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.

I concede 

In my 20s I developed, among other things, an inability to fall or stay asleep all night. Well, that’s not entirely accurate…I’ve subsisted on little sleep for a long time. (I averaged maybe four hours a night by the time I was in high school.) The sleep thing just got a lot less manageable in my 20s when I couldn’t even hit four hours. 

Of course that was a tumultuous time in general with various aches and pains coming to the surface, and I was eventually prescribed a muscle relaxer to take before bedtime under the assumption that I couldn’t sleep because I was in pain. It has probably a 90% success rate and the sleep front, so I really can’t complain.

But every now and then I do a “spot check” to see if I really need to continue taking a given medication. I have no idea why I do it because I think it’s really stupid thing to do…it’s like I become suspicious that I may be taking a drug for no reason which terrifies me. If my doctor with her muuuuuuch more expensive education thinks I should be taking a medicine, why am I so paranoid that I don’t really need it!? 

It’s the quandary of a drug that works so well that eventually you forget that you had a problem that it is actively treating. 

The long and the short of it is that it is 2:00 AM, and not only am I not sleepy, I feel wired. 

PSA (Personal Service Announcement) to future-Laura who is considering skipping her nightly muscle relaxer:

YOU STILL NEED THAT ONE. 

A House Divided

I never would have broached a subject as divisive as politics when I started blogging in my early 20s. I was afraid to publish much of an opinion about anything for fear of offending someone. I’ve lived most of my life that way, to be honest…and I don’t want to short myself too much on that, because I believe my intentions have been noble. I’ve long-held that the worst feeling is to know that you have hurt someone, intentionally or unintentionally, by word or deed…there’s enough pain in the world without anyone adding to it.

It has taken the intervening years to accept that I can respectfully disagree with someone without hurting their feelings.

My heart hurts for my country. My political evolution has followed my maturity and personal understanding of the world. (Yes, probably much to my parents’ chagrin, I had political opinions from an early age.) I leaned right when I was young, when everything was still black and white in my very small world. I have been lucky in a good many things over the years, but none luckier than the excellent start I had in life. I had a parent who crammed gratitude down my throat from my earliest memories. Yes, crammed. It’s lodged down there so deep now that I wouldn’t be able to loosen it if I tried.

Expect nothing. Be thankful for everything.

As I began to understand this simple tenet, as my world grew, my views changed. Somewhere along the way, I learned empathy…not only learned it, but it is woven into the foundation of who I am as a person. Nothing is as simple as it appears. Everyone has a story. Nothing is black, nothing is white…everything is gray.

There was a candidate whose stance on the issues aligned with many of my own, and I saw a piece of myself in HRC. I understood her. I understand what it’s like to feel misunderstood because you’re trying to make it in a world that wasn’t built for you. It forces you to maintain two identities: one for the public, where you’ve wiped away anything that makes you stand out…and one you share only with your loved ones, guarding it closely so you never lose yourself in the struggle to succeed. I know the landmines of working in a heavily regulated field. I’m also a thorough researcher with a marketing degree, so I’m not vulnerable to fake news or spin. Unfortunately, many are.

So with full disclosure of my far-left affiliation, I never saw this past election as Republican vs. Democrat. I would like to believe I would still feel that way if the candidate of my party had questionable intellect, morals, or qualifications. Regardless, I want to be able to respect and trust the leader we elect, whether our policy views align or not. I may not have voted for GWB in either election, but I admired his quiet strength and patriotism in the face of unbelievable tragedy. He was judged too harshly for his handling of events that had no precedent—from 9/11 to Katrina. I disagreed with nearly every decision he made politically, and I hated the downward spiral he greased for our economy, but he thought he was making the right decisions for our melting pot of a country. I can’t fault him for that, even though we disagree.

I don’t feel that our current leader is focused on what’s best for the country. Even if he were, I don’t think he or his advisors understand law or history well enough to know how to pursue positive change. His conflicts of interest concern me, as does his rudimentary understanding of our government and the scope of his power. I’m sure our founding fathers would be shaking their heads at some the issues we’re facing today, pointing forcefully at the documents they penned. We don’t have kings here, and we don’t “force-place” religion. Nearly all of us have immigrant ancestry, yet not nearly enough of us are upset with the rhetoric.

I’m tired of the uncharitable, self-focus painting our world ugly. “It doesn’t affect me…so why do I care?” Ever heard of someone named Martin Niemöller? He was a pastor who lived during WWII. He had some sharp criticism for those without a target on their back who did nothing to stymie the evil in those days. I will add his words then below, but it turns my stomach that they should be relevant today.

First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Socialist.

Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.

I have led a privileged life—and don’t confuse privilege with money (‘cause we didn’t exactly have a lot of that just laying around). No, my life was privileged because I grew up in a safe place with family who were present, kind, and loving. I was never discouraged from any dream I dreamed, and my achievements in school and life meant something to someone other than myself. On the face of it, my privilege seems ordinary. That’s the gift: that I think it’s common for children to have stable, supportive beginnings. It’s not common though, not at all. I’m—yes, Mom—GRATEFUL for the very belief that I could do anything if I put in the time and hard work. That early support has been enough to help me through the condescension that a five-foot-nuthin’ woman with a soft voice faces in convincing someone that she’s just as capable as the tall, muscular, deep-voiced competition. How would anyone find the strength to champion themselves if no one ever has?

Sometimes it takes a village. To be frank, our village sucks right now. We don’t care enough about helping each other succeed. Success begets success. Failure begets failure. So if we continue with this “what’s in it for me?” mentality, it still doesn’t make sense that we don’t help each other, regardless of our ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender identity, country of origin, or religion. The campaign of fear that laid the path for the man in the Oval Office is as sad as it it inflaming.

The disenfranchised inspiring so much fear may include the doctor who discovers the cure to cancer, the parents of the kid who comes up with some technology as life altering as the iPhone, or a poet who speaks to our souls. They’re human beings with needs, hopes, desires…and gifts, just like the rest of us. If we block them from the tools they need to develop those gifts, we all lose…every time.

During one of our trips to Chicago several years ago, Nick and I were walking along Michigan Avenue when we passed a poorly dressed man who was calling out for any generosity the passersby could afford. I never carry cash on me, but I smiled gently, apologetically, as I passed. He called after us, “A smile to a stranger is generous act. Thank you, and bless you for seeing me.” That man taught me something that day…that no effort is too small…that the generosity is in the effort, not the gift. Everybody can afford to share a smile.

Please…just be kind. Follow the Golden Rule. Be a good person. To quote the venerable Jiminy Cricket, “Let your conscience be your guide.” Ignore the propaganda. Do your own research. Come to your own conclusions. I fear that in this age where everything is just too easy, someone else’s words too available, we’ve lost the voice inside ourselves that kept us more in touch with each other than divided.

I want to repair our village. We all need to roll up our sleeves and get to work.

Eleven Years an Angel

This year, the anniversary of Mom’s death hit me worse than in years past. I’m not quite sure why…but for the first time in years, I spent a January 26th crying the night away. The last couple weeks have been emotional, really.

Nick was involved in a car accident ten days ago. He was hit from behind by a speeding motorist who was checking his phone. After the collision, he spun out of control across two lanes of traffic, the median, two lanes of oncoming traffic, down an embankment, and finally came to a stop in a field. Just typing that out makes my heart thud and my stomach hurt.

By grace, he was unharmed. I don’t know how that’s possible, considering the damage to the vehicle and all the little variables that could have changed that outcome. How did he avoid hitting any other vehicles during lunchtime on a busy highway? I can only believe that someone was watching over us from the other side.

The enormity of it all didn’t sink in until that evening. We were making dinner, wading into the darkest waters of what-ifs, when he said (trying unsuccessfully to lighten the mood) something like, “Not another one in January!” Dam: broken…poor Nick.

It’s just that I hadn’t felt terror like that in almost a decade—the doubt that life could go on, the feeling that all of the oxygen has left the room, the sharp ache in the center of my chest.

Obviously, life does go on, even when it seems cruel to leave your loved one behind to live only in memory. I am profoundly grateful that I do not need to relearn that hard truth. Thank you to…well, I’m not sure who or what I should credit…but I have my own theories.

Please keep looking out for me, Mom. I love you.

Caledonia Picnic

Home

Our condo has been on the market for about a month now, and we’re still a couple weeks out from the spring buying market…even so, I’ve already been thinking about the prospect of calling another place home. It leaves me melancholy: this has been my home for the majority of my adult life. Actually, it’s more—it has been the only living space that has felt like home in my adult life.

I learned so many hard truths inside these walls…I cried to them when my bravado failed, and I trusted them to keep me safe as I recuperated from illness and surgery. How strange that I should think of a simple structure as a friend…