Thanksgiving

turkey dinnerWe are headed to Buffalo, Wyoming for Thanksgiving this year.  Our trek is elaborate.  We start out on Tuesday and head to Bozeman, Montana.  We spend the night in Bozeman and pick up our daughter, Kayla, who is a sophomore at Montana State University.  We also drop off her snow tires.

Then we soldier on to Billings where we stay in a suite that has a 24-hour airport shuttle.  This is an important feature because our son, Scott, is flying in from Seattle and arrives at midnight when most things in Billings are closed.  Assuming everything goes as planed, he arrives at our room about 12:30 am while the rest of us continue snoozing peacefully with visions of turkey drifting through our heads.

If Billings goes anything like last year, we will be running around late looking for tofu turkey.  Scott is a vegetarian and we left our specially bought vegan plunder at home.  We raced in the only vegetarian market in Billings just at closing (8 pm) and bought a supply of frozen veggie turkeys.  Scott landed on time but crashed through the dark room waking everyone up.  But who am I to complain?  He made the sojourn from Seattle after work on a cigar plane (one seat on each side) to a small airport, landing in the middle of the night, just to join the family.

We get up on Thanksgiving day and drive two and half hours to Buffalo, Wyoming.  The town is about 4,500 people;  about half of whom are Koziseks. The Koziseks have manned the sheriff’s office and police force for years. The next generation is now serving.  There is such a crowd that last year we had dinner in the basement of the Baptist Church.  We didn’t fit in a house.  A large number of the family were left out because my nephew’s wife was entertaining her extended family at their mini-ranch.  We dropped by for a visit and couldn’t get in the door so many people were in attendance. The thought of all of us together in Buffalo is mind boggling.  My husband’s family are all avid hunters and fishers and believe in standing for the flag at football games.  We always have lots to talk about except politics.

My husband, Pete, lost his younger brother who lived in California last spring.  Our Thanksgiving group will be slightly smaller and a lot sadder this year.  The California brother was the big arranger of family reunions and his favorite place was Disney Land.  We have toured the Magic Kingdom on a number of occasions in a Kozisek crowd.  My husband used to laughingly refer to his California brother’s family as the “Disney Nazi’s” because we did Disney from sunrise to fireworks every day.  I fondly remember the trips because Kayla was little and got passed around a lot. I got a break from child care and the pleasure of adult company.disneyland

Over the years, what I have found most remarkable about all these visits is the goodwill.  We are very different people but at Thanksgiving and in Disney Land we seem to be able to find common ground.  I have learned that love and gratitude grow with age.  In the Kozisek family, there is always plenty of both to go around.

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Depression, my experience with deep darkness

In 1988, “Gorillas in the Mist” was a big hit. I went with my boyfriend, now husband-Pete, and our friends, Teri and Jack. The movie is the true story of naturalist Dian Essey, protector of hunted gorillas. Blood is featured prominently throughout as gorillas are hunted for cash, gorgeous animals with huge hearts attacked for no reason, their hands sold as ash trays. Essey lived and died among these rare creatures.  The last scene is especially bloody. Essey’s throat is cut. Viewers see the knife slice and blood dripping from her neck. Her assailant is never identified.

As we stood up to leave the movie, I realized I could not speak. Unbeknownst to me, the movie had touched some hidden well-spring releasing a huge surge of darkness that engulfed my senses. The only two bright spots were: 1. I knew something was terribly wrong and 2. I was surrounded by supportive friends. By morning I was able to talk but dark shadows were still hovering like ghostly cobwebs in the corners of my mind. I would not wish that catatonic blackness on anyone. I understand some people can’t surface on their own towards the glimmering light of reality as I had. Trapped in that blackness for a significant period of time, I would find the experience unnerving, unbearable and ultimately unlivable.

While the initial depressive episode was almost 30 years ago, I was reminded of the experience this week while visiting Wyoming friends in Colorado and Arizona. While I was in Colorado, my friends Teri and Jack drove down from Cheyenne to see me. We laughed about our many shared good times, i.e. Like when their cat, Tiger, stole the pork roast, bigger than he off the table as we were sitting done to eat. We don’t talk about how I couldn’t get to their wedding in Jackson even though Pete was the best man because I was struggling to keep the darkness at bay and wouldn’t travel for an extended period of time. I had lunch in Phoenix with my dear friend, Holly. During my mental health struggles I would camp out on Holly’s couch for the night to make sure I wasn’t alone. Excellent counseling, medication, funds to pay for it, and  a strong support system of friends helped sweep my blackness away though I still watch for triggers, such as no depressing movies. I am always thankful for the light.

I have been planning a spring break trip to California for my daughter and her friends to tour universities the last couple of weeks. She wants to go because her brother and his friend made the trek with my sister and I six years ago. The  circumstances of that trip were very different than the one we are contemplating now. When I planned the trip in 2011, I didn’t know the challenges we would face. The week we were to leave I received a call from the friend’s father. He told me his wife had killed herself the night before while the family was in the house. I told him we would the cancel the trip but he insisted we go.

Right after the mom’s funeral in a Boise Episcopal church filled with Juniors in high school, we started out to California. We wound our way down the California coast, touring Stanford, UCLA, Santa Clara and finishing in San Diego. We turned home driving through Yosemite.  After the park, we drove straight home, a week away in La La land resulted in my son’s friend beginning to come to terms with his mother’s death.  Understandably, he wanted to get home as quickly as possible. I was so pleased this December when my son’s friend, a first generation college graduate crossed the stage at University of Idaho. After such a tragic beginning to his college career, his success gave all of us in our family a spurt of joy.

Over the years, mental health issues have grabbed more of the spotlight. The Affordable Care Act(ACA/ObamaCare) now about to be repealed requires that insurers pay for behavioral health treatment at the same level as other medical services (the technical term is parity and insurance payment for mental health is a recent development). I am an example of the success of having access to resources. Unfortunately, treatment still carries a stigma unlike cancer and too many people can’t access appropriate care either because it isn’t available or they are unwilling to admit they need help. Idaho has one of the worst community mental health systems in the nation. Our suicide rate is too high. We can strive to do better as a state. As individuals, we can all be  supportive friends to those in need. My friends kept me going when I was surrounded by darkness and despair. Thirty years later whenever I’m with them I bask in their light.