Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Because Sometimes, Life Just Sucks For a While

So, because 2015 hasn't been enough of a rollicking roller-coaster of fun, the universe decided I needed one more piece of infuriating, harsh, nothing-you-can-do reality bleeding into my life.

Let's go over my last year or so, shall we?

Ahem. First, my mother was diagnosed with and subsequently underwent chemo treatment for cancer (although she is currently doing great healthwise, for those wondering). In July, Jason lost his job the day we returned from a vacation that we had cut short essentially so as not to inconvenience them. A month later, a tree fell on my car, because that seemed like a reasonable followup to the whole sudden unemployment thing. After that, my father's sudden death has made it clear to me that the ground under my feet isn't actually ground, but quicksand made from shattered glass.

Why not one more thing? The universe asked itself.

My cat is officially a "senior citizen", as she is either 14 or 15 years old, which means that she is somewhere around 80 in people age. She has recently begun to drool somewhat continuously, which is exactly as vaguely unsettling as it sounds. I looked her symptoms up (drooling, knocking food around her bowl, looking haggard and a bit gaunt lately) and was told by Dr. Google, Pet M.D. that it would either be a tooth/gum infection that may require pulling several teeth (inconvenient and expensive, but a fix) or outright kidney failure (inconvenient, expensive, and nothing you can really do).

I went ahead and scheduled a vet appointment.

Ten minutes after the vet came in to check her over, I discovered it was neither of the things that Dr. Google the Vet had assured me it would be.

Instead, I was informed my cat is dying of bone cancer.

So far all she's really doing is drooling. The vet says eventually eating will grow too tough and painful for her to keep it up, and then we'll need to decide when to make the call.

While she's a secondhand cat, she's been ours for over 8 years now. She was the very first Big Thing Jason and I did as a sign of being really committed to our relationship.

I found her in a newspaper ad, and Jason went to pick her up because I had to leave town that weekend and her previous owner said she'd have her put down if no one took her by a certain day. He brought her to my apartment and cared for her himself until I returned from my weekend trip, and so really it was him she bonded with first.

She has slept curled against our backs or purred in our laps for over eight years now. Her age had begun to make her a bit grumpy and prone to crankiness, but she's handled both the advent of the dog and a new baby like a champ. She's been known to lay near Audra and let my daughter "pet" her - which, granted, mostly involves my toddler daughter good-naturedly smacking her back and sometimes her face while chanting "Dat dat dat dat". Eventually, she will get up and move away, to escape those little hands that don't know that no one likes being smacked on the nose six times, no matter how gently it's done.

But she purrs right through until she's had about enough and decides, finally, to move.


If I didn't have enough weighing me down this year, the universe decided to throw "dying pet" on me, too.


Why not?

I've carried enough weight around my neck this year, why don't we add just a little bit more?

Friday, October 9, 2015

He Was Just Here

You have to understand - he was just here
in August,
holding my baby girl and hugging my niece downtown
by the waterfall in the park
His face was the first we saw
(who will be up to greet us now?)
at the hotel, my father of course
already up and out on a walk
with his hotel coffee in hand.

He was just here
at my daughter's birthday party
her very first
(the only one he'll have attended)
Buying groceries with Mom and I last-minute
Making friends
As easily as he breathed

He was right there
on a bench, holding my baby girl
as she finally warmed up to him,
this grandfather she's only seen a few times
(that she will never see in person again)
She babbled and giggled with him
I fell in love with the moment.

I'm not sure how here became there
so quickly, without warning
how we became the children
who visited "the site of the accident"
(shaking hands for seven hours next to a closed casket)
how we went from laughing on a bench downtown
to never seeing him again
so quickly

How did here become there
become the way I dread this Christmas
(and all the other Christmases, too)
how I find myself picking out flannels at L.L. Bean
In just his colors, just his size
only to remember
I no longer have someone to buy a flannel for

I don't understand how here
became gone.
How did it so quickly turn into
the way the stories will have to change
(he is no longer here to tell them)
or how the tenses have to shift from is
to was. I hate the word was.
I never hated it before.

Please, you have to understand -
he was just here
I did not see him go
(I always assumed I would say goodbye)
He is a shadow standing at my shoulder
A voice in the back of my throat
The ground underneath my feet
That gives way all over again every day

How here became there
became gone
is the mystery I rage against
(I ask God, but get no answer)
the inevitability I fight like hell
the truth I'd love to be in denial about
Denial stubbornly will not come

Gone is our good-natured arguing about everything
Gone is my father's laughter and smile
Gone is the standard by which I judge everyone

He was just here in August.

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

5 Things: The Old Corn, New Beans and Other Such Things Edition

1. We have mostly given up on our backyard garden (and actually the front one, too, although I have tentative plans to find half an hour one afternoon to pull up all the weeds and leftover pepper plants and mulch them), but apparently it hasn't given up on itself.

We have new bean vines spiraling their way around the brown and dried-out stalks of corn we've left where they stand.

We even have some kind of butternut-squash-style gourd plant that has taken over every square inch of space, which is interesting since we didn't plant gourds. Only pumpkins, and all our pumpkin seeds sprouted.

I suppose that's the magic of gardening for you.

Also, we caught the dog stealing tomatoes off of what's left of the tomato plants.

He thought we didn't notice.

We totally did.

2. My friend Liz took me out shopping last Saturday, as a kind of "just have fun for a few hours" trip. We had breakfast at Panera, shopped in the mall, ended up having lunch with my friend Sarah and her family, and finally went home after the (always obligatory and the perfect ending to a day out) bookstore.

There's a store on our mall called Altar'd State that is a little bit like anthropologie went to church and then lowered its prices by 10 dollars. Usually the things in there are a little bit too young for me, but there are always three or four items that really catch my eye.

This time, it was a gray-and-black version of this shirt - and I ended up buying the green-and-caramel version pictured. It's basically the best winter shirt ever and I've worn it twice in five days and you can't stop me, so there. It's a skinny-jeans-and-boots kind of shirt. I'm trying to resist picking up the tan version that's available online, even though it's almost the same color as my skin and probably wouldn't be super flattering. The shirt is that comfortable.

They don't seem to have the gray-and-black variation online... or I'd already have bought it. I'm regretting not buying it when I was in the store. I could basically live in this shirt if it wouldn't eventually smell and scare people away from me.

So basically, highly recommended. A+, would buy again - or will buy again, if I ever have time to go back to the mall where the gray-and-black version lives.

3. Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood is on Netflix! Jason and I aren't huge TV watchers - we do more video-game playing, to be honest. Audra usually isn't even aware that the TV is on, unless you count "wanting to chew on the Xbox controller" as watching TV.

When I saw Mr. Rogers pop up in the Newly Added category, I decided to go ahead and push play. I remembered it, a little, from childhood. I didn't remember much beyond the theme song and a general sense that it had been one of the most pleasant things I had ever watched, second only to what Sesame Street was like before they became so heavily involved in merchandising instead of being "preschool on TV" for kids whose parents might not be able to send them to the real thing.

Audra. Is. Rapt.

Not for all of it, obviously - she's only 14 months old and tends to get distracted and play with something else. But the theme song has her sitting very still, listening to him sing. This morning, she and Jason cuddled on the couch while most of an episode played.

One of the episodes we watched recently, an episode that meant far more to me than it did to my baby, was an episode of dealing with really big sad feelings and how to be angry and sad in a healthy way, not to push it down or try to forget it but to actually deal with it. I sat there and thought, good Lord, Mr. Rogers is teaching me.

I'm 29 years old.

So... Mr. Rogers is definitely on our okay-to-watch list for Audra.

And, um, for me.

4. My blogger-friend Sarah over at Sarah On Purpose (I got to know her blog through our participation in #wholemama) just posted this list of 6 things you need to know about supporting a friend through a tough time.

While it's general and more geared towards a friend who is dealing either with their own illness/injury or that of family members than it is towards the kind of grieving-after-sudden-loss my family is going through, I think there are some really solid guidelines here to look into.

Her chart on the Circles of Support alone is worth taking a look at, and will ring very true for anyone who has gone or is going through stuff like this right now.

I can definitely say, these are important steps to take if you're trying to help someone deal with the awful that comes with illness or death. My friend Liz (who I mentioned took me out shopping Saturday) also lost a parent, although some years back and in a much different situation. One of the most important things she's done for me is talk about her own experience and how angry she was, gave me advice on grieving books she had read and which would be good to read vs. those I should probably wait to look at until the wounds are less raw, sympathized with me on how difficult it is to respond to people, things like that. These are things you don't (can't) talk about with many people, and having someone here who has experienced it walking with me through it when my own hurting family is so far away has been really invaluable.

Check out the blog post Sarah on Purpose wrote - you'll find some really good, important tips there.

5. Speaking of skinny jeans and boots, I am head-over-heels in love with this flannel tunic top from Lands End. Yes, I realize I live in South Carolina. Yes, I realize I'd only wear it for maybe two to three months a year.

No, I don't care about any of that.

I still love it and I still want it.

Look at it! It's such a pretty pattern! In an awesome color! And it's flannel!

I have a genetic predisposition to liking flannel, you know. I can't even help it. I'm not even responsible for my feelings about flannel.

Farmers wear flannel. It's what they do. When you come from farmer stock, there is always some part of your brain whispering to you, Now Katie, you and I both know today is a perfect day for a flannel shirt even when it's August and it's 92 degrees because you moved below the Mason Dixon line for some reason, who knows why*.

I. Love. That. Shirt.

This concludes your latest edition of "Katie is totally a walking Midwestern stereotype".

The End.

*We moved below the Mason-Dixon line because A. South Carolina had jobs and Illinois didn't, B. Jason's family lives here so we knew our eventual kids would still get to be close to at least one set of grandparents, and C. we wouldn't have to face the prospect of living without working heat during a cold Midwestern winter again. Just, you know - for the record. If you were wondering.

Friday, October 2, 2015

I'm Not Really Doing That Well

The weird thing about grieving is the way I can't seem to pull my brain back together.

I still catch myself staring off into space, losing minutes or even an hour and I'm not sure what exactly I was doing. I'm back at work, and yesterday I finally finished a large-ish writing project and that felt really good, but I had assumed I would finish it by 2 and I walked out the door right at four. Somewhere in there I lost two hours, and I'm not sure how or what I was doing, but I do know that my brain doesn't remember, either.

My mind is too busy trying to figure out why nothing about the last two weeks makes sense.

Dad went out into the field one morning and he never came back, and my heart and my head can't seem to put together that he's not going to come back. I'm four states away and I still wait for someone to tell me it was all a mistake, his truck is in the driveway, come back up to welcome him home.

People tell me "you seem to be doing so well with this" and what they really mean is "you are not a hysterical teary mess, so that's good" and I kind of want to laugh and tell them, I'm not doing so well at all, but thanks for not seeing through the act. I'm doing everything I can not to make other people uncomfortable.

We don't really allow people to be a mess after losing someone they love. You're not supposed to talk too much about it because it makes other people nervous and awkward. I don't come from a family prone to dramatics - I'm the dramatic one, and even I have had people tell me how stoic I am being.

Sackcloth and ashes have gone out of style. Midwesterners don't wail and rend their clothing, and I can't be reassured by knowing I can go into deep mourning for six months and everyone will understand. I'm not really one to wear all black anyway, but I look back sort of wistfully on a time when if you wore all black on the street, people only needed to look at you to know that you had lost someone, handle with care.

Everyone wants you to get back on the horse, get back into routine, go back to doing exactly what you were doing before. While work and routine is a great distraction, distracting me is all it's really doing. I still have to deal with my brain in quiet moments, and those are the worst. The grief doesn't go away with hard work or keeping busy or talking to people - it just waits, patiently, for the next time I sit still.

So I try not to sit still.

Yesterday I went back to work and sat down to work at 6:45 am and left at 4 pm, came home and picked Audra up from daycare, worked on dinner, picked up here and there and just basically went in circles. I would say to Jason, "Okay, now I'm going to sit down and be still," and then in five minutes I'd be up and moving again.

He would offer to help and I would shake my head or not even answer and just keep going. If he helps, you see, I am less busy. If I am less busy, I have to sit around remembering that my dad is dead.

If I keep busy, he's just out in the field.

It's only when I let my brain stop going in circles that I have to remember that's not true.

I know that I'm lucky to have Audra here, a toddler cyclone who needs constant attention lest she try to use my cell phone to call Thailand or happily smack at the cat. True quiet would only make things worse, in the moment. Long-term, though, I wonder if I'm just going to keep being angry for that much longer.

If I need to be a mess and just don't have the time, what does that mean for mourning?

Does the mess and the anger just wait for me to stop spinning, even if that's six months or a year from now?

One of my coworkers also lost her father, a few years ago. She took me out to lunch yesterday and I told her that an old high school friend (whose dad died recently of much the same thing as my own) had told me that everyone will tell you it gets better, but it doesn't. "It's kind of a relief," I said, "to have someone just outright tell me it's not going to be okay and it's not going to get better."

"She's right," my coworker said. "It doesn't really get better, not like that."

Yesterday, Audra waved and said "bah-bye" to her daycare ladies after her first day back. She had a great day, they told me. When I came in to get her she was in the process of slyly trying to steal a pacifier from another baby while none of the adults was looking. When I walked in and she heard my voice, she dropped her hand and turned around to give me her most innocent I'd-never-take-anything-that's-not-mine expression.

One of the daycare ladies told me how sorry she was to hear about my dad, but that I seemed to be holding up very well.

I'm not holding up at all, I wanted to reply. I'm just being propped up by motherhood because Audra needs me more than my grief does. Grief can wait and my baby can't. I'm a mess and I wish someone would let me be a mess outside as well as in, but there isn't any time and I would just be uncomfortable and close myself off anyway. My family isn't good at being emotional in public and it doesn't help anyway. I want people to ask but I want them to never ever ever bring it up. I want to talk but I also don't want to talk about it at all, and which I feel depends on who I'm around and whether or not they are Mom, my sister or my brother or Jason... or if they're the other group, which is Everyone Else in the Entire World who I want nothing more than to ignore me. I want all those things at the same time. I'm not holding up at all.

"Thanks," I said out loud, with what I'm pretty sure was a smile, and went home to make myself think about dinner instead.

Monday, September 28, 2015

A Hard Leap Off a High Cliff: A #Wholemama Post

Dad, holding brand-new Audra. You can tell because flannel.

I don't know how to be a mother without my father.

Dad was one of the first to hold her that night in the hospital room. She is named for my paternal grandmother, and we had kept it a painstaking secret from almost everyone (except my mother, who I have never been able to keep secrets from).

I wanted it to be a surprise for Dad, and had tried to tell him a month or so earlier during a trip back to Illinois and yet it had never happened. So I needed him to be in the room just after Audra was born.

So in the hospital, when the nurses asked me what her name was, I turned my head to the open door to our hospital room and yelled, "Dad, would you come in, please?"

My father came back in from where much of the crowd of family members was lingering in the hall and stood nearby.

"Okay, I can tell you now," I said. "Her name is Audra Grace."

My father looked at my daughter and then at me, a little stricken at first. "Seriously?" He asked.

I said yes, yes seriously, this is my Audra Grace.

My father put his hand over his mouth and he briefly left the room to compose himself. Then he made phone calls.

He called my uncles and my aunt and my grandfather to let them know. I still hear, over a year later, what a wonderful choice of name it was. I tell them I knew, I knew before I knew she was a girl, I knew that if she was she would be Audra Grace.

I had a father standing behind me in my new identity as a mother right from the start. I don't know how to be a mother without him, without the calm and steady knowledge that he is there. Maybe he's 800 miles away, but there. Always there.

Now, he is so much further from me. It's a little hard to pick up a phone to call heaven, and essentially impossible to explain to my daughter why diesel is one of my favorite smells because it would be all over his clothes sometimes when he came home for dinner or how he could light up red with anger, it would flare, and then be gone. She'll never watch my dad and I argue good-naturedly about basically everything or see her grandfather's hands with dirt beneath his nails after a day out in the fields or see how well he cleaned up for church on Sunday morning. My grief isn't only at my own loss, but for a loss my daughter doesn't even know she has just endured.

She will not remember him like her older cousin does. She won't know what it means to ride the combine with Grandpa Randy or to have him say "Now settle down" if things get too rambunctious. She won't get to laugh with us about how Grandpa Randy just can't help but fall asleep in front of the TV in the evenings.

When I tell her about the patient man who withstood teenage rages and slammed doors and stomps up the stairs, she will have only photographs to picture those moments by. She will not listen to him remind me that I have only to wait a little bit before we're staring at those slammed doors, too.

I simply do not know how to be a mother without my father just a quick phone call or a long drive away.

I don't know how to parent without him on hand to grandparent.

Grief steals my best parenting from me right now; I catch myself staring off into space, barely aware of time, answering my daughter's babbles and burbles only belatedly. I fall asleep on the couch reading but can't sleep the minute I get into bed. It's all my willpower to move my legs when she wakes us up at 2 a.m. because she's awake and this isn't her crib and she needs someone to be there to tell her where she is.

I'm a muted version of myself as a mother right now. I have to tell myself that Jason can pick up the slack for the moment, while my brain fights hard to reconcile this new life with the one I was happily living right up until 10:17 in the morning on Saturday 19th, when I spoke to my brother and the white noise started in my head and it hasn't stopped since.

The last time my daughter saw my father was Sunday, August 9th, and I have to figure out how that could possibly be true. How it was exactly that I fell off a cliff and landed in a place where I do not have a father. How my daughter fell with me and no longer has one of her grandfathers, has lost one doting pair of arms to hold her, has lost one happy voice calling her name after a long separation. How it is she is so young that she doesn't even know the earth gave way beneath us and the place we live now may look the same, but it is utterly new.

I don't know how it is I can keep being a mother without a father standing behind me, how I can be a mother while mourning a loss that my mind is working so hard to reconcile.

I'm about half a mother and thirty percent a wife and whatever's left is a grieving daughter and I have to hope the bit that's still a mother is enough to see Audra through, for however long it takes for me to climb back up the cliff.

When I tell her stories about my dad, she will have only photographs to reference.

She will not get the option to turn and look at him and say, "Seriously, Grandpa?"

Things may look the same to her, but I will know that things are just a little bit faded.

Today's post is my ninth while participating in the #Wholemama linkup. This week's theme was "leap". The linkup is not yet active, but I will link to the official post on Erika Shirk's blog Overflow once it is.My other posts as part of the linkup or just inspired by the theme are Motherhood on PurposeOn Reading and PeaceI Lay You Down to Sleep, My LoveWhen It Rains... CelebrateParenting is SillyAnything But OrdinarySpacePrayer, and A Supermom is a Sleep-Deprived Mom.