Light and Dark

It’s been twelve years…and it feels like no time at all has passed each January 26th.

Every year, I celebrate the new year, the anniversary of the day I met and later married Nick. Then the month grows ever heavier until the end has passed. And every year I try to think of a distraction, things or activities that may keep this darkness from pulling me under. I try to convince myself this tactic will work, but it’s futile because the darkness is always there…the effervescence that keeps me afloat runs flat this day.

Shortly after I moved back from NC
 

This year, I scheduled an industry exam for tomorrow. We are visiting my mother-in-law in Florida next month, so I have been charging through this course material to have it wrapped up before we leave. I took today off as a final day of studying, and here I am, sniffling and writing. I’m hoping the latter will help with the former.

To complicate matters, I am waiting for results from an MRI that I had a week and a half ago. I’ve grown accustomed to receiving results within 48 hours, so this has been unnerving to say the least. It started with an X-Ray in early December that resulted in an MRI in late December that resulted in an MRI with contrast (MRA) in mid January. The MRA was a Tuesday night, and I received a call on Thursday asking if I could stop back that evening for a few more images. They assured me that this was simply because I had unique anatomy and they wanted to make sure they saw every angle as I am, not as the human body should be.

I’m assuming my doctor is out of the office this week, and that’s the cause of delay…but given the time of year, I can’t help but go there. I’m feeling very betrayed that this difficult, supposedly concentration-demanding insurance course hasn’t turned off the anxiety and sorrow it promised [in my mind].

So I am deciding to relive part of that day that is dear to me. I have no words to properly communicate the feelings of loss and loneliness that I felt that morning, fully knowing and understanding the champion I had through life until that point was now gone. My chest ached, and it hurt to breathe, to think about going on…I wanted to be there with her if she couldn’t be here with me.

I had just started dating someone a few weeks before. I didn’t know on our first date that my mother was in her last month of life, or I probably wouldn’t have started a relationship…but I met this man who felt right and comfortable from nearly the moment our paths crossed…like we knew each other from another dimension. When Mom came home to finish out her days, he came every night after work to offer whatever support he could to me and my family.

The morning she died was too bright and sunny for such a day, but that detail has stayed lodged in my mind all these years, the duality of it all. After a few hours, I sent a quick text message to my new friend to let him know that he didn’t need to stop by that night. He called back almost instantly, and it started the tears anew…I didn’t take the call. I don’t need to retell the story, I’ve told it before…but I remember so keenly feeling all alone, and then this person showed up and wouldn’t stop hugging me because he knew I needed someone in that moment to warm life back into my heart. Mom would have loved that.

Loss and love…you can’t have the first without the second…and you don’t truly appreciate the second until you’ve had the first.

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Like Sands through the Hourglass

Boom.

Just like that, two months raced away, I’ve completed another certification, and we’re preparing for Christmas. The days of our lives, indeed.

I’ve started along the path toward my CPCU designation. I keep telling myself—it’s my mantra—it’s just two more really hard years, then I’ll be done. This madness is all my doing…my fault for pursuing a designation that only 5% of insurance professionals have been crazy enough to complete.

Insurance is a field that I only fell into. I did not grow up with dreams of becoming an insurance whosit or whatsit, but I was extremely fortunate to land a job with a good company at a time when I desperately needed health benefits. Six weeks into my employment, all of my little symptoms colluded and landed me in the hospital for a week. A lot of specialists and several surgeries later, I’m beyond grateful that on top of feeling lousy and being face-planted in my own mortality, I had health insurance. I never had to make the choice between keeping a roof over my head or a meal on the table and receiving medical care. In the season of thanksgiving and miracles, I reflect that this was one of mine.

How can I possibly put into words the gift of that ONE THING I didn’t have to worry about? I’m not sure how a person expresses thanks for something like that. The thing is, I so desperately want to make that gift worth it. I may not have chosen the insurance industry for myself, but I want to grow and give back to the company that gave a little peace of mind to an employee it barely knew just because it was the decent thing to do.

As noble as my intentions are, they are not without sacrifice. I struggle to accept that free time = study time in my new reality, but I could not do this without someone to pick up the slack at home. Nick is so good to me…so supportive and understanding…yet another miracle in my pocket. Given the deck stacked against me, it’s interesting that I should feel so grateful…but it’s truer than a songbird on a spring morning or lightning bugs paining a summer twilight. It is a wonder that never fades.

“Life is a series of thousands of tiny miracles.” (Mike Greenberg)

NOTICE THEM.

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Vignettes

I officially get to list “AINS” after my name now that I passed the final exam in the program last month. It came at a weird time…my exam was scheduled two days after Grandma’s funeral and two days before her burial. It was a relief to pass because my mind and heart (understandably, I believe) were not in it. I’m about a third of the way through my final course to complete the API program—my test is scheduled for November 11th, and it will be here sooner than I expect…that’s just how time seems to work. Even—I’d even say especially—preparing for something, it happens…leaving you feeling off center and bewildered with its arrival. Anyway, hopefully more initials to add to my signature line by the end of the year.


After catching a Saturday evening movie at the theatre, we were in the car when a cover of “You’ve Lost that Lovin’ Feeling” came on the radio. Nick and I tried to sing along, but it just wasn’t the same without Bill Medley’s deep baritone. Inspired, I found the real song in my iTunes library and played in through the car. We were almost home, but we drove around the neighborhood belting out the lyrics (windows up, of course…it was late, after all)…me finding amusement that I automatically go to the low parts while Nick aims for the falsettos.

I looked over to him and felt tears gather. I was perhaps a little maudlin as this was around the time my grandmother died…but it was a living photograph. One of those perfect moments in time, over too soon, that I hope I remember forever. Laughing and loving and having a devoted friend when life gets hard…12 yeas ago, I was in a very different place, and I never thought I would find myself here, feeling so incredibly blessed with my life.


We attended a lantern festival two weeks ago. In my head, I imagined that it would be transcendent, and I was not disappointed. I don’t know what it was specifically, so I think it was a combination of everything—the black of night broken by floating flame, the cloaking music, the collective awe at seeing the lanterns pepper the sky, and the unity with complete strangers. The political climate has polarized us in so many ways…it was nice to have an evening when everyone just accepted one another, no questions asked. We were all there to experience the show and we were all there the create the experience.


Sick of the touchy-feely stuff? Well, I’ll leave with this little Nickism:

The news one morning reported that a bunch of clowns were going to show up at an IT movie premier to protest the negative impact the film is having on the clown profession. Nick added that the protesters were all going to carpool and arrive in a little car…I giggle whenever I think of it.

Over and out.

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Again

My grandmother—my mother’s mother—passed away in the early hours of Monday, August 7th. Her name was Grace, and it suited her. She was a special lady who I admired very much.

As someone fairly in touch with my emotions, I am finding it quite difficult to articulate my feelings on this.

She became the third person who I watched decline and fade away…who suffered until the end finally came. I imagine it would leave a mark on anyone, but I feel stained, stained by death, and I am beginning to realize that it has affected me more than I know.

I don’t get close to people anymore. The stain isn’t the only reason, but it makes me feel somehow damaged. Shut is the openness I once had. I mourn the loss of my younger self and the courage she had to wear her heart for all to see.

But then, she didn’t know how easily the heart could shatter or how much it would hurt. Courage comes easy when you don’t understand the danger ahead. My mother’s illness and subsequent death hurt me in a way that doesn’t heal. Whatever part of me that survived the emotional fallout fell victim to the strain of chronic physical pain.

I come from a line of women who never show their pain. I may write about it prolifically, but you would never suspect what lies beneath vis-à-vis. Like my grandmother and mother before me, I wear a mask, and it grows heavy. Frequently, isolation is easier to bear than the weight of the façade.

“So don’t wear it,” you say. It isn’t that simple. I don’t know how to leave the disguise at home; it isn’t what my family does. In its own way, the pain stains too.

With my baggage firmly anchored to my ankle, my last grandparent descended into the hell of terminal illness. She was the comeback kid. So many times in the last decade, Grandma had fallen ill only to recover. In the end, it wasn’t congestive heart failure, diabetes, or a stroke, but a fall that sapped the last of her reserves.

Not that she ever let it show, but I knew she suffered. I knew life had become a strain. There was a tightness in my last visits with her: two people trying very hard to pretend that nothing was wrong…and then she was gone. I’ve prepared for this so many times over the last decade, only to have her bounce back. I think a part of me believed that she was a force that could not be stopped.

My aunts were tireless in the care they gave her in the end. Your terminal loved ones can become someone else. They can thrash about in their delirium, call out, or say terrible, abusive things that are completely out of character…and while all logic tells you that this aggression isn’t truly aimed at you, how can you not take it personally? I was spared the last one with Mom because she fell into a coma, but my aunts have to remember those mean words for the rest of their lives.

Her funeral was last Thursday. I spent Wednesday night watching tearjerkers and scribbling out the first part of this entry, all in preparation to don the mask again for another public viewing. I was so, so proud of myself for staying dry-eyed through the service. I would NEVER expect anyone else to abstain from crying during a funeral, so why was it so important for me?

The burial ceremony was held at the cemetery this morning. I hate the cemetery. I hate seeing Mom’s name on a stone…I don’t want to look for her there, and it just so happens that my parents’ plot is adjacent to my grandparents’ plot. Nonetheless, I attended…on what would have been Mom’s 60th birthday. I left flowers on her grave before the ceremony started and struggled to keep the tears inside. My sweet husband came armed with tissues and a blanket should I want to kneel at Mom’s grave…sweetness has a way of unravelling me.

Mom's 48th Birthday Party
 
I don’t want to look for either of them there.
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Fireworks, Romance and Fireflies

I have known that my cousin Patrick puts on a fireworks show with one of his friends every year. I have been invited in the past, but scheduling never worked out. I wasn't too bothered by this because I assumed it was your average, run-of-the-mill sparklers and firecrackers type of gathering. Yeah, it would have been nice to hang out with my family, but I didn't think I was missing much of anything with the show.

Unfortunately, I have been lucky enough to see some glorious fireworks displays up close, and it ruins you a bit for other shows. All the years I attended Rhythm and Booms were spectacular, and I still get chills thinking how amazing that show was. I remember watching the show from afar as a kid, before Nick introduced me to the thrill of seeing it front and center. It became our annual tradition…but it just grew too big for the city to manage.

After Rhythm and Booms, we still had Disney. Fun fact: Walt Disney World is the second largest purchaser of explosives in the United States (second only to the U.S. military). The thing about a show that runs every single night? The people pulling the strings get realllllly good at it. The nighttime shows in WDW are stunning. It's a little tough to make it out to Florida every year though.

I'm rambling. Point being that when it comes to fireworks (which I thoroughly enjoy), my standards are a little elevated. Plainly put: I'm a fireworks snob. In my defense, I learned from the best of 'em—coughNickcough. Given all this, I need you to appreciate how wowed I was when I was able to attend the show this year. It was dazzling, and I'm kicking myself for not rearranging plans in the past to attend.

It was not, as you may have surmised, sparklers and firecrackers…but rather an aerial show that looked anything but amateurish. The snobs were speechless. I wish we had brought the Nikon, but the iPhones did a standup job on such short notice, hah!

Air explosions set to music! from Laura on Vimeo.

So sad and classless, but I think of Elmer Fudd hunting Bugs whenever I hear "Ride of the Valkyries" — could be that I'm overrun with rabbits in my flower garden this year though: “Kill the wabbit, kill the wabbit, kill the wabbit!

(Music: “Ride of the Valkyries” by Richard Wagner)

 


The best part of the night was magic hour when the lightning bugs came out full force. Our view was quintessential Wisconsin in the summer as the warmth of the day eased into night. There was something very romantic about it all.

Fireflies from Laura on Vimeo.

While waiting for the sun to dim for fireworks, bursts of light glittered the dusk.

(Music: "Ma Belle Evangeline" by Jim Cummings feat. Terence Blanchard)

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