Tag: Gram

Grief, and When Our Children Show Us the Way Out

Grief, and When Our Children Show Us the Way Out

As I type this, there is an estate sale company in my mother’s house, sorting through her belongings. The estate manager called me from where she stood in my parents’ dining room this morning to ask me some questions, and when she looked outside, she 

Onward, with Jazz Hands

Onward, with Jazz Hands

The kids have told me that my half-jokey-but-really-I-was-seriousness declaration of “Onward, with joy!” as our family motto is basically the un-coolest thing I have ever done in their entire lifetimes, so just imagine their (implied) glee when our friend David texted me the Latin translation 

We’re Gonna Have to Build Our Own Raft

We’re Gonna Have to Build Our Own Raft

It appears I’m in that stage of grieving wherein I wear all of my mother’s jewelry. (I think it’s Grief Level 6. We’re also moving into Grief Level 7, which is when we begin cleaning out her house and start co-opting pieces of her furniture for own homes. More on that later). You know that scene in National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation where Clark gets locked in the attic and ends up wearing all of his dead relative’s clothing? Level 6 is like that, but with yellow gold instead of terrycloth turbans.

As I type this, I’m wearing not one, but two pairs of my mother’s earrings. I’m also wearing a ring of hers–a simple gold band with teeny tiny diamonds–and a butterfly necklace she used to wear all the time when I was little. On my wrist is a gold(ish) bracelet my dad had purchased when he was stationed in Thailand. We buried her in her wedding band, but I’ve already worn her engagement ring. It just happens to fit perfectly on my right hand. It’s just…they’re talismans. I know it, I totally know it, and I’m okay with it right now.

I miss her. A lot.

We’ve already had her burial, the quick scheduling of which came as both a relief and a shock. Because she was buried in Arlington National Cemetery, we’d been told that we’d have to wait about six months to, er, get her in. We anticipated a cold, snowy January morning spent graveside, but at the night of her viewing, her funeral director greeted me with, “Hey! Good news! Arlington had an opening for next week!” (I wanted to reply, “It’s a cemetery: don’t they have lots of openings?” but felt like he might not laugh). So we spent Mom’s burial service sweltering behind our masks in the 86-degree sun (Real Feel: 104!). We held no reception afterward for the family: The Covid, you know. It’s messed with some things. A few of us straggled off to an Irish pub in Arlington and melted into the macadam outside with our slippery pints of Guinness in order to cobble together some semblance of a wake. The owner welcomed us and mentioned the skyrocketing cases of Covid-19 in the area. Sláinte, Mom.

Saoirse found me sitting crosslegged on the floor of my closet this evening, sobbing wet, feels-like-I-just-dove-into-the-ocean-why-is-the-inside-of-my-sinuses-salty tears. She’s been amazing these past few weeks, volunteering to go with me to my mom’s whenever I get brave enough to tackle a room in her house and start cleaning out her belongings. We’d met up with my Aunt Mary and Uncle Tim, and we’d started sorting through Mom’s clothes and shoes for donation (Mom had many, many shoes). She had dresses with tags still attached, broken-in sandals she’s packed for vacations with us, sweaters that had been worn to nice dinners, to Thanksgiving, to babysit the kids. I found one of her favorite necklaces, a Celtic cross we thought we’d lost at one of her radiation appointments, which a caregiver had probably found and placed away for safekeeping. I wore it home.

But back to the story at hand: I’d gone in to my own closet to hang up a shirt of my mom’s I can’t bear to part with just yet: a pink and blue plaid button-front, soft from wear and still smelling like her. That’s when Saoirse found me. It was the smell that got me.

So, you know, it’s going well.

When I’m busy, it’s more manageable, but to be honest, I often can’t face the busy. Some days it’s all I can do to face the dishes. Quinlan gently approached me one day–it was the first day I’d been to Mom’s to start cleaning stuff out, and I was wrecked when I got home and doing a poor job of hiding it. She hugged me, but added a little admonishment: “Mom, I know you’re sad, but Grammy’s happy now. She’s all better and happy and running with Luca [our beloved old dog], and soon–” Quinlan glanced at our ancient cat, who was staggering through the kitchen on her arthritis-ridden skeleton legs– “and soon she’ll be running with both Luca and Widget.”

So there you go.

I’ve received so many loving messages from many of you, and I thank you for them (and if I don’t reply right away? It’s because most days I just don’t feel like chatting, and on others, when I do scrape up the memory of what it’s like to be appropriately social, the only response to “How are you?” is “I’M WEARING ALL OF MY MOTHER’S JEWELRY.”). I know from experience that the swells of hurt will ebb so that the waves, eventually, won’t hit as often. But I also know from experience that once you’ve found yourself in this particular Grief Ocean, there’s no swimming to shore.

I’ve been in this ocean for twelve years now–I know how this goes. It’s just that now? My life raft has disappeared, too.

The bottom line of all of this is: I’m a ball of fun right now, and if you are throwing parties, you should totally invite me to all them. I have a couple of Mom-related things I want to post in the upcoming weeks, as I feel up to it, and, of course get back into some sort of Regular Programming (Quinlan has gently reminded me I have a manuscript to finish and to not “use time” on my “blogging“–I wish you could see the derision she has for us internet dinosaurs). I have lots of notes I want to write, too: you’ve been incredible friends and family and caregivers–so many of you–and I want to thank you for that. If I have been quiet, I’ll be in touch.

(It’s hard to write when I’m wearing all this jewelry.)

In the meantime, if you have questions for me about…well, about what these past months have really looked like, please email me through my contact page. I know a few of you reading this have family members walking the GBM road–we had so many questions about what to expect when it was Mom’s turn. If I can help in any way, please let me. If I don’t reach out to you first–or am slow to respond because I’m still at my mom’s cleaning closets (she also had many, many coats), get in touch. Please.

Grief is the pits. I told Saoirse today that I do believe this little bit of time we have on Earth is part of a greater continuum–and one that involves each other, somehow–but it just doesn’t reconcile the feeling of having somebody like my mom–and by extension, my dad all over again–get erased out of our daily life. Just…*poof*. Regardless of if you’re expecting it to happen or not, the disappearance is jarring beyond any comfort level. I still make a move toward my phone every evening around 5:30–it’s when I’d give her a last good-night call this past year or so. (Poof.) I have to remind myself that I’m still here and lucky to love my kids and David (who does do the dishes) and the relatives that text or call and the friends who still want to hang out with my weepy behind and the writing that wants to be done.

Poof. But right now we are here, and I will do all of the things I’m supposed to do (the cleaning out, the loving, even the dishes).

And while doing so I’ll be wearing the most fabulous hand-me-down Irish Catholic jewelry a girl could inherit.

 

 

Update from the Brain Cancer Chronicles: Mom’s Almost There, but Not Quite There, and I’m Not Ready for There Anyway

Update from the Brain Cancer Chronicles: Mom’s Almost There, but Not Quite There, and I’m Not Ready for There Anyway

Let me tell you what’s weird in Brain Cancer World. Two weeks ago, when mom’s hospice nurse came to visit, she declared my mom’s condition “status quo, with deterioration.” I think that means, “Still living, but a little less than she was before.” Last Thursday, 

10 Sorta Happy Things in this Summer of 2020

10 Sorta Happy Things in this Summer of 2020

You guys, my kids are climbing the walls. They’re threatening to dig a hole in the backyard and fill it with tap water from the hose and call it a pool. They’re saying it’s too hot to play outside when it’s only 78 degrees. They’re 

Memorial Day 2020: The Family Gathers, an F150, and I Yelp about Social Distancing

Memorial Day 2020: The Family Gathers, an F150, and I Yelp about Social Distancing

Hey.

It’s the Tuesday after what has probably been a quiet Memorial Day weekend for many of us (if you, though, are reading this not from your living room couch but from a crowded beach, please know a] I’m mad at you because SOCIAL DISTANCING, and b] I’m jealous of you because BEACH).

  1. I noticed this weekend that I managed to mess up Cian’s buzz cut last week (shocked, are you?): there’s a strip of hair above the nape of his neck that’s noticeably longer than any of the hair above it. Which means that as it grows he’s going to get a mullet. Which means that I am never, ever, ever touching the hair on that boy’s head with clippers ever again. He’ll just have to learn how to braid.
  2. I made Mom’s deviled eggs again yesterday. They tasted more like how she used to make them, and that made me happy. (My sister-in-law made key lime pie. That, too = happy.)
  3. I’m reading Emma Straub’s All Adults HereI love her books, and this one is no exception–Straub works magic when it comes to making her characters real–but one of the main characters is a mom just a little younger than my own, and when she appears, the reading gets tough. It’s a strange feeling, to have a fictional character make you miss the everyday stuff, but there you have it. The book and I have been spending a lot of time on the front porch, and it wasn’t long ago at all that Mom and I would share a drink out here some evenings in the nice weather (and not-so nice weather: one of her favorite nights was Halloween watching the kids trick-or-treat here, which meant the two of us sitting together chatting with blankets over our laps, sipping from mugs of spiked mulled cider). David and I got new Adirondack chairs for the porch this spring. She’d love them.
  4. Paul and Sarah are spending their last full day with Mom before they head back to Wisconsin early tomorrow. They’ve been here since late Thursday night. Paul worries about arriving back home only to have to get on a plane to come right back, but we don’t know. No one knows.
  5. Speaking of Mom (something new!), a friend texted yesterday to ask after her. I didn’t know how to respond, so I said the truth: “It’s not the same anymore, but she’s holding on.” She spends a lot of time with her eyes closed now, is what I wanted to say. But I didn’t.
  6. We had a cookout yesterday at her house–me on high tension alert from outside in the yard, yelping “Social distancing! SIX FEET APART!” at the tiny group of family members there, because I’ve always been one to let my people enjoy themselves–and Mom was able to be in her wheelchair in her sunroom for about an hour. The grown-ups ran barefoot races with the kids and talked about Choppy and Schitt’s Creek and baking and books. It was good.
  7. Paul and Sarah rented a truck–a beautiful red F150–for their trip here. I think it’s a trial run for Paul’s next car. The kids were gleeful (“We can have BATTLES in the BACK!”) and begged Paul to take them for a ride. My dad had always wanted a truck like that. He would’ve gotten a kick out of seeing my brother drive it.
  8. The kids are finished with school for the year–how anticlimactic is that? It’s unofficially summer and we have no plans and no goals and we’re trying to figure out how to navigate this stretch of time ahead of us. Last year, when we spent most days with Mom, when the kids were asking when we could ever go on vacation, I’d think about this year, this summer, of how we could make it fun and magical and make up, in a way–I know that’s not real or possible or even healthy–for the sadness and weirdness of last summer. My poor mom. She’s been here for so much and has missed out on all of it.
  9. Quinlan turns ten this week. She’s not getting the sleepover she wanted (me: “Social distancing! SIX FEET APART!”), but has asked for noodles and ice cream cake and her own horse and some blue basketball socks, please.
  10. The sun is shining! It’s 9:38 a.m. and humid and warm and the kids want to play with their new enormous water guns later. I have paperwork to go through, and fresh strawberries to eat. Nothing is the same, but everything’s the same.

Happy unofficial start to summer, friends. I miss seeing your faces, and I would much like to go swimming in a large body of salt water again sometime soon. Life is weird and short, but at least there are still red pick-up trucks and glasses of wine and new books to enjoy.

I’ll save you the seat on the front porch.

Quarantine, Deviled Eggs, and Me: Mother’s Day 2020

Quarantine, Deviled Eggs, and Me: Mother’s Day 2020

Well, that Mother’s Day kind of sucked, didn’t it? My sweet family tried so hard this year. They made me stay in bed an hour and a half after I’d already been awake so they could bring me breakfast. The kids made “fancy juice.” David 

Cookies and Creativity and the Quarantine Slump

Cookies and Creativity and the Quarantine Slump

Okay, at this point of quarantine, you’re in one of two camps: #1: You are a person who’s settled into this “new normal,” and are content and calm. You’ve weeded the flower beds, laid down fresh mulch, and are considering a fresh coat of paint