The God of Death.

“What do we say to the God of Death?”

“Not today.”

– Game of Thrones

Today, I think I will swim. I announce this to Grandpa first thing in the morning, and he looks at me as though I’ve lost my mind. “It’s too damn cold!” he sputters.

It is too damn cold. Especially without the aid of vodka to warm my blood, which, today, on my seventh day at the beach, I’ve decided to stop drinking.

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It’s sort of shocking that I would drink at all, really, given the fact that it’s what killed my mother, and given the fact that here I am again, confronted with another family member with another failing liver. This time, the organ occupies the body of my 89-year-old grandfather, Gerry. But drink I have, vodka tonics every night as soon as the clock strikes five, with Grandpa’s symptoms on full display before me like some sort of ghastly cautionary tale: jaundiced skin and eyes lit up like a neon school bus, distended belly covered in bumpy red scabs, swollen ankles, flaking, itching skin and eyes that burn and sting and scratch like sandpaper. The dark, blood-colored bruises that cover his bony arms are the things that scare me the most, for they foreshadow the potential horror a hospice nurse warned us about: the bleeding. The tremendous amount of bleeding that can occur “when the time comes.” I think I can handle just about anything but the bleeding. “If that happens,” the nurse tells me, “Call hospice immediately. You shouldn’t have to deal with that.”

There is comfort in hospice, in knowing that they exist. There is less comfort in the “comfort kit” they provide, equipped with drugs I hope we won’t have to use. One of Grandpa’s caregivers tells me she’s not comfortable administering morphine, because she doesn’t want to “do it wrong.” “I’m not trained for that,” she says. Right, like I am, I think, but instead, I just say, “Thank you for telling me.” And I mean it. The business of dying is full of surprises, so the fewer we can avoid up front the better, as far as I’m concerned.

It has been a busy day. There is an appointment with a social worker, then another with a nurse. I send emails back and forth with a chaplain who’s arranging a small ceremony at Grandpa’s home to honor his years of service in the Navy, during both the Korean War and World War II.

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Throughout all of this, Grandpa is tired and intermittently naps, but stays mostly upbeat. It is amazing to me how open he is, how willing he is to talk to the strangers entering his home, to do his best to answer their questions. He keeps asking how he can help them, which they find endlessly endearing. Though he’s confused and groggy, he seems aware that these people are trying to make him feel better. He even accepts a blessing from the chaplain, which shocks me as he hasn’t practiced his Catholic faith in decades. Maybe he’s starting to make peace with what’s coming. At least, I can hope.

Every morning that he wakes up – his razor sharp wit and perfect head of thick white hair still intact in spite of his failing body – feels like a miracle. And every evening that I go to bed, I pray that the next morning, he won’t wake up. It’s not that I don’t want him to live; in fact, quite the opposite. It’s just that I know this won’t get any better, and for every day that remains, the fear of decline into the horror that may come – the pain, the hallucinations, the blood – becomes more real.

So I pray. I haven’t prayed in years but it’s amazing how quickly you can pick it back up, if you’re desperate enough. I know the thing I’m praying for – the quick, easy death – is unlikely. All the nurses say so. But I pray for it anyway. I pray that this kind, gentle man who has been through so much in his 80th decade – a debilitating stroke, the deaths of his daughter, his son-in-law, and his wife of sixty years – will be allowed to slip quietly away, in his sleep.

I don’t know what is coming. And the not knowing is terrifying. But today, on my seventh day at the beach, I decide to face it without the aid of vodka tonics. After all, they’re not working anyway. They aren’t enough to numb this out, or to help me pretend, as some other members of my family would like to do, that this isn’t happening.

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So instead, I wait. I wait for high tide and a break in the rain and then, like the California girl I’ve almost become, I slip on a mismatched bikini top and bottom under my clothes. I find Grandpa, who is seated at his dining room table, looking out the picture window at Case Inlet, as he does during most of his waking hours. I give him a quick hug and then I tell him I’m going for a swim. He gives me a confused look and I’m not sure that he understands, given it’s close to his bedtime and the meds are kicking in. I go outside, strip down to my swimsuit, and grab the faded orange Sears brand flippers that I scribbled my name on years ago with a sharpie (as though anyone else would want them). Fins in hand, wrapped in a towel, I walk down to the water’s edge.

I know that – in late October – the steely grey salt water will be a shock. I also know that the only way to do this is to plunge in quickly, before I feel ready. I’m not ready, I think, just before I hurl my body into the sea. I hit the water with a scream as the icy cold sears through me. But it doesn’t matter because I’m in, dogpaddling through the sound. I only last a minute or two before the shivering overtakes me, but as I make my way toward shore, I see Grandpa, watching from his seat by the window, a grin spread across his face.

Maybe diving into the frigid waters of Case Inlet during this overcast, rainy fall day does make me a bit crazy.  But as I approach the beach cabin, dripping wet and trying not to shake, I see Grandpa flashing me a thumbs up sign through the window, just before his caregiver wheels him off to bed. Maybe I am crazy. But maybe I’m his kind of crazy. And maybe – in spite of what lies ahead – that’s why I’m here.

Until next time, friends.

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Doe Bay.

I’m sitting on Meditation Point, a promontory overlooking the sea, trying to decide where to fix my gaze. The unseasonably warm October weather has abruptly turned cold, and I’m shivering in my thin flannel shirt. I long for the puffy down jacket I left behind in the Retreat House, but I brush the longing aside, choosing instead to focus my attention on the rippling waters of Otter’s Cove, and the fog rolling over the tops of impossibly tall evergreen trees.

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A few minutes ago, as part of her workshop at Write Doe Bay, papercut artist Nikki McClure led us on a walk through the woods, instructing us to remain silent as we followed the forested trail toward the overlook. Rather than speak, we were meant to simply observe the natural beauty all around us, find a spot to settle in, and sketch what we saw.

As our group of writers trudged along, passing campsites, we encountered a middle-aged couple cavorting among the trees, the door of their yurt flung open as they enjoyed a morning picnic. They hollered “hello!” at us, and though I (mostly) obeyed the instructions to stay quiet, the pair’s unchecked exuberance left me unable to suppress a chuckle. I wanted to shout greetings back at them, but instead, I smiled. A smile that said, “I know just how you feel.”

I’ve been back from Doe Bay for just over a week, and though it was my second time attending Write, this trip was a markedly different experience for me. Sure, the teaching artists were different, as were most of the attendees. But one year later, I was also different. And it was this difference that I found to be the most striking.

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There’s a phrase that the founders of Write often use when referring to the workshop and to Doe Bay itself: The power of a place to unlock you. To underscore this idea, participants exchange vintage keys at the close of the workshop, placing them around each other’s necks on a string of suede.

But here’s the thing: if a person is going to be unlocked, they have to be willing to open up. And last year, I wasn’t. I came to Doe Bay fragile and frightened, hollowed out by tragedy, and desperately seeking some magic elixir to heal my battered psyche. I listened to the powerful stories of the other writers. I was moved. And I tried my best to be present. But if I’m honest, I wasn’t able to allow myself to participate in the workshop in any meaningful way.

Fast forward one year later. On this visit, waking up to the staggering sunrise outside the window of my cabin felt like nothing short of a miracle. On this visit, I found myself passionately curious about all of the attendees, wanting to connect with each and every one of them – even if only for a few minutes – in the short time we had together. And on this visit, the fear that churned in my stomach at the thought of reading my unpolished workshop writing or deeply personal stories from my life served as motivation to jump in and share, rather than something that held me back.

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During her workshop at Write, Jenny Feldon asked us to consider changing one thing upon our return to our “normal” lives. “Change one thing,” she said, “and believe that other changes will follow.”

One year later, with Doe Bay as my barometer, I can tell you that, for me, many things have changed. Maybe the island and the rolling fog and the space we share together over the course of those three days really are magic. And maybe I simply needed to try again, to come back to this beautiful place tucked away amidst the trees, to realize how much – over the last year – I have been coming back to myself.

The power of a place to unlock you.

Until next time, friends.

Doe Bay Fall 2015

Ten thousand.

Last week, I reached an incredible milestone on this blog: 10,000 email subscribers. I can scarcely believe it.

When I first started Extra Dry Martini 3 ½ years ago, I had no idea what the hell I was doing. I only knew that I had a lot of ideas and opinions and I wanted to carve out my own little corner of the Internet on which to share them. I named this blog after my favorite cocktail, while the tagline, Straight up, with a twist, was a nod to my often blunt (sometimes foot-in-the-mouth!) Sagittarian nature, and my rather edgy, sarcastic sense of humor. Away I went.

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I couldn’t have anticipated that only a few short months later, life as I knew it would fall apart. Or maybe I could have. Maybe I did. Maybe I intuited, in some strange, cosmic, sixth sense-ical way – the way animals can sense an impending natural disaster – that creating this platform to express myself would be the very thing to save me during the darkest nights of the soul I have ever experienced.

When it all came down, I didn’t write for a year. One whole year. To this day, I have only a vague, foggy idea of where that time went. I call that period of my life “the vortex,” a black hole of funerals and whiskey and airports and late night phone calls and never ending to-do lists and sleeping with one eye open.

But when I did come up for air, my writing was different. I wrote with a sort of raw honesty that would previously have been unthinkable to the me that started this blog. I wrote and I wrote, without a goal or a clear direction other than to simply keep going. And through the process of turning Extra Dry Martini into a sort of public journal to air my very private feelings, I changed. No, strike that. I didn’t change. Writing through pain, trying desperately to find meaning where there was none, the real me started to shine through the cracks in the old, broken me, the one I’d unwittingly hidden for years under layers of self-doubt and insecurity. It’s as Steven Pressfield says in his brilliant, essential, book The War of Art: “Our job in this lifetime is not to shape ourselves to some idea we imagine we ought to be, but to find out who we already are and become it.”

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Thank you to everyone who has read this blog. The sheer volume of kind-hearted, compassionate, thoughtful comments that I receive from readers never ceases to astound me. While I don’t always have time to respond to all of them – particularly on the posts that WordPress has chosen to feature on Freshly Pressed­ – I do read every single one, and they mean the world to me. Thank you.

Speaking of thank you’s, thank you to WordPress.com, without whom and all of their generous shares of my blog posts, reaching the 10K milestone never would have been possible. In just over a year, Extra Dry Martini has been featured on Freshly Pressed a whopping SEVEN times, including just last week. If you haven’t yet had a chance to read these posts, or if you’d simply like to revisit them, I’ve linked them below at the bottom of this page.

People sometimes call me “brave” for writing about some of the things I do, and for sharing intimate details of my life on the Internet. I’m not brave. I simply write to survive. I write to remind myself of who I am. And I write for all of the people who respond to one of my posts with the comment: “I thought I was the only one.” Let me tell you, with one hundred percent certainty:  you are not the only one. If there’s a single lesson I take away from writing this blog, it’s that despite all of our differences – geographic location, family background, age, gender, ethnicity, religious faith or lack thereof – we are far more alike than we are different. We share the same hopes, the same heartbreaks, the same struggles and the same joys. We are united by the same powerful experience of being human and in this experience no one – not one of us – is alone.

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Ten thousand is an impressive number. It’s a humbling number. But I’m not resting on my laurels. As I prepare to head off for a few days of creative recharge at Write Doe Bay, I’ll be thinking about how to make this blog bigger, better, and somehow more. Among the things I’m considering: spinning off Extra Dry Martini into some other iteration like a book, a play, a film, or possibly all of the above. I have no idea how that will look, or what the next steps will be. All I know is that anything that I create will be undertaken with the same commitment to honesty, to cutting to the core of the human experience, and will always, always be served straight up, with a twist.

Thank you for reading. Thank you for sharing my journey. And – fingers crossed – here’s to the next ten thousand.

Until next time, friends.

P.S. – If you would like to read the posts that WordPress featured in their Freshly Pressed section, here they are:

Ice Water

Time Out

Things My Mother Never Did

Putting off Tomorrow

Little Steps. Big Steps. First Steps.

Moments

Three Years

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