Tag Archives: marriage

Life As We Know It Is Over

What makes me strong?  What keeps me from breaking under the load we all call life?

I have been asking that question for a dozen years.  My husband has been hospitalized more than 30 times since 2001.  He had bladder cancer.  He just kept growing tumors and finally they had to take his bladder out and put in a conduit to the ostomy that we now call Fred.

Then he had infections – and more infections and yet again, infections.  Over the last 10 years we have spent our vacations in the most expensive resort in the country – the hospital.  A jail cell really but it’s mostly white with nice subdued drapes and wardens dressed as nurses in navy  blue.

Recently, my husband did hand to hand combat with  melanoma which made a difference in how we spend our time, our money, our personal currency.

Now, he is being laid off.  He will be 60 when the axe finally falls.  He will be too old to employ – too young for social security or medicare.  And he will still be sick, still be in the hospital 2 or 3 times a year and still be the man I love with all my heart.

I am a master’s prepared, professional who is applying for jobs as a receptionist, an administrative assistant., a dog walker, anything to get a job that will help bridge the gap between his layoff and his 65th birthday.

But I can’t get a job.  We can’t sell our house.  And we cannot stop the layoff that is rolling toward us at the speed of light.

How did this happen?  When did we become part of the fringe that cannot sustain itself in this country  – the land of the brave, the land of the free?

Welcome to America – 2012.  Welcome to our country where people work and do a good job and pay their taxes and still get screwed.  This is the land where the rich once again get richer and the rest of us pay for their privilege.

We”ll keep fighting.  We will stay together.  We will find a way, smaller, narrower but still together.  But is this what is supposed to happen to people who have lived a good life?  Worked hard?  Helped out our families?

Who knows? All I know is that this is our lot.  And this we will face together — until death do us part.

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Filed under Budgeting, Life & Death, Love and Marriage, Politics, Saving Money

A Good Marriage Is Easy To Spot

How do you know your marriage is good?

Passionately and deeply in love?  Want to spend all your waking and sleeping hours with that one person?  Enjoying today, together  but planning for tomorrow?  Moving in, setting up a joint bank account and sharing the day-to-day tasks of living?

Every one of these could indicate a strong relationship, a good marriage.  Anyone of them could also be just a symptom of what looks like a good marriage.

The first time one of you makes a bad decision, you’ll get a look at what underpins your marriage.  Lose the savings account on a bad investment and watch the argument rip from money to control and back again.  Or make a bad choice morally – just once and it didn’t really mean anything.  But your partner may not be able to bridge the gap between the before and the after.

The truth is anyone can have a “good” marriage when things are going well.  The acid test only happens when things go badly.

Sometimes, bad choices can make or break your marriage depending on how you and your beloved handle it.  But what happens when no one makes a choice but both of you have to live with the consequences?

What happens when one of you gets sick?  I don’t mean a head cold or the flu.  I mean sick unto death.  In our case, it was cancer.  Will you run or will you stay?

It has been 10 years since our journey began, 10 years of chemo therapy, surgery, hospitalization after hospitalization.  Sitting here, reading my journal from the days when I thought, we both thought, that treatment would be fast, surgery would finish it, tears are streaming down my face.  What happened to my husband, to us, still cuts to the bone.  Our loss runs deep and wide.  Our sorrow is endless.

But our marriage not only survived, it got stronger with every treatment, every surgery, every hospitalization.

Since he was diagnosed with cancer, my husband and I have spent every vacation, every year, in that very expensive resort with very small rooms, a single bed and terrible food.  Hitting 34 hospitalizations in this, the 10th anniversary of our relationship with cancer, we are closer together than ever, enjoy each others company over that of almost anyone we know and wish only for one thing, at least another 10 year of whatever life has to throw at us.

It seems ours is a good marriage.

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Filed under Healthcare, Life & Death, Love and Marriage

Life Is A Choice – What WIll You Choose

This morning I feel the weight of all my choices rushing in to sit on my shoulders. It is a gray wet morning, leaves scuttling across the yard and my life suddenly reflected  in the balance of good and bad choices made in my career and what they cost me.

What I Chose
Work.  Sounds so simple, so easy, but that choice cost me years and years of my life.

I was a “good” employee.  Work on the weekend?  Sure.  Fly to Florida and work there for 5 weeks without a day off?  Sure.  Spend a week out in Yosemite National Park every month for a year?  Why not?  Live in Los Alamos for 2 months while installing a new system?  Will do.

For almost 10 years of my life I literally penciled in visits to my husband, our daughter, my sisters and brothers.  I was never home on holidays.  They were ideal opportunities to install hardware and software in the many locations across the country where I managed up to 100 people on the team at Marine Midland, Newark Airport, Kennedy Space Center and on and on and on.

I was an executive with an expense account, a secretary and all the gold cards you could possibly want.  First class travel, five star hotels, I had it all.  But one day, something changed.

I started thinking about what all the gold in my wallet and my bank account were costing me.  I stood still long enough to do the calculations.  Working 7 days a week,  averaging between 90 and 120 hours –  reduced my six figure salary to an hourly rate of about $10.00 an hour – what the UPS driver was making except he went home every night and had weekends off.

Then I made the mistake of thinking about what my choices cost me.

What I Lost

My Mom
My mother lived west of Roanoke on 163 acres owned by my brother Mike.  If I saw her 5 times in 10 years, it was a miracle.  Usually, I used my frequent flyer miles to fly her here, to our home, for the one weekend out of 52 that I might be in town.

My mom died of a cerebral hemorrhage while I was in Chicago for yet another meeting.  There was so much I forgot to ask her.  So much she could have shared with me.  But I never stopped long enough to ask.  Now I can’t.

My Life
I was married, had a beautiful home on 2.5 acres in horse country in Pennsylvania.  A gourmet kitchen I didn’t use, a suite off the master bedroom complete with jacuzzi that gathered dust between the maid’s visits and years of sunny summer afternoons on the deck that I never saw.  When someone asked me what my house was like, my answer was swift and sharp, “How would I know?  I don’t live there; I just pay for it.”

I clearly remember the night that I knew I was making the wrong choices.

It was Sunday night on Labor Day weekend. Our daughter was in labor at Bryn Mawr Hospital.  She was ill but it was a holiday.  The Pathology Lab was closed and the doctors didn’t know what was making her sick.  Only after our second grandchild was born with strep did they figure it out.  Whisked from the delivery room to the NICU, the baby’s prospects were poor.

But I had a flight to catch.  I was needed back in Florida.  Heading for the airport, fidgeting in the back of the limousine, I could not get a handle on what was wrong with me.  I needed to go; I didn’t want to.  Suddenly my work ethic and my instincts were facing off and it felt like all the easy answers were off the table until I asked myself two questions:

  1. If I got on the plane and the baby died, how would our daughter be able to face his death?  How would I feel about my actions?  About myself?
  2. If I didn’t get on the plane, if I went back to the hospital to hold our daughter’s hand and be held by my husband, would the meeting be cancelled?  Would the business I worked for fail?

When boarding for First Class was called, I actually walked onto the plane, put my laptop in the overhead, sat down and ordered a drink before I knew I just could not do it.  I could not go.  Leaping up, grabbing my laptop, I raced back up the ramp and into the airport.  Dialing my cell phone, I called my limo back to the airport and ran to the arrival area to meet my driver.

That was the turning point, the moment when I knew that somehow I had sold out all my old values for money and merchandise.  Did I quit the next morning?  No.  It took 2 more years and the death of my boss’s husband to make me wake up.  He died alone, in his garage, in his car, with the motor running.  All I could think was it could have been me who got the phone call, my husband who died.

I woke up.  I realized I was committing suicide – long, slow, deliberate – but suicide nonetheless.

I made a different choice.  I traded in the gold and came home.  My salary went from 6 figures to $28,000 a year.  I came home very night, to spend weekends and holidays with my family and to enjoy time, the only thing we cannot buy.

What choices are you making?  And what do they really cost?

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Filed under Budgeting, Home Ec on Acid, Life & Death, Love and Marriage

Why This Woman Should NOT Mow The Lawn

I should have known….

Those four words would make a nice tattoo on my forehead, a constant reminder not to go near the mower again.  If only I had been smart enough to get them “writ large”  on my bony pate before this summer.  This summer, it was as though the gods of the mower underground decided to show me just how far away from all things lawn and mower I should be.

This chain of disaster, like most, started innocently enough.  The first time the mower just waved a little warning flag.

It was a simple case of running out of gas on the side of a hill.  It took my mechanically-inclined husband and our neighbor about an hour to figure this out, however, because the operator (that would be me) insisted I filled the gas tank before I started.   I did put gas in…but filled was not the word Pat used when he and Jim finally lifted up the seat, spun off the top and looked inside.

The second time, Pat was at Spring Carlisle so I thought I would surprise him by mowing.  Of course, I was riding around, literally in circles, mowing the back yard as fast as I could when suddenly, the mower choked and the blades below the deck stopped spinning.    As soon as I got off, I knew why.  I had managed to suck about 20 feet of a 50 foot hose up under the deck.

The deck would not lift up off the ground so I spent the next 90 minutes using a long-handled shovel as a lever, lifting the deck about 2 inches in the air and shoving my arm up to my elbow underneath to pry, pull and chop bits of hose off the blades.  I almost made it but the last 4 feet were tightly wrapped around the center column.

Another 20 minutes with my cheek on the ground, my arm under the deck and my knees pushing the shovel down and the deck up and I knew it was all over.  I would have to make the call.  Wiping the mud off my face, I dialed my husband.  He was on his way home and said he would take care of it.

He walked into the yard, looked at the mower and me, walked to the shed, grabbed the ramps and put them on the edge of the patio.  Then he started the mower, drove it up the ramps and in 3 minutes, the hose was defeated, the last bits lying on the ground at his feet.  This was when I should have known I was outclassed by my man and my mower.  But no, there was one more embarrassing moment to come in this mower trilogy.

Two weeks ago, I was mowing, again, and suddenly the mower stopped, dead. All I could think of was I can’t call my husband again and tell him that the very expensive John Deere riding mower was dead and I was behind the wheel, again!  It was the 3rd time in 4 months!  How would I explain this one to him?

This time the dealership had to come out and pick the mower up on a flatbed.  The hydraulics had quit – no power steering, no deck, no wheels….no, no, no… My husband tried to make me feel better but it was no use. I still felt like a mower murderer.

Five days later, when John Deere drove up and rolled our repaired mower down the ramps, I decided to try mowing one more time.  Pat wasn’t there to stop me.  And so the mower gods shot their last arrow.

I couldn’t have been on the mower more than 15 minutes when the right front deck wheel fell off.  Here is where this story gets really, really ugly.
Whipping my cell phone out of my pocket, I call the John Deere dealership and ask for the Service Manager.  When the poor innocent picked up the phone and said hello, I let him have it.  Here follows some excerpts:

ME:  “Fifteen minutes, wheel off, deck not working…   You guys broke our mower.”  When he finally managed to get a word in around my Daffy Duck imitation, he asked me a single question.
HIM: “Do you have the broken parts?”
ME:  “What?  You think I have the broken bits?  I was mowing.  I don’t have the parts.  (Warning: if you are not mechanically inclined, don’t do this at home.)  You guys broke it.  You took the deck off.”
HIM:  Ma’am, taking the deck off would not cause the bracket holding the front wheel to break.”
ME:  “Really?  Really??  Well it did break and I want this thing fixed.”
HIM:  “I’m assuming you want it fixed quickly.  How about tomorrow?”
ME:  “Tomorrow?  Are you kidding?  Now, I want someone out here right now.  I want it fixed, now.”
HIM:  “I’ll check for the parts and will dispatch a mobile mechanic immediately ma’am.”
ME:  “Good thing.”

I hung up. Then I went looking for the parts.  And I found them.  And I knew I had to call back, apologize, profusely, offer to pay for the parts, the house call and my very, very bad manners.  I called, I asked for the Service Manager (to his credit he actually got on the phone and asked how he could help).  And I apologized for my very bad behavior.

The mower was fixed that evening.  I was still suffering from the embarrassment hangover you get when you have made a complete fool of yourself.  An in-person apology with a box of handmade truffles from Little Sister’s Kitchen helped but nothing has helped with my considerable reluctance to saddle up the lawn mower.

But, there’s always next year!

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Filed under Home Ec on Acid, Love and Marriage

Promise Me This

Ah, here again.  We know this place, you and I.

Murmuring heads leaning over a chart, talking about what’s next.  Phones and bells and monitors ringing and beeping.  Soft footfalls in the hall outside your door. The steady whir and click of the IV as it drips fluid and medication into your veins.

Another hospital.  Another time when the outside world disappears and everything in our lives narrows to this room, this bed, this time.

As our future unfolds before my eyes, I ask only one thing.

Will you promise me this?

If I am lying in that narrow bed, if I am dying before you, will you slip in with me, wrap your arms around me and hold me the way you do every morning before we get up?

It is a small act but it would give me the courage to go quietly into that dark good night.  If you are there, nesting with me, my back leaning on your chest, our heads together, your breath caressing my neck, I can reach out and hold on.

I will not be afraid.  I will be loved into the next world, soaring on your heartbeat and the touch of your hand on mine.  And when it’s over, when I am gone, lay your lips next to my ear and says these words – for you.  For me.  For us.

Do not stand at my grave and weep
I am not there; I do not sleep.
I am a thousand winds that blow,
I am the diamond glints on snow,
I am the sun on ripened grain,
I am the gentle autumn rain.
When you awaken in the morning’s hush
I am the swift uplifting rush
Of quiet birds in circling flight.
I am the soft starlight at night.
Do not stand at my grave and cry,
I am not there; I did not die.

And know that I am not gone, I am there, just beyond the horizon, waiting to take your hand in mine once again.

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How Money Can Shape Relationships – Part 2

Money talks…and sometimes it yells.

At least that’s what the decibel level in our house was like when we were growing up.  If the topic was money, we got out of the house, fast.  Dad was going to give Mom a verbal dressing down for how she spent it.

That was my early, late and constant introduction to how money was managed.  But this approach wasn’t really a problem as long as I was the one earning it and spending it.  All that changed when I got married, 27 years ago.  And the change was radical, painful and yes….loud.  There was a lot of yelling in the early years and, on my part, not a whole lot of insight as to why.

The first time my husband and I engaged in combat over cash was literally prompted by how much I tipped a waiter.  When I was flush (read gainfully employed) Pat and I used to love to eat out.  Since we both worked in Center City Philly, there were a thousand different ways we could spend our money on dinner.  And we did.

Pat usually paid the tab but one night, when the check came, he wasn’t at the table so I paid.  When he came back, he looked at the tip and the total and asked one simple and in hindsight I have to admit, innocent question – why did I always tip 20% then round up to the nearest $5?

I didn’t know why  And it didn’t seem like a big deal to me.  But he kept asking – as we walked out of the restaurant, walking down the sidewalk to the car and all the way home – he kept asking.  Pat was actually only asking why the tip had to be for an even dollar amount.

I thought he was questioning my right to spend our money on such a big tip.  And I lost it.  I think if he could have run, he would have.  The tip battle was round one of an almost 5 year fight over whose money it was and who had the right to decide how to spend it.

We never got to the point that one of the couples we knew did – separate bank accounts and splitting the bills.  But we did do some serious damage to each other and to our relationship.  In this entire 5 year fiasco, I must admit, I was the one who was wrong and I had my Mom and Dad to thank for it.

I never would have figured it out and I am guessing our almost 3 decade marriage would never have survived if I hadn’t asked my brother Bob (a plumber who was also an extraordinary poet) a casual question about his desk drawer full of paychecks.

When he explained that he earned money but didn’t like it, didn’t spend it (his wardrobe consisted of jeans, t-shirts with his business logo on them and cheap sneakers) and did NOT want to talk about it, I recognized a  link.  And Bob and I talked it through.

I learned how much he was affected by Mom and Dad’s constant bickering and monthly brawls.  And suddenly, I realized just how much they had affected me, too.  I could also see very clearly how my parents relationship was affecting my relationship with my husband.

I went home.  I apologized.  I explained.  And Pat and I began to heal the wounds that battling over money caused.

Was it fast?  No.  Even today, when a check is not written into the register or there is a question about an expenditure, I feel the wings of my meat-eating, money monster start to unfurl.  Even today, I have to remind myself to breath, to relax and to work with my husband to get the answers he wants and needs.

I have to agree with the man behind the Retrospective Entrepreneur – money breaks up more marriages than infidelity.  Think about that the next time you are putting on the gloves for yet another round in the ring about the cash.

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How Money Can Shape Relationships

It used to be (back in the dark ages of the 1950’s) that kids learned about relationships from their parents and maybe from the parents of their best friends.  In my house, we learned that Dad was the boss and everything, and I mean everything, revolved around his schedule, his likes and dislikes, his sense of right and wrong and his money.

That’s right.  My parents were NOT equal and the money was all Dad’s.

Our family was the definition of old-fashioned.  Dad went to work every day; Mom stayed home with the five kids, the laundry, the housework, the cooking, mending and shopping.  The biggest argument my parents had was held at the end of each month when it was time for Dad to look at the “books.”

Arguing wasn’t really what happened during those sessions as the only voice we ever heard was Dad’s.  Inquisition is a more apt description.  It was not a pretty sight and even if you couldn’t see it, you could not miss the frequent and loud outbursts that emanated from Dad’s mouth.

My Mom was in a losing position before one word was spoken.  The reason was simple math.

At the height of his career, Dad earned $24,000 a year before taxes.  Out of that money, my mom had to feed, clothe and keep in “necessities” five children, a foster teenager, her mother-in-law, herself and Dad, keep the house and car running and tithe to the church.  That was no mean feat and often there was little or nothing left at the end of the month.

Dad’s question was always the same — where did my money go?  The real answer – spent on the family – was never good enough.  And the war raged on around us.  Little did we know how very much we were learning about how money shaped relationships.

My brother Mike controlled the cash in his house, just like Dad.  His wife and children answered to him for every nickel and dime that went missing. Bob refused to talk about money or manage it.   He put his paychecks in a drawer and only deposited them when his wife was telling him, at the top of her lungs, that their checking account was running on fumes.

I made money, lots of it.  And I spent it, paid for my college education, raised a daughter on it and managed it for more than 20 years.  I felt total control when it came to money…until I married Pat.   Only then did I begin to understand how my parent’s monthly battle over money would affect my relationship to my husband.  And what I discovered was that ugly behavior can be learned.

More on the battle over money in the next post.

 

 

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