Polaris

I can’t adequately express how deeply Alex cared for Z’s opinion.  Her approval wasn’t just important – her approval was the only thing that mattered.  Z was Alex’s litmus test.  If Z disapproved of a person, Alex wouldn’t stay friends.  If someone didn’t like Z, Alex wouldn’t stay friends.  Z’s input was paramount and her approval was non-negotiable.

Z made quick decisions where Alex does not.  Z had strong opinions and was better at shutting down situations that weren’t in her best interest.  It got Z into trouble a couple of times, but largely Z was the model.

It seems questionable, but with all Alex’s life complications her personal interactions don’t come easy.  Alex, 100% of the time, believes what people tell her is always truth.  Alex believes everyone’s intentions are genuine and good.   Alex wants everyone to be happy.

Z, on the other hand,  was jaded and assumed everyone has an angle.  She liked to argue.  Where Alex naturally believes that everyone is genuine, Z started every interaction with suspicion.

Alex leaned on that for balance.

After Alex’s second day of college I asked her how everything was going.  She told me school causes her anxiety.

Later I found it is because she no longer has Z to blaze a trail.  Z didn’t start college, so she couldn’t tell Alex how to handle the next part of life.  Z’s perspective and advise is gone.

Alex is left to navigate the waters alone.  She has no reference.  She has no one to tell her which direction to go. She has no one to make the decision when standing at impasse.

Of course, Jay and I are there to help but parents are dumb, and we don’t know things.

Losing Z has exceeded Alex’s capacity for change.   She has no means for navigation.  She is unmoored.   She is lost.  She is leading her life without a chaperone.

It is not school that gives Alex anxiety.  It is the loss of her north star.

0 stars.  Would not recommend.

Mother’s Day

Mother’s day is complicated.  For the most part, relationships with our collective mothers falls into one of three camps:  1) Everything is great.  2) Your relationship with motherhood is, best case, complicated. 3) Half of the mother/child combo has passed.

Up until this year, only situation #1 has ever applied to me.  I have a great relationship with my mom and my children.  We freely express our love and I don’t really feel like I need an extra day to tell my mom I love her.  I tell her I love her on a pretty frequent basis and I don’t love her extra on mother’s day.  I love her all of the time.

I disliked mother’s day for situation numbers 2 & 3.  Empathy killed it for me.

I ache for the women that only achieved motherhood for a brief, shining moment and then had it taken away, and the moms that tried so, so hard – but couldn’t ever make it happen.  I feel for the kids in foster care that got cheated out of the kind of mom I have.  I hurt for the step-mothers that give everything to their partner’s children and get forgotten because “your not my real mom”.   I see the pain of the women that have lost their mothers; even if they’ve passed at a reasonable age, the loss of a mother doesn’t sting any less.

We place so much emphasis on our perfect families and wonderful Mother’s day cards and brunches and gifts that it fills up our facebook pages and spills into the rest of the weekend.  But, in my experience anyway, mother’s day hits far more people painfully than joyfully.

For most of us, Mother’s day isn’t hand-print flowers and prom pictures and celebration of a special relationship  – it’s hard and it’s rough and it’s a day of tears and an extra glass of wine.

I don’t begrudge any mother that has what everyone wants.  I don’t begrudge anyone anything good in their lives.  Maybe motherhood is the only thing that some women have.

What we have is a day that celebrates deeply complicated emotion and circumstance.  It reaches out and stabs you with a thousand toothpicks.

So, for my friends that have lost children, could never have children, miscarried or still-delivered, my friends that have lost their mothers, my friends that are step-mothers, my friends that gave their babies to other families, my friends that are single moms with no support, my friends raising grandchildren when their own children can’t, my friends that are anxiously wait for their children to come back, my friends that have given up on their dreams of motherhood, and my friends that have escaped their own mothers (because not all mothers are good), today I think of you.  I hope your heart aches less tomorrow than it did today.

Starting next year – I will stop celebrating mother’s day and start celebrating the strong women.  The women that have propped me up when I was going to crumble under the weight of life.  The women I admire as role-models and pillars of strength.  The women that do their best every day.  The women that smile and love and give everything to everybody.  The women that get up and run when they are tired and the women that love and protect – no matter their children or mothers or the complications that go along with those titles.

I’m checking out on Mother’s day.  Instead I will absolutely use the opportunity to celebrate and appreciate the strength in all women.  They strength I see every day, mother or not.

 

The Last, Worst, Best Celebration

This coming July 4th will be the internment for both Z and Joe.   Planning for this event really is not great.  At all.  I hate everything about it.

July 4th is two things:  1. It was Joe’s favorite holiday.  Bar none.  He lived for the 4th of July.  He, fittingly, died on the 4th of July.  2. It is our family’s vacation week.  We’ll miss Christmas or Thanksgivings or life milestones, but we do not miss the week of July 4th.

Their funerals were a respective group effort.  I’d planned his funeral as best I could before he passed;  Her funeral was an arrangement of plans and favors mushed together by people coming together to help out.  We united our pieces for that.  Their funerals were soundly group efforts.  This event is mine.  It is my opus for their lives.  My requiem for their love and spirit and shine.

I’ve made sure the clergy is available, the time is in place.  I’ve gotten word out for local hotel accommodation (birchlodge.com).  I’m menu planning, looking for seating rentals, decorations, and party favors (?).  I’ve got some live music lined up and I’m trying so, so hard to be as festive as possible.

I don’t want another horrible day in the memory of either of these two amazing people that were both jovial and fun loving.  It will be horrible because that is an inescapable part of the day.  It will be good because I am determined to love.

I’ll make sure we have a vigil campfire and the wind chimes from St. Mary’s faculty and staff will be hung up.   We will all be armed with funny stories and our favorite memories.  I’m banking on one of the older generation to not hear something correctly and get a little confused.   We will eat and drink and be merry.

This would have been the party I planned for her low-key wedding that she won’t have. This would have been the party I planned for the 40th birthday he didn’t make it to.

The party is getting expensive but this is the last party I’ll have specifically for either of these loves.

I want to make it nice.  I want it to be special.  I want the day to be filled with laughter and love and celebration of two lives that were perfect to me.

I want everyone in the world to be there and be happy and reminiscent and be sad and devastated.  I want to light the biggest fireworks I can find.  I want to usher in some joy even though joy will be a tall order.

A terrible reason to have a good party.  0 stars.  Would not recommend.

 

 

 

Cool for the Summer

Today was the day.  The head-shaving day.

I got so anxious at work that I had to leave early.  I made myself sick to my stomach thinking about my hair.  I really do like my hair.

After some wine and chili, I went upstairs with Jay and Alex.  The first cut was rather dramatic.  By the end I was just annoyed at how long it took.  I had a lot of hair that had to be taken off and it was not coming easily.  Alex took over the cutting situation.  Jay had to finish the job.

I was in charge of all Joe’s haircuts.  One summer I carved a mohowk into his head for our week in the outer banks. I kept it trim sometimes.  Other times it got real wily.   He had his clippers and for all the years we were together, he was part of the Dr. Amy special haircuts program.  There were others on the program.  Including my dad once.  But just once.  (I mean, it was just one small patch).  After Joe passed, I moved his clippers with me.  They went on to cut more hair and then eventually they got put into the top of the bathroom closet.  As with a lot of weird items, I have an emotional attachment to something that really needed to be thrown away.

I cut off my hair with his clippers.

Z also sported this look for a while.  Three Haircuts day was a part of that.  With little exception, she lived with and passed away with short hair.  She would have loved every minute of the current situation.

With all of the haircuts I’ve given looming just inside the clippers, I made the plunge.  I drank from my Mary Poppins mug, I had the balance of my family with me in the bathroom.  It was a group effort.

I could almost hear Z behind me, giddy with excitement.  It wasn’t all Z.  It was Alex, giddy with excitement for the change.  Alex and Z.  And Joe.  And all of the rock-and-roll in my life cheering into the universe around me while Jay finished what I could not.

0 stars.  Would not recommend.

 

20180503_204324

Catharsis

I’m having surgery on my head this coming Friday.  Six incisions.  Most all of the hair on top of my head has to be shaved off plus a patch above my ear and another spot on the back of my head.  It sounds way worse than it actually is.  Had I taken care of my situation 10 years ago, I wouldn’t be staring down the business end of a #2 guard on my clippers.  My surgeon advised the most prudent thing would be for me to take all of my hair off.  So much has to come off the top center that leaving unshaved portions would be ridiculous at best.  When I talked with my hairdresser, I told her I needed to make an appointment to have her shave my head the day before the surgery.

She told me no.  Absolutely not.  She’d clean it up post-op, but the actual shaving would be something I do *for myself*.

Head shaving is an emotional operation.  It is not a time to surrender my emotions to the salon and everybody in that day.  It will be cathartic. I need to own it.

As with most adults, I’ve been to several funerals and burials.  When I arrive at the cemetery, the hole is open and everything is set and ready for a quick abdication of life into earth.  Prayers, grief, hugs, casket into prepared hole, and we’re off to lunch.  It’s a swift symphony practiced to the Nth degree by all end-of-life professionals.

Things are different in the UP.  Rules are more… interpretive (?). This summer, I have the option to dig the hole for Z and Joe’s urns myself.  Just like in the old-timey movies, the family goes early, does the digging and the filling.  No prepped site, a DIY situation any of us would be wholly unprepared for.

I really struggle with this option.  It is at once paralyzingly fearful and fittingly perfect.  I brought this girl into the world with labor, I cared for him with my labor. I can put them back to the universe with labor.  I can and do this last physical act on their behalf.  I can sweat out the grief I’ll have pent up that day.  I can bring my family along for that ride and we can work it out together.

Maybe digging the hole will be the actual catharsis I need in the burial rite.  Maybe it will be a thousand degrees and I’ll wonder who made this dumb decision and why isn’t the professional there with his powered equipment.

Also maybe I’ve turned the proposed hole-digging transaction into a scene from an overly-dramatic ham-fisted movie assigned a “C” grade in Entertainment Weekly.

Whatever the case, I have plenty of opportunity for profound melodrama in the upcoming season.  I really do have a need for a physical change to marker this time in my life and the universe is answering that in spades.  My bald-headed self in a sweltering July cemetery  digging a stupid hole for these stupid urns that I didn’t ask for.   The picture itself is ridiculous beyond what I could have ever imagined.

And probably achingly cathartic.  Which is something I need*.

Solidly 0 stars.  Would not recommend.

*Dear universe:  I also need to win a powerball.  Since my life seems to be winning insane odds in tragedy, please ante in on that as well.

 

The Spring Clean

I spent yesterday doing spring cleaning.  I opened the back door to let our pets come and go, switch out the house air, and just enjoy the warmth before the bugs swarm.  I did some hard core cleaning on the big light over my kitchen table.  When I was done, I discovered I probably broke it.  It won’t turn on anymore because apparently the dust had become part of the circuitry and removing that delicate structure caused delumination.  I also have an old banged up silver-plate water pitcher that I use to hold my wooden spoons.  I really only clean it up once a year.  I did that yesterday and I’d forgotten how cute it is when properly cleaned.

My older daughter has struggled her entire life.  Things that are easy for others are difficult for her.  She has Asperger’s Syndrome occurring with anxiety and mood disorders, depression, and ADD (for good measure).  She’s a trove of diagnoses.  Her moods and feelings and actions generate from a different place than mine or Jay’s or most others.

She is 11 months older than Z.  And where Alex struggles, Z was charmed.  Alex spent her 15th birthday inpatient in a psychiatric hospital.  Z’s 15th birthday was so standard-issue I can’t remember the details.   For the past 10+ years, Alex’s life has been a tornado of medication, serious self-harm, doctors, counselors, trips to the emergency room, and attempted suicide.

The truth is, on some deep level, I have long understood the outcome of my life might include the loss of a child.  It just wasn’t Z.  For anyone that raises an emotionally complicated child, this isn’t ground-breaking news.  This is standard issue life.

Last week Alex was very upset with me.  With others.  With life.  She couldn’t see how love could overcome differences in opinion.  She was passionate about her stand.  I understood her need.  I wanted so desperately to drive love, above all things, into her brain.  Into her soul.  I tried rationalizing.  She didn’t buy it.  After two days we came to a stale mate on the subject.

In her frustration and anger she told me she was sorry that it was Z that was gone and not her.  She was accusing me of having that sentiment.  In the moment there was (and is) complicated traumatic grief she can’t articulate.  Were the feelings mine or hers?  She didn’t know.  And, right then, it didn’t matter;  Our lives are woven together.

I love my arduous daughter with the same urgency I love my easy daughter. My complicated daughter has trouble expressing complicated thought.  The minutia of her feelings are so intertwined that all individual colors turn gray and come out lumped together.

She’s had a life full of internal pain that isn’t easily assuaged.  Adding in complicated grief is a weight I can’t quite comprehend.

Because her emotions don’t display in the typical way, it’s easy for me to forget I’m not the only one in my house so deeply broken.  She watched her step-dad slowly move from a strong man to a wheel-chair bound man ravaged by cancer.  She grieved for the father that doted on her starting her first grade.  She grieves for her sister, the alter-ego she put on a pedestal and idolized above everyone else in the world.

Today she sent me a trailer for a movie with a strong female lead.  It’s an action movie where a mother and her daughters are victim to a home invasion and the mother turns the tables on the bad guys and takes control of the situation.  It comes out on mother’s day.  She thinks we should see it together.   Obviously we will.

Yesterday while I was busy cleaning/breaking my kitchen light and shining my spoon holder, she was dusting the mantel and vacuuming the family room and cleaning the bathroom vanity.

She worked along side me to clean things up, looking toward a different spring.

 

Tax Day

I am an Olympic level procrastinator.  I attained my 3rd degree black-belt in procrastination when I was in elementary school.  Which is pretty much why I didn’t file my taxes until yesterday.

Also, I itemize my taxes and that’s another reason I was so late.  I didn’t want to face the dates on my receipts and statements.  I didn’t want to dig the happy times out of my receipt box and compare them to now.

Write-offs for June when we were planning what Z would take to college and what would stay at home.  Write-offs for July when Z was happily taking care of her charges as a nanny.  Write-offs for early August when the start of the next part of life was looming for both my girls.

I stopped keeping track of my receipts in August.  Alex’s college plans got derailed for a while.   Neither daughter started their respective colleges that fall.

I really detest the minefield of looking back at dates and remembering what was going on in the months prior to Z’s passing.  Right now, all of those memories are ticked with a sense of lugubriousness rather than a feeling of gratefulness for the the good times we had that summer.  Up until mid-August, it really was a good summer.

One of the things those of us that have suffered traumatic loss strive for is the sense of gratefulness.  Even though they are gone, I am happy I got the time I did.  I am happy for this and I am happy that happened. (lies I tell myself)

I was there regarding my time with Joe.  It’s gotten a little off track in the past months, but I am so, so happy I had him in my life for those years.  When I remember him, I don’t immediately remember how sick he was.  I don’t remember his death or funeral.  I don’t rush to anything sad.  Instead, my memories flood in with everything happy.  Our travels, our shenanigans, our budding life.  I am grateful.  I am grateful I was able to feel that profound and deep love for him.  And I’m  grateful I had the privilege of taking care of him from health through to death.

I’ve always felt much more at ease helping others rather than accepting help.  I am in the camp that leans toward the idea that true and deep love is displayed in accepting help rather than giving it.  Accepting help (in my mind) displays personal vulnerability.  I am only vulnerable in the company those I love.

Joe gave his care fully to me.  I was in charge of all angles of his treatment and care.  The whole shebang.  The only thing I didn’t do was actually ingest any medication on his behalf.  I’ve always felt that was his ultimate display of love for me.  Letting me take care of him in such a personal and defenseless way.  I am grateful for everything about our relationship.  Even the shitty parts.

I’m not there yet with Z.  I just can’t get a handle of being grateful for the time I did get with her over my feelings of the un-fairness of her loss.  I mean I am happy and proud she was my daughter.  And I’m proud of the woman she (nearly) was.  But more than that I feel defrauded by the universe.  I really don’t want that to be my first emotion.

I suppose that’s part of the process.  And I hope it wanes into the same sort of gratefulness I feel when I think of my late husband.  I know it will.  I know I will come to be grateful before I am angry.  It’s just not right now.

My taxes are submitted.  I’ve navigated the angry waters of last year’s calendar.  I look forward to the future and keep hope that my frustration will subside into peace.  I know peace can come.  I’ve looked it in the face.

It is part of the process.

This process sucks.  0 stars.  Would not recommend.