I closed on the house! The house is officially sold.
The new owners are not hurrying me out, but, wow, it really feels weird living in someone else’s house. Truly strange. I now need to find another place to live.
The difference between this life transition and all the previous ones is my level of awareness. I have no youthful enthusiasm left. There is no idealism.
I am moving forward very carefully. I am trying to do things in an orderly fashion. I am trying to listen to my intuition.
I never thought I would be in the position of moving the two of us. When Barry got stage 4 cancer in 2008, he had only a 20% chance of living five years. I got my MBA at the end of 2012. I spent 2013 and 2014 sitting, watching TV with him, and waiting for him to die. Once he died, I would move south. Part of the problem is that he got used to me just sitting and watching TV with him. He liked it, while my soul died. Watching TV and waiting for someone to die is a soul-crushing way to live.
I woke up in 2015 to the realization that I was responsible for a disabled husband and a house, neither one of which I knew how to take care of. And taking care of both was beyond my capabilities. And then there were the crises: automotive problems, a BB through the living room window, an iffy mammogram, Barry’s possible prostate cancer (all health problems are possible because he will not get tested for anything, let alone treated), the bullet through the living room window, the abandonment by people when I needed them most, and on it went. I refuse to feel guilty about waiting for Barry to die back then because I thought it was the most compassionate response I could give, given my information at that time. Who wouldn’t want to die in the comfort of their own home? The point is that I put my life (health, career, etc.) on hold while waiting for him to die. And then he didn’t. Therefore, I am moving us elsewhere. Not my plan.
Now 2016 is two-thirds over. I am living in someone else’s house. And I want to make the next transition as sane as possible. I don’t know what I am doing.
And I am absolutely exhausted. I was sitting in the mall yesterday, trying to meditate, and was asked by a guard if I was okay. I had fallen asleep. Did he think I was passed out? Or worse? Sometimes there is not caffeine in the world to keep me awake. I have decided to try to prepare, as far as is possible, for when Barry dies so I can spend the following month sleeping. Right now I am coping, and I am good at coping. But I know that I am never going to truly relax until he dies and I am out of the perpetual caretaker role. And, if I am not careful, I will get really sick as soon as the stress lets up. That is my pattern: when the stress is on, I am okay and when it relents, I collapse. When going to school, I would get really bad colds about ten minutes after taking my final exams. Selling the house was just a small taste of some of the stress letting up. I know what comes next if I don’t prepare.
The other part of my problem is that I have no goals or dreams anymore. They have died in the past few years. I went to school with goals and ideas. That part of me died last year. Now I have an advanced degree (and the student loan debt to go along with it) to pursue goals that are dead. I just don’t care anymore. I don’t know what, if anything, I can do about that.
So the last thing I want to do is to conjure up a whole new batch of goals and dreams to motivate myself in a new direction.
I don’t know what I am doing and part of me is incapable of caring. I really need to tread carefully here.
I was wondering why there had not been much more movement on selling the house. I found out why. I came home last night from grocery shopping to a message from my realtor.
It’s a POA issue. My realtor explained that the mortgage company wanted to update my general durable POA for Barry. Not many things can make me both confused and livid all at the same time, but this did it. How do you “update” something that is permanent and supposed to last forever? Also, they wanted to see the original POA.
I could only think of one real solution: do it again. So I started looking online for general durable Michigan POA forms and found one and downloaded it. I asked my parents if they would both be witnesses and they said yes. I arranged for us to meet at FedEx Office today so I could get it notarized, only to find out last night that they no longer offer notary services. Last night I printed out the form. This morning I called the UPS Store and asked when the notary would be in and they said all day.
Then my realtor called. She explained that I did not need to get a new one and that the mortgage company would somehow help to get my current POA registered at the county courthouse. That could actually be helpful. Also, if she needed Barry’s signature, she would come over after calling us. I asked if it would be more helpful or complicating to follow through with my plan to do it all again and she said it would complicate things. So I cancelled my parents.
Finding the “original” POA is no small feat. I have several copies and cannot tell which is the original. I had it printed in lack-and-white, the pen used to sign was black, and the notary’s stamp was black. I have no idea which one is the original. My plan for doing it today was to use various colored pens for the signatures. That way, when it would be copied in black and white, I would know which was the original. Back in 2008, such a thought never occurred to me.
This is not the first POA issue I’ve had. A little more than a year ago, Sallie Mae tried to tell me that my POA had expired because the notary’s commission had expired in 2013. I had a heated discussion with them. “Look up the word ‘durable.’ It never expires! I cannot get a new POA every time a notary’s commission expires. This is insane.”
Then there would be the issue of the validity of any new POA. The person is basically declaring themselves to be of sound mind. Barry knew exactly what he was doing in 2008. Today? Not so much. It would be easily defeated in court today. Barry would sign anything for me today, if it will put me in a better mood.
The reason for my sullen mood is that I am totally responsible for everything and don’t always know what I am doing! I am expected to make bricks without straw. I am fully accountable without the necessary tools to do an adequate job. I am trying to function for two without sufficient knowledge for one.
My realtor basically had to talk me off the ledge. I told her that I will do anything to make this house sale happen and that I don’t want the buyers thinking I am holding up the process. Part of the mortgage company’s concern is to make sure there are no liens on the property or anything like that. If it takes Barry’s signature, fine. Barry and I own this house, along with the mortgage company. There are no past-due back taxes or anything similar. Just tell me how much money to bring to closing to pay off my mortgage and we will make this happen.
I just thank God for my parents’ willingness to help.
I had a tough conversation with Barry this morning.
I know he does not want to leave Michigan, so I’ve been contemplating how to leave without him. Do I need a divorce? Can we just be separated? How do I go about getting half his Social Security and pension? (It shouldn’t be all that problematic, seeing as I already have general durable POA over him).
When I started the conversation, he made it clear he wanted to be with me. I explained that I am not capable of taking care of both him and the house; that’s why the house has been on the market for a year. Taking care of him is no fun, but doing that plus dealing with the house is not possible. I am falling further behind all the time. I truly suck as a homeowner.
I also explained that, as his health goes downhill, my ability to take care of him does not automatically improve. I told him that the only reason we were still in Michigan is because I didn’t think he would live this long. If I had suspected even a tiny bit that we would still be here in 2016, I would have walked away from the house and declared bankruptcy. We would be halfway towards restoring our credit by now. I told him that in a couple of years, we will not be together anyhow. Either he will be dead or in a nursing home and I will be trying to visit him when I can. I reminded him of his dad’s choice to die the day before entering a nursing home. The longer and harder he holds on, the less he is going to like the choices I will be forced to make.
I feel like a horrible person, but also greatly relieved. I feel like, at the very least, I am not making these plans and then springing them on him from out of nowhere. Also, I don’t want to be suicidal and, with no light at the end of the tunnel, I have been going to bed lately hoping not to wake up. This is a walking, talking death and I just don’t have much to lose anymore.
I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the disruption, or rupture, of Pema Khandro’s article.
We have all had it. That moment of losing one’s footing, of getting the rug pulled out from under us. It is disorienting, jarring.
Physical pain can cause it, as can emotional trauma. We have all been in that kind of pain. It stops you dead in your tracks. The world becomes very small very quickly. Time operates differently. There are no plans because the concept of a future becomes meaningless.
I spent most of last year in that state. I am looking for something a whole lot better than terminal trauma.
That sense of time standing still is a by-product of trauma. It is also the end of learning. Learning requires a sense of continuity, of cause-and-effect. I have known far too many people that live for the moment. They are, to put it nicely, not very bright, in general. Their living for the moment is based upon some very bad assumptions: the social safety net will be there for them in a time of need, their friends and family will be helpful when necessary, their incomes will continue regardless of their behavior, etc. Karma catches up with them and, oops, they are on the verge of homelessness.
Living solely for today is a recipe for disaster when tomorrow does come. For example, this past week, one of Barry’s sisters called us on the phone late at night and left drunken voicemail messages. Does she even remember what she did? This is why I don’t drink. I already have shame issues; I cannot imagine what I would feel if I recalled leaving drunken messages on my brother’s voicemail. Alcohol reduces people’s inhibitions and her behavior proved what I have always said: inhibitions are good and people desperately need them. Do what you want, but not much learning will likely occur if you are intoxicated when you do the questionable behavior. I firmly believe it is fine to make mistakes. Every human makes mistakes. The problem is when learning from those mistakes does not occur. I am not responding to the drunken messages because there would be no point in doing so. I just felt bad for her, sitting at home drinking alone and calling us in the middle of the night. It struck me as sad. I am not angry, but I am also not going to invite her to Barry’s funeral when that day comes. I don’t want drunk people there. I’ve been to funerals when drunken people show up. It is hard to watch. Tomorrow will come. The sun rises and the consequences for one’s behavior become all too real.
I have been looking for a different perspective, one less trauma-based and more fluid. Stephen Levine, of course, is helpful. Reading A Year to Live has been very interesting. I keep running into processes.Maybe this is what I am attuned to right now. Talking about a commitment to life, on page 40 he says, “We take responsibility for being alive, recognizing that responsibility is the ability to respond instead of the compulsion to react. We explore it all: that in us which at times wishes to be dead as well as that in us which never dies.” Then, on page 85, talking about a life review, he says:
“It takes a thousand moments of remembering for us to stay open long enough to relate wholeheartedly to our past instead of from it. And to recognize that what you imagined to be unworkable is already in process….When we sense there is something in us greater than even our sacred emptiness can describe, first our body, then our mind, and soon our heart, dissolve into a clarity and vastness for which the word God would be insufficient.”
Let’s look at the verbs: recognizing, remembering, sensing, dissolving. Even the word “process” is mentioned.
I read those things and had a Eureka! moment. That’s it. I need to focus on processes and which processes I want to be a part of. Processes include: doing dishes, yard work, learning Spanish, volunteering, meditating, emotional and spiritual transformation, etc. Movement is a sign of life. If something doesn’t move or respond, it is time to check it for a pulse. If I am going to live, I want to be careful about the processes I involve myself in.
The latest issue of Tricycle has an article called “We are not One” about interconnections, nonduality, and karma. It is thought provoking. It talks about how the “need to feed” is a sign that we are truly separate, how we must all feed on one another. What makes us one is what we do, not our essence.
I have to agree with the article regarding many things. If we were truly one, then your eating dinner would fill my stomach. Compassion would be unnecessary because my getting a good night’s sleep would leave you well-rested. Your traveling would open my eyes. Sometimes, especially economically, life truly is a zero-sum game. The delusion of uncontrolled capitalism is that of infinite resources and markets. The concept of karma would be rendered meaningless if my wearing heavy clothes kept you warm. The article talks about how some people use nonduality as a way of rationalizing their lack of positive actions. I agree. Nonduality can be a warm, fuzzy concept that gives people false reassurance of the benevolence of their selfishness. I’ve seen it used that way. Karma means “action” and not just sending pleasant thoughts to others.
The flip side that the article did not go into is the invisible interconnections we all share and are unaware of. I have always been a systems thinker and found invisible interconnections fascinating. You press a button here and something pops up somewhere else. You don’t see the result and the person elsewhere sees the event happening in front of them as completely random.
I believe we are on the leading edge of just beginning to understand some of the more interesting aspects of the web we live in. I believe that some people actually do have psychic powers. I don’t seem to be one of them, but I have friends that are very in-tune with the spiritual realm and information that the rest of us do not have immediate access to. This is why I am more agnostic than atheist: Just because I cannot see something doesn’t make it unreal. People I know are frustrated at our government’s ability to access our personal data. Take that concern and add in the psychics. How can you have anything resembling privacy when there are people that can seriously read your mind?! We don’t generally see the interconnections, but that doesn’t mean that others are incapable of doing so.
The foundation of some the weirder aspects of interconnectedness is quantum entanglement. Given that our molecules are continually being recycled, we are literally connected to everything. We are made of star stuff.
Right now, my life is very limited, with taking care of Barry and the house. I wish I could be refreshed by someone else resting. I wish I could use my skills by someone else holding down a job. My life doesn’t feel worth living sometimes and there is no light at the end of the tunnel most of the time. I try to convince myself otherwise, of course, but with only limited success. No one can give me my life back. No one can do my work for me. There are simply things others cannot do for me. The social isolation is real. I am truly not “one” with others in any meaningful way. I wish.
The latest issue of Shambhala Sun has an interesting article by Rachel Neumann about a woman getting married. It was her husband’s idea. Her father even asked if he could use the word “marriage.” The couple grudgingly, but only at the end of the ceremony. The couple made no promises and then ran into the Pacific Ocean—“taking the plunge after taking the plunge.” The author/bride wanted the ceremony to acknowledge the impermanence of everything. “Marriage, from the little I’d seen, seemed a strange and false ritual: a public display of certainty about something that was by its nature private and transitory.” (p. 27, March 2015) Amen, sister.
This may sound stupid, but I’ll say it anyway. I am struggling with two things right now: life and death. Can anyone say, “Duuuuuuuh”? These are the universal concerns of all humanity. And I am struggling in particular with people’s/society’s total denial regarding them both.
For example, I need to call the long-term-care insurance people to see what I can get in terms of respite care. I want to work (or at least get out of the house) regularly during the week and I am not comfortable leaving Barry alone for extended regular periods of time. This is due to the fact that, first, he had cancer and was terminally ill and that, second, he lived through all of that and is still here. He will not be happy with me being gone, but I have put my life on hold for years now and I am getting beyond stir crazy.
Another example. I have a god sister that is turning sixty this year and is going back to school. So far, so good, right? Not so fast. When I mentioned that she might be working for the next umpteen years, she kid of chuckled like, “Uh. I don’t think so.” She has no husband, children, or pension. Social Security was never designed to be an elderly person’s sole income, let alone help that person pay off their mortgage. When it was invented, during the depression, many assumptions were in place. The elderly were expected to live with their children, men were assumed to have pensions, women were assumed to have husbands, and the property of the elderly was supposed to have been paid off, providing the receiving family of the elderly parents with some financial assistance to help take care of mom and dad. Veronica violates every single assumption. Will Social Security be sufficient for her to pay her mortgage, keep up with utilities, and feed her? I certainly do not assume so—but she clearly does. She needs to go to the Social Security Administration office and find out exactly what she will receive, not just assume that everything will be fine. It will break my heart if I find out, years from now after I have left Michigan, that she ended up homeless. Needless to say, she hasn’t purchased a cemetery plot for herself or anything like that. She is prepared for neither death nor life.
Rachel Neumann is wise. She understands the transitoriness of everything. She is also not 21 years old. She has already spent many years with the “man on the bus” that she recently married. She is honest with herself. Compare that with, say, myself. I was clueless in my early twenties, not to mention in a great deal of self-deception. I had no idea what I wanted, needed, or felt. I am only discovering these things now. What I do know is that if I had had even a shred of self-confidence back then, there is zero possibility I would have gotten married back then.
I think many young women (but not as many) today feel their options constrained today for similar reasons. Also, I believe that raging hormones encourage us to make commitments that we have no genuine way of knowing if they are even worth keeping. And then internalized religious/social oppression keeps us in these relationships (again, not as frequently as in the past). When cooler bodies prevail, fewer commitments are made, oddly enough.
Being honest with oneself is tough. Many people never are. I am still struggling to deal with the consequences of choices I made twenty-some years ago. I am in the process of purchasing my own (and Barry’s) grave marker. I am way more prepared for death than for life. Am I alone or in good company? I may never know.
“Time for the Buddhist is flow; the past flows through the present and into the future. Time is also singular; the present contains the past and the future is necessitated on the present. That is not to say the past determines the present or the present determines the future; but that the past provides the condition for the present to be effected and the present influences the outcome of the future. Nor do I intend to present time as divided into three distinct and easily distinguishable parts. There is no such thing as Past, Present, and Future; for the Buddhist there is only flow of time. The Buddhist would also say that time has always existed and all pasts, presents, and futures are part of a single cosmic (or atomic) moment.”
The Buddhist Concept of Time in Depictions of Parinirvana
I have always been fascinated with the concept of “flow,” even reading books by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. There exists a state in which knowledge comes fluidly and efficiency increases exponentially. It is beyond description. I do not understand it. I have experienced it a few times.
At the same time, I don’t think this reality is related to some of the “eternal now” psychobabble so popular these days. The idea that this moment is all there is is the essential problem of our culture today. One can easily live on Facebook, always posting and awaiting responses from one’s friends and family. The “eternal now” philosophy dovetails nicely with unending entertainment, ceaseless TV viewing, and the illusion of accomplishment. We sit in front of a glowing screen for hours a day while our productive years slip away. (And the planet heats up and the oceans rise, etc.)
I try to imagine Kwan Yin putting up her feet, reclining, eating a bacon double cheeseburger, and saying, “Live for the moment for that is all there is.”
Most religions have some sense of urgency. It might come in the Christian form of the one-life-to-live model or the Buddhist every-human-birth-is-a-great-opportunity model.
The issue is one of where the sense of urgency comes from. Some companies violate the principle greatly by having every task deemed “urgent.” The result is what you see in emergency rooms: only the person passing out or bleeding the hardest gets any attention at all. Not everything is an emergency and artificially manufacturing a sense of urgency only proves to everyone that nothing truly urgent was ever occurring in the first place. Urgency cannot ever be manufactured convincingly. It makes even the most severe situations look like nothing more than ploys for attention.
So where the heck does real urgency come from? Zen masters will tell people to meditate as if their hair were on fire. This urgency is reinforced with meditations on the fact that we all are of the nature to grow sick and die.
But I’m unsure that that is sufficient. Death is inevitable. How can the inevitable motivate anyone?
I am finding the ongoingness of life to be a much greater threat. The question isn’t, “OMG. What if I die?” The real issue is, “Oh, shit. What if I live? What if I outlive my income? Then what?” I thought Barry would die a few years ago—and made plans accordingly. Oops. He’s still alive and I am still stuck in Michigan. I am now trying to figure out how exactly to move with no help from an invalid husband, a situation I never planned on. Another example is a friend’s roommate, who is living in my friend’s basement, which is a huge step up from being homeless (her previous condition). She said she thought she was too old to go back to school. My response? “What if you’re still working thirty years from now? How is now too late?” We had all just gone out to eat for her fiftieth birthday. Dead people don’t require food, clothing, and housing. The living do.
I don’t understand time, but I do understand that this moment is not the only one that exists. Later does come eventually. The choices we make now determine the choices we even have later. To me, the sense of urgency comes from knowing that, one day, we will no longer have choices available to us and will have to passively accept the consequences of our previous choices. This is not a pretty picture for many people.
Somewhere, it might be Penney Peirce the intuitive expert, I heard the Be-Do-Have concept. The idea is that you start at the beginning (Be) and one step naturally leads to the next. Given my tendencies towards minimalism lately, I am now contemplating the whole cycle more lately.
What do I want to be? I want to be the person that helps people/organizations to know what they really want to be/do. In other words, I want to be a consciousness-raiser.
I believe that we are raised to be unconscious, to be driven by societal expectations. When I was growing up, the expected sequence of events was thus: go to school, get married, get a house, and start a family. There are too many assumptions in this sequence to even count. Not everyone is suited for a college education. Also, if you wait until you are finished with your education, you may never end up getting married. The house concept only works if someone makes enough money and someone (else, probably) has the time to take care of it. What if your prospects for marriage are dim, but you still want kids? It goes on and on.
My particular situation has forced many re-evaluations in my life. One reality is that of student loan debt. I cannot afford a lot of stuff and pay off Sallie Mae in a reasonable period of time. I personally believe that student loan debt is slowing/preventing any real economic recovery. We are the only “developed” nation that expects its young people to foot the bill for their own education. This forces young people to move to cities because no one can afford to commute when gas prices are pushing $4/gallon. Owning a car is just not practical. Or buying a house. Or eating out. Sallie Mae has dibs on our tax refunds, if we are fortunate enough to qualify for one.
Another aspect of my situation is that I cannot care for the possessions I have. There is no point in acquiring more. I never thought I would say this, but I want to vacuum, but can’t in a real way. Huntington’s makes Barry less tolerant of variation/change. Moving the furniture around to do a decent job of vacuuming would drive him batty. I do what I can, but have been forced to rethink the idea of spring cleaning. What can I do or not do? This requires thought. When I eventually stop shoveling, I will start spring cleaning.
Becoming more conscious is difficult, but life has ways of jolting you into reality. One thing I have heard, and believe, is that, beyond $50k/year, more money does not add to one’s quality of life. Once you have food, clothing, shelter, transportation, communication, and health care, more money does not help. At that point, you are supporting the 1% at your own expense. Marketers are amazing at blurring the line between needs and wants. Stressed? Just watch TV and be marketed to endlessly.
Speaking of unconsciousness, I have made friends with a Protestant minister. He is a wonderful person and an awesome listener. However, like many Protestants, I suspect his intellect is slowly declining. He and I were emailing back-and-forth. I quoted the Buddha regarding not trusting anything simply because it is in a scripture or because someone else says it is true. This is his response:
“There is actually a lot of knowledge I accept based on other people’s credentials. I’ve never actually scene a quark, but I trust that some scientists really have “seen” one. I don’t have the time or energy to fully explore it myself. I take it on trust. I think that’s a kind of “proper confidence” in the source of the knowledge. It seems to me that at times the question really is more “what is proper to have confidence in and what is not proper to have confidence in”?”
My response was instant: “Check things out for yourself or you will fall behind intellectually very quickly. You will find yourself in a conversation with someone that has done their homework and be flabbergasted at just how far behind you have fallen. I don’t want you to fall behind. Check everything out for yourself.” He hasn’t responded. I am not surprised. I believe that a person can have a 180 IQ, become a Protestant, live in that Christian Bubble, and be an idiot within a decade. I’ve seen it. He’s a very fine family man and has a lot of integrity, but will lose IQ points just like anyone else if he maintains the attitude that some things are trustworthy simply because of someone’s credentials. Such an attitude is discernment-free. He has made himself an unwary target for the unscrupulous. Credentials do not equal good judgment or wisdom. I’m sure he will learn, the hard way, of course, as we all do.
Our culture is unconscious. Barry’s cancer woke me up. It takes something different for everyone. Being unconscious is easy, but costly. Someone will always be willing to take responsibility for your life—for their own benefit. Taking responsibility is hard, but once you do it, it becomes impossible to imagine any other way of life.
I have been carefully using my resources (and shoveling), looking for inspiration. So I’ve also been reading a lot. My reading seems to always find a theme, probably the one I most need subconsciously.
Lately the theme has been about breaking free from old systems. I believe freedom and responsibility go together. Responsibility without freedom is slavery; freedom without responsibility is license. My emphasis for the past few years has been taking responsibility for my life. Now, it seems, it is freedom’s turn to take over for a while.
I thought I would miss church. Not a bit. The promises were never fulfilled, but the responsibilities were all too real and demanding. I thought I might miss school. Not so much. I love learning. I will never stop. But I do not miss spending hundreds of dollars per term on books or doing the gazillions of group projects.
I am now listening very intently to my life for clues to what to do. That requires a certain level of boredom, I have discovered. As long as I constantly distract myself with TV or internet or whatever, my feelings never clarify. I have to get to the point of feeling, “I can’t take this anymore. I really need ________.” When I can fill in the blank, I can progress forward rather quickly. Very interesting.
“Our soul work, quite simply, is to find and remove whatever gets in the way of our being who we are.” Angeles Arrien Walking the Mystical Path with Practical Feet, Lotus, Winter 1991 issue
That sounds so simple and like a recipe for minimalism, but that’s not necessarily what it is. It could also just as easily be a motivation for questioning our participation in any and all organizations, especially hierarchies that work very well for the few and not so well for the many.
I see a new world being born. I see it in community-supported agriculture, in non-profits meeting the needs of citizens (and avoiding bureaucracies as much as possible), in Buddhism and peace spreading far and wide, and so many other ingenious and ultimately subversive activities.
The old, conservative guard is feeling rightfully threatened. Their world is falling apart, without a doubt. The problem for them is that they lack the flexibility to respond appropriately to a quickly-changing world. While they wait for permission to do something, some young person is taking responsibility (there’s a concept!) and simply doing what needs to be done, with or without anyone else’s approval.
Young people are not waiting for permission to live their lives anymore.
It used to be that older people would patronizingly pat the heads of young people and say, “Someday, you’ll understand.” Now, it’s the young person patting the elder’s head, saying, “I know you don’t approve. That’s okay. I don’t expect you to understand.”
Wow. What a different world I live in. It’s beautiful to those of us that welcome it. It, literally, is the end of the world for people trying to live in a past long gone. Pity is the only response.