Monday, June 11, 2007


In Which We Cope...

Not long after I returned from New Hampshire, I went to see my doctor, mostly to bitch about my back, which was acting up after a few weeks of long plane flights and car rides and sleeping in strange beds and in general for bearing all sorts of burdens. But my doc had heard the news about my parents--one of her other patients works in my office--and it was only part of her job to bring up the idea of antidepressants and antianxiolytics.

Aside from accepting a couple of weeks' worth of painkillers for my back (which I am no longer taking), I refused any other medicinal assistance. I'm depressed, for sure. I feel incomparably bereft. But I have no thoughts of harming myself or others--not even so much as a fleeting impulse--and I am able to function under the load of daily life without feeling out of control. So I turned her down. "I just think I need to feel bad for a while," I said. Which she seemed to understand.

Now, this is not to say that many people don't need prescription help--hell, I certainly haven't ruled it out completely, just for now. I have other ways of mitigating. Sometimes grief has a way of leading you to moments when you do things that seem absolutely crazy to bystanders, but which are ultimately good for you, if not downright healing.

This weekend, I had such a moment. Sunday was the long-awaited and postponed day of the Éclair's baptism, which was originally going to happen back in April. So, too, was Thomas' first Communion (which was a long time coming, as readers of the account of his first Confession already knew). Her Lovely Self's family descended as a horde--parents and sisters and brothers-in-law and cousins beyond reliable counting, since they wouldn't stop moving.

It was a time for much catching up, including on birthdays, so there was an orgy of gift-giving, although I am generally classified as a Hard Buy. This feeling exists on both sides of the family. Not long ago, my brother despaired that he never knew what to get me for my birthday. "You have everything!" he cried. "Is there any cool toy or gadget you don't have?"

"Yeah," I said, a trifle ticked off that he should say such a thing. "You know damn well what I want: A metal detector!"

"Dream on!" my Big Brother laughed. As BB well knows, when I was a young boy detective, I was convinced that a metal detector would not only be a valuable investigative tool, but could also provide a useful side income recovering lost treasure. Unfortunately, then as now, metal detectors cost a lot of money. Even the modestly priced one I had my eye on had cost over $100 in the 1970s. My dad had said for that money he'd buy me livestock and I could get a side income from that. In the event, he and my mom got me a tape recorder instead and I was so ungracious about it that my parents vowed NEVER to get me a metal detector.

And so I never have. This year? Clothes and gift cards. So it goes.

Then the multiple birthdays were over and Sunday morning came and everyone dressed in his or her Sunday best. At the suggestion of Her Lovely Self, the Brownie brought out a for-special ring, a small gold band with a tiny ruby in it, given to her by my mother. It had been my mom's when she was a girl and before that had belonged to a favorite aunt. It's a child's ring and should have fit the Brownie, but it was a little too small to fit on any finger but her pinkie, and there it was just a bit too big.

"Maybe I shouldn't wear it," she said, gazing at it. "Maybe it will get lost."

And of course it did.

Somewhere between the car ride to church and meeting and greeting our assorted relatives in the parking lot (which necessitated a lot of jumping and hooting and spirited boogying), and holding her baby sister all through Mass, the ring slipped off and landed somewhere. The Brownie didn't even notice its absence until we were on our way home.

Now, I'll admit there are times when I go all Dad on my kids and speak harshly to them for being inattentive with their things (letting the dog play Nintendo DS, impaling action figures with sparklers and setting them alight, stuffing the better portion of their fall wardrobe irretrievably down a heater vent because they didn't like the colors), but I just couldn't be mad or even really disappointed with the Brownie, or with Her Lovely Self, both of whom were disconsolate and near tears at the loss.

But I did decide to find the ring if I could, so while nearly 20 family members milled about the house, eating and playing games in the back yard, I toiled. First I turned the van upside down, then pulled the cars out of the garage and walked every inch of the floor and the driveway beyond. Then I drove over to the church and spent more than an hour walking the parking lot from where we'd parked up to the church and back again, an act of eccentricity that so unnerved the ladies counting the Sunday collection inside, that one of them finally poked her head out a window and inquired if I was all right. It was good timing, since the church had been locked (God's house, can you believe it?). I explained what was up and they kindly let me in. Alas, our church is a spare one with wooden pews and slate flooring and not many places for even a tiny ring to hide. Our priest walked in and saw my butt sticking out of one of the pews.

"Wallet or jewelry?" he asked sagely.

After assuring me he'd keep an eye out--someone could have picked it up and preferred to walk it in later in the week rather than leave it in the lost-and-found box--I headed back outside and began to search one of four grassy medians in the parking lot where my kids had run to after getting out of the car.

Talk about a needle in a haystack! The sod here was all thatched and went down a long way--it would be very easy for a ring to drop all the way to the dirt and unless I put my hand right on it, I'd never find it. I said a quick prayer to St. Anthony, then upgraded to St. Jude as the early afternoon wore away and the ring remained unfound.

I took a break around 3, sitting in my car, slurping warm water and generally feeling perplexed.

How am I ever going to find the ring in all that grass? I wondered. I'd practically need a--

And 15 minutes later, I was at the local sporting goods store, buying myself a metal detector.

My 10-year-old self would be very surprised to learn something my 39-year-old self discovered to his cost: Working a metal detector is a right pain in the ass. For starters, I had the devil's own time adjusting it to the proper height so that I could sweep the ground without being stooped over or running the damn thing into the dirt. Second, you have to sweep realllly slowly and methodically. And even then, the thing is, you know, a metal detector, which means it will detect bits of tin cans, nails, and other things patently not ring-like. But I had faith in the machine and so spent the next two hours sweeping, then dropping at the slightest beep and stooping to scrabble around in the zone where the detector had sounded. Once I swept all four medians, I went back again, this time having worked out the sensitivity switch that allowed me to filter out such bits of hardware as the church sprinkler system.

The afternoon wore on. Our priest came back again, and pulled his car over to the median where I was currently on my hands and knees, prostrated, face about an inch from the grass.

"You know, we have a place inside for that," he said.

Har har.

By 6:30, with no ring in sight, I was ready to call it a day. I caught up with the family over at the local baseball field, where Thomas was practicing with his team. They've finished their season tied for 2nd place and the semi-finals start tomorrow. Her Lovely Self was glad to see me, though sad that I had not found the ring.

Sadder than I was, actually.

As she had put it, there are so many things in my life right now that I can't ever get back, she thought surely this would be one thing I could recover.

"Well, maybe I will someday," I said. "But I gave it my best shot and I'm satisfied. Plus," I added, feeling awfully philosophical for someone who had a world-class case of sunburn on the back of his neck and elbows, "I guess there are worse ways to spend a Sunday than being on my knees at church for the better part of six hours. Better than an antidepressant."

But Her Lovely Self couldn't let the ring go. "I hope it comes back. I hope your mom finds some way to put it back in our hands."

"Yes," I nodded, "or maybe she helped it to get lost so that I could finally get a metal detector."

Her Lovely Self nodded with me. Then stopped.

"Wait. A what?!?"

From Somewhere on the Masthead

Yup, that is exactly what your Mom would do. :)

Not that I know her, but I feel like I do, thanks to her son's brilliant story telling.

of course, the ending has to have her helping you to find it too. I'll just sit back and wait for that part of the story.
I lost my grandmother's ring years and years ago. By the time we moved out of the house in which I lost it, we'd all given up hope. Two years later, we received a package in the mail from the people who'd bought that house--the ring was safely tucked inside. They found it when they got a vacuum with a light on the front. You never know how those special items are going to come back to you!
I hope you find it! My father had one of those metal detectors when I was a kid. I thought he looked like a fruitcake when we'd go to the beach and he'd be out there, clicking away, walking through groups of sunbathers. Now that I'm older, I wish I had that damn thing. I'd love to give it a try.

You've just reminded me of something I need to write about in my blog - my mother's engagement ring that vanished from a locked bank safe deposit box, but remarkably resurfaced a decade later. I'd almost forgotten about that.
i lost a ring my grandmother gave me when i was 16. i should NEVER have worn it while helping to open the pool, 'cause i'm pretty sure that it's in the yard. can i borrow your metal detector? i still think about it, even after 17 years.

i hope the brownie's ring finds its way home, and i'm glad you *finally* got your metal detector.

I think I see a sliver of your "old self" peeking through this story, MM. I'll never cease to be amazed by how every event in your life - even the small, seemingly-insignificant ones - are perpetually connected.

I, too, believe that sometimes the best therapy is just "to be sad for a while."
This reminds me of a story my(Catholic, of course) mother used to tell. A woman had lost an important ring, and was poking the grass with a stick looking for it. She stopped to pray to St Francis, holding up the stick, and when she opened her eyes the ring was on the stick.

After what what happened with Jenny the boy fox, I'm more hopeful that I might be.

Saint info for theose ignorant of such things:

St Francis-patron saint of lost objects.
There's more than one St Francis, and I forget which one is associated with finding lost things.

St Jude-patron saint of hopeless causes.
Many hospitals for severely ill children are named after him.

I too, hope for a nod and a wink, as your Aunt Helen called it.

And I'd still like to know the Eclair's hair color.
As a society we seem to have pathologized sadness - but sometimes it's appropriate to be sad, such as when you are in mourning. No antidepressant will take away your losses. I think you are right to allow yourself the room to experience your sadness and to grieve. Antidepressants are meant for people whose low mood cannot be explained by life events (among other things), not to prevent us from feeling our feelings when the time is right.

And it shouldn't be the job of general practitioners to offer up psychiatric drugs when someone is in mourning. Says more about the success of pharmaceutical marketing than true patient care, in my opinion.

In any case, I'm terribly sorry for the losses you've experienced. I hope you come to find peace, when you're ready.
I loaned a silver ring my uncle made by hand for me to an ex-boyfriend. He lost it and when I found out, he didn't seem to care one bit. I was devastated, so I can understand a part of what you were feeling.

But when my uncle died he never found a way to give me a metal detector. That is totally cool.
I hope you find it, or rather, it finds you...
My husband has one of those nerdy metal detectors and I keep waiting for something valuable to turn up. So far, nothing but nails, bullet casings, railroad spikes and various other garbage. All of which he KEEPS of course! But I love your reason for buying one and I hope you enjoy it!
I forgot to mention my plan for finding lost things which often works, though not always.

Ask the Brownie to tell you where she was the last time she remembered having it, and track her memory forward from from there.

And do the same for the rest of the family in case they might have witnessed seomthing, then forgot.

It can have amazing results for helping you figure where to look.
Kindred spirit, at last. My wife makes fun of me when I tell her how many childhood years were spent wishing for a metal detector. But I was quite certain that I was going to become rich if I only had one.
I'm glad you finally got your metal detector :)

My dad had a metal detector when I was a teenager. We used it in the backyard and found a Walking Liberty silver coin. Of course, I lost my coin collection in the fire, and that metal detector is probably long gone, but I still remember how cool it was to find something like that, inexplicably buried right next to the pool.
Your desire for the metal detector Reminds me of the "sling-shot" my kid brother had wanted! He finally got one when he was 25 or so..and with his first shot he took out the kitchen window!
On the other Mom found her sapphire ring 4 years after having "lost" it! It's possible!
Good Luck
Perhaps your Mom & Dad have rethought the whole metal detector thing and got the ring "lost" so you would finally get yourself one.

The ring will find it's way home. Of that, I have no doubt.

I had to delete the rest of my comment. I got on a rant about overmedication in our society.

As my Dad would say "This too, shall pass."
Who'd have thunk it, a metal detector long coveted for being your spiritual guiding light and physical antidepressant. Best of luck in recovering that ring, more for HLS and the Brownie's sake than yours, I think.
Enjoy your new toy, erm, I mean your new tool. We have a story of an amazing find in our family as do so many of your commenters. The diamond had fallen out of my mother's wedding ring, and she and my father had searched for it occasionally for years. They finally found it when they were preparing to move. The diamond was in the kitchen, wedged in a crack in the linoleum behind the stove.
And while it's none of my business, I think you have your head on straight about the anti-depressants. Sadness is a reasonable emotion,and you certainly have reasons. I've used antidepressants before when that sadness morphed into fear, anxiety and anger. The medication was the right choice for me at that time, and I don't regret taking it, but it didn't make the underlying problems go away, just gave me a chance to work on them.
Congratulations on the first Communion and baptism. I can't help but think that being away from HLS's family (at least the overbearing ones) for those hours was OK, too?
Hey MM, hope you have fun with the metal detector and that the ring gets found eventually. And if anyone questions you on it, you can explain you wanted to give the ring finding your very best effort, which you definitely did.
A couple of things struck me about this, MM.

First, YES, why do churches lock their doors??? If it's God's House, you've got to have a little bit of faith, I would think.

However, the overwhelming feeling I got is that your folks got a metal detector into your hands. The ring will show up later, somehow.
I've never left you a message, and I may never leave one again. But I have a little piece of hard won advice (which, of course you are free to ignore to your heart's content). I am the youngest of a family of 6 kids. I've lost two sisters (one when she was 30, one when she was 46). I lost both parents (Mom when I was 19, Dad when I was 40). There is no good cure for grief. My advice to you is simply this ... work your ass off loving those that are in your care. And work your ass off doing the things you should do - looking for the ring was just the kind of thing I mean. Active love and hard work are the way through the hard times. Hold 'em close, hug 'em a lot, cry when you have to, and keep working. Let your love grow.
You imp.
Sorry about your back and your sunburn, MM. I too see a glimmer of your "old self" in this story.

Welcome back! You've been missed.

MM - I just wanted to let you know that I felt the same way about antidepressants until my rheumatologist prescribed a low dose for my fibromyalgia. Apparently, a side effect is that they help with the pain as well as the chronic fatigue. Low doses don't seem to impact my mood very much at all, but it helps with the malaise. My family is thinking of you and your family and sending lots of positive thoughts in your direction.
Follow your instincts - sometimes you just have to grieve. I remember at times feeling disbelief that other people could even *laugh* when I was so terribly sad. But in time, it got better, and easier. Everyone has to go through it, and go about it in their own way.

Having said that - if you need the drugs - if you find yourself stalled out in the grieving process, and can't go any further... then use the damn drugs. You don't have to, won't have to use them forever. Sometimes, some people just need a pharmaceutical kick in the ass to get going again, and there is certainly nothing wrong with that.

I think that searching for the ring was important, too. For the first time in months you were *really* in charge of the situation - you couldn't "unlose" the ring, but you could by golly search for it - using literally every resource at your command - until *you* decided that you could search no more. It was the first time in a long time that you had control over a sad situation. And maybe that's why you seem to be handling the loss of the ring so much better than HLS.

Congratulations to the kiddos - aside from the ring, it sounds like it was a special, lovely day.
oops, wrong saint. I don;t know why I was thinking Francis. You were right of course, it was St Anthony of Padua. I just looked it up.
Fantastic story, MM.

I had a similar experience with a lost bracelet that could have been in any of 20 different places. After a horrible 24 hours, walking bent over for 2 more hours in a grass field, a lady called out to me to pray to St. Anthony...
As I argued with myself to "give up" or "just look for another minute. have faith", I took one last walk around. As soon as I thought "just have faith", I looked down and the bracelet was between my toes.

I pray that your mom will find a way to get that ring back to you.
Happy Father's Day! I wish more fathers were like you.
Sounds like the perfect reasoning to me. :) What a lovely story.
I loved this story. The last few lines are particularly great. I read the whole thing out loud to Asa when I was finished.

I do hope you find that ring—with the metal detector.

Yesterday I met a couple of old vets in the park with metal detectors. One of them told me that each of his machines (he has several) has paid for itself a couple of times over. So yes, they have pricey startup costs, but in the long run you come up on top.
I hope you and yours are well. I miss you on this piece of the intertubes.

What a story! The acquisition of the metal detector was inevitable.
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