Tag Archives: grief

The invisible agony*

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The invisible agony*

Hilarious beast, this depression. Like so many things in my life, I’d assumed it’s like the movies. You lay in bed, in the dark after some devastating loss. A partner dies, a divorce, a lost job. And your best friend comes in after some period of a time, a week, two weeks, and throws open the curtains and says, “That’s it! You’re getting up.” Followed by a montage of you reluctantly going for a walk in the park, thoughtfully sipping tea while wearing sunglasses and a head scarf, you toss a frisbee and laugh accidentally, eventually you play a board game with friends or travel to Italy, you write a meaningful song, or start a blog. There’s a crescendo you ride that steadily increases your mood until one day you are just–better, well.
But in real life there’s no steady path that leads you to better. There are good days relentlessly followed by terrible days. There is distinct pleasure pursued by devastating and unexpected pain. And that pain lives right next to the intense pleasure. Next door neighbors, like the kind of neighbor that you’d borrow sugar from. You’re enjoying that perfect day, the simple joy of the air temperature and the smell of flowers and the very next molecule that holds the very next thought contains a darkness so dire that you once again feel that deep ache, the deepest a heart can know without shattering into a million pieces from the weight of it. The spaces are all so fragile that they’d surely break from the lightest brush of a dandelion parachute. And you feel the black hole of depression opening up, ready to swallow you whole, but you access some hidden resource tucked away, you step forward and back into the light of the sun.
Depression doesn’t get to be the protagonist of that cinematic fairy tale, it’s messier, some days a lot more boring and,essentially, always present. Depression makes you tired, the kind of tired that napping doesn’t alleviate. You ache and not the type of ache that is removed with painkillers. You live with it, it’s a scar, it’s an unpaid debt, it’s taxes, it’s death. It follows you, it lives with you. Periodically it goes into hibernation, you medicate it, or meditate it, or get it drunk, but it comes back. It sits on your chest like an unkempt, uninvited Flemish Rabbit, it pursues you, it waits for you to be too tired to fight it off and hopes you will pull it over you like a dangerous and comfortable blanket.
Most of the time, you manage it. You go about your day. You throw frisbees and accidentally laugh, you sip tea and wear headscarves, you play Jenga, you vacation. Some days you pass so joyfully, you wonder if it’s just gone–taken up residence in some other vessel. Some days it moves in with such authority and violence that you are sure there is no more of you. You sleep lengthy naps in darkened rooms. You wonder what the point is, you cry and fret and ache. But just as the molecules of pleasure are bumped out of the way to make room for despair, the opposite is true as well.
The melody of life with depression is packed with crescendos and decrescendos, swells of beautiful music and discordant cacophonous noise, and hours and hours of background music. You struggle with it, you survive with it, you fight it and acquiesce to it. You treat it, you coddle it, you feed it and starve it, but you never get rid of it. Because you live with it. And that is ok. Or at least, that is.

The title is credited to David Foster Wallace

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Mother’s Day Lament

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Mother’s Day Lament

There is little that compares to the emptiness I feel on Mother’s Day morning. My children remember me and bring coffee and love notes. Friends and family send kind words. And yet, it is one of the hardest days of the year because of what feels like it is missing: The expectation of what I thought motherhood would be.
I thought I would be a better mother, more organized, more nurturing, better at caring for the little darlings that I brought into the world. I thought I’d make more chore charts and handmade yarn mittens, I thought I’d coach more after school sports, or at least bring more orange slices. I thought I’d plan more Harry Potter themed birthday parties complete with talking sorting hats and brooms strung from the ceiling with fishing line. I thought I’d be tired less and self evolved less. I thought I’d kill fewer indoor plants, outdoor herbs and tropical fish. I thought I’d rescue more kites from trees and find more lost cats and shoes and important papers. I thought I’d do more, do it more smoothly and with less shouting. I’d kiss more and yell less.
I once believed it was my destiny to be a wife and mother. I’d be the best at both, a natural by virtue of the sheer quantity of good mothers and wives that I observed in fiction and reality alike. I saw and read about great mothers, doing mother things with ease and delight. But, I didn’t hear much about the loneliness of motherhood, the bone shaking doubt, the crippling fear of utter incompetence that accompanies caring for other human beings. The ache a mother feels at caring so deeply for her children. The feeling that I am simultaneously the most influential and the least competent person to tend to the needs of these tiny humans.
The list of hurts a mom is faced with managing is long. There are bees and nighttime terrors that coincide with an overwhelming need for sleep or just to be alone with my own thoughts. There are skinned knees and, worse, the pains that you can’t see, that you can’t measure because they are invisible and indeed so much more insidious. Heartbreaks, stomach aches, late night fears that keep you awake wondering if you’ve made a huge mistake. Sure I try my best, even in the tired moments, but it seldom feels adequate. And there are no real breaks.
There are good times, to be sure. They are frequently more plentiful than the trying times. There’s laughter and joy. And there are mundane, average Tuesdays where everyone just floats along, lunches get made in peace and dogs sleep quietly and dishes get put away without nagging. There are moments that reach in and grab your soul because you could just burst with pride and elation over the beautiful human being you contributed to creating and raising. Sometimes I feel as though my heart will break with delight because I see in my daughters a reflection of the parts of me that are decent and pure. And the special bond we get because of what we have been through together. The pains and triumphs that are ours alone to understand, glue us tightly together.
But the real kick you in the teeth pain bee sting in your ear slap in the face of Mother’s Day is that I thought it would be a partnership. This day is a reminder that I thought I was standing in one line, signing up for a specific class, agreeing to a particular arrangement, and I was not. Like so many women, in so many circumstances, we are left alone on the heavy end of the see saw. We stopped playing man to man defense, or even zone defense and realized the rest of the team had already left on the bus.
I admit, there is a village around my daughters and I. People who care for us in amazing and selfless ways, people without whom the ship would sink for sure. And that makes me more fortunate than some. It offers an advantage which I cannot fathom being without. Because even with help, it is the hardest challenge I have ever endured. Because in the deepest part of the night, when I am weary from the days and weeks, when one of my daughters comes to me with a broken heart and I reach deep down and try to find an answer that will satisfy her, will heal up her wound and at the same time allow me to go back to my own tumultuous mind. Because no one else can be there for that or can even really assure me that I’ve done the best I can. Because it is the loneliest job I will ever both love and doubt. For these reasons, I wish there was no yearly reminder that I am a mother.
It’s the loneliness that kills me. And the self doubt. It’s the quiet, though disgruntled, inner voice that suggests that the universe has made a terrible error in allowing me to be the sole caretaker for the minds, bodies and souls of these tremendous human beings. Most days, I feel like barely more than an adolescent myself. And the sheer irony that I’m managing all of this alone, is the cherry on top of a macabre sundae. Just because I planned on doing this as a team is not a way out.
As always, I’m thankful for the little things, the little victories, and the big support we get from our community. I’m thankful for inside jokes and love notes, and unsolicited thank yous. I thankful for an understanding partner who walks home in the early morning hours to make room for sleepy interlopers. I am thankful to friends who send lovely supportive words. But mostly, I am thankful that tomorrow there are 364 days until Mother’s Day.

I don’t like wine spritzers

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I don’t like wine spritzers

I’m a forty-something single mom living a life like no other forty-something woman I know, or have ever heard from, or seen in a movie. Not that the latter has given me very many realistic examples to choose from–please see Tyler Perry’s “Single Mom’s Club” for a plethora of one dimensional options. I’ve never quite fit in even when the Breakfast Club was the movie to emulate, though I came closest to a cross between Michael Anthony Hall and a more awkward Molly Ringwald.
I could share with you a laundry list of disparate hobbies (or more accurately the ways in which I periodically spend my free time) from directing an improv group, to clumsily exercising to hip hop, playing the djembe (not well), to selling junk (er, antiques) , watching nature and food documentaries, or devouring a Netflix series like it’s Baltimore street crack, writing this blog, or recording a vlog in my car with my dear friend Blair, reading books about feminists and racists systems of power or performing plays. Nothing too outlandish there. Though I have left out the sock puppet musical I’m co-writing and some of the things I might include were this an anonymous blog. But all in all these are generally activities that would most likely be found in various arrangements of other 40 something women.
Mostly you are aware of my bizarre (though not terribly unfamiliar) dating life. Not everyone had an actual amateur taxidermist, or cat trainer in their dating history, but we’ve all had our dating woes and frankly I can’t really access this part of my narrative in the same way now because I’ve met someone who matches my crazy heart with his own crazy heart and more or less finds me intriguing rather than a train wreck. Or at least he’s not terribly easily spooked.
There’s nothing particularly supernormal about any one aspect of my life. Though I’d like to imagine I’m in a unique position on the spectrum as a young widow with three teen/preteen daughters. But still, I’m not nearly the only one. So nothing individually is enough to make me an outlier.
Certainly from a surface assessment I’m about as common as cough due to cold; white, middle-class, employed, college graduate, cisgender, heterosexual…which makes me wonder even more why I always feel like the person filmed in slow motion during a teen movie. Not the girl who takes off her glasses and let’s down her ponytail and the cute, rich jock finally sees as dateable (which, side note, ew gross) But her friend that she stopped hanging out with after junior high because a rumor started to circulate that she’d eaten bugs on a class trip to the science museum. The girl who moved to school in the third grade, who once unconsciously leaned over to kiss her best girl friend goodbye, the same girl who thought her red knee socks and shorts were cool and made her look like Wonder Woman. The girl who blew up gasoline soaked army men with the neighborhood boys not so much because she wanted to (though confidentially it was pretty cool) but because she hoped that performing this perilous act would make them like her. Or when that same girl grew up and attended her first South Roanoke Doctors’ party and drank so many wine spritzers in order to ease her nerves in a place where she felt like a complete fraud, that she attempted to drive a bulldozer down the street. The woman who was picked last for the supper club who underestimated how much food feeds 12 people, so that the hostess had to thaw out meatloaf from her freezer. Oh- they talked about that woman later. The same woman who feels like she’s faking it most of the time, unless she’s writing her sock puppet musical or snorting because any one of her daughter’s said something hysterical.
Maybe we all feel out of place, with our crazy lists of things we love, both the things we will admit freely and the things we keep hidden or to ourselves. Maybe we all feel like frauds in our friend groups or like our own one person show that only homeless vets come to sleep through. We all fumble uncomfortably through the movie that is our life, feeling mis-cast in the role of “yourself”. We are all unique snowflakes, melting on the windshield of a world that would rather see us from a distance, as homogeneous globs of white.
Truthfully, None of us really fits in anyway. In the quiet of the night, the doctor’s wife watches Wife Swap instead of making enough paella for the dinner party, the once bespectacled teen grows older and leaves the jock for a 44 year old housewife, the jock longs to learn the djembe and drink white spritzers.
So, if you’re like me, and I know you’re not, it’s ok.

Grief hidden in the fourth

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Grief hidden in the fourth

Oddly, the Fourth of July is the holiday that always seems to sneak up on me. Unlike the wedding anniversary, that did not always bring the required reverence and gratitude for having accomplished staying together another year. There was the year I bought an antique bookshelf as a gift. Antique bookshelf to me, wobbly problem to him. His birthday was often his least favorite day of the year. Christmases were too often littered with withdrawn sighs of disappointment over missed cues about gifts, or worse, having to work on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day. I was never a fan of New Years or Valentine’s day, so these days never held the sadness of the other holidays. I’ve reconciled the anniversary of his death as an opportunity to rejoice over the idea that he is finally at peace. Or at least it doesn’t sneak up on me, it seems like an appropriate day to grieve. Father’s Day we celebrate with the things he would enjoy, namely, Mentos geysers. These holidays all seem to have found a groove that feels like it fits the pain, let’s the grief breathe, wears the discomfort less uncomfortably.
After nearly four years, most holidays seem more manageable. Meaning, I’ve figured out how to prepare, where to categorize them. It wasn’t until nearly two o’clock today, after thrashing around in the bed for hours, forcing myself up to make lunch, sweep the floor only to find myself back in bed. Groggy, I wondered what is wrong with me. Everyone is out at parties, BBQing, enjoying the beautiful day, and all I feel like doing is drawing the shades, pulling the covers over my head and going back to sleep. Why?
Because this was our good holiday. And we didn’t have many “good” holidays, if I’m being honest. And I forget that until I try to make a plan for the 4th or get out of bed before noon.
The first July 4th after Chris died, I found myself unable to make a choice about where we would go to watch the fireworks, because we had always watched them from our own living room. Chris enjoyed the Fourth of July and it was one of the rare occasions that we invited people over. The big house on the hill had a particularly amazing view of the fireworks, and air conditioning. Kids twirled sparklers in the yard, Chris grilled and laughed. I could recall that he had a sharp wit, and a way with cooking raw meat over an open flame. He liked fire, and especially explosions. We had good times throughout our marriage, but I never remember a bad Fourth of July.
The year M turned one, we drove to Gettysburg, where unbeknownst to us there was a annual reenactment of the civil war battle that took place there. There was a cannon blast that scared M so badly that she cried and her face turned all red, and we took pictures of her and laughed lovingly? at her.
Our first year in Roanoke, before we moved to the big house on the hill, we spent a very warm and humid night spread out on a towel near Victory Stadium. S slept and M covered her ears and hid under the blanket. We drank contraband beer and laughed lovingly? at M. One year when we opened up our grill to cook our Fourth of July fare, we discovered a mommy mouse nursing her babies. We laughed, and ate, and drank, and enjoyed the company of friends. Chris was better in the summer, when the days were longer and he got to see the sun more. And Chris loved the controlled chaos of a fireworks display, the excuse to relax, and the ability to be away from the stressors of work.
My time with Chris was frequently chaotic, sometimes difficult and almost always complex. But it was my life, for over a decade. And the times that were relaxed and happy were both rare and cherished. Mostly holidays intensified many of the things that made our relationship chaotic, difficult and complex. Holidays underscored the resources that were strained, namely time and emotional resources. But the fourth did not, it was a time that we could enjoy each other, enjoy the life that Chris’s hard work had provided us, enjoy the company of friends, and enjoy the view from our home. It was a nice holiday. And to honest, we didn’t have that many nice holidays.

Spoiler alert: you own your joy

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Spoiler alert: you own your joy

Well, I had a relatively quiet couple of months. The butterflies have launched, the play has closed and I’m back to managing three-ish jobs with moderate success. And then blam-o, the calendar reminds me that Mother’s Day is upon us with Father’s Day close behind.
Mother’s Day is the parenting equivalent of Valentines Day. Moms need and deserve a day. We (all) bust our butts for a reward that is a long time coming, if it comes at all. These days, with single moms being held responsible for a plethora of social ills, from lashing out in school to rioting, it’s hard to keep your head up. And my day to day, is still, well, embarrassing. I spend uncountable hours performing glamorous tasks like, cleaning up dog feces and looking for lost shoes and pieces of paper. Added to the mix is my own second (er, third) adolescence. I made toast this morning and felt pretty proud of myself. This month all the bills were paid basically on time, I only forgot one RSVP and I kept up with the various other appointments, well mostly. I made attempts to create quality time, to be patient, to be compassionate, to be quiet. I did my best, with varying results.
My point being, Mother’s Day can feel like an F-U. It can be the grim remembrance of who you are not, or who you have lost. I’m lucky to have a mom, to be able to call her, to be able to send her a gift. And I’m fairly certain my mother is racked with guilt and feelings of inadequacy that no card or bouquet of flowers can ever repair. I know because now I get to live on the other side of that equation too. Then of course, there’s the folks that fall into the categories of having lost their mother, being estranged from their mother, or just having a complicated relationship with their mother. See, it’s valentines day for parenting.
Being a mom is simultaneously the most difficult and the most rewarding accomplishment of my life. So, Mother’s Day is our day dammit! Moms, we earned this day. Daughters and sons, you earned this day to honor or remember or even be thankful that you live across the country from your mom. But we each get to decide what this day means and how we want to honor, or ignore it. But it is a choice. Confidentially i have set aside some sad sacking time on Saturday explicitly for moaning and feeling sorry for myself, for lamenting the mom I cannot be on my own and the husband that left me to do just that. But then I have a new plan. I say, If you’re feeling left out of the holiday send someone flowers, anyone who cares for you without demand, send your daughter flowers, or the old lady at the convince store that always calls you, ” honey!” . Send a card to the secretary at church, buy lunch for the waitress. Mow the lawn of an elderly neighbor, buy yourself a latte and a cupcake, You can honor anyone you want and I guarantee you’ll make the day of whomever you gift with your thoughts, because that’s often what being a mother is about: caring for someone else, taking care of the village.

Without pants

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Without pants

My nine year old is yelling at me from downstairs insisting that all of her clothes are too small, she needs new clothes. A part of me believes there are numerous pants of the correct size strewn about her cluttered floor. The sofa alone houses nearly 9,000 mismatched pairs of socks at this moment. But she is growing and one complication of transformation is not fitting into the old things, the comfortable things, the available things.
Growth is hard, ask a seed. It utterly destroys you. I think that’s part of why we avoid change so desperately, even in the face of powerful evidence that staying complacent in slowly killing us. How many people can we all wisely observe from afar and discern that they are all making tremendous mistakes in their relationships, in their lives. Why do they stay? We would never do that. Compromise myself ? Pish.
Obviously I joke, it’s one of the many tactics I employ for avoiding change. Do you suppose the seed feels complacent while roots and stems are bursting through it’s hard outer shell? Perhaps the butterfly holds tight to its legs, having wings will just be too terrifying. But for the seed, or the butterfly avoiding change means to actually cease to exist. We don’t have the luxury of forced transformation. We can choose to stay in our comfortable cocoon forever. Stagnation carries it’s own pain though, and there is a price to pay for sitting still. Can’t go around it. Have to go through it, painful and uncomfortable though it may be. The good news is there is a reason to push forward, endure the transformation and reap the rewards: authenticity.
She found pants. They make her legs itch. Horribly itch. Itch with the fire of a thousand flames. Holding on to the old pants has become too painful. Only one thing left to do, change.

Transformation #375

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Transformation #375

Once, as a child, I made a bad choice and was sent to my room for an hour. At the end of the hour, my mother opened my door and said that I could come out. My response? ” it’s already been an hour!” I was in the midst of playing something that involved an old zip up suitcase and my play sized kitchen sink. My imagination was my best friend, I preferred it over most humans for many years to come.
I am a fiercely independent only child and survivor of many things. I have numerous friends, and have entertained (hopefully) many people. I adore making people laugh, I delight in the stories that people share, I enjoy the buzz of parties and I am more comfortable on a stage in front of a sold out house than most any place.
I am happy eating alone, watching a movie alone, spending the day alone. I have traveled throughout the United States, Amsterdam and Germany alone. I have bought cars, and houses, drawn up wills and settled estates alone. I have raised my daughters virtually alone, not every moment, but the majority of the day in and day out, the midnight terrors, the early morning breakdowns, the fears, the hopes, the disappointments.
I have done some of it by choice, somethings by necessity, some by habit. I have taken pride in some of it, responsibility for most of it and when things failed, I have taken it hard. I have actively avoided help, slyly ignored offers, purposely pushed people away. Not always because it was best, but because it felt the safest. I made bad choices that made good relationships hard and worse choices that made bad relationships easier. Being fiercely independent, is the opposite of being vulnerable.
That fierce independence has served me well though. It has protected me in the worst of times and kept me in the survivor column. But it has also caused me to miss out on real opportunities for real love. It has left voids where deep friendships and connectedness should be. There are many ways to be alone, closing yourself off to deep connection is only one way.
Fifteen years ago I flung myself into the fire, with an openness to love and a deep desire to be a mother and a wife. I wasn’t as careful as I needed to be, I didn’t keep my eyes open. I loved boldly, though. I earned that deep connection.
And the time has come to love boldly again, to be vulnerable to the other honest-hearted souls, to love fearlessly, but wisely. I’ve grown and I’ve sheltered, I’ve healed and I’m healing. And the time has come to open up, loosen my heart, feel the warmth of intimacy, the comforting embrace of another. To give.
And I’ve taken my first baby step, by being vulnerable to each of you.

Careful what you wish for

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Careful what you wish for

I believe in karma. Meaning, I believe what you give out to the universe, is what you get back. Maybe that’s not karma exactly, but it’s the word I’m going with, much like alanis mortisette’s use of the word “ironic”.
So I am fairly careful about what I specifically wish for, I think the universe has a way of allowing you to learn your lessons the hardest ways possible, so you don’t forget. I suppose I imagine the personified version of the universe much like the cigar smoking uncle in the Christmas Vacation movies with Chevy Chase. “Ok, you want a date that’s footloose and charming well here’s your philandering pharmacist, stupid. ”
The trouble is, thinking you know what you want, and not REALLY knowing. The universe is happy to oblige by sending you what you asked for, but seems remarkably absent when you try to return said request when it implodes in your face. Like rubbing a magic lamp, better be sure of what you wish for.
So what do I REALLY want? I want what I believe we all want: to be happy. So what does that look for me? I think this is where things get sticky. I had a very specific version of happiness, or at least I thought so. I met, fell in love with, married and had three beautiful, smart daughters, with a brilliant, successful, kind-hearted man. Who wouldn’t be happy!?
Of course, Chris was more complicated than that short list of adjectives and the challenges came in the spaces in between all of that. But I believed that was ALL I needed. So coming up with a NEW list, feels terrifying. What if I don’t know what I need to be happy, or worse, what if I don’t trust that I know what will make me happy?
Before I go too much further I believe it’s important to clarify, I am happy. I am human, I am struggling at times, I am healing, but I am happy. And I love to say to my girls, “No one can MAKE you anything.” But there are people who come into our lives that make it easier to choose to be happy and people who make it harder to choose to be happy. So what I’m really asking for is a partner who will make choosing to be happy easier. And I think the real challenge for me still, is trusting what I feel when I meet that person.
It’s a little like buying a car…you make a list of features you’d like, you save your money and you shop. You’ll like some cars, some would do fine, but one day you find the quirky, little, blue Mini Cooper and you just know that you’d be heart broken if you came back and it wasn’t in the lot anymore. Buying cars is easier than trusting my heart still, but as I keep saying, I’m learning.

The makeshift menagerie

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The makeshift menagerie

Just when even I had begun to wonder if we had purchased a “bad” batch of butterflies, the first butterfly burst out of its chrysalis and back into the world. Overnight two more emerged and there is once again hope for the remaining two. They are very still, likely exhausted from the hard work of transformation.
Currently in our home we have the 3 butterflies, two gerbils we are keeping for a friend who is Ireland, our own two cats and two dogs. We have a fairly impressive collection of animals. I’ve not even mentioned the spider that terrified M last night because it was hanging out over her bed or the stink bug that terrified A when she discovered it on her shoe box. It is a house full of life to be sure.
So, in keeping with literary analogies, you know the next step in keeping the butterflies, is letting them go. To keep them here would mean a miserable existence for them. What a life, to have wings and never really get to fly. Selfishly, we’d like to keep them here, to observe for our own enjoyment, what the remainder of their life is like. After all, don’t we deserve that? We’ve nurtured them, cared for them, fretted over them. What about our delight?
As it turns out, the cross stitch pillow is right, if you love something you have to set it free. Especially if that something, or someone, is better off without you.
We will enjoy our last day or so, with our house full of life, watching the butterflies learn to use their wings, feeding them so they can go out and do amazing butterfly things. Pollinate the hell out of some flowers. And though it is not as heartbreaking as letting go of the people that we’ve had to let go of, it reminds us that nurturing must be selfless in order to be really nurturing.

This is my spring

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This is my spring

I survived the fall wedding anniversary
The November birthday
Thanksgiving
Christmas
New Years
There were no cards, only thoughts
The world seemed to be getting colder
And darker
I waited, with dread, for the late January anniversary
My heart clouded
My chest heavy

I survived each day
Shallow, breaths
Watched amazing fuchsia sunrises
Followed the path of waves
Peered into the fog
Studied the stars
Hid
Waited
Cried

I survived the most recent anniversary
The one that marks the day you left us
I was reminded of my daughters’ sorrow
I felt the love of my tribe
I cried

And today is my spring
I can feel the air fully filling my lungs
Once again
The weight of sorrow is lessened
I made it through the darkest days
It is accomplished once again

I know grief, like weather,
Is unpredictable
There can be snow in March
And April
But I know the trend is up
Each day holds more sunshine than the last
This is my spring