Grief: One day at a time

I haven’t yet had the chance to begin writing the next part of The Story, but I need to write about today.

Shortly after my mother passed (September 27, 2012), so many wonderful friends reached out to me. Some warned me that grief would strike at inexplicable times. Others told me that  that I would never get over this loss. For the most part, I’ve been handling things well. I have my ups and my downs. I’ve made sure to not close myself off from friends or family – which would be my natural tendency. I’ve learned to lean on the people closest to me and that’s been blessing. I even re-upped my therapy sessions, in anticipation of working through these complex emotions.

I suspected this week would be rough, though. On Sunday, I returned from Atlanta where we had a small memorial service for my mother. I suppose the finality of putting her – even if it’s just a portion of her remains – in the ground, next to her mother and her mother’s mother, would bring about a new wave of emotions. I was right.

Today, I called our cellular provider to have mom’s phone service discontinued. I was surprised, I suppose even pleasantly surprised, when they asked, “Would you like to save her out-going message as a memorial?” Huh? I hadn’t thought of that. I thought to myself, “gee, that’s very kind of them. That must give some folks some sort of peace … to be able to hear their loved one’s voice from time to time.” As my heart started beating quicker and quicker, I started to stumble on words. “What … Uhm … How do I do that?” As the kind person on the other phone suggested I use a smartphone or other audio recording device, it dawned on me that I already knew how to do it, but that my mother actually didn’t have an out-going message on her voicemail. “Uh, no … no, I don’t think we want to do that. Thank you, though. That’s nice.”

After I hung up the phone, my heart began beating even quicker. Before I knew what I was doing, I had logged into my Google Voice account … I knew my mother had left me messages there over the past few years, even though I had tried to get her to just call my iPhone directly. Sure enough, I found a five second voice message from her, dated September 13, 2013 – just one week before she died. The message itself was insignificant … something along the lines of “Lori, it’s me. You don’t have to call me back.” She sounded so frail. I froze instantly. I’m not sure how I remembered to keep breathing, but the tears began to pour from my eyes.

My heart felt like it was going to leap out of my chest. I ran to the bathroom at work, where I wanted nothing more than to let the most gut wrenching sobs out of my mouth. I saw someone else’s feet in the stall next to me. I tried to compose myself and exited the bathroom. I couldn’t think of where I could go. I felt under pressure to finish work. There was only only an hour and a half left of the day, surely I could pull myself together.

As I sat at my keyboard, muffling my tears, I noticed that my boss was gone. His door was open. I grabbed my tissues and headed in there where I could have some privacy. After a few minutes had passed, I tried to get back to work. The tears were still pouring down my face. My heart was still racing. I felt like I needed to retreat. Thankfully, my coworkers noticed that I was losing it. One offered to take over my duties for the remaining hour of work, while the other consoled me and told me it was okay – that I should go on and head home.

As I pulled out of the garage at work, the tears were still falling down my face. Finally, my heart began to slow down to it’s usual pace. I tried to let myself cry peacefully, to just let the tears roll down my face, to my chin, from my chin to my shirt. To stop fighting them. To give in. My soundtrack for the ride home mirrored that of my emotions: from Yo-Yo Ma’s heartfelt cello solos, to Coheed and Cambria’s gut wrenching screams, and finally to the Civil Wars tearful ballads.

 

Daughter to caregiver, in an instant

It’s weird knowing how quickly life can change – or even end. This is the story of the beginning of the end of my mother’s life.  Because of how raw and emotional this is, I’m breaking this up into a few posts, working through things as I write them. Please bear with me. Thanks.

Unbearable pain

In January, my mother, who had a longterm back injury, became disabled when her sciatic nerve rendered her bedridden for six weeks. I would wake up, hearing her screaming in pain. I’d have to rush in and massage her calves, or find the right pain killers to give her. Slowly, she got some relief and we had planned for her to undergo a 360-degree spinal fusion once we had her worker’s comp and disability specs all figured out. The surgery never happened, but the pain at the least was more manageable than it was initially.

Everything changes

On June 17 (Father’s Day), everything changed. I witnessed my mom, age 54, suffer a major stroke. Luckily, all of our family was with her at home when it happened. After convincing my family that what was happening was serious, I called 911 for an ambulance while my dad and brother were screaming at me. They were trying get her into the car and she kept slipping out of her wheelchair.

I was with her and my brother in the emergency room as the doctors repeatedly performed tests to monitor the progress of the stroke. Her grip on her left side would come and go. Her smile would wane, but then come back. All she really wanted to know was how the Miami Heat playoff game was going. Once she was finally settled into the cardiovascular intensive care unit, I went home to get some rest.

When I came back the next day, mom was all out of sorts. She was fighting withdrawal from nicotine and narcotics, thrashing the right side of her body in the bed, rocking back and forth, and moaning in pain. Years ago, she had been prescribed Oxycontin to help manage her pain after she was in a severe car accident. Between her daily dosage and annual steroid injections to her spinal cord, she managed to get by. Now, she was without it all.

June 20, 2012: A caregiver’s dinner at the hospital is whatever you can find in your purse.

Rehab

In the following days, we learned more about the stroke. A clot had blocked the blood flow in the right side of her brain. This was the reason why her left side of her body was not functioning, but also why she could still talk and understand us (thankfully). The stroke was likely a result of her 30 years of smoking. She as transferred to an inpatient rehabilitation center where she would work herself as hard as she could for two weeks, retraining her muscles to swallow, enunciate clearer, walk and move her left arm and hand. All the while, suffering her usual back pain without her regular medications. We were hopeful that this was a blessing in disguise – that having kicked both nicotine and narcotics, perhaps we could find a less addictive means of managing her pain when she came home.

While mom was in the hospital, I had experienced the humbling realization that my mother was someone who I’d be taking care of for a while – whether that meant monitoring her medication, changing her clothes, feeding her, or even bathing her. Once mom returned home, almost three weeks after her stroke, my job as primary caretaker became even more daunting.

To be continued …

Heart of Gold

I have a soft spot for acoustic guitar. I started playing when I was 10 years old, and over the years I’ve picked up and set down the guitar for months and years at a time. Neil Young’s music has always been special to me – partly because it reminds me of my father, playing his own guitar and partly because I know just how much both my parents have loved the dude since his Crosby, Stills & Nash years.

I stumbled upon this performance of Neil Young’s Heart of Gold by Tavi Gevinson at a New York Fashion Week event and my heart melted:

Tavi Gevinson Performs “Heart of Gold” from CADAVER @ The Standard East Village, NYFW 2012 from JAMS on Vimeo.

Happy February?

February gets a bad rep for being especially harsh from those of us who are #foreveralone. Spinsters like myself are thought to spend Valentine’s Day at home with their cats, eating a box of chocolate they bought for themselves while tearing up watching The Diary of Bridget Jones (video: All by myself). But I won’t let V-Day get the best of me. That’s cause January was painful enough.

Seriously, I’m just so glad January is over. My mother has been unable to walk more than a few steps since January 5. After many doctors appointments and many mornings of  being awoken to hearing her scream, I was initially quite sad when her epidural to her spinal cord  yesterday did not result in immediate relief. February, you’re off to a not-so-great start, damn it. That’s okay though, cause there are plenty of things to look forward to:

Saturday is HeartCamp

Locals, listen up. South Florida’s notorious blogging socialite Maria de los Angeles is hosting the first ever HeartCamp. She’s brought in a diverse group of speakers to discuss all matters of the heart — the physical, emotional, spiritual and creative heart. I am actually most interested to hear from many of the South Florida community members who are sharing their own stories:

While regular price tickets have already sold out, you might still be able to get a late-bird ticket for $40. The event is being held at Hyatt Pier 66 in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. I have volunteered my services for the day to handle all the fun social coverage of the event. You’ll be able to follow along on Twitter, Facebook and Flickr.

Finishing the new piece of art on my arm

At the end of January, I had some ink added to my forearm where my New York Times Magazine “T” logo was placed. I wanted something bold, colorful and feminine. After stumbling upon the work of Steve Whittenberger at Rock-a-billy Tattoos in Lauderhill, Fla., via Instagram (no joke), I knew he’d come up with something great – that wouldn’t take away from the “T” or diminish it, but really build upon it.

The day before Valentine’s, Steve will be finishing up the shading and adding some really bold colors to this piece.

In March, I’ll be in Austin for 9 days

My now annual trip to Austin in booked – the company is paying for me to attend SXSW Interactive again (awesome), and I’ve tacked on some vacation time to the end of that so I can see all of my Austin buddies (even more awesome). I plan to spend some time doing some self-reflection and perhaps finally getting a chance to visit some of the things I never got to when I lived there. To name a few: Hamilton Pool (seen below) and  the Salt Lick (yum).

Hamilton Pool Grotto Panorama (HDR)

Create your own stereograph GIFs

Transparency and Open Government have become buzzwords over the past few years that I fully support. President Obama’s Open Government Initiative has prompted many government organizations to begin releasing once private data. Today, thousands of records are being published on Data.gov and awesome projects are being built out of it by geeks around the world.

I like to think that this movement comes on the heels of the Creative Commons movement, which began in 2001. As a former information graphics designer, it’s awesome to see just how much has been added to The Commons on Flickr.

Here’s a really cool project by the New York Public Library Labs where you can transform historical stereographs from their collections into shareable animated GIFs: Stereogranimator.

You can create  your own right now. Here are some I made:

GIF made with the NYPL Labs Stereogranimator - view more at http://stereo.nypl.org/gallery/index GIF made with the NYPL Labs Stereogranimator - view more at http://stereo.nypl.org/gallery/index GIF made with the NYPL Labs Stereogranimator - view more at http://stereo.nypl.org/gallery/index

Another year later …

Over a year has gone by since I last gave blogging a try. It’s not that I didn’t intend to keep up with this place. I did. Every damn month. And the site itself has gone through many designs – all of which I hoped would jump-start my enthusiasm for wanting to write again. I can’t say that I’ll be posting on a regular basis, but let’s get to it.

What you might have missed:

  • Got laid off from the newspaper
  • Had a short-lived gig at the as a community manager at an awesome journalism foundation
  • Landed on my feet in the corporate world doing social media.
  • Still living at home with my parents
  • Got recurring bronchitis and sinus-related health problems
  • Made awesome friends that I love so, so much
  • Put my oldest cat to sleep after his health began to dwindle
  • Took a$12,000 pay cut
  • Learned the joys of massage
  • Visited Colorado to see my college roomie and explored the mountains
  • Picked up the camera again and got semi-serious about it
  • Began crafting again (posts to come about this!)
  • Went to New York and came back starry-eyed
  • Continued with my on-again, off-again exercise regimen
  • Got lots of injections into my sinus cavities
  • Took a second job working on an awesome local radio program
  • My job took me to a few fun places: Las Vegas, Denver, New York and Austin
  • Became a red head again
  • Got more ink
  • Read a lot of books on my Kindle

Many ups and many downs, but c’est la vie.

2010 in review

2010 was a bitch, and she earned that title over and over again: I lost my job at the Miami Herald at the end of December 2009, and my last day was January 5, 2010. I had no idea what to do – All I knew was that I wasn’t going to accept any offers from another newspaper again. I felt that I owed that to myself. A sweet job as community manager for the John S. and James L. Knight foundation landed itself in my lap before the end of January and I was high on the possibilities that came with it. I could get out of my parents house. I could really do something I love – furthering journalism by working with this great foundation, and fostering community around my passions. And then less than three months later, I was back on my ass (no hard feelings towards the Knight Foundation at all – they opted to go with someone more senior than me and it was the right decision for them).

Another opportunity arose, and by mid April, I was clocking hours with my partner-in-crime at my current gig. I struggled with this one, as it is an open-ended contract position, for a wage that is less than what I made straight out of college. It also meant that there’s no way I could move out of my parents house (I had moved in August 2009, foreseeing being laid off at the newspaper). And while the work has been great, and the experience invaluable, it’s still a daily struggle. After paying my final tax installment on the wages I earned at the foundation, I’ll actually be forced to zero out my savings account and unless something changes in my paycheck, it’s going to be closed.

My health was pretty poor in 2010, too. In February, I came down with a really horrible bout of bronchitis, which I had never had before. It reappeared in November, and all-in-all I spent about six weeks in bed, unpaid. And dealing with insurance has become an added hassle, as I’ve switched over to Cobra (from the Herald). I’m grateful that I have it, don’t get me wrong. But the clock is ticking on that, and if my situation doesn’t change, it’ll be gone come my 28 birthday this August.

Amid all this crap I’ve had to deal with, I have been so lucky to have made some awesome friends this past year. And that’s what’s really kept me going. I always liked to think of myself as a giving person, and often times, it backfires and you risk getting taken advantage of. This year, my new group of friends have really stood by me in good times and in bad. I can’t say thank you enough to Chris Fullman for letting me into his life and introducing me to a great group of people I now count as my extended family.

Happenstance on Lincoln Road

It’s rare that I take the opportunity to enjoy Miami or Miami Beach. Since my departure from the Miami Herald last January, I no longer face a daunting 60-mile commute and as the months tick by, I find myself becoming increasingly wary about crossing over the county line. Maybe I don’t want to be reminded that I left the city on someone else’s terms or maybe I’m simply lazy. Just thinking about hustle and bustle of the 305 can wear me out. Plus, my longtime college roommate finally left Coral Gables for graduate school in North Carolina, so I don’t have anyone to lure me south for cycling adventures.

Today, I had a meeting on Lincoln Road and was bummed that I couldn’t convince any of my girlfriends to tag along so we could do some window shopping beforehand. I decided to pop over to Shake Shack for a quick milkshake, but before I could make it inside, I ran into two friends who I hadn’t seen in a long time, Craig and Johnny. Lucky me, I thought! Before I knew it, hours had passed by and I had racked up a $25 parking fee in the fancy garage I had parked in. (I originally thought, “Hey, I will be in and out within two hours”, and I really, really wanted to take some photos of this garage after listening to a great story from WLRN Under the Sun last week) … Just when I was starting to remember how awesome Miami can be, reality sat back in. All in all, though, $25 in parking fees was worth a great afternoon with pals that rarely ever have the chance to spend quality time with.

Here are a few pictures with my phone while we were roaming around Lincoln Road:

All photos taken with an iPhone 4 and edited with Camera+.

There’s a holiday for everything, even blogging about your pooch.

It’s become a running joke between Mallory and myself to poke fun at some of the “official” months, weeks and days that are being celebrated. Some of them are simply marketing ploys, while some of them are a bit more serious:

For example: Today is Get Smart About Credit Day and National Pumpkin Cheesecake Day. This week is Freedom of Speech Week and National Lead Poisoning Prevention Week. October is National Go On A Field Trip Month and Photographer Appreciation Month. And the lists go on and on …

With all of that nonsense in mind, I’ve declared today National Blog About Your Dog Day. Yesterday, I tweeted about it after Mallory told me another obscure “holiday”. And some of my friends decided to play along.

Here’s my inaugural #blogdog contribution:

Adicus.

Growing up, there was never a shortage of fur in our house. Between a rotating lineup of cats and dogs, our family portrait always included a spot for a four-legged furry beast. The only time time that I lived away from animals was two years in college. Freshman year, I stayed on-campus in the dorms, but would always retreat back home on the weekends for free laundry services and fur therapy. For my super-senior year, I moved back in with my dorm roomie to an animal-free condo in South Miami. I was pretty miserable and longed for the company of my kitties, who were staying with my parents.

After graduation, I took a job in Milwaukee and although I didn’t originally intend to get a dog, I soon ended up with one. After 20 days on my own, I began skimming Craigslist for puppies. Seven days later, I brought home a little beast from a neighbor who had a litter of Saint Bernards.

Adicus became my partner-in-crime as I moved around those first few years after college. In Milwaukee, even as a little tyke, he proved to be the most effective (and cheap! $100) security system a young girl could have in a not-so-serene neighborhood.

After a few months of frolicking in the snow, we packed up the car and headed south to Austin. Adicus grew to love the car so much that we’d go on car rides at least four times a week, often ending up at our favorite dog parks across the city and jaunts out to the Hill Country. Before I knew it, my little guy had grown from the fumbling teddy bear with an afro to a mini-horse.

Before I decided that Adicus was the right pup for me, I did a little research on Saint Bernards. I had to know what I was getting myself into. Saint Bernards, famously known for alpine rescues, are large working dogs who typically weigh-in between 140 to 260 pounds. Because of their massive size, they often have a shorter lifespan of only eight years. Luckily, Adicus is more like a mini Saint Bernard, only weighing in at 115 pounds at four and a half years old.

Saint Bernards are known as “gentle giants” and love to follow their masters around from room-to-room. When I lived on my own, Adicus would do just that. He’d sit at my feet when I was on the computer, and then move to the hallway if I went to the bathroom, and then to the kitchen as I heated up some pasta.

Now that we’ve moved in with my parents, Adicus has joined the ranks of a larger pack, which consists of a 10lbs Dachshund/Maltese mix, and two very large Labradors. He’s come into his own as of late, often being much more independent than the other dogs and has learned to bark ferociously. He still runs around like a mad man, though, and is often responsible for breaking lamps and chotchkies, spilling coffee, and causing a general ruckus. And yes, he slobbers … a lot.

With all that said, he brings me so much happiness. I don’t hold any of the negatives against him – he can’t help it. He’s a big boy, after all.

Join National Blog About Your Dog day by posting photos and sharing your own post on Twitter by using the hashtag #blogdog.

Life after newspapers.

These past few months have been a whirlwind. Case in point: I am writing this from 30,000 feet above ground on an iPad, en route to Denver with my partner-in-crime, Mallory, for work. We’re spending a few days at an “offsite” sale for the Go Cars and Trucks market. You know, the used car sales where they unload hundreds of vehicles at the stadium. We’ll be at Mile High Stadium, taking photos, meeting customers and Twittering away.

We’re both thrilled to be traveling and spreading the social media gospel to our other markets. We might even try and stop by a store or two while we’re out there. June 18 marked my two month anniversary on the job and there’s plenty to show for it:

Things have been moving fast! I like to think it is because our social media team really gets it and we work together so well. Stephen, our social manager, and Gary, VP for marketing, are touchstones for positivity and encouragement. Our partnership with GOSO, the automotive social media outfit, have kept us inspired and on our toes at the same time.

Working with my best friend has been nothing but fun, too. I knew Mal and I had really hit it off when we first met over Twitter when she joined the Herald in November 2008, but I am continually thankful for what great friends we have grown to be.

The contrast between my job as a social media coordinator and a newspaper designer is night-and-day (and not just literally.) As a designer, I felt like I was always striving to become an artist, but working in newspapers meant I often just ended up drawing boxes. I lacked the confidence to immerse myself in art, but I really enjoyed the information architecture aspect to designing a product for consumption. As a social media coordinator, I get to interact with our local and national community and am continually thinking up new ideas for blog posts, contests and campaigns. The creativity I sought after as a designer is being fed. Sure, I miss geeking out over leading sizes and kerning, but I do get weekends and holidays. I can’t really complain.

For any of my friends in the newspaper business who are looking to branch out and try something new, or those who feel don’t know how to make the first step towards a career change, it is true: there is life after newspapers. Find something that excites you. Find a way to work it into your current job. Start looking for other opportunities – they’re out there. You just have to be willing to give them a try. You can’t win if you don’t try.

by @loritodd