Sunday, January 30, 2011

Memories of snow

We have the potential for some very nasty winter weather this coming Tuesday, which is to be my first day of clinicals at Childrens Medical Center. I am glued to and any other weather report I can get my hands on. You would think I fly a plane for a living, but no. Just my own unique kind of crazy as I sit and pray and pray and pray not just for an icy snow day, but for one that is ugly enough to make the world stop. I want the world to stop and I want to sit by the window and hold my kitten and watch the world change the way it did that week that Joseph died. I want it so so badly, that time with absolutely nothing going on - no interruptions, no "have to's", no place to go, nothing to be. I want it in the worst possible way. The latest report tonight has us not getting much, if anything at all, and I want to holler in irritation and I want them to be wrong. I am probably the only person over the age of 12 in this city who is praying for days and days of ugly weather.

I have stabilized a bit. I got through a couple of the hiccups that had come my way early in the semester and I am working again on studying hard. I have been chosen to attend with nine other students the NSNA (National Student Nurse Association) conference in Galveston at the end of next month, most expenses paid by the school and I am looking forward to that. I am feeling more settled and more honest inside me and given the internal upheaval I was riding on, the relative calmness feels good. Yesterday was a beautiful day here, up to 80 degrees, and I took a long 4 mile walk and just felt.....happy. Truthfully happy, happy in simplicity. Not ecstatic. Not waves of joy. Just the warmth of the sun and the strength of my body and the music I like to listen to.

I have started doing little things to take better care of myself and it seems to be helping as well. Eating more whole foods. Tracking what I eat for the purpose of trying to balance my nutritional intake better. Joe bought us both a gym membership and we have been doing that together, which is both fun and bonding. We both would like to lose 40 lbs by October. I am going to buy a new evening gown for the Gala if I succeed. So far so good - down 5 lbs this week (I always lose big at first), but that is just getting rid of some that I had regained. Still, I am back in the jeans I like to wear in the smallest size I currently own, so that is progress. Its funny. The need to be thin, perfect and sexy means a lot less right now than just the ability to feel physically balanced day in and day out. It really helps me with the mental work of all of this.

Alex will turn 13 on Valentine's Day. Nick is in ROTC at school and wears a military uniform twice a week. He is a full head and then some taller than me now. I needed something up high in the cabinet this weekend and he didn't even have to stand tiptoe to reach it for me. Hard to believe now I gave birth to the tiny version of him. I have a feeling the next two years are going to fly and soon he will be a college student too. I think he and Alex both would join me in praying for snow.

And I am. Sorry to all my neighbors. If we get hit hard, its my fault. I really, really want..dare I say to be an ugly, winter mess on Tuesday.

Monday, January 24, 2011


Joe and I are strong together, almost eerily in sync sometimes, to the point that we can easily lock out the rest of the world and remain hopelessly, perhaps detrimentally, content to homestead down in our lovely home and writhe around in the joys of just So when we are out of step with one another, it is irritating just in its own right. Its annoying to us both. We are quite used to our harmony. Dissonance doesn't make sense for us. But when I get into the low swing on my cycle of grief, it screws us up, mainly because I am so determined to keep it from affecting him and us.

But this particular trough has just plain kicked my ass six ways of sideways. And something in my spirit is just........tired. So tired. I am tired of fighting these waves and covering them up and suffering through them in the in-betweens of life - in between classes, in-between home and the grocery store, in-between when I go to bed and when Joe does. It makes my reactions to things seem weird in our household because that is what they are. Weird reactions to something more than what is happening in the moment and though I try to put it away and tuck it all up nice and neat (Mine! My grief! Mine mine mine! Don't touch it you'll break it!), apparently I have stored up enough snot to run out and over and across the kitchen floor. Not really. But you get my gist. I have been suffering alone for a very long time, by choice. Joe has never shied away from me in these moments and has never made me fear for the security of us. It just has felt unfair to lay it on him, particularly in the early days when it happened every other half hour. It became a habit and I got rather good at it. But this, it would seem, is the consequence.

We discussed tonight this perfect storm of things that have happened, not the least of which is my guilt and floundering over discovering I might like to go an easier and less emotionally devastating route of nursing than the one I put forward in Joseph's name. I feel selfish for this, particularly because I feel pretty strongly I was one of earth's most selfish mothers while he was alive. Combine that then with what pursuing this dream has been cradling - all these black emotions, the confusion, the horror of what happened to him and the helplessness. All of that has fallen back on my heart as I look at the possibility of being a certain kind of nurse for me as much as for him.

I have discovered I really don't want to be class president. That was a hard decision, filled with a lot of angst and a sense of being ungrateful. I served for a year and did well. But today when given opportunity (via re-elections for a second term) to decline to run again, I took that opportunity and felt mostly a sense of a huge weight coming off my shoulders.

I saw Rabbit Hole, and something about that movie unleashed a deep, deep sense of validation, and I have not been quite the same since. It cracked this careful veneer. I have to hand it to myself. I have put it on for a very long time, letting the dam loose in metered doses carefully orchestrated to keep things at bay rather than let them flow. I don't think I can do that anymore.

And vacation was a bust. And Alex is turning the age Joseph was when he died. And I am one year away from holding a license that lets me hold people's lives in my hands and I feel unbelievably unqualified to do that. And four years have gone by, and some weird part of my soul I think was STILL, STILL hanging on, thinking there might at some point be a different outcome or something. All I know is that it has drifted down on me that he is still gone and four years again and four on top of that will come and go and he will still be gone.

So I am trying something new. I purged great gobs of tears and suffering onto Joe's lap today while he stroked my hair and just let me talk. I let him bear witness to the absolute depths of the sorrow that eclipses me and listened to his quiet wisdom, assuring me this is still and forever a cycle, that it will come 'round again and that my agony is not self created nor misplaced nor self serving...and that I can bring it to him to hold me through and that he wishes I would stop being stubborn and let him do that when I need it. It is HARD to do that for me. I am working hard on not seeing myself as broken. Even when Daughtry songs on the radio set me off, even when nothing at all sets me off. I guess one way or another I am going to learn how to carry this, every part of it, not just the pretty and commendable ones.

Sunday, January 23, 2011


I am so off my game. Not a tiny bit off, not a bit left of center, but totally on the wrong court kind of off. Needless to say this semester has not started well. I was tardy on the first day of class, which is so unlike me that I feel like I have not gotten my footing beneath me since that day. I thought classes started at 8:30 like they always did last semester, but instead they started at 8:00. I had it in black and white in front of me and it was just one of those situations where your mind is so sure of itself that it doesn't notice the visible proof that something is wrong. I arrived thinking I had plenty of time to greet my fellow students, play a little catch up with them, pick my seat, get my stuff out, get organized. Instead I am walking in during the middle of a lecture, having to slink to the back of the room to sit (which I hate) and I have just shown all my new instructors that I am Tardy Girl. The depth to which this has knocked me off feel way out of proportion though.

I didn't do well on the first pharmacology exam, which we get three chances to take. I did okay on the math exam except kept putting my decimals in the wrong place, which in the case of medication administration is pretty darn important. I was tardy again due to traffic issues when it came time to retake the pharmacology exam (which is timed) and I rushed through it. I already am pretty certain I will be having to take it a third time due to that issue.

And topping it all off is this heaviness in my chest, this hole inside me that has suddenly come so much more to the surface. It was always there, but for whatever reason, passing this four year mark has just knocked me on my emotional ass. God, can it be that long? I find myself thinking of him almost constantly. I trace the hills around where he is buried in my mind. I hear songs in my head, his voice, his laugh and I just plain suffer the agony of his absence. Yesterday the strangest thing happened. Alex was at a lock-in at church and Nick was puttering around on the computer in his room. Joe and I were enjoying a glass of wine and our books in the living room and I glanced up and caught site of the framed picture I have of all three of them, placed near the fireplace. And I did that funky Mommy thing where I take quick inventory of where my ducklings are. And in that flash millisecond of thought, for one brief moment, my mind scrambled to remember where Joseph was that night. THAT shocked me. It stole my breath away and brought it back in such a fresh kind of way. I was not expecting that. How can my brain still do that trick after this long? It happened a lot the first year or two, but now? It felt cruel, as if I ought to have some insulation from that by now. But it made me realize how much my limbs are aching again, how often I am teary eyed, how low my frustration threshhold and just how unbearably sad I am feeling. And now and then, from moment to moment, it does feel unbearable again.

I keep wondering why. Is it the four year mark? Is it that the cruise out of town was pretty much a bust? Is it fear over starting my final year of nursing school? I really cannot tell. I just know it is here and fresh again for whatever reason. I have not seen Joseph in over four years. My oldest child. I have all these pictures of him as a baby and my arms just....ache. Yearn. Grieve. I got a physical pain tonight looking at a bald-headed picture of him in the hospital. It has been a long time since I have reacted to that at all. He was bald most of his last year and a half of life. Now suddenly it has meaning again and I can still feel frightened about what is going to happen to him, even though it already has.

It feels like I need to do something, and fast, to purge myself of this fresh, fresh wave. But I cannot tell if I really need to do something - or if I just am having trouble sitting in and being present with my sorrow. I don't have room for it. I need it converted into determined energy and inner strength, but instead I feel its fingers pulling my spirit and my soul. It is getting hard to hide it, hard to step outside of it. And I think at this late juncture, would be pretty hard to explain to anyone who is used to me gracefully getting on with gettin' on. I am sighing a lot, as if the forceful exhale will purge the dark cloud hanging over me and disperse it into the night. How I wish that were true.

Why is it suddenly so acute again? I don't understand.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

what i thought i knew

I do not know what is going on with me this week. I am so scattered, distracted, almost as if I am watching my life through a window...but yet I am in it and don't have the luxury of just watching, because there are things I am supposed to do. And it makes me feel stuck. Frozen. I don't know how to make this make sense. I have a few short hours where I am alone in the house, have time to think about things other than the every day....and I just anyway....shocked. I am entering my last year of nursing school, and that shocks me. I am thinking about being something other than an oncology nurse...and that both shocks and shames me. In truth, it scares me. I entered on this journey almost no time at all after he died. Within four months I was back in school, swearing to do this, forging ahead. ("You are so strong..." "I could never...") I put his name on it, stamping it with The Acceptable Stamp of Guilt Absolution by making it part and parcel with my loss of him. With a way to turn this horrifying experience around into something positive.

But now I am learning new things. I have experienced some types of nursing that feel less....heavy. Less loaded. And I weigh out pros and cons and for the first time realize I could absolutely choose to do something other than oncology and hospice care and there is this little whisper in my head that it might be preferable for a number of reasons to do so. And I am stunned into silence in my soul.....a loud, echoing silence.

The new semester has gotten off to a less than stellar start for me. I am scattered and windless. I am not myself these last few days. All I really want to do is be with my husband and with my cat, to be quiet and to be comforted. I am scared to go forward. I thought I had made this decision already.

People keep bringing up God lately and it keeps poking at me. So I feel a need to address it. Those of you with unwavering faith, please respect that this is not your opportunity to step in and save me from myself. I need the questions more than the answers right now.

God, you feel very far away, if you are there at all.
You have for a long time now.
I see people claim you have this big, broad purpose for their lives.
And that you are a bastion of Love, Forgiveness and Hope.
And the child in me yearns for the You I thought I knew.
But I don't feel like I am in your eye.
Or the palm of your hand.
And I don't feel your purpose for me singing through my veins
or even drifting on the wind.
I do not hear you whisper
and I hear nothing but silence with my stunted hands reach out
I confess nothing
I trust nothing
I live in ten different kinds of uncertainty and fear
And I hear people tell me it takes love
I have none.
I feel superfluous
And foolish for the rapture of my teenaged devotion
I want to scream Where Is My Son?
But I do not cry out
I whisper
And it is dry, cracking, barren
on a wind of nothingness
I feel alone
and lost
I miss the You I thought I knew

I just feel stranded, paralyzed, afraid to answer these questions inside me. I feel so small, stumbling forward with so much that I have taken on, wanting the resolution, but seeing now it is just another step away from things. I am lacking in courage.

Bah. No peace inside me today. Surely tomorrow will be better. Surely it will.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Rabbit Hole

I am so similar to Becca in the movie Rabbit Hole. Joe and I went to see it last night and it made me thankful for a lot of things, not the least of which was that the Angelika is apparently not very crowded on a regular old Monday night, because I cried and cried and cried through the film. Her grief resembled mine so much - not a perfect portrait, but many of the same emotions, the same needs, similar patterns. Her anger, her doubt, her devastation, her determination to figure out how to do this, her somewhat selfish pushing of others, not knowing if she wants them near, far or what. I saw myself. And what is better I think, is that it made me forgive myself in a sense. There were moments that made me snort with laughter too - when Howie can't stop laughing during the Compassionate Friends meeting, even though it was inappropriate. Weird stuff like that - grief just does that to you. I loved that the movie doesn't pay too too much attention to the way their child died, but more focuses on the different ways in which people grieve and the different ways they cannot reach one another and the different ways in which they manage to after all. This movie is full of humanity and realism. It is a realistic portrait of grieving a child, and the small monologue Becca's mother gives about what it is like to live forever with the loss of a child was so spot on that I just about suffocated from trying not to open up in gut wrenching sobs. It felt good. It felt good to cry. It felt good to see someone SAY it and get it so right, even if it was just an actress. Somewhere, somebody knows or they would not have been able to put it in there like that. And the moment where she sees the kids all dressed up for prom - that hit pretty damn close to home right now. Prom for Joseph would be in four months. Prom. Graduation. All the things that come with that life change. In a way I needed this film. I write and I write and I write here and it helps. It really does. But sometimes I wonder if I am whispering into the wind, if anyone really reads it and if they do, does it really matter anymore. It has been four years. Am I becoming what I feared? Someone who cannot get over it? In all honesty, perhaps yes....and yet....really no. This is just one part of my life. But as she said in the movie - you never get over it. You learn how to carry it, like a brick in your pocket that you never put down. And sometimes you don't even think about it, until something draws your hand there and it comes back to you, the weight of it. Oh yeah. That.

Interestingly, there is a quote on the film's page,, that says "The only way out is through". Suspiciously like what I have been saying since Joseph got sick and put on my blog, purely my own words - The only way to the other side is through.

I can see where the film might be hard for some, maybe even plodding or morose. But it isn't. It is just so very honest. And I love that the ending of it is not this nice, neat 10 minute wrap up meant to make you feel better. It ends on a breath of hope but does not ignore the difficulty and despair that the hope balances is real. It was worth seeing. I might even want to watch it again, simply for the validation and release it offered me.

ETA: I represented the meetings in the movies as being Compassionate Friends meetings. It had been anecdotally told to me that Compassionate Friends played a role consulting in the making of this film. It was never my intent to misrepresent or badly reflect on that organization. Quite the contrary in fact.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Birthing a New Day

I have not done this in a while. Lately, I have been sleeping oh so very well, tucked in next to my husband, feet intertwined and lullingly content. But the last two nights I have gotten horribly hot and tonight it actually made me feel somewhat nauseated. So I got up and now sit at my desk with my cat curled into me and my space heater on because I am cold. And lazy apparently. I would like some coffee, but I don't want to get up to make it.

I am reading through old blog entries and visiting the blogs of some of my friends, particularly mothers in mourning, like me. Sometimes it occurs to me that maybe I am not doing this right. I plow ahead with such determination, bulldozing through the emotions and the sense of "nothing matters" that hits at times, to the point now that I almost don't even feel that anymore. It is a strange thing, the expectations that come with grieving, particularly with grieving a child, some of which are seriously paradoxical. The "I can't imagine's" mix with the "How do you go on's" with a twist of "I could never", then combine with the 'You are so strong's"....and the internal dialogue that runs tickertape-like in my subconscious that reads something like Do It For Joseph and By God Don't You Dare Cry In Public You Ninny and Don't You Dare Cry In Front Of Anyone Who Isn't Joe And Even Then Keep That Crap To A Minimum Girlfriend. But it happened again yesterday, when I thought I was trucking along just fine and being perfectly normal, and Joe stops me and just asks if everything is okay because I am being kind of weird. And that whole Twilight Zone music plays in my imaginary background because the tickertape starts rolling the How Does He Know?! I am Being So Normal! script. And we hug and I admit "I am feeling mournful" and my eyes tear up and, as always, it is all okay, that I said it out loud. But it felt like pulling out my fingernails to actually SAY that. Why is that? Why can I pour out with such accuracy my internal grief on this public blog, but can't look my husband in the face and say "I am feeling it today"? Not just to him, but to anyone? Heck, half the time, I don't realize I am doing it until he tips his head and looks at me and asks. And then Whoosh! I am in the land of grief, which was there all along but somehow I just would not acknowledge it.

Sometimes I guess it just doesn't like to be ignored. It seeps and oozes out through the cracks in my stronghold. I picture a Monty Python skit in which I, with a strong English accent, am busily tending to the house while Joe points out to me the sink is flooding and I stubbornly insist "No its not!" while we are ankle deep in water.

So I am reading blogs of other Moms who have lost and finding all sorts of love, healing and inspiration. Quotes. Poems. Ones that focus on the ability of the human spirit to rise from the rubble of destruction into the life God intended them to have. I like stuff like that.

Yesterday was a good/weird day. It ended with an evening out with my brother and his wife for Indian food at a BYOB restaurant. We laughed a lot, drank good wine, made mock plans for a vacation together to Napa after I graduate (how I wish those plans would be real, not mock!). I left feeling loved, connected and whole. I love my brother's voice. I love his dry sense of humor. I adore my sister-in-law's laugh and the way she converses easily with perfect strangers and even remembers their names years later, even if she never sees them again. Everyone has a name to Stacey. It is never "That one guy with the scruffy beard who smells like cigarettes that owns the tree farm out in Navarro know...the dude with the crooked thumb". It is Jim or John or Harry or whatever his name is, and she gives half his life history while telling about what they bought at his shop. It is a talent I do not possess. I am not good at small talk beyond a few sentences, not unless there is some kind of chemical connection between me and the other person. Not so for Stace. Everyone is a friend. Everyone is a soul, a person, a life. I study how she does it and want to learn from it. Today she and I are getting mani/pedis done, and I am ridiculous in my excitement to pay good money for someone to rub my feet. We get new living room furniture today too. And yesterday my cat let me trim her claws while she purred in my lap. Joe is sleeping upstairs in our new, huge mahogany sleigh bed (Officially dubbed The Love Nest because we are weird that way) and Nick and Alex have transitioned back to school after the holidays without any trouble. School starts back on January 18th, and this time next year, I will be preparing to take my licensing exam.

Life is full and sweet and good. I guess I am doing okay, whatever my internal ticker may or may not be saying.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Nothing Lost

Happy New Year - all the holidays are over and life is moving on. It has actually picked up a little bit of speed since all the hullabaloo has passed. Joe and I have made some major furniture purchases for the house and last minute he decided we should take a little trip before I got back to school for the semester - an idea that grew and expanded until our little trip turned into a road trip to get on a ship and sail away to warmer waters. I think his resolution for this year may have been to become more spontaneous? No matter what, I am loving it. It feels like we are living Carpe Diem and that satisfies so many things in me.

This time of year always turns for me. Were it music, a dissonant note would present itself, moving things from major to minor chords. January 3rd. One week from today it will be four years since we let our Joseph go. On and off now I am becoming tearful and bereft and quiet. Keeping busy helps. Three of those four years now we have had somewhere to go over the anniversary, and that feels right to me. Maybe I am running from it. Maybe the distraction of not being here, where it all actually happened, numbs the pain a little bit. The anesthesia of nature? But that description makes me feel guilty, as if I am not strong, as if I cannot handle the hurt and as if I am taking cowardly strides to lessen Joseph's impact on my life by trying not to remember and relive his last days and all the agonizing sorrow that came with all those life shattering decisions. Maybe. But the truth is, I am no good to anyone when I do that. And Joseph was never one to want to wallow around in things. He was energy, spirit, light. He was serenity, acceptance and trust. So I will once again pursue those things as well and seek solace, healing and answers to my questions in faith the only way I know how; by sinking into my marriage, by savoring Nick and Alex, by studying for classes, by nurturing my soul. It isn't really enough you know. Nothing ever could be. But there are arms to hold me, hearts that understand and a whole beautiful world to remind me that despite what he (and all of us) went through, life is good. I would rather devote myself to remembering that on this anniversary than let myself sink. And when I struggle, I will be held. I don't understand a lot of things in life or about what happened. But I have come to understand this: There are a few kindred souls on this earth who live down deep in the meat of me and see all the broken parts and the hidden bruises and the wandering, the mourning, the fury, the fear. I am grateful for all of them. Because four years is too long.....and yet....only the beginning.