Monday, September 4, 2017

Lunch with my new granddaughter

My oldest daughter invited Lee and I to lunch today so we could come up and visit and spend some time with her and my newest granddaughter. She had some gift certificates to use at a cute little restaurant located in a cozy historic home in Templeton. The menu featured many unique combinations. I settled on a Chutney and Brie sandwich and a cup of Moroccan chickpea soup. We sat out on the grand porch and enjoyed the cool breeze while we chatted and enjoyed our lunch.
It's a pretty amazing place to be right now and I'm talking about this time period of our lives. A couple of years ago, my daughter didn't have any plans to ever have children and she was lonely and pretty miserable about her prospects in life. That all changed for her when she began dating Rocky, and now 2 years later, they have a beautiful baby girl that they both love so much.
But the most amazing thing was on our way home, Jayne remarked that even though our family has gone through such really hard times and lost our beloved Andrew, we have come through stronger and tighter as a family. She said she is really happy with her life now as it is. I am glad that both of my daughters are happy, my stepson is happy, and Lee and I are happy. I am just so amazed that we have all progressed to this point. I thank God every day for these blessings.

Friday, August 18, 2017

Bringing County Mental Health issues into focus

Mental health treatment, liability and risk, inmate deaths at the County Jail...these topics are hot right now since the County recently settled a huge lawsuit with a family over the death of their son at the jail.

I was in attendance at my last all staff meeting of the human resources department yesterday. Our director was giving a briefing on current County issues, and the one at the forefront was a lawsuit resulting from the death of an inmate at the county jail.

The agenda was structured in such a way that there would be a few reports made, and then a round table discussion would take place where each staff member would report on their current activity and relay any information to the group that they felt was necessary. My turn to speak would be near the end and I was thinking of what I was going to say to the group as my turn approached.

My direct supervisor had mentioned in her report that I was leaving HR and going transferring back to work for the Sheriff's Department. So I led into my speil by thanking all of the staff members, as I looked around the room at each of them, for all of the experiences and assistance I had received in my year at HR. I told them that the two most impactful terms I had learned this year were: "organically", and "stretch assignment." They all laughed, because that pretty much sums up HR.

Then I briefly explained when I left the Sheriff's Department a year ago, I had to get out of the jail and off the night shift because it was killing me. I had planned  to make a new career, hopefully, in HR Risk Management, but then this opportunity came up for a Legal Clerk position that was too good to pass up. I would be going back to the Sheriff's Department, not at the inside the jail, but into the Records and Warrants Division, where I would be utilizing the skills I learned at HR to take on additional responsibilities and assignments and hopefully progress in that department as far up the chain as I would be able. The schedule, the days off, everything had aligned just as I had wished for, perfectly and organically.

Then I segued into the topic of the recent case and settlement. I told the group that I had an interest in the case because I had a son who had developed schizophrenia and committed suicide eight or nine years ago. I told them how we had tried to get help for Andrew and how difficult it was to navigate a system that doesn't clearly tell a person how to get help for mental health issues. I told them how it was my greatest fear that my son would end up on the streets and get arrested and taken to jail. I told them of how, while working in Booking, I would often take calls from parents or family members who expressed relief that their person had been arrested, because they felt that now they would be able to get the help they needed. I said to this group, of course, that is not how it works.

Mental health cases come in and out of the jail all the time when people are arrested for petty crimes. However, they don't get treatment until they have committed a heinous crime where they will spend a considerable amount of time in jail and psychological reports are mandated to prove their ability or inability to stand trial.

I mentioned that the jail is not equipped to deal with all these mental health cases, as has been stated in recent news articles. I emplored the HR staff to pay attention, and do what they could to ensure improvements in the system occur and that the Community is educated on ways to best intervene for their loved ones and get them the mental health treatment that they so desperately need.

From the moment I began talking about Andrew my tears started following and even though I couldn't look at anyone any longer I knew a lot of them were shedding tears also. I got a lot of hugs from my HR co-workers as the meeting ended and we headed out the door. Even the director came over and gave me a hug and expressed her sympathies for the loss of my son. I have to note here that I had been saying for the past month one of the reasons I was going back to the Sheriff's Department was because it felt more like a family and that I got hugs from the sheriff whenever I encountered him at the county building and I had missed all that. So now in my last meeting, I had made a rather deep and personal connection with the HR staff, and hopefully left them with something that they could relate to in a more human way as they managed their assignments dealing with County issues.

I feel a little guilty leaving my supervisor with the task of filling my job and my role, because I knew I had filled a big void in our Administrative Services Team. It had been a rocky journey for me and my supervisor, but I handled the problems I encountered intuitively, proactively, and  emerged with a base of good relationships with everyone I had worked with there.  My teammates have told me how much they're going to miss me and I know it's true. But fortunately, the stars have aligned, and the perfect person to replace me has appeared. The girl I am training is catching on so quickly and has enough experience in her background that she will be able to take what I have accomplished and run with it. My greatest contribution was in creating an accounts payable manual for our HR department that sifted through all the information and whittled it down to everything a person needs to know about our specific accounts payable responsibilities.

One big plus of what transpired in that meeting was that I did have the ear of the HR Director, who will have much influence on how the county procedes with mental-health issues. I know that I was able to create that emotional, human connection to the issue and that was exactly what I wanted to convey. Some of the comments I received afterward had to do with "being brave". I don't know about that, but I do know that I have put it out there into the universe, and I will be watching to see what the ripple effect could be.

Monday, June 5, 2017

Granddaughter's birth day

June 4, 2017  5:06 p.m.

I looked up and saw a hospital worker in blue scrubs come from the long hallway near the elevators and walk out into the lobby, alongside the Reception counter. Another visitor passed the worker on their way up to a hospital room, probably to visit another new mother. At first, I thought the visitor was going to ask the worker a question. I thought: "They never tell you anything." HIPPA laws. Privacy. 

My immediate next thought was: "The receptionist at Twin Cities Hospital had told me everything I needed to know and dreaded to hear after I gave her my son's name and she replied, 'Oh, I am so sorry. He is in ICU, third floor ...'" I knew, in that moment, my son was gone forever.

Here I was in another hospital, waiting on my oldest daughter to birth her first and maybe only little baby. I had called the hospital early in the morning after I saw some text messages from both of my daughters telling me she had gone to the hospital with labor pains. I called the hospital number first, thinking if my daughter was in labor, she might not be answering her phone. I gave my daughter's name, but the nurse who answered didn't seem to be able to confirm that she was there. She said I would have to call my daughter on her cell phone. Oh, privacy stuff.

Now it was just after 5 p.m. and we had been here since 8 o'clock this morning. A full week overdue, little Riley was finally almost ready to make her appearance into this world. My husband and I had been up in my daughter's room for most of the morning, talking with her and her fiance as the labor progressed along. My daughter had been administered an epidural to block the labor pains, so she didn't feel any of it once the epidural had taken effect. We could see the monitor recording spike after spike, and about the only discomfort my daughter was feeling was itchy skin and trying to find a comfortable position in the hospital bed. The blood pressure cuff was irritating her, as well, as it check her pressures every 30 minutes or so. We left the delivery room around 1 p.m., when the nurses decided it was time for my daughter to start pushing, a process they said could take several hours until the baby's arrival.

My daughter's fiance kept us informed on the progress by text messages. It was nice to get the updates every 10 or 15 minutes. Her water broke around 2 p.m. Another text: "Taking a break for an hour to see if the baby moves down more on her own", then, "trying to nap now".

The next text at 3:49 p.m. was, "Pushing and at 10cm at +2". Okay, all systems are go now. Baby should be here very soon. I was, in turn, texting Great- and Great-great Grandma's, Great-Aunties and my younger daughter with progress updates. The doctor was still not here. Waiting until the very last minutes...sheesh! Then one more text: "(Dr.) Spaulding is putting on the scrubs." Okay, here we go.

Another hour went by with no communication. Riley must have come and they were busy. Be patient. They will let us know soon. "Very soon now," I texted to all my contacts.I couldn't help myself...I started to get antsy. I walked down the long hallway and looked at all of the photography displayed along the wall. Finally, a text came through. "Grandma can come up and meet the newest grandchild." Yay! Just grandma, though. Mommy was not fully dressed, as it was baby-bonding time for the first couple of hours, skin-to-skin. Grandpa would have to be patient.

I went up and got my first peek at a fragile, tiny, skinny and wrinkled little chicken with pink cheeks, perfect bow lips and fuzzy, reddish-blonde hair. She was mewing like a kitten as she struggled to find her mommy's nipple and latch on. They hadn't weighed or measured her yet, as the bonding was the emphasis for now.

My daughter looked so exhausted. Then she told me about the scare that they had in the last minutes before delivery. Riley's heart rate dropped way low, then bounced back up, then dropped again. Suddenly, the delivery room population swelled from four people to eight as several other workers in scrubs appeared in the room. Nobody said anything, but my daughter was scared as she recognized their exchange of concerned looks and how they were all poised for action. She pushed again, as hard as she possible could, then another time...finally, the baby popped out! 5:11 p.m.

I knew it. I had felt it, that fear of losing your child. I felt it in those moments just before Riley was born. Kinetically attached to my daughter and granddaughter and Andrew. Thank God Riley was born healthy and we could see and touch her and love her forever.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Sean's Funeral

I just made it home from my nephew Sean's funeral. It went pretty well, considering it was my ex's side of the family who don't do funerals very well. It was a weird kind of deja vue, arriving at the funeral home for the service, because the place is so damn familiar. We have all been there together for many, many services over the past 20 years or so. One of the last ones was six years ago, today, for Andrew.

That fact made today especially hard on me, my girls, Bill, and anyone else who realized it. It was an ironic twist that landed Sean's funeral date on this day. My nephew Russell, who was left to plan everything, realized it after he had finalized all the arrangements, but there wasn't really anything he could do about it.

Bill said to me after the service, "It's just a thought. Let is go." I had, I thought, but it wasn't gone. It was just ironic.

There were lots of little ironies in this day. A little boy and his young mother were sitting in the same pew as we chose. The little boy looked at us and said, "Hi! I'm Kameron." Kameron, Sean's son Kameron? Oh yeah. Fine place to finally meet him. I lost it then. I was sitting there, feeding a bottle to my own little grandson, and thinking how this little boy would never really know much about his daddy. He might learn, someday, that his daddy was addicted to heroin and died by a drug overdose. I hope that doesn't define his daddy for him, because Sean was a sweet and fun boy. He just had a lot of pain to try to mask.

I was sitting in the pew behind my ex, on opposite ends. It wasn't intentional. We could have sat together and been just fine. My ex-sister-in-law who had been married to Bill's brother Don was sitting in the pew behind Don, too, on opposite ends. I wonder if that was planned or accidental? Anyway, we were all here, together, so to speak, for Sean. For the two remaining brothers, Russell and Cody. Just like old times, only completely different. No one would be hanging out at my house, drinking beer and barbecuing.

I saw a lot of ex-relatives that I hadn't seen since the last funeral. We decided we all had to stop meeting like this. Maybe the new generation of kids will start planning an annual barbecue so they can get together on happier circumstances. 

The service was actually pleasant, especially when compared to Sean's father Gary's funeral, or his mother Rollynn's. Both were so unbearable it was awful, because the priest that was sent over to do the service was a nut case. Russell was going to have the same one do this service, but he wasn't available. I guess he didn't remember how insane it was.  At least this person kept things in a good perspective.

I saw my niece from my side of the family there, along with her cousin who had once dated Sean. There were several of Sean's former girlfriends at the service. Anyway, small town. Everyone is related by one degree or another.

My oldest daughter was hoping to escape right after the service without having to deal with anyone. It was really a hard day for her. But it didn't quite work out that way. We visited with family and friends on the way out, and in the parking lot. Then my youngest daughter and her husband whom I had ridden with took me to my car and I headed home. I thought of Sean's little sons and started crying again.

As I got to the top of the grade, I thought about the photos my son had taken from the top, up the fire road. I wondered if I could drive up there? I pulled over and turned up the road. After a few feet, I could see the road was rutted with deep crevices that my car could negiotiate. I couldn't turn around, so I had to back down the hill. I turned to maybe go down the fire road heading south, but then I saw a "youth" in that roadway and decided not to drive by him. He just didn't look like a real good citizen. Foiled, I turned around again and got back on the highway.

Well, damn it! If I couldn't walk in Andrew's shoes today, I would at least cook a good piece of tri-tip for dinner and have a beer at home. Andrew would have like that.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

More Grief

My nephew Sean died last week on a heroin overdose. It was April 1. His service will be held on April 15, a significant date because that is the day my son Andrew died in the hospital.

I am not sure how I feel about that date. Here at home, I am kind of indifferent about it and the upcoming service, but I know when the day gets here and I go through the group grieving process with the rest of the family, it will be much more real and difficult.

Like Andrew, Sean made a lot of friends in life. He was almost always smiling and happy, so it seemed. He liked to joke around, be active and light up a room. Unfortunately, he also liked to get high and escape all those painful memories that had taken over his life. A lot of his "friends" have been in jail, served time for petty drugs or burglary to get drugs, and some worse. All of these kids know each other, gotten high together, and they what each one has been involved with. They have gotten busted together, been to court and rehab together, achieved sobriety and washed it all away with another high down the road. 

Sean's father died when Sean was only 15 years old in a sudden traffic accident on his way to work, then his mother passed away eight years later from multiple internal failures probably steming from her alcohol and painkiller abuse. There was a lot of alcohol and substance abuse involved in their lives, and that pattern has been passed on to the kids. Even though Sean was the middle child with two brothers, he felt lonely and totally abandoned by his parents. They all do. Each one sought out coping mechanisms, but it seems that the older brother is managing to move on and live life in the most adaptive manner. He is married and has a good job and a wonderful wife. The youngest brother is still trying to find his way and has moved out of state with his girlfriend's family. We are all still waiting to see how that plays out.

I just know that the grief of Sean's passing is widespread among his friends and family, and that it just adds another layer of pain on top of the grief the surviving two brothers and the rest of the family will have to bear. How we all do it is a very individual thing.

Not looking forward to the 15th even more this year.


Sometimes you just have to write it down right away, like right now. This is not about my son, Andrew, but it relates in a way. Writing it right this minute is risky, because I am at work, at my desk, facing the holding cells, but I want to remember my thought that are racing around in my head at this moment.
She’s back. It’s my older sister’s best friend from high school, and back then they called her, "Weasel". I am not sure where that came from, but it was her nickname. My sister's partner-in-crime, so to speak. They pushed the limits of what a kid should experience in high school, and in many ways, broke down barriers and helped set boundaries for me. I had a pretty good idea going in to high school what I could and couldn’t get away with, things I might get “killed” for by my Dad, and things that he could be reasonable about.
But this is killing me, seeing her like this at my workplace, the County jail. “Mary” is killing herself, slowly. So slowly its rather incredible. You don’t realize how much a human being can take. But she is taking and taking and taking. She is living on the streets, getting arrested every week and now every few days for being “Drunk in Public”, a high-crime in our parts. She looks bad, but oddly, not as bad as one would expect.
When I was 12, I worshipped her. She was an awesome horsewoman, and had her horse trained to follow her voice commands. She would say, “Load up,” and the horse would walk right in to the horse trailer. I had a rough, green-broke filly that I was trying to train to be a good gymkhana horse, even though I was a fish out of water. She traded me horses for a few months and spent some time training my horse while I got to ride her awesome horse, Brandy.
So when I see her in jail, sleeping off a drunk, it breaks my heart. As I see her come in time after time, it kills me…slowly. Obviously not literally, like she is killing herself, but it hurts. I wish there was something I could do, but at this point she doesn’t recognize me, I don’t have to interact with her, and its best to keep it that way. When an inmate discovers they know you, they talk about you to other inmates, they yell directly at you, they may bring up something hurtful or embarrassing from your past history with them…and that’s never a good thing. It would leave me vunerable. She had once posted something on my sister’s Facebook page about “who does she think she is?”, insinuating my sister had no business trying to run her business of healing therapies, trying to project a healthy and happy lifestyle. No matter how well a person is doing in recovery, this stuff brings you down a notch, sometimes all the way down.
I saw her on the street one day when I was out riding my bike. It was at a street corner about a block down from the Homeless Day Center. I had to stop for a red light, and she was stopped there, too. We were within arms reach of one another. I so wanted to say something, but, again, its not a good idea. I just gave her a smile like I would most anyone. She commented something to the effect, “Yes, I wait for green lights, too. Funny, huh, a homeless person waiting for a light to change.” I said something like that would be the logical thing to do, then the light did change and I pedaled ahead. Conflicted. But I keep on going. Sometimes that is all you can do, kind of like my own sister’s journey. She made the decision to get sober 25 years ago, and she has been living her life, going through her own struggles, but she is fighting to stay sober and live the best life she possibly can. She is a good and happy person. So to see this person left behind, hurts.
I always come back to Andrew in my thoughts of these people on the streets. He was so vunerable. The precarious bond of trust we had could have been severed at any time, and he would have been out on the streets with his increasing paranoia, victim of the harshness of that life. I am ever thankful that he didn’t end up on the streets, homeless. We took care of him the best we could and kept him safe from that, until he had enough and ended it. It could have, would have, gotten much worse. I need to remind myself of that. But it is still depressing.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Happy Birthday, Andrew! 30th!!!

So what would have been Andrew's 30th birthday arrived on Sunday. What a milestone. I really wonder how my boy would have been at 30? Better off? Worse? Things we will never know the answer to.

I watched some of his friends celebrate their 30th birthdays via Facebook. One of his friends, Deney, posted a nice acknowledgement of this marker year and how it felt to receive birthday wishes from so many people in his life via Facebook: friends, parents of friends, business associates, classmates, etc.

Actually, I will just quote to you what Deney wrote:

"I am feeling very blessed to have gotten to know so many wonderful people over these past thirty years! I feel that my 30's are going to be a pivotal point in my life and I can't wait to see what the future holds. Embrace life to the fullest everyday. Thank you for the birthday wishes and I hope that everyone has a great 2013!" -- Deney

Okay, so I can't help feel a bit envious. I wish my son could have had a day like that. I wish we could have shared it with him.
I remember my 30th birthday. My sister and sister-in-law made sure it was a big deal by arranging a wine tasting tour via limousine service. A coworker who was turning 21 went along with us, and a few more friends. I laugh about it, remembering what a wine-wuss I was in those days...I only tasted the whites and roses. I watched in awe as my sister-in-law tasted all the reds, too. Nowadays I am much more of a wine afficianado, so I actually prefer reds to whites.
I wanted my girls to come over and have dinner or something with us. For some reason my youngest wasn't up for it, and then my older daughter was trying to make plans for a date with a new friend. I figured, we can celebrate Andrew's birthday anytime, but I wanted my daughter to go on her date and have a good time. Move on! Embrace life!!! We could all meet up the following day, I reasoned. Still, I felt a little lost.
So I spent the day cooking a Portuguese dish from a recipe I found online, incorporating my farmer's market bounty of vegetables, something Andrew would have appreciated very much with his healthy-style of eating. I made a Portuguese Feijoada with Accompaniments: rice, collard greens and vinaigrette. The base of the stew was bacon and ham hocks with black beans--Andrew loved black beans! The vinaigrette was more of a salsa with vinegar, and it was delicious! I think Andrew would have loved this meal. I also made his favorite chocolate mayonnaise cake.
The meal was shared with my husband, my stepson and my brother who came over to visit. I had cooked the collard greens a couple of minutes too long so they were slightly scorched, but no one really minded. All in all, it was a small feast.
The next day I got ahold of the girls to figure out our plans. I got the hint they didn't want to drive over, so we loaded up and headed their direction, with a spaghetti casserole and the cake in tow. We ended up at my younger daughter's new place and had a very nice dinner, visiting and catching up on all the details of the older daughter's date and all. We mentioned Andrew briefly, but no one even brought up that it was his 30th birthday. We didn't light candles or sing. When it got time for cake, I cut into a very, very dense chocolate cake. It was almost like fudge. What did I screw up? I made it from memory, so I probably forgot a key ingredient...I went back through it in my head. Oh well, I will have to call my mother-in-law and ask her what I forgot. We all had a piece of cake and trashed the rest.
Life isn't perfect. We all keep on going anyway. Maybe this year is pivotal for all of us--maybe we are moving on.