Dancing & Thinking Out Loud
I follow this dancer, Mark Kanemura, on Instagram. I first saw him as a contestant on So You Think You Can Dance ages ago, and then later I saw him on the same show when he was a dancer for Lady Gaga.
Last week he posted about the show coming back. (It had been canceled in 2020 because of covid, and then was rather suddenly – at least to me – resurrected.) In his Instagram stories, he posted links to some of the dances he did, and told stories about how incredibly difficult it was to be on the show. It was fascinating to me, and I rewatched one of my favorite routines of his just for kicks. He performed this piece, The Garden, with Courtney; it was choreographed by Sonya Tayeh (another favorite of mine). Her dances were always really visual and quirky and fun to watch.
So I’m watching this video and it dawns on me that the music is not familiar at ALL. Like, not one bit of it. But the dance itself was so familiar; I’d seen it quite a bit because they had them perform the dance a number of times in later shows. So why didn’t I remember the music?!
And then it dawned on me. I was deaf the summer that season of SYTYCD aired. I lost all of my hearing in April 2008 and got my cochlear implant surgery in July 2008. My CIs were activated in late August 2008. And it took a long time for things to sound the way they used to; music actually took years to come back and begin to sound good.
I think that’s why I was drawn to Mark’s style of dancing – it was really unusual and visually captivating. I watched that whole season not being able to hear the music, so I hyper-focused on the dancing itself. (On a side note, I also watched a whole season of American Idol without being able to hear anything and that was super boring! At least I had something fun to watch with a dancing show; my main impression with a singing competition was whether the singers were expressive or moved around while they sang.)
While I’m here, I’ll update on a few things. (I’m waiting for it to get a bit warmer before I go outside and mow the lawn.) Mowing the lawn, by the way, is less traumatizing for me now. For a while there, every time I mowed I thought about the day Dave got sick and I took him to the ER. (I had come in from mowing the lawn when I found him sitting in the dining room with his head on the table.)
Other things are feeling more natural too – driving around, running errands, going for walks alone. I used to feel incredibly self conscious every time I went outside, like everyone was looking at me. Those first few walks that I went on by myself were torture, just keeping my head down and getting it done because I felt like I had to get out of the house and try to act like a normal person.
I made it through a big task a few weeks ago – cleaning out Dave’s closet and the rest of his things. I donated everything that didn’t go to my son, daughter and son-in-law to Goodwill. I took all the boxes of his extra medical supplies and donated them to my clinic for their missions. Now I have all this closet and drawer space that I still haven’t filled up, but I’m slowly moving things around.
I still don’t turn down his side of the bed. Isn’t that weird? I leave it intact and just turn down my side. But I did rotate the mattress recently! I changed the oil in the lawn mower. I added coverage for service lines (water, sewer, electrical, internet) to the homeowner’s insurance. (I did this after reading a blog entry about roots in the sewer lines at an old house; my house is 120 years old and I do not have thousands of dollars to shell out to fix something like this, so when this new coverage became available I jumped on it.) I even tried to take my car in for an oil change and was told it was too soon, so I’m on top of maintenance in a big way there. (I assumed since it had been six months I should go in; my mechanic told me no, go by the mileage on the sticker they gave me. Since I drive so infrequently, I still have a couple thousand miles to go.)
It will be eight months on Friday. I have weeks where my grief feels as fresh as it did that first week, and weeks where I feel like I’m doing pretty darn good.
My cookbook club is rocking along, and we meet next Wednesday. This month’s cookbook is super fun, The Mexican Home Kitchen by Mely Martinez. I glanced at it and thought ooh, this looks too technical for me. Then I took a closer look and started making notes of which recipes I wanted to try. Every single one has been delicious, although I did confirm that I’m not a huge fan of frying things. (I made empanadas last night for the first time. Super tasty but eh, frying is kind of a drag.)
I have a couple ideas for what I’ll make, and for the first time it will not be dessert. I’m not sure how much advance notice we’ll get this month; last month we all posted our recipe choices on Monday and we met on Wednesday, which didn’t give much time for purchasing ingredients and testing the recipe, if necessary. That’s why I tested a bunch of possible recipes earlier this month; if I can, I try to pick a recipe that’s not being made by someone else. Anyway, it’s always a fun evening and the whole point is to enjoy the food and the company, so that’s what I focus on.
I am settling in to living alone and being alone. It doesn’t feel so painful now. Traveling alone is still not appealing to me; I am not sure I’m going to go to the beach by myself this year. The botanical garden might be all I can handle. But I did have a wonderful time at the Tulip Festival in Holland, Michigan with my daughter! I’ll close with a picture of us from that day. Smiles all around!
I just realized I haven’t written since last month … what?!
(A large bit of this is pulled from a recent post on Facebook, so if you’re friends with me there most of it will look familiar.)
On Wednesday I did a couple of new-to-me things. I had my six month fasting labs early, and I had a lot of things to do in Niles (where my doctor is) so I decided to take myself out to breakfast. This was a routine for me and Dave after any early morning medical stuff. When I last had my labs, back in October, it was just a couple weeks after he died and I honestly don’t even remember what I did; I think I just drove back and had breakfast at home.
So I ate in a restaurant by myself, for the first time ever. And it was fine! I brought my Kindle, read my book while I had a nice meal, and didn’t feel uncomfortable or conspicuous at all. It took growing older to realize that nobody is watching me and wondering why I’m eating alone. People do not care, and even if they do, I don’t! Check that off my list.
It was raining cats and dogs, so I had the added joy of doing errands in torrential rain. I got all my shopping done, and even found a cute raincoat at a thrift store. (Why do so many of them just look like big plastic bags? Or have NO HAT? I need a hat to protect my cochlear implants. Or they pull over your head. No, my hair does not want that!)
Then I moved on to my next “first”: an in-person grief group. It was meeting at the YMCA, which is where Dave and I used to work out when we lived in Niles. I hadn’t been there since 2017, but it was a good kind of deja vu as I pulled into the parking lot.
Nobody in the lobby was wearing masks, but the grief counselor had told me to bring one. (I’d emailed ahead of time to explain my hearing loss and difficulty with masks, and he said mostly likely we would just need them when we walked in and then we could take them off.)
I wore mine in, took it off when I realized I was the only one wearing a mask, and then a man wearing a mask came out of a doorway to greet me and show me where we were meeting. This was the grief counselor, who said we should wear them. Great.
An intern approached me and talked for a bit, and I understood not one word. I explained to her that I read lips and couldn’t understand her. She just silently looked at me and didn’t take her mask off. (Usually people do after I explain, even in doctor’s offices.)
We were in a huge empty room that echoed terribly, which made understanding almost impossible. It ended up being me, the two grief counselors, and two older men. I didn’t expect to be the only woman, to be honest. I expected a range of ages, and that was fine, but it was weird not having any other women to relate to the struggles I have dealt with.
I have to say, though, kudos to the guys. Looking at them, you would never picture them in a grief group with tear-filled eyes. These were tough, rural farming men, you know? And I just wanted to hug them both. Time for me to get rid of some of my stereotypical thinking!
Eventually it was determined that we could remove our masks (I really didn’t hear why this was such a drawn out decision) but even then I just could not understand much. They had us sit very far away from each other, and the acoustics in the room were terrible. I caught maybe 30-40% of what the other people said, but luckily most of what the grief counselor said because I was close enough to read his lips.
One of the guys lost his wife after a long battle with Alzheimer’s. I heard hospice mentioned, and I think the grief counselor knew him through the hospice service. The other guy really did not talk, just very briefly to say why he was there. I’m pretty sure he lost his wife, maybe very recently. This made it hard to have actual conversations because I couldn’t hear them, and only two of us participants were talking. The grief counselor didn’t keep conversation moving very smoothly and there were a lot of long, awkward silences that I felt compelled to fill. I think I talked more than anyone else, which is a strategy I employ when I can’t hear/understand – if I’m the one talking, I don’t have to try to hear anyone else!
I really didn’t get much out of this, other than the joy of just being able to talk to other people for once. (You can only take so many cold, rainy spring days alone in the house and talking to the cats before you start to lose it.) I’ve been doing a lot of reading on grief and that is helping me work through it, helping me reframe some negative thoughts, that sort of thing. I have the self care stuff (I hate that term, but you know what I mean) well in hand. I do the painful things and the scary things in small increments; when I feel myself panicking, I stop and regroup and do something I enjoy instead. But I also keep making myself try the scary things, so I don’t let the fear take over.
I’m not going back, but I’m also very glad I did it. It confirmed my suspicions that my hearing was going to be an issue, and also made me realize that my need right now is for social interaction, not necessarily help with navigating my grief. Things like my cookbook club at the library, which I just love, are what I need to seek out. (Our next meeting is May 4, picnic foods. I hope the weather catches up by then, because we have snow predicted for Monday.)
My stock answer to “How are you?” has been “Hanging in there.” Now I’m getting to where I’m not just hanging in there. I can genuinely say “I’m doing good” many days.
In October 1997, I was a single mom in Illinois and had just joined an online hearing loss support group called The Say What Club. Back in those days it was an email listserv, and one of the ‘welcome to the list’ emails was from this guy, Dave, in Michigan. In my introductory email, I explained that I was deaf in one ear, and had just recovered from a terrible ear infection in my other ear (which had some hearing left). During the ear infection, my ‘good’ ear was plugged with antibiotic-soaked cotton and I was temporarily totally deaf. It terrified me and made me want to learn sign language. (Side note: Even now that I truly am totally deaf, I still have never been able to officially learn sign language. I know a few signs and the alphabet.)
Dave offered to send me some sign language books and videos, and we started to exchange emails. He always called me ‘kid’ and I had no idea what he looked like. “What a nice, friendly old man,” I thought. We were good buddies – he was smart and funny and, well, a smart-ass.
A few months after I joined, I offered to build a web page with photos of the SWC members. People started mailing their pictures to me so I could scan and upload them. (This was 1997, okay?!) Then Dave mailed his photos.
‘Hey!’ I thought. ‘This guy is not that old. And he’s pretty cute. Hmmm.’ (He was nine years older than me, BTW.)
We kept talking through email, then IRC chat (where, yes, we did slap each other with wet trout), and finally phone calls – that was a big deal for two hard-of-hearing people. Months passed.
On March 14, 1998 I was supposed to go to a concert at the House of Blues in Chicago, and my friend Renee bailed at the last minute. The kids were at their dad’s and I was sitting around, bored, when Dave called me. When he found out my plans had been canceled, he casually said, “Why don’t I come over?”
So I took a huge chance, meeting a ‘stranger’ from The Internet. He got lost on the way to my house (this was way before GPS, and I think he printed out a map from AltaVista – ha!) and just as I gave up hope and assumed he wasn’t coming, the doorbell rang.
We clicked instantly and had a wonderful time. He introduced me to his WebTV, which he’d brought along. (“I’ll never need a computer, this has everything I need.” Famous last words.) He came back for another visit two weeks later, the next time the kids had a weekend with their dad. On March 28, we had our first official date. We went out for Chicago-style deep dish pizza (his first time trying it) and then to see the movie Titanic in the theater.
After that, we always celebrated on March 28 with deep dish pizza. Twenty four years later, I am carrying on the tradition with a deep dish Lou Malnati’s pizza that I had shipped to the house. The things we do for tradition!
I made lemon scones a few weeks ago. When I went to bake one (I make and then freeze them, and then bake them from frozen when I have a craving), I searched the refrigerator for lemon glaze. I was pretty sure I’d made some for something else a while back, and I wanted to set the container on my stove top so the heat from the oven could warm the glaze.
I found the container pretty quickly, and then stood there holding it, staring at the lid. “Lemon glaze,” written in Sharpie on a piece of masking tape, in Dave’s handwriting.
This is the kind of thing that is hardest for me as I work through my grief. The big things, the holidays and birthdays and such, are hard, but you have some warning and can try to prepare for them. These little things, like seeing his handwriting, are what make my breath catch in my throat and my eyes well up.
(As an aside, I always loved Dave’s handwriting. I was very into pen pals from my youth until the late 90s, and because of that I really noticed and appreciated handwriting. One of the first things I told Dave after we met in person was how much I liked his writing.)
Then yesterday, I was out running errands and stopped to fill the car tank with gas. Out of nowhere, I remembered that the day I took Dave to the ER (which was the start of his last hospitalization that led to his death) he insisted that I stop first and put gas in the car. I’d completely forgotten about this.
He had asked me to take him to the ER because he got up from the couch and immediately started to fall. He made it to the kitchen table but was weak and woozy. I wasn’t even sure I could get him to the car, but somehow we did it. So when he insisted that I gas up the car, which had a half tank of gas already, I argued with him. I mean, I wanted to get to the hospital as fast as possible. But he insisted. Although it’s not like I don’t know how to put gas in a car tank, he had been the only one doing it for many years at this point and he had such a strong instinct to take care of me, even when he was so sick. He wanted to talk me through it, in case I had questions. And then he added, “And this way you’ll have enough gas to make at least five trips.”
I didn’t ask him to elaborate, but I wondered about it at the time. Five trips? To and from the hospital? I was really thinking we would go, they would give him an IV because he was probably dehydrated, and we would come home. I wonder now if he knew he’d be admitted, and figured he’d be in there for a number of days and I’d be going back and forth from home to the hospital.
So I relented, because he was really serious about this. I put gas in the car. And I did make exactly another five trips back and forth from the hospital to home before he died.
Even a little thing like a trip to the gas station can be emotional right now. I can accept that. It’s learning to sit with those emotions and not avoid them that’s the hard part.