The Good and The Quiet

Leading up to Christmas, I was fully embracing my plan to lean into the situation.  Except I was doing it in an uncomfortable and foreign non-Amy way.

Normally I plan everything.  I plan on paper with cross references to lists and other papers and bind them together with timetables and any additional necessary accoutrements.

This year we had a vision, but none of the requisite planning.  I couldn’t do it.  I was busy with work and mentally prepping myself for the first Christmas without my baby, my child, my love.

We went to the grocery wholly unprepared for any sort of recipe.  I purchased 9 bricks of cream-cheese and 16 cans of biscuits.  Bacon with no particular plan, sausage that eventually went into my freezer and 6 tubs of hummus that are still in the garage-arator.  I had food with no recipes in mind.

But we were going to cook away the absence.  Her memory would be folded into chives and jellies and a very expensive jar of local honey.  What we lacked in recipe we doubled in a plan for self-care and pots and baking dishes and fresh ingredients.

Last year, Christmas was scattered about at the last minute.  My parents were both infirm for the holidays and we ended up going to their house in Gaylord rather than our planned trip.  Z and I cooked the entire Christmas dinner (for 20, I think) in my mom and dad’s small retirement sized kitchen.  She and I stashed baking dishes in broilers in the basement and on the grill in the garage.  We used every dish my mom had.  Z and I owned that meal and it was amazing.  Z peeled and chopped and timed like a champion.  I couldn’t have done it without her.  We were a team.

This year, without my cooking companion (?), I sort of milled about.   I didn’t have the plan or direction I had last year – which is why I had 16 cans of biscuits.

I knew I over cooked.  We spent two days in the kitchen over cooking.  I knew I was going to have excess, but we ended up with enough food for a corporate event.  I had 24 guests and could have easily brought in triple that and sill had leftovers.  I had a cheese fondue that globed up (total fail) and no one even noticed it was missing.

We had a good day.   It was lively and bright and over-the-top.  I got a little drunk and made sure guests drank from crystal beer mugs and Waterford wine glasses.  We busied our brains and conversation so as to notice the missing as little as possible.

Later we trekked across town to have our dessert party and games at my cousin’s house.

It was Joyous and Rompous and an overall good time.

December 26th.  Everyone was gone.  My parents left for home.  Jay and Alex went back to work.  It was so quiet.

I was prepared for December 25th.  I knew it was coming and I faced it and raged against it.  And in all of that pomp and circumstance, I’d totally neglected December 26th.  The hardest day of the holidays, as it turns out.

December 26th was just me and my dog and the remains of a box of wine and the mug Z brought home for me from Disney.  December 26th was the day I didn’t plan for.  December 26th is the surprisingly sad day.

It ended up being just like my birthday.  The day I didn’t think would be that hard but jumped into a heartache that I didn’t expect.

The quiet crushes my soul.  I can hear my thoughts when it’s quiet.  I’m alone with me and lately I’m not good company.  At all.

December 27th was a vacation day for me.  I went into work anyway.



Certified by the State of Michigan

Yesterday in the mail was Z’s death certificate.   It was notarized, certified, embossed, and filed.  It has been officially recognized by the state that she won’t ever come home for dinner or call me again.

Tonight, I’ll put her certificates with his certificates.

Two makes a collection and I’m the unwilling curator of a collection of death certificates wherein I’m listed as the next-of-kin.  I also have a collection of full urns in my kitchen.

This second go-round has moved me into the professional category.  I’m a pro at funeral arranging and my poignant-yet-not-over-the-top service song choices are quite impressive.

I’m a pro at holding up and being stoic.  I’m a pro at making other people feel okay when I’m in pieces.

I’ve done a total of 13 eulogies over the years – so I’m absolutely a professional there.

Twice I’ve been first in the list of certified survivors. He is survived by his wife, Amy.  She is survived by her mother, Amy.  I’m a professional survivor as well.

There is something about holding onto a piece of paper that recognizes the end of her life as an official event that is so… final (?) in a unique way.

Her birth certificate was a different matter altogether.  I wasn’t as moved by that.  It wasn’t so meaningful because I had a baby to accompany that certificate.  When I got her birth certificate I didn’t re-read it over and over until I couldn’t see through my tears.  I didn’t have the feeling of pounding universe in my chest then like I do now.

I have an urn and a bedroom full of ephemera and her life is reduced to these two notarized proclamations of event.   Certifications that bookend her entire existence without ceremony or fanfare or emotion.   They are merely statement of fact and circumstance.

0 stars. Would not recommend.



Writing Constraints are Hard

Last week, I made a grandiose statement about how I was going to be funny again.  I am funny, I can make this funny, I will be funny, et cetra, et cetra.

In my mind I resolved to not write again until I could think of a funny something to write about POST passing that was still topical to this blog.

I couldn’t think of anything.  I tossed it over in my mind several times – trying to pinpoint an element of humor and I couldn’t do it.  Aside from the time my aunt misheard a story and ended up questioning Z’s survival box (which was actually not a bible box – which was actually her urn) but I wrote about that back in early September and I’m not feeling up to recycling yet.

Apparently, I’m unable to find humor in the events related to the passing of my child or husband.

When I write it out like that, obviously, it sounds gross and I won’t be able to do it because straight up trying to be funny about these deaths is weird and hard.  But still, here I am.

I’m not totally humorless in life.  I don’t spend all my time examining the topics of grief and spousal loss and child loss.  For example, I have a very funny story about why I took a $25 gift card from someone at work and returned it to the giver last Friday.  That’s funny.  It was also hilarious when I gave a Chanukah gift to a Methodist friend this past week.

But I don’t really want to write about those things here because this is my project about love and loss.  Not my project about the follies of gift giving and Christmas gift work theft.

I guess I’m going to have to ease-up on myself and the constraints I set for my blog.

I challenged myself and failed, but I will keep trying to think of something funny and topical.  I will keep writing even without satisfying that challenge because If I place my limitations too tight, I will lose my focus and I will stop writing.  No one wants that.

And as much as this blog is my project of love and loss, it is also my instrument of working toward inner peace and acceptance with this stupid situation.  I write this for me, not for an audience*.  Which makes these personal challenges less necessary and more contemplative.

Chances are this silent night is going to be tumultuous.  I’ll need a center.  I’ll need a touchstone.  I’ll for sure need three haircuts and I’ll need to write about it.

As per usual, this entire business is ridiculous.  My need for this blog is preposterous.  0 stars.  Would not recommend.


*I write this for myself.  I proof-read it for an audience.  There’s my secret.


Three Haircuts

My brain will often start looping bad things… “she’s gone; she’s not coming back” is a refrain that will pop up.  I also frequently get “I wonder what she would have been doing today?”  or the even worse “She didn’t make it”. It’s horrible.  I hate it.  It’s every bit as bad as one might imagine.

When I used to get stuck in these loops, I’d just try to grab at anything I could to rescue myself.  But, when there is no target, there is no success.  I ended up just thinking to myself (literally) “Something Good!” over and over.

That was not an effective rescue.

I had to come up with a good memory that I could easily recall.  My crutch and the better solution to “something good”.  It pulls me out of the loop of my brain trying to sabotage me.

She’s always kept short hair.  She looked better in short hair.  Long hair weighed down her face.  But short-haired teenage girls in very small towns have a notoriously hard time finding good haircuts in the Wal-Mart salon.  It’s mostly a bad scene.

Most of the time she’d get her haircuts in Grand Rapids, but sometimes it just got to be too long and needed attention.  Pronto.  So, she’d gather up $15 from me and head to Wal-Mart and hope for the best.

She came home one day and the haircut was worse than normal.  The stylist had one short haircut in her repertoire and it was “10-year-old boy”.  It looked terrible.   She went to my mom and dad’s house and asked my mom to clean it up.  My mom resisted but Z could be very (very) persuasive.

Haircut #2 with my mom started and ended quickly.  My mom gave it her best effort but the real major accomplishment of the second haircut was to further shorten the boy haircut.  This was still a problem.

Z decided her hair could still be rescued.  It would be shorter than normal, but there was still the possibility of a salvage.  She took another $15 and headed back to the Wal-Mart salon.  This time she went to the manger.

Sidebar:  Z was not afraid to ask for a manager.  I’d often joke around telling her that her first words were “I’d like to speak to the manager please”

Anyway, she’s with the manager at the Wal-Mart salon ready to get her third haircut of the day.  After discussion, the manger decides the only way to salvage the mess is to go straight to a buzz cut.

Z was all manner of brave.  She had spunk and moxie and never backed down from a challenging situation.  She met everything head-on.  When the manager told her the only fix was a buzz-cut, Z agreed and let it happen.

Her hair was gone.  In Winter.  In Northern Michigan.

She embraced it.  Really, there was no other option.  She could have cried about it, but it wouldn’t have made any difference.   She called me later in the evening and told me the saga of the three haircuts – giving the story dramatic flourish, telling me about the tragedy in having to pay $30 for a buzz cut that she could have done herself and the general absurdity of the entire situation.  She really leaned into that buzz cut.  She embraced it at school and didn’t shy up because of it.  Which, considering she was an 18-year-old high school student, was a pretty good way to get behind the situation.

Three haircuts is my touchstone memory to pull me out of the looping in my brain.

As I’m writing this, it’s organically feeding into this thought I’ve been tossing around.  My need to find that lost humor.  I need humor in my life as much as I need anything else.  Humor is the food for my soul.   When I was having my shower thoughts last night, I decided if humor evades me, I need to go on the hunt.  It won’t come naturally, so I will start forcing it back into my life.  It’s going to be uncomfortable and probably ugly, but I’m tired.  I’m going to make the change.

I’m going to try to write more funny things.  Not all the time.  I won’t be in the mood all the time.  But I’m going to plant humor where there is none and hope for the best.

I need this for my sanity.  Her death has taken so much from me that I can’t also give away more of my life.  It’s like finding the thief that broke into your house to write out a check for what is also in your bank account. It makes no sense.  Also, analogies are still dumb.

Many mothers have gone before me in this situation.  As long as there have been children, there have been children that have passed away early.  It is a fact of life that I cannot change.  I am not a trail-blazer or mentor.  I really don’t even have original thought on the subject.  I just paid WordPress $50 for the year and here I am with self-published thought.

I can’t rescue her.  I can try to rescue myself.  I can pull myself out of this diabolical mixture of moroseness and self-pity and dis-belief.

Maybe.  I mean I wrote those past two paragraphs with as much gumption and intestinal fortitude as I can muster. I also realize it’s a pendulum and I’m not always going to be on this up-swing.  But I have a plan and that’s something.

This whole business is frustrating.  0 stars.  Would not recommend.


I’m leaning into Christmas this year.  So are my mom and dad.

The problem with time is that it keeps coming without regard to my mental capacity or desire to keep going.  I mean we all have that problem, but still.   Christmas is 2.5 weeks away whether I want it or not.

When planning, we had a couple of main options:  quiet Christmas at home and then dinner at my cousin’s house or travel to Wyoming again.  I don’t want to leave my house.  I’ve got emergency action plans at my house.  I’m totally comfortable crying in my own basement if necessary.  I’ve got xanax in my bathroom.  Plus, a quiet Christmas will leave us alone with our thoughts – never a good idea.  A quiet Christmas would have been 5 really sad adults.  Ugh.

Instead, we decided to opt-in to the crazy.  All of my local family is coming over (24 people total) and I’m making a menu and prepping pans and doing oven configurations.  I’m Cleaning out  my house and fretting over china and place markers and the correct amount of alcohol to have on hand.

I’m leaning into Christmas because that’s how I’m going to keep my sanity and my wits about me.

I’m leaning into Christmas because I don’t want to be scared of holidays and events.

I’m leaning into Christmas because the rest of the world doesn’t stop because I don’t feel good.

I’m leaning into Christmas because I’m completely broken and maybe tinsel has restorative properties that I don’t know about.

The thing about leaning into Christmas, though, is that I’m not looking forward to it so much as by doing this I’m yelling into the Universe “Bring It On.  You’ve taken my husband.  You’ve taken my child.  I’m going to take this holiday and chew it up and spit it back”   I’m raging my own personal emotional war on Christmas.  Christmas doesn’t stand a chance.

I’m leaning into Christmas because I’m afraid if I don’t, I won’t be able to come back fully into the world.  I’m leaning into Christmas because really, I’m broken and sad and I don’t know what else to do.

Raging against holidays is weird.  0 stars.  Would not recommend.





For the Literature Nerds

“…we had everything before us, we had nothing before us…”

That’s what it’s like when nursing the terminally ill.  In the last year of my late husband’s life, we had everything before us.  We traveled a lot.  We spent every dollar we could find buying all of the things, seeing all of the things, visiting all of the things.  We planned as though we had everything.  Except time. We were looking to cram the rest of our lives into a very finite amount of time.  At the same time, there was nothing before us.  We knew it was going to end.  We didn’t know exactly when.  But we did know how.  And we drove ourselves into our everything before we arrived at nothing.

It’s difficult to live that way.  It’s so hard to reconcile both lives simultaneously. The gravity of being in that situation is so… weighty (?).

We harnessed it as best we could.   Looking back, I think we were pretty successful.

Just preceding that segment, the line reads “…it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair…”.  This past spring, Z was a spring of hope.  She had her college picked out and her scholarship in order.  She had her summer travel plans mostly firmed up.  She knew where her summer job was going to land her.  The summer between high school and college are typically the  most exuberant and idyllic of life.  The three month transition that leaves behind childhood but adulthood hasn’t sprung into action yet.  It’s the most freeing, liberating three months of life.  She left us in her spring of hope.

We’re pulling into winter now.  My first winter without her.

I don’t know.  It really all means nothing, other than when Joe was sick, I truly and deeply understood what it was to have everything and nothing all at the same time.  And I’m revisiting this business now because I’m using my grief for him as my reference for my grief for her.

Except they are so, so different.

He was my husband, she was my daughter, he passed slowly, she was gone in a flash, I lost my mooring with him, I lost my sail with her.  In short, his death was so far like the present that some of the levels of grief insist on being let back into my life (for peace and for sorrow) so that I can use them for comparison only.*

When he passed, I was lost.  And I intimately remember the milestones of grief I touched after he was gone.  I look to those milestones for reference, but they aren’t the same.  It was my attempt at wisdom, it was my foolishness that lead me to believe I could walk these two completely different deaths the same way.

No matter how I read it, the end is the same.  It is my epoch of belief and incredulity at the same time.  I believe I can make it through this like I made it through that.  I am incredulous at my own sparks of faith and hope.  I bury that hope as quickly as I dig it back up.

I am a pendulum of belief and emotion.  I struggle to find equilibrium.

Being on a constant see-saw of emotion is tiring.  0 stars.  Would not recommend.


*I never really enjoyed reading Dickens.  But here I am shamelessly redecorating his work to my own ends and without reference to the rest of his book.  It is a state of affairs that I don’t intend to duplicate, but since Z was a literature nerd of the highest order, I felt it necessary to write a confusing reference to a classic author in her honor.  I would have preferred to rip off Mark Twain, but I haven’t found my humor yet.