Friday, December 18, 2015

There is still pain, there is still joy

I haven't blogged in a very long time.  I felt like there wasn't much new for me to talk about. What could I say at this point?  I have very hard days, I have very joy-filled days (sometimes they are the same day). I feel like I have turned a corner with my grief and with turning this corner brings
both good news and bad news.

The good news is that I don't feel like the grief is getting worse.  I have settled into a pattern of somewhat predictable ups and downs.  I'm better at recognizing when a melt-down might be on the horizon, and I'm more patient with myself when they happen.

The blood drive day
The bad news is, I think this is it. I think I've reached the point where my pain of losing Sue has healed as much as it is going to heal.  In other words, I don't think it's going to get much better than this.  I categorize this as bad news because the pain is still very present and very real.  It is just an everyday fact of life.

The end of 2015 is very near, and since I only blogged for a few months of this year, I'll try to summarize how I have worked toward healing this year.

--In June I took my kids on a camping trip. We had a week of relaxation, nature, and friends. This is the second year we have taken this trip, and it is one of my favorite new traditions.  I am finding that having a few new traditions that have started after Sue died has been helpful and healing to me.

--In August my oldest son started marching band with Sue's two boys.  This was something we had talked about and planned together.  We loved the idea of them being together in band. I went to just about every football game, sat by myself, and watched those three boys do the things Sue and I had planned. I watched them for both of us.  Then, when the end of marching band season came, I watched her oldest child be officially recognized at the band banquet for his four years of dedication to something Sue loved so much.  I watched for both of us.

The three boys, on one very cold night of marching
--On October 28th (my birthday, her death-day) I held the First Annual Suzanne McCarty Memorial Blood Drive at my church. I'm still sorting out my feelings about that day. I was proud that I helped collect 33 pints of blood for the Red Cross. I had fun greeting people and visiting with all of the many people who offered support. I felt immense pride watching her oldest boy lie down on the table and give his blood in memory of his mother.  But, in all honesty, that is not how I wanted to spend my birthday. I still struggle with the fact that I just want my old, normal life back. I wanted, REALLY wanted, to spend the day chatting with Sue on the phone and doing normal birthday things.

Now as this year is coming to a close, I can see that I have made progress, I've checked items off my "List of things that will help me heal," but I'm not all better. I am realizing that I will never be all better. There is nothing for me to do but keep moving forward, keep doing the next hard thing that seems to be around every corner.

2016 will be full of new challenges. Her oldest will graduate from high school and leave for college. Her youngest will leave elementary school and begin middle school. There will be hard days, when I miss her so much I will feel like the pain will break me apart. There will be days I will float through with a smile, memories of her lifting me up.

This is my life now: there is still pain and there is still joy.

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

False Guilt

I answer the phone and it's Sue's oldest, calling to tell me the grade he got on his Chemistry final. He did great, and I'm so excited for him.  I tell him how proud I am of him. He tells me he couldn't wait to call to let me know. I feel a swell of pride followed swiftly by a wave of guilt.

I take her girls on an outing to Target. We are shopping specifically for some girly things. We laugh and joke. My heart feels so full of pride and I think, "these girls of mine are so awesome!" A stab of guilt hits as I realize I thought the word "mine".

I talk about next year with her oldest. He will be a high school senior. I've offered to host his graduation party. I'm so excited to do it and feel honored that I get to do it. Then the guilt creeps in.

Her second oldest comes to me after a dinner I've made. He gives me a hug. This kid is not usually a hugger. He thanks me for cooking for him.  I think about what an impressive young man he is becoming, right before my eyes. The guilt hits hard enough that I need to sit down.

I'm wrestling with the idea that I'm stealing her life. I'm taking these moments, which rightfully belong to her, and snatching them up.

I know this sounds insane.

These are moments she can't have.  I'm not taking anything from her.

Then why do I feel like this?

What I'm dealing with here is something my friend calls "false guilt". She tells me that the false guilt lies to me. It whispers to me that I'm not allowed to enjoy her moments. That somehow, if I didn't steal these moments from her, she could be here and have them for herself. 

But, no. No. She can't have these moments. I would step back and let her have every single precious one if it meant she could be here. I would never steal what is hers. And I know her so well. She would tell me, "Take them! Take all of them!  You are welcome to every happy moment you can grab!"

She was always good about sharing.

So I would like to give a message to the false guilt that likes to plague me: My sister would say that I can have these moments, so I'm taking them. They make my life so much richer. They make me miss her just a little bit less. I've already lost all future moments with her, so I refuse to allow you to make me miss out on anything else.

I'm not listening to you anymore.

Monday, May 11, 2015

10 Things That Have Helped me with Grief (Part 2)

This is the list I came up with to share the top ten things that have helped me with grief. It got too long so I broke it up into two parts.  This is part 2.  You can read part 1 here.

Continuing the list:

6. Having a theme song: If you ask my kids, they will tell you that I always have a favorite song, and it usually changes weekly. I call it, "My jam!" as in, "hey kids, this is MY JAM!".  I chose a get-me-through-a-tough-time theme song on the very day Sue died, and although it changes sometimes, I always have a go-to song that will lift my spirits and make me feel tough or hopeful on hard days. Some of my theme songs have been Carry On by Fun., Brand New Day by Van Morrison, and Roar by Katy Perry.

Get lots of rest!

7. Being Social: I will admit that I am an extrovert. Being around other people pumps me up and makes me happy. After Sue died I didn't want to be around anyone. It was a huge change that I noticed right away, I started dreading spending time with other people. I realized pretty quickly that if I forced myself to talk with people, to get out of the house and spend time around other people, I felt better.  Maybe this would have the opposite effect on someone else, but for me it was essential to make plans with friends and then force myself to follow through. I don't think there has ever been a time while I have been grieving when I regretted making myself be social.

8. Writing: I cannot overstate how much having this blog has helped me. I have loved having a place to write out my memories of Sue, vent my sadness and frustrations, and just be my goofy self. If I was someone who really didn't want others to read my thoughts, I would definitely have started a journal and written about everything there. One of the first things my friend Donna did after Sue died was bring me a notebook. She told me that I would probably want to start writing things down.  Boy, was she ever right! I read somewhere that people who have suffered trauma/loss need to tell their story, then tell it again, then tell it again. I agree, and it has helped me so much to do so.

9. Ice Water: This is a weird one, I know.  I had to include it though, because I use this one all the time. When I'm feeling overwhelmed, angry, sad, or confused I have started telling myself, "Just get a glass of ice water and sit down." For me it is a symbol for taking care of myself. I use it to give myself permission to just sit and process things for awhile. I find ice water to be comforting, and Sue used to always tell me to "go lay down with an iced tea or something" when I was freaking out. I don't really care much for iced tea, so ice water it is!

When grieving, try to keep
your sense of humor
10. Counseling, Grief groups, Church: This is a big one, which is why I've left it for last. I have found that seeking out help when I need it is the hardest thing.  Why is it the hardest thing? I don't know, I guess I just like to believe that I can handle anything and everything on my own. I went to a grief support group a few months after Sue died, and walking in there felt like the hardest thing, ever. The support group didn't end up feeling like the right fit for me, but I still felt like I needed help. I ended up signing up for individual grief counseling through a program at a local university. I needed counseling and they needed people who were willing to be counseled by students who were in the last phases of getting their degrees. It worked out great for me. I got so much out of it, and it was free! I love knowing that the program exists, I keep the thought of it in my back pocket, knowing that I could always sign up again when/if I need more help. 

Church has been helpful to me since the first day I walked in, the year before Sue died. I didn't even realize how much I needed time to sit and reflect each week on how much God loves us all. Church, for me, combines meditation (prayer), rest (quiet reflection), reading books about people who have suffered major loss (LOTS of these stories in the bible!), and being social. I was very lucky to find a church that felt like the right fit for me right from the beginning. The people at our church have been a huge support to my kids and me. We feel comfortable there, and we have many opportunities there to help other people and organizations. It helps to take the focus off of our own suffering, and we come in contact with a lot of charities that remind us how good we really have it. I know that church is not for everyone. I never went to church until I was 38. But I do think if you can find a place, a community, where you can feel supported and help others, it helps with grief a lot.

So, there you have it, my list of 10 things that have helped me with grief. I hope this list helps someone out there.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

10 Things That Have Helped Me With Grief (Part 1)

This picture has nothing to do with this post, but isn't she cute?
This is a list that has been swirling around my brain for awhile now. I want to have suggestions for anyone who happens upon my blog looking for some tips for dealing with grief. I, of course, only know what has helped me. I also know that everyone grieves differently, so who knows if this list will even help someone else, but I'll make the list anyway. (I started out making this one long post, but it got to be too wordy, so I've broken it up into two posts.)

So here we go, in no particular order:

1. Rest: I have told several people that grief to me has physically reminded me of recovering from a C-section. I felt like the level of exhaustion was similar, especially in the beginning. I noticed early on that I could deal with all of the emotions more productively when I had enough sleep at night. And there were definitely days when I was overwhelmed and needed a nap in the middle of the day. (Side note: I never, ever nap under normal circumstances, so this was pretty weird for me). It was also good for me to realize that my constant exhaustion was due to grief, because some days I thought I was just lazy or losing my mind, or both.

2. Meditation: This kind of goes along with rest, but it is different to me. Meditation I think of more as a mental rest. At the suggestion of my grief counselor, I went to my iTunes account and found a grief meditation and downloaded it. I started off listening to it a few times a week. At this point I only listen to it maybe once a month, but I love that it is available whenever I need it.  I also consider other kinds of mental rest to be in this category.  For instance, I like to play free cell solitaire on my phone.  When I get overwhelmed, it can help a lot to just give myself a mental break by playing it for awhile.

3. Exercise: I didn't really start using this one until about 10 months into my grief.  I wasn't ready before that, but when I was ready, it helped a lot. I was amazed at how much getting regular cardio workouts helped my mindset. It felt like I could just handle everything better on the days when I had done my run, or gotten on an elliptical machine.  And more recently I started doing yoga, which has also helped a ton. I would highly recommend a regular exercise routine to grieving people.

Here is someone who often makes me laugh
4. Reading books about people who have suffered major loss/trauma: I technically started doing this before Sue passed away, during the really stressful parts of her illness. I started reading everything I could get my hands on about people who had lived through major loss. I had to figure out how people make it through horrible circumstances and I needed the perspective that they could still find happiness in life after major trauma. To the outside observer I probably seemed obsessed with death, but I literally could not stop myself. Everything from a woman in New Jersey who lost her three children in a car accident, to a very detailed account of the Donner party was fair game. But each book gave me a lesson in the idea that people can live thorough horrible, awful circumstances and come out okay.

5. Laughing: Without really planning it, I stopped watching anything on TV that wasn't a comedy. I stopped watching any movies that weren't comedies. If it wasn't going to make me laugh, I would rather watch nothing. During hard days, I would watch old sit-coms or funny youtube videos. I also purposely sought out people who I knew would make me laugh. It honestly felt pretty unnatural at first, laughing at anything, but I forced myself to keep doing it until it felt natural again.

(To Be Continued...)

Saturday, April 25, 2015

I am famous!

Well, not really. But I was excited to see that one of my favorite blogs, Rage Against The Minivan, featured a post that I submitted last Summer. I wrote a piece for her "what I want you to know " series, and yesterday it was posted!

You can read it here

Sorry I haven't been posting much, I have a lot to say, but have been finding it a challenge to carve out the time for writing. I need to work on that!

I have been working on a post about 10 things that have helped me with grief, it's just taking awhile. So stay tuned, I'll be back soon.

Have a great weekend, I'll leave you with some kid pictures:

Joe got his hair cut but it's still crazy!

The other three on Easter.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Even though they are gone, they are still here

I hit a milestone on Easter that I never imagined I would hit, even a few months ago.  I woke up on Easter morning with a day of family celebration ahead of me and I didn't cry. I felt sad. I would much rather have been looking forward to spending the day with my dad and Sue, but that isn't our reality around here. I gave myself some pep talks leading up to the big holiday. I told myself that it was okay not to look forward to it.  It's okay to even dread it. Once I gave myself permission to be upset, I felt better. I didn't think I would have a holiday without crying, but I did.

I see Sue everywhere I look, it seems. On Friday night her boys came over to hang out and spend the night. I see her in them, and we have a lot of fun together.  Today her girls are here, and even though they are so busy with their playing, they pause for a moment to tell me something and I hear her coming through them. I see her in the fluffy robin that came to sit on the tree outside my window and just sat and stared at me. Sue loved birds more than anyone I know, so they remind me of her.

My Dad is around too.  I see him all the time in my youngest son. I feel him as I cook his recipes and hear his instructions in my head.  Make sure to season this well! It will be bland if you don't! I laugh when my boys and nephews do things that I know would make him laugh.  He was always so proud of his grandkids, and I know he still is.

I still have good days and extra tough days. I still have moments when something happens and my first instinct is to call Sue. I still feel like the rest of my life seems like an awfully long time to go without talking with her again. But I'm also getting used to all these feelings.

Lately I look forward to the future with greater optimism. Instead of feeling guilty that I will watch her oldest son graduate from high school next year, I feel fortunate.

I really should do more blogging, somehow I always seem to end up feeling like the luckiest person on earth when I step back and evaluate my life. How is it that life is so painful and beautiful all at once?

Much love to you all this Spring Break!

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

I Push Back

We sit at the dinner table, my kids and me. They ask me to tell them stories. They want to hear about
My picture quality is awful because
I took a picture of a picture,
but I had to show these two clowns,
Sue and Dad
Pop, and Gramps, and Auntie Sue. They are intensely curious about these people who are lost to us.

I mostly do okay now. I can talk about Sue, remember her, and laugh, without my heart feeling like it is being squeezed in a vice.  I still feel the loss of her strongly at different times, like when I hear a certain song or see a picture of her.  But I sometimes battle an underlying feeling of bitterness at the unfairness of it all.

I get angry for all I don't have. I am bitter about all that has been taken from my kids. And don't even get me started on how bitter I am about all that has been taken from my two nephews and two nieces. There is so much we are missing. It's overwhelming.

So what can I do with this anger and bitterness?

I guess I feel like I have two choices when they start to take over: I can lean into them, or push back.

I could sit down right now and write a one hundred page essay laying out all of the sorrows we have felt.  I could enumerate all of the future moments that will now be changed for the worse because we have lost Sue. I could go on and on about how DAMNED UNFAIR it is that we have suffered this loss while so many other people have all their family members alive and well. I could scream from the rooftops about our broken hearts, our trauma, and our collective grief.  And I have to say, sometimes I sort of do this.  Or, at least, I do it in my head.

Then when I'm done going on and on about how hard and awful it all is, I usually feel...worse.

This is what happens when I lean in.

When I push back, it works out a bit differently. I still feel the unfairness. The bitterness and anger either creep in slowly, or spark like a jolt of electrified negativity. I can tell it is there when I am thinking things in my head that start like, "I'll never have what that person has..."

But when I push back, I take a moment to feel that anger and bitterness. I tell myself it is okay to feel that way, but only for a very short time. The anger and bitterness can't stay, I push back against it. It takes too much from me and leaves me worse off than I was before. I don't get anything from it except more anger and bitterness.

I am not in charge of whether I feel the anger and bitterness, but I am in charge of how long I let it stay.

These days I'm working to push back against those feelings that pull me down. Sometimes I fail. That's okay. I'll just try again next time.

I am determined to keep pushing back.

Friday, February 27, 2015

The Chronicles of Phillip Johnson, Part 3

To read part 1, go here.  To read part 2, go here.

~Things Get Ugly~

(note: if you are especially squeamish, skip part 3 and tell yourself we all lived happily ever after, together)

I arrive home from my lovely evening with Ben. The SpongeBob Movie was cute and funny, but Ben was cuter and funnier. He insisted on wearing a big flowered sun hat and bringing his stuffed monkey (named Coconut) to the movies and to dinner, I am so relaxed and carefree, I almost forget about Phillip Johnson.

As I enter the house and hang my winter coat in the front hall closet, I see Frank sitting in the living room, his image partly obscured by shadows. He calls to me to come in and sit down. I am afraid of what he will tell me. He begins by saying, "The story I'm about to tell you has some good parts, some bad parts, and some very disgusting parts." And so, Dear Reader, consider yourself warned. Here is his story.

Nat, recreating her reaction to seeing P.J.
I laid down on the couch, thinking I might take a quick nap. From my vantage point on the couch, I could see the gap under the basement door and my final thought as I drifted off to sleep was, "I wonder if Phillip Johnson will try to come upstairs..."

I was awoken by the most blood-curdling scream I've ever heard. Natalie ran into the living room screaming and yelling "I saw him, he's in the laundry room!".  I started yelling at her to stop screaming. She kept screaming. She and Sam ran upstairs.

Phil put that piece of dog
 food on that glove

I ran to the laundry room. I saw Phillip Johnson take a piece of dog food from Violet's bowl and drop it onto a glove in the closet. I told Joe to go get Violet, she wouldn't come so Joe carried her in. She sat in the laundry room while Phillip Johnson ran behind her. She did not react.

I told Joe to put Violet in her cage and I went to get a mousetrap from the basement. I set up the mousetrap with a piece of dog food in the trap with the peanut butter. Joe and I got out of the way to watch the trap. I saw Phillip Johnson sniff the food in the trap but he didn't take it. He took another piece of dog food back to the closet.

He came into the kitchen and hid under the stove. At this point I went into the laundry room and got the broom. I saw Phillip Johnson run along the cabinets to the back door, then under the dishwasher. I told Joe to open the dishwasher to see if  Phillip Johnson was in there while I stood at the ready with the broom. Joe didn't see anything inside the dishwasher so I told him to close the dishwasher and run it, hoping the noise would scare him out.

About 30 seconds later Phillip Johnson ran out from under the dishwasher, scurried under the table, and squeezed under the door to the basement. He popped back out and traveled to the doorway between the kitchen and the playroom.

An artist (Natalie's) rendering of the broom
I had a clear shot, I had to take it.  With an overhead swing, I slammed the broom onto the vole, killing it and breaking the broom.

Joe went upstairs to tell the other kids it was dead. At this point I realized it didn't have a head. I started searching for the head, but didn't see it anywhere. When the kids came down. Joe found the head in the living room. The kids were amazed.  Then I used the bottom half of the broom and the dustpan to clean up the remains of Phillip Johnson. 

Frank's story left me feeling revolted and relieved. I took some pictures of the scene. We were curious as to how far Phillip's head had flown from his body and we measured it at 20 feet. I was not kidding when I said Frank does not like rodents.

The kids measuring the distance between head
and body of Mr. Phillip Johnson
We learned many things from this experience. We learned that Violet is completely useless in emergency situations. We learned after examining Frank's crime scene photos of Phillip Johnson that he was actually a mole, not a vole as we originally determined. We learned that Tupperware consultants are unflappable. We learned that moles like dog food. We learned that our kids are fascinated by disgusting things. But most of all, and I just cannot stress this enough, we learned that Frank really, really, really hates rodents.

Goodbye Phillip Johnson, I'm sorry it had to end so violently, but I'm not sorry that it has ended.

The End.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

The Chronicles of Phillip Johnson, Part 2

The Hex-Bug we hope Phillip Johnson will love
(To read Part 1, go here)

~He's A Slippery Little Devil~

We start tossing ideas back and forth about how to capture or kill Phillip Johnson. Frank wonders if someone will lend us a cat.  I suggest getting our hands on an owl. Natalie and Sam think if they can just get their hex bug downstairs and have it walk around, Phillip Johnson will fall in love with it and we can catch him while he's distracted.

Frank decides to try to trap Phillip Johnson in a bowl. He spends some time in the basement and sees it, but doesn't get a chance to trap it.

We can speak of almost nothing but Phillip Johnson as the hours pass. Have you checked the traps? Has anyone seen him? I tell my Tupperware consultant that there is a vole named Phillip Johnson running around our basement. I am assured this is totally fine.  (Tupperware consultants are brave and ready for anything.)

I walk past the laundry room just as Frank is taking a load of clothes out of the dryer. "You know what I'm thinking?" he asks, "Leaf blower in reverse!"

Frank is ready to vacuum up Phillip Johnson
He travels out to the garage and retrieves the leaf blower. He plans to sit still until he sees it, then quickly turn it on in reverse and vacuum up Phillip Johnson. I suggest that once it's captured in the leaf blower, he should drop the leaf blower bag into a snow drift in the front yard and run. But alas, all of our good plans go to waste as he sees Phillip Johnson several times but by the time he turns on the motor, Phillip Johnson has scurried out of leaf blower range.

I need to send Joe downstairs for a Q-tip. I explain where they are and that he needs to be careful to avoid mousetraps. He agrees and while there, has a run-in with Phillip Johnson. While he hands over the Q-tip, he details the experience. "He scurried around near Dad's office, it looked like he wanted to get under the pantry shelves, but he bumped into a blue plastic Easter Egg then ran off."
Now I have to leave. I have had plans to take Ben out on a "date" since Christmas. We are off to see the SpongeBob movie and have dinner together at Applebee's. I am happy to leave Phillip Johnson behind for now.
Will Phillip Johnson still be terrorizing our household when I get home? Will he make an appearance at the Tupperware party? Will he ever sample the peanut butter in one of the mousetraps? Will we have to fight him off every time we need a Q-tip? Why are there blue Easter Eggs lying around on the floor of my basement? Many (or some) of these questions will be answered in our next installment of The Chronicles of Phillip Johnson.

Monday, February 23, 2015

The Chronicles of Phillip Johnson, Part 1

~We Have A Problem, And His Name is Phillip Johnson~

Natalie drew this as the events unfolded
It's Friday night.  Our house is trashed.  I have been sick with the stomach flu for four days. The kids have spent four of the last five days home from school because of two vacation days and two snow days. I'm snuggled on the couch, eating oatmeal (hopefully it will stay with me!) watching old reruns of Good Times. A yell erupts from the basement. It sounds like Joe.

In a moment, Joe is at the top of the stairs, telling us the thing we really, really, really don't want to hear.  "I just saw something small and furry run by me in the basement!"

Oh no. Oh no, no, no, no, no.

Frank springs into action. Frank hates all rodents with a firey hot passion that bubbles forth from the deepest, darkest center of his soul.

He laces up his shoes and grabs the broom, ready for battle, while the kids and I huddle on the couch. Natalie starts crying. She believes she will never see her roller blades again, as they are at the bottom of the stairs and none of us ever plan to enter the basement again.

Frank reports that he saw it too. After some (disgusting) google image searches, he determines that the creature is a vole, not a mouse.  This is good news, as voles don't really want to live in our house, because they eat things like flower bulbs and grass.  He must have found his way in by mistake.  Frank leaves to buy some mouse traps.

While he is gone, the kids and I take a tentative trip downstairs.  The kids want to retrieve their valuables.  I make them hit everything they want to bring upstairs with Sam's souvenir miniature baseball bat.  I also bring Violet, our two year old labradoodle.  I'm hoping she can find and kill the rodent.

I am nervous. Why do our kids have so many furry black toys? I keep randomly hitting chairs, walls, and toys with the baseball bat. I turn to Violet and tell her the only thing I can think that might make her understand the situation. "Violet!" I say, "There's a deer in the basement!  Go get it!  Get the deer!"  At this point the tension in my voice, along with the fact that I'm randomly whacking things with a bat while making ridiculous claims that there's a deer in the basement causes her to decide I've lost my marbles. She whimpers and lies down where she's standing. 

I have no idea what you want from me, Crazy Human Lady
Frank comes home, and sets four mousetraps.  He proceeds to check them several times over the next few hours.  Before we go to bed he rolls up a bath towel and uses a butter knife to shove it into the gap between the basement door and the kitchen floor.  Will a bath towel keep the vole from venturing out of the basement?  We choose to believe that it will.

Day 2: Our first thought upon waking is the vole. Frank goes down to check the traps. The traps are empty, but he comes face to face with the vole, who just stands there, staring at him.  He tries to kill it with a broom, but it escapes.

I call an exterminator.  He agrees that it sounds like a vole.  He's happy to come check out the situation.  I feel genuinely relieved.  He continues that he's happy to check it out...on Monday.  Today is Saturday.  On Sunday Frank leaves for a business trip and I am having a bunch of people over for a Tupperware party.

Natalie is huddled in the corner of the living room. She is afraid the vole is coming to get her. I decide this extreme fear is over the top and we need to do something about it.  I remember a friend telling me that she would name the snakes in her yard to try to feel less afraid of them.  I tell the kids that the vole needs a name.  Frank suggests Voley.  I suggest Victor Vole.  Natalie quietly but strongly states, "His name is Phillip Johnson."

Now we call him Phillip Johnson.

Will Violet ever understand what she is being asked to do? Will Natalie get over her fears? Will she ever use her roller blades again? Will I ever see the end of that episode of Good Times?  Some (or none) of these questions will be answered in the next installment of The Chronicles of Phillip Johnson.

Friday, February 20, 2015

Sick Day Thoughts

I'm sick this week. I have the stomach flu and have been feeling pretty awful for about four days. These four days just happen to coincide with the kids' mid-winter break and two snow days, so all four of the kids have been at home with me almost the entire time I've been feeling like this.

I have been very blessed to not get sick very often, so I didn't realize the emotions that would come up from this experience.

When I feel sick like this, and work to take care of my kids, I feel so much sympathy and empathy for what Sue went through.  It is HARD to take care of kids when you feel so terrible. She felt like this, or actually worse than this, for YEARS. How did she do that?  How on earth was she able to be a mother to her children at all during those years?  I'm in awe of my sister.

Today my heart is filled with so much gratitude that I am getting better, feeling stronger from this mild illness by the hour.  I'm so lucky to have a functioning immune system. I am so fortunate that I have the opportunity to raise my kids as a healthy person.

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

My Biggest Trigger

It makes me uncomfortable to talk about my struggles sometimes because it feels like I'm broadcasting my flaws and I want so badly to seem like I am doing okay.  When I thought about posting on this subject, I didn't want anyone to think that I have "emotional problems" which is sometimes how I feel when I deal with my biggest trigger. But then I thought about the person who may have just lost their loved one and stumbles upon my blog, I thought of that person and what he or she may be feeling, and I changed my mind.  I'll share it.  I'll share whatever I can to help someone who is in so much pain and wondering if they are losing their mind. 

Here's my biggest grief trigger: feeling like things are out of control in my life.

Not long into my grief journey, I read a book about what trauma does to the brain.  I can't remember the name of the book, or much else about it, but I do know that the main message I got from it. The book explained that when a person is traumatized, the brain takes kind of a "snapshot" of what all is happening at the time. It is a brain's mechanism for self preservation.

Let's imagine you just wandered out of your cave with your fellow cavewoman and she gets attacked by a lion. The brain takes this snapshot to remind you of important details like where you were, what you were wearing, what smells and sounds you experienced, to help you make sure you don't walk to the same place and do the same things and get eaten by a lion yourself.  The brain works overtime in these situations and says, "DANGER! REMEMBER ALL OF THIS SO IT DOES NOT HAPPEN AGAIN!"

It's the reason that some people might have a hard time wearing the same shirt they were wearing the day their mom died.  Or someone might not want to drive down that road where they were in an accident.  Or someone can't eat pudding anymore because they were eating pudding when they got the phone call that their husband had a heart attack and died.

At the time of Sue's death, my life felt like it was spiraling out of control in a lot of areas.  My husband had lost his job, our finances were a huge source of stress, and of course there was nothing I could do to save my sister's life.  When my brain took the snapshot on the day that Sue died, it wanted me to remember that I was feeling out of control in almost every area.  And because my brain is not perfect, it has made the connection that feeling out of control = somebody is going to die or is already dead.

So now that I know and understand all this, I should be able to figure out why I've locked myself in my bedroom, sobbing, during the second consecutive snow day, right?  No. You see, it's not just the snow day. First there was the furnace breaking down on Thursday, which meant I couldn't do anything I had planned to do because I had to drop everything to wait for someone to repair it.  Then on Friday Sam called home because he had a sore throat and I needed to drop everything and take care of him.  Then came a busy weekend, followed by a snow day a home with the kids, followed by another snow day with the kids.  There is now a pattern established in my mind that I cannot accomplish anything I would normally do. I put everything on hold for days to take care of the needs of everybody else.  I'm not complaining, this is my job and what I have chosen for my life, I'm just saying that when things spiral out of my control (or what feels like out of my control) I panic. And sometimes it takes me a long time to figure out why I feel so awful.

My brain is sounding alarms all over the place telling me that if I don't regain control, somebody is going to die.

There it is, my biggest trigger. I become panicked, sad, weepy, cranky, and fearful at these times. The best part is that I understand what is happening and why.  The worst part is that it doesn't seem to help much. I white-knuckle my way through these times and repeat to myself that a normal day is right on the horizon.

I'll make it though, but this is a difficult part of grief.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

A Sue Memory: Extreme Sports

It was a hot summer day and we were on vacation.  I was barely an adult, so a trip with no parents in sight gave me a tingly sense of excitement and freedom.  As always, I felt privileged to be included with Sue and a group of friends. We were camping at Interlochen State Park in Northern Michigan and were on a day trip to see the Sleeping Bear Dunes.

There is one particular sand dune that anyone who has visited the area will remember.  It is the huge, beautiful one where the breathtaking view down to the clear blue Lake Michigan water looks so inviting.  It also displays a group of warning signs:

 "Warning: Steep Bluff!"

"Return Climb is extremely exhausting!"

and my personal favorite:
"Rescue costs are high, YOU pay the transportation!"

We stood at the top of the sand dune, surveying the sparkling beauty that lay before us, and as we did so a sisterly war commenced.

"You know we're going down there."

"No way. You can go, I'm not going."

"Come on."

"Did you see those signs? They have to bring in HELICOPTERS to rescue people here all the time!"

"You're being a wimp."

"I don't care if you think I'm a wimp."

"Haven't you seen that show, Extreme Sports? It would be like we're on that show! Don't you want to push yourself and experience something new and different? We can do this! It's not a problem! It will be so fun!"

"Arrrggghhhh! FINE"

I relented.  She could always make me relent.

The 5 minute dizzying run to the bottom of the dune was SO MUCH FUN!

Jumping into the cool, crisp water to wash off the sweat and sand felt FANTASTIC!

We laughed!  We frolicked! We splashed each other!

We looked up and said, "Holy shit, that's a long way up."

Even though it was a long way up, I did believe Sue when she said that the climb should only take us 15 minutes or so.  We just needed to get started. We each chose a small rock from the beach to take with us to the top, souvenirs of our super accomplishment. We started climbing. Each step up the 450 foot ascent would begin to propel us forward by about a foot, but once our feet were firmly planted into the sand and we transferred our weight onto the leading foot, the shifting sand would slide us down about 11.9 inches.  The dune is so steep that the only way to make the climb is to use hands and feet (and sometimes knees) to basically crawl all the way up.

We had been climbing for less than five minutes when we decided that holding a rock while trying to climb Mount Impossible was idiotic. Not wanting to lose our (getting more precious by the minute) souvenirs, and both of us finding ourselves pocket-less, we opted to store the rocks in our underwear. 

After a half hour of working at it, dripping with sweat and out of breath, we decided to stop and take a break. When we looked down to take in all of our hard won progress, it looked like we had not progressed more than 5 feet.  That's when I knew that this was going to take forever. And it was going to be horrible.

The climb, it was brutal.
At around the 45 minute mark, something in me snapped. Out of my mouth began to spew an unstoppable and foul string of profanity. In the midst of the excruciating ritual of step-slide-step-slide, I would yell to Sue that I couldn't believe she <expletive> got us into this <expletive> situation climbing this <expletive> mountain of <expletive> sand.

To each of my insane rantings, she would smile and yell the same response:  EXTREME SPORTS! 

That just made me more pissed at her.

It took us just under 90 minutes to complete the grueling trek to the top.  When we got there we were soaked in sweat, sunburnt, dehydrated, and still carrying rocks in our underwear.  I climbed up the last few steps and stood up just as Sue's friend Beth turned a video camera on me. 

"How does it feel to make it to the top?"

I answered with one finger.

And Sue came up behind me yelling, "EXTREME SPORTS!"

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

I Can Now Live Life as if I Am Normal

I had quite a blogging hiatus there, what with the holidays and all the accompanying commitments taking over my entire life from mid-November until early January. I had intended to put together a big post with pictures of the kids, the holidays, the fun and excitement, but my perfectionism is getting in the way. I've decided to scrap that whole idea for now and just catch you up on how things are for me at this moment.

A funny thing seems to have happened over the time since my birthday: I've developed the ability to live my life as if I am a normal person. I'm not sure if this is what I want to be doing, or if it is what I think I should be doing, or if it is just the natural progression of my current stage of grief.

I can go about my daily activities without crying in public. I can make conversation with strangers and friends and everyone who talks with me would not really be able to see my inner sadness. It might look to the outside world that I have "gotten over" the loss of my sister.

I can assure you, this is not true.

But I can also assure you that I am okay.

I am learning every day how to navigate my new life.  It is as if a heavy, gigantic box was placed in the middle of my house. When the box first arrived, it was all I could see. I bumped into it many times a day while going about my chores and activities. My focus was how to get rid of the box and how hard it was to get around with that box in the way. As time has gone on, though, the box has become such a normal part of my household that I have learned how to instinctively step around it. I'm finding that the box is just there.  I don't need to spend all of my energy trying to get rid of it, or talking about how inconvenient it is, I just live with the gigantic box now.

I am learning that it is possible to live a life that is both full of love, joy, and happiness while also carrying the deepest depths of sadness and grief in my heart. And the biggest surprise of all, is that it is a very good life, indeed.

These guys here? Will never be mistaken for normal