Life Lessons Learned in Grief, Part 2

I have been to two memorial services in three days and I have spent far more time in churches this week than I have all year… probably. And yes, two memorial services for my brother – so if you can imagine the feeling of repeatedly scraping off the scab of a new wound with a cheese grater, that’s pretty much what it’s been like.

And it’s worse because of the previously mentioned terrible things people have done in the name of “honoring” my brother.

I can’t pretend to understand – because while I am conflict avoidant to the core, I am also a believer in doing what’s right. I fail sometimes, I know that… but at my core, I genuinely don’t want to be a screw up. I don’t want to hurt people. I don’t want to be vindictive and awful. I feel like I saw so much of that dark side of people. And what’s worse, I think some absolutely didn’t know or realize the level to which they were sinking. The older I get, the less of a screw up I become. Can’t say that’s true for everyone. Apparently.

So, here are some more life lessons for you – the general you – based on the clusterflugel of the past two weeks:

Sometimes there’s no substitute for an actual CONVERSATION

Yeah, I get it – I rarely use my iPhone as an actual phone and will avoid it if at all possible… but there are some discussions too big for text. Text doesn’t always convey tone, intent, or meaning — and there’s a lot of room for misunderstanding if you’re not careful. Sometimes it’s essential to pick up the phone and DISCUSS things instead of blurbing at one another.

You go off making unilateral decisions that impact people and YES they’re gonna be pissed

Again. Discussions. Discussions. Discussions. Some of the biggest moments of anger came from one person making decisions that impacted all of us. There was no need for that. Had people come together, had conversations, the likelihood of that happening would have been smaller. There were moments of near rage because of things like this. I had thought families would come together when times were tough – and I found that nope, that’s not always true.

Speeches scrawled on a legal pad at midnight are just as meaningful

I wanted to write my speech for the service far earlier than I did. I had a draft in my documents for days. Literally, I just MEANT to do it… and then it was midnight last night. I literally scrawled my speech while drinking bad wine and eating Cool Ranch Doritos. I could barely read my writing today – my hands were sweaty and my nose was running. I didn’t make it through without crying – but every word came right from my heart… even if it wasn’t the best thing I’ve ever written. I wrote love.

I need to just show up

I have done friendship all wrong. I really have. I can name a zillion times when a friend was likely grieving and I wasn’t there for them in a way that would have been useful to them. And I’m so sorry for that, because I just had no idea what a difference it truly makes when people just show up and do the thing. What thing? Whatever thing you have to give. It doesn’t have to be big, it really doesn’t. My sister’s sister-in-law helped us a ton putting together photo boards – even running to get more prints made when we couldn’t get to a store. That was huge, it was helpful, and it made life easier. She didn’t ask what we needed – she was just there.

Ban the words “Let me know if there’s anything I can do” from your vocabulary

I’ve said it before because I haven’t known what to say but odds are, no one will ask you for anything because they don’t really know what the heck they need. My brain has been swiss cheese for a week. I couldn’t tell you what could be done to help – I truly had no idea. Still don’t.

Grief Pizza is a thing

Because you can’t just drink away your sorrows, sometimes you can drown them in pizza.

Get together and celebrate when something good happens

We’ve had three deaths in my family within the last six months. I’m not even kidding – it’s been rough. I’ve seen my family A LOT. At funerals. I want to see them when there’s something joyful going on. We all talked today at the luncheon after the service: we have GOT to plan something and soon. Otherwise, too much time will go by, and we’ll be there again… coming together under less than joyous circumstances. And that stinks.

I don’t like sandwiches on hamburger buns

Who thought that was a good idea?

It was a beautiful celebration today, even though it was sad too. But the past two weeks have been so hard. I’m so tired. I’m… still just perplexed by some of the things people said, did… I don’t know that I’ll ever understand, really. Maybe I should stop trying to.

Life Lessons Learned in Grief – Part 1, Probably

It’s been just over a week since I learned that my brother died. My mom called me at work last Tuesday morning and when I didn’t answer, she texted a panicked message and so I ducked out of my office into the hallway to call her back.

“Come home,” she sobbed into the phone. And so I went, grabbing my computer, piles of work, and stopping by my coworker’s desk to quickly prep him for a conference call he would have to do without me shortly after that.

My mind was racing as I drove. And when my sister responded to a text, I knew that she was fine. In my heart, I knew then that it was my brother.

He died in his sleep, they say.

I am not new to loss. My grandfather died several years ago and it was a tremendous gut punch. I was in the hospital room with my family when my grandmother died just over a year ago. My mom lost both of her brothers earlier this year. Death has been a familiar road for my family in recent years, but this has been so different.

He was two years older than me, so he’s been around all my life. When you sort through the pictures from those first few years, we were inseparable.

I am not sure how old we were when I realized he was different. He was in the hospital quite a lot when we were kids. I remember one year I was in a school spelling bee – and none of my family came. My mom had been at the hospital with my brother, and then later when she took my sister to the pharmacy to run an errand, my sister had a seizure in the store and then she went to a different hospital. I think our next door neighbor was called to pick me up and take me home.

I got second place in that spelling bee, by the way. (I would later bomb miserably by misspelling “skittish” at the Contra Costa County Spelling Bee.)

But for my whole life, I have been his sister. And now he is gone. In recent years, his health issues have been so severe that there were times we were afraid of what might come – and then he healed. He was back to his normal self. He was fine.

That didn’t happen this time. Out of nowhere, it seems. He’s just gone. We didn’t get to say goodbye.

So here’s what I have learned so far:

Grief makes people stupid.

A lot of people can’t handle grief. It turns them into insufferable humans. Oddly, I didn’t know that until this week. So many people have said to me, “Grief brings out the worst in people” and enough people have said it that it must truly be a universal thing… so I’ve gotta say: If you’re one of those people who handles your feelings by lashing out at other people and making life miserable, well then perhaps you may need to learn a thing or two about how to appropriately handle your emotions.

It’s funny, because I’m a total mess – but I’m never not just totally feeling what I’m feeling. If I’m sad, I’m sad. I get the impression that people get so scared of sadness that in order to avoid it, they kick things into jerkface mode. I’m seeing enough of it right now, and I’m bearing the brunt of it in a lot of ways… and it’s exhausting.

Your sadness doesn’t override the need to still be a semi-human-being. (And if you’re going to be a jerk, take it out on someone else, because I’m all stocked up here…)

Empathy is not a flower that blooms in everyone’s garden

I have been beyond grateful for every expression of kindness and sympathy that has been shared with me. Even when someone has no words, hearing them say, “I have no words,” means so much. Even an “I’m so sorry” goes a long way. I have appreciated every gesture, and have been surprised by the goodness of people. And yet… my daughter tried to talk to a friend about it, and got shut down every time. I was recently around someone who likely read about my brother’s passing – but she never said a word.

I firmly believe Emily McDowell’s “There’s No Good Card For This” should be required reading for all humans. Trust me. Go buy it.

The world has to keep turning

This is somehow the biggest insult of all – that the world doesn’t stop turning. I was listening to a podcast on the drive to work this morning that essentially said, someone dies and you still need to get toilet paper. I feel guiltiest about the real life moments, I do. Tonight, I worked on a presentation for work about content marketing and storytelling after vacuuming my living room and while my daughters gave the dog a bath. This week I made dinner. I folded clothes. (Okay, I meant to fold clothes, but mostly I just sat on the floor surrounded by clothes and thought about folding them) There is this part of me that is horrified by this, that his life was unfairly cut short, and I should still be surrounded by socks in the midst of a September heat wave.

Laughter through tears is my favorite emotion

Yeah. A Steel Magnolias quote. I was leaning against the counter the other night listening to Ingrid Michaelson’s “Old Days” (heaven help the ones who fly away…). And then had a memory of my brother breakdancing. Doing the centipede, and twirling on his back on a piece of cardboard. I started laughing, remembering how we’d watch all of those breakdancing movies (I still reference “Electric Boogaloo” – a lot). If I don’t laugh, I’ll cry… and sometimes the crying gets to be too much.

Kindness isn’t always easy but it feels better than anger

I have been angry this past week. I’m not sure I’ve ever felt so consistently angry for so long. And I hate it. When I’m dwelling in anger, I’m not honoring the memory of my brother and that is so terrible to think of – that I’m upset with people for being terrible grief vampires, and that is taking away from remembering my brother and mourning him as he deserves.

People have been terrible. I’ve seen behavior so despicable that I’d swear that it was not real life but a badly scripted movie… but no, it’s real.

I’ve been trying so hard in those moments to focus on kindness. To focus on light. To embrace the memory and to make a difference.

No, sometimes it’s pretty damn hard. But each kindness shared with me gives me a few moments of peace – and that feels better than rage.

I have no idea what’s next, really. There are funerals this weekend and Monday. My mom has picked up his ashes. We’ve received the cause of death from the medical examiner.

This world feels different. Am I still his little sister even if he’s not here? How does that work? Does it get easier? Do people return to who they were before the grief turned them into hateful people, and if they do, will I be able to forgive the hurt I am in right now?

I don’t know.

I really just. don’t. know.

 

 

When everyone is that Facebook friend you want to ignore

Saturday morning I opened my eyes and the first thing I thought to myself was, “Huh. Well. I didn’t think that would happen.”

It’s not that I thought the world would entirely blow up in the middle of the night but I went to bed Friday evening with such a heavy sense of dread. What would come next? I had no idea.

I spent Friday in a fog, alternately working and scrolling Facebook, in a state of utter disbelief and refusal to fully entertain the thought that America done messed up. Big time.

And I don’t know what to do about that besides keep showing up. Keep making phone calls. Keep working to make my world better.

It’s hard because everywhere I go, there is so much negativity to consume. I’m tired. I’m frustrated. People say, “Just wait and see” without fully understanding that for many of us, waiting doesn’t feel like something we have the luxury of doing.

I am scared. Sad. Confused. Angry.

I am worn out.

I am so worn out.

Every day it’s something new, something awful, something “IS THIS FOR REAL?” Every day I have to force myself to rise above it, scroll beyond it, not absorb too much of the negativity and instead push push push to do what I can to make change where I can, and leave the rest of it behind.

I just want to be a better person. I want to raise good children. I want to see a bunch of stuff while my eyes still work. I don’t want to feel afraid all of the time. I don’t want to feel angry this often. I want to be kind.

Everything is just so hard right now. And I’m so tired.

month at a glance

I haven’t posted in over a month. The hiatus wasn’t really intentional – I was in the midst of changing over blog hosts but my life is such a cluster at the moment that it took me that long to do it.

Work is busy – insanely so – with lots of projects, most of which will wrap this week or next and have resulted in my brain being a pool of melted cheese for the most part. Some of what I do, I do with extreme confidence… some, less confidence.

I find lately that I’m letting things get to me too much – things that shouldn’t. Trying to work on keeping perspective and being kinder to myself.

I’m…not so good at that.

I wrote a blog post for OWN THE EQUINOX, the campaign to create awareness for Usher Syndrome – and I shared it, publicly. The response was overwhelmingly supportive and positive. Today, my mom forwarded me the email from someone who claims to have had experience working with people who have Usher – and the email said that I need to learn sign and I need to learn braille and, well… I got a little angry.

Hope or GTFO, people.

I’ve been running. I’m not very fast, but I did run 6 miles morning for a total of 15 miles this week. I’m training for a 15k in October, and honestly, the thought of running nine miles IN A ROW makes me want to throw up a little – but then again, I never thought I could do six and HERE I AM CRUSHING IT (slowly).

So, more of the same and a whole lot of nothing. But I just went through a whole lot of trouble to move this blog over so I guess I better write on it.

 

So….

 

Hi. How are y’all?

A Belated Christmas Letter Because In Blog Life Like Real Life, I’m A Little Behind

Dear Family & Friends and Strangers of the Internet,

Merry Christmas…two days later. As I type, Pumpkin sits on the couch near me watching “Elf” and The Princess is making hot chocolate for all of us in our matching mugs. Maybe she’ll add a candy cane to mine – I hope she does. In a whirlwind month of bacon wrapped jalapenos and cookies and more cookies and things dipped in chocolate, I am so tired of excess and yet the warmth and sweetness appeals to me, a bit of comfort in my mug on a chilly Sunday night.

I’ve always hated the traditional Christmas letter – the braggy missives that made me feel inadequate and though I don’t know that I’ve ever had a year that might inspire that feeling of inadequacy among those who are reading, I’ve never had the desire to actually write and send a letter with my holiday cards. Instead, I sent cheap photo cards I purchased online. I didn’t even sign them personally.

This year has been a challenge for me and I feel like I’ve said that for the past several years – this year feels like it just may be the hardest year in my life. One year, I got a divorce. The next, my beloved grandfather died. Last year, I lost my job and found a new one. This year, I was diagnosed with first retinitis pigmentosa and then Usher Syndrome and all the baggage along with that – like finding out that yeah, my eye sight is going to get progressively worse and you know, that just doesn’t make for a very good year, no matter how hard you try to accelerate your grieving process.

I’m afraid people have taken my sadness personally this year.

I am afraid some people don’t realize just how scared I am about my future.

I am afraid I haven’t been very joyous to be around most of the time and that it seems like I’m not trying.

And so it goes.

I will say that by the end of the year, I spent a lot less time crying than I did the first half of the year and to that I raise my mug of cocoa and I toast progress because for what it’s worth, I’ll take the baby steps forward when I can recognize them, and hope to replicate more of the same.

My children are ridiculously wonderful. They are talented and they are bright and they are lovely and they are loving. And that’s pretty amazing.

Chris, too, has been strong when I have not been and has been my cheerleader when I probably just needed a kick in the pants. Someone who loves you in your ugliest moments is a blessing, indeed.

I went to California with the three people I love most and had so much fun sharing the ocean with them and tonight I looked at the pictures and realized that maybe in 2016 we need another adventure. Maybe California again.

And winter hasn’t been winter yet and for that I’m grateful though the forecast for tomorrow looks scary and ugh, you know, I guess that’s about as appropriate as any way to send out 2015 – sliding on a patch of ice, I guess.

SO how do these letters work, anyway? I mean, I’ve already failed to make you feel like your year was a dismal failure… you’re probably feeling great about yourself right now. I’m not sure what the next year will bring (perhaps that’s my post for later in the week?) but I know that this year was not what I expected when midnight hit on New Years Eve and my god, we all survived so that’s a good thing.

Anyway.

Merry Christmas.

There’s a lot going on in the world and it makes me want to punch people in the face a little bit

I’m not going to talk to you about politics or Paris or refugees or the heavy stuff. I am not going to talk to you about the light stuff. I am going to tell you I am so tired and that every day I feel like I start moving and I keep moving and I have stopped drinking water at work because I don’t much have time to pee and I come home at the end of the day and I am so tired but my day isn’t over yet because there’s more mom taxiing to do and it’s dark in the morning and it’s dark when I get home and oh, this time of year, it’s a bit brutal, isn’t it?

And there’s a lot going on in the world and people are sharing their thoughts and so much of these thoughts are steeped in ugliness and I wonder how we became this world where everyone is ready to lash out at each other for seemingly no reason. I saw a woman yesterday roll down her window at a traffic light to wave her middle finger at the woman in the car next to her – screaming and flying the bird until the light turned green and why?

Why do we feel like we need to air the every thought? All the hate, all the ugliness?

People, man.

I’m tired and tired of it.

Thursday Ten: I don’t want to have to use my AC edition

1. The humidity. Oh the humidity. I’ve had to break down and turn my AC on. It’s not the heat is the UGH UGH UGH. Actually, it’s both. When I can, I leave it off but honestly, I’m more concerned with the pup getting too warm during the day. It’s only June 11, though and I’m already kind of freaking out about my electric bill if I’m using the AC already.

2. Spring and fall. Spring and fall. Those are my seasons. You know, the short seasons that last about five days each.

3. I finally used Apple Pay for the first time which was oddly exhilarating and far too easy and did you know you can Apple Pay RIGHT THROUGH THE SEPHORA APP? And the Starbucks app? And wheeeee, I just ordered some new Clinique Black Honey Almost Lipstick because best. color. ever. (And Apple Pay.)

4. For nearly 24 hours, my Fitbit wasn’t working and I died a little bit inside. I’m addicted. Also, I’m absolutely positive I walked 18,000 steps that day and I guess we’ll never know. (It’s working now. Oddly, I was registering an almost complete charge but I gave it a whirl and left it on the charger for a few hours and then it was working again. Hallelujah)

5. You guys are nice people. You are.

6. This is not going to be a retina blog. Because I can’t have this place be a retina blog. Oh, and because I started a retina blog somewhere else. Gotta compartmentalize sometimes.

7. School’s out for the summer and with that comes the summer schedule with the girls spending half the time with me and half the time with their dad. It’s always a tough adjustment. I’m used to having my people around and it’s a bummer when they’re not.
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8. I miss my daughters.

9. I still tell myself every night to go to bed earlier and then I still never do.

10. I admit. I’m grasping at straws for ten things this week. I mean, how on earth could I top my broken retinas?

A letter to my daughter on her thirteenth birthday

My sweet Princess,

The other day, I stood in the card aisle of the grocery store, scanning possible birthday cards to give you – as I picked up cards and read them, I could feel my eyes welling up with tears. What on earth is wrong with me? Why are your birthdays getting harder for me? I love seeing how you change each year, I am so excited for each year in front of you – but oh this is feeling old, sweet girl.

Time is moving so quickly.

When I went to your parent teacher conferences this year, several of your teachers told me such wonderful things about you. Your science teacher, your social studies teacher, math – and all of them echoed the sentiment that has rattled in my head for quite some time: “I am so excited to see what she will become. She can be anything.”

(No pressure.)

So while I am a bit emotional about your birthday, I hope you know just how much I am enjoying see you be who you are.

When it comes to gymnastics, you are a hard worker. Even after all these years, to watch you when you compete is a joy. You exude this confidence and charisma – particularly when you do your floor routine. You are so fun to watch. When  you master a new stunt, your excitement and your pride – it’s contagious. I don’t know how you do the things you do. A balance beam is only a few inches wide – I tried last year to stand on the beam. I was terrified. On that beam, I realized not only how narrow it is but how high up it is – and you, YOU are jumping, cartwheeling, executing turns, and moving from one end to another with this ease. It’s so hard and yet when you are up there on the balance beam – it looks effortless. I am in awe. Always.

You are a lovely soul.

You are kind. Everyone tells me how kind you are.

Your sense of humor is beyond your years and often the snark level matches my own and you are dry and you are witty and oh god sometimes you crack me up. I got a blister on my foot the other day – I went walking in flip flops – two miles in flip flops, even the good ones, is not a great idea. The next day, i was complaining of the pain and you said to me, “Yeah, I had a feeling that wouldn’t turn out that well.”

“Why didn’t you tell me?” I replied.

“Because I realized that sometimes it’s better to keep my opinion to myself,” you said. “I just haven’t exactly got it figured out when those times are.”

I don’t know. It made me laugh.

When you had to do a social studies project about Grand Rapids – you messaged me and told me that you’d arranged to interview several people – could I drive you to these interviews? You had sent such professional, self-assured emails to these people, asking for their time, for their insight – and they did – they gave you their time. I couldn’t believe your initiative. Your drive. It is a common theme – I am not sure I was as focused as you when I was your age.

I barely remember thirteen.

It was the year my family moved to Michigan. Eight grade. I had bangs. I moved here and I felt like I was a fish out of water.

I don’t know what this year holds for you. I know that thirteen years ago tonight, I was in a hospital waiting to meet you. I had been so ready to meet you for so long. When I found out I was having a girl, I knew right away what your name would be – and I had, for months, been driving to and from work, having conversations with you – just to hear your name  in the air. You were born at 9:03 p.m. and you are still my night owl. (Oh, how I hate to wake you up in the morning. It’s neither easy nor fun!)

And tonight, I’ll be watching your school choir perform and you’ll be singing a solo and oh, to think about it, I get the kind of goosebumps that make my scalp tingle.

Your texts are some of my favorite to get. I like when you heart my pictures on Instagram.

You steal my Chucks and my turquoise pants.

You are vibrant. Emotional. Sassy. Prone to hangry-provoked tears. Loving.

(Lest you go getting a big head, I will say that sometimes you and your sister argue and it drives me absolutely BONKERS. I thought y’all were supposed to be best friends. Ah, maybe someday.)

So.

Thirteen.

And eight grade next year.

It really does fly. Oh, how it flies.

I’m not perfect, far from it – but I think we’re doing okay. Because even those moments – those trying moments – I look at you and I look at your sister and I can’t believe how blessed I am, how amazing you both are.

And today, I celebrate you – it’s your birthday. Thirteen years ago today I saw your face for the first time and it’s still one of my favorite faces on the planet.

I love you with my whole heart and I’m so very lucky to be your mom.

Love,

Momma

Thursday Ten: Getting Caught Up edition

1. They’ve said that it takes women somewhere in the neighborhood of five years to get financially caught up after their divorce but I am giddy that I finally have gotten rid of lingering “process-of-divorce” debt this week – yes, that credit card bill for the lawyer’s retainer fee is finally paid. Also, the dog’s very expensive emergency vet bill from back in the day. I kind of really hate credit cards and am not a “carry a balance” kind of person. So BIG-RED-LETTER-DAY. Boom.

2. The Princess and I only have four more episodes of Gilmore Girls left before we’re done with the entire series. It’s about time for a reunion right?

3. Nearly 65 degrees on Monday so I went for a long walk. Registered over 17,000 steps on my Fitbit – eight miles! – for the whole day. I’m ready for spring. Could sure use more days like that.
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4. Filled out my bracket yesterday. I almost didn’t – but we do an office March Madness thang so I figured I might as well. Not gonna tell you who I picked to win but I tell you, I think my streak of kicking butt at brackets ended last year so I’m not so optimistic. It’s okay. I’ll survive.

5. I am fighting off a cold. I think. I thought it was allergies but for the past day or so, I have felt the flames in my face of my body trying to fight a fever. Who has time to get sick? NOT THIS GIRL.

6. I can TOO call myself a girl. Even if I’m nearer to 40 than 30.

7. That moment when you want to treat yourself to something so you browse Sephora, Birchbox, Amazon, and yet… can’t. I’m not great at just randomly spending money, I guess. It’s the kind of week where I need retail therapy but I’m SO BAD AT IT.

8. I’m finally adjusting to the time change but I still think the time change thing is stupid.

9. Remember a week and a half ago when I wrote about how busy I was? There was supposed to be a follow up post. I’ve been too busy to write it.

10. Seems like it was just March 1st and now the month is about 2/3 over. Which means the first quarter of 2015 is nearly over. Whoo. Zippy year.

Another year is nearly gone

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Usually by this point, I’ve created my list of all the high lights and low lights of the year in order to recap them in some way – the songs that defined the year, the moments, the things I accomplished, and the things I hope to accomplish in the year ahead.

And instead, I’m a bit stuck.

In an exercise the other day, I recounted the things I didn’t mess up in 2014. The list was longer than I would have thought and perhaps that is why I don’t feel this huge rush to kick 2014 to the curb. Instead of relief, I’m more so looking forward to what’s ahead. I’m looking forward to continued progress towards… towards I don’t know what. Towards getting on my feet again, towards making plans again, towards letting go of some of the stress and blah and insecurity that still plagues me far more often than it should.

I was just thinking this morning about how much I’ve enjoyed watching Gilmore Girls on Netflix with The Princess and how grateful I am that they’ve never resorted to tacky flashback gimmicks and then the episode I’m watching as I type this is filled with flashbacks, of Lorelai’s pregnancy and Rory’s birth. Go figure. Anyway. I look forward to watching the rest of the series and finishing it up in 2015.

And then moving on to Friends because HEY FRIENDS IS COMING TO NETFLIX SOON!

Anyway, I have a few days left so I can wax poetic about 2014. And I probably will – I love New Years. I love the symbolism of a new start, a new calendar, turning the page. Somehow, I feel that shouldn’t pass without me having some thoughts about it.

For now, though, the closing credits are rolling and I’m ready to curl up in bed to read Amy Poehler’s “Yes Please” and think about how I might spend the day tomorrow. I took a few days off this short work week, and so I’ll be spending the last few days of 2014 spending massive amounts of time with my daughters and cleaning my house so that I’m ready for a fresh beginning on the first.