Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Little Family Dramas

OMG, shoot me now!  Really, guys, how much more do you think I can shoulder before they just absolutely collapse under the weight?  And by "guys" I mean the people under the roof with me right now.  I'm walking a fine line between Greg and his sister who is staying with us right now.  He doesn't want his family to know he's leaving his job, but she's down here trying to figure out what is next for her family, who are needing/wanting financial assistance and thinking we should be in a good position to give it to her.  Of course, that would be awkward under any circumstances, but it's made worse because how do I explain to her that I'm not so sure we're not going to be living under a bridge without telling her why?  Okay, that's not true, I admit it.  But, if it comes to it, I'll go back to Pittsburgh and live under one of those bridges at least - they have a lot of them, and some are conveniently located near Heinz Field, so maybe that's not such a bad Life Plan.  But, the bottom line that is true:  no, I am not in a position to invest in real estate that her family can live in.  While I know that it may seem totally reasonable for someone to think I might be thinking of investing along that vein, yeah, well, not right now.  Right now, I am seriously worried about hanging onto this piece of real estate.

And, right now, this piece of real estate is in utter chaos.  I've got boxes of Mother's things all over the place, Greg's bringing home his office things (try explaining that to his sister!), Marissa has to be out of her dorm by the end of the week and has been gradually bringing her things home.  Really, I guess none of that matters all that much - it's temporary, it'll eventually get sorted and absorbed, but the physical chaos adds to the mental turmoil, and I feel fidgety and unsettled.

It's so weird that after whining all my life about not having a larger family, I would now like to be as far away from this little drama as possible.   I find myself building a high degree of resentment toward the man who fathered my children.  Yet, I continue to be reticent to speak to him openly and honestly.  For one thing, he's easily irritated lately, which irritates me in turn.  But, I also know - and share - the reason he's seeking a drastic change.  What if he's right?  What if this is the only way he can see his way up this deep, deep well we're in?  Doesn't he have the right to hoist himself up?  Yes, he does.  So do I.  At what point do we need to be physically apart to do that successfully?  I think time would answer all of these questions, but the reality of modern life is that bills don't wait.  Such weighty questions, and I feel so flighty.  What's a girl aging woman to do?

Sunday, April 25, 2010


I am about to head off to the three storage units to spend my second Sunday in a row in false, florescent lighting, stale air and dust going through Mother's things.  The house is in chaos, having still not folded in all the items we brought back from last Sunday.  It's almost like a reality show contest where it's things trying to make the cut, not people.  The boxes that make the first cut are brought back to the house and then have to be gone through again, and I have a giant trash bag and a Goodwill box filling up behind me.  The fifty duplicate photos of me in the seventh grade, for instance, definitely made it into the trash.  I begrudgingly kept one of the pasty faced, limp haired, polyester ridden youngster because I thought Marissa might get a kick out of seeing it.  But, in general, only a very few precious items will make it into the house already jammed with items from Greg's family home, Kelsey's fledging independence that never really took flight, and items from my home back in Montana that Mother never did have room for.  Somewhere in all of that we have accumulated our own stuff.  When I think about selling the house and fleeing from here, which I do often, I despair at what it would take to pack it all up and actually move with it.  Yet, yesterday when I met Marissa's boyfriend at the storage to have him hopefully take some of it off my hands, I felt vaguely guilty for being so anxious to part with the things that made up Mother's home.

These are the things that made up her life:  that horrid purple and green chair, that heavy blonde colored bedroom set with the Formica top that hailed from a time before I was born and was old and ugly in my estimation long before now.  The stereo cabinet that we once thought was so awesome and state of the art, but has only been used as a table top for years and years to hold Mother's boombox.  The World's Best Grandma mug that I had Kelsey give her one Mother's Day, the Steeler insulated jug that Mother kept with her constantly full of water.  The ten million straws and paper plates that made me cringe to think of the environmental nightmare I was creating by throwing them away.  These were all pieces of her and were important to her.  These are the things that defined her to an extent.  Of course, I know that the force of her personality was what really defined her and what I will remember her by, but there are tidbits of her life that she kept as reminders of the places she had been and the things that she had experienced that I feel torn about what to do with.  They mean nothing to me, really, but they did to her.  For instance, on a piece of Ohio Valley Memorial Hospital stationery I found her carefully handwritten rules of the base golf course.  She had a famous story she liked to tell about her forays into golf on that course:  she signed up to take lessons and would say that she was so awful that after two of them the golf pro committed suicide.  Then, after a carefully timed pause, she would crack her devilish smile and clarify that he did actually kill himself, but it had nothing to do with her.  Nonetheless, she never golfed again.  Yet, she kept those rules in what I'm calling the Money Box of momentoes.

She had an ornate box full of the photos and things that were most precious to her and it was in there.  Along with a parking ticket with a man's name written on the back.  What was that all about?  Was the man handsome maybe, and did they have an impromptu flirtation right there at her illegally parked car?  All these intriguing mysteries mixed in with a dozen pair of slippers by the same company in different colors, and every recipe ever published.  So, do I keep the little red parking ticket, never knowing why she did, or does it go in that big trash bag behind me?  For now, I'm keeping it. 

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Some Random Thoughts

Reason 9,999 You Should Not Work with Your Spouse:
In case there are some people who do not know, my husband and I work for the same company.  How that happened is and of itself sort of an interesting story.  We have worked together several different times over our lives together actually; it's how we met about a zillion years ago.  I am not a proponent of spouses working together after our various experiences.  I think by and large we conducted ourselves fairly well, but there have definitely been times when it's been a Bad Thing for not only us, but the people we work with.  But, for the last eight years or so - maybe longer, I've lost track - he's been with the company I have been in and out of.  I've been his boss, he's been mine.  This time we're in different locations, so it's been okay.  Until today.  Today the news broke across my location that he resigned his position.  I was innudated by people asking me, "So, what's he going to do?" and congratulating me, thinking it's surely to take another, better position (because, I mean, who would be nuts enough to leave a secure, fairly well paid position in these insecure times?).  If you ask me a direct question, I will give you a direct answer, so I told people flat out that I was not happy.  Some tried to defend him, others were just uncomfortably silenced, others told me they would pray for me.  Nobody can tell me how I'm supposed to make my mortgage payment, however.  They don't know.  Neither do I.  Finally, after over-hearing this play out over and over again, my co-worker came over to catch me dabbing away tears and told me to think about going home.  I did think about it.  I didn't do it.  Finally, word spread and people left me alone.  Much later in the day, the woman who runs the local branch (my group actually works for the corporate office which is in Dallas, we just share space with the Austin staff..long story) and apologized.  She had heard I had been approached several times.  She allowed that she probably would have gone home.

The Weird Advent of Social Networking on the Web:
I noticed when I signed in last night that I had lost a follower.  I don't have many, so it's pretty noticeable.  A weird array of emotions passed through my mind:  did I write something that offended her, did she finally just get sick of my constant downer posts (I would), or did she simply finally think, "There's no way this stuff is true, no one has this much bad luck."  I don't know, but I thought hard about it, wondering if I should try and spice/lighten up my blog.  Finally, I convinced myself that it is what it is.  Grief is ugly, it's raw, it's up and a lot of down.  I want people to see it.  I want people who have daughters and sons who are struggling to know that the threat is real.  You really can lose a child if you're not vigilant, and I want them to know how awful, really awful that is.  So, I'll keep going.  Hopefully I'll touch someone and they'll do something different and better for their children as a result.  I like it when I can make someone smile too, but right now, I have to confess, there's not much to smile about in my neck of the woods.  I think this is all just part of the journey I have to make now.

However, I got to thinking about how different socializing is these days.  It's awesome to be able to communicate with friends you have across the country or find people you haven't seen in years.  I love that part of online networking, but I have also been "unfriended" on Facebook too, and had the same emotional reaction I did last night.  Why did they drop me?  What did I do?  I know some of my friends have experienced the same sense of bewilderment.  This is a new thing for us older folks: having a definitive count of how many people value you enough to befriend you online, and knowing when they no longer feel you are worthy.  But not why.  This is not how my generation grew up.  We could be a lot more passive about it if we wanted to actually.  If you didn't want to be friends with someone any more, it was a lot easier to simply fade out of their life without them even noticing for a while.  You just didn't write or call anymore.  When caller ID came along, you could avoid their calls, and things were great.  Now, you know exactly who and when you were dropped, but you can't even ask why because they've blocked you, so you're left licking your wounded ego.  This is something that my daughter may take for granted, but it still really awkward for me.

Big Ben, You Suck:
I have no idea whose less than brilliant idea it was to open the NFL Draft during a week night, but Steeler/Pen fans were faced with the hard choice of whether to watch the draft and get a peek at our future or watch the Penguins present.  I am pretty sure most of the people in the 'Burgh are doing what I'm doing:  watching hockey.  And for the same reasons; 1) it's fun and 2) they never mention Ben Roethlisberger, they don't show his face, and we can just focus on the sport at hand.  I am following the draft on a separate tab online, but I can barely even bring myself to do that because every time I look, I see the sidebars about "Will he be traded?", "Should he be traded?", and ruminations about his six game suspension, yada, yada, yada.  I generally hang on every word I can see about my beloved Steelers, but I've seen enough of the logo splashed across every media outlet in the country for weeks now in a negative light. Ben, my wounds are open and you are the salt.  Stop shaking it in there, buddy!  Get your head on straight.  The one on top of your body.  Put the other one away.  In the meantime, Go, Pens, Go!

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Two Lives Unfold

I've heard so many people who have lost parents describe it as a roller coaster ride.  I've had a similar feeling often during the last few weeks.  On the one hand, this is how it's supposed to go.  A parent is older, it's inevitable that at some point you will be faced with this.  If the parent was sick or suffering, then that release from the pain is a comfort, but they're your family, so you still miss them.  And so on.  Then, of course, there's all the incumbent work that comes after the death to close down a long life.  Memories come flooding back, some good - hopefully most good - some maybe less good, but still part of the fabric that makes up one's life.  Nothing brings all of that home more than going through old photographs.  I have only just scratched the surface; Mother kept everything, but she kept it in no particular order, so every box I open is a surprise, but I have run the gamut of emotions in just the cursory examination I've been able to give them.  I've marveled, I've laughed, I've cried (often), and I've cringed (very often) when I realized that we actually not only were seen in public wearing some of those outfits, but thought we could be photographed in them!  I thought I would share some of what I have found so far as a little mini-journey through the lives of my parents.

Where are the pictures of me, you ask?  Oh, just wait, I'll entertain everyone with some, I am sure.  For now, let it suffice to say that I have made the realization that the primary difference between the photos you have of yourself and those your parents have of you is this:  you tend to edit the ones you keep of yourself.  They're the most flattering or they are at least funny if they are not flattering.  Your parents, who love you generally no matter what, keep all the photos, no matter what you look like.  Theirs are therefore the more realistic account of how you really looked during your youth.  And let me just say that some of the outfits I remember because I thought I looked pretty good in them...yeah, well, I didn't!

Sunday, April 18, 2010


When you experience an extreme irrevocable trauma like we did when we lost Kelsey, it's kind of like being dropped suddenly into the bottom of a deep well with no provisions.  I have this mental picture of that well in The Ring, remember that movie?  You wallow around in there for a while, maybe looking for a door or another easy way out that isn't there, some of us longer than others, then you have to make a decision:  you are either going to climb up and out or stay down there and die.  And, I'm finding, it's every man for himself on the way up.  It is very hard to reach out to help someone else when you're clinging to dear life yourself.  Did I really think it would be straight shot up to the top of the well?  Well, yes, actually, I think I did.  I think I sold myself that bill of goods so I'd have the courage to even try it.  The fact that it isn't, apparently, comes as no particular surprise however.  What did surprise me was that I got pulled back down by a member of my own party.

When we all got back from Washington, we all had to re-evaluate where we were down in the well.  And, without exception, we had slid back down the walls at least a bit.  For my husband, he really hadn't made it very far up to begin with.  I may never be able to know his thought process, but from my observation post he finally got to the point where he had to do something to get himself climbing or he was going to die down there in that well.  How he decided to help himself is the controversy.  He mentioned vaguely one time a few weeks ago as I was trying to head out the door for work that he wanted to make a dramatic change, but promised we would discuss at length before he did anything.  Last Monday, again as I'm trying to pour coffee into the travel mug to head to work, he announced a major decision.  One he has not shared with the rest of his family, and he has asked that I not divulge (and, of course, some of them check into this blog from time-to-time, hence the vagueness).  One I agree that, in the long term, he should pursue, but not the way he's doing it.   For a couple of reasons:  he'll be left with no direction, no reason to even get out of bed in the morning, no matter how much he hates what pulls him up.  And, secondly, we have bills to pay.  If you can't figure it out from there, well...

I was sent reeling by this decision.  And it's hard to know what the right thing to do is.  For me, this is catastrophic on many levels, but can I really deny him what he thinks he needs to get past this dark place in his life?  Am I obligated to stay and support him (literally and figuratively) while he works through this?  Within a few short days of my blogging about the state of our marriage in comparison with the dire predictions facing most couples coping with a loss, I am suddenly not at all sure we won't fall into that 75%-80% category.  Is grief recovery really that selfish?  Because what he is choosing to do is extremely selfish.  My reaction to it equally so.  Does it have to be in order to get past it?  Who knows, this is stuff grief counselors are paid to help with, but who can afford that now?  The isolation I feel suddenly is pretty complete.  I am left contemplating how quickly things can change for the worse, but how hard fought every little joy or measure of comfort is.

What's that?  Have I talked to him about it?  Oh, hell no.  I have not.  I know that I should, but when I contemplate how I can tell him how this is impacting me without trying to tear him down or belittle his own need for recovery, it doesn't play out well.  And, I think he's not ready to handle his part of the conversation well either.  It's pretty clear he's on a power play, and I'm just a penalty killer, trying to keep him from scoring his goal.  I'm on the other team right now.  And, frankly, I'm not up for a fight.  I have a lot of work to do trying to sort through the jumble of Mother's affairs, liquidate her stuff that's jammed in those expensive storage units.  I have a job, thank you very much.  I simply do not have the energy to handle this. How can he believe I really do want him to be happy again, or at least find some measure of peace, when I'm not sure he's pursuing the right course and he is so convinced he is?  Because, who knows, maybe for him he is.  Everything is a jumble.  Oh, and by the way, Big Ben, opening up my home page every single day to see your face attached to some new piece of information about what a scumbag you are IS NOT HELPING!!

The only conclusion I've made so far is that the worst part about the well is that it's so dark and cold in there, it's very difficult to find your way.  

Friday, April 16, 2010

More Things I'm Still Learning

After an Earthquake Comes Aftershocks

Who knew?  Which of us could have told you that Mother was the slender thread that kept the fabric of our lives together?  Not me, certainly.  I would have told you the opposite.  I would have said that, through no fault of her own, Mother kept things riled up.  Her disease kept me under constant stress and made it impossible for us to try and put the pieces of our shattered family back together.  However, a few weeks after her death, I have to say having her around and in our care meant we had a focus other than on what we lost when Kelsey died, and we had a purpose.  Now, without her, things seem to be in free fall.  Maybe it's all a bad dream.  All of it.  Big Ben, Santonio, Fast Willie going to Washington, Game One of the Ottawa-Pittsburgh series, and the rest of my personal life.  But, I kind of doubt it.  I think it's actually happening, and I'm just that screwed.

I can't tell you I was that surprised when it became apparent fairly quickly that Mother's death was a trigger to relive Kelsey's.  While the two situations were different in almost all respects, there were some things that just brought us face-to-face with the fact that we had just been through this.  I chose to have the same funeral home handle Mother's arrangements, so we shook the same hands, sat in the same little conference room and glanced over the same memorial book selection that we had done a few months before.  The same decision process had to be followed, even if all the decisions were radically different.  Trust me, planning your relatives' funerals is not something you want to get overly familiar with.  For me, I can say that every time I heard the very heart felt condolences of friends and family, I would think, "You have no idea.  This is nothing compared to what I've been through."  That would immediately be followed by a twinge of guilt, as though I was not sufficiently bereft of Mother.  Did I not love her as much as I should?  I hope I did, but I will readily confess that losing a parent completely pales in comparison to losing a child, and there's just no getting around that.  Mother, in her younger, pre-Alzheimer's years, would have known that to be true.  She had her own brand of sorrow along those lines.  Yet, with every mention of a death in the family there was that unspoken caveat, "...again."  Therefore, it should be no surprise that I was not the only one in the family who felt it.

I noticed it in Marissa while we were in Washington and she would mention Kelsey often.  Just in passing.  Neutral voiced memories of things they did when they were young or the way Kelsey thought or would react to a certain situation.  Things like that.  Nothing bitter, particularly sad, or uncomfortable at all in her tone that caught my attention.  But I noticed how often her name came up.

Greg, on the other hand, said very little.  He had flown in to DC separately from us, and was turning immediately around and flying home after the services.  I wondered more than once why he even bothered coming.  If it was to comfort me, he could have saved the fare, because I spent more time worrying over him than anything else.  Part of the sacrifice of having eight dogs, none of which are particularly young, is that we don't travel together often.  One or the other of us generally has to stay behind to be a zookeeper.  And, given the fact that I am the one with the affection for out of town sports, it's usually me that goes.  Marissa is more often than not my companion.  So, Marissa and I have developed a level of comfort with one another on the road - more or less - that Greg and I do not have.  While Marissa and I are trying to build our travel resumes, he's become a home buddy.  His pleasures are simple and don't involve trying out new things.  As a result, he appeared to me to be uncomfortable, unduly tired and just plain out of his element.  I knew it wasn't all just because of the trip.  He didn't have to say it, he was thinking about Kelsey too.

I described it recently as a bad acid flashback.  I've never dropped acid, but really, what else could it be like!  Clearly, Death was hanging around us like a cloud.  Again.  And he wasn't a welcome guest. 

Things eroded from there. 

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Things I'm Still Learning

There have been some good lessons I have learned.  Some about myself, some about life in general.  Some have not been so good, and some I am still trying to sort out and see where the lessons will take me.  But, at the beginning of the NHL playoffs, I figured I should explain about one of the things I'm still learning about, which is that...

...I Like Hockey

I mean really, really like it.  For one thing, no one who laces up skates for Pittsburgh was being threatened with criminal charges in the last month, or had to hold a press conference to offer a tepid, ineffective and insulting apology to their fans.  But, more than that, I really just enjoy watching the game.  I'm watching the Red Wings and the Coyotes now - not a thing in black and gold in sight.  Granted, I'm not hanging on every move in this particular match up, and I can't tell you the first thing about any of the Phoenix players (the Red Wings I am more familiar with), but it's still a lot of fun.  For one thing, it is an extremely fast paced game when something exciting might break out at any second (a goal or a fight), so you take your eye off of it at your own peril.  The action is rapid and fluid, with the puck changing control from player to player and team to team within literal seconds.  To really follow it I have to pour my entire concentration into the action - it's all about keeping your eye on the black disc being batted around in furious, dizzying fashion.  Since I am still learning the game, I am all the more absorbed in every move made, trying to figure out the difference between slamming someone against the glass as strategy versus "boarding" which I've seen players ejected for.  And, I for the life of me can't figure out icing - when is it icing versus just sending puck down out of contention to allow your team time to regroup?  And, I'm still ferreting out what is acceptable, simple aggressive play versus something that will draw a "major" penalty, which brings me to the other draw to the sport.  Violence.  Controlled to a degree, but definitely a game where a mean streak is a plus.  Earlier in the regular season, I listened to an ex-player providing color commentary as he tried to explain why it's not only okay, but preferrable for a group of men to get into a momentary punching match.   As he said it, the entire Penguin team was locked in a bunch with the entire opponent roster, all trying to scuffle in heavy pads while balancing on tiny steel blades on a sheet of frozen water.  No real damage is done, and the officials broke it up without much trouble, but I've seen fewer games without a fight than I have with at least one.  Of course, he didn't have to justify it to me, I am amused by it.

The level of skill and athleticism these guys possess is amazing.  I admire the skill of the players at this highest level.  To fly across the ice at the speed they do and maintain control of a small, slippery object that five other guys are trying to get away from you in unfriendly fashion is actually pretty awe inspiring.  My main complaints are that a) it's not more generally popular and b) I wish I hadn't wasted all this time figuring out what a great game it is.

I will fully admit I began my journey riding firmly on the band wagon.  As the Penguins, with their baby phenom Sidney Crosby, began their ascent, I would pay luke warm attention in the abyss known as the football offseason.  Then, two years ago, when the Penguins made it all the way to the Stanley Cup final, I took a little more notice.  Last year, of course, Sid the Kid hoisted the Stanley Cup after seven hard fought games against the defending champs, and I was almost hooked.  This season, with my entire life upside down and shaken up, it's been like a Godsend.  Because the best attribute of a hockey game is the fact that for a solid two and half to three hours, it's all completely about the action on the ice.  There is no time to ponder how hard real life is, it's about the fluid flow up and down the ice, back and forth, dodge and pass, thrust and parry with a punch thrown in there now and again.  The most stress you have time to consider is when it's your goalie under attack.  Everything else is white noise against the magnetic draw of the white ice.  How could I have missed the beauty of this all these years?  I have no idea, but I thank God and the Canadians for it now.

And...Go Pens!

Monday, April 12, 2010

Still More Things I Know

The Relationships You're Not Married To

I've said this before, and I'll likely say it again:  I'm lucky in my friends.  They've already been tried and have remained true for the most part.  Our family's journey, and the amount of energy it sucked out of every other aspect of our lives, proved long ago who could and who could not stomach the roller coaster ride being associated with us would take them on.  Not every one could handle it.  I lost a very close friend along the way.  He had lost his father to suicide when he was young, and he had little tolerance for anything that smacked of mental illness as a result.  He thought people who sought therapy were weak, and we were knee deep in therapy, therapists, self help books, therapy-friendly talk and so on and so forth.  Don't even get me started on medications.  So, he dropped out of my life as Kelsey began to spiral down.  I got it.  I can't say I wasn't hurt and maybe a little mystified in the beginning, but he had to do what he had to do.  I had to do what I had to do.  And that took us down different paths.

There were other disappearances and some gradual fades.  I've written before about another friend who felt I wasn't there for her when she needed me and told me she had had enough.  She was right.  I hadn't been.  I had reasons, but she was too hurt.   There was a mutual acceptance that our friendship was done.  Yet, for the most part, my other friends accepted the drama, the flakiness, the neglect, and stood by me.  These last few months, however, have tested and strained every remaining relationship we have.  This is a whole other level of hard, and we certainly hope our friends can't relate to us on the same level.  Yet, almost every one has stepped up and remained committed to supporting us, but friendships are like Play Doh, they can be molded and changed.  I believe a child's death is like taking that Play Doh and pounding it with a sledgehammer.  I can't imagine all relationships survive the pounding.

Friendships survive because there is a mutual give and take.  We find there are things we have in common with someone else.  We look at certain things the same way or have some of the same experiences, so we can enjoy one another's company.  But, the word "enjoy" comes at a premium immediately following a trauma like ours.  It's been hard to maintain our end of the bargain.   I love my friends and want to be there for them, but scrounging up the energy for it has sometimes been hard.

Kelsey died in June.  Wedding season.  I'm at the age where my friends have sons and daughters who are definitely ripe for tying the knot.  And, sure enough, within weeks of memorializing my daughter, three invitations hit our mailbox.  Over the next six months, we received at least one invitation a month, but sometimes two.  One woman oversaw the marriage of two of her children during those first months.  I was invited to the first child's reception.  I noticed I didn't receive an invitation for the next.  Wow, I must have been a complete buzzkill at the first.  I probably was, actually.  I generally would not stay long.  Greg would not go at all.  I finally could not bring myself to attend the last wedding, and I actually wanted to go.  I love the family.  I love the bride.  But, the pain of watching over and over again an event my daughter will never experience was too much in the end.  Should they not have invited me?  Of course they should have.  Should I have not gone all those times?  Maybe - hard to say.  Should people expect me to be there or want me?  I hope they are happy when I'm there, but understand if I'm not.  Chances are, some barely noticed my presence at all, actually.  I, as it should be, am not the show.  Well, obviously, the one woman must have noticed something.  I've never asked her about the lack of the second invitation when I was the only one in the group who didn't receive one.  I mean, how do you bring that up?  Bottom line is, I am sure everyone who dropped an invitation or announcement in the mail to us thought twice about it and wondered how it would strike us.  And I hate the fact of that.  I want to be out the other side of this to the point where people no longer worry about my fragile psyche.  But, I don't know, honestly, when that will be.  I don't know if I'll ever be able to walk into a wedding again and not feel some sort of twinge.  I'll never look at someone's grandchild and not feel some sort of something that resembles an ache.  What I want is to be able to do it with a balance of happiness for the family.  I think that will happen.  It's already there, but just not in the right mixture.  I don't know when it will be.  Whenever that is for me, it will be different for another mother who's lost a son or daughter.  There is not a blueprint for this.  We don't know what to expect and when to expect it from ourselves.  I could not have told you in my wildest dreams how my life would be.  So, friends and family, keep those cards and letters coming, but be patient if we send our best wishes from afar.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Other Things I Know

There are some other things I have learned along the road through the Valley of Grief, and some things I'm probably yet to find out to their fullest extent.  Among them:

Relationships Will Change

I have mentioned before, or think I have, that I've read in some of the literature about grief I've come across that a large majority of marriages fall apart after losing a child, no matter what the age.  The percentage I've read varies, but it's at least 75%.  That was scary to me early on when I read it.  I didn't know how my husband and I would react to all of this as a couple, but I knew I certainly didn't want that additional trauma for either of us!  However, the veterans of a lot of family counseling to help support our daughters' recovery efforts we had a good foundation built to keep us steady as a couple, and I think we've done pretty well under some really wild ups and downs, mostly downs.  Yet, I understand the statistic, and I believe it.  Begin with the fact that 50% percent of first marriages, 67% of second and 74% of third marriages end in divorce, according to Jennifer Baker of the Forest Institute of Professional Psychology in Springfield, Missouri, then add a wallop that strikes at the heart of both partners like losing a child, and right there, just based on cold, hard statistics, you can believe it.  Now, step inside the shoes of a couple in the throes of deep grief, and you would be amazed that anyone ever survives it.

I got a taste of that on Easter Sunday actually.  Tired to the bone, an emotionally shallowed out husk, I couldn't garner the enegry for anything, certainly not my poor husband.  My husband, on the other hand, had spent the day before hosting two work events for residents in the communities he manages.  He endured a solid day of watching happy parents delight in their small little darlings hunt for Easter eggs, chase ducks and bunnies in a petting zoo, and run into the arms of their parents or grandparents.  He knew it would be a hard day for him, so I had told him I would volunteer to help so I could be there to support him (plus be able to chase ducks and bunnies myself), but instead I was traveling and there was no one there to help him absorb the emotional hits he took all day long.  So, on the actual holiday, he was knee deep in a quagmire of grief and bitter memories of happier days when our kids were in their Easter best, searching around for candy filled eggs.  I couldn't support him.  As a matter of fact, his sulking just got on my nerves.  Badly.  And, I was fairly certain he wanted me to comfort him, and was a little sullen that I just left him alone in his grief.  At one point in the day, I glanced at him sitting, shoulders rounded, in a rocking chair off in a corner of the living toom, and I knew that if we were always this disparate in our feelings, we would not last either, no matter how many hours of therapy we logged.  I really, really got the truth of those dire predictions.

Most days are not like that for us.  Most days we're okay as a couple, if not okay with everything that has transpired over the last nine or so months.  But, we are different.  Things have shifted slightly.  Anyone who watches Fringe will know when I say that it's like I'm watching into that other world.  That's me I see, but things just aren't quite the same on the other side.  Enough events have happened differently that my actions are altered from what they would have been otherwise.  I'm not the same person, neither is my spouse, so it's natural that we have to re-assess our relationship and learn anew how to relate to one another.  Now add a second trauma with Mother passing and all the incumbent chaos that comes along with it, and we have to factor that in to the equation too.

I think if someone were to ask me how to do that:  how to recalibrate the scales to try and rebalance a relationship in the wake of deep grief, the first thing I would say is just to acknowledge that it has to happen.  That things will not go on just like they did before, and then try to be honest with one another about what you need and expect from the other one.  And be patient.  It's hard to help mend a broken heart when you're still picking up the pieces of yours.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Things I Know

Grief is a journey, and there is not really a roadmap.  My travels, as I've said before, are different than yours, and so it goes, but there are a few things that I think I could tell any individual to be prepared for.  There are some things I imagine we all will experience in common:

Some things will trigger a memory, and it may be a good memory or a bad one.  It may be when you least expect it, but you will think your day is chugging along and then - WHAM! - there it is.  You can try and avoid it, like my refusing to watch Star Wars or Lord of the Rings because those are things Kelsey loved as well and that we shared, but there really is no avoiding it, because the oddest things will pop up and smack you around.  As an example, as I was driving home tonight Layla came on the radio.  I love that song, always have.   For some reason, this time when I heard it I thought back to a time when Kelsey was just a baby and I was downtown with her for a well check-up.  I was driving the Chevy Chevette I had before I was even married to her father with its little six cylinder engine.  One could drive it and get some actual acceleration, or one could choose to use the air conditioning.  If you chose the latter, you could feel some moderately cold air vaguely blowing around your face.  I generally went for the acceleration and sweated my way through a few Texas summers.  But, with an infant, things were different.  I remember the day as being sunny and really hot.  As I loaded my infant daughter into the car seat, she was already limp and damp with sweat, so I struggled with whether to put her in the front seat so she could get some benefit from the air, or the back where she was safer, but likely - in my mind - to be exposed to heat stroke.  As I struggled with my young mother's fear and indecision, that song came on the radio.  I turned it up, I remember.  And I made the worse of the two decisions and strapped her in the front seat so I could have the air blow on her.  Faced with that decision today, I would choose differently, but then again, I would do almost everything differently.  And, as I listened to the song tonight, that's what went through my mind, and I was triggered to experience a sharpening of the pain that now sometimes is actually slightly dull.  I recalled all too vividly the love I had for her and the wanting to care well for her, but not really knowing how.  There are a million little examples like that.  There is just no avoiding them.  It's like dodging pollen in the air.  Of course, for me now there are two sets of memories that are likely to get pinged painfully.  This is an inevitable fact of the life as I now know it.  Will it always be that way?  I don't know, but I imagine it will be for a long while to come.

There are other things I would tell anyone new to the grieving process to expect.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

What Comes After

On Easter Sunday it would have been hard to illicit an emotion out of me other than mild annoyance.  I was about as tired as one person can be and still remain awake.  The few days proceeding it, a whirlwind trip to Washington DC to bury Mother, had been grueling, it is true, but I was still surprised at the weight of the exhaustion I felt.  I made it through work on Monday without much issue, but sat down to blog during the Butler-Duke game and promptly fell completely, soundly asleep.  Apparently I was doing my best freight train imitation.  I woke up to see the last few seconds of the game (which, of course, took forever to play - part of my general issue with basketball).  Maybe if I had been emotionally drained, I could understand my exhaustion, but I wasn't really.  Or, I guess I should say, I didn't think I was.  I've cried very little after the initial phone call the day Mother died.  I teared up during the brief service at Arlington, but didn't really all out cry.  For some reason, the whole thing seemed like a really long out of body experience.  I know it's all in there somewhere, waiting to spring on me at the most inconvenient moment possible (or so I fear), but for now, I'm stuck in some sort of emotional limbo and can't seem to get past it.

One of the reasons I fear that my psyche has postponed allowing me to mourn Mother is that there is so much to worry over still.  All her affairs loom large ahead of me still.  Just shutting down all her accounts will likely take me days, considering that I am working as well.  How does one do all of this efficiently?  For now, I personally have no good answers.  Other than maybe take it a day at a time.  And make sure you know your parent's social security number, because it's hard to do anything without it.  Most people Mother's age more or less uncluttered their lives long ago for their own sake.  Not my mom.  Two phone lines, multiple insurance policies, tons of random junk crammed into three storage units I have to decide what to do with, a possessed van, and me being completely clueless about what all is out there lurking for me.  I think I'm in for a wild ride.  And no one to share it with.  The decisions are mine.  Am I up for it?  Does it matter?  There is no one else.  The good news is that no one can question my decisions.  The bad news is, there is no one to bounce those decisions off of. 

It's no wonder I'm tired, I guess.  All I can really hope for is to stay awake through the hockey game tonight (final regular season match-up with the Capitals), and to live to sort through another day.  Sid the Kid, play well for me tonight because I'm too tired to be annoyed at another Penguin loss to the Capitals.  They may be Mother's new home team, but I'm still a Pittsburgh fan.

(By the way, there is at least one Terrible Towel now buried in Arlington.)

Thursday, April 1, 2010

April Fool's Day

I buried my mother on April Fool's Day.  I didn't really have a say in the matter.  Arlington is overseeing an average of thirty services a day currently, I found out today, and so you take the time they can fit you in, and I was just grateful it wasn't a month out as I had been led to expect initially.  However, there was some Karmic forces at work that caused it to be on this particular day of the year.

April Fool's Day was an opportunity my dad never missed.  At some point in the day he was going to pull some joke; it was inevitable.  Problem is, you never really knew what it was going to be, you didn't know when it was coming, and you didn't know how it was going to be interspersed with more serious topics.  He had an interesting sense of humor.  Mother's was much the same.  I think it's a Pennsylvania thing, but maybe it's a Growing-Up-In-The-Depression thing, where there wasn't much that was too naturally humorous, so you had to make your own.  Maybe it's both of those things combined.  That blue collar ethic forged in economic hardship.  I'm not sure what really drove it, but it was dry, it was subtle, and it could be cruel. For one thing, it was often humor at someone else's expense, but also because you were never quite sure when the joke started if they were serious or not, and if you guessed the wrong way, it could be bad.  I can't give you any specifics of jokes my dad pulled after all these years; what I remember is being left in tears as often as not and then having Dad be frustrated by that.  We never really meshed on certain levels.  I grew up with a battle tested man who had seen and experienced things I never will; I was a peacenik only kid with a shy disposition and very thin skin.  I hated April Fool's Day.  He lived for it.  After a little over 18 years he was reunited with his widow on this day.  I have to think he saw some humor in it.  Once again, I am not quite in on the joke.

However, if he had a hand in the timing of all of this, Dad certainly oversaw a beautiful day to send Mother to her final resting place.  Beautiful maybe isn't the right word.  Maybe gorgeous is better.  The cherry blossoms, the same ones framing Mother's face in the photo I used for her obituary, are in full bloom.  Yesterday was windy and a bit chilly, and apparently right before that it had been raining, but today it is nearly 80, sunny and still, but it is not a heavy stillness.  There is a freshness in the air.  A feel of spring that I am a little surprised to find in the heart of such a large city, packed as it is with cars, concrete and steel.  I would be, sitting here today, less than a couple of miles from where President Obama spends his days, at the height of contentment if I were here for just about any other reason.

Processing how one feels about saying goodbye to the physical being who raised you is complicated.  On the one hand, Mother was ill and 91.  Our bodies are not meant to last forever.  Hers was done long ago, I am convinced, and it was her sheer force of will that kept her going.  But, before her body betrayed her, she had a good long run with it.  She was in her 70's when she picked up and moved across the country on her own, driving herself the whole way.  I was horrified when she did it (the drive, not the move - I was actually delighted by the move because I knew I could visit and be close to Steeler action), but she saw it as a great adventure, and I think she had the time of her life.  I think, while she missed Dad in her own way, she liked making the decision to sell the house, buy a condo and drive all that way by herself.  There are a hundred examples like that just in the years I knew her.  That is not a life to mourn.  That is a life to celebrate.

And my cousins made it clear that, to them, I am still a part of them, even though the glue that kept us together was Mother, and I like them all.  Genuinely.  I liked hearing their stories, I liked watching the easy way they interacted with one another.  I was attracted to the bond they all shared.  I believe they were sincere in their words, so I did not, as I feared, lose even more than a mother when she died.  I had worried that I could no longer legitimately call them family, that they wouldn't want me to.

I would be lying if I have not thought that now I can work to put a life back together again.  Down to the little things, like exercising on a regular basis, not having to worry about taking a Tylenol PM in case I get a call in the middle of the night.  Then there are the bigger pluses like not having to go to court to be appointed her legal guardian.  For a woman with as much independence and pride as my mom, this was something I dreaded every moment of every day.  I have been released from that burden.

Yet there is a sense of isolation that is probably natural.  There is the shock of yet another loss in a year crowded with them.  There is the shock to the system I am having when everything about my life, including the job I have, is centered around caring for someone who suddenly isn't there.  There is the idea of facing the disposition of all her things.  All the little pings on your heart strings one more time; the mail addressed to her, the phone calls for her and about her, finding something or other that was hers, having people who haven't heard the news ask after her, seeing her number programmed in your phone.  All these things I just got past, now I have to do again.  All the unanswered questions I will now never get answered.  And, there is just the final bottom line:  she was my mother.  Now she is gone.

All of these paradoxes.  A complicated life leaves a complicated legacy.  I have to think my dad is appreciating that this complicated woman finds her final resting place with him on this of all days.