The Becky Blog
Matters of Life and Death
I remember some of the details of the deaths of my parents. When Daddy became unable to walk because the cancer destroyed his spine, he checked into the hospital. The day he was admitted was the day the diagnosis was made, and in those days one could remain an inpatient for prolonged periods. From the first of June until his death in late September, Daddy had continuous nursing care. My role, as a 20 year old just starting medical school, was limited to once or twice a day visits, and I didn't appreciate the caregiving experience.
Mother became ill at age 68, twelve years later. I had the misfortune of making the diagnosis, being the first to see the x-ray film. Her treatment involved courses of radiation therapy which slowed the progression of the cancer, but produced severe esophagitis which interfered with her nutrition. One of my colleagues took excellent care of her. She had many friends in our small town, and once she was no longer able to live independently we took her into our home. By Christmas of 1979 she too was ready for hospital care, where she remained comfortable for the final weeks of her life.
Mother had discussed her wishes and made a living will. She knew she did not want her life prolonged at a point when prolongation might mean suffering, and there was no reasonable chance for improvement. (We all need such legal documents.) This living will took some of the pressure off me and my family in terms of decision making. I remember our conversations my telling her how much I loved her and didn't want to give her up, but knowing she would be prepared when the time came.
Some of these decisions were influenced by the religious beliefs which my parents possessed at least my mother. I remember Daddy reading his Bible, but he was very private about his own beliefs. Not so with Mother she knew where she was bound, and whom she would joyfully greet when she arrived. As far as I can remember, I shared her certainty back then.
We call them "pets" these beloved companions. The animals who share our households are capable of giving and receiving love in a manner similar to our own. Far from being dumb and inable to communicate, they sense our moods and feelings. They surely display such feelings themselves, and we see ourselves reflected in their behavior. Many families have used the life and death of a family pet to teach their children life's lessons. For those of us without the support of a family, the cat or dog meets a desperate need for love and companionship.
Babe's condition has deteriorated slowly more slowly than the vet predicted. When the diagnosis was first made, we had no idea she would make it through Thanksgiving. But she feasted on turkey with the rest of us, and can still eat and drink. She sleeps more than before, but when awake she jumps up on my bed, still has curiosity, and explores. She loves to play with the beam of light from Margaux's laser pointer.
Not bad for a 19 year old kitty. But if you look closely you can see the swelling on her left cheek. That's it. It has not spread to the jawbone, as far as the vet can tell. Therefore she isn't in pain and can still chew.
We do all we can to make her life pain free and content. She purrs a lot. She's purring now, sitting beside my laptop, content to be my companion. I make my lap available for her at all times I'm home. Margaux has been so devoted to her during the day. She gets catnip and fresh cooked meat anytime she wants it. This isn't a lot different from how she's spent the last nine years, but we do make her our time priority these days, and we never miss a chance to tell her how much she is loved. I believe she knows what we are saying.
It makes a chill run up my spine to go back and read the last blog I wrote before Babe's illness "Be the Bird" in September not knowing how soon it would apply to me.
Caregiving for another living creature is a transformative experience. Other issues are put into perspective (yes, that even includes writing blogs and answering e-mail). I made rounds today at the hospital, and one of my surgery colleagues told me, "You always seem so calm - you don't let any of this make you upset." Being upset solves nothing. Being intense, of course, does solve many issues, and I try to be intense rather than upset. Part of being a physician involves subordinating one's own needs to the needs of others, and this gives valuable training for being a caregiver.
I no longer am assured of what happens when the breath and heartbeat cease. I want to believe what my mother believed, but life has a way of beating those beliefs out of us sometimes. I am quite sure that it's important to live this life to its fullest, to make a difference in the lives of others, whether they are humans or kitties. In whatever time we have left with Babe, she will know how special and how loved she is. Of that much I am certain.
It's 4 AM - la madrugada, between midnight and dawn. Good little boys and girls are asleep. I was asleep, but no more. I'm writing down the details of my dream while they are still vivid.
I dreamt I was in a movie theater - the old fashioned kind of theater, with a single large screen. The floor sloped slightly upward from the concession stand to the theater entrance, so the rear seats can be at a higher elevation for good visibility. I had bought my popcorn and was walking up this little ramp.
And Babe was walking with me, slightly ahead. It seemed quite natural she would be going to the movie with me. As we approached the door to the darkened theater, however, she paused.
I saw why she had paused. Straight ahead, before the door, was a barrier. It was curtain-like, and the picture on the barrier matched exactly the theater door and its surroundings, so I didn't notice it until we were very close. It moved and shimmered just a bit, reminding me of the "portals" in old movies such as Stargate, but with the picture of a normal world externally. I heard carnival type organ music playing softly beyond the barrier.
Babe extended one paw and barely passed it through the barrier, then withdrew it normally. She didn't react - it didn't hurt. She looked calmly at me and walked through.
What do I do now, I thought. I reached out with one hand as she had done. It didn't feel any different - no temperature change, no blowing wind, no pain. I'm going to look through and see.
I pushed my face through the curtain and saw a different scene. No longer indoors, we were in your basic dreamscape green meadow with the blue sky and puffy clouds. The music projected a happy mood.
I looked at Babe. She looked wonderful! She was playing and bouncing around, and she appeared very fit - no pot-belly, and definitely no tumor on the left side of her face. She looked to be just past kittenhood.
Then, suspending reality (as if it weren't already) I was able to see myself. I also was younger a late teenager. Let me clarify that: I was a teenage girl. Becky and Babe. Totally as-it-should-be.
I'd like to continue the story, but that's when I woke up. Of course the first thing I did was check on Babe. She was fine, sleeping in her little plush bed, but my activity awakened her and she stretched. Whaat? I was dreaming, Becky...
So now she is sitting in my lap, purring. And I am not crying as I hold her, which is a change from recent days. My dreams are not usually this obvious, this transparent. Where did this come from? Did my brain work hard as I slept, to show me what I wanted to see? If so, good job, subconscious. Or was it more?
The answer to that question is not quite so obvious.
You're Not Alone at Christmas
It's two in the afternoon on Christmas Day. Karren has arrived from Tucson, very sleepy after a busy all night shift with the ambulance. Margaux was up most of the night also - artists have to work when they have the muse. Babe has just the slightest snore as she sleeps in her kitty bed. She probably sleeps 20 hours a day at this point, but she does still like her StarKist tuna.
So there is a lot of sleeping in heavenly peace. I'd be napping too, but my sauce is cooking. I'm making my homemade lasagna for the first time in over two years. The holidays have given me a chance for a fresh start on my cooking from scratch, which I have neglected on my busy schedule. On Saturday I made poppyseed chicken, also the first time after a long rest from the recipe. After so many months of "quick meals," I am loving the scratch recipes. Maybe I will resolve to cook more in 2007. It's shaping up to be an interesting year, which I will explain more as the months go on.
I've heard from many online friends this Christmas who mention the loneliness. I so understand. For years I heard nothing at all from family. Now I do get cards and e-mails, which are certainly appreciated, but a visit in person is still not a possibility. I try to be patient and understanding, but I know my grandchildren are growing up without my being a personal part of their lives. We are all getting older, me included, and who knows if or when there will ever be a family holiday.
When I consider the rejection by loved ones, I am amazed that anyone could think being gender conflicted is a choice. I would never have chosen this exile. I know all my friends who write me with the same experience would never have chosen it either, but we all do what we must do to stay alive, and these are often the consequences.
Still, we are not alone. Even if you don't have a new family unit, like the four of us, you have solidarity with us, and with all GLBT people who are no longer welcome in their family homes. We are family, and we share your feelings.
Keep hope alive. A brand new year is coming soon. Approach it with anticipation. Be willing to give - better still, to share your skills and knowledge. Who knows where it will take you?
"The Holy Supper is kept, indeed,
In whatso we share with another's need,
Not what we give, but what we share,
For the gift without the giver is bare;
Who gives himself with his alms feeds three,
Himself, his hungering neighbor, and me."
James Russell Lowell
The Vision of Sir Launfal
I have every e-mail since we started corresponding in 1996. She was one of the early people to contact me from the old Primenet web site, even before the "drbecky" domain. As many people have done, Cheryl first reached out in a time of crisis. She was 44 years old, one of the many IT professionals making a good living in California, and she couldn't go on living.
Cheryl grew up in a well-to-do Jewish family - her father was a doctor - but she converted to Christianity so that Jesus could heal her of this terrible sin of being a girl with the body of a boy. Years passed and she tried to persuade herself she was healed. She married a nice ultra-conservative fundamentalist girl and they had two nice ultra-conservative fundamentalist children. Then in 1996 the dysphoria hit with a vengeance.
There would be no more pretending to be healed. Healing would come through transition. Cheryl had saved enough to finance trips to Dr. Ousterhout and Dr. Schrang, but she was unable to keep her high paying job after transition. Finances became an issue. The pressures of alimony and child support never went away. She was never again permitted to see her children.
We corresponded frequently, and I shared my similar experiences with Cheryl. She knew she had a listening ear when times were rough. We shared many e-mails and phone calls, and finally got to meet in person in 2001. I envied her height (five foot seven), her femme figure and her wide smile. But I grieved for her circumstances. By 2001, Cheryl had moved all over California, from the San Fernando Valley to Santa Barbara, to Auburn (east of Sacramento) to the East Bay. She looked for work and she looked for relationships. She tried on different spiritualities along the way: Buddhist, Shamanic, and I-give-up-lets-just-enjoy-life.
Cheryl had health issues: she had taken Dilantin for seizures for many years, and later she developed essential thrombocythemia, a disorder of blood platelets. I worried that the combination of ET and estrogen would make her susceptible to blood clots. She used injectable estrogen to minimize the risk.
We visited in person twice more, once at her apartment in Richmond, and once here when she accompanied a friend for a Scottsdale surgery. In recent months she had corresponded less, but for a good reason: she finally found a stable, loving relationship. I was so happy for her.
On the morning of the 28th I received a phone call from Cheryl's partner. In a distraught voice she told me Cheryl had been taken to the hospital the previous day with chest discomfort and collapse - - the doctors said she had a "massive heart attack." It all happened so fast. Cheryl held her partner's hand as she passed out of this world.
Cheryl Davida Adelmann, my friend, 1952 - 2006. Namaste back to you, love.
Time is very short. In the last day her eating has dropped off. Now she laps up the juice from the canned tuna but doesn't chew the meat. She is a little wobbly when she walks, but she still walks. When we pick her up she does not moan or cry - she still purrs and is glad to be with us, but after a while she wants to go lie down again.
Her legs are so thin. This is the stage where the tumor consumes all the nutrition and starves her out. I do not want to prolong this. And yet it is so much responsibility to exercise the power of life and death over another living being - a sentient being - not like swatting a mosquito; this is a life that has intelligence and emotion. And much love.
But it must be done, because we do love her and do not want her last days to be of suffering. It will be one day soon.
It's not a good time.
The "deal went down" tonight. By this morning she wasn't eating at all. We scheduled our house call with Dr. Babcock, and Margaux cared for her all day long. When I arrived home, she was weak but able to receive our loving touch. It was obvious she was ready to go.
One more time - purring just a little on Becky's knee - nuzzling on my shoulder. Dr. Babcock was caring and compassionate as always. Euthanasia is so difficult but it is the ultimate act of kindness. Babe was calm as he prepared the injection. Very quickly it was over. She was at peace. She was not suffering, and finally not in pain. Margaux could sense her consciousness - a "mind meld" - for a moment after she drew her last breath. Our tears were flowing as we let her go.
We grieved, but we knew we had helped to ease her passage. She will always be missed. So many memories will sustain us.
Always, Babe kitty love.
Today in Oakland, sixteen persons who loved Cheryl gathered to share our memories of good times and bad. Cheryl's partner was joined by a number of friends who met her through the Human Awareness Institute, several younger friends, two family members (her sister and her niece) who remained supportive and loving through transition, a childhood friend who arrived from Albuquerque, and two of us who shared Cheryl's transition experience and supported her through hers.
Anthony and Randi, our hosts, presented photos and mementos from their times with Cheryl. A special and unexpected memory came from a box of crystals she had collected over the years. We all were given one - a permanent reminder of this person we loved. Everyone told of their experiences with Cheryl. I mentioned the tone of many of her e-mails - the trials and tribulations of job loss, health problems, and the heartbreaking rejection of her children. Once she quoted Janis Joplin, "Freedom's just another word for nothing left to lose," and noted "I must have lots of freedom." Then after listing her woes, she would exclaim "Oye!" and go on to happier news. I always looked forward to the "Oye."
We then drove up in the Oakland Hills to a private area with beautiful, shady bay trees. With a Native American flute playing, and a traditional Jewish song of mourning, we committed Cheryl's ashes to their natural state, while her spirit lives on in each of us.
I know I will never forget her.
This picture of Cheryl was taken the day before she died. We are so glad she was in a joyful time of her life, surrounded by love and beauty. But we will always grieve that she was never able to reconcile with her children. They will never know probably will never even believe how transition brought her peace and fulfillment which her life had not known. They live in a very different world, where non-conformity isn't acceptable, even if it means total rejection of one who loves them.
It all sounds familiar.
Into the world of night
Through shadows falling
Out of memory and time
"We have come now to the end,"
White shores are calling
You and I will meet again
Annie Lennox, "Into the West"
The Human Rights Campaign holds an annual dinner in many cities across the country, recognizing local and national leaders who have greatly advanced the cause of human rights for LGBT persons. This year's Phoenix event was held last weekend at the Marriott Desert Ridge, and was a sold out event. We enjoy hosting a table for our friends each year.
One of the highlights of the dinner is the silent auction, a major fundraiser for Arizona HRC. Local merchants donate services and package deals which receive bids during the early part of the evening. Such items as airline tickets, theater packages, and spa services have vigorous bidding wars. The higher end items may attract fewer bidders, but each bidder is quite serious.
Each year, Margaux has composed a major work of art for the silent auction. Her pieces have been very popular and have brought premium prices for HRC. This year was no exception.
Margaux put in many hours on "Beyond the Rainbow #1." The finished work was displayed at the Victoria Boyce Gallery in Scottsdale along with the other fine art for the silent auction. On the weekend prior to the dinner, a reception was held at the gallery, and Beyond the Rainbow occupied a prominent viewing location.
Margaux with Carolyn Lane, left, 2007 dinner co-chair,
and Linda Elliott, right, 2006 dinner co-chair.
At the silent auction, bids came in slowly. It was a tough year for fundraising so many had contributed so much to the successful campaign of Arizona Together to defeat the "marriage amendment," and resources were used up but unlike some of the other major art pieces, Margaux's work did generate lots of interest and found a good home with a serious collector.
Now it's on to the next event, Phoenix Pride in April, where we will have a booth to publicize our 2007 Day of Remembrance for November.
This Bud's For Us
Grieving, in some ways, continues for a long time. But life continues also. Grief is expected and appropriate, but it should not consume the future of the ones who are left. Pets can teach us this lesson also. We will always associate our memories of Babe with the happiness we brought to one another.
Perhaps I would not have searched so soon for a new small family member, but I am not the one working from home. Margaux missed the companionship that Babe brought her. We had discussed opening up to a new cat, and this weekend the time seemed right. We were motivated to pay a visit to the Arizona Humane Society. I thought we would just "browse" and see who was available. That was rather naive, in retrospect.
The section devoted to cats has two rooms. One room has lots of individual kennels and private rooms where persons can "interview" their potential pets. The other room is more severe - there are cages without glass and no private rooms. This is the area where they move the cats who have gone several days without adoption. I didn't ask the fate of the cats in this room, but it was implied that their days were numbered. This was the room where we found Babe in 1998.
It was meant to be. We saw him as soon as we entered the room, and he saw us. The young, muscular, male cat had obviously been well cared for. Nothing was known of his past circumstances, other than that he had been neutered and his nutritional status was good. He needed to be strong. He was rescued from a tree in a vacant lot, where he had hidden for three days after being chased by dogs. He had no collar and no microchip, so he was taken to the Humane Society shelter. Examination showed no diseases. From his dental condition, the vet estimated that he was three years old. In the days that followed, no one showed up to claim him.
He immediately responded to our interest in him by rolling over in a playful mode. Even the cage didn't dampen his interest in these humans. He stroked his jaw over our outstretched fingers and purred. Across the hall, in a private room, we spent a few minutes and realized we had a lot of love to give this big boy. We paid the fee, had him microchipped, and we belonged to him!
I should mention the factor which attracted us to him in the first place: this fellow is a Russian Blue. He seems even more "purebred" than Babe by his slightly darker coat and the contour of his forehead and nose. He's about twice as big as Babe, and he has that aggressive friendliness you so often see in young male cats. Attention must be paid! We brought him home and watched, amused, as he circled around the rooms several times before lying down beside us: I think this place will do just fine.
Of course he had to have a name. It seemed natural to have a short name, one-syllable like "Babe," something appropriate for a guy. So....
He is Bud, and you'll no doubt see a lot more of him around here!
The Largo Situation
From the St. Petersburg Times, February 28:
LARGO, Florida (AP) -- The City Commission voted to begin the process of firing a top official less than a week after he announced plans to pursue a sex-change operation.
The 5-to-2 vote Tuesday started a three-step process to remove City Manager Steve Stanton from the job he's held for 14 years.
Stanton, 48, confirmed last week that he is a transsexual. With a solid reputation as a forceful and energetic leader, he had hoped to keep his $140,000-a-year job as he underwent the gender reassignment process.
"It's just painful to know seven days ago I was a good guy and now ... I have no integrity," Stanton told the commission. "My challenge here has always been that someday I was going to leave this organization. So I am going to do it with a smile on my face."
A few days have passed and several thoughts have occurred to me.
First, some things haven't changed. As I've written elsewhere, "I thought when I came out to my friends it would change their opinion of transsexual people. It didn't. It changed their opinion of me." Some people will never accept or try to understand. The same arguments "God doesn't make mistakes" which I discussed in God Don't Make No Junk are still being tossed out without thinking. The most hypocritical, arrogant, and un-Christ-like statement came from Ron Sanders, pastor of Lighthouse Baptist Church: "If Jesus was here tonight, I can guarantee you he'd want him terminated." Stanton (who has requested to be called by male name and pronoun until he does transition) is having to pay some hard dues, like I did in 1993. The difference in 14 years is that he is not taking it quietly, and he has a lot of support.
The number of Largo citizens and religious leaders who supported Stanton was so encouraging. A groundswell of support has formed across the country. The website SaveStanton.com has been formed to rally more supporters. Ultimately, Stanton will find even better job opportunities, and the publicity surrounding the case will advance a positive image for trans people everywhere.
Let's Dig Up Bailey's Body and Shoot It One More Time
Too good to ignore, from an online forum:
How Bailey managed to write over 200 pages with one hand otherwise occupied is perhaps a question for the ages...
Not my words, mind you, I'm just passing them along. And then she adds the important followup:
But a question for us here and now is how much longer must the mess he left behind remain a preoccupying and politically debilitating matter for transsexual women themselves?
Not forever, we hope. But as long as his collaborators remain influential on the APA's committee to write the next DSM, I'm afraid we haven't heard the last refrains of the autogynephilia song.
Things Sometimes Change Gradually
Did you ever notice how many people write their blog entries from airport gate areas? Here's another.
I am in Houston's Hobby Airport, waiting for the second leg of my flight. The first part of my trip will take me to New Orleans for the American College of Cardiology annual meeting. I always enjoy the ACC meeting, whether it's in New Orleans, Atlanta, or Anaheim. This will be my first return to New Orleans since Hurricane Katrina, and I wonder how much I will see changed.
...I went back and edited this entry because some things do change for the better. Not all, mind you. But some. I'll post more later.