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 legacy of an 18 year old

When Joe passed, there wasn’t a rush to fill his void with something.  Mostly it was because he left behind his daughter Lilly.  She is his legacy.  She carries into the world what he couldn’t.

Lilly is Joe’s echo back into the universe.   That’s one of the jobs of our collective children.  They keep our DNA and our spirt chugging along even after we’re gone.   When we sit around campfires reminiscing our lives and general circumstance, we bring back our grandparents and their legacy lives in family stories and our personalities and all sorts of childhood legend.

Z left and her legacy is a little more fragile.   The natural progression through generations is gone.  She doesn’t have the advantage of long life and progeny that would keep stories of life and love alive 100+ years down the road.

I think that realization is starting to bear down on those of us she left behind.  There is a mad scramble to make sure that everyone knows who she was and what she did in our lives.

This past Saturday I wen to the first annual Izzy shoot.  It was coordinated by her archery coach and is part of the St. Mary invitational tournament.  It’s a fun shoot.  The Izzy shoot doesn’t weigh into team standings or personal stats.   Three members of each represented school shoot from each invited team, best score of a possible 120 points wins.

I sat in the bleachers watching these kids move their way through 12 mixed range targets and felt an overwhelming sense of legacy.  I was called out of the stands to give the award to a boy from Hartland, MI.  He didn’t understand the gravity of the situation for me or the St. Mary archery coaches or even the Hartland coach.

The St. Mary kids understood.  They have new uniforms this year.  Z’s name is at the top of the back of each shirt.

Z’s life will be etched into a little piece bronze colored plastic and put into the home of the best shooter at the St. Mary archery invitational for a very (very) long time.

Joe and I have both Lilly and Alex to keep our legacy moving forward.  We’re doing okay – I’m sure the girls will do a fine job understanding what we did as parents and reflecting his spirit (and eventually mine) in the good and proper focus.

I am overwhelmed with what she will continue to leave behind.  Being the winner of an official archery contest isn’t a flash in the pan.  It lasts forever.

The Izzy shoot is 5 stars.   Would recommend everyone attend next year.

 

Vegetable Beef Soup

When the girls and I were first on our own after I lost Joe, I was working hard to make life as normal as possible. I didn’t feel normal, but my game plan was to act it out for them and life would creep into me.

Everyone knows the key: Fake it ’til you make it.

I’d purchased a new crock pot and found a super easy vegetable beef soup that was actually really delicious*. The girls loved it and I made it pretty frequently.

After we moved from the apartment into the house, I quit making it. Not for any particular reason. I just rotated it out for the spring and forgot to bring it back in. And they never asked for it again. I don’t know why all three of us developed soup amnesia, we just did.

At work, we like a good pot-luck. During the fall and winter we have one every six weeks or so. It’s fun and we all get to try new things. The theme for today’s pot-luck was “Soup and Bread”. My soup recipe barged back into my brain and I had a planned pot for the communal luck. That’s how pot-lucks work; lots of pots, lots of luck.

I got up early this morning to put it together and I was suddenly rushed back to the last time I made it. We were in the apartment and I was trying my best for the girls and the three of us would get home in the winter and eat soup and watch TV and commiserate about homework and the struggles of middle school.

I don’t get sentimental for that part of my life. It wasn’t a great time. It wasn’t even a good time. I’d left everything and everyone I knew and loved in Detroit to move to Grand Rapids. I disliked living in an apartment (even thought it was a snazzy apartment). Life was so… claustrophobic (?). Nothing was where it was supposed to be. I felt it in all of my being.

When we moved to the house, things were looking up. I’d found a different job I really loved, I was stepping into a sort of clarity, I’d purchased the new house all by myself for my family that had been through so much in their short lives. I was starting to accept my role as head-of-household just as the IRS was redefining me as just that.

Maybe we left vegetable beef soup behind accidentally. Maybe my id left it behind because I was moving forward.

I stood in the kitchen this morning making soup for work. I’m back where I was all those years ago in the apartment. I’m starting a new life from scratch. Again. Maybe that’s where the soup belongs in my life and I just didn’t realize it. It took a pot-luck to bring it back.

Hopefully there are healing properties in this soup.

Soup as emotional usher is weird. 0 stars. Would not recommend.

*the secret: don’t use all beef broth. Half beef, half vegetable broth. It cuts the salt and gives the base a complexity that doesn’t quite have a place. Add powdered mustard and suddenly it’s a flavor powerhouse.

8 years/6 months/62 blogs/0 stars

In spring 2016 Z had an endocrinology appointment in Traverse City. She drove over and I drove up. We went to the appointment, charts were reviewed, meds were adjusted, there was the reminder of the importance of maintaining healthy thyroid levels and we were off. It was rather typical.

We had the afternoon to spend together and I suggested a movie. We went to see the Ben Hur remake.

Z and I have seen biblical movies before. We saw the 2014 disaster of a movie “Noah”. It was so, so bad. I’ve never actually (viscerally) hated a movie like I hate that one. Contemporary major studio bible movies don’t have a track record of being good but we decided to brave it anyway. I paid and we went in.

Neither of us had been to that theater before; As an entertainment megaplex, it was pretty cushy. The seats were great. Popcorn and pop featured free refills. They served alcohol and something that resembled “food”. We really liked the theater. The movie itself? Bad. It really was bad. Not as bad as Noah, but still really bad.

As we were walking to the parking lot Z and I stared talking about the badness level of the movie. She made the proclamation that lives forever.

“The Theater: 5 stars. Would recommend. The Movie: 0 stars. Would not recommend”

I laughed and we were on our way to get actual food.

Today is the 6 month anniversary of this soundly 0 star situation. I like making numbers work, so my plan was to land my 60th blog post on the 6th month anniversary of her passing but a couple of things happened that spurred me to write when I hadn’t planned and now we’re at the 62nd post in six months. Goal overshot.

I have so many feels and emotions today. The first being that it went much better than I anticipated. Which, looking back, is pretty standard. The days that I expected to be bad (her birthday, Christmas) were okay. I made it through those days. It’s those “day after” days that are the sneaky bits of sorrow (my birthday, the day after Christmas). On the plus side, I don’t think 6 months plus 1 day will be a big deal.

That being said, I’ve been wrong before. For example, I thought losing Joe would be the low point in my life.

I’ve determined 6 month milestones, for the foreseeable future anyway, are a good time marker. Much like recovering addicts concentrate on one day at a time, I can move through the balance of my life in six month increments.

Six months after Joe passed, I was a disaster. I’d moved twice, started a job I hated (and still keep off my resume), hated my new city, missed my friends, missed my old job, missed everything that was comfortable. The second six months were just as anguishing and soul-crushing. The third six months started to ease up on my fragile state.

Six months is not as daunting as a year. And far more meaty (?) than a month or a quarter. Six months is my default measure of survival and forward progress.

Six months is my witness mark.

Eventually, 6 months will give into years. And my milestones will reflect as such.

It’s been 8 years since Joe has passed.

It’s been 6 months and 62 blog posts since Z has passed.

0 stars. Would not recommend.

Denouement

I was widowed at 33. That’s stupid young.

I met Joe in 2004. We married in 2006. In 2008 he was diagnosed with esophageal cancer. In 2010 we said goodby and I watched him slip into the early hours of his favorite holiday. The 4th of July.

I wouldn’t trade my years with him for anything. As incredibly painful and unfair the end to our relationship was, the 6 years we did have together were pretty perfect. I mean, up until the tragic ending. That wasn’t really perfect at all.

The end of our marriage was a long goodbye. We struggled (and partied) for a solid two years. There was one 10 hour surgery, a couple of minor procedures, several trips to emergency. There was many, many rounds of chemo and radiation. We rounded our rodeo out with a transition to home hospice care.

When involved in a long goodbye, there is the opportunity to start mourning for loss before it happens. And it’s really helpful. I visited funeral homes and planned music and flowers before he passed away. I was able to get these chores done with a clear(er) head. Lots of people had the opportunity to say goodbye.

I felt his loss before he was actually gone. I’d sit in our bathroom and cry and bereave the life I’d wanted for us while he was in the bed on the other side of the door.

I faced his actual death all warmed up. I expected it. I walked into life head on.

As conversely as one can imagine, Z was gone in a flash. No lingering sickness, no preparation, no warning. She was just swallowed up by the universe and that was it.

In the nearly 6 months since she’s been gone I’ve weighed (to no end) the differences in their respective denouement.

Which is better? No. Which is easier? No. Which is preferred? Nope. And stop asking these questions.

I’m not sure I could have watched my child struggle for years on end. That would have damaged me in a much different way than I am damaged now. Conversely, if Joe had passed without any warning, I wouldn’t have been able to cope with no job and no home and two small children in my charge.

It is hard for me to articulate what or how I objectively feel about their deaths. Since I’m not an unfeeling troll I can’t come out and say one way was better than the other. Not even as part of my late-night internal monologue. But since I’ve lived through both of these experiences, it’s hard not to compare and contrast the differences and think about what would have happened had it gone any other way.

Clearly, ideally, my life is void of tragedy and everyone is fine, thanks for asking.

I will, for a very long time, have to think about their escapes from this mortal realm and wonder if it’s better to rip-it-off-all-at-once like a bandage or if it’s better to have the long goodbye.

Maybe the speed at which these two lives concluded was the easier way for those left behind. I don’t know. I can’t say because I’m still too pissed off about it. I definitely for sure feel like any untimely end is unjust and unwarranted. I also feel like I should acknowledge the fact that since I had to do this, maybe I got something a little easier for me in that time and place? Did I tragically luck out?

I think these things and then I also feel as though I need to acknowledge everyone that’s lost someone and their emotional places and ends and my circle starts over. It will never end. Because that’s how circles work.

This is sticky. 0 stars. Would not recommend.

My Pity Party Started This Week

Lately the shock that I’m insulating myself with is wearing even thinner. I’m 25 weeks into this disaster and next week will be 26 weeks. That’s six months for those that don’t regularly consult calendars or the mathematics contained therein. Once the 26 week mark arrives, there is no more measurement by weeks – it switches over to months. 6 months. Halfway to a year.

The thing about six months is that reality really starts to take hold. I can’t pretend I haven’t seen her in six months. I can’t fool myself into the comfort a temporary situation affords. Six months isn’t temporary.

Clearly day 1 wasn’t temporary – but I can pretty easily lie myself into any situation. I go in with my head held high, certain that I can make better whatever hot mess I waded into. Ugly parts of life gilded with self lies.

I’ve fallen back into the waves of clarity (?) I was trapped in those first couple of weeks. Crashes of life fall into me and I can’t hold them back. And, sadly, I used up my “leaning into the situation” energy at Christmas. I can’t lean into this. Not right now. Maybe tomorrow. Or Sunday.

Overall I’m just… defeated. And deflated.

I’ve said it before, and I’ll stick to my guns on this, but I find “signs” to be problematic. I don’t like them. I feel people look too hard into coincidence and they generally don’t hold up to scrutiny and critical thinking.

That being said, twice today the universe winked at me.

The first time was first thing this morning. There was an emergency at work and someone needed to drive to a place in metro Detroit to pick up some parts for a down press in the shop. I had to coordinate the purchase and the transport.

I mapped the destination and found it was almost exactly one mile from where Joe and Z passed away. The neighborhood I swore I would never visit again (it’s cursed, clearly) and I was staring at it right in the face. Except from the comfort of my office.

Just now, an old friend of Z’s stopped by. It was 11:00 and I was closing up the house for the night when she rang the doorbell. We hugged and she told me some (temporarily) confidential information that directly ties to Z. Very sweet and touching confidential information.

There it was again, the universe all up in my face.

It really is nothing. It is coincidence. And no sign in my life, however comforting or conjured, will compare to The Rosary situation. But sill, I’m not sure I like the universe trying to add extra elements to my (pretty outstanding) pity party.

Joke’s on you, universe. It didn’t make me feel better.

Except for maybe 3% better. But that’s it.

0 stars. Would not recommend.