nurturing thursdays: did you talk to your child today?

My daughter and I spoke at some length this evening, after she got home from teaching dance classes and rehearsing students for an upcoming competition. We’re indeed blest to share such closeness all these years, talking on the phone for hours…like best girlfriends.

It wasn’t always that way.

Until she was 16 when I accompanied her to Georgia to train with Atlanta Ballet, I was mom. I set the rules and she followed them. It wasn’t like I had to punish her, it’s just that she knew the boundaries within which to operate to keep everything on an even keel. Because my husband’s job kept him on the road and at the office from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., I functioned like a single parent. Even more so when my daughter and I lived in Atlanta while he remained  in Washington, working to pay the bills.

The boundaries were stretched when she dated her first boyfriend. Their relationship lasted 3 years or so, during which time there were the usual highs and lows accompanying first love. Hers. He’d already been in and out of several relationships. On my own to figure things out, I did my best. There were conflicts for sure, but my daughter knew I always had her back. Early on I tried to send the guy packing because I thought he was pretty selfish. I relented when she ran after him. Eventually he drew me in with his charm. I was still under his spell when my daughter finally broke up with him. Thank goodness she did. He really was a selfish opportunist.

My daughter fared no better with the next few romances. She kept dating losers. Eventually these failed relationships coupled with a profession that requires so much emotional and physical stamina, caused her to spiral downwards into depression. She eventually reached out to us. Thankfully! Bursting into tears on the phone, she immediately agreed to come home so we could help her. 

I flew east to help her pack and see to last minute arrangements. The ballet company kindly offered to hold her job until she returned. For 2 months, our daughter was under psychiatric care. It was determined that a concussion she’d had as a child probably altered her brain chemistry. Unbeknownst to us at the time, the accident skewed her perception of reality. Dance probably helped divert her attention from negative thoughts. There’s just so much choreography to memorize.

Only when she encountered the usual mind games that come with a job and a boyfriend, did our daughter start to overthink everything. On the cusp of adulthood, she tried to tackle her problems on her own. Dance friends her age were little help, since they were burdened with their own problems. Years passed; things worsened. A psychologist she engaged only made our daughter’s task more daunting. She could not figure out how to put her life back together again after those raw, gut-wrenching, one-on-one sessions. Her safety net, my husband and I, lived 2,000 miles away.

With the help of a few close friends to whom she finally opened up, our daughter started to find her way out of the black hole that engulfed her. Thank God for them. Thank God she reached out for help. Thank God my husband didn’t think twice about bringing her home so we could help her heal. Six years later, she’s excited to be marrying a young man who cherishes her for who she is. Her happiness is priceless.

Today my daughter told me of a 12-year-old dancer in one of her classes who lost her brother this week…to suicide. He text his friends, thanking them for trying to help. He told them they did all they could, and asked that they help his parents. Rumor has it that he had been distraught over a failed relationship. Although it’s not certain.

My daughter cried on and off the day she heard of the young man’s death. And the following day, she thought “He was only 16. A baby. And he didn’t live to see today.” She still registered disbelief when telling me about it.

Talking to our children is a lifetime blessing. We wield so much influence over them, whether we know it or not. We can never take for granted that…

…our loving words…can save their lives.

…i know.

………hugmamma.img_5209.jpg

(View more inspirational thoughts at…
https://beccagivens.wordpress.com/2016/05/05/nurt-thurs-would-you-glow/

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parents matter…

The role we play in the lives of our children really does have a lifelong impact. Whether we are good at it or not so good, will affect the adults our children grow up to become. It follows the rule of…cause and effect.

For most of us the path is unpredictable. It’s not like hitting a bull’s eye with a bow and arrow. Or is it?

I’ve never shot an arrow, but I imagine that when you pull the arrow back there’s a quiver in the movement which you must control so as to hit the target. That momentary quiver might be compared to the push and pull parents and children engage in as they strive to become independent. Not all “hit the mark” set by society.

Special needs children are doubly challenging for parents ill-equipped to manage their youngster’s early years, not to mention when they become teenagers and young adults. Their journey towards independence requires a lot more strength…to keep the bow from quivering so much that the arrow misses its mark altogether. More patience is required to keep a steady hand, no matter the repetitive practice involved.

Introducing guns into the mix is likely to upset the fine balance necessary in youngsters’ lives already compromised. Once they begin to think for themselves, they begin to make their own judgement calls.

A gun in the hand of a youngster beset by his own trials and tribulations can be a tool to end it all…as in the cases of the Newtown, Connecticut and Umpqua,Oregon shooters.

California just adopted the “right to die” law allowing assisted suicide for terminally ill patients. It is only the 5th state to enact this law. A testament to the fact that lawmakers, all right-thinking adults politically appointed to make decisions for their constituency, have pondered long and hard whether or not to allow suicide under any circumstance.

Why then would a parent put a gun in the hands of a youngster who, at times, struggles with life? The responsibility if he takes his own life and the lives of others must be shared by those making guns accessible to him…

…including those who love him.

………hugmamma.

bullying…adults, take heed

Gosh darn! Why can’t the NFL leave the Seahawk’s Marshawn Lynch alone???

Yeah! I get he’s suppose to honor his contract about talking with the media like his fellow NFL football players. No matter the circumstances, however…bullying is bullying! Plain and simple.

The message sent to our children is that…it’s okay for adults to bully one another, especially when millions of $$$ are at stake. 

As often happens with adults, we like to think we’re above the lessons learned as children. “Been there. Done that. Now I’m all grown up so I don’t have to do that no more.”

Better we try to teach the next generations to…think outside the box when circumstances call for it. 

Can we finally dump leftover Victorian Era stupidity which…hammered round pegs into square holes…and…square pegs into round holes? 

Haven’t we yet learned in 2015 that no two human beings are alike? 

So if Marshawn Lynch can’t make small talk…which some of us can garner Oscars for…then let the man do something else which might satisfy the contract. For goodness sake’s! Even his teammates are willing to cut the guy some slack. 

So it’s not like Lynch is going to commit suicide over something stupid like this, but can we recognize why teens pushed far enough end up taking their own lives?

This is no different.

Although the NFL, and those of the same mindset, will undoubtedly hem and haw…and hide behind their standard speak…”Well, if we make an exception for one, then we’re setting a precedent, and then the whole thing starts falling apart.”

As far as I’m concerned that’s just lazy talk.

It’s too much trouble and too much money to “think outside the box.” 

The NFL and its rules are set in concrete.

So if Marshawn Lynch can’t keep his mind on the game…and his eye on the ball…it may be due in part to his being bullied. 

Something to remember the next time the NFL and the media get up on their soap boxes denouncing bullying by their players.

And something we adults need to reflect upon when…

…another kid commits suicide.

………hugmamma.

nurturing thursdays: …the end.

Misc July 2010 00057

…eyes that spoke volumes…

Watching our dear, furry companion of 13 years disintegrate before my very eyes these last several weeks has made me sensitive to those who are unable to make sense of their suffering. Whether my mom who suffered from Alzheimer’s the last decade of her life, or the young woman in Oregon who decided how and when to die rather than be ruled by incurable cancer, or Robin Williams who chose to get ahead of the demons that evidently haunted him.

“Pulling the plug” was very difficult for me. I wanted someone else…my husband, the vet, or Mocha herself…to decide. I could not wrap my brain around the idea of ending a life, even a pet’s. Yes, I’d done it before with 2 cats but in this situation, experience doesn’t soften the blow.

Fibromyalgia and arthritis are with me daily. I do whatever I can to ensure that I have more good days than bad. Of course I’m human, so I fail, probably as often as I succeed. Diet and exercise being my personal demons.

The upside is that I’m at the controls, at least for as long as I still have my wits about me. As my time draws near I’m pretty sure I won’t be calling all the shots. That’s just how it is.

What is it like when the sun gradually sets on one’s horizon? Only the one going through it knows for sure. She alone is living through every nuance of every moment. No one can step inside another’s body and experience the physical, mental, and spiritual deterioration. Not even the closest of loved ones.

Each of us is consumed with our own lives. Taking on someone else’s life, especially one fraught with emotional turmoil or mental and physical decline, is nearly impossible. Short term responsibility might be doable; going the long haul can decimate the caregiver’s life in the process.

Issues with her sciatic nerve compromised Mocha’s mobility. Her front paws did not always work. Sometimes they carried her through a brisk trot; oftentimes, she would spill forward onto her knees. Being part-terrier, part-beagle served her well for she would stubbornly pick herself up, and carry on as though nothing was amiss.

Neither pouring rain nor plummeting temperatures could deter our little pal from being about her doggy business. Mocha loved encountering the outdoors…its sights and smells. With her I bore witness to Mother Nature’s immense beauty time and again. Left to my own devices, I would choose hibernation.

Helping to stave off the inevitable, Mocha was downing meds for an underlying heart murmur as well as her debilitating sciatica. As her primary caregiver I monitored her intake of pills, deciding whether or not they were doing the job for which they were prescribed.

Were the pain meds working or were they making her condition worse? Were they causing grogginess, adding to Mocha’s inability to walk without flailing?  Were they causing digestive issues? Did they make her nauseous and not want to eat?

I could only rely upon what I saw and the symptoms Mocha exhibited, as to whether or not she was making progress, plateauing, or regressing. Perhaps if she spoke my language, we could have discussed what was really going on with her body.

And yet being able to speak doesn’t always resolve matters. There are those who aren’t up to the task…aging parents, overwhelmed or dysfunctional individuals, the mentally ill, the impoverished, and folks battling incurable diseases.

Walking that last mile is a solitary hike. Climbing the next precipice, big and small, is helped or hindered by one’s own capabilities…physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual. No two individuals are alike in that regard. Similar maybe, but never exact.

Perhaps the only props we have as we near the end are our instincts to survive and our fear of the unknown. Coming to terms with both is an individual endeavor. No one else can determine how we manage that.

In Mocha’s case, I think she just kept on going with every ounce of passion for life she had left. Only her failing body forced my decision to halt her suffering.

Surrounded by the loving veterinary staff who had catered to Mocha’s medical needs since she was a pup, I maintained eye contact with her as she succumbed to the first injection of anesthetic that lessened the impact of the second injection that ended her life.

Finally, my little friend relaxed and lengthened into peaceful composure. The pain which had racked her body since early spring had abated. Peace. And in peace relief. Maybe even a sliver of happiness.

I’m not making the case for human euthanasia or even legalized suicide. I believe in God and the sanctity of life, all life.

Compassion is just as important to me however. I can’t sit in judgment of another’s life. Only he knows the potholes he’s facing as he…

…rounds the final bend.

...sprinkling fairy dust for hugmamma...

…sprinkling fairy dust for hugmamma…

………hugmamma.

 

 

 

On Meeting Robin Williams, Twice in a Lifetime

A sweet story of Robin Williams in the part of…an ordinary man. Hugs to this generous soul for allowing us to see the humble side of a genius.
………hugmamma.

Obzervashunal

Robin Williams memories As a remembrance to one of the greatest comedic minds of our times… R.I.P., Robin W.

I only just learned he passed. I found the news on a blog post and instantly recalled the two times I met the incredibly gifted artist, named Robin Williams.

The first instance was a chance meeting, me walking down an unassuming sidewalk at dusk stuck in my thoughts when a puppy jumped on my leg. I didn’t do much thinking, I simply bend down and started playing with him. The voice offering an apology was one I knew also without the use of my thinking apparatus, Robin Williams was saying sorry for his puppy… who couldn’t talk (I think!).

We actually talked for a few minutes, mostly about the puppy. I remember having the feeling he needed not to be recognized, but to be treated like a regular guy walking a friendly, cool puppy. …

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nurturing thursdays: shine the light…on the devil

I’m getting ahead of myself publishing a post for next week’s Nurturing Thursdays. However something has occurred which I’d like to write about now, while it’s still fresh on my mind.

A young woman committed suicide.

Alone in a big city.

Illness.

Cancer.

Incurable.

Like a death knell, she took the news hard. She holed up, alone, in her apartment for a week. And then she threw herself out the window onto the sidewalk below. Barely missing a person who’d just walked by. Traumatic for that person; the end of life for another. 

Family and friends kept reaching out, trying to keep in touch. But having suffered depression before, the young woman was still caught in its stranglehold.

Depression is the devil. Not to be toyed with. Not to be entertained, even fleetingly. The devil doesn’t play games; neither does depression.

Don’t go there. 

Hang on for dear life, with all the strength you can muster.

Surround yourself with only positive influences. 

There’s no place in your life for negativity. 

Say “no” to negativity…that’s a positive step forward…and upward.

Bask in the sunshine…even if you have to switch on all the lights in the house. I do…

A high electrical bill is way better than a hospital bill…or a funeral.

Fight to live the one life you’ve been given.

Despite the darkness you encounter without…and within…the light is your friend.

Let it in…let it in…please, let it in.

…you matter…because i care…

………hugmamma.

 

 

 

 

the fickle finger of fate…then…and now

Salmon Days

Image by Jeff Youngstrom via Flickr

I remarked to my husband as we strolled through streets overflowing with out-of-towners, “Can you imagine if the shooter had chosen today to leave his mark in our midst?” With thousands drawn to celebrate the return of salmon at our annual “Salmon Days” festival, the police were out in force. A sign of the times.

Gathering from the news reports days after the incident, it seems the shooter had rented a car which he’d driven 500+ miles before running out of gas in our town. Abandoning it and taking only 2 guns from the cache later found in the car, he bypassed people going about their business, without killing anyone. 

Calls were made to 911 which confused the police. They weren’t able to discern if more than one suspect was roaming the area. It may be that he was seeking another means of escape, because the owner of a parked car called out when he saw the shooter attempt a break-in. Not long afterwards, he and the police got into a shootout and he was killed.

According to a friend of his, the shooter had visited our police station some time prior to last weekend. He was carrying an unregistered gun, for which he asked to be arrested. The police didn’t comply, claiming he’d not committed any violations. His friend felt the gunman was seeking help for himself. It is surmised that he intended to commit suicide, allowing himself to be killed during the shooting spree.

With more and more suicides cropping up in the media, I wonder at the hopelessness that seems prevalent nowadays. With money being the key to paradise, good old-fashioned values are being exorcised from society.

I am my brother’s keeper.
He’s not heavy; he’s my brother.
Treat others as you would have them treat you.
We are all God‘s children.
Share and share alike.

There are those trying desperately to curtail the suffering of those in need of help. But is it too little…too late? The ever-widening crack threatens to swallow up those who are free-falling in the current environment of negativity. Amidst the politicians and their followers who are doggedly clinging to their righteous ways, and the wealthy power brokers who are continuing to pick through the rubble snatching up “baubles” for their portfolios…human beings are being offered up as sacrificial lambs. In the grand scheme of things, they are expendable, it seems. They’re just statistics, whose numbers are ever-growing.

So rather than wait to be sacrificed, some are impaling themselves…and committing suicide. And I can’t help but think……these are someone’s children. A mother gave birth…with great hopes for ner newborn.

…what happened…to us?…where are the values upon which america was born?…

……..hugmamma.   

twice in one lifetime, memories of hiroshima

 

Atomic bombing of Nagasaki on August 9, 1945.

Image via Wikipedia

Weighing heavily upon the minds of elderly Japanese are memories of that infamous day when the atom bomb was dropped on their country, in the hopes of bringing an end to World War II. Success in achieving that goal, brought agony beyond words for countless Japanese. 

Today’s Wall Street Journal articleHiroshima‘s Legacy Heightens Fears” by Mariko Sanchanta makes the case for one who has now known the unbelievable devastation of his country, not once but twice.

Mikiso Iwasa was 16 years old when the atomic bomb struck Hiroshima on Aug. 6, 1945. He was in the backyard of his house, a little less than a mile away from ground zero. He was smashed onto the ground by the force of the bomb.

Mr. Iwasa escaped, but the effects of radiation caught up with him later. He suffered from skin cancer twice as well as prostate cancer. He lost his hair. His nose and gums bled. He developed rashes all over his body.

Victim of Atomic Bomb 003

Image via Wikipedia

For the only country ever to have experienced the atomic bomb and the horrific effects of concentrated radiation exposure, the nuclear crisis escalating in Japan has had a crippling effect on the nation’s collective psyche. 

Panic and confusion swept through Japan on Tuesday after a fresh explosion at one reactor and a fire at another at a damaged plant in Fukushima.

In Tokyo, 150 miles away, people lined up waiting for bullet train tickets to Osaka, Kyoto, Kyushu–anywhere to get as far away as possible from the northeastern coast of Japan.

The crisis comes on the heels of last year’s 65th anniversary of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima, in which the U.S.–in a poignant move–for the first time sent a representative to attend the annual memorial.

In a country famed for stoicism, there is a quiet, mounting sense of anger toward Tokyo Electric Power Co., which operates the nuclear-power plant. Mr. Iwasa, now 82 years old, accuses the government of playing down the risks. “They’re saying there was a leakage, but that it won’t affect the human body. They’re just fooling us.”

Even for a generation that didn’t experience World War II–two-thirds of the country’s people were born after 1945–Tuesday’s events were enough to send young people scurrying for cover. Reina Kudo, 19, a college student in Tokyo, said her parents have been imploring her to come home to Kansai. “Now I really want to go home,” said Ms. Kudo, at bustling Tokyo station

Japan’s confidence had already been on a decline during a decade of economic malaise. More recent blows have exacerbated this sense of despair: China this year eclipsed Japan as the world’s second-biggest economy; political infighting has resulted in five prime ministers in as many years; a record proportion of college graduates can’t find full-time jobs.

The devastation from the earthquake and the tsunami, and rising nuclear fears are now deepening the gloom as businesses close plants, foreign nationals leave and rescue efforts have only just begun in earnest.

Hiroshima in ruins, October 1945, two months a...

Image via Wikipedia

Despite the latest setbacks, some say the Japanese will persevere, as always. This catastrophe is “showing the resilience of the Japanese people,” says Jon Tanaka, a real-estate investor in Japan. “This is not so palpable to the outside world until you see it.” 

I cannot imagine another people, except maybe the Israelis, more resigned to their fate and yet never relinquishing the hope that they will overcome. The only part of the Japanese culturethat gives me pause is their code of honor. In the days of the Samurai, dying to “save face” was a given. I hope the traditional practice of “hara kiri” is left to the history books, and the movies, and tales handed down from one generation to the next. Except for that ancient commitment to suicide “if all else fails,” I feel a kinship with the Japanese in many ways.  

hoping the “other shoe doesn’t drop”…hugmamma.

(note: for results from a Japanese study about the practice of hara-kiri in contemporary society, visit http://www.nci.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20427155. )

“tiger mother’s parenting,” minuses and pluses

In today’s Wall Street Journal, several responses to Amy Chua’s parenting methods were identified in “Letters to the Editor.” Here they are:

Winston Chung, M.D. of San Fransisco writes: While I am impressed by Amy Chua’s tenacious parenting…I am concerned with her black-and-white message. A Machiavellian approach to achievement and a Confucian-influenced parent-child dynamic may have contributed to rapid growth and prosperity in China, Japan and Korea, but it comes at a price. As of 2009, World Health Organization statistics indicate that China has the highest rate of female suicide in the world. Korea has one of the highest suicide rates in all industrialized nations and Japan is not far behind. Asian-American adolescent girls have the highest rates of depressive symptoms compared to all racial and gender groups. As someone who works in child and adolescent mental health in the largest Chinese community outside of Asia, I have seen some of the consequences of the relentless drive for success, and I encourage families to consider balance. We in the West could benefit from increasing our resilience and diligence in Ms. Chua’s manner, but it is just as important that Eastern parenting styles adopt values that include healthy social development and loving relationships as measures of success.

Kai L. Chan of New York writes: Although the way Ms. Chua raised her children may be typical of many high-achieving Chinese families, there are many Chinese families who live quite the opposite life. According to recent Census data, the majority of Chinese people grow up in low-income households, and within this group children typically do not play musical instruments or devote many hours to homework. I grew up in a very poor Chinese family in which none of my siblings completed post-secondary schooling. I was arrested twice as a teenager and dropped out of high school before eventually finishing at age 20. However, I did go on to earn a doctorate. Because the “superior Chinese mother” stereotype is so ingrained into society, few outreach programs target at-risk Chinese youths. Some of my childhood Chinese friends are now in jail or are drug addicts because people in authority always thought our households resembled Ms.Chua’s.

Audrey Lengbeyer of Annapolis, Md. writes : I, too, was not allowed not to play the violin or piano, was not allowed to be in the school play, was asked why I lost two points when I brought home a 98, and was grounded if I got any grades other than As. I was a nationally competitive violinist and enough of a math scholar to be courted by multiple Ivies and top conservatories. But at what cost? When my parents called me garbage, fat, lazy, selfish and myriad other tough-love names, I heard them loud and clear. I heard that my value was measured in my conformity to their preordained requirements for a cookie-cutter, high-achieving daughter. As an adult I have struggled to overcome the feeling that I don’t deserve love and loyalty unless I perform well. My relationship with my parents is still frigid and distant. Now that I’m a mother myself, of three joyful and unique daughters, I would be heartbroken if they grew up unable to turn to their parents in their most difficult moments.

Simmie Moore of Aiken, S.C. writes: Predictably, Amy Chua’s article will be received with howls of protest by the professional enablers of under-achievement and their minions. And the Western parents, trapped in their own extended adolescence, will be defensive and in denial. The truth is, raising a child to be accomplished and outstanding is much to be preferred to raising a “well-rounded” mediocrity leading a frantic life of desperation.

Tim and Betha Millea of Davenport, Iowa writes: Our heads are nodding enthusiastically in response to the recent articles regarding America’s “wussification” and the superiority of Chinese parenting philosophy. Although our Irish Catholic parenting approach was not as rigid, we spent many years knowing that we were “the only parents” who did not allow TV on school nights, videogames in the house or regular dating until the senior year of high school. Yes, there was angst and argument, but we all survived. Parental hidsight is not 20/20, but we have been quite content with being “the heavies” during our children’s formative years. Coddling does not prepare them for the real world, and the constant whine of “it’s someone else’s fault” is a psychological virus that infects them for a lifetime. High expectations for performance and behavior combine to help form a confident, focused adult.

I think most of us will agree that the Millea’s found the right balance about which Dr. Chung spoke in the opening response. Children need guidance for sure. Our 24-year-old daughter still looks to us, after weighing all her options, for that final, small nod of agreement. Values and guidelines instilled very early on, and maintained through adolescence, does indeed groom children for citizenship in society. Uncluttered minds make for organized lives, in the best sense of the term. Wending their way through life’s jungle can overwhelm, and undermine. So help them we must. But abuse them, physically, mentally or emotionally, we must not. They, after all, are US, not yet all grown up.

for balance in parenting, huge hugs…hugmamma. 

reality vs. freedom and hope, dr. william petit

How does one wrap one’s brain around the horrific murder of a mom and two, untainted, beautiful, young daughters, one 17 and the other 11? Where do you begin to unravel the tightly wound “spool” that commingled the thread of 6 lives? How did they become entwined? Was it perchance, or was it fate? Where was God when this crime against humanity, against Him, occurred?

Apart from hearing of the Petit murders sensationally broadcast all over TV when they happened in 2007, I didn’t care to delve deeper into the crimes. Certain acts, like these, register too close to home to want to acknowledge them head on. It’s easier to turn away, so that your brain doesn’t absorb all the evil details, so that your imagination doesn’t prohibit you from living without fear.

 The Petit family may have lived a privileged life by virtue of Bill’s being a physician. Maybe that sealed their fate that day. But when one of the co-conspirators, Joshua Komisarjevsky, randomly selected Jennifer Petit and her daughter Michaela in a local supermarket as possible victims, he didn’t know that they were of above average means. Not until he and his partner, Steven Hayes, were well on their way to committing the heinous crime, did they establish how much money, $15,000, they could abscond. So the Petits were stand-ins for any number of American families. The configuration of victims and dollar amount might have differed, but the crime would have played out somewhere, according to the whims of the 2 men who decided to play God.

Dr. William Petit spoke with Oprah, allowing us insight into a victim’s agonizing recovery. Looking at him, only a “shell” remained. He has reconciled himself to living, deciding that suicide would remove any possibility that he could rejoin his loved ones in the after-life. Slumped on the formal sofa, eyes squinting from behind eye glasses, Bill’s voice barely resonated. Oprah seemed to infuse life into him with her gentle probing. Perhaps the interview was cathartic to the doctor’s healing process. It’s obvious he’s in need of a spiritual transfusion.

Having lost his family and his home, which the criminals burned to destroy the evidence, Petit has lost the essence of his identity. He was Jennifer’s husband, and father to Hayley and Michaela. Without them, it’s difficult to heed well-meaning advice from those who tell him to “live in the moment.” His past gone, and his dreams of the future destroyed, he feels disconnected from the present. Upon leaving the cemetery with his sister one day, he asked her “Who am I? Whose clothes are these?” No longer the same person, Bill is unconvinced that he will find happiness, or love once again. Because he suffers post traumatic stress, he gave up his medical practice, something he says Jennifer would want him to resume. He claims to have “good” days, and “bad” days. His sister is saddened on the days when her brother is unable to get out of bed, or when he shuts himself in a room, away from life.

“What is it called when you lose a child?” Petit asks Oprah. He explains that when a husband loses his wife, he’s called a widower; when a wife loses her husband, she’s a widow. The talk show hostess suggests that it’s unnatural for a child to die before its parent, so there is no word to describe his position after the loss. Petit agrees. When asked if he can forgive those who took the lives of his loved ones, Bill first lists crimes which could be forgiven, a car accident, a theft, verbal diatribes. But, he says, “it’s inappropriate to forgive the essence of evil.”

Talk of his daughters momentarily lights up Bill Petit’s eyes which twinkle, a smile creeping across his face. He had a special relationship with the eldest, Hayley, whom he nicknamed “KK Rosebud.” Her favorite saying had been “Be the change you wish to see in the world.” Smart and athletic, Hayley was bound for Dartmouth where she would continue to participate in sports as she had in high school. Had she known first love? According to her father, Hayley was in love with someone a year younger in school, for whom she would interrupt her studies to shoot hoops. Petit wished his daughter had experienced true love, before her life was snuffed out.

Michaela, the youngest, liked gardening, but loved cooking more. She cooked the family’s last meal together. Petit remembered it as being a very good meal.

Jennifer, Petit’s wife and partner in managing their lives, was a nurse and surrogate mom to the students in the boarding school where she worked. Amazingly, she also suffered with multiple-sclerosis, though she never complained about it, according to those who knew Jennifer. Daughter Hayley had started a foundation to support MS research in the hopes of saving her mom from the disease. After their deaths, Precious Petits continued the cause. Bill Petit sees the foundation’s purpose as three-fold. First, to fund educational programs, such as those in the sciences, especially to benefit young women; second, to fund MS research; and third, to help victims of violent crime.

Helping others has eased Petit’s heartache, as has knowing that the world is filled with many good people, like those who have contributed to the foundation. He knows too that Hayley and Michaela would want him to be happy. God isn’t to blame, instead they’re at a standoff, says Bill, a Christian. “He has nothing to do with what happens on earth.” Petit’s probably right.

Seems to me we’ve been given all we need to live our lives, including making our own decisions, correctly or incorrectly. There are cultures which see God manipulating their lives; that’s not our culture. Americans believe in freedom, for everyone. We also believe in hope, that we will live our lives without violence. But we know that reality is ultimately, an uncertainty. We can’t control what lies beyond our reach. So we enjoy our freedom, and hope, in silence, that our lives will be harmonious. That was Bill Petit’s expectation of his family’s life in suburban Connecticut.

But what reality subtracts from our lives, hope and freedom restores. Life is change, in small ways, as well as sizeable ones. These “detours” are the sum total of who we are, at the end of our lives. Bill Petit has just taken a detour on his journey through life, and he’s decided to go the distance. Somehow we all dig deep for the courage to go forward. What’s the alternative? Quitting? I think we’re too curious a species, not to want to know what might be just around the corner, or behind door #2, or awaiting us with the dawn of a new day. Who knows? The grandest of all gifts might still be waiting on the horizon.

Reality is, what is. Freedom and hope are what can be.

for Bill Petit as he discovers “what can be,” huge hugs…hugmamma.

 

putting a “face” on the “unknown”

Glad I stepped away from the keyboard to visit with dear friends last night. Because of them I overcame my reluctance to get gussied up for a fundraising event in the city. My husband knew nothing about the organization sponsoring the dinner; he didn’t know what the letters “HRC” represented. The hours slipped by quickly, as we listened and learned about the “Human Rights Campaign.” 

We’ve attended other fundraisers over the years, ballet balls, zoo events, symphony dinners, among others. At the ballet ball, I remember ending the night rocking to the deejay’s music on the dance floor. At zoo events, I thought it was cool to visit the butterfly house, and witness the jaguar feeding, afterhours. And at a symphony fundraising dinner, my husband bought me my favorite watch, which I wear every day. Unlike these, last night’s event had no gimmicks, unless one considers the guest speakers as the “drawing card.” If so then, in my estimation, they were the most relevant “gimmicks” I’ve ever entailed.

Washington’s U.S. Senator Patty Murray spoke of her genuine efforts on behalf of her constituents. She focused on 2 in particular, who wrote letters asking for  her help. One was sent by a young girl whose dream it is to proudly serve her country in the military, but isn’t allowed to do so while proudly “owning” who she is, because of the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy. The other letter was written by a dedicated teacher of 30 years, who tried to help a young student suffering the harassment of peers after she “came out.” Failing to garner official support for the youngster’s plight, the teacher informed the girl. Three days later, she committed suicide.

In his turn at the podium Joe Solmonese, HRC President for 5 years, brought me “up to speed” on the organization’s efforts to achieve total equality for a segment of the population that has been disenfranchised for too long. I was especially impressed when he emphasized that they are NOT victims, that they will not be deterred in their efforts, no matter what obstacles they encounter as they campaign for their freedom and rights. In the evening’s program, Mr. Solmonese wrote, in part, “Our community’s voice has never been more influential and never have we had a more friendly audience in our lawmakers. With your support, HRC can make our community’s voice heard loud and clear.”

A Child Protection Social Worker, Janice Langbehn, related a moving story of “man’s inhumanity to man,” to coin a phrase from a long ago episode of “All in the Family,” where Gloria attempted to explain a simple truth to her family. While she elicited chuckles from the viewing audience, including me, Ms. Langbehn’s words resonated with both my husband and I. With her legal partner, Lisa, and 3 of their 4 adopted children, they celebrated their 15th anniversary in February 2007, by boarding a ship in Miami to cruise to the Bahamas. While waiting to sail, Lisa oversaw a basketball game the kids were playing. Within 20 minutes they ran to their stateroom to get Janice, telling her that Lisa was sick. Janice and the children made their way to “Jackson Memorial Ryder Trauma Center, where Lisa had been taken. When her family, Janice and the youngsters, arrived they were told by a trauma social worker that Miami and Florida were “an anti-gay city and state” and were not allowed to visit Lisa or receive any news of her condition. Despite securing the couples Medical POA required by the Center, Lisa’s family continued to meet with resistance, until Janice accompanied a priest who gave her partner the Last Rites. The children were also finally allowed a few minutes with their mom. But in the end, Lisa died alone on February 19, 2007. Since then Janice has publicly spoken on behalf of change to homophobic policies like those of Jackson Memorial. In April of this year, President Obama phoned Janice apologizing for “the treatment her family received and described the Presidential Memorandum he sent to HHS to direct Federal Regulations to allow same-sex couples the same hospital visitation rights as other families.”

What makes Langbehn’s story even more compelling is the dedication with which she and her partner committed their lives to helping children. “Their love and life together was defined by their care and passion for aiding special needs children. In 1992 they were the first openly gay foster parents in their county, fostering 25 children, 4 of which they adopted, and all with special needs due to drug and HIV exposure. Janice’s long history of social work and care for children began while employed with DSHS and the State of Washington as a Sex Offender treatment provider in a juvenile prison. She saw a need to intervene earlier in a child’s life and so became a Child Protection Social Worker. Janice completed her first Master’s in Public Administration in 1995 and in 1997 was accepted to the University of Washington Master in Social Work Program. In April of 1999, Janice was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis. From 1996 until Lisa’s untimely death in 2007, the two were intimately involved in their children’s lives. They managed HIV appointments, taught first communion classes, volunteered in the children’s school and began a successful Girl Scout troop.” Janice continues to speak out as part of “the educational process that comes with the fight for equality.” To a standing ovation and thunderous applause, she was honored with the HRC Equality Award.

Introducing the final speaker of the evening, was a dentist who shared a childhood secret with us. He had always dreamed of becoming a figure skater. But he put aside his dreams, and fulfilled his mother’s dream instead. Forty years later, thanks to Johnny Weir, the dentist is taking ice skating lessons. Bravo!

The name meant nothing to me, until a video clip showed Johnny Weir in the spotlight, representing the U.S. at the last winter Olympics. He is a flamboyant figure skater, in his style, dress and makeup. He was not my favorite, so I wasn’t as impressed with his performance as I was with some of his competitors. But after hearing his story, I have more admiration for him, as a person. Starting late, he taught himself to ice skate at age 12 on the frozen ponds in back of the cornfields at his home in Amish country, Pennsylvania. With the love and support of amazing parents and younger brother, Weir “hopped, skipped, and jumped” his way into figure skating history, capturing the hearts of millions around the world (he is knowns as the “people’s skater”), and U.S. Figure Skating’s 2010 Reader’s Choice Award for Skater of the Year (Michelle Kwan Trophy). 

Weir makes no excuses for being gay, embracing his “fabulosity.” Having concluded that he wasn’t representative of the image of the U.S. Olympic figure skater, and would therefore not medal, he decided to do his best, for himself. So he brought to his dynamic performance 13 years of hard work, sacrifice and passion for his craft. When he finished skating, and stood up from a back bend, his eyes were met with an arena of waving flags from around the world. I understood his joy, for as a ballerina, my daughter strives to connect with an audience appreciative of her talent, sacrifice, hard work, and passion for her art.

I think in our own personal struggles to come to terms with life, we don’t see that others are also struggling. I’m guilty of such tunnel vision. It’s human nature to think there’s not enough time or energy to be stretched so thin. Some of us are more capable than others, depending upon our own circumstances of health, finances, and commitments. We needn’t all react exactly alike; we can’t, by virtue of our individual DNA. Perhaps what we all CAN and SHOULD DO, is “put a face on the unknown.”    

Senator Patty Murray, HRC President Joe Solmonese, Johnny Weir, the dentist, and most prominently, Janice Langbehn and her children, are the “faces” of the Human Rights Campaign. America’s lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community are no longer the “unknown.” I now know who they are. Each is someone’s child living on the periphery of society, “assigned” rights which are already theirs by virtue of their citizenship in the human race, and their birthright as U.S. citizens. I don’t feel their rights are mine to give or withhold. I believe they’re inalienable, as written in our Constitution. I am a spiritual person, a member of the Catholic church. I think religion offers us sound principles with which to live our lives, but I think we’ve succumbed to using religion as a weapon to pass judgment upon, and excommunicate, those who are non-compliant. I’m not God, and I don’t want to be God. As with Oprah, the job has serious responsibilities which I’m not equipped to handle. Better I leave it to the experts, God in his domain, and Oprah in hers.

I’ve been fortunate to know the men behind the “faces,” good friends we’ve known since moving to the Pacific Northwest. Leon and Ken made me feel comfortable and welcome, when I met them at the first gathering my husband and I attended at his boss’s home, 13 years ago. Before their arrival, I felt self-conscious and awkward, being a stay-at-home mom trying to mingle with career people. The 2 men were interested in knowing more about me, and soon we were joking and laughing like old friends. Through the years, our friendship has remained steadfast, and I’m able to relax in their company as soon as I see them. They’ve never had an “agenda,” other than to know that I’m fine. I always welcome that concern in friends, straight, or gay.

My friendship with Brent and Rick is more recent, although my husband’s known them for several years, because he and Rick are employed by the same company. Although I was acquainted with both men, I got to know Brent better when we accompanied our significant others on a business trip to Victoria, BC. As with Leon and Ken, I felt comfortable in Brent’s company because he made me feel my contribution to the conversation was valuable. Although he’s taking college courses toward becoming a social worker, I never felt like my 60’s college experience was arcane. In fact, Brent complimented my common sense approach to life. That’s music to the ears of a senior citizen! A smart man 20 years my junior is inspired by what I might have to say. Kind of novel in this day and age. Needless to say, I’m very happy to be in the company of Brent and Rick, 2 men with discerning tastes for quality of life for all, including the elderly.

Personally I know that I’m unlikely to be swayed in my opinions unless I can put a “face” on the “unknown,” whatever that might be. Rather than having someone force me to think differently, I’m inclined to change because of personal motivation. I don’t think any of us like being browbeaten into a decision. My husband and I made a contribution to the HRC, because last night we were educated about their worthwhile efforts, and because Leon, Ken, Brent and Rick are real “faces” for the cause of human rights.

Another real “face” is a nephew of mine who “came out” to his parents decades ago. He was a wonderful, young man when I knew him. He played the piano beautifully; he seemed a sensitive soul. Having lost touch, I learned years later that he’d contracted a near fatal disease. His partner at the time helped nurse my nephew back to complete health. He has shared his life with another partner for many years, adopting 2 girls who had been students in my nephew’s middle school class, several years ago. Before they became a family, the youngsters were in and out of foster homes.

Children are my concern, because of my childhood experiences, and because I wish all children would know the unconditional love and support to be who they are, and not what others want them to be. Our gay peers are intelligent, resourceful and hard-working. They will evince long-term change through their commitment not to return to the “dark ages” of society’s earlier days. We can either embrace the inevitable and co-exist, all striving to live our best lives, or we can maintain our isolation from certain segments of society, holding onto historical prejudices. It’s our choice; it’s our freedom. I choose, that others might enjoy the same freedom. I may have an island mentality about driving on freeways, and fear of black bears, but not in matters that are substantive. In these cases, I prefer to draw from the “aloha spirit” inherent in my native fibre, and welcome all as “ohana” (family).

hugs for conquering our fear of the “unknown”, by putting a “face” to it…hugmamma.