Thursday, July 31, 2014

New Landscaping, New Attitude

I need to tell you a story about my new landscaping.  I have hated the landscaping at this house ever since we moved here in November of 2010.  I also need to tell you that I am the worst plant person in the world.  I'm the very worst.  I don't know the names of plants, or the difference between annuals and perennials, or how to keep them from dying.  I can't tell what's a weed and what is supposed to be there.

Last year, 2013, we decided to finally do something about the landscaping. We hired our neighbor and friend Anthony, who lives on our street to help us out. The first step was the kill all the existing stuff in the flowerbeds. We did this. Then Frank lost his job. I had to call Anthony and tell him that we couldn't move on to the next phase.

Then we had an awful, horrible year and our flowerbeds were full of weeds and dead stuff.  It did not look good. Every time I looked at it, I felt stressed and annoyed. The nasty weeds were a symbol of how out of control life was. I couldn't control my circumstances or the flowerbeds.

Frank started his new job in April, and I immediately started thinking about getting the landscape project done. I had a few discussions with Anthony and he brought me a plan.  I loved it!

Over the last month, our flowerbeds have gone from every kind of weed, stick, and dead thing imaginable to this:

I have to throw in a quick Sue story here too.  She told me over and over when we moved in that we needed a Japanese Maple in this certain spot in the back. Then in the summer of 2011 she bought me a tiny one and we planted it there. Then it died (see my comments about how bad I am at plants). When Anthony and I talked about what to put there, I said that I wanted to eventually put a Japanese Maple there but that it was too pricey for right now.  He recommended that I do it anyway. He said that if I wanted it there, I should get one and put it there.

I'm so glad he said that. He was right. Today they put the Japanese Maple in while I was out. When I got home and saw it standing there so beautifully, I cried.

I never imagined that this not-a-plant person would ever cry at the sight of a tree. But I did. A lot.

I love everything they did in our yard. I am so happy and no longer feel stress when I walk outside of the house.

Anthony walked me through every step, giving me great advice. It helps that he lives in our neighborhood and knows the kind of soil and pests we have. He also kept in mind that my favorite color is purple.

This landscaping project has restored some peace in my mind and my heart.  Now when I walk outside I just smile and sigh. Believe me when I tell you, Sue would love this.

By the way, if you live near me and are stressed out by landscaping issues, call my friend Anthony at San Marino Outdoor Services.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Just Write: Benny Moments

I have linked this post to Heather at The Extraordinary Ordinary (a blog I love!) who has a weekly segment on her blog called, "Just Write", in which she encourages other bloggers to sit down and write about what is on their mind right that minute, without over-thinking or editing.  I'm happy to join in!

 Ben likes to poke his head into a room, flash a huge smile, yell out, "Enjoy your popcorn, folks!" then run off. We don't know why he does this or where it originated, but it makes us laugh.

Several times a day he brings me a chapter book, snuggles in beside me, and announces that I need to listen because he is about to count.  He counts each page out loud, this morning reaching 120.

He answers most directions with "I don't want to." and a lady next to me in a waiting room chuckled as I answered (for the 50th time today) "It's okay to not want to do it, but you will do it."  More and more this approach works.

He was so upset in a public restroom today because the toilet he was using had an automatic flush, and it kept flushing while he was using it.  He cried, big crocodile tears running down his cheeks, "This is just not working right!"

He keeps saying that he has decided to not go to Kindergarten this fall.  "It's because I already know everything that I don't want to go." he says.

His feet are dirty all the time.  We wash them, and they are immediately dirty again.  He runs around the backyard playing with the dog, rolling in the grass, building "houses" in the sandbox, and climbing trees.  He is so tan.  He can play with the hose for hours.

He climbs onto the couch, then into my lap.  "Will you hold me like a baby?"  he asks.

"Of course!" I say.

 And I do.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Okay, Can We Talk About My Birthday?

Let's talk about my birthday.

Here's the break down of this subject: For the rest of my life I will be celebrating the fact that I am still alive on the very same day that I am remembering the awful day of her death.

Every year it will be one more year of life for me, one more year dead for her.

Could there be a clearer recipe for survivor guilt than this?

How do I even begin to process this?  I don't have the foggiest idea.

I have been given many suggestions:  Have a low-key celebration.  Have a huge celebration.  Don't celebrate.  You should make the most of it and have fun anyway.  You will probably not have a very good day.  Just try not to think about it.  Do what she would want you to do.  You can't let that ruin your birthday.

All suggestions and opinions have been made by loving people, just trying to help me.  I appreciate every one.

I am having a milestone birthday this year, I'll turn 40.

How do I do this?

I am more grateful than I can express that I am alive, that I get to turn 40.  I am healthy.  I get to continue to raise my kids.  There seem to be no signs that point to me having anything other than a long life.  I want to honor the gift that is my life. I want as many opportunities as possible to celebrate all that I have, and feel all the joy that being alive for another year has brought me.


She will be gone a year that day.  That day looms ahead of me as a reminder of all I have lost.  It represents so much pain.  The day holds the pain of her kids and husband, my mother and sister and kids.  Her friends, her cousins, her aunts and uncles will all remember that day as an excruciating sucker-punch from hell.

So.  What do I do?  Nobody knows, least of all, me.  It is still more than three months away, but I think about it a lot.  I don't know anyone who has lost someone on their birthday.  If I did, I would pick their brain for how they have been able to cope.

If I could call her and we could discuss it, it would most likely degenerate into a laugh-fest of horrible suggestions like, "I could have a coffin-shaped cake made with a little cake person inside with a thought bubble saying happy birth/death day to us!" or, "Too bad they don't make cards that say Happy Birthday! Sorry your sister is dead!  But have a great day!  Even though it will be awful!"

I'm working on this.  I might be working on this for a long time.  I need to be able to find joy in the celebration of my life while also honoring hers.

I can do this.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Just Write: Her Kids

I have linked this post to Heather at The Extraordinary Ordinary (a blog I love!) who has a weekly segment on her blog called, "Just Write", in which she encourages other bloggers to sit down and write about what is on their mind right that minute, without over-thinking or editing.  I'm happy to join in!

It is cooler than normal today, but sunny.  I am taking a few minutes to myself while the kids put away the groceries for me.  The eggs, bread, and cheese will all end up in weird, unexpected spots, but I don't mind. It is still better than doing it myself.

I'm checking the time, I have a half hour before my mom brings Sue's daughter over to play.  I think about how every day I wish I was being a better Aunt to her and her sister and brothers.  When I promised Sue I would help take care of them, I had no idea what that would be like.  There was no practical plan in either of our minds.  Sue's mother-in-law has quit her job to be with the kids during the day.  I am grateful for that but also sometimes feel that it is a failure on my part.  I told her I'd help, but what am I doing?

So I just keep writing stories about Sue.  My self-appointed job is to write down all the memories I can before I start to forget.  They might want to read these stories when they are adults.  They might want to know all about their mom the way I knew her.

I stumble along, not sure of anything on this journey, and I know I sometimes fall short of who I want to be. I am completely sure of one thing, though. I am so thankful that she left us with these two boys and two girls, they are like a healing balm for my aching heart.

All the cousins, November 2011

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

House Full of Boys!

This week is crazy!  We have our calendar jam-packed with kid activities, appointments, and errands. These are the times when I wouldn't be able to function if I didn't have everything written in my planner.  We would never be able to keep up!

Here's part of why I've been busy. This is what my couch looked like this weekend:
Six of the best boys on Earth!  They are ages 12, 14, 8, 5, 4, and 16.  Also note the random shoe in the foreground.  There are always random shoes all over my house.

Sue's two boys spent the weekend with us, and my sister Kate's little boy was around for awhile too.  And in the meantime, Natalie spent the weekend with Sue's husband and girls.  We had a kid-swap!

I don't often get a chance to spend time with just her boys and not the girls, so it was a fun experience. These boys, ages 14 and 16, talked and talked with me.  They both have great senses of humor.  We shared many jokes, laughs, and stories about their mother. I am reminded again and again how lucky we are that she left us with these kids. They are amazing!

Having 5 (and sometimes 6) boys for the weekend was a lot of fun for me.  But wow, can they eat!

I love them all, and feel so fortunate to be their Auntie/Mom.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Uncomfortable Realizations

This picture has nothing to do with this post, I just like it!
To be completely honest, I feel impatient with other people's issues.  I think I feel deep down that if a person has not experienced the death of a loved one, then they have no right to anything other than complete happiness at all times.  This ridiculous idea is making me not a very charitable or nice person.  I have a hard time being around other people because of it.  I don't really like myself this way, so I'm working on it.

I have also realized that I can go on and on about how other people should not tell me how to grieve, that everyone needs to let me figure out how to handle my own issues.  But then I can turn right around and tell someone else that I know just how they should solve their problems.  I am a hypocrite.

I don't talk about this much, but I started going to church almost two years ago.  I needed to try to find some answers, or at the very least, some comfort, during Sue's major health decline.  I think it is helping me.  I still don't know a lot of answers, but I do feel more peaceful when I take some time to take stock of my life, especially how I'm treating other people.  The main message I get from church is that God is love.  If I want to find more happiness, more peace, and more love, then I need to give love.  I need to always try my best to communicate love to others.

Today I am taking some time to think about how I can do a better job of accepting others, imperfections and all.  And speaking of acceptance, I hope to find some for myself as well.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

15 Years Ago Today

15 years ago right now, I was waking up in Sue's guest room to her baby boy crawling on me.  Sue walked in and loudly announced, "Wake up!  You're getting married today!!!!"

After that the day is kind of a blur.  I remember getting my hair done.  I remember feeling very nervous that something would go wrong, like maybe the DJ wouldn't show up.  I remember my Dad walking me down the aisle, cracking quiet jokes out of the side of his mouth the whole time.

I remember Frank at the end of the aisle and when I saw him, I became much less nervous.

In my memory, the day went by in minutes.  But I was really happy.

The last 15 years seem to be a little like that day, it feels like it has gone by so fast in a blur of happy memories.

We have had rough times.  This past year was the most difficult.  But every day I have been certain that I made the right decision on that day, 15 years ago.

October 2007, California
Happy Anniversary, Frank.  I love you!

Monday, July 14, 2014

The Smelly Person on the Bus

Grief is like having to sit next to a smelly person on a bus.

You have an assigned seat and can't move. The trip is very long (maybe forever). You don't want to sit next to this smelly person, but you don't have a choice. Sometimes you can barely smell the person, at other times they lean so close to you, they suffocate you with their stench. At times you think you might vomit from the stink, at other times you can go a whole day without noticing it.

At some point you wonder, "Why me? Why do I have to be stuck next to this smelly person?" You look around and see people who aren't seated next to a smelly person. You feel jealous.

But this does not make your neighbor any less smelly.

You notice someone has a very loud seat mate.  Another person has a neighbor who won't stop poking her. You feel horrible for these people. You think, "I'm so glad I don't have to listen to that loud person, and I can't imagine how someone endures being repeatedly poked!  How do they handle it?  I can't believe I am feeling so horrible about my smelly person when others are dealing with worse neighbors!  I am so selfish!"

But thinking others have it worse than you doesn't make your neighbor less smelly either. The smelliness is still a problem, no matter what the other riders are experiencing.

You try to ignore the smell.  It doesn't work. You try to address the smelly person directly. You say, "Could you move to another seat?  You are making me uncomfortable."

The smelly person does not move.

You get very angry with the smelly person.  You yell, "I am so sick of you!  I hate you!  You are ruining my entire bus ride!  Get away from me!"

The smelly person does not react.

You realize that you have no control over the fact that you have been assigned to sit next to this person.  The only thing you have control over is how you react to the smelliness.

The situation is not ideal.  You would not have chosen to sit here, but you have no choice.

Eventually it dawns on you that even though the smell is bad, you can see pretty views out the window.  You can still read that book you were looking forward to reading. When another bus rider tells you they have been seated next to a smelly person too, you find you have true empathy and offer support and constructive ideas for how to endure, and maybe even still enjoy, the bus ride. You feel good that you could help that other bus rider.

You develop some coping skills: you breathe through your mouth, you lean away from the person as much as possible.  You chant repeatedly inside your head, "I can deal with the smell. The smell with not ruin my ride."

Even with your new coping skills, you still have days when you feel you can't tolerate the smell no matter what you do.  You get angry at the smelly person again.  You look around and feel jealous of the other riders again.  You feel guilty about the riders you think have it worse than you again.

On these days, you fear that you have learned nothing about how to cope with your situation. However, each time you get frustrated, angry, jealous, or guilty, you are quicker to remember the view out the window and that good book on your lap.

One day you are far enough along on the ride to say to yourself, "This is how things are now. I am sitting next to a very smelly person. I don't have to like it, but I can't let it completely ruin my bus ride, either."

Monday, July 7, 2014

A Bad Dream

Last night I had a dream about Sue.  I am always hoping and wishing for a dream about her so that I can feel like I have visited with her.  I just miss her so much.

In the dream she was starting to get sick.  I told her that I was here "from another dimension" and that I knew she was going to die.  I told her all the details of her illness and what was about to happen to her.  I was torn about telling her, but somehow knew that she would want to know.

When I finished telling her about her impending death, she didn't say anything, she
just hung her head.  I was so sad.  I didn't want her to have to go through what I knew she was about to endure.

Sue meeting Ben for the first time, September 2009
Then I told her about everything I could think of that I had done for her while she was sick, all the way down to painting her toenails the night before she died.  I explained that I had done everything I could for her, everything I could think of to make things better and easier.

I walked up to her and gave her a long hug.  "I'm sorry."  I told her.  "I am proud of you, and I just want you to be proud of me too."

She patted me on the back over and over, then she walked away.

Ouch.  That dream really hurt.

I remember after my Dad died, I had a lot of dreams about him being sick.  I would wake up in the middle of the night, just positive that I needed to call the hospital to make sure he had been given his pain medication.

I remember the wonderful night when I had a dream that he and I were at the grocery store, shopping for cookies.  We were having a playful argument.  I kept telling him not to buy cookies at the store, that I would make him some that would taste a lot better.  I woke up and felt like I had just had a normal conversation with him.

Today I am holding on tightly to my motto, "It will get better" because I know that even my dreams will get softer and friendlier with the passage of time.  My brain still needs to process how hard things were, but it won't always be this way.  Eventually she will appear in my dreams as her healthy self.  I'm looking forward to visiting with her then.

Today I heard this song by American Authors for the first time and I think it was probably written for me!

"I’m just a believer
That things will get better
Some can take it or leave it
But I don’t wanna let it go"

P.S.  I also wanted to give a quick thank you to everyone who has taken a few moments to send me an email, text, or comment about my blog.  I can't tell you how much it means to me.  I feel like I have such a great support system helping me along.  Thank you, thank you, thank you!

Sunday, July 6, 2014

A Sue Memory: The Cabbage Patch Kid Pants

For my 10th birthday, my Grandma bought me something I'm sure she thought I would love: a pair of Cabbage Patch Kid pants.  It made sense, Cabbage Patch Kids were all the rage at that time, and I had a little bald preemie boy I had named William.  I bought him real baby clothes at garage sales.  I played with William all the time, carefully choosing his outfits and laying him down for naps.

Me at age 10: mullet and sweater vest?  Sure.
Cabbage Patch Kid Pants?  Oh hell no.
There was just one major problem. I was WAY too old for a pair of Cabbage Patch Kid pants.  I thanked Grandma for the pants, and when I got home I stuffed the bright blue, baby-head embroidered horrors into a bottom drawer.  I had no intention of being caught dead in those horrendous freak-pants.  I got a chill when I imagined what the kids at school would say if I walked in wearing BABY PANTS.

The next Spring I was playing outside at recess.  The recess ladies warned us that there was a lot of mud around, so to be careful.  I had no time to heed their warnings, however, because I was deep into an intense game of freeze tag.  Julie came running at me, and there was no way I was going to let her tag me, so I ran down the big hill.  The big hill with the gigantic mud puddle at the bottom.  I lost control of my feet. I slid, quickly and limbs flailing, into the mud puddle.

I was drenched in mud.  The recess lady sent me into the office to call home to get new clothes.  I called my house, on the off chance that my mom might be home.  Sue answered.  She had graduated from high school by this time and was sometimes home during the day.

"Sue, will you please bring me a clean outfit up to school?"  I asked.  "I'm all muddy."

"Sure, I'll be there in a few minutes."  She answered.

Whew.  Problem solved.

I waited in the office.  Sue walked in a few minutes later and handed me a bag with some clothes, then she was gone.  I trotted off to the girls' bathroom to change before the lunch recess bell rang.

I opened the bag.  A red shirt.  Fine.  Some socks.  Perfect.  OH MY GOD SHE BROUGHT ME THE CABBAGE PATCH KID PANTS!  Oh no.  I was going to die.  I was going to fall over and die right there on the girls' bathroom floor.  Why?  Why would she do this to me?  What had I done to deserve this? I felt hate. I burned with rage and embarrassment. My life was over.

I put on the pants.  What else could I do?  Fortunately I had a jacket with me that was only mildly muddy and I tied it around my waist to try to conceal as much of the pants as possible.  I felt the eyes of the entire school on my baby pants.

I kept a low profile for the rest of the day.  I barely spoke and was so relived when the day was over that I ran to the bus.  Then I ran home from the bus stop.  I was going to give that sister of mine a talking to.

I burst in the door, crying now.  "Sue!" I yelled.  "Why did you make me wear these horrible Cabbage Patch Kid Pants!  You know I'm too old for these pants!  I hate them!  Why are you so mean?"

"Huh?"  She responded, "You needed pants. Those were the only ones I could find. Calm down, you crabby bubba!"

Oh.  She had no idea I hated the pants.  I checked my room.  There were no other clean pants.  Oh.

I changed into a pair of dirty jeans and stuffed the offensive pants into a shoe box in the back corner of my closet.  We never spoke of the pants again.

Except that when we were adults, I would sometimes out of the blue yell, "WHY DID YOU MAKE ME WEAR THOSE CABBAGE PATCH KID PANTS?"

She would yell back, "I DIDN'T KNOW YOU HATED THEM!"

And we would laugh our butts off.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

A Downward Spiral, Then Getting Back Up

It started with a minor annoyance, a pair of missing goggles right before swim practice, and my mood began to spiral downward. I hate the feeling of knowing that I'm starting to lose it, but I'm trying so hard not to. It is doubly bad because there is the original stress, then the stress of knowing I'm going to have a meltdown and trying to stop it.  It culminated in me sobbing in a parking lot and saying "I just want my sister!  I just want her to come back!  I'm so sick of this and it isn't fair!"

My mom was there.  She gets it.

We are all trying so hard, trying to do all the right things. Sometimes I wish there was a book called, "What to do When Your Sister Dies, A Step-by-Step Guide" because I would follow that thing to the letter.  I would totally get an "A" in grieving.

I fall into the trap of feeling sorry for myself.  I tell myself that nobody has it worse than me.  I say that if only she was alive, my life would be perfect.

But you know what?  That is all crap.  Because when she was alive my life wasn't perfect.  In fact, I can't think of a single time in my life when it was perfect.  There is no such thing.  Every single person is dealing with something.  There are many, many, MANY people who are dealing with hard, horrible problems. There are people dealing with small problems. There are people all around me, everywhere I look who are hurting in hundreds of different ways. Pain is universal.

Or I'll say it the way my dear old Dad said it:

Everybody gets a bite of the shit sandwich*

So I let myself sob.  But then I took some deep breaths.  I reminded myself of what I tell my kids when they worry about me, "Crying is part of healing, it just has to be done."  Then I went home and rested, because sometimes the bad meltdowns come when I'm trying to do everything and feel like I'm falling short on it all.

I'm trying to be kind to myself in these moments.  I'm only 8 months into this missing-my-sister thing, so I can't have it all figured out yet.  I'll keep working on it, because if I don't, and I stay sad for too long, I'm kind of scared she will come beat the crap out of me for wasting some of my precious time on earth.  That's just the kind of person she was.

It helps a lot to have these three and their little brother.  They cheer me up all the time.

*Yes, my Dad was the coolest.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Vacation Love

This past week I took the kids and met up with my friend, her son, my sister, and her son for a week-long camping trip.  I'll sum up the trip like this: it was perfect.

This one earned the nickname "Pigpen" . He really enjoys dirt.

I had assumed that the trip would be for the kids, with me just along for the ride, but I was wrong.  I haven't felt that relaxed in such a long time.  Life moved very slowly.  I was able to just stop, breathe, and enjoy.

They were all having fun here. Really.

We squeezed all of the pleasures of summer into one joyous week.  There were trips to the beach, tie-dying t-shirts, dances, boat rides, a talent show, a hay ride, a slip-and-slide, bonfires, quiet coffee-drinking mornings, trips to the pool, bike rides, a fish fry, ice cream cones, sparklers, s'mores, a chess tournament, a rainy day trip to the movies, and a bunch of hot air balloons taking off right next to our campsite.

I wish I could bottle the feelings of being on vacation.  I wish I could open the bottle any time I was feeling sad or stressed and let that extreme relaxation wash over me.  

I feel renewed.  This trip did wonders for my healing and I am already looking ahead.  We have unanimously decided that this trip will be a yearly event.

So tell me, do you have vacation plans this summer?  Where are you going?  I'd love to hear about it.