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.

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.

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.

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)

22 for a Moment

Nick found some old photos of Mom last weekend, and one of them has flit about my thoughts throughout the week…my mother at 22 years old:


 

I first saw this photo when sorting through albums to create photo boards for the visitation after she died in January 2006. The actual day she passed away, I was lost in my grief…but after that I put on my “outside face” and buried it all because there was work to do. Then I remember coming to that picture and feeling lost all over again.

I’ve had plenty of time to analyze and understand my reaction. I’m having trouble finding the right words, but I am guessing that anyone who has cared for a loved one with a terminal disease will understand my stuttering attempt. I was able to keep a grasp on my sorrow on the promise in my heart that she wasn’t suffering anymore. It was a relief to have her agony be over. There was peace in that.

That photo showed me a part of her that I had forgotten during the last two years of her life…the vibrant, funny, silly, willfully carefree side of her that took a piece of me with her when she got sick. No strain in her eyes, no shadows of fatigue or sallow skin. Youth really is wasted on the young…you don’t appreciate the simplicity of expecting to reach an old age until you’re slapped with mortality decades too soon.

My more recent reaction to the photo was a similar taste of bittersweet, but the bitter died the longer I looked. Time is both a thief and salve.

Because it’s fun to compare (and since apparently Nick was a photo archeologist last weekend), here is a digital image he also uncovered from an old external hard drive where I used to store photos. Me at 22…life was a little lighter then for me too.