Remember my confession about being a little too focused on death and grief lately? Yeah, well, this woman took the same problem and did something really amazing.
When I grow up - I want to be Candy Chang.
Remember my confession about being a little too focused on death and grief lately? Yeah, well, this woman took the same problem and did something really amazing.
When I grow up - I want to be Candy Chang.
I wish grace and healing were more abracadabra kind of things. Also, that delicate silver bells would ring to announce grace's arrival. But no, it's clog and slog and scootch, on the floor, in the silence, in the dark. - Anne Lamott Grace (Eventally): Thoughts on Faith
"Well, if that's your thing then go with it. Write about that."
This was her answer to my reason excuse for not writing lately. I was explaining that I felt like every time I show up at the page (or the Mac, in this case), I write about death or the emotions, circumstances and general crazy surrounding death.
“Ahhh,” she said, “Grief.”
Yes. Grief. It hangs there over my head like one of those speech balloons in a comic strip. It showed up when my mother died, and has lingered far too long. And so, for the last few years, everything I write seems heavy with sadness. Everything I say sounds like something an old woman would say.
Just as I would start to feel a little better – something else would happen. There was the tornado. And then PJ’s daddy died, and then Bobbie Jo’s brother, Wesley, died, and then my Gran Gran died. I started to worry all the time about my own mortality. I began to imagine the worst if PJ was even five minutes later coming home than usual. Maybe he had a wreck. Or I would flip out if I didn’t hear from Bobbie Jo after work. What if she’d been shot? Oh dear God, what if PJ was in a fiery crash because he was driving recklessly on his way home to let me know Bobbie Jo had been shot? Holy Mother of God. It went on and on and on. It was maddening.
“Right,” she said. “That’s anxiety.”
Yes. Anxiety. It smothers me like an itchy wool blanket. It showed up when I was too young to know it was even there. I don’t remember a time that I didn’t feel like everything I accomplish just isn’t good enough. Or that everything I love seems likely to slip away while I’m not paying attention.
She didn’t bring up the subject of depression per se. I think we were just focusing on the recurring symptoms at this point. I realize my depression isn’t likely to just go away.
Yes, depression. We’ve talked about this before. It’s quite likely the root of all of my issues. And it’s the reason I found myself this day sitting across from my therapist spouting off a long list of reasons why I haven’t blogged. My not blogging (or not writing in a journal or not crafting/creating) is a red flag. It’s the notice to me (and everyone who knows me well -all 3 or 4 of you) that something is wrong. That I’m headed down the rabbit hole.
So maybe the way out is to write about it. Maybe that’s what I’ve been trying to do here. Although I haven’t posted anything in over a year, I’ve written many things that I abandoned midway through for fear my voice had become maudlin. I worried I was becoming the Joan Didion of blogging. (Not that this would be a bad gig – I rather love her work.) But I started finding it difficult to read my own stuff. After all, I was trying to cheer up. The cynical ramblings of a melancholy middle-aged woman with clinical depression and free-floating anxiety were not helping.
Is the fact that I’m here today any indication that I’m getting better? I think so. I’ve made conscious decisions to focus on the happier things in life, and I’ve made real efforts to nurture the more positive relationships in my world. I finally made a decision about grad school, and took a year off from the doctoral program. I’m back now, and I will finish my course work next semester. We recently bought a house in a super cute historic neighborhood, so I’ve been enjoying all the Pinterest hopping and magazine flipping that comes with decorating a new space. I’ve gotten healthier (and thankfully, leaner) from a physical standpoint as well by upping my protein intake and lowering my wine intake. My doctor hasn’t changed the medication I take for depression and anxiety in years. We discussed and considered increasing my dose at one point during all this, but I wanted to try and just work on it all from a more cognitive or emotional angle. I’m not sure why I decided to handle it this way – I think it took much longer than it would have had I just let an increase in medication balance me out. And I’m not even sure that I’m completely out of the woods yet.
Just yesterday on the way home from work I was listening to 70s on 7 when I heard “Come Monday.” Immediately I was in the passenger seat of my mother’s 1972 red Malibu Classic sitting at the light at Parkway East and Roebuck Drive. She was singing along. A year ago this memory would have left me in a sobbing mess. My evening would have been ruined. But yesterday, I sang along, and remembered her tan legs on the white vinyl seats and that she had her flip-flops at her side just in case she needed shoes for some reason. (She rarely wore shoes in the summer. We spent most of our time by the pool.) And I was OK with that memory. My evening wasn’t ruined at all. I didn’t even think about it again until I sat down here at the Mac today.
So maybe I’m back. I hope so. I have to admit - I've kinda missed me.
Did I mention I went skydiving? I'm thinking I did not. Because that was a Monday, and we came home on a Tuesday, and then the very next day was the tornado. So the roller coaster of emotions that week set me back a little. To say the least.
I made this little book and ordered it today from Shutterfly. If you see a big blank white space below it's because you don't have Flash so just click on the link at the bottom to see the book. I have a video, too. Maybe I will share that later. It's pretty awesome if I do say so myself.
I love creating photo books with Shutterfly. It's a quick and easy way to satisfy my scrapbooking urge when I don't have the time or space to drag out all the scrappy stuff.
I will look at this book when I need to be reminded that I can do anything.
There’s a bit of guilt that comes along with escaping any harm or damage from a random natural disaster like the killer tornado that ripped through here 12 days ago. Guilt? I’m not sure how else to describe it. It’s not like I’m wishing that our home had been reduced to mere rubble or thinking I should have died in the place of one of the 41 people who did, but more like an aching sense that something is not fair about it all.
Why do innocent and sweet babies die? Why should young and beautiful students experience such horror or even die such terrifying deaths? Why are those who already live in the projects struggling just to get by forced to deal with the most destruction and left with absolutely nowhere to call home? Why are the most historic of neighborhoods able to disappear from the map in less than a minute?
I have no answers, of course, but that doesn’t stop me from fretting over the questions. My stomach and my heart are still in knots. It’s almost more than I can bear to watch. I know it has been said a thousand times, but really, the pictures don’t do it justice. To see the destruction with your own eyes is surreal. It’s impossible to describe. So I won’t try.
There are two specific moments, though, that stand out for me in all that has transpired since that day. The night of the tornado, I had a really tough time getting home. It’s a crazy story that I do want to tell at some point, but for now, let’s just say I was terrified. So there I was trying to get home, and I ended up on this road that I soon realized was impassable. There were literally hundreds of people walking in one direction – all with these dazed and twisted looks on their faces - some in pajamas, some in nothing but pants, some with shoes, some without. Some had children and pets following along with them. I don’t know why but my car windows were down, so the screaming and crying was really loud. One large woman in a tight knit yellow dress looked at me and yelled, “You can’t go down there! People are dead down there! DEAD! People are dead!” Then she kept on walking, barefoot and waving her hands in the air. I wanted to vomit. The next day I figured out I had been just up the street from Rosedale Court – the housing project where many lives were lost and almost every home was completely destroyed. Again, I wanted to vomit.
Two days later, PJ and I took supplies to Rosedale Baptist Church. A row of old houses next to the church also had major damage. Many of the houses were left as just walls with no roof and no belongings, many were just piles of wood and brick. One house had its top level sliding off the front of it as if it had been sliced with a knife that stopped just short of finishing the job. There was no roof on this house, no front door, no windows. You could see the attic of the house because it was now dangling above the porch. In the attic was a Christmas tree, complete with fake snow on the branches. Beside the front porch in a lawn chair sat an elderly woman with bandages on her arms. She was just sitting there watching people come and go. This was her home, and I could tell by the look in her eyes that she was not leaving. She was there to protect what was left – even if all that was left was a cheap artificial tree and a rickety old lawn chair.
I haven’t cried yet. I’m afraid if I start, I may never stop.
The worst part for PJ and me right now is feeling like we want to help, but not ever feeling like what we do is enough. So we do what we can and we pray. How can you help? Please pray for these people. Please consider giving to the Mid-Alabama region of The American Red Cross to help.
And right now - please tell those people that you love how you feel. I believe more than ever that we are not guaranteed a tomorrow. I will never be the same as a result of this. And I think the sweetest way to honor those who lost their lives that night is to learn to live like we are dying.
Love deeper, speak sweeter…
"The price of anything is the amount of life you exchange for it." Henry Thoreau
I’m pretty sure we’ve discussed this before since I seem to have this unending chatter going on in my head about what I’m trading or giving up in life in order to accomplish this or that. The “this or that” I’m currently pondering is more accurately described as a PhD. I’m in my second year of classes – a somewhat critical point for me since I feel like completing another semester or two would mean there’s no turning back. I mean, who in their right mind would spend that much time and energy only to quit just before obtaining the illustrious prize? I realize plenty of people get all the way to the end of course work and never finish a dissertation…it’s actually pretty common. But that’s not gonna be me. The looming dissertation seems like a piece of cake to me. It’s the course work that’s killing me. The sitting in a classroom listening to excruciatingly boring lectures, the reading of chapter after chapter of blah, blah, blah, and the pretending to be impressed or enlightened by any of what I’m hearing or reading. I’m not saying I haven’t learned a lot because I certainly have. I’m just saying I don’t really care all that much about what I’ve learned. I think I’m supposed to be more interested than I am. I think I’m even supposed to be somewhat passionate about what I’m studying, but truth be told - I’m not. And that concerns me for several reasons - not the least of which is the amount of time I’m spending on it all.
Let’s talk about time, shall we?
A couple of weeks ago Bobbie Jo and I took the four nieces to The Great Pumpkin Patch for a day of adventure. It was one of those gorgeous October Saturdays that makes you acutely aware of your surroundings and causes you to remember every other beautiful fall day you’ve ever spent outside in the loveliness. I caught myself daydreaming about childhood afternoons spent crunching around in the leaves with my neighborhood peeps, remembering crazy fun nights at the Alabama State Fair with my high school pals, and reminiscing about autumn evenings sitting on the front steps of Vail dorm making out with my boyfriend when I should have been studying. Certainly you know the kind of stuff I’m talking about. It’s the kind of stuff that makes up our lives – the time spent. Time spent with those we love.
So anyway, we’re at the pumpkin patch and I’m a little overwhelmed by it all. Here are these four beautiful children who are just so open to love and fun and...life! They were just soaking up every minute of it all without even knowing it. And the things they say and do all remind me of the things we all said and did as children. Their laughter, and even their whining, is all too familiar. More than once I felt like my heart was going to jump out of my body and dance around in the pumpkins. For the first time in a long time, I wasn’t thinking about a paper that was due tomorrow or a book I was supposed to read in less than a week. I wasn’t thinking about anything. I was just with those children and Bobbie Jo in that moment. It was brief, but it was oh so powerful. Over the last couple of weeks, every time I think about whether or not I should register for spring semester classes, I’m reminded of that afternoon at the pumpkin patch. I’ve wondered why the two were connected, and the only thing I can figure is that what I’m really trying to decide is if the price of a PhD is worth the amount of my life I’m exchanging for it. Is the time I’m spending worth the end result? I wish I could say I’ve had a revelation and I know what I’m going to do, but that’s not the case. I’m stuck. It’s not as simple a decision as I would like for it to be, but nothing ever is with me. (I’m cursed in that way.) Maybe if I were excited about what I’m studying I wouldn’t even stop to wonder if I should go on. Maybe if I knew I could have 10 more afternoons in a pumpkin patch with those girls I would give up the idea of a PhD. I don’t know. I guess that’s the real problem with time, isn’t it? We don’t ever know how much of it is left.
I would be willing to bet, though, that it’s not nearly enough.
The real reasons I haven't written more lately:
1. Work: I'm insanely busy with nothing that matters and completely overwhelmed by all that does. There are people and situations there (as I'm sure I've mentioned before) making me crazy. There's nothing I can do about it right now other than just continue to try to improve my reactions to said people and situations. That's much more difficult than it sounds. I promise.
2. Television: Both good and bad TV sucking me in lately. I hate to even say that, though, because I watch far less TV than most people I know. I'm on a bit of a reality show kick. I'm sure that says something about me and my reality, but I would like to skip that discussion for now. I've become obsessed with "Ruby." She's adorable. I catch myself slipping into her accent every now and then. I'm also digging "Police Women of Broward County." Andrea reminds me of Bobbie Jo in many ways. Clean House makes me both disgusted and giddy. And I've loved "Big Medicine" forever. I know what you are thinking - I'm a huge nerd. I know there are some great shows out there right now. I hear y'all talking about them, see you tweeting about them. I know I can't even start watching it (True Blood) or I will be hooked forever. I can't make that type of commitment right now.
3. Grief: Still working though my emotions surrounding my mom. Some days are better than others. I had forgotten that this time of year (back to school) would remind me so much of her. So I've had some come aparts lately - mostly in the school supply aisles of random retail establishments. Although a little embarrassing and inconvenient, I imagine that will be how it is for a long while.
Just thought you might want to hear my excuses. What's keeping you from writing these days?
In keeping with the video theme this week, I thought I would post this that I found on Kerry Lynn's blog not too long ago. I've watched it again and again and again. Because I believe I was meant to see it at the exact moment that I did...the exact moment when I thought I couldn't possibly take one more thing happening to me or to anyone I love. Once I saw this I realized that of course I can take it. I will keep going because I always do. Bring it on.
There are times when I don’t write much at all. I have numerous theories on why that is, but they all boil down to a couple of basic themes: 1) not enough time and 2) too much emotion. It’s as though I can’t let my brain stop long enough to record what is going on for fear that I will fall behind or fall apart - neither of which I can afford right now. It’s always been interesting to me how writing is both my therapeutic confessional and my escape from reality. I’m happiest (and do my best work) when my life and my feelings are falling somewhere in the middle of the road. But we all know this has not been a middle of the road kind of year.
So I thought it would be best to just catch up and continue my timeline of “life since my mom died.” I imagine when the anniversary of her death comes around I will have to come up with some other way to reference time and events. Maybe by then I will have found a way to measure experience that doesn’t include my wondering what her reaction to all of this would have been. Secretly, I think she would not have handled parts of it all real well – and maybe that’s why she’s not physically here now – in the middle of it.
This will be a photo heavy post, but I find that photos tell the story better than I ever could.
OK, so where were we? Oh yes, Hank. Precious little Hank. My sister (Marianne) went into labor a few weeks early and Hank was breech so she had to have an emergency C Section. She called me at work, but I was really busy hanging out on the sales floor with this co-worker and missed the call:
Finally PJ found me and I took off for the hour long trip to the hospital. I made it just in time to be in the delivery room with her.
Surprisingly we all made it through that experience just fine. Here's the result:
I hung out in the nursery with Hank while he got cleaned up and ready to meet everyone. I know the nurses thought I was crazy, but they were very patient with me – explaining every little thing about him, answering my 756,000 questions, and letting me take 26 gajillion pictures. Hank and I bonded that day, and I will never forget the experience of watching him wake up to a whole new world. Truly, it was the most incredible afternoon and evening I’ve ever had. I know my mother’s spirit was there all around us those few hours. I felt it in a way I can’t even explain.
(Oh, and worth remembering, if you’re in the nursery with the baby, you don’t have to be in the waiting room with all of the crazy family members.) It was very sweet to see Banana so excited about her new cousin. She couldn't take her eyes off of him, and when she finally got to hold him, she kept saying, "Little fella! Little fella!"
So a few days later when Marianne and Hank were finally home, Marianne started running a fever. The next day she ended up back in the hospital with an infection. While in the hospital she started having problems breathing. It took almost a week and many tests, etc. to figure this entire thing out, but she has been diagnosed with Postpartum Cardiomyopathy. Doctors think she will recover nicely with the medication she is taking. She’s home again and on oxygen when needed. I think the hardest part of being in the hospital for her was being away from Hank and the girls. My brother and his wife took care of Koo Koo and Smudge the entire time. I’m sure adding those two girls to their two little girls made for a frazzled week at their house, but they all seemed to handle it well. Hank spent the first weekend with us at Bobbie Jo’s house. Yes, you read that correctly. We (PJ, Bobbie Jo and I) kept Hank for the weekend. And he survived! We even took him to a 4th of July party and to his newborn check-up at the pediatrician’s office. (That’s a blog entry in itself!) Let me just say that I have a new respect for all of my friends with even one child. I was beyond worn out when the weekend was over. When I had to go back to work, our Aunt Jennifer took Hank to her house for the rest of the time Marianne was in the hospital. (Jennifer raised four children so I have a feeling she knew a little more about what she was doing.)
Scenes from Hank's "Tour de Aunties" follow:
So that’s what I’ve been doing and where I’ve been. I hope to update the 365 blog tonight or tomorrow for those of you who follow that.
All of this might have been easier to handle if other ridiculous things weren’t going on at the same time. You know, if my stepfather weren’t acting like a junior high boy with his new girlfriend. Or if the baby daddy had shown any interest in even seeing Hank. Or if my job weren't so stressful. Or if we all weren’t so consumed with worry over how all of this is going to play out for Marianne and her children.
But here's the thing - he's here and he's healthy. And we all are madly in love with him.
I'll be back here later in the week with a book review and give-away. Oh, and photos and details from my little bro's very fun wedding last weekend.
The baby birdies have hatched! I can see the very tippy tops of their heads through the front door window. If the mama weren't so scary looking I might try to get closer, but I can tell she would kick my ass. And I have a long standing fear of birds.
Another bird comes to visit every now and then. I'm assuming he is the daddy because all he does is stand beside the nest looking very uninterested while the mama flies off to run some errands. As soon as she comes back, he takes off. Interesting.
Speaking of mama / daddy stuff - I'm supposed to be in the delivery room with my sister when Hank is born so I've been preparing myself by watching births on YouTube. Oh my. Just when you think you have seen it all. Today I watched a woman giving birth unattended in her home. UNATTENDED. Meaning only her husband was present and she was in this kiddie pool looking thing screaming like a wild animal and out comes a baby. Sweet Mother of God. It was unreal. Whyyyyy? Don't get me wrong - I'm impressed, but it was more like the kind of impressed you are when you see someone bungee jump. I'm not sure all that's really necessary these days. Granted I've never had a baby, but I'm thinking I would choose another option. And I'm also thinking I would have kicked that useless husband with his video camera to the curb a long time ago.
Not much else has happened around here. Well, even saying that makes me laugh because of all of the DRAMA that seems to be floating around my life these days. Lots of nonsense. There's none of it I particularly want to discuss at this point. Simply because discussing it all might interfere with my plan of IGNORING it all. Denial is a beautiful thing.
I had knee surgery last week and that shall be my latest excuse for not blogging. Now that we've gotten that out of the way:
Seriously I feel like everything I've written (whether on paper, here on this blog or in my head) in the last several months has started with "since my mom died." It's as though I measure all time now by its proximity to November 18, 2008. I'm not exactly sure why that is given the fact that as relationships go - my mother and I didn't have the best of one. Maybe we were closer than I even knew - in one of those mother/daughter bonds that I've read about over the years but wasn't consciously aware I was participating in.
More likely is the possibility that I'm not only grieving her death, but grieving the relationship I so badly wanted with her that will now, for sure, never exist. I don't know that given more time our issues would have been resolved. I tend to doubt it based on her emotional state over the last few years and my inability to just let go of all that was eating away at me.
I forgave her long ago for all the things I thought she had done or said to me that were inappropriate, ridiculous or overbearing. But even after forgiving her, I never really let her get too close to me again. Not that she tried or pushed, really. I think she thought we just were who we were, and she loved me in spite of that. I know she had to do her fair share of forgiving, too. I can't imagine trying to raise (much less love and nurture) such a smart ass know-it-all. But she did love me. Fiercely. Having never had children, I guess I really can't even imagine how deeply she loved me.
Here's the problem, though...the thing that keeps ringing in my head and breaking my heart is that no one will ever love me like that again. There is no other mama. She was it. She waited on me to come around and all the while she loved me just the same. I want so badly to know I didn't disappoint her like I think I must have. I want so badly to know that she didn't notice my holding back.
A bird has built a nest just outside on our front porch awning and we have the perfect view of her through a window above the front door. I have no idea how long it takes for the baby birdies to hatch, but she's been there for days sitting and waiting. She's there every single time I walk by. Her position rarely changes. When PJ first saw her, he thought she was dead because she's so still and quiet. But we can see she is breathing. I keep checking on her, thinking she will give up and abandon what must be an empty nest. But there she sits. The mama. Waiting on something to love. I hope she's not disappointed.