Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Good grief.

Grief is a funny thing. Not funny in a ha-ha way. Funny in a wow this is fucked up way. If funny can be fucked up, that is.

This isn’t really starting off right.

Since December I’ve been pushing forward, moving quickly, embracing distraction. I took Christmas on in beast mode. I managed double the workload from my office when my boss’ estranged father died unexpectedly and she left the country for over a month. I hosted Easter dinner and made festive, Spring-y side dishes with peas and asparagus and puff pastry. I handled the end of the school year and birthdays and summer activity sign-ups. I have carpooled my ass off, completed a cleanse, celebrated a wedding anniversary, exercised and vacationed.

And every month on the 13th day, I pause and think “It’s been another month.”

And any place I go, if I was there this time last year too, I pause and think “I shouldn’t have been here last year, I should have been with her.”

And every time Eleven acts Fourteen, I pause and think “If only I could call my Mom and ask her what to do.”

And everywhere I shop, I see owls and penguins and lemon-scented whatnots and I pause and think “Oh, I need to get that for her birthday” but halfway through the thought I realize there are no more birthdays.

And then I have to pause and think “Just breathe” so I’m not that woman who cries alone in the store.

And lately I am pausing and thinking, I need more pausing and less thinking.

Survival mode got me here and I’m intact. So is my family. But I feel a strong push to be still and quiet. Sometimes I just lay without moving and stare out the window. That feels about right to me these days. I was stronger than the pull of grief for a long time, but I’m getting wrapped up in it’s web now and it’s slowing me way, way down.

I want to escape by reading, but I can’t read anything except non-fiction right now. I’m cynical and bitter and can’t pick up a book and get past the synopsis without sweating sarcasm as I think, Sure. Why wouldn’t the characters be named Lark, Hope and Stella? One is a lighthearted free spirit who is hiding a secret. One is broken but trying. And one is perfect but about to crumble. It’s August in some beach community in South Carolina where there just happens to be a hot, thirty-something mechanic who has a bright smile and a dark past. And the author always seems to live in some Shaker town back east with her husband and parakeet named Einstein (or the cats, Poe and Adverb, or some other horrible names that they say and then chuckle to themselves for being so clever and writer-ly).

I put the book back on the shelf, and continue to silently mock the author. Of course you’ve published a book about your tired characters with their already-told story. Your idea of a good time is talking to your husband about the cunning way Einstein tilted her head today while you were watering your spider fern. Fuck you AND your ugly sandals AND your book.

See? The insides are twisting and turning towards a slightly hostile place.

So then I think, Well, if I can’t read, maybe I should write. But all the big blogs I read are written by broken women. One is clinically depressed, medicated, divorced. One is a recovering addict, who almost got divorced. Another is so perfect that you couldn’t even write a country song about how perfect her life is. She bakes and homeschools and blogs…oh my!

I’m not addicted to anything and I'm not divorced and I'm not clinically depressed (at least I don't think I am). I don't have any tattoos that express how deep and authentic I am. I don't have any tattoos at all. I'm not really broken, I’m just bent. Bent all the way over these days, actually, but is that enough to be blogging about? Do we have to be broken to be fascinating? Do we have to be fascinating at all? Is this what it means to be broken? Who breaks over losing a parent, seriously? This shit happens every day. Worse shit happens every day.

This is why I haven’t written in a while, I think. I internally dialogue myself out of the running.

I don’t want to make dinner. I don’t feel like answering questions. School forms and the linen closet and the laundry all stare at me and I feel no impulse to tend to any of it. Nothing at the library intrigues me (obviously). The treadmill bores me after 20 minutes.

I want to watch the wind blow the eucalyptus leaves around until it’s too dark to see the wind blowing the eucalyptus leaves around, and I want to do it alone, and in silence.

As you might gather, I’m super fun to be around these days.

I’m going to sit with this funk for a while and see where it takes me.

I’ll be back.

Friday, May 9, 2014

Rain, rain, go away.

If any of you are moon babies, or whatever you have to be in order to understand the pull of the universe and tides and astrology or whatever it is that's causing me to be a colossal bitch this week, could you message me? My panties are perpetually bunched up and it’s chafing my chi. And the people closest to me are the biggest triggers, which in turn makes them the biggest targets, too.

(Except, of course, Chicago. She knows I can be mad as hell but somehow never at her. It’s the best. Everyone should have a Chicago. Not MY Chicago, though. Go find your own. See? I’m back to being a bitch. Am I blowing your mind yet?)

I knew this week was going to catch up with me. I had a great birthday weekend, full of friends and good wishes. But as the week has progressed, I’ve become a little more pensive and a little more cranky. I’ve yelled at my kids (to be fair, they kind of deserved it), I’ve snarled at the husband (he may have deserved it too), and I’ve just been seething in general.

I think part of it is because the harder I try to stand tall and brave, the harder I have to try to stand tall and brave. And you know what? All the trying combined with all the end-of-year school assignments, and all the keeping the house clean and all the laundry and all the work and all the whatnot, leaves me wishing I was somewhere warm, drinking something cold, completely alone. (Chicago can come.)

Any place will do, as long as I’m not required to speak and nobody needs a snack, a signature, or a foot massage.

I want to sit in the sun and let it warm me. I want to wear a long sundress, and let my hair blow in the breeze. I want to feel relaxed and happy and carefree. I want to laugh really hard, all day. I want to be mischievous and spontaneous. I want my brow to be unfurrowed and I want a smile to be my default expression.

I want to turn away from the driving rain that hit last year, look at the horizon and meditate myself into happy oblivion. But even though I’m not facing it head on anymore, I can hear the rain falling, whispering sadly about everything that’s gone, trying to pull me away from everything that’s still here…everything I’m trying so hard to focus on.

Every drop that comes down is like a gentle, cold tap on the shoulder. A reminder. Tap. Tap tap. And though I’m trying (there’s that exhausting word again) to be quiet and still and warm, soon I’m drenched again and shivering.

Maybe the sadness flood is also the fuel for my bitch fire. I’ve turned away and it’s still all up on me. Is fighting to get away from whatever makes us sad unnatural? Should we just live in the sadness, and feel whatever it wants us to feel until one day we realize that without even trying we don’t feel that way anymore?

I obviously have no answers, people. I mean, I started this post off by asking you for help. I guess the one bad thing about designating a blog as therapy is that your therapist is perpetually silent. That and the whole admitting-to-everyone-who-reads-it that-I’m-a-huge-bitch thing.

Then again, most of you who read this probably know me and know what I’m capable of already.

Oddly comforting, really. Because that means there are a handful of therapists reading who will have a dry shirt ready for me when the rain hits. I also know a couple of shrinks who would gladly offer a dry Chardonnay instead (which more often than not, I’ll take over a t-shirt, thank you very much).

Even more reassuring is that in less than one week, I’ll be in actual Chicago. With my girl, Chicago. It’s the best therapy one half-wet, half-dry girl could ask for – like a new shirt and a cold drink all wrapped up in a warm, fuzzy, Midwestern bow.

In summary: You are my therapy and Chicago is my kryptonite, except she's good for me (and also she's not green).

I suppose that makes me SuperBitch, which means you’re off the hook no matter who you’ve snapped at this week.

You’re welcome.

Thursday, May 1, 2014

45 and 11.

The first week of May used to be completely joyful, I swear. It’s my birthday! It’s Mother’s Day!! Spring has sprung!!! Nothing better than babies and flowers and the blessing of another year to celebrate (and lots of exclamation points), right? I don’t know what the universe is telling me, but this time of year has overwhelmingly become the Bermuda triangle in my life.

Let’s back up.

Last year, on May 3rd, I celebrated my birthday. On May 6th, my Mom went into the hospital for an outpatient procedure. There was an issue that caused her to bleed out on the table, which led to a Code Blue. They brought her back, took her into surgery, and thus began her long, painful, slippery slope. Two days later was the anniversary of my sister’s death, which I commemorated by basically begging her spirit not to take our Mom from me yet. And then came Mother’s Day, which after the prior several days, was emotionally supercharged to say the least.

I say all this now that I’m through it like I’m just ordering breakfast (I’ll have a Code Blue, a bleed out, and a dead sister please. Oh! And coffee.) but if you’ve been accosted by any number of the above things, you know just how much of a jolt each of them can be individually, let alone stacked up in a matter of days.

So this year, on the cusp of that memory-filled week, I find myself feeling funky and pensive. It’s kicking off with an interesting birthday because when my sister died, she was 45 years old and her daughter was eleven. It hits home more now than ever before, because in a couple of days I’ll be 45 years old too, and Eleven is, well…eleven. Eleven going on 16, but that’s another post entirely.

I’ve been thinking a lot about where Laura was in her life when she died, where I was in mine, what we had in common, and where I am now that I’m as old as she was when she left us. It’s an ongoing monologue in my head, filled with unanswered questions, hypotheticals and regret.

And as I consider my life and everything that has been keeping my head and heart heavy, something has become very clear.

I spent my entire 44th year in emotional shackles.

Right after my birthday I had two days of decent, followed by seven long months of high-strung fear and fragility, where I fluctuated between worried, panicked and hysterical. Mom dying marked the end of that period, and also catapulted me into what has now been five months of wandering around in a grief-induced haze.

I think it’s safe to say that last year sucked balls.

I think it’s also safe to say that the universe is trying to open my eyes and shift my focus to something bigger. Or maybe something smaller. Or possibly just something ELSE.

Mom is gone, yes. I’m shattered by the loss, yes. I miss her every time I go to call her, yes. And when I call my Dad, leaving a message is nearly impossible after hearing her voice on their machine.

My sister is gone, yes. I am different than I would be if she hadn’t died, yes. I mourn the loss, and everything she’s missed, and everything I am missing about her, and it’s not lost on me that I am now where she was, at least in age and motherhood, when she died.

But. They are together. They are safe in heaven and they can see me and my niece and everyone else in the family from where they are.

Last year, I spent most of my time desperately trying to prolong someone else’s life.

This year, I think the universe/my Mom/my sister is telling me to spend most of my time trying to drum up a whole lot of happy.

I have the chance to do what my sister didn’t, which is see my daughter turn 12 while I enjoy my 45th year. I have the opportunity to respect my body, and love the life it holds, the lives it’s created, and the life I share with the traveling husband. I am able to celebrate, and while the past year has held more dread than party, it’s time to Footloose it up and start dancing again.

I will still worry, mostly about my sweet Dad, and a little bit about the impending birds and bees talk I need to have with the girls (GULP).

But I will try this upcoming week to see each milestone as a chance to quietly acknowledge, and then purposefully step forward from, the sadness and heartache they bring. It’s with me, but it’s no longer all of me. I think I need to start year 45 with a renewed Clear Eyes, Full Heart, Can’t Lose mentality.

Also, cake. And maybe a teeny hangover.

Happy birthday to me.


Friday, April 18, 2014

Life is but a dream.

Several years after my sister died, she came to me in a dream. I remember being so overwhelmed to see her that I was just sobbing and incredulous, repeating over and over something like “It’s you. You’re here.” She just smiled at me like it was any other day (and like I wasn’t hysterical) and said “I’m fine. Everything is okay.”

I woke up the next morning thinking, Wow. Maybe she is fine. Maybe everything is – finally – okay. This is good.

Since my Mom died, I’ve been waiting for her to come to me. She finally did the other night, but it wasn’t about me, it was more about my Dad. In my dream (nightmare?) he was dying. He was very peaceful, laying in bed, and I was sitting on the bed next to him on his left side. I was despondent. I looked to my right, and there she was. She was vibrant, bright, young. She was laying on the bed next to me with her feet near Dad’s, and she was propped up on her elbows. I looked at my Dad and said “He’s resting…I guess this is normal in the progression…”, and then I looked back at her. She was smiling expectantly, beyond happy, with tears in her eyes. She nodded her head and said “I know.” She couldn’t wait for him to come to her. She looked like a child on Christmas Eve who knew her most coveted gift was under the tree.

When I woke up, I couldn’t decide if I felt better, or doubly worse. And when I told the traveling husband about the dream later that day, I cried.

Lately, I fluctuate between a couple of realities. The first one is where I know on the surface that she died, and I can say it with a certain amount of detachment, take the kind comments that usually come afterwards, and move on.

Other times, it feels like I'm a little girl who's just been pushed off the high dive.

As I fall fast, my mind hits rewind and I see her in her hospice bed where she was a shred of her former self. I see her in hospital room after hospital room with tubes and monitors and I see the nurses and doctors who floated in and out over the course of eight months, alternately helping and pissing me off with their attitudes and answers (or lack thereof).

And then I see her as she was before, and this is the hardest to reconcile in my head. I saw the decline with my own two eyes and yet the questions remain. How can it be? How can vibrancy and resilience and strength disappear and take with it the will to fight and live? How could I have spent so much time hoping and praying and talking about her getting better, and so little time preparing for how I would feel when that didn’t happen?

Then I hit the water and sink to the bottom as the second reality hits which is that she hasn’t just died. She. Is. Dead. There is an odd difference. The first reality lives in my head. The second one lives in my heart.

Recently the traveling husband reminded someone who wasn’t being careful enough with me that “her mother died just four months ago.” It made me feel incredibly loved and cared for, and reminded me that he may be busy but he is first and foremost Papa Bear for this family. He stepped in front of me as a shield, and that not only protected me, but gave me a moment to let my own guard down. Which made me realize I’m playing it quite tough but really, am hanging by a thread.
I’ll be stoic one moment and crying the next – you know how that is right? When you lose something or someone you love (and friends have told me it hits just as hard whether it's been 10 weeks or 10 years) it's a cycle. You're on the pool deck, and it's okay. You go for a dip, and it's fine. You walk over to the diving board and tension rises. Then there you are, standing on the high dive contemplating everything, when PUSH and you're falling. You end up in the deep end, water up your nose and tears on your face, because the pressure is too much.

Eventually you swim back up, climb out, and warm yourself in the sun again (preferably with a stylish cover up and a strong, fruity cocktail). The clouds part and the day goes on and you realize that while you were devastated and drowning, life completely moved on for everyone else. When you came up gasping for air, kids were laughing, people were slathering on sunscreen, birds were chirping. It’s like that scene in Jerry Maguire where he gets fired at lunch, right? His head is pounding and his mind is racing. He looks at his water glass and sees the ice cube crack. He looks around the restaurant and watches people at other tables laughing and eating, all while step one of Jerry’s World Crumbling takes place.

It’s the merging of realities, and I know I’m blessed/lucky/grateful but it still kinda sucks.

My Mom was the Easter Bunny and the Birthday Fairy and the Best Kind Of Grandmother and Santa Claus all rolled into one, which makes weekends like this one that much harder. She made everything special and made everyone happy and always made everyone laugh (sometimes at her own expense).

Therefore, this week, I have been compelled to buy mass quantities of chocolate and plan for lovely side dishes and plant flowers, so our Easter weekend is as special as it can be. I will drink rosé and eat jellybeans and smile at Nine and Eleven, because those sweet girls still want to hunt for eggs and get a big basket of goodies. And I will fill those eggs and stuff those baskets and shop until I drop for everything we need because I learned from the best that it’s not shopping, it’s retail therapy, and I think we can all agree (maybe especially after crying through writing this post a little bit) I need therapy in whatever form it comes in.

And then Sunday night, when the house is clean and quiet, I will climb into bed next to the traveling husband. I will close my eyes, breathe deep, and hope she comes to me in my dreams. I hope she smiles at me and tells me how lovely she thought everything was. I hope she wishes me a happy Easter, and a good night’s rest.

And I hope I get the chance to throw my arms around her and breathe her in and wish her a good night’s rest, too.

I hope.

Monday, April 7, 2014

Trembling Ovaries A.D.

I swear, I’m not trying to make this into The Journal Of Death or anything, but I obviously have some things weighing on my mind and I told you before that this is my therapy, which makes you my therapist, so you are compelled to sit back and listen.

Okay, so you aren’t compelled to do anything really, but where else can you go to read things that make you cry, then make you laugh about poop, all in one place?

You’re welcome.

I was talking to a friend today. She has experienced a devastating loss recently too. Her father lived on the other side of the world, and he was quite ill. On the day she was scheduled to fly out to see him, he died. He hadn’t been a part of her life for many years. He missed every major milestone she experienced as an adult: her wedding, the birth of her child, her birthdays, every holiday. All of it. And then before she could reconcile anything, or ask questions, or show him the slideshow that she and her brother had put together to catch him up on the last 20 years of their lives…he was gone.

For her, that made it all worse. He’d missed everything, and now there was no chance he would be a part of anything ever again.

It couldn’t be more different from my loss, but our feelings were so much the same. My Mom was one of the biggest parts of my life and always had been. She was present for every major life event I’ve had. She threw my birthday parties, took me everywhere, watched me dance, planned my wedding, attended bridal and baby showers, and was there when both of my daughters were born. She’s been my touchstone for years and years, and we spoke several times a week.

For me, that made it all worse. She’d been there for everything, and now there was no chance she would be a part of anything ever again.

We all walk through loss – no matter what kind it is – and it washes over us. We’re undeniably drenched in what’s happened, but because we move forward so quickly, we air-dry a little bit, so we think we’re good to go. Different for the experience, sure, but ready to get dressed again.

What we don’t entirely realize is that what we've been exposed to doesn't get left in the past when we move forward. The loss stays with us, sitting right there on the surface. We learn that while we may be moving on, we're not moving on without it because it's a part of who we are.

So we make dinner and have meetings and walk the dog – we get distracted by life – and what we thought we'd gotten used to starts to change. It begins to seep in. The reality of what we’ve seen and felt and lost sinks deeper and deeper into us until one day out of the blue, it touches our heart.

There’s no warning. It’s like an earthquake, but it comes from inside, which kind of makes it a heartquake. You can’t see it coming, you just start to feel it. It’s scary because you have no idea whether it will shake you up a little or a lot, so there's no way to prepare. You don’t know how long it will last, you just have to ride it out and hope.

This week my heartquake left me sitting in the driveway crying. I’d dropped the kids at school, and was on the way home, listening to the country station and sipping my coffee, and I instinctively wanted to call her for our daily download and catch up session. And it hit me that while her voice is still on the answering machine, she’s not there to pick up the phone anymore.

So instead, I texted another dear friend who understands this kind of driveway breakdown all too well, because she lost her darling mom a few months before I lost mine. I texted the traveling husband, who texted back that he misses my Mom too (cue: more crying). I texted Chicago, because well, I always text Chicago. And then I got out of the car and got on with my day. There were some aftershocks, but I made it through.

Life is just different now. My ovaries are still all aflutter, but in another way and for other reasons. They are Trembling Ovaries A.D., if you will.

If any of you were a rock star in your previous life, or you just had a mom who thought you were the best thing since sliced bread, then you know what I'm talking about. And if you've lost the president of your fan club and have since figured out how not to spontaneously cry in public, I’d love to know about it.

My ovaries and I are all ears.

Also, poop.


Tuesday, April 1, 2014

P.S. I love you

Dear Mom,

You may already know this, depending on how much you can see from where you are, but last week the traveling husband and I took Nine, Eleven, and OtisNO* to Palm Springs for a few days.

I figured a change of scenery would be good for me, and it was. But everywhere I looked, I saw you.

How could I not? You and Dad used to go to Palm Springs all the time. Lying on a raft in the pool was your thing. Getting brown and wearing flip-flops was where it was at. Palm Springs was where you got your Hawaii fix, when we couldn’t go to Hawaii. Plus, since your initials were P.S., and Palm Springs is also P.S., you were always kind of synonymous with the place.

And I don’t know if this is just coincidence, or what, but did you know that Frank Sinatra, the man who recorded the theme song for your entire life (“I Did It My Way”) had a house in Palm Springs? Ever since I can remember, that song was all about you. And to prove it, your license plates read “PSMYWAY” for as long as I can remember.

“PSMYWAY” was you, and Palm Springs, and Frank Sinatra.

It was clearly NOT a joke about the fact that you never knew which way to go when you were driving.

Right? Because we were never “lost.” We were “on an adventure.”

Now you’re gone, but you aren’t lost. You’re just on another adventure. And in true form, you left for your adventure your way.

We moved you to hospice on a Thursday. It was a rough transition for you – for all of us – but our plan was to get you comfortable, and get you home.

When I called on Friday, I was told that you were dying. It wouldn’t be long. A couple days, maybe. You don’t expect to hear that news while you’re sitting at the car dealership waiting for your oil change to be done, you know?

But I totally kept it together, Mom. I swallowed repeatedly and blinked tears away, paid my bill (no idea what it cost or what the service manager said to me), and climbed into the car. I do remember being kind of amazed that I could put one foot in front of the other. Then I pulled out of the driveway, drove across the street, stopped in a small parking lot, and promptly lost my shit.

I called the husband hysterical, terrified and rambling:


Well, he may not have been able to get a word in edgewise, but he knew what to do. He booked me on the next flight out to see your pretty face. (You always did like him.)

I came straight to you. I brought a small bag of clothes and a big bag of Excedrin, because the nurse I spoke to said you might not see Monday. (Ouch, right? The blows were coming hard and fast. Hence the Excedrin.)

The weekend flew by.

Then, Monday came and went.

So I went to Target, which I’m sure you know we could see from your hospice window (thank you Jesus/Mom/Karma), and I bought some more comfy clothes to hang out in. I wore the same flannel pajamas every night. I think you would have liked them. I’m wearing them as I type, too. Now I call them My Hospice Pajamas, so they make me sad, but I wear them anyway, because they remind me of you.

Tuesday came and went.

I watched a lot of TV. I held your hand almost nonstop, day and night. I was the only one who could get your wedding ring off. We listened to the Peaceful Christmas compilation on Pandora, because the Country Christmas mix got a little twangy for us. We bought you a thick, soft blanket, which I think you liked the feel of, and we put Christmas lights around the foot of your bed, along with some sparkly garland. And we hung one ornament from it. An owl. I wish I knew when your love for owls started.

Oh, and you probably know this too, but owls are freaking everywhere now. I don’t know if it’s a sign or a trend, but I’m trying very, very hard not to buy everything I see with an owl on it, or soon I will be that crazy old lady with all the owls. No offense.

Wednesday came, and with it came one of my favorite nurses. She walked in and Mom, I shit you not, she said “Well, she’s still here. She’s doing it her way, isn’t she?”

I just stared at her. It was like one of those movie scenes where it’s like twelve minutes until the end of the movie and something finally goes DING in the movie star’s head, and everything pivotal that happened in the previous hour and thirty-three minutes replays itself, and she understands that all those moments were actually missed clues along the way, and then it zooms back to her face, and she realizes her journey is complete.

Except for at that moment, I was the movie star, and my movie took me zooming back to being a kid in the back of the “PSMYWAY” mobile. I saw your tanned, pedicured feet in flip-flops by a pool. I watched you singing along to “I Did It My Way” as you smiled at Dad. And then it zoomed back to my puffy, exhausted, grateful face. And I said with a sad smile, You have no idea.

We had some flip-flops-by-the-pool time last week in Palm Springs. We had some good meals and good times. And I don't know why, but all three nights we spent there I found myself awake at 3:38am. Why I woke up at the same time each morning is anybody's guess, but each time I spent a good hour thinking about you and trying to figure it out.

Then I came home and promptly got the flu. But don’t worry, I’m better now. And I’m out of Frank Sinatra land and back to real life. I have to go to Costco tomorrow because Nine and Eleven lost their goggles, and we are out of paper towels and freezer bags.

I wonder if they have a gigantic pack of owls there. I’ll look.

I miss you, Mom.



P.S. I love you.

*Note to the reader: The 160-pound puppy’s name is Otis. But when we first brought him home, it sounded like his name was OtisNO, because he was constantly either eating something inappropriate or peeing on it (or both). My Mom was in town for a visit and for her, the nickname stuck. So now you know. And in case you were wondering, OtisNO loved Palm Springs. He did not lose his goggles.