Tuesday, November 24, 2015

a ghost story

When something comes to a terrifying, abrupt halt your mind keeps moving forward as if some sort of cruel mental inertia is at play.  What do you do with all that residual momentum?  The information still in your brain that keeps taking you in a direction other than the brick wall you’ve just hit?  There are leftovers that linger.
We have ghosts that live in our Yahtzee game-box who like to prey on those leftovers.  I don’t mean ghosts like actual entities haunting us, more like an unwelcome knot in the pit of your stomach brought on by a sudden, unexpected reminder of a future that was supposed to be.  The unforeseen wave of nostalgia hits so hard; it is like a tangible manifestation and its presence grips you with hands you can feel.  Seeing those names at the top of old scorecards is shocking and heartbreaking.  They taunt and tease, shrieking and mocking your discomfort.  Just when you’ve stopped checking the other lane of traffic, hoping and yet dreading a glimpse, just when you’ve deleted all the pictures and messages off your phone.  Just when you’ve begun to accept, to move on, to heal.  You let your guard down only for a moment.  And BOO!  Those damn ghosts. 
Games go on and eventually, someday, new names will be scribbled on a fresh pad of scorecards.  We leave some of those beings in the box because we can ultimately find comfort in their presence.  Reminders of a happier time when games were played and memories of smiles gone by, before cancer, before loss.  Those are ghosts that become a lot less scary.
Certain papers we crumple and tearfully discard, knowing that some things just won’t ever be okay.  Some ghosts are meant to haunt. 

Thursday, November 19, 2015

to my kids

     I recently saw a touching interview on the Stephan Colbert show where he spoke with Joe Biden, two men I admire very much. One of the topics they discussed was the tragic loss of Biden’s son, Beau.  Vice President Biden talked about his reluctance to run for President in the face of his ongoing, overwhelming grief.  This also brought up the story of how Colbert lost his Dad and two of his brothers at the age of ten.  The men discussed their shared experience of grief. Biden talked about his incredible support system in family and faith when he lost his first-wife and daughter in a car accident many years ago and then the recent loss of Beau. When Biden related his grief to Colbert’s Mom, wondering how people get up and put one foot in front of the other after facing such a tragic loss, Colbert was honest and said that she did it because she had other kids to care for.  But, also, that they were there for each other, it was a mutual dependency and in many ways, he had to “raise his mom” as she learned to face the new normal.  Biden said that his boys did the same for him after losing their mom in the years of grief that followed. 
   It was an incredibly emotional interview for me to watch as I related so much to what these men were saying.  Colbert said that his mother was "non compos mentis" for years after her loss.  It selfishly validated my grief by knowing that it isn't just me who cannot get over things or let them go.   But more importantly, it left me feeling that I had no choice but to stop everything that I am doing this instant and take time recognize the sacrifice and bravery that it takes for my kids to “raise” me in the aftermath of their father’s death.  This blog post isn't enough, nothing is enough, but I need to take this time and admit that they are truly everything that's 'right' about me in this moment.  I was so lost, and I still very much am, in who I am supposed to be now.  I’m needy and angry like I never was before.  And so sad, I'm still so very sad.  My kids go out of their way to make sure that I am okay, many times taking on responsibilities and roles well beyond their years and often times giving up much of their time as kids to adjust to this new and scary role they have had thrust upon them.  Often times, though I know they are sad, they put those emotions aside to first make sure that I am okay.  And though caregiving is not every minute of everyday, the effort that they put in takes a toll on them.  It wears on their emotions and their own relationships.  This isn’t how it's supposed to be for them and I wish we weren’t mutually parenting one another.  Sarah, who took on the role of my greatest confidant, has definitely risen above, especially in the loss of her recent engagement, as a key player in keeping our family running smoothly.  I am sure that it wasn’t ALL to do with me, but I know that taking on this new expanded role just as she’s coming of age definitely hindered her relationship and probably contributed to its downfall.  Noah, who became man of the house at the age of 13 can’t even be a normal, angsty teenager because I am not emotionally stable enough to deal with anything, and while he could push - he absolutely does not.  He is a steadfast source of strength and comfort.  He also works very hard to learn, mostly from his Grandpa, how to take care of our house and yard taking on many of the traditional 'Dad' roles.  Micah, who has not only had to deal with the loss of his Dad, but also have me completely preoccupied with my own grief and full-time schooling at an age when I should be volunteering to go on field trips with his class – or better yet still homeschooling him -  tries to take it all in stride.  He is so good about keeping track of all our schedules, permission slips, and reminders of items needed. He is also so kind when my scattered brain forgets something, yet again.
    All three kids do very well in school and work so hard to help around the house as well as all their many, many extra-curricular activities. No one really has a road map as to how this is supposed to work for us.  Every time we think we've got it figured out there's a new hurdle, another conflict, more chaos.... but the kids balance things out and help me carry the weight instead of adding to it.  Sure, sure, they've each had their moments to freak out and give-in to madness, but it is never as bad as I make it out to be and often they're the ones who right themselves first and calm me down in the wake of any misbehavior.  
   During the interview, Joe Biden mentioned an expression his father used to say, ‘A Father knows he’s a success when he turns and looks at his son or daughter and knows that they turned out better than he did’.  Biden said he knew he was a hell’ve a success because of who his kids were. 
      I couldn’t agree more, and so, even though I feel like a failure at almost every turn, I watch my kids in all that they do, in the kindness they show everyone, in the care that they take to look after me, and in the effort they put into all they’re involved in and I know that I am successful. 
   I love you kids.  Thank you.  I would be incapable of anything without you.

And I’m sorry for your loss.     

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

the Maple tree

There is an enormous Maple tree in my backyard.  It's branches reach up to the sky as wide as they are tall, a sort of grandfather protecting and observing everything we do.  In spring the blooms appeared early as if in expectant anticipation of the positive changes that were happening and the promise of the year to come.  But, as the thick and strong leaves shaded summer celebrations the tree looked on with sadness as plans came to a standstill and were replaced with shock and heartache.  The foliage reluctantly changed in late autumn, as though it was hesitant to admit time was moving on.  Now the tree stands empty, devoid, the branches bare and wanting.  All its covering bagged up and carted away, the last remaining witnesses to a year almost over.  How delicate a balance  between the time that moves on and the memories that remain.  

Friday, November 6, 2015

truth behind a cliché

"So forget this cruel world where I belong.  I'll just sit and wait and sing my song.  And, if one day you should see me in the crowd, lend a hand and lift me to your place in the cloud"  - Nick Drake "Cello Song"

       I do not put any stock in the supernatural - except for the occasional entertainment value it provides in different FICTIONAL mediums.  I don't believe in ghosts, or that Rob is sitting up in heaven looking down (that's just not Biblically accurate), or that people become guardian angels. This being the case, I'm not one to read too much into dreams either. 
       But, I had this dream the other night about some leftover issues I am having surrounding the anger and hurt I feel over what my daughter is going through.  It was one of those dreams from which you wake and have to spend the first few minutes of foggy wakefulness assuring yourself that it didn't really happen. I 've had a hard time shaking the ugliness that went along with that dream.  I started thinking about dreams and how weird and random they are.  I was wondering why, why, why I had that dream and why I never dream about Rob, for good or bad.  I've taken my generals and learned from psych 101 that most often you dream where your mind was before you went to sleep.  Well, not lying, my mind is constantly on Rob - and not just the tragic ending, but on all the pieces that intertwined our life of more than 20 years together. I don't think that theory holds much truth.  In some small way I guess I've thought the lack of dreams might be God protecting me, because I dwell enough already - if I had to have vivid dreams that stayed with me for days I don't know if I could function.  But, this haunting dream from a few days ago got me wondering.  
   I *think* (in my uneducated opinion) it might have something to do with the whole "unresolvedness" surrounding certain situations for me. There was nothing left unsaid between my husband and me.  Sure, there are things I wish I could tell him now, things I'd like to ask his opinion about, or just hear his voice on the other end of the phone line.   Sure.  But, it's different than having a nagging sensation of things left unfinished.  I don't need any answers, and that peace is priceless.  I've seen - all my life - so many, many, many of those meant-to-be uplifting sayings that encourage you to tell those around you that you love them because tomorrow is not promised.  'Say your sorry, express your concern, don't wait' ...  so-much-so that we become desensitized to the real benefit behind such statements. 
    I'd like nothing more than to tell Rob that I love him one more time and to hear his voice reciprocate.  But, the truth is, I don't really need that because I know that he knew and in return I know that I was so loved.  We got to say things before it was too late.  We weren't always so expressive, but Cancer makes you stare those things down.  
And I can tell you that it matters. 
 It matters that my kids know, beyond anything, how loved they were by him.  It matters they heard it in their father's voice and each have a letter that he wrote to them - it matters that it's not me assuring them.  It makes a difference that I have a conclusion and no unanswered questions.  I'm still messed up, but it could be worse - 
 It matters - those things we say to one another to help each other understand.  Speaking love, or apologizing. It makes a difference - the comfort or the hurt that we can be.  Those things matter.  And, as cliche as you might think it is - tomorrow isn't promised.