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.



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)



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.





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.

The Last Party

It’s been a long (long) time since I’ve had an opportunity to write about the goings-on regarding this stupid, ridiculous situation I’ve found myself in.

Mostly it’s because I was busy with the last party. I prepped for two solid weeks, I cooked three kinds of dinner meat, I pickled 11 jars of red onions that got left at home, I cleaned out and organized her belongings to distribute among her friends and loved ones, my family cleaned and prepped.  Visitors from Alabama, Indiana, Washington, and all parts of Michigan made the trip to the UP to attend.

I had a catholic burial, which much like the funerals, I don’t actually remember much of.  Other than the priest can make holy water out of any water.  On the deck just before the ceremony began, he asked us to give him some water to bless which, in turn, he would use to bless the graves. We used lake water on my request.

Later, we all wondered about the volume of water that could be blessed at one time.  I mean, if he can bless a travel-sized shampoo bottle’s worth of water, why not the entire lake?  Give everyone a quick baptism by sun and warmth and taco dinner.

This part I do remember: I interrupted the ceremony because I forgot I’d brought the summit rum. Summit rum is what was left of a bottle of Captain Morgan that Z and Alex  found on a mountain climb in 2010.  I’d brought it with me and completely forgot that I wanted to do that.  I hurriedly cried out a little “WAIT!!” and then passed out shots just after we started filling in the grave.  As customary, we dropped some onto our departed, we toasted, and I finished off that business with the proclamation that the drink itself was really, really bad.  Comically bad.

We all went back to the house to eat and swim and commune in our tragedy and losses.

I hated it as much as I loved it.

I have so many thoughts and feels and moments from this past week.  And I’ll get to them.  But for now, it’s done.  Tomorrow I go back to work, nurse my sunburn and bug-bites, and re-start.

0 stars.  Would not recommend.


The Headstones

I was having a hard time with the headstones I need to purchase.  I’ve placed such a mental importance on these markers that I couldn’t place an order.  Nothing was right.

Do I have laser engraved pictures?  A fun saying?  A dumb poem about lights and birds?  Lynard Skynard lyrics?  Those options are endless.  Add in stone color, size, height and the options are overwhelming.

I can not deal with these decisions.  What can I put on a stupid rock that will sum up the incredible lives that were cut so short?  It’s too much.  I am not equipped to make this decision.

Plus (PLUS!) there is the matter of cost.  As it turns out, there isn’t a bulk discount on headstones.  No BOGO or coupon codes.   When I called the monuments companies in my area, the best I could do was have the transport and placement fees removed if I did the heavy lifting myself.

My brother suggested ETSY.

I found the perfect situation – and the perfect company.  A small outfit in New York state run by a husband and wife.  They lost their infant daughter in 2000 and then their 21-year-old son shortly after Z passed away last year. After their second loss, they started an economical marker company.  $45 plus $14 shipping (USPS: if it fits, it ships) and you get a small headstone with just the name of the decedent and the appropriate starting and ending dates.  Nothing else.  There is no choice in size, color, material, or flourish.

They did this because a tragically large number of families can’t come up with $2,000+ for a modest headstone from a monument company.  That’s a lot of money.  This is the reason so many families can’t mark the grave sites of their children.

In the company description they noted that for every marker they sell, they put $5 toward their donation fund.  They will find the unmarked graves of kids and install headstones for free.

I’m a sucker for a low-cost good deed.  I purchased a stone for Z, a stone for Joe, and then paid for a third stone and asked them to donate it.

That was last night.

This morning, I got an email back from their owner.  She had the details for a month-old infant in Pennsylvania that had suddenly died.  The economical marker company called the funeral home.  They reported there was no funeral or burial because the family couldn’t afford it.  She told the funeral home she had a marker to donate.  A few hours later, the funeral home called back.  The family really wanted a marker.

This entire transaction – from my surprise donation, to the identification and offer of a free headstone – took place in less than 12 hours.  She passed along the name of the baby to me.

Today I’ve got all these children on my heart.  Mine, the two that belong to the family that makes the markers, and the baby in Pennsylvania that never got a funeral.

It’s a lot to soak in, but I am happy I happened to make the decision yesterday to buy the headstones.  Maybe I’ll chalk this up to kismet.

Buying headstones is a terrible chore.  0 stars.  Would not recommend.



If you’d like to buy and donate a headstone, do it here.