Wednesday, December 25, 2013

So this is Christmas

First Christmas without her. First Christmas without my mom.

I was able to forget, or to be swept up in the beauty of Christmas Eve, in the joy of Christmas morning. The opening of stockings, the wearing pajamas until the afternoon, the gifts, the food, the time together near the Christmas tree.

But then it calmed down. And I realized I was sad, and mad. I was smad. And tired - tired of pretending that this Christmas was a normal one, tired of being in the "Christmas spirit."

So before I take my smadness out on the dishes, I'm stopping, and letting myself have a good cry, and letting myself ignore "Love Actually" in the other room, and instead writing this. Jotting down these unprocessed and raw emotions - not unsurprising emotions, but still raw.

I miss you, mom. I miss you so much.





Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Permission (8 months)

Recently I got a Christmas update letter from a friend, and at the top of the letter she had handwritten this note: 

"I think your mom would want you to enjoy the holidays, don't you?" Coming from her this wasn't just a platitude to fill awkward silence or empty space. Coming from her, someone who is both a mother and has lost a mother, who gives me a mom hug every time I see her, it was permission. 

I didn't know how much I needed permission to enjoy the holidays this year until I got this note, but when read it and started bawling I figured it out: I just needed someone to tell me it was okay to not be sad all this Christmas. I needed someone to tell me it was okay to have fun at Christmas parties, and to spend time with friends, and to love all the lights. I needed someone to tell me that I didn't have to be in sackcloth and ashes this year, during my family's favorite time of year. 

Today has not been an "enjoy the holidays" kind of day. Today has been a tidal wave of grief that I just had to ride into shore - keeping myself busy at work, watching Buffy, eating chocolate and crying with a friend. But that's okay too. Whether it's a wave of grief or a wave of joy, my mom would want me to feel it all. 

I love you, mom. I've missed you for 8 months, and I'm going to miss you for a lot longer. But I know, without a doubt, with the help of my friend, that you would want me to enjoy the holidays. 

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Advent

Advent is a season of waiting. We wait for the coming King, for Christ to be born, God with us, Emmanuel. We sing lyrics like “Come, thou long expected Jesus,” and “O come, o come Emmanuel,” and light candles in the darkness to remember the coming light.

I was reminded today that waiting is countercultural to us in America. Waiting for anything – for our clothes to be washed, for the microwave to beep – can feel like agony, a waste of time. Waiting doesn’t come naturally to us. It makes us uncomfortable.

But still we wait in Advent. And I’ve learned that often we also wait in death. I was waiting for my mom to die for 20 months. It wasn’t waiting for a cure, or waiting for her to improve. It was waiting for her to decline, for her to sleep all day, for her to eventually never wake up.

Most of the time, when I think of waiting for her death, it isn’t something that ends joyfully, it wasn’t a beautiful fulfillment of my expectations. But today I remember that her death wasn’t all that I was truly waiting for. I take my words from Zechariah’s song, after he waited for years to have a son:
By the tender mercy of our God
the dawn from on high broke upon her,
to give light to those of she who sat in darkness and in the shadow of death,
to guide her feet into the way of peace.
Today I was reminded that as I waited for her death, I also waited for this – for mercy, for the dawn to break on her, for her to be guided into the way of peace. I waited for this light that shone even in the midst of the shadow. I waited for death, but I also waited in hope, for the coming light of the baby Jesus.

May the lights and the candles in the face of the darkness remind me of that this Advent season. May the coming of Emmanuel give me hope in the face of despair. And may we all be guided this year into the way of peace.

Vows

I was talking to a friend this week, and she asked, “Did I ever tell you about how much your mom’s memorial service impacted me?” She hadn’t, so she told me the story.

She told me that she has been to lots of weddings in the past few years (twelve, I think), and they’ve all been beautiful, and full of love, and all that good stuff. But she said that my mom’s service, and hearing about my parents love for one another, was the most beautiful and whole picture of marriage she had seen.

She said that seeing the hard parts of the vows, the parts we tend to forget about on the wedding day, the “in sickness” and “til death do us part” portions of the vows – seeing how those played out in my parent’s marriage was beautiful. She had only met my parents once before, but through the stories people shared at the service she was still able to see their deep, abiding love for one another.

As she shared this, she started to cry, and so did I. I was so honored to hear this story from her, and to know that my parents’ love and commitment to one another was so evident, even at a funeral, in a time of mourning.

And friends, if you get married, I may write you a somewhat depressing card – about supporting one another in hard times, in sickness, in struggle. Don’t be alarmed. I write that because the best example I have of marriage, of love, and of commitment, comes from my parents, who lived out their vows even in sickness and in death.

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Christmastime is here...

Christmas has always been a big season for my family. In a home that always had minimal decorations, Christmastime transformed the house with its lights, and colorful ornaments, and green garlands and nativities. 

Every year my sister and I give each other an ornament. Before my sister and I were old enough to do this for ourselves our parents would give us the one new ornament. This means our tree is covered in ornaments from over the years - starting with handmade beauties of colored glue on frozen orange juice lids, on to glass ice cream cones and ceramic teacups from a year-round Christmas store in North Carolina, to handsewn owls that would sell well on Etsy. 

This year, when we were listening to "A Christmas Album" by Amy Grant and putting all the ornaments on the tree, my heart hurt when I picked up a few of then - but each made me remember and love my mom a little more. 


My mom cross stitched this for me when I was five years old, and she made one for my sister too. She loved to cross stitch, and even wanted to do it in her last few months. I love that I have something she made for me, to keep on the tree as a reminder of her love for me, every Christmas. 


I made this ornament for my mom the first Christmas after she got sick. I made some for a lot of my friends - I think it was the creative outlet I needed to be able to deal with all the changes that happened in my family that year. She loved the owl, she thought it was beautiful, but it makes me cry to know she only got to enjoy it for two years. And to know that now, since she's not here, it'll go in my ornament box when we pack everything up, and not hers. 


And this ornament - this ornament just reminds me that our family is missing a part. One of us isn't here this year, one of those hearts is missing. There's nothing I can do to change that, nothing I can do to bring her back. But there's also nothing that can take her out of the wreath, out of our life or our love. We will always be four, even when only three of us decorate the tree this year. 

I guess Christmas ornaments can really tell a story, can chronicle the life of a family. And even though they're only up for a month or so, I'm thankful that they're there each year, just waiting to make us remember. 

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Dazzling

"The sobs racked his throat and his chest and the tears dazzled him..."

--- The Subtle Knife by Phillip Pullman

"A deep, but dazzling darkness"

--- A Ring of Endless Light by Madeleine L'Engle

There's something dazzling, something beautiful about the darkness, about the tears. It's true, it's real, it's healing. It's light. 

There's something dazzling, something beautiful, about the tears, about the darkness


Monday, November 25, 2013

New

"... the astonishing or unfortunate thing is that these deprivations bring us the cure at the same time that they give rise to pain. Once we have accepted the fact of loss, we understand that the loved one obstructed a whole corner of the possible, pure now as a sky washed by rain.... Free, we seek anew, enriched by pain. And the perpetual impulse forward always falls back again to gather new strength. The fall is brutal, but we set out again."

--- Albert Camus, via Healing After Loss by Martha Whitmore Hickman 

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Shiny

Today I left therapy feeling lighter than I did when I went in. That happens sometimes, when my earlier day is really horrible, and I come out feeling a little better. But generally I still feel overall grey (or blue, or whatever color you’d like to use to describe sadness and depression).

But today I felt lighter. Today I felt much better when I left than when I entered my therapist’s office. The tears I shed felt purifying and cleansing, like I’d cried out everything I needed to cry out, and I could go home with a little bounce in my step instead of thick layers of mud attached to my boot.

It makes the rain feel purifying, too. Instead of the rain resulting in a drab and dreary world, I see it as a cleansing thing. Not only will it make my car look shiny and new, but it will make the world look a little shinier too.

Maybe this is a turning point. Maybe things are looking up, at least a little bit. Or maybe they’re not, and this is just a grace for today. Either way, I’m going to enjoy the lightness while it lasts.


For all you Firefly nerds out there, I did choose this title on purpose :)

Monday, November 18, 2013

Christmas Cometh Caroling

The nights are getting darker earlier, and I’m starting to see Christmas lights on houses. Christmas is coming.

I love Christmastime – the lights, the chill, the scarves, the hot chocolate. It’s always been a warm and safe time for me, even in the bad years. There’s always been hope at Christmas.

These days, when I think of this year’s Christmas I have two filmstrips running through my head. One is beautiful, warm, with our Christmas tree covered with decorations, the Christmas churches lining the mantle, and my mom bustling about, making Christmas cookies, wrapping presents, and dressing up for church on Christmas Eve. The other has a lot of the same images – the tree, the churches, the cookies, but my mom’s not there. Her seat is empty, she’s not in the other room wrapping presents, and she won’t be joining us for church on Christmas Eve. Everything seems a little less warm, a little less bright.

Even though I know one is true and one is false, both run in my head at the same time. So I’m split, both excited and expectant for the Christmas I remember from before, and brokenhearted and in tears because the traditions of before won’t ever happen again. Christmas will look different now, will always look different now, and I don’t know if I’m ready for that.

My favorite Christmas song from last year is Snow by Sleeping at Last. The lyrics say:
We'll build new traditions in place of the old
Cause life without revision will silence our souls
This Christmas I’m hoping for some new traditions. May those new traditions bring a little bit of light into a soul that’s been hurting for a long time.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Rejoice (7 months)

Last week this old-school song popped into my head: “I love you Lord, and I lift my voice, to worship you, oh my soul rejoice.”

I got stuck on the word rejoice. Rejoice. What does that look like? What does that even mean? How do I find joy, how do I rejoice in the midst of grief?

And then I remembered my mom. I remembered her sitting in church, on the few times she was able be at church. I remember her being dressed up like she always was on Sundays, in her nice slacks, a fancy sweater and some flats (her everyday wardrobe after the stroke was yoga pants, a stretchy shirt and tennis shoes). I remember her sitting in her wheelchair, listening as announcements were given and the sermon was preached.

But mostly I remember her every time we sang a worship song, because every time she’d close her eyes, lift up her chin a little bit, and hum along with the song. She couldn’t read, so she didn’t know the words, and even if she knew the words by heart she probably wouldn’t have been able to say them out loud. So instead she just closed her eyes and hummed, immersed in the music and with a face of pure joy.

She looked so innocent when she did this, so whole, though she was still so physically broken. Even though she couldn’t praise God in worship songs like she used to, she found another way to rejoice.

If my mom can rejoice, without words and with little cause, maybe I can too. I might not be able to replicate the child-like innocence thing, but I can still hum.

It’s been seven months today since she died. And for whatever reason reflecting on joy just felt right. I’m not very joyful yet, but I’m trying to be, and the seventh month mark is as good a time as any to start trying.

Thursday, October 31, 2013

I remember...

I remember walking by the checkout at Target and seeing these warm, fuzzy socks with animal faces sewn onto them. They had lots of different kinds – penguins and polar bears and reindeer that only kind of looked like the animals they were supposed to be. Her feet were always cold, especially after she couldn’t walk, so I bought her a pair.

She loved those socks. She wore them almost every day, at least during the wintertime. When the faces started to come off she had me sew them back on. I ended up buying her more pairs of different kinds of animals, because I wanted to see her smile when I brought them to her.

It’s getting colder, and I guess the cold made me remember. I’m really going to miss seeing those socks. I really miss seeing her.



This is my 200th blog post. That seems significant, somehow, even though this memory isn’t, really. But I guess that’s what its like when someone dies – even the insignificant becomes important.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Liar

I say that on my good days and my bad I love you more than one more day. But I don’t think that’s really true.

Pretty much every day I wish you were back with me. And I don’t care if that’s selfish or impractical, painful or misguided. I just wish you were here with me.

And maybe I get to wish this – I am your daughter, after all. Your child that you spent your life caring for and protecting. Maybe this can be part of what it means to be your daughter – like a child, just wanting her mom. 

I don’t want to be the bigger person, I don’t want to be rational and adult about this. 

I just want my mommy.

Reflecting

Location: the floor of my room, with this view:


Soundtrack: Josh Garrels, "Ulysses"


Reading: C.S. Lewis, A Grief Observed
"What sort of lover am I to think so much about my affliction and so much less about hers? Even the insane call, 'Come back," is all for my own sake. I never even raise the question whether such a return, if it were possible, would be good for her. I want her back as an ingredient in the restoration of my past. Could I have wished her anything worse? Having got once through death, to come back and then, at some later date, have all her dying to do over again? They call Stephen the first martyr. Hadn't Lazarus the rawer deal?"

I'm always more reflective when I'm sitting on the floor. I don't know what it is - maybe I feel more free? I can sit, lay, curl up - be in whatever position I want. The Christmas lights (which are really year round lights for me) help too - they give everything a warm glow (though some of that is admittedly from the filter I chose for the photo).

C.S. Lewis strikes again.

I really am pretty selfish - I mostly just think about how this all affects me, about my affliction and not hers. I do wish she could come back, for my sake. It's easy for me to forget how much pain she was in after the stroke, especially right before she died. She was in pain - so much pain that any little movement hurt. Would I really wish her back, after that? To have to go through something like that again, later on?

On my good days (and with the help of my dad, who helps me keep perspective) I remember her pain, and I'm glad that she doesn't have to endure it any more. I remember how hard she had to work after her stroke, to do everyday things, to communicate, and I'm glad that she doesn't have to work that hard any more. I remember how selfless she was as she struggled with both bouts of cancer, choosing to fight to live more for us than for herself, and I'm humbled to live my life like hers.

And so on my good days, and even on my bad days, I try to love her "more than one more day."

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

C.S. Lewis says it best

After I wrote the last post I opened up C.S. Lewis's A Grief Observed and started reading where I had left off:
"It's not true that I'm always thinking of H. Work and conversation make that impossible. But the times when I'm not are perhaps my worst. For then, though I have forgotten the reason, there is spread over everything a vague sense of wrongness, of something amiss. Like in those dreams where nothing terrible occurs - nothing that would sound even remarkable it you told it at breakfast-time - but the atmosphere, the taste, of the whole thing is deadly. So with this. I see the rowan berries reddening and don't know for a moment why they, of all things, should be depressing. I hear a clock strike and some quality it always had before has gone out of the sound. What's wrong with the world to make it so flat, shabby, worn-out looking? Then I remember."
Yes. That is exactly what it feels like. When the energy fades, this is what it feels like - a flat, shabby, worn-out-looking world. Thank you, C.S. Lewis, for giving words to my experience.

Energy

Every so often I'll get a burst of energy, of excitement, of adrenaline, of something that acts like a natural high. For a few days I'll be happy, smiling, my old, vibrant self. I'll watch less TV and get more things done.

Two weeks ago I got this burst of energy from getting a new tattoo. The new tattoo made me feisty at my small group, gave me thrifting power, and kept me smiling for a weekend.

Yesterday I got another burst of energy after enrolling in a new health insurance plan for next year through the Affordable Care Act (OBAMACARE!). Getting health insurance in less than two hours, instead of being in limbo for at least four months like I was the last time I tried to get health insurance, was a victory. The insurance-having adrenaline helped me run errands, get a lot done at work, and even get my oil changed.

But I'm starting to crash. The energy and excitement of insurance won't hold out for much longer. I'm starting to feel more and more tired and blue. And even though it feels over-simplified to say it, I know why: I'm sad.

Sure it's been six months, but I'm still sad - as sad as I was when she first died. I still miss her, and wish more than anything else that I could have more time with her. My therapist keeps asking me why I'm feeling sad - I think she's wondering if there's a specific traumatic situation we should work through, but there isn't one - I just miss my mom.

I'm hoping that some day the bursts of energy will last longer, and the crash won't feel as hard. But for now, every time I'm feeling able I know I have to milk it for all its worth, since the sadness will come back soon. (And maybe someday I'll write a blog post on a happy day - that would be a nice change!)

So here it comes. That feeling of sadness, of missing my mom. Maybe Halloween candy will give me an energy spike this week, at least for a little bit.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Six Months

It’s been six months. Six months since my mom died.

Why does six months seem so much more significant than five months or seven months?

So little has changed, and so much has. I’m still hurting, a lot. Every day. Especially when it slows down, when I’m by myself at night. But I’ve also done the work – I’ve been diligent about letting my feelings and my tears come, and spending time processing and remembering.

I remember that night so vividly. Not the what happened before she died, what happened that evening before I went to sleep – it was just another day – but the what happened when I woke up in the middle of the night knowing she was gone.

Because I knew she was gone. I woke up a little before 2am, and I knew something had happened. Or at least in hindsight I know I knew. Then, in the middle of the night, I just felt like I should go check on her, see if everything was okay. I felt that something had happened. But then the rational part of my brain kicked in, and told me I had just heard a loud noise outside, so I went back to sleep.

My dad came in just after two and said “Katye. It’s your mom.” And that was it. He didn’t have to say any more. I knew she was gone. So I walked over to their room, and I stood by her bed, and I held her hand, like I did when she was alive. And I told her I loved her, and I smoothed back her hair, like I did when she was alive. And I kissed her cheek like I did when she was alive. And I closed her eyes just a little more, because it seemed wrong for them to be open, even a little bit. (It was the same, but different. The big vein that had been popping out of her forehead the last few days, when she was struggling to pump blood and oxygen, was gone. She felt a little colder.)

And then we waited. We waited for my sister to drive over. We waited for the hospice nurse. We waited for the funeral home. As we waited my dad dozed off in his chair, and I sent in a few things for work (so I wouldn’t have to deal with them later that day), and I sent an email to my friend Alex who was going to spread the news. And we waited.

The hospice nurse came, and pronounced her time of death, and took out her catheter. She pointed out the rings on my mom’s hand, so I maneuvered them off her finger. (Her hand felt even colder.)

And that was it. We sat in the living room as the funeral home people came and got her body. They wheeled it out, not in a visible body bag, but covered by something that looked a lot like a piano cover.

We sat for awhile longer, and then agreed to sleep for a bit and then go to brunch together later. I ate a bowl of cereal and then went to bed. I think I slept for a few hours, but I can’t really remember. I know that by the time I got to bed it was about 5am, and the sky was starting to lighten.

Somehow writing this down is cathartic. It helps me step outside the memory, step away from reliving it into just remembering it. It keeps me from replaying it in my mind, wanting not to lose the memory. Because even though it was a landmark day, it still felt pretty ordinary. Death, in the end, is pretty mundane.

I love you, mom. I tell you “I love you very much,” and I hear your response: “I know.”

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Friday, October 11, 2013

True Friendship

"True friendships are lasting because true love is eternal. A friendship in which heart speaks to heart is a gift from God, and no gift that comes from God is temporary or occasional. All that comes from God participates in God's eternal life. Love between people, when given by God, is stronger than death. In this sense, true friendship continues beyond the boundary of death. When you have loved deeply, that love can grow even stronger after the death of the person you love. That is the core message of Jesus."
              --- Henri Nouwen, The Inner Voice of Love
My mom was my best friend. And heart definitely spoke to heart - sometimes that's all that could speak.

I know that love between people is stronger than death - I feel it every day. But sometimes, when I'm having a really rough day, I wish it didn't grow stronger after death - that just makes it hurt more. But most days I count myself lucky. I think I'm finally understanding the adage:
"'Tis better to have loved and lost / Than never to have loved at all."*

*I learned, by Googling, that this phrase comes from a poem that Lord Tennyson wrote as a requiem for his friend who died suddenly of a cerebral hemorrhage. That seems appropriate, and tells me that Tennyson really knew what he was talking about.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Priorities

My family has a long history of cancer – specifically breast cancer. My grandma on my mom’s side had breast cancer in her mid 30’s, which they treated with a huge surgery and tons of radiation. My mom’s older sister had breast cancer in her early 20’s, which they treated with a mastectomy and no chemo or radiation (the doctors said she didn’t need them). My mom’s older sister, my aunt, had a daughter, my cousin. When my cousin was one year old my aunt was diagnosed with bone cancer, which had metastasized from the breast cancer, and after three years and a hard fight, she died, when my cousin was four years old.

When my mom was in her early 40’s (when I was 10 years old and my sister was six years old), she was diagnosed with breast cancer. (Sidenote: her brain cancer was not at all related to her breast cancer.) She wrote this about that cancer diagnosis:
“When I was in my early 40’s and had two girls, one 6 and one 10, I too was diagnosed with breast cancer. Needless to say I was thinking of my sister and her death and my niece and the loss of her mother. It was very, very important to me that my sister’s situation did not become the situation for my girls and me. I wanted almost more than anything to be able to watch my girls grow up. So I had to make some difficult choices regarding my cancer and my cancer treatment. 
I was given a number of options for surgery. Because wanting to be with my girls as they grew up was one of my priorities, I chose to have the most involved and longest surgery, a bi-lateral mastectomy with reconstruction. I spent a week in the hospital, and a few weeks recovering, but, when the oncologist said that I needed to take six months of chemotherapy, I readily agreed.  
Now, usually my husband drove me to these ‘charming’ chemo appointments but I remember one day he was talking on his cell phone as we were getting ready to leave and I ended up driving. All the while I kept thinking ‘so why exactly am I driving myself to an appointment that I really, really don’t want to go to…?’ Well, you might have guessed that I did it because it was important to me to survive, a priority in my live to watch my kids grow up.”
She wrote this in 2010, a year before her stroke, as a part of a talk about priorities that she gave at a retreat she was leading. I read it yesterday for the first time, though I’d heard this story before. But I hadn’t heard the story from her, I’d heard it from my dad. When my mom had breast cancer I was really young, and my sister was even younger. It wasn’t even a possibility to me that my mom wouldn’t always be there. So I never knew, until after my mom had her stroke, until my dad told this story when she was in the hospital after major brain surgery, that this was why my mom had had reconstructive surgery and chemo, that my sister and I were why she fought so hard.

It was beautiful to hear my dad tell the story, but it was even more beautiful to hear it in my mom’s own words. To know that she wanted, “almost more than anything,” to see my sister and me grow up. To know that she underwent extensive surgery and painful months of chemo and radiation just so she could be with us.

It seems a little like a cruel joke that my mom was diagnosed with terminal brain cancer when my sister was 21 and I was 25 – two major milestones in becoming adults. It’s like the cancer was just waiting for us to grow up before it struck again, giving my mom her wish and nothing more. Rationally I know that cancer doesn’t have an evil mustache that it twirls as it cackles maniacally, but some days it really feels like it does. And some days it makes me want to fly to Neverland, so I’ll never grow up, and so my mom will never be able to die.

Whether it was cancer’s evil plan, or just a coincidence, or a gift from God that her breast cancer went into remission and she got to see us grow up after all, it just makes me love her more to know how much she loved us. She fought for my sister and me – she fought, and endured pain, and did so much, just so she could be there as we grew up.

Monday, October 7, 2013

Turn to stone

It would be so much easier if I could just pretend, forget, ignore the grief. If I could just go on a vacation, a lifetime-long vacation, where everything is sunshiny and peaceful and beautiful. It would be so much easier if I just stopped putting in the work of mourning, if I gave up on therapy and remembering and honoring my mom.

Most days I talk myself out of the “live in an idyllic, imaginary world” scenario. I remind myself that it’s impossible. I remind myself that if I stopped putting the work in now it would just come to back to bite me later. I remind myself that if I were to give up I would be separating myself from her, and that separation is what causes the grief.

But some days all my sensible, rational arguments for doing the work aren’t strong enough. They aren’t convincing enough – they don’t speak to the ache in my chest that I just can’t shake. On those days I resort to metaphor:

If I gave up, I would turn to stone.

And I don’t want to turn to stone.

“Let’s take a better look
beyond a story book.
And learn our souls are all we own
before we turn to stone.”

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Why Contemplative?

This week I’ve gone on a pilgrimage to a contemplative retreat. This week I’m practicing silence, stillness and solitude.

Why the contemplative? Why sit in silence, stillness and solitude?

I mean, really. Why? Because it can be really hard to be silent. In the silence my mom comes, my grief comes, my pain comes.

This pain is too deep, to visceral for my mind to understand. It can’t be put into words; it can barely be put into sobs. It leaves me breathless, wordless, prayer-less. And it hurts like hell.

But the contemplative – the contemplative is prayer without words. The contemplative is prayer without thoughts. The contemplative is prayer outside of mind, outside of reason. Instead it lives and breathes in body and soul.

When there is no logic that makes my mom’s death okay, the contemplative is there. When senseless things happen in my community, the contemplative is there.

So even though the pain comes in silence, the silence also gives voice to the pain. In the silence of contemplative prayer, God meets me. The God of mystery and miracles, the God of the unexplainable, the God of the voiceless. In contemplative prayer I’m free of rationalization, free of comprehension, free to know the God my mom knew – the God of children, of those with child-like faith. And slowly, slowly, as I sit more and more in God’s presence, as I let God unite my body and soul, the pain starts to heal, just a little bit.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

On Pilgrimage

This week I’ve gone on a pilgrimage to a contemplative retreat. This week I’m going to practice silence, stillness and solitude.

I’m on this retreat because my mom was dying, and I was exhausted out of my mind, and I was so overworked, and I couldn’t stop, and it was so hard, and I couldn’t stop, and I had to keep going, and I couldn’t stop, and I wouldn’t pull myself away from her because I wanted every possible minute with her.

And so I told myself that when my mom died I was going to go on a contemplative retreat.

Because for almost two years I didn’t have stillness, didn’t have solitude, couldn’t have silence.

But now – now I can stop. Now I can be still. Now I can soak in the beauty of the silence, of the solitude.

Except I’ve realized I’m here because even now I don’t know how to stop. I don’t know how to sit in silence, because my memories of her are too loud and hurt too much. I don’t know how to be still, because I was moving for so long. I don’t know how to be alone, because all I want is to be with my mom.

So I need to practice. I need to train. I need to exercise my silence, my stillness, my solitude. I need to train my body, my mind, my soul to stop.


Be still and know that I am God
Be still and know that I am
Be still and know
Be still
Be

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Faith

"In fact there is no way to 'return to the faith of your childhood,' not really, not unless you've just woken up from a decade-long and absolutely literal coma. Faith is not some half-remembered country into which you come like a long-exiled king, dispensing the old wisdom, casting out the radical, insurrectionist aspects of yourself by which you feel betrayed. No. Life is not an error, even when it is. That is to say, whatever faith you emerge with at the end of your life is going to be not simply affected by that life but intimately dependent upon it, for faith in God is, in the deepest sense, faith in life - which means even the staunchest life of faith is a life of great change. It follows that if you believe at fifty what you believed at fifteen, then you have not lived - or have denied the reality of your life."

    --- My Bright Abyss by Christian Wiman (emphasis added)

Life is not an error. And he would know - he wrote this book after a cancer diagnosis and a bone marrow transplant. If he says that life isn't an error I have to believe him.

A life of faith is a life of great change. This is reassuring, since my faith looks nothing like it did three years ago. 

I think I've found another author who speaks my language. Soon we'll be on a first name basis like me and Madeleine (L'Engle of course). 

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Angry (again)

So many nights this week I've looked at this picture of my mom that I keep by my bed - a picture of her in recent years, before the stroke - and I've gotten ridiculously angry.

Angry that she's gone. Angry that she left us. Angry that she wasn't there for my sister's birthday. Angry that she won't be there for mine. Angry that I can't call her. Angry, angry, angry.

It's irrational, really. I know that. I know she didn't choose to leave us, I know she wanted so badly to be there for all our birthdays, for forever. But that doesn't keep me from wanting to throw something against the wall until it shatters.

And then I look at a picture of her from after the stroke. It doesn't matter which one, all of them have the same effect. I look at a picture of her from after the stroke, and all I want to do is take care of her. I just want to hug her, to hold her hand, to bring her breakfast in the morning. Seeing a picture of her quenches all the anger I felt just a moment before.

I don't know what to do with this. How can I be angry at one version of my mom, and want to protect the other version? How do I reconcile the two? When will I learn that they're the same person.

I really don't have the answer. Maybe I just need to change the picture I keep by my bed.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Deep Speaking to Deep (again)

Today, for the first day in a helluva long time, I opened my Bible. Jesus and me have been just fine, but I just hadn't read much scripture. I've been more relying on the "Jesus is with me even though I walk through the valley of death and dying"sentiment, trusting in the whole grace thing, and kinda ignoring the whole daily devotional thing. (I have to admit, it's been a little liberating.)

But today I cracked it open again. All thanks to Henri Nouwen, of course, and his thoughts on letting deep speak to deep. And thanks to the whole I can't stop bawling for no real reason thing that led me back to Henri in the first place.

So I let deep speak to deep. And that led me to Psalm 42. (I would say it's my favorite psalm, but too many of them get that designation, which is probably cheating.)
My soul is downcast within me;
therefore I will remember you
from the land of the Jordan,
the heights of Hermon - from Mount Mizar.  
Deep calls to deep
in the roar of your cataracts
all your waves and breakers
have swept over me. 
By day the Lord directs his love,
at night his song is with me
a prayer to the God of my life. 
The poetry of this takes my breath away, and speaks to me soul, every time. My soul is downcast, deep calls to deep, the roar of the waterfall, at night his song is with me. Words of sadness, words of comfort, words of truth.

My first Scripture reading and Bible opening in a while was going well at this point. That gave me courage to turn to some of my bookmarks, to see what was speaking to me at least five months ago (yes, I haven't opened my Bible at least since my mom died). And I found Isaiah 55 (again, my favorite book of Isaiah, except I have too many favorite books of Isaiah).
Come, all you who are thirsty,
come to the waters,
and you who have no money,
come, buy and eat!
Come, buy wine and milk,
without money and without cost.... 
You will go out in joy
and be led forth in peace;
the mountains and hills
will burst into song before you,
and all the trees of the field
will clap their hands.
I come with little, with even less, with nothing, and I still get wine (and milk) for free, without cost. And someday, someday, I will know what it is to hear the trees of the field clapping their hands.

I was still feeling like this Bible thing was going well, so I kept looking through my heavily worn pages. There I found an old copy of some liturgy from a past prayer retreat, an Evening Prayer liturgy. It had tidbits from my other favorite psalm, Psalm 120.
Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord;
O Lord, hear my voice
Let your ears be attentive to my cry for mercy.... 
I wait for the Lord
And in his word I put my hope.
My soul waits for the Lord,
More than watchmen wait for the morning,
More than watchmen wait for the morning.
Out of the depths. I cry. My soul waits for the Lord, with more attentiveness, with more tenacity than watchmen waiting for the morning.

The Evening Prayer liturgy had another tidbit from my other favorite psalm (ha! How many favorite psalms am I allowed to have?), Psalm 27.
I am still confident of this:
I will still see the goodness of the Lord
in the land of the living. 
Wait for the Lord;
be strong and take heart
and wait for the Lord.
Even this, this hopeful poem, still speaks to me. I am still confident I will see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living. I saw it before, in my mom's smile, the way she just loved, especially in her last months.

With all these scriptures, both of hope and despair, you wanna know what I realized, what's making me think the Bible might not be so bad at a time like this? None of it is trite. Hopeful, yes. Looking forward, yes. But still coming from a heritage of lament. Still speaking out of truth, out of experience, out of the depths, out of pain.

So out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord. Give me comfort, give me hope in your words of poetry and truth.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

These days...

These days I am:

Watching a lot of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Season 5 (the season where Buffy's mom gets a brain tumor)

Listening to "Once More, With Feeling," the Buffy musical episode on repeat. I mean, seriously - it's the best musical (and the only one that I've seen) that accurately depicts depression. And it has lines like this one:
"Life's not a song.
Life isn't bliss, life is just this, it's living.
You'll get along
The pain that you feel, you only can heal by living"

Listening to Sacrifice, the music from the Buffy episode "The Gift." It sounds like what walking towards death, surrounded by people you love, should sound like.
Sacrifice (From "The Gift") by Buffy The Vampire Slayer on Grooveshark

And, to prove that I'm not just stuck in the Buffyverse...

Reflecting on what it means to say "I love you more than one more day," a quote from The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion. When my biggest wish is that I could just have one more day with her, loving her more than one more day is the hardest thing I've ever had to do.


Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Hospitals

I took my friend to the hospital today. He was getting surgery on his knee (it went well) so I offered to drive him to the Richmond Kaiser. I decided to just stay there and work for the day, so I wouldn’t have to drive back and forth to pick him up afterwards. Plus, I’ve had a lot of practice working in hospitals, and I’m very good at navigating Kaiser cafeterias, so it was supposed to be easy.

But at about 6pm, after being at the hospital for five and a half hours, I realized I was tense. Very tense. And exhausted. The kind of exhausted I get when I’m holding myself together by a thread. But I didn’t have time for a breakdown – the nurse was calling me to say my friend was out of recovery and ready for me to take him home.

So I white knuckled it on the drive home, and let the tenseness keep me alert. And then I made dinner, because I had pizza dough I had to use before it went bad. And then, when the pizza was in the oven, and I had set a timer, and I had run out of shoulds that I needed to take care of, I went into my room and cried.

I cried because it was the first time I had been in a hospital since my mom died. I cried because I know how to work well in hospitals, and I can compare quality of cafeterias at Kaisers all around Northern California, and those are stupid things to be good at. I cried because my knowledge of hospitals is what made me feel confident that I could work all day in one, and that same knowledge, or more specifically how I got that knowledge, was putting my body back in survival mode. I cried because of the anxiety that lived in me all day long, an anxiety not caused by rational thought but by some sort of triggered memory I can’t even pin down. I cried because that was the only thing that made sense, because I can’t really rationalize why I needed to cry.

And after that I called my dad. Because after unconscious and irrational anxiety caused by spending my day in a hospital I just needed to hear his voice. I needed to know that he was okay, and that I was going to be okay, and that everything was going to be okay.

Monday, September 9, 2013

The Year of Magical Thinking

"Information is control."
"One think I noticed during the course of those weeks at UCLA was that many people I knew, whether in New York or in California or in other places, shared a habit of mind usually credited to the very successful. They believed absolutely in their own management skills. They believed absolutely in the power of the telephone number they had at their fingertips, the right doctor, the major donor, the person who could facilitate a favor at State or Justice…. I had myself for most of my life shared the same core belief in my ability to control events…. Yet I had always at some level apprehended, because I was born fearful, that some events in life would remain beyond my ability to control or manage them. Some events would just happen. This was one of those events. You sit down to dinner and life as you know it ends.  
Many people to whom I spoke in those first days while Quintana lay unconscious at UCLA seemed free of this apprehension. Their initial instinct was that this event could be managed. In order to manage it they needed other information. They needed only to know how this had happened. They needed answers. They needed 'the prognosis.'

I had no answers.
I had no prognosis.
I did not know how this had happened."
These quotes come from Joan Didion’s book The Year of Magical Thinking, which she wrote after her husband’s sudden death and while her daughter, Quintana, was hospitalized for months both in New York and in LA.

Now, I am not Joan Didion. I don’t have friends in high places who can facilitate favors at State or Justice, and I don’t categorize myself as the very successful. But I understand how the people she’s talking about think, and I find myself thinking like that too.

Until my dad’s disability happened, when I was fourteen, I thought that if I just did things right I could control or manage any event that came my way. Maybe I thought that even longer – I don’t think that at fourteen I really understood what had happened to my dad, and that it couldn’t just be fixed by finding the right doctor or the right procedure.

Maybe it didn’t even hit me, I mean really become a reality, until my mom was in the hospital. Until the surgeon came out from surgery and told us she might never really wake up. It wasn’t until then that I realized that I was truly out of control.

And even after that moment with the surgeon I wanted information. I wanted to know all the details, to learn as much as I could about my mom’s surgery, and about what tests they were running, and about the cancer. I wanted to know if she had a seizure, and why the seizure happened, and what medications they were going to put her on to prevent seizures in the future. I wanted to know everything (though I did stop myself for going on WebMD, which was probably a good idea), because knowing everything made me feel like I had a little bit of control.

Information is control. And I wanted all the information I could hold.

Even now I feel that same yen, that same need for information. It gives me a semblance of power in an out of control world.

But guess what? All the information in the world can’t tell me anything about what my mom is doing right now. And all the information in the world can’t tell me when this whole grief thing is going to be over, or when I can get back to normal, or what the word normal means, or how to keep going with all this sadness in tow.

I guess I’ll have to learn to embrace the mystery.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Perfectionist

I don’t know how to be flaky. I don’t know how to cancel appointments, or how to reschedule hangouts, or how to show up to work late, or how to be unproductive, or how to stop doing things.

This might sound like a backwards brag, a “my greatest weakness is that I care too much” kinda thing. It’s really not.

I’m hurting myself by always trying to do my best. I’m keeping myself from healing by trying so hard to do things right, and well, and wholeheartedly. I’m draining myself of energy and joy by trying to act at a capacity I haven’t been at for at least two years. I’m killing myself by being a perfectionist.

I’m back at work, I’m back in Oakland (kinda – I still miss a lot of Sunday’s at church, but I’m getting there), I’m back to “the way things were” before my mom got sick.

Except I’m not.

I forget that I’m grieving. I forget that I’m recuperating from 20 months or more of heightened fear and pain and stress. I forget that things aren’t the way they used to be - from the outside observer they look the same.

And I’m really, really good at pretending to be capable.

So I go to work, and I spend time with friends, and run errands, and paint my room, and on and on and on. It even seems like I’m doing less than I did before – in fact I am doing less.

But it’s not enough less.

Because after a few days of being (semi) capable, of being on (mostly) top of things, of being a perfectionist in (almost) all that I do, I get home and I feel exhausted. Spent. Empty. Like I could sleep for days and be perfectly happy.

But then morning comes around and I start it all over again.

I don’t know how to slow down. I don’t know how to moderate. And really, if I’m honest, I don’t know how to fail. Or really, I’m so petrified of failing that I pretend to be capable.

And I’m really, really tired.


note: I tried to publish this post without proofreading it, but the perfectionist in me couldn't do it. It probably makes more sense for having been proofread, but it also proves my point. 

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Angry

I am a very angry driver. When someone does something that breaks the rules of the road, especially when it impacts me, I get mad. If someone cuts me off, if someone doesn’t use their turn indicator, if someone drives too slowly I yell at them. Not crazy, lose my head, see red behind my eyes kind of yelling. But definitely the raised voice, a few expletives for good measure kind of yelling.

But the anger that I feel at the drivers who are doing things wrong (and by “doing things wrong” I really mean “doing things that inconvenience me”) isn’t really because of the drivers. Or at least the root of that anger has nothing to do with people’s driving habits.

What I’m really angry about is cancer. What I’m really angry about is chronic pain. What I’m really angry about is the way my parents have been pretty much screwed by diseases and injuries and syndromes that I can’t do anything about. I couldn’t stop my dad’s back from rupturing discs all over the place. I can’t stop my dad from living in pain. I couldn’t stop my mom from getting breast cancer when I was a kid. I definitely couldn’t stop her from getting brain cancer, or stop it from progressing.

In all these things that have majorly shaped my life, I’ve had no control. In all these situations we lived at the whim of the cancer, of the slipped disc, of the damaged nerve. No matter how much I yell and scream at cancer and back injuries, I can’t make things different. My pleas and my expletives fall on deaf… ears? Mutated cells? Weakened cartilage? Crushed nerves? (Notice that all the things I’m yelling at can’t actually hear me.) I can’t even yell at God, because I know God didn’t cause any of this to happen.

So my anger, my pent up rage at all this shit that’s been thrown at my family, lands on unknowing drivers (and sometimes friends, family, and coworkers, for which I am very sorry, and for whom I’m trying to change). Because maybe if I yell loud enough they’ll hear me, and then I can actually effect change.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Ribbons

I love you, Mom. 


Family

I spent the last week in Iowa with my cousin, her husband and their two kids. And now I'm homesick for a home that isn't even mine.

I didn't realize until I left how comfortable and comforting it was to be with family, to be with people who knew and loved my mom. We didn't have any big rap sessions about my mom, and only a few tears were shed. But it was the little things, seeing and sharing my mom in the everyday life of my cousin and her family, that made it beautiful.

Things like telling my cousin that Butterfinger ice cream was my mom's favorite when she picks some up at the store. Or reading any words that cross the TV screen out loud like I used to for my mom, and talking about why I still do that. Or introducing my cousin to the Hunger Games, which my mom loved. Sharing moments of my mom with someone who loved my mom, and who doesn't feel super uncomfortable (I hope!) when I do.

Being with family made the two year mark of my Mom's stroke easier. Spending this past Monday (August 19th) with family, just eating food and playing board games. It felt right, it felt like life, on a day that reminds me so much of sickness of death.

And you know what else was great? Having people to talk with about Buffy the Vampire Slayer (my comfort show when my mom was sick). That was pretty great and geeky too.

Friday, August 9, 2013

Mockingjay

SPOILER ALERT: I'm about to talk about the Hunger Games trilogy. Especially the last book, Mockingjay. If you haven't read them and you want to be surprised by them, don't read on. In fact, if you haven’t read them you really shouldn’t read on, and you should instead run to your nearest local bookstore and buy them all. I highly, highly recommend them (but not for children. I don’t care if they’re in the children or young adult section of your local bookstore. They are definitely not for children, and they’re barely for young adults). Plus, it will only take you a few weeks to read the whole trilogy – they’re so engaging you just can’t put them down. Then you can come back and read this blog entry.

Look! Pictures of the books so you can not read the rest of the post if you haven't yet read the series.

I love the Hunger Games books. That sounds a little weird. I mean, why should I love books about children being forced to kill other children? About war and destruction and psychological torture? About a young girl whose life is completely manipulated by the people in power around her?

I love the Hunger Games books because they’re realistic. Katniss is strong, loyal, loving to a select few, extremely cunning, a kickass hunter, and completely broken. She’s imperfect, and she knows it.

Because of all the shit that has happened to her (her father dying in the mines, being sent to the arena twice, having her entire district burned to the ground, watching Peeta’s torture, being manipulated by President Snow, seeing her sister be killed, and on and on and on) she is messed up. She has nightmares and sleepless nights, she lashes out at others, she breaks down at unfortunate times, and she even loses her ability to speak because of psychological damage, not physical damage. The author, Suzanne Collins, presents no illusions about the cost of having to kill, of seeing people die. Katniss is not a perfect hero who just bounces back from everything that’s happened with a smile on her face and a song in her heart.

And that is refreshing. After reading books like the Harry Potter series, or the Eragon series, or the Lord of the Rings series, I always thought to myself, “these people are going to need therapy.” But we don’t see any of that in those books. We don’t see the psychological effects of that much destruction, even though we should. Because no one could witness that much destruction, that much war, without being at least a little messed up.

I relate to Katniss. When I read the books I can feel her need to survive (like when she took care of her mom and sister after her dad died), and I felt that in myself when my mom was sick. I can feel her pain, her grief, her desire to just let morpling or alcohol deaden the pain, because I feel that desire myself. And I feel her wailing, crying, yelling at the cat that Prim is dead, screaming, “she’s not coming back,” because I wail like that myself. Of course, Katniss’ pain and trauma is SO MUCH MORE than I have ever experienced and hopefully more than I will ever experience, so her reactions to the pain are much more violent than mine. I can never fully understand what she’s feeling or thinking. But I do feel the hints of it in my own pain, my own grief. And that is mostly unprecedented in a book of this kind.

So I guess I love the Hunger Games books because they’re dark. They’re painful. They’re violent. But that feels right right now, more right than reading Anne of Green Gables or something else wholesome and sweet.

And I love the Hunger Games books because my mom did. We didn’t get to talk about them much, since I first read them after she was already sick (she had already read them for work, at Hicklebee’s, a local children’s book store), and she couldn’t really articulate all her thoughts about them. But we did get to watch the movie together, twice, and sharing that with her was really special.

She's gone

It took me 3 months, 22 days, 12 hours and 30 minutes to get it. To understand that she’s gone, and she’s not coming back.

Before yesterday at approximately 2:30pm it felt like she was just on vacation. Like some composite of herself-before-the-stroke and herself-after-the-stroke was away for a little while, but would come waltzing in soon, bringing us souvenirs from wherever she was.

It was easier to think that than the alternative: that she was dead and she wasn’t coming back.

I think it’s a sort of defense mechanism – thinking she was on vacation was all I could handle at first. It was my brain, my body protecting me from the truth: that she’s dead and she’s not coming back.

Since yesterday’s realization I’ve slipped back a few times, forgetting that she’s gone. I have to keep reminding myself, telling myself “she’s gone and she’s not coming back.” It may seem cruel to treat myself that way, to be that blunt to myself. But it’s the truth, its reality. I can’t live in a dreamland forever.

So she’s gone, and she’s not coming back. She’s dead and she’s not coming back. Remember that, Katye. It’s time to know that, and to prepare for what that means for the future, from now on.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Comfort in weeping

Today was a really hard day. I had a bad night of sleep. Therapy was hard - all my anxiety about the future (a topic I have been avoiding since I've been immersed in the present) came with a vengeance and without resolution. I cried my eyes out and got snot on my shirt both in my therapist's office and on the car ride home. I was feeling exhausted, but oddly peaceful. I couldn't really figure out why, until I read this quote:

"Those who grieve find comfort in weeping and in arousing their sorrow until the body is too tired to bear the inner emotions."  

- Maimonides, as quoted in "Healing After Loss" by Martha Whitmore Hickman

That's what happened today. I was emotioned out. I was anesthetized to anything else. 

And you know what? It felt really good. Well worth all the excess snot. 


Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Delayed

Things have settled down now - I've moved into a new home, I've unpacked my stuff. For the first time in almost two years I've spent more than ten days in Oakland. I've started to get back in the groove of things - work, hanging out with friends, baking a little, yoga. 

But now that I'm settled, I'm starting to feel the emotions I've pushed down and ignored since my mom got sick. 

I had to ignore the shock when she first got sick, just so I could be with her in the hospital. I had to get rid of the fear of what this would do to her so I could cherish whatever moments I had. I had to ignore the longing for her as I remembered her before so I could be fully present with her after the stroke. I had to hide the overwhelming sadness just so I could get through the day, and so I could make her laugh as often as possible. 

But now it's over. But now I have time to breathe. So now everything I put on hold is here. 

Fear. Sadness. Longing. They've been delayed, but now they're gonna be here for a little while. 

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

3 months

Today is the three month mark. She’s been gone for three months.

This is what I remember today:

I remember walking in to her room in the ICU, just after she had gotten out of the surgery that stopped the bleeding and removed the tumor in her brain. We had no idea, and I mean no idea, what her mental capacity was. We were told that it was likely that she would be vegetable, that she would have no cognitive function at all.

But my sister and I walked in, and my dad, who had gone in a few minutes before us, said to her, “Here are your daughters, Katye and Rebecca.” And we each said hi to her, and as we did she started to cry. She couldn’t move at all – her eyes didn’t open, she couldn’t move any part of her body, partially because of the stroke and partially because of the drugs they’d given her before and after the surgery – but tears ran down her face.

And that’s how I knew that my mother still knew me. That’s how I knew that my mother still knew she had daughters. That’s how I knew that my mother was in there, somewhere.

I don’t know why I remembered this today. Maybe its because I was lying in savasana, corpse pose, in a yoga class, and that made me think of my mother lying in corpse pose. Or maybe I just needed to remember that, against all odds and against the opinion of her doctors, she worked and pushed and struggled to heal and improve, so she could spend as much time with us as possible. She’s three months gone, but twenty months more alive than anyone expected her to be.

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Grief looks different

Grief looks different for different people.

One friend who lost a parent liked to make events significant. There was symbolism in the simple things. Holidays meant sweet times of remembrance and care taken to honor the loved one lost. Finding deep meaning helped this friend to grieve well.

Another friend who lost a parent didn’t want to talk about it. Friends were asked to not ask, to act as if nothing had happened. Normalcy was the best way for this friend to mourn the loss.

Throwing yourself back into work, having minor or major meltdowns, moving to a new state, purging all your loved ones’ things, keeping your loved ones’ room the same as it always was – these are all ways to cope. They’re all valid, they’re all legitimate, they’re all okay. One isn’t better, more effective, more healthy than the other.

But none of them are my way.

My way to grieve is messy. It means lots of tissues and stuffy noses. It means crying until my mascara somehow disappears from my face (I mean seriously, does my skin absorb it? I don’t know where it all goes). It means slogging through a range of emotions (anger, denial, sadness, fear, etc), all of which make me cry, and often sob.

My way to grieve means finding other people who have grieved. It means talking to friends who have lost loved ones. It means reading books about death, dying, grieving, mourning. It means watching movies and TV shows about people who have lost someone.

My way to grieve means talking about my mom and my grief with friends who love me. (This can often be really uncomfortable for my friends, because it’s really disconcerting to see me cry my eyes out. But I promise to all my friends out there that I cry on a dime, and I don’t mind it at all. So don’t be afraid to make me cry or see me cry. It’s how I emote and I don’t feel uncomfortable when it happens.) It means talking through tears, crying and laughing simultaneously, and remembering how much of my crying gene I inherited from my mother.

My way to grieve means taking breaks from grief. It means working when I need to work, putting on a happy face, and being capable in the workplace. It means staying on top of my professional to do list, and having very pleasant phone and email voice. (Exclamation points! Upward intonation in certain phrases!)

My ways, other peoples’ ways, all ways – they’re valid, they’re legitimate, they’re okay. Some are easier to see, to deal with than others. Some are more widely “acceptable” in American culture than others. But all ways deserve respect, recognition, and support.

Because grief is effing hard. And everybody grieves. So let’s support one another in it, no matter what it looks like.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Most days

Most days it just feels like she's on an extended vacation. Like if I wait long enough she'll be back. I think I just can't wrap my head around what it means for her to not be there, ever again. 

I wonder when, or if, that'll ever sink in. When will I really know that she's gone? 

Monday, July 8, 2013

Presents

I find myself giving lots of presents. 

Every time I go somewhere new, somewhere away from home I want to bring back presents for my dad and my sister. They could be small, silly presents - a pencil that looks like a paintbrush for my sister. They could be cheap presents - thrifted earrings that I really like, but that I think my sister would like even more. Most often they're tasty presents - pastries from a Cuban bakery for my dad, other tasty treats from my vacation in Portland this week (no spoilers, Dad! You have to wait til this weekend!)

I guess I've always kinda liked giving gifts, at least the thoughtful kind, the kind where you see something and you just know you have to buy it for so-and-so. But I learned my gift-giving ways from my mom. 

My mom was the master gift giver, and giving gifts truly brought her joy. She has presents for every holiday - she'd have red, pink and chocolate themed gifts for Valentine's Day and she'd make beautiful Easter baskets filled with candy and trinkets (she'd even make these for my friends from college who couldn't fly back home for the weekend). Her Christmas gifts were a mix of things I'd ask for and things she'd surprise me with (which would, of course, be perfect). She'd put gift cards in our Christmas stockings, and because my dad, my sister and I each have different tastes she'd make the extra effort to pick up the gift cards from different places - Starbucks for my dad, Sephora for my sister and Peets for me. 

Her gifts were never extravagant or impractical - instead of expensive jewelry or fancy clothes I was more likely to get mixing bowls for the kitchen or some books that I had wanted. But they were numerous. I think she liked being able to treat us to pretty things every now and then after growing up in a large family without any disposable income. 

Now that she's gone I feel myself looking for gifts wherever I go. Even if there's no occasion for it I want to bring back something special for my family. Something about the process of gift-giving makes me feel closer to my mom, like I'm living out the lessons she's taught me. And even though she's not around to fill the stockings or load up the Easter baskets maybe I can keep the traditions going, and keep her spirit alive, at least a little bit. 

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

As Marcel Proust would say...

"...there is no more ridiculous custom than the one that makes you express sympathy once and for all on a given day to a person whose sorrow will endure as long as his life. Such grief, felt in such a way, is always "present," it is never too late to talk about it, never repetitious to mention it again."

          - Marcel Proust

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Exhausted

Sometimes I forget how exhausted I am. I keep going, moving, doing and it feels fine - like it did before she died.

But then I sit down. I pause. I take a minute to eat a meal. And the exhaustion overwhelms me. My eyes droop, my head is muddy, and all I want to do is sleep for weeks. 

Grief is exhausting. Sadness is exhausting. Depression is exhausting. Twenty months of non-stop working, driving, caring for my mom was exhausting. 

Rest. I need rest. But how do you rest when slowing down leads to grief which leads to exhaustion, and the depression and sadness don't go away? 

Monday, June 17, 2013

My Dad is Awesome (Happy Belated Father's Day)

Since yesterday was Father's Day, I owe my dad a "you're super awesome" Father's Day post. So here it is:

I love my dad. He's kind, funny, loving. He's not afraid to say that he loves me or to tell me I'm beautiful. He's always proud of me, no matter what. He has high hopes for me but he's never angry when I fail. Even though he was a busy pastor for most of my life I always felt like he was around, like he was present. Even though he got hurt when I was 14 and couldn't physically do as much has he used to, he was still Superman - still able to take care of me, and my sister, and my mom - even if it meant he hurt more.

His Superman-ness has been even more evident over the course of the past two years when my mom was sick. He cared for her constantly, putting her needs before his own. He took care of finances and household chores, and even sold my parents' old house in the meantime. And even though he was in pain, and even though he was tired, he took care of me. He'd make me dinner, never letting me help. He'd check in with me, talk to me, and give me some of the best hugs ever. At the same time he opened up to me, shared his pain with me, cried with me, and involved me in decisions about my mom's health, about his health, and about life in general.

And even now, in the midst of his own pain and grief over losing his wife, he takes care of me. He welcomes me home with a huge hug; he cooks me dinner; he checks in with me; he even lets me watch Psych which he really isn't fond of. He could have become selfish, closed off, or been overcome with his own pain. But he's not. He always, always cares for, no matter what.

In the midst of everything, and even though I'm 26 years old, he's still my daddy. And right now, with my mom gone, I need my daddy more than ever.

He also (sometimes) has trouble with technology. But it makes for a funny set of pictures!





Dilemma

Sometimes it seems like people have forgotten. It seems like people have forgotten that the biggest thing, the most life-changing thing has just happened to me, to my family, to my mom.

The analytical side of me says that they haven't forgotten, they just don't know what to say. Death makes people uncomfortable, sadness makes people squirm, so talking to a sad girl about her dead mom certainly isn't pleasant. And I mean, what do you ask? "How are you doing?" can't be answered honestly, unless you have a good chunk of time to talk. "How's your dad doing" doesn't really do it either, especially when the person asking doesn't know my dad. 

So what does that leave? Mostly it leaves silence, or unrelated-to-dead-mom conversation topics. 

Except she's all I'm thinking about. She's all I want to talk about. She's a greater presence in my life now than she was before she died. The only time I'm not thinking about her is when I'm distracted by work and TV - and sometimes even then she's there. 

I don't know a solution to this dilemma. I don't know how to tell people it's okay to ask me about my mom. I don't know how to make people less uncomfortable around death and sadness. And I don't know the good questions to ask that don't sound trite or awkward.

All I do know is that if you really want to know how I'm doing, if you really want to check in with me, then just ask. Ask me questions about how I'm doing, ask me questions about what I'm thinking about her. (If I don't want to answer them right then I'll let you know. I'm very good at speaking my mind.) It may make me sad; it may even make me cry. But I know I can handle it, and I think you can too. 

Friday, June 14, 2013

The card

Today when I got to my dad's condo I noticed a card on the mantle. I thought someone had sent him a card for Father's Day (though I couldn't think of who would - my sister and I are spending the day with him on Sunday), or maybe to remember his and my mom's wedding anniversary (they would have been married 32 years today).

I went over to read the card, and I saw that it wasn't signed. Odd, but not unheard of. 

And then I read the card. It starts with "For the man I love" and ends with "Happy Fathers Day." 

I thought my dad had bought it for himself - my parents gave cards to each other on lots of occasions; it was kinda their thing, one of their ways of saying I love you. It would make sense for him to buy himself a card that my mom would have bought him for his first wedding anniversary, his first Father's Day without her. 

So I asked him where the card came from. And he said "it came from Mom."

He told me that a few weeks ago he was cleaning out my mom's desk drawer, and he found this card. She must have bought it before her stroke, almost two years ago. (Though that would put the buying in August, which is a little off season for a Father's Day card, so it may have been even earlier than that.) She liked it so much she kept it to give to him for the next Father's Day. But she (understandably) forgot about it, and he didn't find it until a few weeks ago, after she had died. 

So sitting on the mantle is my mom's last Father's Day and anniversary card to my dad. Sitting on the mantle is a card that expresses her love for him, even after she's gone. Even after she's passed away my mom is still finding ways to tell her husband of 32 years and the father of her children that she loves him.

The kind of love my parents had, that kind of commitment, doesn't disappear with death. And if you don't believe me just look at this card. 

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Grammar

I still catch myself, sometimes, using the wrong tense. Saying things like "my mom's eyes are green" instead of "my mom's eyes were green." I'm pretty good about it most of the time, but sometimes it just slips out. I've been speaking about my mom in the present tense for so long it's not natural to speak in the past. 

Even more often I catch myself talking about my parents in the plural. Things like  "my parents' condo" or "my parents' storage unit." It take a lot of thought to say "my dad's condo" or "my dad's storage unit." Even though they're officially not my parents' anymore - they are officially, on all the paperwork and everything, my dad's. 

I wonder when my grammar is going to catch up with reality. And I wonder if I'll ever really believe that my parents' condo is just my dad's. 

Saturday, June 8, 2013

Earrings

Today I bought some really awesome earrings.

Every time I see them I think (1) I'm so glad I bought these cuz they're awesome and (2) I really want to call Mom and tell her about them. 

The second is a little weird. Because when she was sick I didn't really call her, because she couldn't pick up the phone, and because I could just show her new things every time I went to San Jose. 

But now, now that she's gone, time is starting to... shift. Even though before she was sick we didn't have the close relationship we had when she died, and even though when she died she couldn't answer the phone, the mom I'm thinking about has a little bit of everything. She's my best friend and she can walk and she's in a wheelchair and she can and can't answer the phone. Confused? Me too. 

I guess all I know for sure is that I want to call my mom. I want to tell her about my new earrings and I want to show her how cute the are, and I want to tell her and show her everything I'm doing and seeing. Basically I just want her to be here. 



Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Best friend

I realized yesterday that for the 20 months after the stroke my mom wasn't just my mom - she was also my best friend.

Before the stroke was different. Even though I never lived more than two hours away I would only visit every few months or so. We'd talk on the phone occasionally, at least once every two weeks, but often it would just be quick conversations and logistical questions. Nothing too deep and meaningful. 

After I graduated college we started to get closer. She took this class about justice and started reading books I'd read - The Powers That Be by Walter Wink and Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger by Ronald Sider. We'd have conversations about social justice, and she shared about wanting to do more justice work in her life. We were starting to have the same interests and the worldview, and I felt like I could finally talk to her about stuff I cared about. 

She supported me when I started therapy. She helped me decide to go in the first place, and she was the person I called when everything felt hard and confusing. For the first time I was really confiding in my mom - we were becoming friends and confidants. 

And then the stroke happened. And I spent as many days as I could by her side in the hospital. I would drive out every afternoon to spend time with her. On weekends I would stay overnight with my dad, in the RV he was using, so I didn't have to drive back and forth so much. 

She was my first priority - other relationships didn't matter, other plans were put on the back burner or canceled all together. I wouldn't always answer the phone for my friends, but I would always answer for her (well, really my dad, since she couldn't dial the phone herself). 

And then when she was back in San Jose I visited at least once a week, sometimes more. I spent more time with her than I did with anyone else (except my dad, and that was only because he stayed up later than my mom's nine o'clock bedtime). 

I would do things with her that I would normally do with friends - I would tell her about work, and adventures I had. I would bring her presents whenever I found something that reminded me of her. I would show her all my thrifting finds. I would ask her advice on outfits and shoe choices. I would make her meals and desserts, and celebrate my holidays with her. And I would tell her how I was doing, which often involved crying with her and laughing with her. We had inside jokes, I translated for her, and when people came over we would commiserate together as introverts who needed some quiet. 

And then there were the things that made our relationship even closer, closer than friendships ever are. I would take her to the bathroom and help her pull her pants on and off. I changed her diaper and wiped her when she couldn't stand anymore. I gave her injections in the mornings and spoon-fed her applesauce with medicine when she stopped being able to move her own hand. I picked out outfits for her and helped her put everything on, down to her underclothes. I picked her up so she could move from chair to wheelchair, and I almost dropped her at least once. I painted her nails, I brushed her teeth, and I gave her her meals on a tray. 

We were really close. Closer than I'd ever been with her. Closer than I've ever been with anyone. And now I have this giant hole where all the time I spent with mom, was thinking about mom, was praying for mom went. And I have this giant hole where my best friend used to be. 

I lost a mom and a best friend at the same time. It's no wonder it hurts so much. 

Friday, May 31, 2013

Reliving

Whenever I stop, whenever I sit still, whenever I'm not distracted by work or friends or TV I relive. I relive the moment I saw my mom after she had died. I relive the last three days when she stopped opening her eyes. I relive holding her hand, kissing her forehead, giving her ground up meds mixed with water.

I don't just see a picture of her like this. I relive it. I can smell what the room smelled like. I can feel what her skin felt like. I can hear what her breathing sounded like. I close my eyes and I'm there. 

And it hurts so much I can barely breathe. It hurts so much I can't make a sound. It hurts so much that I'm shaking long after I distract myself again.

I don't try to remember, try to relive this moment. It just comes on its own. I can't conjure it, and I don't want too. It's so personal, so soul-wrenching that I don't want to be around friends when it happens, even while I long for someone to comfort me. 

This was happening at the end of April. And it's still happening now. Slowly, slowly, as I rest and process and go to therapy and give myself space, I hope this turns into one of many memories, instead of the only memory. Slowly, slowly I want to remember more of my mom. 

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Love you forever

I was at a friend's baby shower today, and she had a children's book theme. Everyone brought one or more of their favorite children's books. All the food and favors were children's book themed too. 

I love this theme, of course, because I love children's books and my mom did too (how can you not when you work at an independent children's bookstore?).

After the shower my friends and I spent some time reading through some of our favorite books. Books like The Napping House and The Runaway Bunny and Goodnight Moon. And a book I had completely forgotten - Love You Forever. 

Love You Forever is a book about a mom who through the years rocks her sleeping son back and forth and sings "I'll love you forever, I'll like you for always, as long as I'm living my baby you'll be."

She sings this to him as he grows up, even when he's an adult and living on his own. (I'll ignore the fact that to do this she sneaks in through his bedroom window.)

One day, when the mother is old and very sick, she calls her son, and he goes to his mother, and he picks her up and sings "I'll love you forever, I'll like you for always, as long as I'm living my Mommy you'll be."

I know that as long as my mom was living she loved me, liked me, and saw me as her baby. And now (or really a month ago) I pick her up and sing to her: "I'll love you forever, I'll like you for always, as long as I'm living my Mommy you'll be."


One month

Yesterday was one month. One month since I've seen my mom - or at least seen her in real life. I see her in my dreams, in my head all the time. 

It still just feels like she's on vacation. It feels like it did when I was a kid and she went to Hawaii to visit her best friend for a week. It feels like she'll walk through the door any minute, even though she hadn't been able to walk for almost two years. 

It's still hard to be far away from my parents' house (my dad's house). Even being back in Oakland feels to far. Too far from where she was, from where she is in my memories. 

I still can't remember much of her before the stroke - I know the before memories will come back eventually, but her last twenty months were so traumatic, so life-engulfing that before feels too far away. 

What I do remember is her, three days after she stopped getting out of bed, three days into sleeping almost all day long. I had to go back to Oakland for the day, so I whispered goodbye to her. Even though she was sleeping I told her that I loved her and I'd be back soon. Without opening her eyes she said, over and over again "no, no, no, no, no." It was the hardest thing I've ever had to do, leaving her when she kept asking me to stay. 

Now I'm the one who wants to say "no, no, no, no, no," enough time so she'll stay. Maybe if I say it just right she'll come back.