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.

A second post about teeth.

This morning I needed a q-tip after my shower.  I actually don’t use them that often, so I had to go on a short hunt. I opened the bathroom drawer that had been assigned to Z.  It was stuck shut.  I reached in to clear the obstruction and found it was being held shut by the industrial sized q-tip box I’d gotten from Costco.

I honestly am not sure when I purchased that box.  It is possible that I purchased them when Joe was alive.  It’s also possible I purchased it right after we got to Grand Rapids.  I mean, we really don’t use q-tips at an industrial sized pace.  Either way, I know I’ve owned this particular package for a really, really long time since I distinctly remember moving it to the house with the rest of our bathroom stuff.

After I jimmied the drawer open, I did a sweep of the back of her drawer to pull everything forward so the box would sit properly.  One of the items recovered in the sweep was the case that contained her retainers.

I decided to get the girl’s teeth fixed when they were really young. I think Z was in 3rd grade when she got them.  Teeth move fast when they are young, so braces aren’t as traumatic on the mouth.  The bummer of that situation is that if teeth are fixed that early, consistent and constant retainer use is crucial.  Otherwise teeth go back to whence they came in very short order.

As per kid-life, she was terribly bad about wearing her retainers.  She lost the first set.  When I purchased a second set I threatened the rest of her Christmas mornings should she not wear them.

Even under the threat of disappointing gifts, she maintained a strong record of spotty use.

I’m actually pretty sure that she “lost” these retainers in middle school.  Maybe they were left somewhere?  Maybe they were at a friend’s house?  Who knows? She didn’t know. I told her this would be one of the biggest regrets of her adult life as I wouldn’t be a patron of constant retainer replacement.

One of the things that bereaved parents and widow/ers have in common is a fear of losing sharp memory.  I’ve talked about this ad nauseum because it’s a big deal.  Losing the concise image is a huge weight on the lives of those left behind.  We don’t want the memory of our beloved to dim or fall out of focus.

How high was her pip-squeak voice?  Sometimes I have a hard time recalling his voice.  Was it gravely?  It wasn’t that deep, but it was definitely a man’s voice.  He sang sometimes.  Rockstar ambitions ran out on family life and mortgage payments.

I remember so many things they said to me, I remember the proclamations of “I love you” and the funny conversations, (and some of the not-so-great times as well), but my memory stores these things more as transcript rather than recording.

Z and Joe were both thin.  But how thin, exactly?  How tight could I squeeze my arms?  I have a general idea, but without the physical resistance of flesh, their memories can be hugged with no hindrance or limits.

She was taller than my ears, but shorter than the top of my head.  I could look him dead in the eyes.

I hate that I can’t recall every detail and curve and line of their bodies. I hate that my facsimiles of them created in my mind are always going to be imprecise.

But her teeth?  I will always have the exact size, shape, spacing, and contour of every orthodontically curated tooth in her head.


Finding her retainers is a weird sort of blessing.   I have a thing that is a faithful reproduction of her physical being, but old retainers are empirically kind of gross.  3 stars.