Thursday, September 14, 2017

Breathe

A very difficult year is finally over, what should have been Mark's senior year.  His friends have all left for colleges around the country.  I won't have my breath taken away when I see them in person and realize how much they've grown.  I won't have to listen to their happy parents discussing college acceptance letters.  And I can go to the high school and not be slapped in the face by what they're doing that Mark isn't.  It was a year to be endured, culminating in me sending very late graduation cards with heartfelt wishes for his friends to go out and be the best they can be.  It hurts to think about all the things Mark isn't doing, but I sincerely want his friends to live wonderful lives, especially knowing how his death might have shaped their high school days.

Saturday is Mark's 19th birthday.  How can that be?  The anticipation of the day is the hardest part.  I feel unsettled, erratic, like I want to yell at strangers for no good reason, smoke cigarettes, blast AC/DC and Aerosmith until the neighbors complain.  If past years are any indication, I should be back to myself by Sunday--quiet, non-smoking and polite.

This doesn't get easier, you just figure out how to live with your heart split wide open.  How to protect it.  How to avoid those who can't see it.  How to surround yourself with those who can.  How to fall into the grief hole, climb out, brush yourself off, and breathe again.

Monday, May 22, 2017

I'm in Vienna.  Why, you ask, are you in Vienna?  I'm meeting my oldest and her university choir here later today, and then on Friday she and I will go on to Germany to stay with the family of the German exchange student who lived with us five years ago.  We have a tradition of taking the kids on a trip somewhere in the US one-on-one with either mom or dad when they turn 7 and 15, and now, apparently, we're setting the precedent that at age 21 you get an international trip.  That's fine by me!

Until the choir arrives, I'm touring Vienna alone.  It isn't the first time I've been alone in a European city.  In college I visited a friend doing a semester in Rome.  She had class during the day, so I saw Rome by myself.  And when I went to school in Japan, I spent plenty of time wandering around both Kyoto and Osaka alone.  But I was younger then, and invincible.  Now I'm old and a little bit scared.  I've had to reawaken my self-reliance and tap into my forgotten invincibility.  When I arrived safely at my hotel yesterday, I patted myself on the back for successfully getting myself on three different flights, and then finding my way to the hotel by train and subway pulling a too-big blue suitcase behind me.

Back home Mark's classmates are preparing for graduation in a couple of weeks.  I don't know where I'll be the evening of graduation, but I do know I won't be anywhere near the high school.  My heart can't take seeing happy families celebrating what we can't.  Envy is an ugly emotion and the one that has surprised me the most since Mark died.  I should probably talk myself out of it, but like other emotions I've experienced the last 2 1/2 years, I just let it be.  These days I'm most comfortable around people who live with their emotions openly and honestly, and who give me the grace to do the same.

For the next week, though, I get to enjoy Austria and Germany.  I'm not sure I could ask for a better distraction from what can't be.  Prost!


Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Rotting Vegetables

Another cucumber went bad in my fridge.

It's a symptom of my brain not working.
It's evidence of my inability to plan meals and execute that plan.
I forget.  I forget that I have fresh vegetables.  I buy fresh vegetables like I used to, before when my brain worked, when my brain had room, room for things like a mental inventory of the fresh fruits and vegetables in my fridge.

I'm at the store nearly every day buying that day's dinner ingredients because I can't plan ahead.  But some days I get overconfident.  I buy like I used to, but I have no plan, and so I forget.

There's asparagus in there, too.  I planned to make it the same day I bought it, but when I got home, I forgot.  We had leftovers and hot dogs for dinner that night.  Now the asparagus is limp.

Grief lives in my refrigerator as rotting vegetables.

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Mothering

When your primary occupation for years and years has been mothering, and then when your child takes his life, you know people are judging your skill as a mother, and you know this because you did it yourself, before, with friends, speculated about why a child would take their own life, and always it came back to bad parenting.  And as a mother whose primary occupation for years and years has been mothering, you feel defeated, and you act particularly upbeat out in public with your children, especially at their school, proving to the world over and over again that your son came from a good home with a loving mother.  But you question yourself, your ability to mother, wondering if anything you do really makes a difference, exhausted by the most basic daily tasks, so that a simple trip to the dentist with your children feels like an accomplishment above and beyond what it should, because making the appointment, and getting everyone dressed and there on time requires monumental effort. 

"See, I am a good mother," you say to no one in particular, and to everyone who might think you're not.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Grief is like . . .

Grief is like a colostomy bag.

It's this thing you carry with you, tucked away, hidden.

Ever present on your mind, distracting, demanding.

People who know about it don't talk about it out of politeness.

People you've just met get uncomfortable if you mention it, so you learn not to.

You can't blame them for not wanting to hear about your shit.


Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Grief, grief, grief

Grief is boring.  My blog is boring.  Who wants to hear one more word about grief?  I know I don't.

But I can't get away from it.

My primary identity is as a grieving parent.  I don't remember feeling this way about other difficult things I've dealt with.  I'm the parent of a child with Down syndrome, but it's never felt like my primary identity.  I'm a cancer mom, but, again, it's never felt like my primary identity.  But this?  This is huge.

Mark died over 20 months ago.  That's a long time.  And no time at all.

If you've never lost a child and you think you can possibly imagine what it's like, you can't.  It's like trying to explain to expectant parents the amazing feeling of love you have for your own kids.  You can't really understand it until you experience it.

There's little that interests me these days.  I keep my family loved, comforted, fed, and clothed.  When I'm not actively engaged in any of those activities, I just exist.  Joy comes in little bursts, and then it's back to the grind of grief.  Not crying all the time, just weighed down.

Grief, grief, grief.  Ugh.

Saturday, March 19, 2016

No Happy Ending

Everyone loves a good story.  People gobble up tales of those who overcome adversity.  You see it on magazine covers, hear it in the "feel good" stories on the news.  Some sort of difficulty is faced and overcome, the person learns a lesson, grows, and is changed for the better.  I often listen to Christian talk radio in the car.  It seems recently the programs have all featured people who've had bad things happen, but who are now able to share how God saw them through, a neat package of adversity tied up with a big bright bow.

Three weeks before Mark died I spoke at a women's retreat.  I told the women about the times I faced adversity and how I grew with God's help.  I told the story of my husband's mom coming to live with us, how we felt it was the right thing to do, but how it was very difficult to carry out on a daily basis.  I told them how things started off great, then went sour, but how my attitude changed and I came to appreciate her.  I was also able to tell about John's birth, how hearing the words "Down syndrome" knocked the wind out of me, and how I felt God revealed to me the blessing John is.  I challenged the women to seek God and trust in him.  Happy, happy.  Adversity overcome.  Yada, yada, yada.  It all feels like a cruel joke now.

The morning of the retreat as we gathered, a murmur went through the group when one woman came through the door.  "I'm surprised to see her here," someone said.  When I asked why, I was told her adult son had taken his life that week.  I knew I had nothing to offer that woman.  All my happy talk about overcoming adversity couldn't touch what she was going through.  As I spoke I specifically avoided making eye contact with her.  What did it feel like to lose a child?  What did it feel like to lose a child to suicide?  Little did I know what lay ahead for me.

So here I am nearly 17 months after my own son's death, February conveniently including a 29th this year so I could properly count the month.  I am stuck in my adversity and see no way out.  I wrote before about hanging onto my faith, and I'm trying, I really am, but I'm angry at God.  I don't think I'll ever be able to talk about this event with a positive twist.  Could I tell a nice group of women at a retreat on a Saturday morning that I cuss like a sailor, that I use the f-word freely, that without it I feel unable to properly express my continued bewilderment and incredulity?  Would any nice Christian want to hear from a woman who's abrasive and coarse?

There's nothing happy here, no positive twist.  There's only broken and frustrated and sad with the ache of missing, missing, missing.