Saturday, June 29, 2013

The Lessons of Fireflies

There is not much doubt that I feel as though I'm engaged on the losing end of the 12th round of a heavyweight fight.  One more punch and I think I'm down for the count.  And more than once I've thought that I may be okay with that because it's been a long, bloody fight.  I am not sure what clinical depression feels like, but I'm guessing it's a lot like this, if not exactly like this:  getting up out of bed every morning is a chore, and one I don't particularly want to do.  But I do.  I work hard to perform ably at my job and keep the house up, feed and care for the pets.  But really there is not much joy in any of it.  There is just too much anxiety at the moment.  I'm anxious about trying to figure the money out, wrestling with the renewed sense of loss and guilt after the man who was with my daughter when she died wrote his horrible letter.  I tell myself it's a temporary setback, and it almost certainly is, but that's probably what clinical depression looks like too - there just doesn't seem to be much light at the end of the tunnel.  When I'm feeling self critical, I tell myself that my wallowing in my own anxieties is self-indulgent.  Actually I always tell myself that it is - it's just I don't always care.  But self-indulgent or not, once you're in that cycle, it's a hard one to break out of.  However, in truth, I don't confess all this for the pity.  And because I assume it will come across that way, I've thought long and hard about writing this.  But, I have chosen to because I believe these are dips in the road along the way to true grief recovery that many will take.  Maybe because something like that awful letter will come along or just maybe because it'll happen with no emotional trigger at all.  Grief recovery, as it turns out, is really hard.  Giving up is far, far easier.   So, for any readers who hit those hard moments and wonder why really bother pushing on, I hope you can take some hope and momentary joy in the smallest of moments where wonder still lurks.  Enough anyway to push on through the hard days until the easier ones find you again.

For me, I've been here before.  Very early on when we were struggling to come to terms with the concept that Kelsey even had a problem, let alone a really serious one, I didn't do well with it.  And I have to say it was true selfishness at the time, but I hit a real low one night in particular.  A couple of days later was the first time one of the deer who came to the house to be fed approached me and ate directly from my hand.  Later of course they were so used to me they'd surround me when I walked out with the feed bucket, nudging one another for the best access, stepping on my toes to get their noses in the bucket before I could pour it out and sometimes come up to the window and peer inside with their noses literally pressed to the glass looking for me to come feed them again, but that first moment when that little doe walked up to me seemed like a miracle.  I think she single handedly helped me turn a corner and decide I could soldier on if I could have little moments like that peppered in amongst what would become a struggle that was harder and longer than I could have even imagined on that low night.

Now here I am floundering again.  I'm older, more worn out and have no more deer coming to see me hoping for a nibble to brighten my spirits and make me feel needed.  What, I've wondered, is the point?  Well, the other night after a violent rain storm swept through the area, literally washing away some of the oppressive heat and humidity for a time, I stepped outside shortly after dusk and was greeted by a riot of fireflies the like of which I have never seen before.  I could still hear the rain falling softly around me, but under the cover of the old maple in my backyard only a few drips were getting through, so there I stood transfixed for a long while, having never seen so many at once, as Ripley danced around my feet trying to capture first one blinking dash of light then another.

Fireflies are a visual thing.  Words cannot do them justice.  Not even photographs can, for you lose the wonder of how the males pulse in waves high above the ground, floating among the high branches of the firs, making them sparkle like Christmas trees, while the females coat the grass like shimmering diamonds calling them down to mate.  I love to watch them and can spend hours at it, but I had never seen such a display before.  One would suddenly flash right before my eyes and then I would see one just over my shoulder, then another over the other shoulder and on and on.  They seemed to coat the ground in a blanket of yellow shimmer.  It was amazing.  I was transfixed.  And it occurred to me how lucky I was to be alive at this moment to see such a sight.  And just like that, these tiny little creatures, with very little else on their mind beyond making the next generation of fireflies, reminded me of the valuable lesson that doe brought to me all those years before.  Which is that joy can come at unexpected moments, maybe if for only a brief time, but it would be a shame to miss out on it because you're too absorbed by your misery.  So since that night I've tried to pay attention to the little things:  the smell of lavender from a neighbor's garden that I catch when I walk by with the dogs in the morning, watching the fat squirrel lazing on my porch railing today or Ripley racing around the yard in youthful puppy exuberance.   Appreciating the way Cheyenne looks at me sometimes, like nothing else in the world matters.  These are all the little things I'll have to rely on until this little time passes.  Little slivers of sun through the dark clouds.  But I think I almost lost sight of that until some fireflies came to light the way.  

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Dear Kelsey, Part V

My Dearest Kelsey,

I cannot quite believe this is the fifth of these letters I will have written you.  Five letters I wish I never had to write.  In some ways this year's letter is the hardest since the first one.  There are several reasons for that, I guess.  You've been missed as a vital member of the family at some big events during the past year:  some happy, some tragic, but all bringing to mind that as we weave the tapestry of our lives there is a hole in the fabric that we just can't quite mend, try as we might.  But, really, for me at least, there is a shadow over everything since the troubled young man who was with you the day you died, four years ago today, wrote to your sister a few weeks ago.  I have to address it because I've held it in, for the most part, since Marissa read it out loud to us, tears streaming down her face.  That horrible diatribe that seemingly came out of nowhere about how we abandoned and betrayed you, leaving you to die with no one but his family to care about you.  I went numb on that particular day and thought to shut it out:  to consider the source and let it go as the rantings of a traumatized addict.  And I think that is true for the most part.  I realized immediately that he was speaking through the voice of The Beast.  The things he was saying were the things that you would have said to him in the throes of your disease.  But, that's the thing: even the most horrible of fictions carry a grain of truth to them.  He never would have thought to write some of the things he did if you had not have said them to him.  And so, try as I might to shut his words out, the thought that your dying thoughts were of how we left you alone to die and how you hated us have haunted me.   The mountain I've worked to climb has given way underneath my feet.  But, it's not for me that I am about to tell you what I am about to tell you:  my worry since the beginning is that, wherever you are, you find peace.  Some will read this and say if I had more faith, then I would know and take comfort.  Perhaps, but I will just tell you in all candor that I would feel so much better if God would just let you drop me a line and let me know you're okay.  I still feel I "hear" you through your music sometimes, but I just want to know that, if your life was the sacrifice you had to make to get rid of the disease, that it didn't crossover with you.  And, as a bonus, I would like to know that you understand and forgive us.  Because, we do live with the guilt of knowing that, as hard as we tried, we didn't do enough in the end to save you.  But I think you didn't quite realize what we did do and what sacrifices we did make.  The eating disorder, at the end of the day, was just stronger than all of us combined.  And I realized when Marissa read that hateful message that it lives on even though its precious host does not.

The thing I want you to realize is that as parents we don't stop being human beings, which means we're flawed.  I remember being almost paralyzed with fear when you were little because I was so scared I would do or say the wrong thing to you because I was so acutely aware that I had an impressionable human being in my charge.  I would analyze what I said and did to make sure I did it correctly.  Of course, very often I did not, so I would pray that you were pliable enough to forgive the transgression and remember the good things over the bad.  They all add up, though, both the good and the bad, to make us what we are when we're adults.  What I would have hoped for us is that, before you had your turn as a parent, we could have talked about all of that and you could have seen us, your father and me, for what we are, imperfect people who simply love you the best way we know how.  Don't accept that now for our sakes.  I have come to realize that forgiving one's parents for all their faults is the only real way to be at peace with yourself.

But, here is what I really want to say to you:  you were not the eating disorder.  Do not take it with you wherever you are.  You were so much more than that.  I've said some of this before, but it bears repeating.  You were an amazing artist.  You were smart and articulate, even if that could come over as a bit bossy and judgmental.  You could be hard to take in large doses as a result, but your desire to learn and experience life was immense, so I can imagine it was fun for your peers to engage you in intellectual debates, and I always wondered where that would have taken you.  I always thought you'd make a great music critic maybe.  But there was a softer side to you too:  the side I think we all loved the most.  The side that, because of everything you had been through, saw others for what they were, which is more than their disease, and wanted to help them.  The side that loved your extended family and friends.  And your cat of course.  And your sister above all.  Maybe you would have become a therapist - you would have excelled at that.  Certainly no one could understand that kind of suffering more than you.  You were one of a kind.  You were priceless.  I hated the disease, and I know sometimes that must have seemed like I hated you.  I didn't, my darling baby girl.  So far from it.  I loved you so, so much.  Please God, if only I knew that you know that.

Please be at peace now.  We will always love you.  We will always remember you:  the real you.


Your Mom

Friday, June 14, 2013

The Single Life

"Remember, Red, hope is a good thing, maybe the best of things. And no good thing ever dies."

- from Andy Dusfrene's letter to "Red" Redding in The Shawshank Redemption

I was listening to The Shawshank Redemption the other day as background noise.  I've seen the movie dozens of times and could wax rhapsodic about its many many qualities if that were the point, but because I've seen it so many times, I can listen to it as background chatter and not really let it get in the way of what I'm doing.  It just fills the dead air that sports talk radio can't anymore because I can't stand the thought of listening to mean-spirited morons criticize the Penguins.  Maybe I'll vaguely be aware of what is being said because I know the dialogue backwards and forwards or I'll look up to glance a scene I am particularly fond of or moved by, but mostly it's just droning on somewhere in the back of my brain and I'm not paying any attention at all.  Which is why I was particularly caught by the line above jumping out at me.  Like someone turned up the volume at that moment so I couldn't miss it.  It cut through all my concentration on my work and that one line insinuated itself into my head.  I stopped what I was doing and looked up at the tiny screen and thought to myself, "What a bullshit line." and looked back at my computer and went back to work.  Probably at that moment I knew I am in a really dark place.

That's why I haven't spoken to my husband in the two weeks he has been in Texas.  I know people are wondering and speculating why, because I've been asked a few times.  I know it strikes them as odd, cold maybe even, because he's down there to see his brother for the first time since his accident and it was going to be a hard shock.  Greg loves his brother above all else save his daughters.  This will undoubtedly be the second hardest couple of weeks in his life - harder than burying his dad in some ways.  Because his brother's still alive and needs him and now, tomorrow, he's got to get on a plane to come back to a place far away from his family.  So, as his helpmate, I should have been available to help him through the ordeal.  Well I know myself well enough to know that's not how it would go.  Instead it would lapse into a conversation about how, of our six major appliances, three of them are broken in some way, and I'm trying to figure out what I can rig to work, live without potentially, or have to break down and figure out a way to pay to fix them.  I know I'd work in there that we have carpenter ants or how the puppy, in her boredom, has destroyed this, that and the other thing because I can barely find time to walk her, let alone take her running at the dog park, which she got so used to.  And I'd probably slide in there somewhere how, when Steeler tickets go on sale tomorrow, I won't be buying any and how bitterly disappointed I am over that.  He doesn't need that crap.  He's got his own issues to handle, so I sincerely believe that the best, most supportive thing I can do for him is to give him space to deal with them.

Conversely, I speculate that he hasn't called me to lay at my feet the trauma he's gone through because he likely senses that I've got my hands full.  Or so I've figured anyway - that and he just hasn't had the time to worry over checking in with me.  Trying to spare one another's feelings by making sure we're talking periodically is small potatoes to the larger, harder issues he's undoubtedly been coping with.

But, whatever the case, I can tell you this:  I've got one minute to get logged into work and then fall into coping with keeping the puppy occupied enough not to destroy things for the next fourteen or so hours until the workday's done.  I can't actually worry over much more right now save to tell you that I'm beginning to wonder if Charlie Sheen had it right when he said that hope is for suckers.  

Saturday, June 8, 2013

Eight Days in June

Like most of my sports-themed posts, this is not actually about sports.  So, if hockey's not your thing, no sweat.  But, hockey is my thing.  Sort of amazingly.  It's done for me what nothing else has.  I've told the story before, so I'll spare a reiteration.  I was once on a band wagon fan, admittedly, but now I lead the band. And I wanted my team to win back the Stanley Cup like you just wouldn't believe...

...because the last time they did was on June 12, 2009.  I sat in my living room in Round Rock, Texas and happily watched it, bathed in the glory of being a fan of the Super Bowl Champion Steelers and now the Stanley Cup Champion Penguins.  Eight days later my world would shatter and all of that joy would be forgotten and extinguished.  I don't remember the Penguins hoisting the banner at the beginning of the next season and that's really bothered me.  Maybe I watched in on TV, surely it was a nationally televised game, but if I did, I was so numb to it that I have no memory of it at all.  Maybe I just didn't care.  Of course, I wasn't around for any parades or Cup appearances.  I missed out on all of the fanfare of being the fan of champions.  And I wanted it.  As pressures mount in other areas of my life, I became convinced I needed it.  Eight days in June became a mantra.  I wanted revenge almost for only having eight short days to savor the taste of being on top.  I almost felt like it was owed to me, not by my team, but by Fate who so cruelly took it away back in 2009.

If that all seems selfish, I am guilty as charged.  I'm not candy coating anything, I'm telling you the way I felt and the way it is.  This morning I carefully took down my banner, flags and yard signs, lovingly folded them and tucked them away for another season.  Boston will be playing for the Cup, not us.  And here I am, without a crutch in the world to lean on.  This is a low moment.

And, so, Dear Reader, this is moral to the story:  I've vacillated in this blog so many times about using outside interests like sports to get past dark days, cautioning that you still have to do the work of grief recovery, but championing (if you will) using whatever you have to get you through to the next day and the next until you don't need it anymore.  But, I think I've always stood on the side of having at some point to really process the emotions without any distractions, which depending upon a sports team for your happiness definitely qualifies.  Problem with all of that is that I've not practiced what I've preached.

So now, how do I do that?  I think I get stripped away from it.  Like taking a bottle from an alcoholic.  I've struggled so mightily to find a reason why this is happening.  But, I know the truth of the matter is there's no mystical power at work bringing down an entire franchise just to punish me.  It's just the way it is.  And I also know that, for as badly as I wanted this, there is someone in Boston who wanted the Bruins to advance just as badly as I did my Pens and for maybe similar reasons.  Whom are the Fates supposed to favor anyway in a case like that?  But, with all of that, maybe I really needed to be taken down to my very core and have to stand alone against all the pressures and problems I'm currently facing and just figure out a way to deal with them.   Maybe if I come through this I'll be so much stronger for it.  One way or the other, I guess I'm about to find out.

As I braced myself earlier in the week for the possibility of this moment, I kept telling myself that win or lose, the sun will still come up just the same.  But, this morning the sun is hidden behind a wall of chilly grey - so even Mother Nature seems to be in mourning, it's not just me.  Well, Mother Nature, let's both cheer up because things aren't changing even if we don't, so we might as well.  What do you say we start following baseball maybe?