecakes with from-scratch caramel sauce and fresh, real whipped cream might deserve their own post.

The one thing they all have in common is that they all end right around here.

Not this time!  See?  You keep scrolling, there are more words.

The problem, of late, is something like writer's block.  Oh, and I kind-of hate running.  Also, I forget things like I'm a highly paid executive at Forget Me, Inc.  I've been sleeping poorly and making bad choices, like this shirt set that I recently purchased for myself (yes, with real, U.S. dollars).
Hot pink lace bandeau with strappy, gauzy, grape colored tank.
The day after ordering the shirt set online, I remembered that I'm 38-nearly 40!, laughed aloud, and decided that I would be sending it back.  7 FULL DAYS LATER I remembered that I'm only 35, but that doesn't justify my owning anything in these colors, made of these fabrics, or cut in these styles, and still planned to send the items back.  Today, the items were delivered.  Tomorrow, they will be returned, with my apologies.

I do have a reason, or at least a theory, to explain all this nonsense.  Drugs.  Specifically, Topamax, the prophylactic medication prescribed by my new neurologist, Dr. T, early last month to reduce the number of headaches and migraines I get from somewhere in between godawful and shocking to a more normal number.  Both Dr. T and my good pharmacist friend, Dr. B, informed me that, much like with any medication, this one comes with some potential side effects.  (Dr. T actually said that the main side effect would be that all my fingernails would be painted the same color, but that's because I visited him on the 3rd of July after painting some of my nails red, some blue, and leaving one unpainted for the Independence Day festivities to come.  I think it bothered him a whole awful lot.  Funny thing is, I don't think I had painted my nails at all for about 6 years prior to that day.)  Tingling in the hands, feet, and maybe around the mouth, is a common one.  Also, feeling a mental fogginess or spacing out.  "You may have trouble saying the words you want to say; feel a sense of disconnection."  The 10-page paper that came with the prescription also mentioned depression, suicidal thoughts ("call your healthcare provider right away, but do not stop taking this medication suddenly, as that can cause an increase in suicidal tendencies"), and the usual "rare but serious..."

After almost a week on the medication, I started feeling tingling in my hands and feet.  No big deal.  Dr. T had said the tingling would go away after the medicine built up in my body and I got used to it, which was one of the reasons he gave me a titration schedule (yeah, I know words like that 'cause I have a pharmacist for a friend) to let it build up slowly.  About two weeks after, I noticed the tingling all the time, especially while exercising, and my running started to suffer.  My pace kept climbing, which really isn't that big of a deal during these hot, humid Florida summers, but I started describing every run with words like "blah" or "blech" or "barf."  And really meaning it, because I was really dreading every one of them, even though they were marathon training runs and I had an incentive set up for myself for finishing a month's worth of them.

Greek food.  I love it desperately.  Charming hates it almost as much.  What could make for a better personal treat for a month of marathon training?

After just over 4 weeks on the medication, I had my first experience with the word loss side effect.  I expected it to feel like the word was on the tip of my tongue.  No.  I lost the word 'lowered.'  When I say I lost it, I mean it was as if it had never before existed in my life.  Drs. T & B both mentioned a disconnection, and I'm sure that's because other people on this medication have experienced exactly what I felt.  It was as if one small part of my brain was whispering "lowered" and the rest of my brain and body were just laughing and taunting, like, "Ha!  You think that's a word?  No.  Don't use that.  Nope.  Won't work.  Can't do it.  Don't even try.  Not a word.  Never heard it.  You're thinking of ______." And then I think I actually saw a big sad face in my head, because I couldn't think of a word.  Eventually, within what felt like 20 minutes but was probably 20 seconds, I came up with the word 'lowered' and it was the right word, but it was as if my brain had been disconnected from the rest of me.  I couldn't make myself use the word 'lowered.'  Later that same day, I said to still-football-obsessed Rip Claw, "Did you know the Giants and Bulls are playing the Pro Bowl game this week?"  I knew I meant the Bills, not the Bulls, and I knew I meant the Hall of Fame game, not the Pro Bowl, but I couldn't say the right words.

A few days later, I started putting together all the pieces.  It's hard, when your brain doesn't work, to figure things out, but eventually, I did it.  Unfinished blog posts.  Hating running.  Hating Facebook more than ever.  Un-returned phone calls.  Looking forward to sitting on the couch.  Throwing the iPod in a bowl of rice for a week rather than figuring it out that I accidentally set it on repeat.  Letting Rip Claw watch Spongebob for a sickening amount of time.  Letting Cupcake memorize the "Go Potty Go" DVD from the library, yet letting her Never Potty Never.  Realizing that many of my text message responses are "I don't care" or "whatever."  Not studying any fantasy football or doing any mock drafts even though the real drafts are coming up in just a couple of weeks. 

I knew my college degree in Psychology would come in handy someday.  I've got the anhedonia!  Okay, so that's not usually a term used with an exclamation point.  It means I've lost interest in things that I used to care about.  It's another side effect.  Now, listen.  Before you start to worry, I'll have you know, I was screened by a nurse just the other day.  I was told to answer, over the past 2 weeks, how many days I had felt a bunch of things like hopeless, failure, fatigue, etc., 0, 3, 5, 7, or 14.  I kept wanting to answer 1 or 4 or 8 or 6 or 57.  Is that weird?  But, she wasn't worried.  I'm not clinically depressed.  And strange nurses don't want to confirm whether or not you're just anhedonic, or if that's actually a word.  I have had ZERO-as in NOT ONE suicidal thought.  I've lost my words.  Literally, that one time, when lowered was gone, and for the past month, when I couldn't make them come out and make sense on the ol' blog.

Now, you may be wondering why running, having been an almost constant source of joy, drenching my brain with powerful endorphins, is not helping me through this tough mental battle.  Well, it seems like I'm just in a perfect storm of awful, lately.  All my runs in July and August, except for half of two, were solo.  Sickeningly hot.  Maddeningly slow.  That's not fun, but it's still running.  However, I managed to do something to some part of my body somewhere along the way, and now I have plenty of time to reminisce and appreciate all of those terrible runs while I sit on the couch in excruciating pain.

X-rays were negative, there's nothing wrong with my joints.  Doppler ultrasound showed nothing wrong with my circulation and no clots (I wore good underpants again, don't worry) in this leg, blood work showed no sign of infection or rheumatism or whatever else they were checking for.  The therapeutic masseuse concentrated her efforts on the Obturateur externe, Adductor and Quad muscles (Did you know there were four of them?  I responded like she said everyone does to that information "Oh, duh.").  She also worked on evening out my noticeably uneven hips.  Result seems to be that now I'm limping straighter than before.

Time for the good news!  I haven't had a headache in over a week!  I'm still taking the Topamax for that reason, and because I don't think it's the fault of the medicine that I can't move my leg.  Pretty soon, I'll know if it can prevent my hormone-triggered, debilitating migraines.  I would gladly lose many more words to be rid of those for good.

I feel like I should leave you with a helpful piece of unsolicited advice, since that's kinda why I'm here.  So, I'll recommend that you do side planks instead of forward planks.  If you're like me, you hate them with a vehemence because they're really hard to do.  That's because those muscles are weak.  You know what?You'll never regret getting stronger.

Please share a bit of good news!

Greek food- love it or hate it?