Wednesday, July 24, 2013


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


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.