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Archive for the month “April, 2014”

Death and Taxes

I wrote this entry a year ago.  I wanted to write another for today, but I thought instead, I’l just repost.  Writing is a wonderful way to chronicle the feelings of our past; we can relive them. Writing keeps our memories alive.  I continue to change and grow through this loss – through this grief.  I continue to live in the “now,” and try to live fully by not fearing sickness and death.  It’s a journey – one in which I will certainly continue experiencing loss. But for today – I repost the past, and hold in my heart my sister, Terrie. Caring for Terrie changed my life drastically.  Dang I miss her!

 

Today is April 15th – Tax Day.  It is also the day my only sister died at age 53 after battling Leukemia for a year; a battle she was absolutely positive she was going to win! The entire time I wanted to shake her and tell her to realize she may die, that she should take this seriously, that she should follow instructions. I would call people crying hysterically – I was so afraid she was going to die.  The wise friends would respond,”Of course she is going to die; we are all going to die.”

What good would it have done to have made her talk to me about dying, about her death, about the arrangements.  Sometimes I thought she was amazingly optimistic, and at other times I thought she was purely delusional. I was her caretaker, I got so close to her, so close that I started referring to her as “we” when saying things like, “we really did great today in physical therapy,” or “we need to eat more to gain our strength!” It became a joke between us; an inside joke.

It was one of the most difficult things I have ever done – caring for my sister day in and a day out during her illness  I was there to talk with the docs, to fill in the family, I was there to wipe her nose and her butt, I was there to hold her hand while she was in a coma, and to watch her eyes open when she regained consciousness.  I had a role, a job, a place in life. It was exhausting and difficult, and sorrowful, and yet it could be the most blissful experience as well.  Feeling just for one moment that I had comforted, made the right medical decision, impressed someone with my medical vocabulary (the docs would say, “Do you work in the medical field?” I would respond, “No, but I’m here everyday!”

One day when Terrie was recently out of a coma, she asked me, What time is it?”  I said, ” 3 o’clock.” She exclaimed, “In the morning?” I said, “No silly, in the afternoon.” This was the same day it took me 20 minutes to get her situated in bed after sitting up for a few brief moments.  At one point I was huffing and puffing and bent down very close to her face and she looked into my eyes and said, “Please don’t leave. You being here makes it bearable.” I don’t know if I ever told anyone she said that. . . until now. When friends and family and loved ones would tell me I had to back off and take care of myself and get some rest – I could see Terrie’s beautiful blue eyes staring at me and saying, “You make it bearable.”

It’s been 3 years, and my problem is I still have expectations of how it should or shouldn’t feel. I realized today how tired I am and how today – the anniversary day – brings back that feeling of walking through cotton wool.  I can’t remember words as I am in mid-sentence.  I read a text but forget to ever respond to it. I forget to pay bills. I sometimes forget what year it is. I am stuck in 2010 – I write this year more often than not on checks, etc. I think the phrase should be “grief induced ADD.”

And today there were bombs in Boston. What right do I have to be sad? She was 53. It was Leukemia. There are worse things. And this – this comparing – this ability to put things (pain, death, loss, terror) into compartments as if they are knick knacks in a shadow box – is how I survive. I know that it is okay to be sad today, but I can’t just be sad. I have to get up and go to work and act, and wonder what it would have been like to just stay home, to just be sad, to not have to make it bearable for anyone anymore. To just let go, just fall apart.

I wanted to write something here today, but instead I was falling asleep in the living room when I forced myself to grab the computer and write.  I force myself to write as if writing this is so damned important. As if writing makes my feelings real or valid or . . .heard.  You see I only let myself cry silently tucked away – not in front of the kids or my husband or friends – but just tucked away. As if my grief would be unbearable to you.

Today – I googled my dad’s name because I forgot his death date.  What appeared were the listings of the obituaries from my mom (78), October 17, 2012, my brother (56), January 18, 2012, my sister (53), April 15, 2010, and finally my dad, April 24, 2007.

I still have a brother – he is the oldest – I am the youngest, we are close even though we live 2000 miles apart.  I emailed him today, “Thinking of you today. . .tax day and all.  Peace.”  He knows what I mean. There are so many songs, and jokes, and history that I want to pick up the phone to ask my sister.  And what will I do when the next death comes? We are all going to die, but God I could use a break from the complete exhaustion that grief brings to me.  I’ve tried to act, and go on, and run, and work, but still the grief exhausts me. The grief isolates me. Going to events with lots of happy people just seems like it would zap any energy I may have right from me.  Each decision to go to a social event or visit a friend is weighed in a meticulous way that once upon a time wouldn’t have been a second thought. Grief is heavy.

So I write, and writing brings me acceptance. Writing makes the comparisons and fitting into compartments sound useless.  Writing seems to be a comfort, it seems to make this bearable. I read the obituaries that popped up – it was a lot to read. It is a lot of grief. I cried, and then I wrote, and now I will sleep.  My taxes are paid, and tomorrow I go to work, and maybe even run or cook a meal. I don’t know what is to come – that is good – and terrifying.

Peace.

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Beauty from suffering

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There was a time when I actually wondered how my kids would have depth if they didn’t suffer like I did as a child. I never, ever, ever, ever wanted them to have to experience the things I did, but I did want them to have depth. I now know that suffering comes in all shapes and sizes, and no one escapes without it. And it’s beautiful. If we let go. A doctor once told me, “Parents need to stand far enough away so that when the child crashes, the parent isn’t injured from the shrapnel, but close enough to help them manage the wounds after the crash.”

My oldest daughter turned 18 today.  I’m not the mom who cries over these milestones; I delight in them. I have never felt sad about my kids growing out of their newborn clothing, starting to walk, beginning school, getting on the bus, or learning to drive. I watched with amazement as they navigated each phase with all the falls and bruises that come with growing up. I felt like a pretty good mom most of the time. Not perfect, but pretty good.

It wasn’t until this first born began high school that the anxiety began. For both of us.  We hit a wall. For all of the angst that starting high school can bring – add a few significant deaths,  a mom who had a tragic adolescence, and you have a recipe for anxiety. I watched my daughter suffer, and my own suffering got in the way of helping her.  It was gut wrenching.

It was also beautiful.

We hunkered down; we stuck to it, and we struggled through.  That’s the thing – you can’t escape this – you must go through. We learned so much about perseverance, and pain, and letting go. I remember seeing it in her face, feeling it in the energy she threw off right before the anxiety and panic hit. I too would feel the tingling of the skin, the racing heart, and the hot flash of panic.  I would catastrophize: she’ll never graduate, she’ll never drive, she’ll never leave home. The worst though –  it was all somehow connected to: “What will people think of me? Ive failed as a mother!” This then led me into guilt about having it be about ME!

I can still get caught up in the sounds of others’ voices about my parenting.  The most difficult thing for a parent to do is LET GO.  Most parents can’t do it.  I didn’t want to do it. It was so uncomfortable most times. Not letting go sometimes makes parents feel better (by clinging to control we somehow ease our own anxiety),  but it teaches the child very little.

It teaches them fear mostly. Fear of making their own decisions. Fear of not pleasing their parent. Fear of something terrible happening if they make a bad decision.  Letting go allows them to work through these things while we are still close enough to bail them out if they fail.  We are close enough for them to see we love them even when we disagree with their choices.

When my child is suffering, mostly I need to let go.  When my firstborn couldn’t stop agonizing and the anxiety gripped her so tight, I had to let go.  I needed      to     create     space.  It wasn’t until I stopped feeling her feelings for her that she could work through them herself (with the help of professionals).  She got a job, was incredibly successful in school (of course that depends on how you define success), became a writer, and she drives better than I do.

She’s turned 18, and it’s beautiful.

Recently my daughter found a motto for herself: “I love you. Keep Going.” For HERSELF! She is contemplating (not rushing into) getting it tattooed on her foot in her grandmothers mother tongue – Polish. (I don’t like tattoos, but I love my daughter, and it’s not my body). She wants to get dreadlocks before heading to college in the fall, and she hopes to continue writing.  She and I both feel it is the darkness that often propels us to write. Sometimes I feel bad for the other folks reading my writing, but truthfully writing gets it out.  It’s way better than drinking, or drugs, or sex, or consumerism.  Writing grounds us in the present – by the time you read this – it is gone for me. The pain, the joy, the beauty is now here for you, but gone for me.

I’m glad I realized this because my child’s writing was indeed very dark at times.  I realized it was all in a context of her present, and by the time I read it, it was now past for her.  The beauty she found in her darkness was magnificent.  It also allowed us to find more beauty in the joy and light.  Experiencing darkness allows us  to experience the  light a bit brighter.

Below is one of my favorite poems. It was written by my daughter after experiencing one of the 4 significant deaths that happened during her adolescence. Enjoy.

Peace.

Dancing With a Limp

(Title inspired by a quote from Anne Lammott)

For months, we would

lay awake,

listening for your cry.

We could not keep you warm.

 

As mortality grew with age,

you mourned.

Your sorrow became malignant

as you watched two of your children die.

 

So many funerals.

 

Too tired to wake up,

not exhausted enough to accept

another death.

My uncle choked on my mother’s

tears,

screaming in his sleep

as days

dwindled overhead,

threatening to be haunted by

phantom limbs of a

broken family.

 

My house transformed

from hospital to hospice,

from hospice to graveyard,

from graveyard to funeral home.

And we were unqualified

for all of it.

 

Your pictures – our new wallpaper;

our gardens – overgrown.

I do not recognize this as my home.

 

My father woke me

and told me you were dead.

I lulled back to sleep

and I never said goodbye.

 

You had fallen to your

knees,

praying in the night,

a plea to go home.

“I’m afraid,” you said.

 

I blessed your forehead

with Holy Water and a whisper (“I love you”),

but I have every reason to believe

that Holy Water remained

an old pill bottle of tears.

 

I sank into your cold, worn couch,

I watched you suffer

for weeks –

your breasts hung lifeless

above your ribs,

your clothes falling off,

two sizes too big

once you stopped eating.

You lapped morphine on your tongue

while we tried to ease your fears

with our sorrows.

We suffocated,

inhaled your dying breath.

 

We tried to believe in your prayers –

the muffled tongues,

the plastic rosary.

But you let go of my hand.

You forgot me.

 

And most days,

I forget you, too.

Unless my sister’s cry wakes me in the night,

both of us then

remembering that you finally

exhaled,

“Amen.”

 

We stare at the dark sky,

blaspheming the goddamn God that

stole your life,

then stole the stars.

Overcast, the clouds are wilting –

a stained, leaky roof.

 

We are waiting for your

wrinkles to ooze through the cracks

and hold back the weather.

But you have shriveled,

now ash,

you pollute the rain that falls.

And I yell to the clouds

a drowned out goodbye.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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