Tuesday, April 5, 2011

A Day of Little Marvels

I've said this before, but books on grieving didn't help me much.  Not that I would discourage anyone from trying them as a resource - Greg found them helpful and has read a few.  Marissa read one that she thought so highly of, I bought it for a friend.  But, personally, they just deepened my sense of bereavement because they laid out a long road to regain some sense of peace, and I didn't believe I had time for a long road trip into hell.  I couldn't take four years or longer to recover from the loss of my daughter; I had another daughter, a husband, an ailing mother and a lot of responsibility.  And that's just one aspect of what freaked me out about what I was reading.  Of course, the authors lay out the process so people know that what they are experiencing is kindred to what others before them have endured and can be assured there is some light at the end of the very long, dark tunnel.  I got that, but it didn't help.  So, I set them aside and tried to find my own way through.  As anyone around here can tell you, that's dangerous because I clearly have no sense of direction.  But, I threw myself out there, with help and support from friends, and found some real moments of happiness along the dark travels.  Yet, you can't shortcut the process, I've found.  You cannot spend your child's entire lifespan trying to care for them, worrying over them, loving them and even sometimes hating them, and then imagine that life will bounce back quickly once they are suddenly gone.  It just sucks.  It just fucking sucks.  And, gradually, I'm learning that it will probably always suck, and I can't rail against that.  It just is.

So now, what do you do with that knowledge?  How do you push through it and live a life?  I think that is an answer I am still seeking.  In the almost 22 months I have been on this path, I've mostly been bulldozing my way through the days, trying not to dwell aside from the words I type here.  Now, in the quiet I constantly find myself in, the only other occupant of the house (other than maybe a spider or stinkbug here or there) not being much of a conversationalist, I probably think too much about it.  But, I am determined to heed the meaning of the eagle, just old world superstitious enough to believe there has to be real meaning to his presence in my yard.  I want permission to live a life with joy.

And therefore, when I woke up Sunday morning and ran down a mental list of my options for the day:  clean house, work (that was a multi-part option: employment work, work on taxes, file paid bills, yard work, fun stuff like that), paint Marissa's room or go to the zoo.  After some deliberation, I decided to listen to the eagle and go to the zoo.

There have been some times in the last two months when I have questioned where I ended up.  I work from home, so I could have taken us back to Montana just as easily as here.  Nuts, I could have moved to Alaska.  I could have at least been closer to the family and moved south of the city.  But, I'm literally twelve minutes from the Pittsburgh Zoo, so I think all in all I'm somehow where I'm supposed to be.  Say what you want about keeping wild animals in confinement, I believe sincerely the staff of the zoo are - for the most part - dedicated to the animals and the preservation of the species. (I have my doubt about the man wandering around sweeping up trash, I think he's in it just for the measly paycheck.)  And the zoo has some incredible features.  Watch any movie shot in the city and I guarantee you the zoo will figure into it somehow, specifically the arched viewing areas around Pier Town where visitors can watch polar bears, sharks and sea otters swimming from an under water viewing area.  But, it's also the proximity visitors can get to the animals and still keep both man and beast safe from one another.  In short, I love the Pittsburgh Zoo. But, I tempered my expectations of my visit.  I had a special experience there a few years ago that I've related before, but, I told myself, you can't expect something like that to happen again.  And it didn't.  Other marvelous things did.  My gorilla friend was outside busily munching on leafy vegetables, enjoying the rare sunny day.  I recognized him, but he was happy with what he was doing and paying the spectators no mind at all.  I was okay with that, I was just happy he seemed content, and thought that was enough to make the visit a success.  I had no idea I would get up close and personal with a deer named Buttercup and two kangaroos, whom a woman my age with her grandchildren assured me she had never seen be so attentive before.  I watched as a polar bear repeatedly walked up to the glass and literally bump it to the thrill of the spectators (turns out, I think she was agitated waiting for lunch, which arrived a few minutes later, but nonetheless, it was an incredible experience for all of us).  I watched painted dogs play with their pups, taking full advantage of the spring day.  Tiger cubs came up to the glass to check us out, curious as to what we all were doing there.  Peacocks were preening for a potential mate along the walkways.  And the list goes on.  The animals seemed thrilled with the mild western PA. day and were anxious to reward us for it.  I had one incredibly magical experience after another, and I was so glad I had made the choice to come (even though I got turned around leaving and ended up just slightly lost).  For the entirety of my visit, finally pulled away by hunger and the idea that my own wild animal back home surely needed a potty walk, I was not a mother who had lost a child, I was not a fading, middle aged woman, or the person who is struggling to maintain two households on one paycheck.  I was just a wide-eyed spectator to all the little marvels the occupants of the zoo provided to me.  That was real joy.

The lesson here is for any other parent who is in "our club" as Greg calls it.  The Pittsburgh Zoo is not everyone's answer, I realize, but there is hope for some happiness if you just allow it for yourself.  I cried somewhat randomly later that night, I am sure out of guilt over having a good day when my Kelsey will have no more days.  Forgiving oneself is a long, long process.  I'm not there yet, but what I will remember ultimately is not the tears, but the wonder of the day.  I think that is worth fighting for.  How can you be truly present for those people who love you and need you if you're not truly present for yourself?  Allow yourself to live a life so you can be.  That is the lesson of the day at the zoo.


  1. I am so glad you went.
    I have been thinking of you a lot, and wish that I could steal you away to some random Pittsburgh location soon (or make you take me to the zoo). I'll be home for Easter, and if you are around I can't wait to see how many cars are on your street that weekend. CTLB.

  2. can I have a kangaroo when Chappy gets too old to snuggle?