Judgement

I have a new hobby.  Which is weird in that I’ve decided on at least 17 new hobbies I want to pursue, but never seem to get past the “buy the book” stage of the situation.  I have lots of books about new hobbies.

I  judge deaths.

I look through the obituaries of the local newspapers in Michigan and check them all.  Is it someone I know? (it never is).  How old is the decedent?  Younger than 75? (too young).  Is the word “suddenly” included in the obituary of a middle-aged person (today there was one).

For the Grand Rapids obituaries, I wonder if I’ll see new members at my sad parents group.  If not, I hope they shelter at one of the other sad parent’s groups around the city.  Everyone needs the support.

With the exception of infant deaths, everyone is smiling in their final pictures.  I like that, but it makes me even more sad.  Although, to be fair, the photo we chose for Z’s obituary didn’t inclulde a smile.  It was a prom picture.  She looked like a sprite engulfed in pink fluff in front of Lake Michigan.

Everyone gets an okay/not okay judgement from me.  Age is the only criteria.

How many parents survived?  How many people feel the loss?  Did a mother or father lose a partner in addition to a child?  Level II unacceptable.  Was there an entire family lost at one time?  Level III unacceptable.

I don’t judge the method of loss (an overdose is no more or less tragic than a long disease).  I don’t judge income (grief does not check in on bank account balances).  I don’t judge race or gender or family status (no life is unworthy of longevity).

I mine the papers for adjacent grief.  I mourn with those that don’t know I’m looking on from afar.  I’m not compelled to visit anyone or drop a note.  I just offer silent prayer and I get it.

Really, I want to make pants (I hate shopping for pants).  I want to make backpacks and tote bags (I even purchased the material for a cool tote bag).  I’d rather be a comedy writer (I’m looking for a hulu exec to option my half-scripts).  I’d rather be a professional back-yard whiskey maker.  I’d rather keep chickens and goats.  Or buffalo.  That’d be cool.

I could clean out my basement.  I could organize my pantry.  Instead I read obituaries and commune through the universe with those that don’t know I’m looking out for them.

I don’t welcome anyone to this stupid group.  I merely watch for them coming and hold the door open.

0 stars.  Would not recommend.

Jealousy

I get jealous pretty easily.  I dislike that about me.

When I was growing up,  I wanted to be a stay at home mom and raise a family.  I wanted to be crafty.  Maybe be a freelance writer for extra vacation money.  I wanted children that were wildly happy and successful.  I wanted to retire early and spend time on my lake in the UP.

Instead, I had two children in very rapid succession with a man that *was not a good guy* and shed that dead weight and started my life as a single mom.  I had amazing parent support, but I didn’t have a partner.  I didn’t have the partner support I needed to raise kids.  Having my parents help me was amazing and I’ll be forever grateful.  But it’s not the same.

My marriage to Joe seemed to be a course correction, but it ended up being all cancer, all the time.

Unemployment.  I lost a job that I loved.  But they at least felt bad and covered the cobra insurance I needed to keep my husband in treatment.  It was a mixed blessing.  I loved that job.  And everyone there.

Widow.

Single Parent. Again.

I worked hard, but it was hard.  I was by myself again, except this time I had the flowering mental illness in Alex to deal with.  My life wasn’t happy children, it was frequent self harm and destruction and anger and fear and misguided attempts at talk therapy.

Would my child be alive when I got home?  Would I find a suicide victim in her bed?  Would all of the glasses be shattered?  What mess will I have?  Will I find out today that a drug addiction found it’s way into her life as it does in so, so many of the others that struggle with mental illness?  Would she have cut so deeply that she needs stitches again?

The doctors at the walk in clinic stopped giving me literature on self-harm and depression and anxiety disorders.

Unemployment. Again.

I lost a job that I loved and thought I was going to stay at for the rest of my career.

I have only unemployment income and no prescription coverage.  Alex’s meds were half of the unemployment benefit I received.  The remaining $700 did not cover my brand new house payment.  Luckily, my new partner floated me through this.

Mental illness strengthens.

Z is gone.

I don’t talk about this because want anyone to feel like they need to cheer me up or be positive, but because it’s the root of my jealousy.

I don’t begrudge anyone that’s had a good life or has the things that I want.  It’s the further away from Z I get, the more deeply it sets in that life has given me more lemons than my bowl can handle.  They’re leaking all over the counter.  Spilled onto the floor.  I have stupid lemon juice all over the floor.

I want to be the pretty one, I want to be the athletic one, I want to have the put-together house and the firm schedule and the dog that behaves and the supportive husband that was the only husband with a sweet and whirl-wind love story.  I want to have lengthy summer breaks and academically accelerated children that have Saturday games and giddy sleep-overs.

There is so much to love about my life.  Alex is generally coping with her life in a much less destructive way.  She’s taking two classes at the college she paid for herself.   I have an excellent partner and an amazing family.

Nor do I think I’m all alone.  I mean, I have a group of other sad parents that I visit with every week.  I know other young widows.

But in the back of my mind, behind all of the positives I project into the world, is this glowing ember of jealousy.  I don’t want you not to have it, I just would like it too, please.

Maybe I didn’t make my vision board bright enough?

Maybe it’s because I feel summer closing out and soon I’ll have to leave Joe and Z behind for their first winter without me.  Maybe it’s because there is far too much cemetery and mental institution in the fabric of my life.

Maybe it’s because (for those that know me) it’s easy to forget that my projection of happiness and normalcy is mostly because I’m trying to fool myself.

Tomorrow will be another start.

0 stars.  Would not recommend.

Being Tough

I think I might have called back to this particular incident before, but I’ve been thinking about it a lot lately.

In the waning day’s of Joe’s life and we were getting lots of “goodbye” visits.  People he hadn’t seen for years were stopping in.  They feigned encouragement, but everyone knew what was really going on.  It was the parade of farewells and see you on the other side.

One of his ex-employers stopped by.  Joe was genuinely happy for the visit.  He stood up to shake hands, took a step forward and fell down hard.  He kind of caught himself, face down in a chair.  Before the visitor had a chance to act I stepped in.  I actually stepped between them and shielded the view of the fall from the guest with my body.  I leaned down and, in one swift movement, I was pulling Joe to his feet.

As I was pulling the situation back into focus, I whispered into his ear “Get up… Get up.”  He didn’t really have a choice.  I am strong and, at that time, had he weighed maybe 100 pounds. I got him up and back to the couch in a matter of two or three seconds.

The rest of the visit went well.  Neither of the men acknowledged the fall.  They were just two men talking in the living room.  Catching up on old times and drinking lemonade.

I often think of this moment (this literal second of our lives) and I remember it with raw intimacy and true connection between the two of us.  I gave him everything I had in that moment so he could save some dignity in the room with the visitor.  He had always been such a strong man.  he was such a strong man.  We were both so tough.  He was tough staring down the inevitable.  I was tough in my resolve to get him through everything that might be uncomfortable.

When I left the UP yesterday I expected to leave a fog behind the same way I left a fog behind when I lost Joe.  I’ve been waiting for it, anticipating some sort of relief, no matter how small.  A year is gone, I made it through all of the firsts.  My life is bigger than it was last year, there are new memories that don’t crowd my brain with all loss, all the time.

It didn’t happen.  I didn’t leave a fog in my wake.  I am still moving forward in a swell of bereavement.

I set myself up for this.

I whisper into my own life “Get up… Get up.”

I feel like I’ve been here before.

0 stars.  Would not recommend.

 

525,600

Tomorrow is the day.  August 16.

My husband’s birthday.  The 1st suckaversary of my child’s passing.

Right now, I’m waiting for my partner to meet me in route so we can finish the trip to the UP together.  We’ll have a quiet dinner w/ those that happen to be up north.  I have a significant amount of alcohol ticked away in my room for this weekend.  I have games and (most of) my people.

I’ll be okay.

Really, though, I’ve spent a lot of the day reflecting on the change in perspective a year brings to the bereaved.  I will no longer start thoughts with “A year ago I had no idea this would be the last time we…”  From now on it will be “A year ago I was mired in the unimaginable.”

Today I ran into a work colleague that, through a series of transfers, I haven’t seen in a couple of years.  We business ourselves over the phone or email, but that precludes personal chit-chat.  When we were catching up, I mentioned that tomorrow was suckaversary.  He shut the door and teared up.  “I’m so sorry I didn’t call you.  I just didn’t know what to say.  I just can’t imagine…”

The truth is that even though I have a year into the bereaved parent column and 8 years in the bereaved spouse column, I’m in the same boat.  I still sometimes forget the losses.  I’m very good at pretending I just haven’t talked with anyone in a while.

Tomorrow, had the universe shifted a different direction, Joe and I would be celebrating his 48th birthday.  I would have teased him relentlessly about nearing 50.  He didn’t even hit 40.  Tomorrow I would be sending a text message to all our collective girls, reminding them to call their dad.

In a different universe, my life is so wildly different.

Last week it crashed into me that in 18 years (when I will still be in the workforce) Izzy will have been gone longer than she was alive.  Already, he has been away from my life longer than we were together.

My life now is just so, so different than the plan.

0 stars.  Would not recommend.

 

(also, I’m not even going to proof-read this.  you get what you get)

(lies.  I just proofed it up a little)

 

Realignment

Alex and I are on the way home from a day on the river.  We’ve spent four and a half hours with family, having a great time.   Swimming, floating, not realizing that my Aunt’s tube keeps losing air because it lost a patch.

We’re on our way home and she’s crying.  She’s so, so upset.

“I just feel like if it was me that died, no one would be sad.  They would expect it.   If I died, no one would get tattoos of my name.  People wouldn’t be upset.  Because I was supposed to die”  She tells me this and my heart breaks.  I try not to cry and reassure her that without a doubt, any death would have the same aftermath.  There is no winner in this race.

Earlier  today she went shopping with me to prep for the trip (Cherries:  the ultimate river food).  She’d mentioned that it gets hot working in a jacket in the summer time, but she doesn’t like wearing short sleeves.  People stare at her arms.

Her arms and deeply pitted and scared, the remainder of years of self-harm stemming from mental illness that we all fought long and hard to control.

This summer, she has tried so, so hard.  She has been involved and engaged with the rest of our extended family.  She’s sat in the lake with the adults and played games with the kids up north.  She didn’t remove herself from our group chat when we made plans.  She has let us love her the way she needs to be loved.  The way she should be loved.

She is putting herself out into the world and, when she does, my heart soars with happiness.  It has been a long and rocky road for her to get where she is.  She’s shedding her black sheep and letting us bring her into our fold.

We’re on our way home from a great day and she’s crying because she will always believe that Z’s death was a tragedy and, should she ever die inappropriately young, it wouldn’t matter.

The truth of the situation is that Alex has always felt second to her sister.  In her mind, she has always lived in the shadow of Z’s out-sized life.  And she can not escape that shadow.  Even in death.

As we move forward, there will always be parts of her that can’t let go of the silent tragedy – the part where Alex lives while it was Z that died and not the other way around.

My baby is in pieces again.  I can’t put anyone back together.

0 stars.  Would not recommend.

 

The Stuff of Z

Over the 4th, I gave away a considerable amount of Z’s stuff.  It was mostly easy to figure out what went with whom.  Especially with books and stuffed animals.  There seemed to be something perfect for each of her cousins.  Even the smalls got books that were held onto and she managed to retain a stuffed animal that was just right for each personality.

I didn’t mind giving the things away.  Mostly because I knew either I could give the things she loved to those that would love them and, in turn, keep that spirit alive OR I could let her things wither away in her bedroom to collect dust and let the memory in the things fade to nothing.

I chose to give the things more life.  A life with someone new.  More love and joy.  More memory and, by way of transitive property, more of Z spread into the world.

All my love went into the bags and I sent them into the wild.

The one thing I had a problem with was her archery shoes.

There was both nothing special and everything special about those ridiculous shoes. Bright blue and yellow, they were not made for wall flowers or the shy among us.  We shopped for archery shoes at the Gaylord discount warehouse shoe store and they were chosen for their merits in both personality and budget.

They were also the only gift I took back from their first box and put them into another.  I’d put them with all her other footwear intended for my neices.  My sister thought my niece (and my love) could use them for an upcoming sporting season.  I was hesitant to give them away for a non-specified sporting passion.  Which is super weird because I brought several other boxes of sundries and notions that were freely available to be picked through and chosen from.  Jewelry and purses and clothes and shoes and bubbles that I was ready to let go.

The archery shoes caught my breath. And I’m not really sure why.

Z only wore the shoes in a gym.  Never outside.  She practiced and competed in them and then changed out of them for her regular life.  She held her breath and calmed and centered herself in those silly looking shoes.

My niece could have used them for volleyball.  Or gym.  Or any other sport.  But I needed them to be something more than athletic shoes.  I needed them to transfer her spirit and power to another sport of equal intensity and calm.

I mean, the entire thing is so… pedestrian.  Why would I so freely give up her daily life shoes and her boots and her sandals but not her archery shoes?  They were of equal importance in her life.  She had as much enthusiasm for hiking The North Country Trail as she did for Olympic hopefulness.

It was me.  It was my projections.  I transferred the feelings onto those blue and yellow shoes.

In the end I gave them to Z’s “sister from another mister”, another girl with whom she shared a weird connection in sport and fandoms and free-spiritedness.  They were too far apart in both age and geography to be BFFs, but they were tight enough in spirt and shine and we all knew their connection was true and lasting.

And that’s how the archery shoes became fencing shoes.

962

 

 

 

The Festive Cemetery

Really, I like the cemetery my people are in.

It’s called Lakeview, but it really doesn’t overlook a lake.  Possibly it could if it weren’t for a lot of trees and a road and more trees and a bunch of houses.  But still the intent is there and branding is everything.

I’m not much of a gardener (I did buy some plants 6 years ago.  And I spray painted my bushes silver 4 years ago – so… green thumb) but suddenly I really feel the need to decorate the crap out of my plots.  I’ve planted a rose bush and my parents and siblings planted some pretty red annuals.

That’s kind of the nice thing about this cemetery – it’s festive all around.  Almost all of the plots are covered with plants (plastic and fresh) and wind chimes and whirly-gigs and all kinds of what-nots.

Just down from my people is another girl.  Two years older than Z, she passed away three months after Z passed.  I bring her things too.  In my mind, she and Z are friends.

There are plots that are completely edged and mulched and covered in memorabilia and tokens of affection.  There are benches under a tree and good shade and rolling hills and a constant nice breeze and signs of life everywhere.

I did not bury Joe because I was afraid of letting him go.  His presence gave me a kind of calm.  And the thought of letting Z go scared the crap out of me.  I did not want to put them into the ground.  I hated the thought of it.

They belong with me, they belong in a house, not in the ground.  They are supposed to be near me always.

But now I’m okay with it.  I like where they are.  I like that I can stop on my way home for a quick visit.  I’m much more at peace with the situation than I thought I would be.

There are very few places I feel home.  I feel like a visitor in Grand Rapids.  Even six years in, I still tell people I’m new.  Flint feels like home when I drive through it, but it’s not my home.  Flint and I have both grown apart from each other.  It’s a distant home.  The same for Macomb County.  It was my home and my heart warms in it’s memory.  But, again, the metro area and I have grown apart.  Trout Lake never changes.  It’s population will never see 400.  It won’t get a new store or a new bar.  It won’t be home to some hip new brewery.  It will always be my escape.   My heart beats calmer when I’m there.

Now the Upper Peninsula will always be my home base.  What was firm before is now cemented.  I left my people there.  I will never leave them behind.

Where they go, I will go.  Where they rest, I will rest.

I am far too young to be so tied to a cemetery.

0 stars.  Would not recommend.