Friday, November 18, 2016

The Burden

I brought her a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and an iced tea. I set the plate on her lap, along with a napkin, and moved the table next to her so that she could reach the drink. She was in her bed. She had not been able to go up or down the stairs in over two months. She told me, "I'm a burden. I'm a burden on my husband, my kids, my family--everyone. I'm not saying this to be dramatic or depressing, it's just a fact that I've been thinking about lately."

I don't remember what I said in response. I know I tried to tell her she wasn't a burden at all, that it was my pleasure to help her any way I could. I know she argued back. I know it made me sad. I want to go back and have a re-do of that conversation. I want to tell her what I know now, with the perspective of time and much mulling over. 

What I know now is this: there was a huge burden, but it wasn't her. The burden was her illness.

The burden was what she carried. And it was so heavy that we all worked as hard as we could to hold on to parts of it for her. The burden was the wicked illness that attacked her body, making her nauseous and unable to eat. The burden made her unable to stand and walk. It made her feel unbearable pain. It was enormous.

When she died, the burden broke up into pieces, and each of her loved ones now holds a chunk.

Depending on the day, my chunk of the burden feels either easy and light, or like I'm carrying a 500 pound boulder on my back.

No, sweet sister, you were never a burden. You held your burden as long as you could, to keep it from falling on the rest of us. Now it is broken into smaller, more manageable chunks, but they are sometimes still very hard to hold.

You were strong, you tried so hard for so long, now we can take over and you can rest.

I love you.

Friday, November 11, 2016

I Am Reclaiming the Holidays

I haven't really enjoyed Thanksgiving or Christmas since 2009.

Yes, despite everything I have to be thankful for, despite having four wonderful kids with whom I can share the magic of Christmas, I've been just barely making it through the holidays, let alone enjoying them.

In 2010, it was the first Thanksgiving and Christmas without my dad. It was hard, because his birthday is right around Thanksgiving, and he loved the holidays more than anyone I know. We had lost him only two months prior. It all felt forced and difficult.

In 2011, we were a little more used to not having Dad, but it was still hard. I didn't look forward to it, in fact, I dreaded the holidays.

In 2012 Sue was very sick around the holidays. I remember getting calls from her in which we discussed what we might do if she was in the hospital on Christmas. She was miserable. We faked it through those holidays, despite the fact that she wasn't in the hospital after all.

In 2013 we had lost Sue. My nieces and nephews were trying to see what life was like on the holidays without a mother. I was deep, deep in grief myself. I don't remember much about those holidays except escaping to cry in the bathroom a few times.

In 2014 we had made it through a whole year, plus, without Sue, but I wasn't feeling much better where the holidays were concerned. I remember waking up on Thanksgiving and crying, just wishing I didn't have to fake it through another holiday. I did end up enjoying myself at Thanksgiving and Christmas, it was just took so much effort to be happy.

In 2015 it was another year of merely "making it through". Again, things felt a bit lighter, but still not joyful.

Now it is 2016 and I am tired of dreading the holidays. I'm tired of crying in bathrooms, wishing happy days away, and being grumpy every time I hear a Christmas song. I know how disappointed my dad and Sue would be if they knew the extent of my holiday crabbiness. 2016 is the year that this will stop.

I will enjoy the holidays this year! I will listen to the Christmas songs and sing along at the top of my lungs! I will bake cookies and bask in the glow of Christmas tree lights!

The thing is, friends, we don't know how many Thanksgivings we will get. We don't know how many magical Christmas mornings we will be allowed to experience in our lifetimes. We need to squeeze out every bit of joy we can find, wherever we can find it. I used to be a person who loved the holidays. I want to be that person again.

When my kids wake up especially grumpy, positive that they will have a horrible day, I always tell them the same thing: It is up to YOU to DECIDE what kind of day you will have. You can CHOOSE to be grumpy, or you can CHOOSE to have a great day.

It is time for me to make the choice to feel joy, thankfulness, and contentment in the coming holiday season. I'm starting today!

Thursday, November 3, 2016

Another Birthday and Blood Drive in the Books

It was horrible, I thought, that I couldn't schedule the blood drive in memory of my sister on my actual birthday. In fact, I cried about it a lot. I talked with the lady who schedules the blood drives and explained why it was so very important to me to have it on my actual birthday, the third anniversary of the day Sue died, but it didn't work out.

I hate when things don't go according to my plan.

I began planning the blood drive, while also completely avoiding thinking about my birthday. When well meaning friends would offer up a suggestion of how I could spend my birthday I would either 1. Cry, or 2. Change the subject. It took me weeks to stop obsessing over it. Once my birthday was about two days away, I finally came up with a plan.

My husband, Frank, took the day off from work to spend with me. I knew that I wanted to go for a walk and out to breakfast. When the day came, I decided I didn't want to go for a walk, I just wanted to go out for breakfast. And so began me just sort of taking the day minute by minute. We came home and I decided to spend a few hours watching trashy TV on the couch. We went to the Halloween parade at our little boys' school. I baked cookies for the blood drive. I took a breath, then another, then another, until finally the day was over.

I was so relieved when the day was over.

It's so hard not to relive the day she died over and over as my birthday progresses. It's hard not to think, "At this point of that day, we were driving to the funeral home to make the arrangements." or "At this time, we were telling the kids their mom was gone."

It was the worst day of my life. And I don't know how to handle it yet. So I just go through the motions and white-knuckle it until my birthday is over. Honestly, I kind of hate having a birthday now.

But! The next day was the blood drive. I was busy all day with preparations, then running the drive, then cleaning up. I got to see so many wonderful and kind people. So many people care enough to either come to donate, or come to visit during the drive. I feel so purposeful during the blood drive. I feel like maybe some good has come out of Sue's death.

We collected 35 pints of blood, saving up to 105 lives (and as I know from Sue's situation, we could also be prolonging the life of many people's sisters--this is my favorite thought as I watch the blood bags fill up). We had 4 first-time donors, and we collected $225 for a donation to the Red Cross in Sue's name (raised by a silent auction of my mom's quilts).

I made it. I lived through another birthday/anniversary of Sue's death. I ran another successful blood drive in her memory.

This is starting to feel like something I can conquer, year after year.

Sue, meeting my youngest for the first time, 2009