I chose to grocery shop when everyone else in the state of Michigan also does their grocery shopping. Also, it seems we all use the exact same grocer. Which is super-fun for me since crowds are not a thing I want to be part of. And still, Sunday evening, I put on my finest near-homeless chic, threw on my favorite Red-Wings puff-ball hat and jumped in the car to head to my least favorite place. Jay was driving.

Someone did us wrong in the parking lot and I was insta-pissed™. I took off my seat belt, opened the door and my puff-ball hat and I were going to fight a lady in the parking lot. Jay (the levelheaded) started driving away with my door open and my right foot on the ground trying to calm me down. He drove very slowly to a parking spot (probably to give that lady a decent head-start) and I jumped out of the car and walked briskly toward the store while yelling back to Alex to grab the reusable shopping bags (because I’m hot-headed, not an animal). If he wasn’t going to let me fight in the parking lot, I was going to take it inside.

I did not find my intended target. Also, interestingly, I spend less money at the grocery store when I’m mad.

The first Christmas after Joe passed and then the first Christmas after Z was gone, I battled my feelings. Both of those Christmases I was head-down walking into the wind with all of my might. I was going to make everything perfect and no one would notice anything was amiss. I was on a mission and no one was going to stop me.

Stage 1 – Denial.

Last year was so much worse than the first Christmas without Z. I was gutted. I’d spent Christmas in Houghton Lake and my Aunt and Uncle had prepared a room and wanted us to stay. I couldn’t. I was barely hanging on. I couldn’t deny the missing people. I didn’t have the energy to put up a fight. I was emotionally bloodied and beaten. I don’t particularly remember the special goings-on the second Christmas after Joe died. It was just so lonely and lost and gloomy.

Stage 2 – Pain.

Today I sent an email to Jay complaining that my socks were falling down in my new boots. He replied to me that he’d herd Bombas socks were really good. I quick jumped on their website and saw they were $20 a pair. We have a limited spend budget for each other and I saw the price tag on those socks and again, I was insta-pissed™. Why would he even joke about spending $20 on socks? That’s not funny. I had to take an office-lap™ to cool my temper.

Later this morning I found out a supplier dropped a bunch of treats for the office in the breakroom. I went and found a dark-chocolate no-bake cookie. Be still my heart. I took a bite. It was not a no-bake. It was a shaved coconut cluster. One guess what happened… insta-pissed™

Stage 3 – Anger.

The Seven stages of grief don’t ever come in any particular order. They are just seven things that happen. All seven can happen in the same day, in random order or they can spread out, they might time-out (giving a breather to the constant, overwhelming emotion) or they can roll, one after another, into your life. They aren’t neat and tidy. They just are.

Luckily, I can suss them out in their published order at Christmas. I didn’t even realize a pattern was emerging until I was trying to introspect my anger this season. I did a quick google search on the stages of grief and the first three fell into a years-long focus.

Here I am – 2 weeks from Christmas, staring down my own emotional outbursts and irrational behavior now that my chill seems to have vacated the premises.

I’m mad. I’m mad that Joe has missed so much. I’m mad that Z won’t be talking about graduation soon. I’m mad that neither of them will see this new decade we’re starting without them. I’m angry about the asparagus I forgot to eat after I cooked it last night and I’m still upset my socks won’t stay up in my boots and I’m mad I can’t buy myself a new truck right now and I’m mad there is pet hair everywhere and I’m mad the cheap wine I purchased Saturday isn’t that great and all of these mads are substitutes for the real mad that I am.

Stage 3 – Anger.

Zero Stars. (And I can’t stress this enough)… Do Not Recommend.

My puff-ball hat and I will fight you.

Searching for answers in Google

We’ve spent this Christmas opening a lot of family google docs. It’s really a much easier way to share information rather than try to send a million emails back and forth. Plus, some people like to send non-essential information and then no one really knows what’s up.

Google docs cuts that business out. One doc. Put essential information next to your name. Bam. Parties are organized. Food is provided. Good times are had by all.

Late last week my brother called me in a panic (so much a sense of urgency that I didn’t recognize his voice on the phone). Z was asking permission to get into the google doc he’d just started for his family. None of us knew he’d started it, it wasn’t published, but there was a little pink notification that Z’s email was requesting permission to edit the google doc.

He found out later something weird happened in that my dad was doing something and something else happened and then yahoo existed and it automatically logged back into Z’s email on my dad’s computer and then google docs happened and they got together and notifications emerged.

I don’t know… techy-techy things happened.

For my brother, though, it was there in blazing pink. Z wanted in on his spreadsheet.

I called it a wink from heaven.

Shortly after Z passed and everyone was back at their homes, I had a couple of days to myself before I went back to work. I sat on the couch and googled “Why did my daughter die?”. I knew nothing would happen, there is no magic website that will give me answers to the universe. I knew I wasn’t going to get a resolution, but I needed to ask a third party this question and I needed to have that 3rd party answer me without giving me a stupid affirmation about God’s plan and time and healing. I wanted someone to tell me something that made sense.

Obviously, I got back nonsense.

Google doesn’t know why Z died or why Joe died or why anything bad happens to anyone. Google is an electric business of switches and fibers (a series of tubes??) organized to give us information that we can use in whatever way we’d like.

Google won’t give me the answers I’m looking for. Google’s answers won’t make my soul happy, nor the grief abate. Google can help me with math, it can not make crisis of the heart subside.

But still, I wonder how many people have sat at their phone or computer looking for the same resolution I did. How many people with tear-stained, flushed cheeks tried to get the answers they needed from something that doesn’t have the capacity to understand what that means. I’m certain I’m not alone in painful google searches, begging for relief and sanity.

What happened on that google doc for that brief second when everything seemed status quo was allow the electronic switching to speak straight to my brother’s heart. For a second he got to see her name pop up and request permission to enter his Christmas planning.

She’s part of Christmas planning.

Sometimes chaos aligns exactly right and what we need most appears.

Sometimes chaos gives you no answer at all and leaves you doing google searches for answers that will never make you whole.

Zero Stars. Do not recommend.

Swimming against the current

“So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past” is, according to the website, an important quote from The Great Gatsby, by F. Scott Fitzgerald.

A book about a guy that will spend his life digging at his past, trying to make what was lost become part of the present.

I know about such things.  I spend all my free time trying to reconcile what was with what is.  It never balances properly.  A terrible hobby and a waste of my energy.

My uncle Manuel passed away a week-ish ago.  He lived his entire life in Argentina and I’d only ever met him once.  I mean it was a long meeting – I spent nearly a month with he and my aunt at their home in Argentina, so it was a pretty significant meeting.  I remember we went out on a yacht with some of their friends on a river.  My memory doesn’t currently produce the name of the river, but I do remember this:

The current was incredible.  The fastest passage of water and time I’ve ever personally witnessed.

The owners of the yacht threw a rope off the stern so we could try to swim upstream.  I jumped in and by the time I surfaced, I nearly passed the rope.  I grabbed it and swam with everything I had in me to reach the boat.  I was 18 at the time and not in terrible shape and still couldn’t do it.  I gained some ground, but not enough to be proud of.

Manuel did the same swim and he made it back to the boat.   From my perspective, he roared out of the river and his arms were able to propel him back like some sort of Phelpsian sea beast.

I never made it back to the boat under swim power alone.  I had to pull myself back along the rope.  It was such a great day and I wish I could remember more of it.

I was sorry to hear Manuel passed away – but he’d lived well into his 90s.  He left behind so many people that loved him.

The days I have spent swimming against the current and the 9 years without Joe and the 2 years without Z I remember so painfully clearly how often I tried to put my boat against the current – my heart borne back ceaselessly into the past.  I want to do the impossible – I want so badly to reach across time and pull them back.  Pull them to my present.  Every molecule in my body (because the body remembers) eternally reaches for the past.

But I can’t, can I?  It’s just not something my body can do.  I didn’t have the power to swim against the current of the river and I don’t have the power to get them back. But still I try.

I lay awake at night thinking of them and I am borne back ceaselessly into the past.


Zero stars.  Do not recommend.

This is why I have no money ever

While I was binge listening to short biographies last week, I learned about a peculiar habit of Sarah Winchester (of Winchester gun fame). When she donated money to charity in her own name, it was typically a small amount of money – paltry sums considering her wealth. We’re talking like $10 and $100 donations from someone that had millions. But she was secretly super generous – she donated millions and millions anonymously to charities she loved. Never in her own name.

I don’t donate millions of anything. I just don’t have millions. Except pet hairs around my house. But I do over-tip, and I do give money to corner panhandlers. I buy extra gifts and send things on the side to people I know need it. I had to come clean a couple of weeks ago to Jay and tell him that I have been sending bi-weekly shipments of goods to someone that really needs it for the past several months and there is no end in sight… so, you know, just an FYI about where our money is going. He really didn’t have a say in the matter.

You’d think that one of the side effects of losing a child is spending less money. No more clothes or shoes or books. No tuition payments. No car insurance or phone bills. But really, I’ve found that is not the case for anyone that I know that’s lost a child.

Just like the love that never dies, that stream of money doesn’t quit. Except now instead of fretting about our budgets and how we’re going to keep all the kids in good financial order, we start giving it away.

I mean, I know lots of sad parents that do it for our children, but I don’t know of anyone that makes a “thing” out of it. We just become relentless, secret givers. Dollars to you and books to you and shoes to you and all these things just happen.

And time – we give so much of our time away. Time that we wouldn’t have had before that suddenly becomes so… available. We give it to projects and people and occupation for our hearts.

I’ve turned into a giver and I’m probably not doing it for selfless reasons. I think it’s just a habit I acquired over the 18.83 years I took care of my child. Just like I don’t stop loving her, I don’t stop spending on her either. It’s just redirected.

Redirection seems to be a theme both emotionally and financially.

Sara Winchester was emotionally devastated when she lost her baby and then her husband. She didn’t know what to do with herself and became tragically restless and just meandered through life without real direction.

I’m pretty sure that when she donated anonymously, she didn’t per her name on it because it wasn’t her money. She donated $100 for herself. The millions she donated was the money that belong to someone else.

The same with me, this money and stuff I give away is supposed to go to someone else. So, I make sure it goes to someone else. It’s what I do for them (my child and my husband) quietly and in my heart.

I don’t tell you this to be all “look at me! I’m a generous giver” – I share this because it’s a side-effect-quirk of loss. It’s just something that happens. And I’m here to share the weird.

0 stars. Do not recommend.

A brief biography of Wilma Mankiller

On the way to school this afternoon I was listening to a biography about Wilma Mankiller. An amazing woman. An amazing woman that had a near death experience when she was hit head-on in a car accident.

It was mentioned that while she was laying in her car dying of her injuries, she felt as though love had enveloped her.

That was it – just this brief mention. The biography moved on to the tragic circumstances* of the crash.

I quit listening to the biography. The recording went on and my brain froze in that mention.

Martha was dying in pools of her injury and all she felt was love.

I think about Z and Joe in their final moments and I hope the feeling of love overcame whatever else was going on in their bodies and brains.

Joe knew my love for him – there wasn’t any doubt. But that’s what happens in a strong, committed romantic relationship. You feel the love constantly. It’s part of the dynamic. Unending and forever widening love.

The kids though? I mean they know it, but those teenagers want nothing more than to reject it. Part of the maturing process, they spread their wings and struggle to get away and we, as parents, want nothing more than to bathe them in love.

Their souls collect the energy we put into them. I’m positive their spirits recognize what the teenaged brain rejects. All the focused energy doesn’t get lost in the universe – it hits the intended target, even if that target is mid-fledge.

Even in death, the love doesn’t magically stop. But the intended destination is gone and the love bounces back as grief. That’s a super in-elegant way of saying it, but that’s why we feel grief. Love with no direction.

In my sad parents club, I talked about the weird way to describe this half-baked healing. It’s not easier, being a seasoned member of this club. These are not wounds that time will heal. There is nothing that will make the grief go away. There is no moving on, only moving forward. But I’m not as raw as I once was. Those waves of grief that crashed over me so often at the beginning don’t happen with the same frequency. I remember when it was fresh; sitting at my desk like a zombie, having the relentless waves of sudden, shocking grief crash across my guts. That only happens once or twice a day now. Not once or twice an hour like it was at the beginning.

While I was on my blogging hiatus, a friend of mine that I hadn’t seen since high school lost her son. I went to his visitation and cried with her. For our lost children. A woman that I hadn’t seen in 25 years and the time melted for the hour I was there while we communed in our shared position. I couldn’t offer her any advice – and frankly, I wouldn’t want to – I’m way to cold-watered to be helpful anyway, but I could give her my love. I gave her my love and my energy in that stupid pale-pink room.

What I hope is everyone that passes through my life collects my love. And I will collect the lifetime of love given to me. Even if we don’t in that minute it’s offered, I hope the spirits understand the intent and saves it up. And when we are all in our dying hours (our very old, appropriately aged dying hours) our bodies remember that love and let it wash over us, deeply and truly.

And this is my comfort, that my child and my husband left this world not in pain or fear, but comfortable in the saved-up love.

0 stars. Do not recommend.

The Importance of Art

I read an internet thing not too long ago that I’ve not really been able to shake. It talked about people that are sewn into your life and when they leave, they don’t just go – they rip apart the fabric of you.

That was a pretty good demonstration of loss for me. I could see it, what a failure in fabric sewn together looks like. (a hole. It looks like a hole. But more dramatic)

It’s hard to describe to someone that hasn’t had a traumatic loss what it is to lose. Words don’t ever get at the core of the situation. I can dance around it. But I can’t quite describe it. Not really.

One of the reasons I fell out of the writing habit was because this exercise is healing through hurt. Like when your back hurts and you lay on a hard, flat surface and it initially hurts worse but then it starts to feel better… I dread sitting down at a keyboard and screen to write out my feelings and make things worse.

I know it is temporary, and that getting these things out is far more beneficial in the end, but that initial step? Man that sucks.

According to movies and TV shows, water on a keyboard can cause sparks. Last I checked, tears were water and you shouldn’t cry on a keyboard. I mean I do have Kleenex, so it’s not a legitimate visual, but still. You get my point

Now it hurts, and there is a fire hazard, and I’m unoriginal because I don’t really add anything new to this conversation around trauma and grief and loss.

“Rising Cairn” is a 4,000 lb. stone sculpture that is the work of artist Celeste Roberge, a wire-form person filled with rocks. “Melancolie” by Albert Gyorgy is a bronze man slumped on a bench with no chest. Both super famous works that, if you’ve seen the internet, you’ve seen these sculptures. These are opposed imagery. They complement the simultaneous weight of trauma and the emptiness left behind. They each tell half the story.

Art is the visual where our words fail. “Let me show you” is the refrain we give our children when they need to learn a new skill. It’s not with words, it is when we engage in visual communication that we can really demonstrate the inner workings of life.

It’s why we romanticize a shared glance and sweeping landscapes and why Baz Lhurmann has a successful filmmaking career.

I’ve had friends that painted Z’s name into rocks and shells and left them in the wild. Whomever finds them will know they represent an emotion. A visual demonstration that isn’t quite so big and public, but far more personal.

I don’t want to talk about it. I want it acknowledged. I don’t want to talk about it.

But if you can see it, if I can show you? That solution is best.

There is the matter of lives sewn together. These threads of life that were supposed to keep us together until the day I died. Not the day she died. Nor the day he died. These threads failed – everything let lose and unraveled and then all I’m left with is this stupid hole in my life. Life has frayed to failure. That is a visual I can share.

Zero Stars. Do not recommend.

20 years

Tomorrow is the 20th anniversary of the last time I gave birth.  It was only 11 months after my first baby was born.  Alex’s delivery was long and complicated.  Isabella’s went by in a flash.  I surmise it was because I’d just been through it and my body didn’t forget.  I was in the hospital bed and the nurses were yelling at me “don’t push!  We don’t have a doctor yet!”  and I was yelling back “I have to push!  I can’t not push!”  Up until that moment, I thought that all of the movies that included delivering mothers yelling “I have to push!” was not a real thing.  I was wrong.  It is a thing.  A doctor did arrive in time with a brand new intern that had never been to a delivery before.  Isabella was born, he held the fresh infant and said, probably to no on in particular, “What do I do now?”

“Give her to me”

I have always wondered about that young doctor and what he thought of his first birth.  I wonder if he thinks about the so tiny baby he was the first to hold.  I wonder if he ever tells the story about his first delivery and realizing his school taught him everything to do during a birth except what to do with a baby right after the APGAR score was tallied.  Some things you learn on the job.

A couple of weeks ago, a point was brought up in my sad parents group.  I’ve not been able to shake it.  Mostly because I’ve been working through my feelings on this blog, and our formidable leader summed up this entire year’s worth of blog posts in one, quick thought

Her absence is the presence in my life.

She’s still here, she’s all around me.  She’s present in everything I do.  Every worry I have.  Every celebration and laughing fit.  She’s with me every time I cry in the car or walk down the stairs backwards (because my new fun fear-turned-obsession is falling down stairs, dying, and then leaving Alex all alone).

Her absence is the presence in my life.

I went to sad parents group today armed with two dozen amazing cupcakes for her birthday tomorrow (she shares October 18th with another baby in our group… Even though Scarlett’s parents weren’t attending tonight, I reminded everyone both birthdays were tomorrow).   We had the cakes because even though my baby is gone, she still has a birthday.  Tomorrow, we’ll have a birthday dinner with my parents.  We’ll have tacos because even though she’s not there, she is a part of our lives, and everyone gets a fun dinner for their birthday.

The brand new doctor that delivered Isabella will never know how life turned out.  But she will always be present in his life.  I’m certain she helped shape it.  Her absence in his life was still a sort of presence.

One day, when I am aged into a thick number of years, I will close my eyes for the last time and I will see her again and all of the times in my life when I called out to no one in particular “Give her to me” I will get her back.  She will be present again.