Friday, April 18, 2014

Life is but a dream.

Several years after my sister died, she came to me in a dream. I remember being so overwhelmed to see her that I was just sobbing and incredulous, repeating over and over something like “It’s you. You’re here.” She just smiled at me like it was any other day (and like I wasn’t hysterical) and said “I’m fine. Everything is okay.”

I woke up the next morning thinking, Wow. Maybe she is fine. Maybe everything is – finally – okay. This is good.

Since my Mom died, I’ve been waiting for her to come to me. She finally did the other night, but it wasn’t about me, it was more about my Dad. In my dream (nightmare?) he was dying. He was very peaceful, laying in bed, and I was sitting on the bed next to him on his left side. I was despondent. I looked to my right, and there she was. She was vibrant, bright, young. She was laying on the bed next to me with her feet near Dad’s, and she was propped up on her elbows. I looked at my Dad and said “He’s resting…I guess this is normal in the progression…”, and then I looked back at her. She was smiling expectantly, beyond happy, with tears in her eyes. She nodded her head and said “I know.” She couldn’t wait for him to come to her. She looked like a child on Christmas Eve who knew her most coveted gift was under the tree.

When I woke up, I couldn’t decide if I felt better, or doubly worse. And when I told the traveling husband about the dream later that day, I cried.

Lately, I fluctuate between a couple of realities. The first one is where I know on the surface that she died, and I can say it with a certain amount of detachment, take the kind comments that usually come afterwards, and move on.

Other times, it feels like I'm a little girl who's just been pushed off the high dive.

As I fall fast, my mind hits rewind and I see her in her hospice bed where she was a shred of her former self. I see her in hospital room after hospital room with tubes and monitors and I see the nurses and doctors who floated in and out over the course of eight months, alternately helping and pissing me off with their attitudes and answers (or lack thereof).

And then I see her as she was before, and this is the hardest to reconcile in my head. I saw the decline with my own two eyes and yet the questions remain. How can it be? How can vibrancy and resilience and strength disappear and take with it the will to fight and live? How could I have spent so much time hoping and praying and talking about her getting better, and so little time preparing for how I would feel when that didn’t happen?

Then I hit the water and sink to the bottom as the second reality hits which is that she hasn’t just died. She. Is. Dead. There is an odd difference. The first reality lives in my head. The second one lives in my heart.

Recently the traveling husband reminded someone who wasn’t being careful enough with me that “her mother died just four months ago.” It made me feel incredibly loved and cared for, and reminded me that he may be busy but he is first and foremost Papa Bear for this family. He stepped in front of me as a shield, and that not only protected me, but gave me a moment to let my own guard down. Which made me realize I’m playing it quite tough but really, am hanging by a thread.
I’ll be stoic one moment and crying the next – you know how that is right? When you lose something or someone you love (and friends have told me it hits just as hard whether it's been 10 weeks or 10 years) it's a cycle. You're on the pool deck, and it's okay. You go for a dip, and it's fine. You walk over to the diving board and tension rises. Then there you are, standing on the high dive contemplating everything, when PUSH and you're falling. You end up in the deep end, water up your nose and tears on your face, because the pressure is too much.

Eventually you swim back up, climb out, and warm yourself in the sun again (preferably with a stylish cover up and a strong, fruity cocktail). The clouds part and the day goes on and you realize that while you were devastated and drowning, life completely moved on for everyone else. When you came up gasping for air, kids were laughing, people were slathering on sunscreen, birds were chirping. It’s like that scene in Jerry Maguire where he gets fired at lunch, right? His head is pounding and his mind is racing. He looks at his water glass and sees the ice cube crack. He looks around the restaurant and watches people at other tables laughing and eating, all while step one of Jerry’s World Crumbling takes place.

It’s the merging of realities, and I know I’m blessed/lucky/grateful but it still kinda sucks.

My Mom was the Easter Bunny and the Birthday Fairy and the Best Kind Of Grandmother and Santa Claus all rolled into one, which makes weekends like this one that much harder. She made everything special and made everyone happy and always made everyone laugh (sometimes at her own expense).

Therefore, this week, I have been compelled to buy mass quantities of chocolate and plan for lovely side dishes and plant flowers, so our Easter weekend is as special as it can be. I will drink rosé and eat jellybeans and smile at Nine and Eleven, because those sweet girls still want to hunt for eggs and get a big basket of goodies. And I will fill those eggs and stuff those baskets and shop until I drop for everything we need because I learned from the best that it’s not shopping, it’s retail therapy, and I think we can all agree (maybe especially after crying through writing this post a little bit) I need therapy in whatever form it comes in.

And then Sunday night, when the house is clean and quiet, I will climb into bed next to the traveling husband. I will close my eyes, breathe deep, and hope she comes to me in my dreams. I hope she smiles at me and tells me how lovely she thought everything was. I hope she wishes me a happy Easter, and a good night’s rest.

And I hope I get the chance to throw my arms around her and breathe her in and wish her a good night’s rest, too.

I hope.

Monday, April 7, 2014

Trembling Ovaries A.D.

I swear, I’m not trying to make this into The Journal Of Death or anything, but I obviously have some things weighing on my mind and I told you before that this is my therapy, which makes you my therapist, so you are compelled to sit back and listen.

Okay, so you aren’t compelled to do anything really, but where else can you go to read things that make you cry, then make you laugh about poop, all in one place?

You’re welcome.

I was talking to a friend today. She has experienced a devastating loss recently too. Her father lived on the other side of the world, and he was quite ill. On the day she was scheduled to fly out to see him, he died. He hadn’t been a part of her life for many years. He missed every major milestone she experienced as an adult: her wedding, the birth of her child, her birthdays, every holiday. All of it. And then before she could reconcile anything, or ask questions, or show him the slideshow that she and her brother had put together to catch him up on the last 20 years of their lives…he was gone.

For her, that made it all worse. He’d missed everything, and now there was no chance he would be a part of anything ever again.

It couldn’t be more different from my loss, but our feelings were so much the same. My Mom was one of the biggest parts of my life and always had been. She was present for every major life event I’ve had. She threw my birthday parties, took me everywhere, watched me dance, planned my wedding, attended bridal and baby showers, and was there when both of my daughters were born. She’s been my touchstone for years and years, and we spoke several times a week.

For me, that made it all worse. She’d been there for everything, and now there was no chance she would be a part of anything ever again.

We all walk through loss – no matter what kind it is – and it washes over us. We’re undeniably drenched in what’s happened, but because we move forward so quickly, we air-dry a little bit, so we think we’re good to go. Different for the experience, sure, but ready to get dressed again.

What we don’t entirely realize is that what we've been exposed to doesn't get left in the past when we move forward. The loss stays with us, sitting right there on the surface. We learn that while we may be moving on, we're not moving on without it because it's a part of who we are.

So we make dinner and have meetings and walk the dog – we get distracted by life – and what we thought we'd gotten used to starts to change. It begins to seep in. The reality of what we’ve seen and felt and lost sinks deeper and deeper into us until one day out of the blue, it touches our heart.

There’s no warning. It’s like an earthquake, but it comes from inside, which kind of makes it a heartquake. You can’t see it coming, you just start to feel it. It’s scary because you have no idea whether it will shake you up a little or a lot, so there's no way to prepare. You don’t know how long it will last, you just have to ride it out and hope.

This week my heartquake left me sitting in the driveway crying. I’d dropped the kids at school, and was on the way home, listening to the country station and sipping my coffee, and I instinctively wanted to call her for our daily download and catch up session. And it hit me that while her voice is still on the answering machine, she’s not there to pick up the phone anymore.

So instead, I texted another dear friend who understands this kind of driveway breakdown all too well, because she lost her darling mom a few months before I lost mine. I texted the traveling husband, who texted back that he misses my Mom too (cue: more crying). I texted Chicago, because well, I always text Chicago. And then I got out of the car and got on with my day. There were some aftershocks, but I made it through.

Life is just different now. My ovaries are still all aflutter, but in another way and for other reasons. They are Trembling Ovaries A.D., if you will.

If any of you were a rock star in your previous life, or you just had a mom who thought you were the best thing since sliced bread, then you know what I'm talking about. And if you've lost the president of your fan club and have since figured out how not to spontaneously cry in public, I’d love to know about it.

My ovaries and I are all ears.

Also, poop.


Tuesday, April 1, 2014

P.S. I love you

Dear Mom,

You may already know this, depending on how much you can see from where you are, but last week the traveling husband and I took Nine, Eleven, and OtisNO* to Palm Springs for a few days.

I figured a change of scenery would be good for me, and it was. But everywhere I looked, I saw you.

How could I not? You and Dad used to go to Palm Springs all the time. Lying on a raft in the pool was your thing. Getting brown and wearing flip-flops was where it was at. Palm Springs was where you got your Hawaii fix, when we couldn’t go to Hawaii. Plus, since your initials were P.S., and Palm Springs is also P.S., you were always kind of synonymous with the place.

And I don’t know if this is just coincidence, or what, but did you know that Frank Sinatra, the man who recorded the theme song for your entire life (“I Did It My Way”) had a house in Palm Springs? Ever since I can remember, that song was all about you. And to prove it, your license plates read “PSMYWAY” for as long as I can remember.

“PSMYWAY” was you, and Palm Springs, and Frank Sinatra.

It was clearly NOT a joke about the fact that you never knew which way to go when you were driving.

Right? Because we were never “lost.” We were “on an adventure.”

Now you’re gone, but you aren’t lost. You’re just on another adventure. And in true form, you left for your adventure your way.

We moved you to hospice on a Thursday. It was a rough transition for you – for all of us – but our plan was to get you comfortable, and get you home.

When I called on Friday, I was told that you were dying. It wouldn’t be long. A couple days, maybe. You don’t expect to hear that news while you’re sitting at the car dealership waiting for your oil change to be done, you know?

But I totally kept it together, Mom. I swallowed repeatedly and blinked tears away, paid my bill (no idea what it cost or what the service manager said to me), and climbed into the car. I do remember being kind of amazed that I could put one foot in front of the other. Then I pulled out of the driveway, drove across the street, stopped in a small parking lot, and promptly lost my shit.

I called the husband hysterical, terrified and rambling:


Well, he may not have been able to get a word in edgewise, but he knew what to do. He booked me on the next flight out to see your pretty face. (You always did like him.)

I came straight to you. I brought a small bag of clothes and a big bag of Excedrin, because the nurse I spoke to said you might not see Monday. (Ouch, right? The blows were coming hard and fast. Hence the Excedrin.)

The weekend flew by.

Then, Monday came and went.

So I went to Target, which I’m sure you know we could see from your hospice window (thank you Jesus/Mom/Karma), and I bought some more comfy clothes to hang out in. I wore the same flannel pajamas every night. I think you would have liked them. I’m wearing them as I type, too. Now I call them My Hospice Pajamas, so they make me sad, but I wear them anyway, because they remind me of you.

Tuesday came and went.

I watched a lot of TV. I held your hand almost nonstop, day and night. I was the only one who could get your wedding ring off. We listened to the Peaceful Christmas compilation on Pandora, because the Country Christmas mix got a little twangy for us. We bought you a thick, soft blanket, which I think you liked the feel of, and we put Christmas lights around the foot of your bed, along with some sparkly garland. And we hung one ornament from it. An owl. I wish I knew when your love for owls started.

Oh, and you probably know this too, but owls are freaking everywhere now. I don’t know if it’s a sign or a trend, but I’m trying very, very hard not to buy everything I see with an owl on it, or soon I will be that crazy old lady with all the owls. No offense.

Wednesday came, and with it came one of my favorite nurses. She walked in and Mom, I shit you not, she said “Well, she’s still here. She’s doing it her way, isn’t she?”

I just stared at her. It was like one of those movie scenes where it’s like twelve minutes until the end of the movie and something finally goes DING in the movie star’s head, and everything pivotal that happened in the previous hour and thirty-three minutes replays itself, and she understands that all those moments were actually missed clues along the way, and then it zooms back to her face, and she realizes her journey is complete.

Except for at that moment, I was the movie star, and my movie took me zooming back to being a kid in the back of the “PSMYWAY” mobile. I saw your tanned, pedicured feet in flip-flops by a pool. I watched you singing along to “I Did It My Way” as you smiled at Dad. And then it zoomed back to my puffy, exhausted, grateful face. And I said with a sad smile, You have no idea.

We had some flip-flops-by-the-pool time last week in Palm Springs. We had some good meals and good times. And I don't know why, but all three nights we spent there I found myself awake at 3:38am. Why I woke up at the same time each morning is anybody's guess, but each time I spent a good hour thinking about you and trying to figure it out.

Then I came home and promptly got the flu. But don’t worry, I’m better now. And I’m out of Frank Sinatra land and back to real life. I have to go to Costco tomorrow because Nine and Eleven lost their goggles, and we are out of paper towels and freezer bags.

I wonder if they have a gigantic pack of owls there. I’ll look.

I miss you, Mom.



P.S. I love you.

*Note to the reader: The 160-pound puppy’s name is Otis. But when we first brought him home, it sounded like his name was OtisNO, because he was constantly either eating something inappropriate or peeing on it (or both). My Mom was in town for a visit and for her, the nickname stuck. So now you know. And in case you were wondering, OtisNO loved Palm Springs. He did not lose his goggles.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Nobody does it better.

Nobody does it better,
Makes me feel sad for the rest.
Nobody does it half as good as you,
Baby, you’re the best.
- Carly Simon

My Dad has always loved James Bond flicks. What’s not to love really? You’ve got a martini-swilling Brit who’s good with a gun and even better with the ladies. There’s intrigue, booze, and the promise of lots of hot sex on mink coats in a car that turns into a submarine.

It was a winning combo for a nuclear engineer who lived in the suburbs with his wife and their four children. I mean, he enjoys his evening cocktail (replace the Vesper with a scotch), and according to my Mom they had lots of sex (cue: fingers in the ears, and sing it with me LALALALALA), but figuring out how to unkink the garden hose was about as intriguing as things got in our neck of the woods.

Yep, my Dad is an OG fan from way back – we’re talking Sean Connery in Dr. No circa 1962 (before I was even a twinkle in his eye). He stayed loyal as Connery left and Roger Moore took the helm, which was a far easier transition to make than the shifts to follow. Timothy Dalton was cute enough, but he was missing the depth of character that makes James Bond so engaging. Pierce Brosnan was a much better choice, and his Bond days were a preview to the dashing character he played so well in The Thomas Crown Affair (if you haven’t seen it, you’re missing out). But the most current 007 – Daniel Craig – is the closest to the early days. He’s got just the right mix of ruthlessness, heartache, and badass.

As you may have gathered, I was educated early on all things 007. Octopussy. Sexy! That huge guy with the weird braces. Scary! And The Spy Who Loved Me. Which for my Dad may have been all about Barbara Bach in a bikini, but for me, it was that Carly Simon song.

In our house, Carly was played alongside Mac Davis, Simon & Garfunkel, and Anne Murray. It was probably a broader play list than that, but these are the ones I remember the most. A Sunday at my house meant listening to the wind chimes through the open sliding glass door, and hearing those 70s tunes come through the 8-track, while a baseball or golf game played (muted) on the TV. The house smelled like coffee and cigarettes, the LA Times were spread all over the coffee table, and the garden hose was kink-free. Saturday mornings were beauty parlor appointments and grocery shopping and the Little League field. But Sunday mornings were chill mode.

Those were good days. The memories from those days are what compels me to shop for wind chimes and listen to 70s music even now.

Especially now.

For Mom, nobody did it better than my Dad. She used to say that he could just look at her a certain way, or reach for his zipper (cue: LALALALALA) and she’d be pregnant. And she said that when he asked, her answer was always yes.

Easy? Maybe.

Frisky? Yep. (Her nickname wasn’t “Pussycat” for nothing.)

Crazy in love? Absolutely.

One wouldn’t necessarily expect all that game from a quiet engineer hailing from South Bend, Indiana, but still waters run deep.

Maybe on those Sunday mornings, before the stereo and golf got going, a little 007 mission was happening behind the closed bedroom door. Perhaps Dad took a sip of his chilled martini coffee, set it down on the cockpit control panel bedside table, and handled his business with the babe in the bikini his wife of many, many years. All I know is they told me they were “talking”, and I found that boring, so I wandered back down the hallway and left them to their “conversation”.

The bottom line is that I grew up knowing certain things were good. Wind chimes. James Bond. Unconditional love. Music on Sundays. Coffee. “Conversations” behind a closed bedroom door.

And I grew up knowing that Mom was hopelessly devoted and happily convinced that nobody did anything better than my Dad. Selfishly, I like to think the last line of the chorus – Baby, you’re the best – applied to her baby. Me.

I’m pretty sure I’m right on that count. And she was right too, of course. That suburban Bond girl was a smart lady.

Suddenly, I have a taste for a martini. Who's pouring?

Monday, March 17, 2014

I'm a dip.

Sometimes I feel
Like I’m a 7-layer dip.
I’ve got tiers, and I’m good,
And I know my way around a chip.

If you don’t care to dive,
You’ll just scoop into the cream.
It’s friendly and accessible,
But down deep is the dream.

The salsa layer is spicy,
The guacamole is a delight.
The cilantro you love or hate,
But the refrieds are the best bite.

Some try to get there,
But their chips bend or break.
Only authentic dippers can reach it,
No beans for the fake.

A little taste might be plenty,
For those who don’t yet know.
But the ones who already love it,
Can leap in - hello!

You know I’m good with a cocktail,
And spirits are the theme today.
So be safe, salty and drunk with me,
And have a great St. Paddy’s Day.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

I'm barely fine.

At the risk of sounding ungrateful, please don't ask me how I am. And especially don’t ask how I’ve been. I know you mean well and it's a simple, kind inquiry. Or maybe it's just what you say without thinking with a quick smile, as you rush to your car, or the coffee shop, never really stopping your forward motion because you're not actually trying to invite conversation. As the words come out, you’re already nodding and getting ready to say “Good!” You’re expecting just a quick, simple "Fine, and you?" which is perfect because you're cordial, and nice, but let’s face it, you're also in a hurry. Which I get, I'm not trying to give each person I see at Starbucks a full ten minutes either.

Now, none of this applies to those of you who say to me expectantly "How. Are. You." because you've read my heart and you're sitting down with a full cup of tea, ready to hear it. Because you know that question is for you - and to me - an invitation to let it fly. To you, I can say (and probably have said well before 8:00am or after 10:00pm) that I'm doing pretty well as long as I don't have to say out loud "I miss her."; that I'm shredded and raw and puffy, and I can’t stop eating noodles; that I dreamed of her last night because I heard that song on the radio that reminds me of her and I cried, even though I hadn't cried in two days which I thought meant I was past the crying. And you nod, and wrinkle up your nose, and quietly shush your kids and let them watch a little more TV because you’re listening. And I have loved that lifeline. I have clung to it and will continue to do so, even as weeks turn to months and things get "easier".

I can see that while it's been a very, very sad few months (year?), I should be fine. Better than fine. I mean, tomorrow will mark three months now and shouldn't I be fine? Shouldn’t I be better than fine? I haven't lost an arm or my sight. I haven't just sent someone off to fight in a war. Nobody – thank heavens – has been abducted by pervs or aliens or anybody. I know this in my head, and I recognize my loss isn't unique or special in the realm of Life's Lessons And Loss. I get it. You're born, you live, you die. And yet, I'm still stumbling around off balance. I can steady myself as I go but something is off. My world is officially rocked and as one friend’s note described so perfectly, I am untethered.

I read somewhere that our grief is our love turned inside out. That's why our grief is so big and deep, because our love is too. We know loss is coming and yet in one of life's great miracles and mysteries, we love anyway. We love all the way down into our bones, knowing that we will one day lose, and those bones will shatter along with our hearts, and we will desperately long for that which we can no longer have. Ever. 

We run along like children, skipping in the sun, laughing and loving and fighting and gritting our teeth. We make plans and drinks and memories and dinner and babies. And then one day, suddenly, we find ourselves frozen in the dark.

Or maybe it's not so sudden.

Maybe instead it’s realizing the bright light of life is on a dimmer switch you were too busy – or distracted, or dysfunctional, or afraid – to notice until now. Slowly you're able to take off your sunglasses without squinting, and then as it gets darker, you find yourself nearly holding your breath and straining to make out the figures you see slipping away into the purple, dusky distance. And finally it's pitch black and cold and nobody feels like playing or skipping or laughing anymore, least of all you.

Or me, as it were.

I suppose I always knew it was coming, but especially in the last year or so it became unavoidably apparent that not only could it happen, but it would.

And it did.

And I'm trying to be grateful, and cheerful, and pep talk myself into exercise and smiles and an unclenched jaw, I really am.

And some days I'm okay. Some days I'm even better than fine. I'm rolling along, moving forward, checking all the boxes, and then...boom. A huge iron gate slams shut in front of me with a crash and a wall closes in right behind me (thud) and the realization that she's only in my heart and not in my world anymore takes me by the throat, puts it's cold mouth over mine and inhales me out of myself. The sun is gone and I don't recognize myself because who am I if I am only what's left of her. I've never felt more like a lost, trapped little girl and yet I am also now all grown up.

I still can't catch my breath in those moments. I can't look at my feet or hands without seeing hers. I see her in my freckles and nose and in the way I put on lipstick, and I see her in my daughters.

Some days it's so comforting I want to wrap myself up in it and let it warm me through.

And other days, it leaves me barely fine, stuck between that wall and that gate, with only my unrecognizable self, just trying to breathe without falling to my knees, because carpool and homework and making dinner is hard enough without a complete breakdown attached to it. Seriously, 5th grade math makes me want to cry as it is.

And so when you ask how I am, my real answer is so complicated that it leaves me sputtering through an uncomfortable “Well…? I’m…uh…”. You’ll have to slow your forward motion and miss your coffee date, and really, even if you wanted the whole story, it’s way too much for a passing sound bite. Especially pre-caffeine.

So how about I spare you the awkward silence (and the cold latte) and you spare me the question that used to be so easy to answer. Let's instead just switch it up. Throw me a “Hi...nice to see you.” I’ll take a “Hey, great flip flops.” Possibly, “Good morning, you have spinach between your teeth.” Anything but “How are you?”

Just until I can get past those crashing iron gates.

Or, forever.

Whichever comes first.