When Destiny Packs Your Bags

ducks in a row

Doesn’t it always seem when you get your proverbial ducklings to trot single file, Destiny senses your achievement and watches like a lurking bully? Just as you hit your stride it jumps from the bushes and scatters them. Yup. Big D loves to mess with us. We can’t predict what life has in store for us, EVER!

“You think you’re in control of things? Ha!” says Big D, “You crack me up, Susie Lindau.” Destiny always has other plans in order to teach us life lessons.

This was the year I wanted to hunker down to finish projects, enter contests and get into super shape. Most important to me was to start a regular routine to balance my life and accomplish more in less time. Destiny buckled over it laughed so hard.

When my brother, Joe, died in March, shock pulled more than five weeks from my stellar equation to reach 2017’s goals. During that time I shelved most of my writing, but made some positive changes. I write in a gratitude journal every night and refocused my goals after finally learning about the fragility of life. You’d think breast cancer would have taught me that.

Destiny crosses its arms and shakes its head.

But Destiny also taught me to take opportunities presented NOW. I won’t wait for a better time in the future. You never know what’s ahead. Since adventure’s my thing, I decided I wanted to travel a lot more, but I wasn’t sure how I would balance that with hunkering down. I figured once things settled down after the funeral, I could get a ton done and plan an adventure sometime next fall. Ha! In hindsight, Destiny and I both share a laugh over that naive thought.

My husband and I returned home between Joe’s death and the funeral and discovered water pouring through the ceiling of our house from my demon washing machine. I took it as a cosmic joke and cliché moment about how life goes on and most of the setbacks are fixable. I figured we would patch up the ceiling and move on.

“Gotcha, Destiny.” I clucked my tongue and winked.

Big D shook its head. It had other plans.

So we’ve been inundated with workers since March 14th. Driers, contractors, drywallers, painters and soon the wood floors will be redone. My routine has been blown to hell. Instead, I carve out a few hours each day while workers come and go.

Then we heard from our insurance company. Are you sitting down? Because the water leaked out of the room into the hall, ALL of the wood floors on our first floor will be refinished along with my son’s room. The furniture has to be moved out. I threw up my hands and shook my fist at the Destiny. “Quit screwing with us, Destiny!”

My stomach has been knotted while waiting to get back to a normal life.

Then I discovered we need to move out of the house for almost THREE WEEKS! Another setback. We planned to drive to Breckenridge and stay at our second home. That’s cool, I guess.

One night, we picked up where we left off with Outlander. I had been so inspired when we started watching the historical fantasy about a woman who travels back in time to the 1740’s. My 100% Irish dad shocked us a few years ago when he said he had a Scottish grandmother. I did some research and she immigrated to America from the Melville Castle area. I wondered if my love for fish tropical in tanks and of the edible variety had anything to do with a connection to Herman?

“Wait a minute,” I said to my husband, Danny, after turning off a gruesome episode where a duke becomes headless, “See if there’s anything available in Scotland!” We bought a dinky timeshare unit in a lodge at the bottom of Peak 7 in Breck to use the amenities and park our car. We always forget to trade it and are about to lose two weeks.

After Danny researched availability, he came out of his office, smiling. “There’s a place in Dailly, Scotland.”

“What?” my eyebrows rose to my hairline and I took a look at his computer. We couldn’t find a trade in the US. It must be destiny.

A small smile curled in the corners of The Big D’s mouth as it peered over my shoulder.

That weekend, I caught up with a few blogs before skiing. Sacha Black announced the Bloggers Bash in London. One of our goals is to travel around and meet my virtual friends. “We could meet my friends!” I said.

I bought two tickets to the Bash and Danny booked our stay in Scotland for a week. We still needed to book the second week.

Why don’t we go to Paris the second week?”

“Really?”

“We can go anywhere, but that’s your favorite place, right?”

I would let it sink in over the weekend.

I attended the Pikes Peak Writers Conference and had several mind blown moments thanks to Donald Maass and several other knowledgeable writers. Between classes, I spoke to my son, Kelly. “If you want to visit me this quarter, you should come out next weekend,” he said. “I have to work hard the last few weeks of school.” He’s attending Icon Collective Music Production School in Burbank. He graduates in June.

I LOVE visiting Kelly in California, but I would come home late Sunday evening and would have to repack to fly out again. Thing is, my mom comes for a ten day visit over Mother’s Day. Would I ever have time to do revisions after those mind blown moments? I remembered my new thoughts about opportunity and booked flights for early Friday morning. With the pressure of a trip, I wrote a brand new, much better first chapter and revised the second. Maybe cramming in writing between workers coming to the house was a good thing.

Monday morning I checked AirBnB’s in Paris surprised at how many lovely apartments near the heart of Paris only cost around $100 per night. I made a list of favorites. Then I noticed the walls in the Parisian apartment photos. I needed to pick a color for the bathroom that had been damaged. Most of the French rooms depicted neutrals in gray, taupe and tans. We have a very French house and I was sick of the green paint in the bathroom.

I drove to the paint store and picked out a few colors, then asked the decorator, “Is gray still a popular color?”

“It is,” she said, brown curls bouncing as she walked toward me from her desk.

“I was thinking about warm gray,” I said. “Something with a little brown in it.”

She pulled a few colors from a new line of paint. They all looked pretty much alike. When I returned home with a fist full of paint chips, I selected a taupey color called “Quicksand” and called the painter.

Destiny chuckled in the background.

I didn’t pay attention to its giggle.

Another cosmic joke came the next day. The house filled with painters. They spent the day painting the guest bedroom and the adjacent back sink area and bathroom.

After they left, I checked out the rooms. “Are you kidding me???” The walls were a light shade of green. It made the tumbled marble tile look pink. I screamed. “No!” Then I checked the code for the paint on the chip against the can. Exactly the same. How? How?

I figured this had to happen to other people and spoke the contractor. Nope. This NEVER happens.

At this rate, workers will be around for a while. I predict a lot of travel in my future. Quit scattering my ducks, Destiny!

Related posts:

A Cosmic Joke After Trauma

I Celebrated a Birthday, but Failed to Save a Life

When Death Sits on My Face

My Demon Washing Machine is Haunted

When Death Sits on My Face

I went to a therapist for the first time with the intention of getting over my brother’s sudden death after trying to save him. When my father died, it hit me harder the second six months. I needed some coping skills. I wanted to expedite the process of grieving. Get over it faster.

“I know you want to move on quickly. Are you avoiding the death of your brother?” my therapist asked.

“Are you kidding me?” I said and threw my hands in the air while looking skyward. “Death is sitting on my face.”

It has taken up residency in a part of my brain and won’t move out. I would love to give it an eviction notice. Better yet, break down the door and beat the crap out of it.

While sprawled out in a recliner, death takes control of the remote and oozes a lens over my eyes throwing everything askew. My clouded perception warps sunny days and blows a draft through my heart. I shiver.

I’m done with death.

It’s a lying, cheating, deceitful son-of-a-bitch. I don’t want anyone to die ever again.

When I told my friend, Bill Hurtley the funeral director, he laughed.

“That would be a disaster.”

I imagined airlines for the elderly and low profile nursing homes replaced by skyscrapers. Soon there would be more golden agers than any other age group.

“So what?”

It’s been a struggle. Death comes in waves. My waves are timed different than everyone else in my family. While one of us is chillin’ in the water doing the backstroke, another is drowning. It’s unpredictable.

The water metaphor comes up all the time. It’s ironic how we arrived home to water pouring through the ceiling. “You should immerse yourself in death,” said my therapist. “Write about it.”

“Do I have to?” I felt like a kid who was told they couldn’t go out for recess, but had to stay inside to do homework.

Here goes:

Back in Wisconsin, I had a beautiful dream about water. I soaked in a vast infinity pool in a room where everything was covered in cream-colored marble. Gorgeous. Alone, the sound of water soothed me, although the temperature was cooler than I’d like. I stepped out and walked down endless smooth steps as a gentle waterfall trickled past my bare feet. I smiled and woke up.

I’ve had a strong desire to swim ever since. I’m desperate to wash away this broken feeling in my gut. Thoughts of baptism and rebirth keep seeping from my subconscious. Weird.

We grow strong attachments to the ones we love. When they die, it tears a part of us emotionally and physically. That feeling is real. The gouge, torn in my flesh, seems irreparable, infected, and sore. Unpredictable triggers throw salt on the open wound.

Then I imagine water pouring through me to repair the damage. I remember that feeling of walking out of the pool whole again. What was that?

Hope, a little peace, maybe even happiness.

Skiing after my brother's death carrying weight in every turn.

I went skiing last weekend. I’ve skied after breast cancer, a partial knee replacement, and after my dad’s death. But with this shock, I carried the weight of death in every turn. Yet at the end of the run, I smiled. That’s hope.

Life moves on and I go skiing.

My brother died on March 11th, two days after my mom’s birthday. My birthday is April 11th. In a week, I’ll lock death’s guest bedroom door and will sneak off to take a holiday from grieving, if only one hour at time. I’ll take baby steps toward that marble pool.

Things will get better. Death will stop sitting on my face. It will pack its bags and the wound will heal. I wish I could expedite the process. If only I could snatch the remote from its rotted fingers and hide the batteries.

How do you handle hardship? Have you ever wanted to kick someone out of your head?

Related posts:

I Celebrated a Birthday, but Failed to Save a Life

A Cosmic Joke after Trauma

 

A Cosmic Joke after Trauma

When life becomes a cosmic joke, I’m ready for the punchline.

It’s more than traumatic when someone healthy dies moments after you speak with them. My mind has been flooded with what ifs and the disbelief that anyone could sit down and pass away from a clot. I’m still in shock after almost three weeks.

So what’s the joke?

My husband, Danny, and I returned home to regroup before the funeral. We stepped inside and a steady dripping sound greeted us. Part of the ceiling lay on the floor of the guest bedroom. Water collected in pools on the hickory floors around it.

Remember my demon washing machine story?

This is the guest bedroom on the first floor under the laundry room.

When it rains it pours - a cosmic joke

In a panic, I ran upstairs to the laundry room. Water poured from the cold faucet. Why now? I checked those faucets three times a day for five weeks and they had never shed a drop.

The drain under the washer remained dry. Water ran inside the wall and had collected in the ceiling, which caved in. Then it traveled through the floor to our unfinished basement below.

I ran down the steps. Water sprinkled our kid’s apartment furniture and inconsequential storage containers. My eyes fell on a large rectangular box. It had leaned against the wall since we moved in seventeen years ago. It contained some of my artwork.

“Are you effing kidding me?” I shouted and shook my head. I didn’t need this while planning for my brother’s funeral.

Then I rushed back upstairs, stood in the guest bedroom doorway and laughed.

“When it rains it pours,” I said.

I’m not sure where the pun came from, but in that moment, I was over it. I didn’t care anymore. Life has it’s way of reminding us that it goes on no matter what we’ve been through.

This ridiculous cosmic joke had a huge fringe benefit.

My husband, Danny, called 24/7 Restoration and they arrived in a flurry of able-bodied men. They emptied the guest bedroom as the plumber arrived. Soon a steady thrum of dryers replaced the steady drip.

I stepped back downstairs to check on my artwork. They had cleared the furniture and cleaned up the floor along the wall. Now, drying fans hummed in the empty space.

My artwork lay in its box on top of a table. Opening it, I flipped through portraits, fashion and sports illustrations drawn as advertisements for businesses or to build a portfolio. I had forgotten. It was like a message from beyond from my dad and brother.

Susie Lindau artwork

Long ago, I had given up too easily.

After graduating with a BS in Art from UW-Madison, I found a top advertising agency in Milwaukee and landed an interview through my artistic dad’s connections. I would walk right into my dream job, right?

I remember sitting in a plush office with a view of the city. The president of the company sat at his desk across from me. “Do you have experience in pasteup and layout?”

“No.” I sunk down in my seat.

“Why did you get a four-year degree from the University of Wisconsin when Madison Area Technical College would have taught you these skills in two?”

I didn’t have an answer.

“Our illustrators work their way up from graphic design. I would suggest going back to school.”

Instead, I returned to Madison and continued to work retail. I added a few hours a week as a botanical illustrator and searched for free-lance jobs. This included a day traveling to the Apparel Mart in Chicago where I drew purses then hitchhiked a ride back to Madison in a most peculiar way. I happened to be at work in Botany when I got a call from the VA Hospital, looking for a medical illustrator. Ironically, that’s where I learned pasteup and layout. The rest is history.

A couple of years ago, my screenwriting partner, Erik Wolter, suggested I write a graphic novel. Comic cons are my thing, but I didn’t think I could pull off that kind of illustration. Then I found this.

Beta Glitter Party t-shirt - Girl power

Yeah, I know. I illustrated a few T-shirts for the Beta Glitter Party. It was a tribute to The Rocky Horror Picture Show and movies like The Warrior. Very punk attire was required. As we used to say in the ’80’s, “The party was too much fun!”

Discovery and wonder are pulling me from the depths of grief. No watery pun intended. This was my first step in recovery. There will be more.

Thank you, cosmic joke from beyond.

***

Have you ever come home from a trip to discover something like this? Do you save your creative projects?

Click for my story about trying to save my brother.

For more wild stories, click here. It’s always a Wild Ride, believe me.

 

I Celebrated a Birthday, But Failed to Save a Life.

Have you ever taken a mouth-to-mouth resuscitation class? I took one for a babysitting badge when I was in Girl Scouts. I remember the plastic dummy and going through the routine while hoping to God I’d never have to use it. Flash forward a few decades.

On March 9th, I flew back to Wisconsin for my mom’s eighty-seventh birthday. My brother, Joe McCartan, ordered a cake and I picked up flowers. Mom was so surprised! Over dinner that night, she told us she planned to live a long time. For her one-hundredth birthday, she wants a stylist to dye a blue streak in her hair. I love her attitude.

My brother is the king of joking around. I couldn’t get a picture of him when he wasn’t mugging for the camera.  When I left Colorado it was seventy degrees. Check out the temperature on my brother’s iPad.

Two days later, Joe drove to the butcher to buy steaks to grill and went to a chiropractic appointment. In February, he slid on black ice and crashed his car into a telephone pole. It exacerbated an already sore back.

Later, the three of us watched the UW Badgers cream Northwestern by thirty points. Being a yawnfest, Joe texted on his phone. He’s a highly sought after, free-lance, on-location sound technician for major networks, television, movies and corporations. Very excited, he read the thread out loud. It regarded a commercial he had been hired to record. The company wanted to shoot tight shots of musicians playing the oboe, violin and cello. He had texted the high school music teacher, who had all kinds of ideas.

“The kids will love being in a commercial.” Joe was stoked.

“Sounds like you contacted the right person,” I said and yawned. “I think I’ll take a quick nap.” I walked upstairs to my room.

When I returned downstairs, Mom played Words with Friends in the kitchen while the steaks thawed in a pan. I had planned to walk the dog, but Joe had already left with Charlie. I opened my laptop and wrote my last post about daylight savings time. After dinner I thought it would be fun to play a game and take some group selfies.

Always pretty high energy, Joe burst through the door led by their Collie.

“I just missed you,” I said, looking up from my computer.

“Yep,” was all he said. Then he ran up the back stairs to his apartment behind my mom’s Victorian. I heard his footsteps overhead and then settled in to proof my stupid post.

He moved in a year before my dad passed away and has been taking care of Mom. He’s been a godsend, taking her to appointments, shopping and the little things, like setting the table for meals. He brings her tea and puts her eyedrops in before bed. My mom is super sharp, but has glaucoma and hasn’t been able to drive for years.

When Joe didn’t come downstairs, Mom said, “What’s taking him so long? We need to get the steaks on the grill.”

I shrugged and more time passed.

“Go check on Joe,” she said. “I don’t want to eat at 8:00.”

“Give him a few more minutes,” I said, knowing he liked his privacy.

A few more minutes passed and I ran upstairs.

I opened his door and peeked inside. “Hey, Joe!” I shouted. You have to walk through a kitchen to get to the large open, living and dining space.

“Joe! Time to make dinner,” I shouted through the doorway.

No response.

I stepped inside and saw him chilling in front of the computer. His arms relaxed on the armrests, his head was cocked backward and his mouth hung open.

“No wonder you didn’t hear me. You’re sound asleep.”

Still no response.

Something was wrong. “Joe! JOE!” I raced up to him and patted his pale cheeks.

No response.

“Oh, my God!” I felt for a pulse in his neck, but couldn’t find one. His lips were white. He wasn’t breathing. I screamed to my mom. She called 911, hysterical when the operator didn’t understand what was going on. I used my fingertips on his wrist and heard quick taps racing across the surface. Were they mine? 

Just like I’d been taught all those years ago, I started mouth-to-mouth and alternated with the CPR technique I’d learned on the Internet. One, two, three, four, staying alive, staying alive… I’m sure only minutes passed, but it seemed like an hour before the first responders arrived. They tried everything, but couldn’t get a pulse. Hope slipped away.

The paramedics came and hooked up a CPR machine and breathing tube. I went downstairs to check on my mom. Her friends, Kathy and Roger Roth, consoled her on the couch. Time passed. I ran back upstairs. “Did you get a pulse?”

“No, nothing,” one of the paramedics replied. I felt so guilty. I didn’t do it right. I could have saved him, but I failed! I couldn’t stop sobbing.

After answering tons of questions about his health, I went back downstairs. By that time, the funeral director, Bill Hurtley, and the priest from across the street, Fr. Dooley, had arrived. I got to know and love both of them when they took care of my dad’s funeral. Bill brought my mom back from her catatonic state with his dry humor.

Anxiety filled my empty stomach with broken glass. I turned to Bill for support. “I wrote a stupid blog post and didn’t come upstairs in time. I screwed up. I could’ve saved him.” Tears streamed down my cheeks.

He looked me in the eyes and said, “You found him relaxed in his chair, right?”

I nodded.

“There was nothing you could do. He threw a clot,” Bill said.

“What?”

“A blood clot. Believe me, I see a lot of dead people,” he said. “It’s what I do. Heart attacks are pretty uncomfortable. The victim has time to react, so we usually find them on the floor. Throwing a blood clot is painless. It happens to runners all the time. They go for a run and as soon as they sit in a chair, they die.”

“Why am I here if I couldn’t save him?” I asked.

“For your mother,” he said. “If she would have discovered him, it would’ve been a shock she would never have recovered from.” He took a moment and added, “Don’t blame yourself. Even if someone throws a clot in the hospital, no one can save them.”

An autopsy would have cost five to six thousand dollars. Bill insisted it would be a waste of money. Pulmonary embolism. It’s what people get from sitting too long on planes. Who knows where Joe got his clot. Surgery two years ago? The accident? Bumping into something and not telling anyone about it? We’ll never know. He wasn’t on blood thinners. I’m taking a baby aspirin now.

Alive and vibrant one minute and then gone the next. I couldn’t wrap my mind around it.

My little brother, who towered more than a foot over me, who did lotus position yoga with me when he was little for giggles, who I took to all kinds of concerts and events when I was in high school and college since I feared our almost ten year age difference would cause us to drift apart. My little brother who I loved dearly is dead at forty-nine years old. I was only a few steps away. How can that be?

He was a saxophone player in a band and was a local celebrity. He worked with people all across the United States. His Facebook and funeral home page are filled with heartfelt shock and condolences. We planned his funeral for March 25th at St. Paul’s Church across the street from their home in Evansville.

Being the writer in the family, I had to write his obituary. It was tough enough when I wrote my dad’s and felt tremendous pressure to do Joe’s life justice. His friend and co-worker, videographer Eric Janisch helped fill in the work details. You can read Joe’s obit here.

Two things I discovered on my own might help others.

  • I couldn’t get the image of him sitting in the chair out of my head. Every time I closed my eyes, I saw him. I must not have blinked the whole time I ran toward him. I stayed up all night. It was the same the next day as neighbors and relatives arrived. My husband, Danny, flew out that afternoon. As I drove toward the Dane County Airport I noticed some perfectly formed trees silhouetted in the snow. I picked one and stared at it as I drove toward it. I closed my eyes and saw the tree. It totally worked. That horrific last image of Joe disappeared, at least from my retinas.
  • Exhausted, I didn’t dare take a nap. Experiencing the shock all over again upon waking is the worst. In the past it has taken weeks for my brain to wrap itself around death. I wondered if saying it out loud to myself would speed up the process. I gave it a try. “Joe is dead. He died and you couldn’t save him. He’s not coming back.” I repeated it again before I picked up Danny and then twice before falling asleep. It worked.

Danny and I have lost half our families in two years; his bother and mom, my dad, then his mom’s boyfriend of fifteen years and now, my brother. It’s devastating to lose the people we love.

What about that quick tapping in Joe’s wrist? I hadn’t told anyone. Even though others shared the cause of death idea, I still wondered if it was instant as the funeral director and doctor claimed.

Days later, I remembered. “Make sure to lay your fingers across the wrist or you’ll feel your own pulse,” the instructor had told the Girl Scouts. I held my husband, Danny’s wrist in a different way. A strong slow pulse throbbed beneath his bones. No quick tapping on the surface. It had been mine I felt, not Joe’s.

There was nothing I could do. He had already passed.

How am I? Better. I’m grateful for the time we had together. Looking back, the timing of my visit seems serendipitous. I’ll embrace my grief and will remember him always.

Joe McCartan

Spring is emerging after a long winter dormancy. I see everything more intensely now and understand life’s fragility. Everyone will die. Life is impermanent. The trick is to live each day with appreciation and wonder.

In memory of my brother, I will start a nightly journal. I’ll list three positive things that happened during the day. He would’ve liked that.

What about my mom?

Many of her friends have offered to help. At this point, she won’t consider moving to Colorado with my brother and dad inurned in Madison. We’ll do whatever it takes to celebrate her one-hundredth birthday. I want to see her rock that blue streak.

What the WHAT? Signs of Life

After traveling to Wisconsin twice over the last three weeks for funerals and memorial services, I woke up with renewed energy and looked forward to “Birthday Week.” Wanting to catch up with writing and blogging, I planned to take care of a few errands first. Imagine my surprise when cleaning up the breakfast dishes. I discovered this in my garbage disposal.

plant in insinkerator

How could a plant germinate on the rubber shield? Three weeks ago, I donned rubber gloves and scrubbed that filthy thing with bleach. We don’t eat sprouts, so it had to be some kind of seed that stuck in the crack. A pumpkin seed? Continue reading

It’s Hard to Say Goodbye

Dad collage

I don’t think we are ever prepared for the death of a loved one. It is a loss so profound, it cuts a hole in our center, our core and our heart. It leaves us unbalanced, wounded and bleeding. We mourn the ones who die before us and struggle to imagine life without them.

dad and mom

Our family has been hit with three deaths in seven months. I knew Danny’s family before I discovered the Lindau boys had an older brother. Our parents were very close friends and our families often celebrated holidays together. Danny’s brother, his mother, (one month ago), and now my father have left us.

dad mom patty and me

My Father the Madman.

You can’t prepare for it. No matter if it is a slow goodbye or a shock, the finality is something hard to comprehend until it happens. I have imagined it and nothing comes close. I thought I wouldn’t be able to function, but instead I’ve been in hyperdrive. I think I’m still in shock.

mom and dad1

The Secret to Living a Long and Happy Life

But I have found a few things that help. Gathering with family to share memories is the first step in healing. The night my dad died, I made an autumn supper for my husband and children who live in Denver. We laughed and cried over the loss of my dad. He was a great man and could be very funny.

Kelly's first christmas 001 (2)

The Nightmare Before Christmas

dad and the gang

Trippin’ Through Dublin – A Photo Essay

The other way to deal with extreme stress is to get busy. Do housework, laundry, cook, clean, any mindless task or normal activity. I washed windows when I got the news. I cried while finishing. After cleaning up, I cooked our family dinner. Exhausted and reeling, it was worth the effort.

dad in the studio 1

A Passionate Lifetime.

Writing has become a part of my daily routine, so the next morning, I wrote his obituary. I had thought I would regret not preparing it ahead of time, but discovered a healing process in Continue reading