Nov 9, 2014

The Grief? It Never Truly Goes Away

"Waltz of Lost Dreams" by S. Karavouzis

Nov. 9, 2014

Years ago, when I was working as a reporter, I interviewed a minister who had lost his children in a house fire.

I can’t recall his name or the number of children he lost (I’m thinking three), and his grief was incomprehensible to me at the time. How the man continued to function, I can only guess. And yet he shared something that has stayed with me and comes to mind each time someone I love dies. I’ve reworked it over the years, changing it a bit after experiencing each of my losses.

Grief, he said, is like a walk on the beach. As you walk along the sand, sometimes your feet stay dry. At other times, the water gently laps up over the tops of your feet and recedes back, leaving just a trace of the ocean.

Then there are those times when you purposely walk along the water’s edge with the water reaching the bottom of your knees.

And at other times, there are those walks where a wave comes out of nowhere and knocks you flat, sometimes pulling you under with an undertow that you don’t think you’ll survive, but you do.

The other day, I was reading a column written by Martin Rogers, a sportswriter for USA Today. Here’s his opening paragraph:

“The National Football League is the last place
I would ever have expected to find a shred
of comfort on the most difficult anniversary of all.”

 Rogers went on to explain:

            “Yet there it was on Thursday night, as in a
            heavenly frozen moment, we saw the angelic
            face of 4-year-old Leah Still ...

            “Leah’s chance to watch her father Devon Still
            play for the Cincinnati Bengals for the first time,
            as she battles cancer ... coincided with the most
            wrenching turn of the calendar for myself and
            my wife Carol.”

The previous year, the Rogers’s daughter Sophia was born at 25 weeks, weighing less than 2 pounds. She lived for only 33 hours. Nov. 6, the same day Leah was able to watch, for the first time, as her her dad played professional football, marked what would have been Sophia’s first birthday.

Rogers wrote that the year that followed her death was filled with “utter emptiness.”
            “Sometimes you cry, sometimes you hold back
            the wish to scream and spout anger at the world.
            Sometimes you just sit, hollow.”

He also wrote:
            “... the grief is always there, like a heavy and
            and uncomfortable shadow, and one that can turn around
and strike you in the gut at any time.”

That strike he writes about is like one of those waves.

I’m drawn to articles like Rogers’s because, even though his loss is different, he has experienced grief, too. He gets it. I can relate. I also can learn.

I’m drawn, also, to books about grief. For weeks, I’ve been putting off compiling a reading list I’d promised to give one of the daughters of my late friend, Lori, which addresses grief and grieving.

Some touch on the subject only briefly while grief is the primary topic of others. There are novels lumped in with how-to get throughs and memoirs and non-fiction, a book of daily reflections and another filled with poetry.

Three and a half years before Mom died, the book, “the gift of grief: finding peace, transformation, and renewed life after great sorrow,” written by Rabbi Matthew Gewirtz, was one of my Christmas presents.

It was inscribed: To Deb, From Her Mom, Christmas 2009.

Although we never talked directly about the fact that she and I knew that it was never a question of if the cancer would kill her but a question of when, she was preparing me for a life without her.

And the primary way she did that was by giving me books to read. She knew that I stood firmly beside her in knowing that books can teach us how to do anything, including how to survive a devastating loss. Or specifically, the words of others can help us feel less alone and help us move forward after someone we have cherished dies.

That’s why I’m drawn to articles like the one written by Rogers as well as that of one of his co-workers whose mother recently had died. The headline for that article written by Douglas Robson, reads, “Loss has writer cheering from press box at U.S. Open.” “For once,” he said, “I’m rooting at the U.S. Open.”

As a reporter, Robson knows that part of his job requires him to remain objective. But in September of this year, he threw that objectivity out the window to root for Roger Federer “... not for all the obvious reasons — the class, the flowing game, the agelessness, the authentic joie de vivre for everything tennis. I’m backing the 33-year-old Swiss because my mother, Margaret, adored him.”

Robson played tennis in his youth and his mom — a former player herself — was his biggest cheerleader and chauffeur. After playing Division I college tennis, the writer began covering tennis for a living

Throughout the article, Robson shares memories about his mom, their relationship and the role tennis played in their relationship. He recalls attending the U.S. Open with his parents and friends from college in 1984.

In the few years leading up to this year’s tournament, Margaret would “return to the Open for a day or two when I was working ... We rode the #7 subway out together. I would pop out for a quick lunch, and she would head back to the stands.”

His mom was 82 when she died Aug. 24, the day before the 2014 U.S. Open began. “I felt her presence everywhere these past few days,” Robson said.

The topic of grief and grief itself have been on the forefront of my mind since I lost, as Cheryl Strayed has said about the death of her mom, the love of my life in June of 2012. That was the most devastating loss of my life.

Unfortunately, I also lost two dear friends — one 13 months after Mom passed and the second in February of this year. And now, I’ve lost someone else who played a significant role in my life.

But unlike many of  my younger loved ones who have preceded the precious soul that was Claridean Hunt, she was 92, the same age as my great aunt, Evie, who died in January 2010.  Both had lived long, fulfilling lives.

I have found that my grief for Claridean is different than that for Mom and many of my other dear friends. Maybe it’s because I know she did live a long, fulfilling and happy life in spite of some personal tragedies.

The tears I’ve cried for Claridean have been mostly tears of joy because of the joy she brought to my life. She called me her “day camp kid,” because that’s where our paths first crossed those many decades ago.

I regret that the last time I saw her, spoke to her and laughed with her, Claridean was celebrating her 90th birthday. However, I find comfort in knowing that she knew how much I loved her. She knew how special she was to me. Her milestone was observed almost one month after Mom’s death, and I was consumed by my grief from that significant loss.

So, two more Christmases passed as well as two more of her birthdays, and she didn’t hear from me. Hardly anybody did. After I learned of her death, I felt bad. I also felt guilty. But I’ve had a couple of days to work through those feelings, which is why those tears I’m crying now are happy tears.

I am a better person for having known and been loved by Claridean Meadows Hunt. And I will try to be a kinder person like she was in honor of her memory. But she loved me for the person I am, which means I'm certain to lapse every now and again.

With her passing, I realize I know that while grief never truly goes anywhere, it does take on many different forms as expressed by the minister and those two sportswriters.

My reading list, in no particular order, in regard to loss and grief:
“The Year of Magical Thinking,” Joan Didion; “Making Toast: A Family Story” and “Kayak Mornings: Reflections on Love, Grief and Small Boats,” Roger Rosenblatt; “The Art of Losing: Poems of Grief and Healing,” edited by Kevin Young; “A Time to Grieve,” Carol Staudacher; “Patrimony,” Philip Roth; “The End of Your Life Book Club,” Will Schwalbe; “If I Stay,” Gayle Forman; “Mom & Me & Mom,” Maya Angelou; “Four Funerals and a Wedding,” Jill Smolowe; “The Death of the Great Santini,” Pat Conroy; “Wild,” Cheryl Strayed; “Sister, Mother, Husband, Dog,” Delia Ephron; “About Alice,” Calvin Trillix; “Wave,” Sonali Deraniyagala; “The Walk” series by Paul Evans; “Carrie & Me,” Carol Burnett; “The Meryl Streep Movie Club,” Mia March; “When Bad Things Happen To Good People,” Harold Kushner; “The Beginner’s Good-Bye,” Anne Tyler; “Gabriel: A Poem,” Edward Hirsch; and “the gift of grief: finding peace, transformation and renewed life after great sorrow,” Rabbi Matthew D. Gewirtz.


In loving memory of so many who live exclusively in my heart and in my memories: ramona a. kuhn (saine) summers; evie stelts; lori marsh; claridean hunt; dixie larson; jeanie johnson; nancy johnson blackburn; mike buffington; maxine hoffman; addie kessler; beth wooten wilson; jeff poff; patty means clark; joan brugh; shirley kerr; mary waite; pat saine; jake and agnes hulsizer; doug filbey; william k. vernon; che che hines; nancy newman; and mary jo anderson ... and now, claridean hunt.

Oct 18, 2014

Would You Care To See A Few Etchings?

Artwork by Saine

Journal Style

Last fall, I enrolled in an online class, "Sketching and Watercolor: Journal Style," offered by artist Jane LaFazio, who describes herself as a "mixed media artist in paper and cloth."

The first time I saw her work was in Danny Gregory's "An Illustrated Life: Drawing Inspiration from the Private Sketchbooks of Artists, Illustrators and Designers." I immediately fell in love with her style and the vibrancy of her work.

Looking for a new class, I decided to visit LaFazio's web site to see what she had to offer. Enrollment was open for the sketching and watercolor course, so I signed up. And I'm glad I did.

Here are three of the lessons I finished:


"Pears: A Study"

"Pucker Up"

Take A Course

This fall, LaFazio is offering two courses: 1. "Sketchbook and Watercolor: Journal Style;" and 2. "Watercolor Sketchbook." I've signed up for the second one, which either begins Nov. 14.

I encourage you to visit her site and look at some of her work. It's incredible!! 

Oct 15, 2014

Mighty Mini Monie: My Mom, My Hero

Remembering a mother's birthday

Juanita Kuhn holding onto
my mom, Ramona Aileen,
while sister Shirley stands beside them.


Author's note:
I wrote this essay in the spring of 2012 to serve as the introduction to “My Hero, My Mom,” a book I put together as a Mother’s Day gift. Published by Apple, the book consisted of photographs of my mom, Ramona A. Kuhn Summers, that had been taken throughout her life, from infancy to a few months before her death on June 17, 2012. I used as much of her history as I knew, writing cutlines and sidebars to accompany the photographs.

Little did I know that that book would be my final Mother’s Day gift to her. And in no way could I have predicted this essay would serve as her eulogy a little more than a month later.

Mom was born Tuesday, Oct. 16, 1928, and tomorrow, a Thursday, would have been her 86th birthday.
Prettier than Barbara Stanwyck.

A story of strength, perseverance

Every hero has a story, the kind of story that’s made her who she is, the kind of story that’s filled with substantial obstacles that have been overcome with grace, dignity and humility, the kind of story that creates a person worthy of admiration and emulation.

High levels of energy gave way to sheer exhaustion. Walking up a set of stairs required a long pause between one step and the next. She held tightly to the railing to maintain balance. Once able to clean a split-level home in a day, doing a load of laundry began to fill an afternoon until eventually, all the chores fell to her husband.

Rest breaks came frequently and grew lengthier. In recent months, most days she moved from her upstairs bed to the big leather chair in the family room below where she sat and flipped through catalogs and dozed, read newspapers and magazines and dozed, and watched Fox News or placed orders with QVC. And, she dozed.

She didn’t give up, though. Not until her body did. She wasn’t a quitter. She was a fighter, a survivor. Always had been. She didn’t burrow beneath her bedcovers and retreat into sleep. She didn’t let the mounting struggles to make it through another day defeat her.

For years, before her feet even hit the floor in the morning, she gave her all to do some stretching and a few bicycles in bed because, she said, it made her feel better.

Her journey spanned more than eight decades. But her adventure, according to specialists, wasn’t supposed to have lasted as long as it did. It should’ve ended about 17 years ago. At least that’s what her oncologist and her surgeon thought. With each year that passed, she was considered a medical miracle, a miracle fulfilled each day she drew another breath.

But it was more than a medical miracle.

It had to be.

She was 66 at the time of her diagnosis and already had overcome so much, displaying the characteristics of a fighter and a survivor that would sustain her from an early age.

Whatever difficulties came her way year in and year out, she simply worked through them, never showing signs of anger or bitterness, regret or self-pity.

My hero didn't stand very tall, measuring what seemed a little over four-feet but growing shorter by the day. Her head tilted slightly to the right, and a wig covered what little remained of her fine, unruly hair. Brown make-up from a pencil filled in for eyebrows long gone, and a once radiant smile drooped a tad on the right. One knee and a hip weren’t the ones God gave her. And what was once the roof of her mouth was artificial as well.

Mom and the sister she adored.

A motherless daughter

Her parents had divorced before she was 2. At 2½, she lost her mother, who had been 27 at the time of her death. Her father was an abusive drunk and her stepmother, a monster. She and her big sister were bounced from one relative’s home to another, inevitably returned time and again by the state to a hostile environment.
The love of her mother’s sister, Evie, only 11 years her senior, and that of a kindly woman married to her maternal grandfather were her lifelines. She was 10 when the 15-year-old sister she cherished moved away.

At the age of 19, she was married to the first man who asked. She used to say, “To this day, I’m not certain why I said yes.” Two years older than Mom, he was cocky, arrogant and selfish

Two months into the marriage, she became pregnant with the first of her two children. When she went into labor in 1948, her then-husband was nowhere to be found. A friend sat with her until the birth of her son. Eleven years later, she gave birth to a daughter. This time, a neighbor was by her side, and again, her husband, was nowhere to be found.
After 25 years of physical and emotional abuse and countless public humiliations, she’d finally had enough of the second alcoholic in her life. It was the early 1970s. In her forties, she became the single parent of a daughter with a mental illness. Her oldest child had graduated college, gotten married and moved to South Dakota.

Mom, me and Pooh.

Making her way

Mom always had been a hard worker, starting her first job as a young girl at a five and dime. Later, she’d sold tickets at the Roxy, plugged away as a proofreader, worked as a secretary and became a circuit court deputy clerk. And before retiring, she worked 22 years as a bookkeeper and insurance agent.

Rarely, if ever prideful, she was proud of the fact that she never needed a resume. Potential employers sought her out.

A short time after retiring came the devastating diagnosis in 1995 that melanoma was growing in her sinus cavity. The odds were far from in her favor. But she didn’t give up. She fought, and she fought hard as her second husband consistently stood by her side. They married in June 1980.

She endured months of chemotherapy. Interferon had proven too much for far younger cancer patients, but she stuck it out for every treatment. Radiation treatment came next. Still able to drive, she made almost 20 trips to a hospital 35 minutes from home.

When the one-year anniversary of her diagnosis came and went, her doctors couldn’t believe it. That’s when she became, to them, a medical miracle, but to me, simply a miracle, a miracle that lasted 17 years.

But cancer is a cruel bitch. And the war melanoma declared on Mom forced her to fight one battle after another, year in and year out.

The reason her head tilted to the right was because a surgeon had to remove parts of the muscle on the side of her neck because some of the cancer had spread to her lymph nodes.

She had to wear a wig and pencil-in her eyebrows because of the chemotherapy’s side effects.

She wore what’s known as a palatal obturator, a prosthetic device that closed over the hole a surgeon had to make in the roof of her mouth in order to reach the melanoma invading her sinus cavity. Because of the surgery, her mouth drooped a tad on the right. Without the obturator, it was difficult to understand what she was trying to say, and she was unable to eat without it.

The first round of chemo all those years ago zapped her of her strength, and it took a substantial amount of time for her to recover some but never all of her “get up and go.”

Since the initial diagnosis, she had numerous recurrences. More chemotherapy wasn’t an option. The only course of action had been to scrape away the cancer whenever and wherever it showed up — repeatedly in her sinus cavity, some in her throat and most recently in a corner of her mouth.

Through it all, she never let cancer defeat her. She continued to maintain her immaculate home, play bridge, travel, bet on the ponies, go all out decorating for every holiday — not just Christmas — take shopping trips, attend the symphony, entertain friends and much more.

And, she always was dressed to the nines.

Aunt Evie, Mom and me.

Always when; never if

Cancer continued to be a cruel bitch. In the months before her death, the melanoma had become more aggressive than ever before. Beginning in October 2011, she had recurrence after recurrence after recurrence.

In February 2012, she underwent four more rounds of chemo, three weeks apart, and this batch was experimental, unlike the interferon all those years ago. But a second medical miracle wasn’t to be.

Swelling above the melanoma in her sinus cavity bumped against and eventually infiltrated her brain, causing confusion and leading to memory loss.

Most days toward the end were spent bundled up in blankets wearing a favorite robe, a crazy pair of socks, her turban in place, sitting in the comfy leather chair a few feet from the TV, tuned more frequently now to QVC than Fox News.

One night, Bill found her holding the TV remote, confusing it with the phone, trying to call QVC to buy yet another “TSV” – Today’s Special Value.

She told him she couldn’t get through for some reason. He told her QVC must’ve been closed. She would’ve gotten a kick out of the story, laughing easily at herself as she’d done in the past.

Miraculously, though, Mom had been able to rally from time to time, mustering enough energy to make regular visits to see her surgeon, her oncologist and her eye doctor — in addition to cancer, she had macular degeneration in both eyes. But every trip took its toll, leaving her exhausted.

To the amazement of everyone, she continued to play bridge, her favorite card game, and the game she’d played for more than 50 years, up until a few weeks before she died.

The battles started taking more and more out of her. There were fewer and fewer victories. But my hero kept fighting that cruel bitch with the true heart of a warrior.

She had fought the good fight until her small frame finally gave out. She stopped eating. She was falling out of bed. Her spouse had no choice but to have her admitted into a healthcare facility that also served as a hospice.

God was merciful, though, and her stay was a short one.

The day after being admitted into Room 202 at Blair Ridge Healthcare Campus in Peru, IN, was her 32nd wedding anniversary. But she couldn’t keep hold of that fact despite being reminded several times by her husband.

For the next couple of days, Mom was more out of it than in as morphine eased her excruciating headaches. There were a few snippets of meaningless yet cherished conversations between long periods of sleep.

On Friday, she slept deeply. Normally a light sleeper, the depth of unconsciousness would have surprised her because usually the bits of conversations floating into her room from the hallway as a vacuum cleaner worked he dirt in the distance would have awakened her.

I sat by her bed, wondering if we’d ever speak again.

Mom and me.

The love of my life

Then God gave me a gift. A nurse brought me a can of Sprite and a glass of ice. Because she’d been able to sleep through all the racket just outside her door, I never thought the sound of a pop tab and the hiss of carbonation would wake Mom up.

But her eyelids flew open, and we looked into each other’s eyes. I moved closer, stroking her hair with one hand. “Mom,” I said, “I love you more than anything in the world.” And she said, “I love you, too, darlin’.”

No sooner had the words escaped her mouth than her eyes were fluttered closed. She didn’t speak again, and I thought Friday would be the last time I’d see her alive.

But she rallied a bit on Saturday. She said she wanted to go home and sleep in her own bed. In the lunchroom, she looked around and said to me, “Look at all these old people!” Then, always concerned about my health, she added, “You need to take care of yourself so you don’t end up in a place like this.”

As I was leaving Mom’s room early that evening, her partner was standing beside her bed and said for me to give him a holler if I needed anything.

Looking like a baby bird peeking its head out of a nest, Mom’s head popped up  from beneath the blankets ,and she said, “Hoo! Hoo!”

Like Dorothy loved her scarecrow, I always will love my hero most of all.

Happy Birthday, Mom.

Oct 9, 2014

Theatres, The Theatres, How I Love The Theatres


PERU, IN — A few years back, I was invited to check out a group of area artists who get together monthly for about an hour or two in the evening to share their finished creations, chat about ideas and talk amongst themselves.

I'd been taking watercolor and drawing lessons from Logansport artist Teri Partridge but in no way considered myself an artist. Not even close. For one, I needed a ruler to draw a line and an old compact disc to trace around and create circles. But even though I was a beginner, she thought I might enjoy meeting like-minded creative types.

Why not?" I thought. 

We went on a third Wednesday, which is when the Community Artists' Co-Op meets. At that time, photographers, painters, watercolorists and others gathered at Cafe Du Cirque. The walls were covered with the work of various members of the co-op while one artist's work was featured on a wall that greeted customers as they walked through the restaurant's front door.

Some of those in attendance recognized my last name when I introduced myself after the meeting started. I'm a clown town native where "Saine" is synonymous with tennis on the paternal side and bridge on the maternal side. Not being a complete stranger helped. But even if I hadn't known a soul, members made me feel at home.

I thoroughly enjoyed myself and decided to go back. Everybody had been welcoming and supportive as well as encouraging. Skill levels ran the gamut from beginning to quite accomplished. And it didn't matter that I couldn't draw a circle or a straight line. It didn't matter that I wasn't the best at drawing or that my watercolors could be a bit streaky or my acrylics a tad sloppy.

The most important requirement, and probably the only requirement, is that members try. It's not about the finished piece, it's about the willingness to put yourself out there and give it a shot.

The meeting format has changed gradually from being a bit formal with much of the time eaten up by business issues to a relaxed approach. One month, artists share their work based on a theme and the next month is wide open. Sometimes, the artists work together on a project. And at other times, there might be a workshop or someone might bring something they're working on and would like some feedback, knowing that whatever the suggestions, they would be made gently and with kindness.
Needless to say, I started to attend a bit more regularly after the approach to the meetings shifted.
The group has since had to pack up its portfolios and take them to one of the classrooms at the Peru Campus of Ivy Tech because the cafe closed down. The meetings begin at 7 p.m. and usually last about one or two hours and are held on the third Wednesday of each month.

Shortly after summer started, somebody pulled out a torn scrap of paper with a theme suggestion written on it for the month of July. I hadn't been to a meeting in quite awhile, and I hadn't created anything in months. But after "theatre" was selected, my mind kicked into full gear. I couldn't wait to get home and get started. My creative juices had been stoked.

My mom had been a hard worker  her entire life and started her first job as soon as she was old enough. Among her many titles was that of movie theatre ticket taker. And the name of the theatre chain? Roxy!! With the help of Google and Bing, I found all kinds of images from Roxy theatres back in the day to a variety of other chains. From there, I moved onto refreshment stands and intermission adds. And then, drive-ins.

I had a blast, and it felt good to be pulling out sketchbooks and drawing pencils along with watercolors and acrylics, markers and gel pens. What follows are a few of what I came up with.

This was my first drawing for the theme "theatre."
I used a  drawing pencil, Uniball black gel marker
and Inktense watercolor pencils.
I chose this Roxy because of the unique
front used for the chain theatre's name, using
Inktense watercolor pencils and
a variety of gel pens.
I love abstracting, and I used various brands of
watercolors that included
Winsor & Newton. I know watercolors
tend to be more subtle, but I love bold colors.

I love using Prismacolor markers, which is what
I used for this! And notice there's yet another
"person." in the drawing.
I needed a bigger sheet of watercolor paper to tackle
this painting, which was done in a Moleskine.
This required a giant step out of my comfort zone to work on
a big piece of paper and tackling
the subject matter.

This was my second "biggie" that is from an image taken
in Times Square. I used a black Pitt artist pen and
a number of watercolor brans, including Winsor & Newton..
Not only was I beginning to feel more confidence with each
drawing, I decided to add people but with no
faces, which aren't one of my streng

I liked this because of the name
and the challenge of drawing the sign.
I decided it would look better
with no color except a pink gel and black marker.

When an image search using the word "theatre,"
I saw thisCalifornia-based theatre and couldn't resist.
I used watercolors, a Pitt Artist Pen, and fluorescent gel pens.

Same California theatre with the
point of interest the wild
towering sign.

I wanted to do this one to see if I
could draw the cars. I only used a
black Pitt Artist Pen.
There were a number of reasons I did this ink
drawing. One and two were the car and
the people. And three was the misspelled word

This one isn't finished. But the reason I chose the image
was because I continue to be
baffled by segregation and the use of the phrase
"colored people." Offensve.
This is an ink drawing of speakers used at
drive-in theatres. 

Yet another challenge!

Another unfinished piece. I fell in love with
the photograph. The challenge was getting
the shadows right ... 
This was all about the image!

This one was too fun to pass up! Of course,
the cars are cartoonish, and I changed the colors of
the drive-in's exterior.
Prismacolor markers and because I
liked the sign and the name of the
After seeing a picture of this, how could I resist?
Who remembers when these graced
the silver screen?
I saved this one for last because it was the most
challenging painting I've done to date. I'm really proud
of this one. I fellin love with the photograph and gave
it my best using Inktense watercolor pencils,
watercolors and markers.

If you'd like more information about
Community Artists' Co-Op,
Community Artists Co-Op

Oct 7, 2014

Taking Such A Long, Long Way Back To Me

-Courtesy Teri Partridge

“Do you know, do you know
what it’s like to die alive?”
- “You Don’t Know” lyrics by Brian Yorkey

By Deb Saine
Oct. 6, 2014

I’m alive ... again!

And while some may say it’s better than the alternative, I’d beg to differ. Or, to be precise, I would have begged to differ.

There have been so many days these past few years when I have wished I’d reached the final chapter, the final paragraph, the final punctuation mark on the story of my life. But I was too afraid to pen, The End, myself.

“You’re Fired!”

It felt like the initial beginning of the end came on Sept. 1, 2005. Nothing like being fired on Labor Day, don’t you think? I love the irony.

What had started out as the ultimate dream job as a reporter in February of 1988 ended more than 17 years later in a nightmare. When I was told by my employer that it was time to hand in my key and clear out my desk, I wasn’t shocked. I’d sensed it was coming.

As a matter-of-fact, when I was summoned to the publisher’s office in the building where I’d worked for so many years, I knew before I reached the High Priestess’s door that it was over for me. I’d been walking toward the front office behind the managing editor when it dawned on me.

I stopped a few feet from my desk, tapped the m.e. on the shoulder and looked her in the eyes after she turned around, and I said, “You’re going to fire me, aren’t you?” The expression on her face was as priceless as anything that has been deemed so over the years by MasterCard.

The color drained from her face. The look of shock had yet to pass when I did a 180 and walked back to my desk and started packing up a few things. Totally thrown and typically unsure of what to do next, my direct supervisor went to see the second-in-command and report what had happened.

Within minutes, No. 2 came up to me and told me nicely that I needed to head to the publisher’s office. I stopped packing up, turned, and said, “Why? I don’t work here anymore.” She didn’t have a comeback, so I let her and the supervisor stew a few seconds before I acquiesced.

As a side note, you probably can tell by this anectdote alone that I wasn’t the easiest employee to deal with. Honestly, I was somewhat surprised I’d lasted there for as many years as I did. I mean, you’d think that a few years after being given consistent, poor performance reviews covering the same flaws time and again would’ve earned me a pink slip much sooner.

The Saturday shift before the information on my business card became obsolete, I sensed that I’d finally given the inmates running the asylum the final monumental screwup they’d anxiously been waiting for so they could can me.

But that’s another post for a different day!

Artwork by Saine

“Beyond Devastated”

Once it became official that I’d be receiving unemployment checks, I scheduled an emergency session with my therapist and made a phone call to Mom. When I finally got home, I took off my work clothes, slipped on a pair of boxers and a T-shirt and climbed into bed.

And that’s where I spent the majority of my time for the next six months, sleeping. I’d been so upset that I thought, “F*** It,” and I stopped taking the medications that had been prescribed to help with my brand of bipolar.

Mom was about the only contact I had with the outside world. I didn’t want to do anything or see anybody. No visits to the shrink. No visits to the therapist. I hated when the phone rang and always let calls go to voicemail. I stopped writing. I stopped reading. I stopped watching TV, renting DVDs, and listening to music. I stopped taking regular showers and couldn’t care less if I brushed my teeth or washed my hair.

I can’t remember exactly when or why I decided to go from the bedroom and into the den. Maybe it had something to do with the Spring. I went from spending most of my time sleeping in a bed to sitting in my La-Z-Boy, using the remote to turn on and then watch a little TV before eventually hitting the mute button. Then, I’d curl up in the recliner, pull a blanket over me, and nap. For hours. After I’d wake up, the sound went back on and stayed on until I became tired again. Eventually, I’d head for bed.

But I still wasn’t changing my clothes all that often or showering or doing any housework, fixing any meals or getting the laundry done. The only time I would leave the den was to let out the dogs and feed them, or for me to use restroom or go to bed. I also maintained my anti-social status.

Because I’d stopped writing altogether, the urge to create something in a different way started creeping into my subconscious. Art became the new outlet for expressing myself. I pulled out a copy of artist Mark Kistler’s book, “The Draw Squad,” and started filling up pages and pages of sketchbooks using nothing more than Kistler’s instructions, a pencil, an eraser and a sharpener.

Gradually, without being fully aware of what was happening, I’d started to heal. I realized I had a long way to go, but at least I was beginning to climb up and out of the once all-consuming darkness. And I was ecstatic when my humor returned.

Sitting in the den one day, a thought popped into my head, and I started laughing. I’d thought, “Well, Debbie, here’s another nice mess you’ve gotten yourself into!” My psyche had invoked the spirits of the dearly departed comedy team of Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy who’d found fame in the 1930s.

Clip Art

"Nothing a Few Pills Won’t Help”

The baby steps I took to begin my journey back into life included meeting with my psychiatrist, attending Alcoholics Anonymous meetings and scheduling weekly sessions with a therapist.

One aspect that makes treating bipolar difficult is the fact that each individual’s brain chemistry is different. So while some medications may work for one person, that doesn’t mean those medications will work for another. It’s basically a matter of trial and error, and the process can be frustrating and disheartening.

My “official” diagnosis was made around the time I was 40, and it took some time to find a combination of chemical cocktails that helped me manage. Unfortunately, one combination usually only worked for one to two years and then it was back to the psychiatrist to make the necessary adjustments by starting the process again.

Making matters worse would be the side effects. Depakote robbed me of my balance, so I couldn’t ride my bicycle. Abilify ate away at my short-term memory so I had to leave myself Post-it notes for my Post-it notes. Another medication caused my fingers to lock up at the joints while something else made both hands flop like a fish out of water, sometimes lasting for days at a time. Thank God there was a pill for that. I gained — and have never been able to lose — an extra 45 pounds courtesy of Remeron.

Because I had stopped taking all of my medications at once after I had been fired and stayed off of them for almost 12 months, it took about two years before my disorder was manageable, and I was able to function.

I still wasn’t writing, but I did start taking weekly art lessons. My world was beginning to expand again.

Artwork by Saine

“Fucking Cancer”

But you know that saying, “Life is what happens when you’re making other plans?” Or, the one about how God laughs when humans come up with specific intentions?

My plans were simple. They had to be because taking life in bigger chunks than 24 hours weren’t good for my mental health.

I loved taking art lessons. I loved painting and drawing. I tried to go to at least three AA meetings a week. Then, there were regular trips to see the psychiatrist and others to visit the therapist. I worked my way up to getting out and riding my bicycle. I played some tennis. I volunteered to help out at a couple of outdoor events. I went to lunch with friends.

Because of all the activities, even my personal hygiene improved! But there still were some issues when it came to my health.

Eventually, I also was able to get my home back in order — inside and out, including doing I don’t know how many loads of laundry, throwing some things away and taking some other stuff to Goodwill.

But while I was crashing and burning, and later, when I started dusting off the ashes, Mom was well into her fight against a formidable foe of her own. Sometime in 1994 or 1995, when she was only in her mid-60s, she was diagnosed with melanoma. It had started in her sinus cavity.

Her oncologist told her the prognosis wasn’t good; that she might live another year or so. But he didn’t know Mom. She’d been up against the wall so many times in her life that she wasn’t about to let cancer take her down.

And it didn’t. At least not until about 17 years later.

She went through so much: a surgeon had to remove the hard upper palette in her mouth; a specialist had to make her an obturator prosthesis to replace the missing palette; she endured chemo treatments strong enough to kill an ox three times a week for a year; and 20 or so radiation treatments once the rounds of chemo were finished.

From there, the only option was to cut each time there was a recurrence. And cut some more. And some more. One neck muscle was removed, making it difficult for her to move her head and causing her mouth to droop a bit.

She lost her sense of taste. She constantly felt exhausted. She lost her desire to read. She lost her hair and her eyebrows. She also had one knee and a hip replaced. Other health issues cropped up. There were countless trips to see various doctors two or three times a week. And to think she’d been relatively healthy before cancer came to call.

But Mom also continued dressing to the nines. She kept up with the house and with the laundry and the ironing. She maintained the close friendships she’d developed over the decades. And she played bridge. Lots and lots of bridge.

But through it all, we knew that it was never a question of “if” the cancer would wind up killing her but “when,” which was shorlty after the first hour of a Sunday — Father’s Day, no less, which was June 17, 2012.

My Beautiful Mom, Ramona

“So Hard To Watch”

I thought sobering up in 1990 would be the most difficult challenge of my life. But I was wrong. The most difficult challenge of my life was watching cancer eat away at the love of my life and eventually having to let her go.

Like a friend who’d also lost her mother told me, “Nobody loves us like our Mom.” It was so true. It wasn’t easy raising a difficult child on her own. It wasn’t easy watching a daughter struggling to say sober and later taking on manic-depression and all that encompassed. Understanding mental illness is challenging for those who are mentally ill and sometimes more so for the people around them who aren’t.

Mom did the best she could at the time.

It was Mom who had seen me through what I thought would be my darkest hour after I got fired. She called me every day for weeks, asking me how I was feeling, what I was doing, hoping that with each conversation, I finally would have summoned the energy to get out of bed.

But as I faced my true darkest hour, Mom was gone. And it was that permanent absence that shut off the lights. I started spending more time in than out of bed. I played Russian roulette with my meds. I ate. And I ate some more. And even more after that. Rarely was what I stuffed into my mouth something considered to be healthy. Again, I stopped doing everything I enjoyed.

Bipolars don’t handle stress well. Bipolars find it difficult to go on after suffering a devastating loss.

There to flip the switch on every once and awhile, however, was a friend of Mom’s who’d known me since the day I was born. She’d promised Mom to watch over me, and watch over me she did.

What I didn’t know was that Dixie was having serious health problems of her own, including cancer. I knew about everything but that. Thirteen months after Mom died, Dixie died.

She’d been calling me regularly, always asking when I was going to come see her. We’d gone to lunch several times, talked on the phone quite a bit, and I’d also go to visit. The last time we spoke was a Sunday afternoon. She said, “So, when are we going to lunch?” And I said, “Well, when can you go to lunch?” And she said, “Let me check my calendar, and I’ll get back with you.”

But she didn’t, which was odd. Almost a week had passed, so I decided I’d call her. Then I got a phone call, but not from from Dixie. It was her daughter. And my shattered heart took another significant blow. At the same time as losing Dixie, I’d developed some health issues.

Clip Art

"Doctor, Doctor"

With each day, I got weaker and weaker. I had trouble climbing the basement stairs. I couldn’t do anything physical for more than a few minutes without losing my breath.

Making it from one end of the grocery store to the other felt like climbing a mountain. When I got to the car with my purchases, I had to take a breather. Then another one after loading up. Once I got home, taking everything up to the kitchen from the garage right away wasn’t possible. It was a matter of one plastic bag at a time.

The house already was a disaster. After Mom was admitted to a hospice, I didn’t have the energy or the heart to care. I still didn’t care when my health declined.

I simply thought the most recent weight I’d gained coupled with a lack of exercise finally had taken a toll, officially obese and out of shape being the causes. The afternoon of Dixie’s visitation at the funeral home, I couldn’t stand in line. I constantly had to sit down. I was pale and had broken out into a cold sweat. I had trouble breathing.

Concerned friends ordered me to make an appointment to see a doctor. Turned out I’d contracted a rare virus that had taken up residence on my esophagus and caused internal bleeding. My red blood cell count at the time had dropped from somewhere in the mid-teens to 7.7. Recovery included a blood transfusion and two iron infusions.

Slowly, I regained my strength and was able to move around and to do a little bit here and there. The problem was that I had no motivation, no desire to clean the house or mow the yard or do a load of laundry.

The depression already had me in its grip and the grip got even tighter when Dixie died. I simply couldn’t move forward.

But apparently, I hadn’t lost enough people I loved and who had loved me in return.


 "Coming In Threes”

Usually, bad news travels faster. And as always, there are the exceptions to every rule. In this case, I didn’t learn about the cancer relapse of one of my dearest and closest friends until three months after the fact.

By then, the melanoma had spread throughout Lori’s body, and there wasn’t really anything that could be done. She called to tell me in January and was gone by late February. Like I had been with Mom, I was with Lori until almost the very end. Like I had with Mom, I told Lori how much I loved her.

And then, I started to grieve the loss of Lori on top of the grief I’d been facing since losing Mom and then Dixie.

The dark clouds moved in quickly. I was drained. I’d had enough. I didn’t care. I have felt even more alone than I had after Mom died. You see, I don’t make friends easily let alone hang onto them for very long. And it’s extremely difficult for me to reach out and ask for help. And now, three of the people I depended on were gone. Who was left to step up and step in?

About a month after Lori’s death, I started to feel the same way physically as I had in July of last year. This time, I made an appointment immediately with my blood doctor. My count was low at 9.9 but higher than the previous 7.7. Three infusions to pump up my iron. But the mystery remains as to what’s causing the drop. Yet another upper EGI along with a number of blood tests haven’t provided any clues.

So, I wait to see if my iron takes a dive for the third time.

Artwork by Saine


The things that always have helped me eventually get my head back above water have been related to the arts. Before Mom died, she made me promise never to give up writing or enjoying and making music or creating art.

Keeping that promise hasn’t been easy. I’ve been taking baby steps. The first step was accepting a cyber challenge to read 50 books and watch 50 movies in 2013. While it was difficult to find 50 movies worth watching, I was able to read more than enough books. This year, I decided to go after the 50 books but dropped the movie challenge.

Another step I took was going to a meeting of the artists’ co-op held in my hometown which is about 17 miles east from my home now. My watercolor teacher introduced me to the group about three or four years ago, and until Mom died, I’d been a relative regular.

The group meets once a month, alternating between having some type of program and sharing art that members had created based on a common theme. In May, the theme pulled was “theatre.” As soon as someone drew and then read what was on a small piece of paper, my mind got busy. I immediately associated the word theatre with Mom because she’d worked at the Roxy when she was a teenager and that’s where I’d watched countless movies as a kid. I couldn’t wait to get home and get started.

I did Internet searches using keywords like Roxy theatre, movie threatres, drive-in theatres. Some searches lead me to other searches that took me in new directions that even included the old refreshment advertisements that featured dancing candy and popcorn to be enjoyed during intermission. Those and Times Square and all its venues throughout various decades caught my eye and begged me to create something using each image.

I pulled out my sketchbooks and watercolor paper along with drawing pencils watercolor pencils and colored pencils and also markers and watercolors and gel pens and more.

Each day, I’d create a new drawing. Eventually, I moved out of my comfort zone and started using larger pieces of paper. I was trying things I’d never tried before from subject matter to size to mediums.

I created enough artwork to fill a small gallery.

One reason I had stopped making art was because it was Mom I’d made the art for. She had pieces I’d done framed, and she displayed them throughout her home. She loved seeing what I was working on.

After losing her, I felt I’d lost my audience, too. But ever the accepting and supportive group of artists who belong to the co-op, they took pleasure in each and every single piece of art I’d created based on the theme “theatre.”

I’ve also been reading. In fact, I’ve already reached the goal of 50 titles for the year with two months to go.

Mom was a firm believer in reading. She believed that if you could read, you could learn how to do anything. It was because of her that I became an avid reader. And I’ve always turned to books to help me learn something new, understand something better, grasp difficult subjects or simply be entertained.

My resources for finding new reading material runs the gamut from Internet sites to word of mouth along with articles in magazines and newspapers and also at cyber bookstores. NPR recommended the novel I finished last week, “Florence Gordon” by Brian Morton, and the non-fiction I’m reading now, “It Ain’t Over ... Till It’s Over: Reinventing Your Life and Realizing Your Dreams Anytime at Any Age,” I learned about at

I have the authors of each book to thank for inspiring me to finally do something I’ve wanted to do for quite some time —create a blog so I could share my creations, regardless of what form those creations may take.

In the six days since designing the blog for “An InSaine Life: Welcome to My Wacky World,” I’ve written four posts and more than 100 people have “liked” my Facebook page of the same name that I’m using to get the word out about the blog.

I’m writing again.
I’m making art.
I’m filling up my iPod.

For the first time in forever, I have hope. For the first time in forever, I have a purpose.

I’m alive ... again!