Thursday, March 30, 2017

Scattering Grief: Ashes, Cold Sand, and the Absence of Emotion

I scattered my mother's ashes in the cold dark ocean. I stood in my bare feet, the temperature hovering a few degrees above freezing. Unseasonably cold at the Gulf in the middle of March. Other family members stood nearby feeling all the feelings. I turned the bag upside down and let the contents fall into the lapping waves under cold stars feeling nothing. The gap of black water I had to wade through had surprised me and taking off my shoes seemed necessary in my hurry to complete the process. This one last heavy thing I had promised.

There were tears by others. I stood there feeling like a sociopath in my blankness. But I had given all I had to give over the last years with her and now was as empty as the plastic bag in my hand. Of course, the thing rushing in to fill up that space is guilt. Always guilt. The shameful thoughts of knowing I shouldn't feel this way. This distant. Emotionless.

Several years ago I was angry and sad, undone even, by something that happened. I felt rage that I didn't know was possible for me and it scared me. It was uncomfortable in some ways but in other ways it felt good. Honest. Real. I kept saying "I have the right to my emotions." Which is true. Anyone would have been hurt and been barely holding together under an avalanche of ragged emotions. I felt them without guilt.

And so in this moment, standing on the frigid sand, did I not also have the right to feel nothing? We aren't supposed to feel this way no matter how much someone siphoned out of us while they were alive. After death we expect to be washed over by waves of regret and sadness. Others are concerned for us, they ask loved ones if we are "holding up ok." Especially women who had mothers they could go to for advice, or lean on, or who were selfless and dear.

There is a place for envy of the brokenhearted. There's a sadness in not being sad.

 I feel improper.

On the table in our rented condo the table is covered with faded photographs of happier times. Family dinners, holidays, first days of school. Our mom did the surface stuff very well. But some of the stories that get told along with the memories tug in the wrong direction. It's an effort to avoid bits and pieces of history. To remember just enough to make us smile and then skip ahead over the tender spots. My sister and I try hard. A story about this photo, a memory of that house. I ask "Tell me about this one, I don't remember."

I work  to hold on to the happy pieces and unremember wide swaths throughout the tale.

There is a shame in knowing that my lack of emotion is unimaginable for others. Some of us have poured our energy down the drain of chaotic neediness for decades, so that in the end at the last wind of the road on a cold dark shoreline there is simply nothing left. Nothing except very deep down inside, trying not to raise it's head too high and be noticed; the shadowy whisper of relief.

So what do we do when we don't feel the appropriate emotions in life? How do we cope with having a vastly different experience than other people? What do we do with the guilt that comes  when we don't feel a sense of loss when most people do?

First, let's recognize that these are emotions and thoughts. They are temporary. Your emotions, or lack of them, don't make you a bad person. It's quite possible that all the emotion has been spent earlier in the situation as it was in my case. It's not that there were never any tears over the loss of my mother. It's just that they'd already been shed over not having her as a trusted adviser when she was alive as well as exhausting myself trying to make her happy.  For many people the lack of apparent grief at the very end is because the strongest emotions were felt during a long illness and death is indeed a relief for all involved.

Second, share how you are feeling about how you are feeling with friends you trust or a therapist. The worst thing to do is struggle alone thinking there is something wrong with you. You may not realize how much you've invested emotionally in the past, it's helpful to have a third party who is removed from the situation give insight from another perspective. Work with a therapist to make sure that your lack of emotion hasn't hardened into a grudge or unforgiveness. Counseling can help you make sure you're not slipping into unhealthy territory.

Third, recognize that not experiencing the socially acceptable sentiment on demand is okay. It's fine to experience your own grief in your own time. You may grieve for the loss of your parent with Alzheimer's the first time they don't recognize you or at the diagnosis. You may grieve the sudden loss of a loved one who died without warning weeks or months after the event when the shock wears off. You may feel no sense of loss at all for a relative who made everyone's life miserable when they were alive.

Every single situation is different. Unless you are trying to get away with murder, you shouldn't feel that you need to drum up emotion on demand when someone passes away. That's why people hate Valentine's Day. Use your energy to be kind and supportive of those grieving in a different way. Aim for kindness. But don't try to be anything but your authentic self.

Need a pinnable image? 

Friday, March 24, 2017

Losing It All: How I Dealt with My Worst Computer Mishap Ever

Wednesday was a day of sick panic and tears. In trying to find the book I started on One Drive a few years ago,I downloaded Microsoft Office which apparently updated my computer with the latest version of Windows. When my computer restarted everything was gone. Documents, files, bookmarks, helpful apps, photos. Gone. I tried looking around. Nothing.  I mean, I know technically it's all still in there somewhere.

It's at such times you can comfort yourself with all the times you've seen the FBI wheeling some guy's computer out along with boxes of files. 

Did I mention there were tears? Last week at the beach with my daughter and son in law they asked me to take some photos of them on the beach. Pictures that were beautiful. With perfect lighting. Pictures that were the one thing they asked me to do for them.

You know how this goes, right? The longer I couldn't find them and the more hopeless it seemed, the more beautiful and perfect the photos were. I was distraught. I Googled. I called a tech savvy friend.He asked if they could still be on the memory card of my camera but I told him I have a habit of erasing photos when I upload them so I don't have to buy more memory cards.

"Oh." he said.

I Googled more. I cursed and imagined smashing my computer with a hammer. Why are some of our initial reactions in so many situations to make things worse? I changed way more stuff in my computer than makes me comfortable. I broke out in a cold sweat. I cried some more. I went to see The Shack. Which of course made me cry, but in a good way. Came home got back at it. Finally about 6:00 in the evening I did what I should have done first.

I looked for a video on You Tube.

In the very first one I watched, the guy mentioned a free program called Recuva. My friend had mentioned that on the phone, but my brain had shut down at "download." A download was how I got here in the first place. But here was another person saying it was the thing to do. Just for confirmation I checked a few more videos. Yep. There was consensus.


I downloaded the program and within 5 minutes had found every photo I had ever taken. Thousands. Many I had deleted years ago and forgotten about. All there, hidden deep in the bowels of my hard drive. Everything.

Except the most recent ones I had uploaded. The treasures I was looking for.

Still apparently gone.

But now I had hope. More importantly, I knew there was a way and that I could figure it out. I felt empowered.

I gave up for the night and went to bed. I do my best thinking in the morning and often figure problems out over night.

First thing the next morning, I went back to Recuva again. I looked over my options. The first time I had chosen to recover photos. As I looked again I saw an option for a memory card. I ticked the circle.

I grabbed the memory card and inserted it. I clicked recover. I held my breath.

Blue sky. Ocean. Dark curly hair and smiles appeared on my screen.

I yelled out to let my husband know I had found them and he could talk to me again. Let's just say I'm surly under stress. I exhaled. I said a prayer of thankfulness.

I really didn't want to call a woman whose nickname is Bossy and tell her I lost the photos she planned to use for an upcoming event. Surly under stress runs in the family. 

You might want to bookmark the Recuva app for future reference! In case you missed the link in the story here it is again:

Saturday, March 11, 2017

Beekeeping Problems: Tempermental Bees and Testy Weather

 I'm the kind of person who wants predictable weather. Okay, maybe that's just everyone, but as a beekeeper having the weather work with me instead of against me would be a wonderful thing. I don't want to do hive inspections in February because the temperatures are in the 70s on a routine basis. But that's exactly what happened this year.

I did inspections, moved a hive, even added honey supers to a couple of hives. Now it's the middle of March and this week we are having nights below freezing and the possibility of snow tonight.

So this will be a quiet week in the bee yard.  

I'm somewhat amused at my early beekeeping adventures. There was so much I didn't know when I started. One amusing thing is that I thought my first swarm was a bunch of Mean Girls and their queen was Regina George, just because I had to catch them 3 times.

Now I know better.

This year I have a super defensive colony. These bees aren't just uncooperative, they are testy. They are looking to sting you long before you get close to their hive. If they'd been sitting in a field somewhere it wouldn't have mattered, but they are in my garden near a gate. We walk by it all the time and so do any workmen who have to come into the yard.

I had the extension agent come out to take a look at our apple tree and a bee chased us all the way out to the front yard. As a master gardener, you'd kind of like the county extension agent to think well of you.

 You don't necessarily want to be cursing like a sailor and jumping around the front yard trying to get a bee out of your hair.

Basically, I want beekeeping to look like this:

But sometimes the reality looks more like this.

I decided to move this hive to a new location in my neighbor's yard that is far away from where people would be walking or working. At dusk on a cool night when most of the bees were inside, I went out and taped the hive closed. Around 10:00 my husband and I took flashlights and walked through our plan trying to detect any obstacles or things we hadn't thought of. Then we went home and carefully loaded the hive onto a dolly and rolled it over to its new location, gingerly placing it on the cinder blocks. 

I left them taped closed the next day. On the following morning, I untaped the entrance and placed branches in front of the hive.

 How to move a hive a short distance:

Conventional beekeeping wisdom says you can move bees 3 feet or 3 miles. If you want to move them across the bee yard, old timers would say that you had to move them 2 feet a day, or move them 5 miles away, wait a few weeks, then move them to where you actually want them.

I began to hear people at the bee meetings talk about using branches, though, so after some online confirmation, this is the method I applied. In the evening when most of the bees have returned to the hive you seal it up. I used duct tape because I have screened bottom and top boards, so I knew they'd get plenty of ventilation. You are going to leave the bees in the hive anywhere from 24 to 72 hours depending on which beekeeper you talk to. I'd had 2 days of rain before I moved them so I counted those 2 days since most of the bees hadn't been out. It would also be appropriate to move them ahead of a rainy spell, for the same reason. Bees have about a 3 day memory so after being inside so long they'll need to reorient.

When you are moving bees at night, make sure you are fully covered and that openings in clothing or around boots and gloves are taped shut. Bees crawl and night and are very angry about being disturbed. I thought out my plan carefully but took every precaution in case something went wrong, like the boxes shifting and coming apart or us dropping them. Everything went according to plan and the whole move took about 15 minutes. But be prepared for the worst case scenario!

After the sequestration period unseal the hive and place branches in front of the entrance. When the bees come out the ancient part of their bee brains that lived in trees for thousands of years reasons that their tree has fallen. They climb out through the branches and reorient in front of their new location.

Bees navigate by landmarks so the branches are a big help to them.

That's it! I did this earlier this week and the bees have adjusted very well. They won't be any less angry but they are less likely to bother anyone in their new home until I can requeen.

Just so anyone who saw this hive was clear on the situation, I slapped a sticker on it.

Please note that these are my personal experiences with beekeeping and for expert information please consult your local extension office or state apiary website.


Monday, March 6, 2017

Spring Wins and a Loss in the Bee Yard

 Beekeepers await spring with a fair amount of angst. In the south, we have an advantage since we usually have lots of sunny fine days even in January when we can see bees coming and going. Many times they can even be observed bringing pollen. Compared to our beekeeping friends up north, whose hives are often wintering under a layer of deep snow we get to ease our minds from time to time. 

That doesn't mean that we don't worry, though. It's easy to be caught off guard sometimes. This year, because of the unusual weather we had, abnormally warm all fall, then two early arctic blasts, I had my first over winter loss in 5 years of beekeeping.  Here's what I saw when I opened the first hive at my second bee yard. For a reference point, the picture at the top of this post is what I found in a healthy hive on the same day.

Beekeeping involves a bit of detective work to figure out what is going on in the hive and stay ahead of it when things are good, or analyze where things went wrong when they go bad.

This hive had plenty of honey going into fall. I fed another that looked weak but this one looked like the strongest one all winter. On any warm day since the first of the year this hive had quite a lot of traffic at the entrance. So what happened?

Let's look at the clues: I didn't find bees with their heads down in the cells in a cluster, which is a sign of starvation. The bees I did find were clustered together in small groups on the surface of the comb.

I also did not find one drop of honey anywhere.

There had been tons of bees coming and going on fine days.

Their demise is most likely due to a combination of things. Like having too few bees to generate enough heat and being caught unprepared for the sudden arctic blasts we had. The clusters I did find were separated. We had one day when the temperature dropped from 70 to below freezing in one day. It could be that the sudden drop that day got them. All of this could probably have been prevented if I'd realized this colony was as weak as it was and combined it with a stonger one going into winter.

But then, where did all the honey go?

After the bees froze the bees from the strong colonies robbed them out, which is why there was so much traffic at the front of the hive. If I had been looking more carefully I probably would have seen that they weren't bringing pollen. 

Beekeeping means paying attention to detail. Something I'm working on. Now that we've seen an example of what can go wrong, let's look at what the other hives looked like.

On this frame, you can see capped honey.

Look at all these healthy bees and that patch of capped brood. This is good stuff!

Here's a frame with lots of bees, capped brood, capped honey, and pollen. 

This makes my heart happy.

Here are all the things a beekeeper is looking for on one frame in the brood chamber.

The weather isn't cooperating at all with me. I spent two gorgeous days for working bees in a classroom at the master beekeeping course and now we have several days of rain forecast. I have hives that need honey supers, a hive that needs moving, and one that needs to be split to prevent swarming. Lots to do, but I can't do any of it in the rain.

Beekeeping also means paying close attention to the weather and being frustrated by it.

These are my personal experiences in beekeeping. For expert advice and information please refer to your local extension service or any of the land grant university websites.