Catharsis

I’m having surgery on my head this coming Friday.  Six incisions.  Most all of the hair on top of my head has to be shaved off plus a patch above my ear and another spot on the back of my head.  It sounds way worse than it actually is.  Had I taken care of my situation 10 years ago, I wouldn’t be staring down the business end of a #2 guard on my clippers.  My surgeon advised the most prudent thing would be for me to take all of my hair off.  So much has to come off the top center that leaving unshaved portions would be ridiculous at best.  When I talked with my hairdresser, I told her I needed to make an appointment to have her shave my head the day before the surgery.

She told me no.  Absolutely not.  She’d clean it up post-op, but the actual shaving would be something I do *for myself*.

Head shaving is an emotional operation.  It is not a time to surrender my emotions to the salon and everybody in that day.  It will be cathartic. I need to own it.

As with most adults, I’ve been to several funerals and burials.  When I arrive at the cemetery, the hole is open and everything is set and ready for a quick abdication of life into earth.  Prayers, grief, hugs, casket into prepared hole, and we’re off to lunch.  It’s a swift symphony practiced to the Nth degree by all end-of-life professionals.

Things are different in the UP.  Rules are more… interpretive (?). This summer, I have the option to dig the hole for Z and Joe’s urns myself.  Just like in the old-timey movies, the family goes early, does the digging and the filling.  No prepped site, a DIY situation any of us would be wholly unprepared for.

I really struggle with this option.  It is at once paralyzingly fearful and fittingly perfect.  I brought this girl into the world with labor, I cared for him with my labor. I can put them back to the universe with labor.  I can and do this last physical act on their behalf.  I can sweat out the grief I’ll have pent up that day.  I can bring my family along for that ride and we can work it out together.

Maybe digging the hole will be the actual catharsis I need in the burial rite.  Maybe it will be a thousand degrees and I’ll wonder who made this dumb decision and why isn’t the professional there with his powered equipment.

Also maybe I’ve turned the proposed hole-digging transaction into a scene from an overly-dramatic ham-fisted movie assigned a “C” grade in Entertainment Weekly.

Whatever the case, I have plenty of opportunity for profound melodrama in the upcoming season.  I really do have a need for a physical change to marker this time in my life and the universe is answering that in spades.  My bald-headed self in a sweltering July cemetery  digging a stupid hole for these stupid urns that I didn’t ask for.   The picture itself is ridiculous beyond what I could have ever imagined.

And probably achingly cathartic.  Which is something I need*.

Solidly 0 stars.  Would not recommend.

*Dear universe:  I also need to win a powerball.  Since my life seems to be winning insane odds in tragedy, please ante in on that as well.

 

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.

 

At least my teeth are clean

Yesterday I had my teeth cleaned.  Like a great deal of productive adults, I go every six months.  I don’t miss appointments.   Except for when Joe passed and my living arrangements were *in flux* and we weren’t in one city long enough to find a new dentist.  That was just a blip in my otherwise solid record of cleanings since 2004.

Before I was with Joe, my professional cleanings weren’t the strict march they are now.  Don’t get me wrong, I went to the dentist.  I just didn’t sweat it if I went 8 or 10 or 12 months between cleanings.  I had many other things in my life that were more fleeting than the dentist.

Joe made me regimented.  He NEVER missed an appointment.  Ever.  Professionally cleaned teeth were his jam.  It rubbed off on me.

Yesterday’s appointment was my second cleaning since Z passed.  And, in my estimation, my 14th cleaning since Joe passed.

The longer I live with these losses, the more sentimental (?) I get about mundane chores.  It’s absurdly disorienting.  It’s in the dental chair I remember there are fewer appointments I need to keep track of.  It’s the grocery store that reminds me to purchase less food.  It’s the bank balance that reminds me I don’t need to give anyone money for teenage brie-a-bract*.

A couple of years ago, Jay and I took the girls to Flogging Molly for their first rowdy concert.  They both fell in love, but Z was smitten for life.  She became an undying fan of the Dropkicks, Flogging Molly, ETH, and all manner of celtic folk punk.  We spent lots of hours listening to their collective recordings on road trips up north.

Last week I purchased tickets to the Flogging Molly/Dropkick Murphys show in Detroit.**  It was a swift kick to my guts when I purchased tickets without calling her and getting giddy about the concert.  There aren’t a whole lot of people in my life that feel the same way about this genre of music as I do.  Z shared my love; truly and deeply.

In the year after Joe passed and this current year of Z’s, I prep for the hard days.  Birthdays, holidays, anniversaries.  I stand in my power pose and brace for the headwinds.   I can handle those days like a champ.  I take the grief and stand in it like a pig in mud.

But man, those mundane tasks?  That’s the real thick of the pain.  Mundane tasks are the black ice of life; Underfoot without notice until I have completed a root cause analysis on why I fell down.

I have freshly polished teeth and tickets to see two of my all-time favorite bands and Christmas doesn’t seem so difficult a day.

0 stars.  Would not recommend.

*Not a typo.  I made this up.

**Seriously.  Flogging Molly and Dropkick Murphys at the same show is just… no words… be still my heart.  Probably one of the most bittersweet things I will ever do.

 

The Two Hearted Bear

Z loved Build-A-Bear. As an older teen. With a job.

Other than a wide array of accessories, I’m not entirely sure why she like it so much. I distinctly remember her coming home from Build-A-Bear one day telling me it was ridiculous the bear stuffing personnel made her kiss the stuffed hearts they put into the bears. She didn’t need the gimmick they dubbed magic.

She did need the bears though. I don’t know why.

On one bear-making trip, she’d decided to make herself a custom “Dr. Who” themed bear (The Doctor). She came home very proud because she’d put two hearts into the bear fluff before it was sewn shut. Which she found both clever and hilarious. She’d also managed to find bear outfits that could be rearranged to be character specific. She was impressed with herself.

Overall, Z fancied herself a Time Lord much the same way I fancy myself Mary Poppins. It was her Halloween costume a couple of years ago. As a 17 year old, she insisted on buying herself a plastic sonic screwdriver (sadly, it’s powers were limited to lighting up and making sounds). She kept an emergency bow-tie in her car. Although the emergency bow-tie was for multiple emergency scenarios.

The doctors of “Dr. Who” have two hearts. It’s part of the back-story/history that’s been building since the British 1950’s.

Her heart(s?) beat to a very specific fandom.

Today it struck me that perhaps it did work out for her on a more cosmic level – maybe she is the Time Lord she wanted to be. I mean, she does have two hearts. One was in her physical body and the other was her character and spirit and shine. One gave out at a fixed point in space and time and the other is still moving along as a Time Lord would.

It’s a good thing she loved Dr. Who – otherwise she wouldn’t have talked incessantly about it or made me watch her shows.

Had she not loved “Dr. Who” I wouldn’t have known about the two-hearted Time Lords.

Had she not loved that weird fandom, she wouldn’t have put two hearts in the bear she made that day.

Had she not loved the way she did, I wouldn’t have the weird comfort I get knowing that (for her) there is the second heart still beating.

Having two hearts is an excellent plan. 5 stars. Would recommend.

***

Bonus adjacent thought:

i carry your heart with me(i carry it in
my heart)i am never without it(anywhere
i go you go,my dear;and whatever is done
by only me is your doing,my darling)
— e e cummings (truncated)

What a friend we have in cheeses

As with most humans, I love cheese.  Love. Cheese.  All dairy, really.  Cold milk?  yum. Sour cream?  Yes, please.  Yogurt?  I think I will.

For my birthday last year, a friend of mine (the mother of my God son) got me an array of fancy cheese.  I work on my night cheese.  I never (ever) turn down cheese.

Over the last 3 or 4 years, I’ve developed lactose intolerance.  I knew it made me gassy, so I just limited myself.  Then the gassy uncomfortable suddenly and abruptly crossed a line.

A week and a half ago I had to call in sick to work because I’d eaten too much cheese the night before.  This past Friday, I couldn’t tolerate the little bit of cheese on my pizza.  Tonight, I had a small glass of Irish Cream and I am writing this post with a terrible stomach ache and cold sweats and I will probably have to throw up soon.

I am certainly trading in my old lactose intolerance for a brand new dairy allergy.

Why have you forsaken me, cheeses?

Normally, a lactose intolerance and sudden (serious) milk issue would be really hard for me to take.  But I would have bucked-up and understood that eating the sweet-sweet semi-soft gift to humans was going to be horrible for my body.

These are not normal times and I am taking this personally.  It’s not an evolution of age,  It’s a personal affront to me and everything I love.

Next year, I’ll probably have to move on from gin, whiskey, and wine too.  And then the year after that I’ll for sure have a sudden cotton allergy.

Probably I’ll always be able to tolerate cleaning products.  Because this is my life now.

[RAGE!]

Actually, I’m only half joking around about how I feel the universe and all of it’s limitless possibilities are stacked against me.  I kind of am taking this personally.  I really did cry a little when the realization hit that I legit can’t eat any dairy anymore without cold sweats and ripped apart guts.

I am not equating dairy allergy to the loss of my husband or my child.  I am equating dairy allergy to just one more thing, another stone in my shoe, one more joy that I can’t have.  The cheese issue, in and of itself, isn’t comparatively that much of game changer.  The loss of cheese is the emotional straw that I just can’t add to my load right now.

I’m sitting here without cheese and my real question isn’t about dairy.  I really want to know when this will end.  When will the pendulum swing back towards me?  Because I really do need it to come back.   I’m not sure when I will lose my balance, but eventually I will.

Crying about cheese is ridiculous.  0 stars.  Would not recommend.