12 Minutes

I have a 12 minute commute to work.  It’s an easy 12 minutes.

on the way in, I mentally prep for the day.  Orders that need to be written, reports to review.  Plans for my group.  Typical middle-management office stuff.

It used to be the 12 minutes on the way home was my decompression time.  I’d start planning the evening.  What is for dinner? Do I need to stop at the grocery?  What is my Triscuit situation?  Where are the kids and what are their plans?  Should we go up north this weekend?

I had so much life to prep for.  Life all around me.  Mostly busy.  Mostly pleasant.  Always usual.

Now, since my guts have been ripped out and my soul gets shocked with a wave of realization several times a day, my 12 minutes home are a different order of decompression.

I spend the day trying to avoid the quagmire of my own thoughts.  Which means that when I get in the car and mentally let go of my office, I slip into this robe of sadness and helplessness.  I can’t tell if it’s comfortable, being there.  I’m not sure what it does, but it is.

I spend those 12 minutes gearing up for tears, then crying.  I remember all of the thoughts I so desperately want to let go of.  I try to wear them down, to make my brain tired of replaying the horrible memories so it will stop.  I cry.  Sometimes it’s straight up sobbing.  Sometimes I just well up, then suck it up.

When I have 6 minutes left in my drive, I start to compose myself.  I look for Flogging Molly’s “If I ever leave this world alive”and play it twice.  Singing along.  It was my anthem when my late husband passed.  It was my touchstone for grief.  I come back to it for familiarity.  That song ushered me through many commutes home when I was raw from the first passing.  It carries me home again.

When I have 2 minutes left, I breath deeply and with purpose.  I try to think of something happy.  I remember her voice.  Her opinions.  Her shine.

When I pull into my garage I go into the evening.  I do not know what’s for dinner.  I have not stopped for groceries.  I’m not sure where Alex is. I am not prepared for my life.

My 12 minutes have a new and strange focus.  I hate them.  I hate them.  I treasure them.  I hate them.

The 12 minutes are mine and hers.


Funeral Clothes

Funeral clothes are a complicated issue.  Mostly, you can wear what you wore to work (unless you’re not in an office) and you dress to show respect.  Respect for the situation and to let the bereaved know, non verbally, that you made an effort to be there.  You present your best self to show that this event was important enough that you didn’t just pull yourself out of a hole to throw in a wave and then move on to a dollar menu evening.

At Z’s funeral (celebration?) a distant cousin that I’ve only met once in my life was there.  He rolled into her funeral day (literally rolled, on his scooter) and was wearing a plain gray sweatshirt.  I overheard him tell someone else that he’d forgotten his good clothes and had to go to Walmart to get a nice sweatshirt.

That meant a lot to me, the comment.  I knew that he’d looked at his clothes he packed and felt what he had wasn’t good enough.  What he brought wouldn’t show the respect he wanted to convey for my baby’s last mass.  So he did something about it.  He scootered himself into the Gaylord Walmart and rectified the situation.  What he ended up in, the basic Hanes crew neck, wasn’t the point.  The point was he cared.

Picking out the clothes you wear to your husband’s funeral, and then your child’s funeral, is a much different beast.  And the two are individually and monumentally terrible.

In Gaylord, I went to The Dress Barn with my family.  That in itself is something.  If you haven’t been to The Dress Barn lately, they’ve really cleaned up their act.  But still, shopping for the clothes I will wear to my child’s funeral at an establishment that includes the word “Barn” is… something.  Whatever.  I was in Gaylord.

Unless it’s a swanky LBD, I detest the all black look for a funeral.  I’m neither Jackie O nor Queen Victoria.  So, I stood half naked, no make-up, in horrible fluorescent lighting, in my worst possible condition, preparing for my worst possible day, in a figurative barn, looking for something in a color that isn’t black, and is comfortable enough to carry me through five hundred hugs and hide tear stains and won’t cut into my waist.

The lady moving my choices to the fitting rooms is pleasant.  I don’t want to mar her chit-chat with my task.  I’m picking out the clothes that I will wear to the mass that will usher out my child.  She doesn’t need that weight.  We all plaster on smiles.  And I walk in and out of the fitting rooms, asking my mom and sister and aunt and cousins what they think. What do they think of my choices?  What should I wear to this?  This place of formal ritual and objective terror.

As women, we are raised in a tradition of formal dress.  We spend our childhood picking out princess dresses.  As teenagers, we pick out prom dresses.  As young adults we pick out wedding dresses.  As mothers, we start picking out the dresses for our daughters.  The tradition carries.  We are always planning on the prefect dress for the next big rite of passage.  The rites of passage.  The rituals.

I am not equipped to pick out clothes for my husband’s funeral.  And I am not prepared to pick out clothes for my child’s funeral.  All of my life I have dreamily picked out clothing for the exciting rites of passage.   But not this.  Never does this occasion factor into the plans.

My sister buys my clothes for me.  She takes part in the ritual.

We dress ourselves for a funeral to show our respect for the departed and to the bereaved.  It is never enough.

0 stars.  Would not recommend.


Internal Audit

On my career track, I’ve here and there been an internal auditor.  Every time I take on the responsibility I have to retrain for whatever quality standard my company is on.  I really enjoy the job and I look forward to taking on that role.

In late July, my company asked me to join the internal auditing team and schedule the requisite training.  I picked the three day training over Oct 17-19.  Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday.

Z’s birthday is Oct 18.

I’d completely forgotten about the training dates and asked for a vacation day on her birthday (mostly so I could accomplish some day drinking and sprawl myself into the murk that comes in the fog).  My boss reminded me that I had committed and suggested I reschedule training for December to allow for what will probably be a trying day.

I haven’t yet rescheduled.  I’m busy doing my own internal audit.

If I take the day and reschedule my training, what good will that really do?  I like the job and I’ve been looking forward to this.  I really do want to go.  I’ll be disappointed that I put it off.  If I do not reschedule, will I crumble under the weight of the day? Will I end up having to leave? This is all or nothing. I can’t take a “wait-and-see” approach to this situation.

My cut-off is looming.  Until I’m actually in the day, I won’t know how I’ll react.  I can’t predict my anguish.  I mean, it will be there, but will I be able to solider through the day and then crumble at home? Or will I wake up a general mess?

I do know for certain that I need to make my decision.  Because if I decide to go, I’ll have time to work up the stoic facade and march through coursework.  If I decide to reschedule, I’ll have the day looming ahead, and thus I will have an emotional nose-dive.  If I plan on allowing it in, it will happen.  If I straighten myself up, splash cold water on my face and bury my face into the inevitable power-point, I’ll at least be able to fake it through the day.

When I look back in a year, I know it won’t matter either way.  But with the looming challenge, how much do I want to buttonhole myself?

The fact is, I’ve always been stoic.   It’s what I do.  I buckle up and move along.  I do not bow to a challenge (unless it’s a physical challenge.  I do not come from an athletic people) or cow-tow to emotion.

Maybe it’s too much for me, maybe this mountain is too big.  But, then again, maybe I can stay the course. I doubt myself.

Einey-Meeny-Miney-Moe. Can I catch a tiger by its toe?

I am uncomfortable with my indecisiveness.


The Fog

It has been nearly 5 weeks since I last talked to Z.  There is a fog closing in around me.

I went through this after my late husband passed. This fog is different.

When someone in your immediate passes, the first couple of weeks your occupation becomes taking care of the business at hand.  Cremate or  Casket. Venues.  Songs. Readings.  Then visits and calls… the calls will extend for a couple of weeks.

Then Thank you cards and personal time.  I lay on my couch and take a benedryl because my mind will. not. stop.

But once those firsts start happening, the fog rolls in.

The first funeral I attended since my daughter’s was this past Thursday. I mean, it was a great funeral, but still.  I wouldn’t normally have cried, but my tear ducts were primed and ready to go.

The first birthdays arrived this weekend. My para-step-son turned 14.  I’m pretty positive it was… not memorable.  We didn’t sing.  Gifts were  not pre-prucahsed, instead my S.O. (protector?) took him to the store and let him buy what he wanted.  Jay made his favorite meal at home.  We did not take him to the bank to cash the birthday checks from his grandparents.

I spent Saturday on the river in a tube.  I went with just my cousin.  It was the first time I’ve been tubing since she passed.

Today I went to a birthday party for a six-year-old.  I had a beer, skipped the cake and left.  There is no crying at a six-year-old’s birthday party.

The fog is all around me.  I can’t see clearly.  I’m on the edge of tears.  I am a little lost.

Lately, I generally don’t know what I want and I am very flaky with plans.  I don’t want to go here this afternoon, but if I can’t go there RIGHT NOW then I will cry in the hallway.  That’s not like me.

My S.O. (champion?) doesn’t know what to do.  He wants to make it better.  He wants to help.  He can’t help and I’m frustrated when he tries and I’m pissed when he doesn’t.  He can not win.  He will march forward with me.

When my late husband died, I had the fog.  But that fog was different.  When he passed I was unemployed (due to a very gracious decision by an excellent General Manager), I was homeless (due to a shitty mortgage company) and I had two small children.  I had to move forward because I had no choice.  I had responsibilities that would not rest through my grief.

He died on the 4th of July and I remember very clearly the following 4th, watching the fireworks and feeling the fog start to lift.  On my drive home, it was almost tangible, the  feeling the fog leaving me.

So now, here I am. Again.  The fog has settled around me. I’ll make my way because I have to.  This fog is far more consuming.  My older (operational?) daughter is nearly 20, she doesn’t rely on me like she did.  I have a job and a place to live which makes the march forward a little less necessary (?).  This time it’s easier to surrender.

I don’t know if I should allow myself to get lost.  Is it good for my long game or not?  What will I gain by  allowing myself to wallow?  What happens if the fog is actually quicksand this time and I disappear into it?  If I continue marching forward, will I  lose grasp on the grief that I need to take in to heal properly?

The fog is neither good nor bad.  It just is.

I just need to push through all of these firsts and see what shakes out on the other side.

0 stars.  Would not recommend.


By me or by Z

This past Christmas, Z gave me a mug she’d purchased on her (then) recent trip to Disney World.  She was the +1 on a family vacation.  The extra girl.  It was the joke that the family really never noticed they had one too many girls in their group.

Mary Poppins has always been one of my favorites.  I call her a super hero and Z would disagree with me at every turn.  She wasn’t a superhero, she was a time lord.  (Dr. Who?).  We’d discuss this topic on several occasions. Each of us taking our turn to out-point each other in the never ending debate.  Time Lord?  Super Hero?

The Christmas mug is more stein shaped than traditional shape.  White on the outside and pink on the inside.  It sits on four tiny feet.  It’s got raised flowers all over and subtle silhouettes of Mary Poppins.  The handle is shaped like the parrot end of Mary’s umbrella.

I love that mug.

On one of my trips to Gaylord, it got left behind accidentally.  I panicked looking around the house for it because it was gone.  I knew it would turn up eventually.  And it did, someone found it and made sure to deliver it back.

I used it so frequently that I ended up chipping the rim.  No big deal, really.  I can work around it.

When houses catch fire, or flood, or tornado, or any other force majeure catches hold of your life, the natural response is “things can be replaced, people can’t”.  Which is true.  But also, there are things that can’t be replaced.  Things that hold so much…energy(?).  Those things are the tangibles left for us to cherish. Those things cannot be replaced.

So, now, that mug can no longer be replaced.  By me or by Z. I still use it.  And I use it often.  It’s the mug she picked out because it represented our never-ending silliness.

I don’t really put it in the dishwasher.  I make sure it goes back into the cupboard, away from the edge.  Away from my regular drinkware.  I use it and she is close.  She’s right there, at Christmas, beaming with pride at her excellent mug choice.

I love that mug.

I am in a trap.  Everything she touched brings her close.  Grubby shoes?  close.  Water Bottle? close. Literal trash she left on her bedroom floor? close.  She’s so close.  So close I can almost feel it. So close.

I’m not alone in that trap.  Her *things* are now treasured goods.  Things that can’t be replaced.  Things that I can touch that we touched and we are, through space and time, maybe touching together.  Except I don’t know because I’m good at neither physics nor time lord antics.  Maybe Marry Poppins could help this situation.

I haven’t begun the task of repatriating her borrowed items to those they actually belong to.  I can’t bring myself to put those things into a box, into the post office, into the care of someone else.  Because the more things I have that she had, the closer I am to her.  And maybe we’re touching the same thing through some wibbly wobbly timey wimey thing.

Balancing emotional well being on a mug with a chip isn’t a good place to be, really.  0 stars.  Would not recommend.  Also, you can not borrow my mug. I will show it to you.  But only if we’re standing on carpet.




Good Things Come In Tiny Packages

Z was small.  I called her a smidge.  I also made up random names for her, including Vega (for no particular reason) and Grizzy.   Now that I think of it, I called her Griz a lot.

She didn’t (doesn’t?) have a middle name so she’d make names up for people that asked.  She wanted her diploma to read Burrito as her middle name.  (Sadly, it did not).  One of her frequent middle name lies (jokes?) was Della.  Isabella Della was fun to say.

But still, she was tiny.  She did, however, remind me that she had “birthing hips” (she did).  Obviously, she looked good in everything.  Except for one tragic pair of shorts that sat really high on her waist and really high on her butt.  I hated those shorts.  Eventually, they got thrown away in a bathroom in the Mall of America.

I also liked to remind her that she lead a charmed life.  She really did.  I mean, other than the tragic ending and a few blips along the way (losing her step-dad, whom she adored, was one).  But there are always blips for working-class families.

I wanted to visit her charmed life.  Even though it was cut tragically short, she packed a lot of life into those quick 18.5 years.

Here is the annotated list of a brief life:

She visited Rome, Venice, Italy’s largest gelatto shop.  She excelled at archery.  She went to Mackinac Island many times, went to an amazing school with amazing friends. She visited Kentucky, North Carolina, Indiana, Ohio, South Dakota, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Florida, Virginia, Missouri, Mississippi, Alabama, and Wyoming (where she got her driver license without taking driers education), and had extended family that acts like siblings. She stayed in the presidential suite at the Ritz Carlton in Key Biscayne for a week. She got to go behind the scenes of the lemur encounter, and the penguin encounter at Jungle Island, and she got to get into the dolphin pool at Miami Seaquarium. She went to Disney world, City Museum, she went spelunking in Jewel Cave and an unauthorized cave in the UP, she swam in the Atlantic ocean in her clothes, she played under the Mackinaw Bridge one cold April when there was still ice in the lake, she walked the Mackinaw Bridge, she spent a week in solitude at Pictured Rocks, she read all of the books she could lay her hands on, she had strong opinions on life and the universe, she knew why the answer to “life, the universe, and everything” was 42*. She reached the summit of Cloud Peak wearing a swimsuit and tennis shoes. She could cook a big meal by herself, she broke all the rules she thought she could (and some she couldn’t), she knew without question her career path her whole life, she tasted caviar, she took a cross-country train trip (twice) by herself,  she purchased half a car with her own money. She saw Flogging Molly in concert. She could swim a mile and knew proper dive techniques. She saw the Saturn V rocket and a moon rock. She loved making treasure hunts for her friends. She could charm almost everyone she met, and she could captain a stern-drive fishing boat.

She loved deeply.  She was loved.  She was empathetic. She was passionate. She had grace and poise. She was a joker and had a silver tongue.

She was a small star that didn’t last long; Even still… she shone so, so brightly.

*42 = math.





What Comes/What Follows

Today, I crashed into emotion around 10:00am.  At my desk.  I went to the bathroom at work and pulled myself together.  I only needed to make it to lunch.  The afternoons always move faster than the mornings.

It was an accident, my sudden… spell(?)

It was an accident that she died.

She was never a sickly kid, but she, from the day she was born, was sick.  She was born with ureter reflux.  She had four surgeries to try to correct the case and they never could fix it.  She confounded her urologist, because with every consecutive surgery she should have been cured of the issue.  She defied the odds (not in the good way).  She struggled with chronic urinary tract infections her entire life.

In May of her 11th grade, we found out she had severe thyroid issues.  They were so bad the test was run twice because the endocrinologist office thought her first test was compromised.  The second test yielded the same results.  They called me at work and told me she needed to start medication that day.  Impossible, I told them, she was on her way to Kentucky for an archery tournament.  They told me to drive to Kentucky.  I was going to follow a day later anyway, they hemmed-and-hawed and told me that would be okay, but I had to promise with everything I was she would get the meds the following day.  I complied.

It was later we found out she had the worst case of Thyroid disease that office had seen.  The doctor was in the office with us later the following week “Had you gotten an infection, you would have died.  Had you gotten a cut, you would have died…”

“You would have died…” it rang in both our ears.  Especially considering her kidney issues.

Three weeks before she passed, she came down with another kidney infection and she couldn’t shake this one like she normally does.  A week later, she complained her thyroid was getting big – she could feel it pushing on her throat.  A week after that (the week before she passed) she went back to the doctor and they changed her meds.  The day before she passed, she called me to let me know she was throwing up everything.  She felt so bad.

I told her to wait to go to walk-in until the next day because she might have food poisoning or a little bug that would work itself out.

The morning before she passed, she didn’t mention how she felt.  She said she stained the carpet with blueberries and she couldn’t get it clean.  The morning she passed, I told her to buy Oxiclean for the blueberry stain.  The next day, the police department asked me if I knew what the white powder on the carpet was.

It’s Oxiclean.  She couldn’t get the blueberry stain out of the carpet.  She was a house-guest and didn’t want to leave a stain behind.

But, all those signs didn’t point me to a problem.  They didn’t scream “She has sepsis”.  They were all normal problems someone has.  She has.  She had.

Over fourth of July, she’d swam the mile across our lake in the UP.  She sat in the lake with us, we were enjoying her visit.  She was laughing with her friend that had come up to spend the night.  She took my niece on her first grown-up (?) trip across the UP to see fireworks in a town two hours away.

Since “that day” a lot of us are carrying guilt that isn’t necessary to carry.  It was an accident.  And that’s the end of it.

But accidents leave survivors of one order or another.

If I had known how sick she was, I could have driven to her. I would have driven any time for any distance.  Any of us would have.  Without question.

Those of us close to her examine the hours before her death and think “Had I only…” or “Had I not…” But no matter how you slice it, it was still an accident.

It was no one’s fault and imagining a different end or a heroic entry on the brink only makes the load heavier.  No hope or wonder or wish will change the facts that sum to accident.

I crash into another swell of grief.   They come in waves.  Grief to peace is a process.  It’s a process.  It’s a process.  It’s a shitty process.

I can’t pray her back.  But I can pray for those that carry around the burden they have yoked upon themselves.  Those that think they could have done something.  I pray for us, the people that cry into our pillows at night, because that’s a pressure too heavy for any person.

There is nothing to absolve.  There is no culpability to pass around.  We should not find ourselves liable for sins we did not commit.

For some of us, guilt comes. Grace will follow.

We are not responsible for her loss.  Our obligation lies in the future.  It is our station to reflect her grace back into the world.  We carry her in our hearts.  We carry her in our actions.


Sponge Analogies Are Dumb.

I was on a video chat with  my brother.  My  mom and dad, along with their dog, are in Wyoming for a short visit with their grandchildren.

My parents needed to be with the carefree energy of the smalls.  I understand that pull. When you lose something so incredibly close, there is the pull from your soul that begs you closer to what was lost.  It’s not a replacement, it’s an augmentation.

We can’t replace what Z gave to any of us, but we can look to the love we get from others to… fill the hole?  It’s not really that.

It’s kind of like if you have a bunch of sponges and take one out.  You can’t get  more sponges, but you can fill the remaining sponges with more water to make them expand.

What am I even saying?  Sponges? How do I explain why having the smalls close by helps?  I can’t explain it, but I understand it in my gut and the sponge analogy is a disaster.  Don’t read that part.

While I was on the call, my parent’s dog ran into the video.  My mom named her Pixie, and Z promptly renamed her Pix-a-poon-a-roonie. You have to say it fast, all mushed together.

I went to say something about Pix-a-poon-a-roonie to my neice, but it got caught in my throat.  I couldn’t make it come out.  I called her Pixie and moved on.

That crazy nick-name was Z’s thing – we all just copied her silliness.  It got stuck inside because it felt *off*.  Like I was intruding on her space, her thing.

I find myself setting up mental alters to her memory.  I don’t have the photos with candles in the dining room, but I do have these… mental spaces(?) that I can’t go into.  Things she did that I can’t do without her.  She’s not here to listen to me copy her silliness or shine, it’s no longer a fun thing we did that I now do on my own; Now it’s invading something I can’t name. I can only feel it. It’s the space she left behind (that can’t be filled with a water-filled sponge, apparently).

I can’t call my dog “Taco-Belly-Button”.  I can’t loudly proclaim a pajama day and swing my arms in the air.  I can’t sing my banana song (which I did just to prod her into telling me that I was not as funny as I think I am).  Those were her things, no mine.  Doing them without her seems irreverent.

But I do have the dogs here that she loved.  And I can hug them a little tighter and call them by their actual names.

Also, do not try to explain your shitty feelings with sponges.  0 Stars.  Would not recommend.


The Staggering Energy of Jumbles

I need to clean my house.

I haven’t really cleaned it in a month.  I mean, it’s more or less picked up, but it’s not clean.  I wouldn’t be embarrassed if one of my good friends came over, but I for sure wouldn’t invite a neighbor in to chat.

It’s a weird thing about the energy of this situation.  I’ve got the energy to go to work, but doing anything productive after work is really out of the question.  The thought of moving back into life and doing normal adult things is daunting and gives me a sinking feeling in my stomach.

When I had Z around, she took a fair amount of energy.  Often in the form of sarcastic groans and dips into my wallet.  When she passed, all the energy I was giving to her seems to have gone with her.  Logically, it makes no sense.

At this same time, I have an overwhelming need to get a second dog.  Part of my identity has been “mother of two”.    I have this weird *something* that drives me to maintain that… feeling(?).   If I can’t have two daughters, maybe I should have two dogs?  Unrefined emotion is hard to communicate.  I need to displace that energy.  Maybe I should get into pottery instead?

I don’t have the energy to do productive things, my id is compelling me to get into a  second dog, I don’t have clean pants, I’m either sad or frustrated or overwhelmed or in denial or I’m none of those things because I’m distracted by restaurant food.

I’m not going to get a second dog.  That’s a terrible idea.

I have always wanted a standard poodle.  I love poodles.  5 stars, would definitely recommend a poodle.  But my house is kind of gross, my car needs to be vacuumed, I want to make 16 kinds of bread on Saturday, I absolutely need to find out about pottery classes, I for sure want to spend the entire day on the couch watching Bob’s Burgers,  I have to research dog lessons, I can’t look into her room, I need to look for the items that she borrowed from friends and return them, I have to finish my thank you cards, maybe I need to pull up the carpet in my family room, I hate my couches and I think I can find better ones on Craigslist, I kind of abandoned learning to crochet and I’ve wanted to start trying again – especially now since Z and I learned together two Thanksgivings ago, and I do love making onion soup, and I need to get rid of like half the things in my garage, but none of the things that Z had staged to go to college and I need to come up with a good name for a dog.

When people ask me “how are things going?” the truthful answer is I don’t know.  I don’t know because I honestly can’t tell. Nothing is sorted out.  I’m just mush on the inside.

The energy that drives my life is a confused, rambling, hot mess.

This whole thing is dumb.  0 stars.  Would not recommend.  Except for a horse-sized poodle that I’m not going to get.

Conversion Therapy

It is now 2 days shy of a month since she’s been gone.  28 days. Elements of life are starting to fall back into place.  Work is more or less on schedule.  I get up and go to bed at reasonable times.  I have not started making dinner or doing dishes.  My S.O. (protector? companion?) works those details out for me.

It’s the permutation to a new normal.   A tiring process.

The daunting task of this reformation project I have going on is working grief into peace.  They are adjacent emotions; They work in accord.  Peace is the more mature and worldly older cousin to grief.  Grief is the primal mess of emotion that wells up uncontrollably.  Peace is the delicate flow that has lived the other side and emerges with fabulous skin and hair.  Grief is Ouizer and Peace is Clariee.

When I was small, I hated marshmallows.  I still do. But one of my friends showed me a trick where you pull and pull and pull on a marshmallow until it turns into taffy.  I can get on board with some taffy.   Peace is taffy adjacent.

I’ve walked into her room a couple of times.  Droplets of peace form.

I’ve gone to group therapy (twice!).  Another spot of peace emerges.

This process is arduous. I suppose it’s not unlike trying to change the color of swimming pool water with grocery-store food coloring droppers.  Eventually the change will come.

I’ve only really ever consistently prayed for one thing – peace.  Peace for my children, peace for myself.  Peace to calm the turmoil around those that I love.  Peace to usher in whatever strength we need.  It will always be the constant prayer of my life.