Tag Archives: mom

Cryin’ in My Coffee

It was a Monday morning, and I was in tears.

Yes, I am one of those Debbie Downer people who isn’t too fond of Monday. I don’t hate my job. Sometimes I almost like it. But if I’m honest, there’s a list of 100 things I’d rather do than go to it. I read all the “Happy Monday!” positive thinking posts on Facebook and do my best to go down that sunshine road myself. I tell myself to be thankful for having a job that makes Monday, well … Monday. Then I realize that I’m also thankful for my cat. I love him. A lot. That doesn’t mean I bliss out on gratitude every time I scoop his litter box. Why would I? There’s poop in there.

If having a job is the cat I’m thankful for, Monday is the poop in the litter box. Even so, while its arrival makes me utter phrases like “douchecanoe” with astounding frequency, it rarely reduces me to tears.

Lee (my partner, for those who don’t know) had gone out and gotten me a cup of coffee from the nearby Farm Store. When I make my own coffee, I skimp on the creamer in the name of being calorie/health-conscious. When he makes it for me, there’s none of that. It tastes like heaven and there’s steam rising off the top.

That tearful Monday morning, I had a beautiful cup of Lee-coffee warming my hands, and all I was doing was bawling over it. How could even the Grand Mistress of Monday Haters not be soothed by the fact that someone loved her enough to go fetch her coffee to kick off the week?

All I can say is that while the Grand Mistress of Monday Hating was grateful, she was also heartbroken. You see, our coffee pot had given up the ghost that morning. Without warning, it had just up and died. That’s why he had run out to get me coffee before rousing me to face my Monday. No one who has lived with me ever wants to face the decaffeinated version of me while it tries to prepare for a 9 am meeting.

I admit I’m an over-emotional person. Dog food commercials can make me cry. But normally I’m not so self-centered that I’ll lose control over the loss of a replaceable convenience item. Especially not since losing Mom. Nothing puts not sweating the small stuff in perspective like losing that which is not replaceable, and which you’d never want to replace anyway.

The broken coffee pot wasn’t tragic because I’m addicted to java, or even because it was Monday and things tend to set me off just a little easier on that poop-scooping day of the week. It was a tragedy in my little world because Mom had given me that coffee pot to me on our last Christmas together. She had also given me my love — ok, addiction — to coffee. Growing up, I knew that if I tried to have a conversation with her before her second cup, she would glare at me like an angered Mommy Dearest even though in reality she was the gentlest, most giving mother in the world. When I grew up, I inherited that pre-coffee face just like I did her eyes.

Coffee and Mom are intertwined for me. She had picked out that coffee pot for me, her Bitch-From-Hell-Before-Her-Java offspring. Now she was gone, and the coffee pot was broken.

And so I sobbed over my nice warm cup of Farm-Store java, the kind of choking, soaking sobs you sob when grief is raw and fresh, even though Mom had been gone for 8 months. That’s what happens when grief blindsides you with an unexpected blow. You can armor up for the things you know will hurt – the holidays and anniversaries and just-yours family traditions that now have big holes in them. But those random moments in life where normally everything is OK and suddenly you realize that no, everything is different forever and ever? Those get you, and so you sob.

So that’s what I did, and then I got up and got ready for my meeting. And here’s the thing:  Those moments get you, and they hurt like the day you got the bad news and like all the awful things that happened after. But then you cry them out and you breathe and when it is all done, you might even feel just a bit more whole again.

I can’t use the coffee pot Mom gave me anymore. But she’s still with me every time I drink a cup, no matter where it came from. She is in the steam rising off the cup and in the Pre-Java-Bitchface I make before my first few sips. She is, and always will be.

Love You Mom. Like a Dog.

Sometimes You’re Here

Dear Mom,

Sorry for being away so long. But as I’m sure you know, it hasn’t been completely for lack of writing. I’ve been cautiously trying on my freelance training wheels and taking them for little spins. It is a small step towards getting my head back in the “write” place.

I plan to continue “your story through my eyes” here soon, but what I wanted to share in this visit is just how much you’ve been with me in the last few weeks. I’m always feeling your presence in beautifully unexpected ways, but I think my recent “sightings” have been my favorites.

You see, it is always obvious to me how much of you lives on in different ways in Jamie and Jordyn. But recently I’ve been realizing you are here in ME, too. That’s probably because we’ve had such bitter cold weather, along with quite a few snowy and icy days – the kind of days I end up spending stuck inside with myself. Those kinds of days are built for introspection.

I remember our winters together well. Our hangouts at Hawley’s would usually go from weekly to monthly in January and February. You HATED the cold. You went into hibernation mode in much the same way I do (well, as much as I can around work, anyhow) when the temps soar into the 90’s.

We’ve always been self-entertaining units, you and I. We could lose ourselves for days in books and movies and the internet. We lived in our heads enough that unlike some, we could go long periods without leaving our homes beyond venturing out to our yards for a little fresh air and nature. In that way, even though you hated the cold, you (and I) were built for snow days.

I have a love/hate relationship with that aspect of myself. I love that I can figure out a way to be not just content but happy and entertained wherever I am. I love not needing a lot of money to enjoy myself. I love that when plans I’ve looked forward to fall through, I may be disappointed but can quickly figure out other ways to occupy myself. Sometimes, though, I wonder if I miss out on a lot of fun because it takes REALLY wanting to go somewhere and do something to get me out of my own head and into the world. When you can entertain yourself easily, the stresses of making plans and getting out and about compared to the ease of just “doing your thing” mean you have to push yourself to go live sometimes.

So that part? It kind of sucks. But I have been ever so grateful for it this winter. As I’ve spent cold icy weekends and snow days away from work reading and writing and enjoying my own company, I’ve been highly aware that my ability to do so comes from the introverted, reflective side of my personality that I inherited from you. I smile when I think about how you’d call or text to tell me that a Harry Potter marathon was coming on, or about some unknown author you’d found on your Kindle. I feel your guidance in my mental meanderings almost as if you were here to talk with me.

We had a really nice day last Saturday – sunshine and highs in the 40s. I went to visit Mommom and saw two of the fattest robins I’ve ever seen pecking around in the one patch of her yard that wasn’t still snow-covered. I realized spring is not far away at all, and that too made me think of you.

You blossomed like one of your flowers when the weather got warmer. You couldn’t wait to start gardening, to have your morning coffee on the deck, to have our family grown-up Easter egg hunt.

I felt just a hint of that blossoming when I saw those robins. Because although I love watching the snow fall, and am like a kid when it comes to getting a day off or work-at-home day because there’s white stuff on the ground, even I am starting to get a little cabin fevery. If the itch to get out and are bout it hitting an introvert like me, I imagine the extraverts are going absolutely bugshit.

They are calling for temps in the 40s and 50s this week, with no more snow in sight (well, other than the shit-ton currently on the ground).

I feel you in that weather forecast, watching and waiting for your flowers – and your family – to begin coming out of hibernation after a brutal winter.

You are waiting for us to bloom.

Love you Mom. Like a dog.

Sharing Your Story

Dear Mom,

For Christmas, Jamie got me, Jordyn and herself each a copy of a book called “Healing After Loss.” It is a daily meditation tool of sorts – a different thought on grief and moving forward for each day of the year, written by a woman named Martha Whitmore Hickman, who suffered the loss of a child.

Today’s page was about “sharing your story.” It talked about how in sharing the story of  your grief process, you may unknowingly help someone else who is or will be going through their own loss. It also talked about how sharing the story of your loved one – their life and your special moments with them – helps keep them alive and soothes both you and others who loved them through fond memories.

I think I have done a pretty good job in this blog of the former. I’ve written several pieces on losing you and the roller-coaster that has been the aftermath.

But I haven’t done nearly as much on the latter. I haven’t shared your story, or painted much of a picture of who you were in life other than our last year here together.

Perhaps that makes sense. I had to get those grief-thoughts out there before I could dig deeper.  That grief has been like wearing a heavy winter coat on a 90-degree day. It smothered the stuff underneath. Only by shedding it can I let those other things out to breathe in the cool fresh air.

I am slowly coming to the point where I can once again feel that air on my face. So I plan to spend the next several entries on your story.

To so many, you were James’s wife, Pam and Jamie’s mother, and Jordyn’s grandmother. Mom. Momma. Mommy. Nee. Granny Bean.

But before you were any of that, you were Sabina. We so often see our mothers only through our “post-me” lenses.  I was the first to come along and turn you into “Mom,” but you were so many things before me or even Daddy were on your radar.

So this is a little of what I know of you before me – before any of us.

– You were born in Pittsburgh, and although your family relocated to Baltimore when you were still a very little girl, you carried the town and The Steelers in your heart your whole life.

– You had three sisters – Natalie, Dorothy and Cindy. You loved them all, but while Natalie was much older and Cindy much younger, you and Dorothy were so close in age that I think of you as “almost twins.” Knowing that my aunts carry you in their hearts and that their landscape of memories includes all these pre-me moments I could never carry on for you in any way that does them justice has been a huge comfort to me.

– You lost your dad before you came to Baltimore – you were so young that perhaps you didn’t know him nearly as well as you would have liked. He was mostly pictures and stories and other people’s memories, but I always sensed that in your heart he was still somehow your hero.

– Your childhood was not an easy one.  That is not for this blog. But the person it made you is. You were fiercely determined that your daughters and granddaughters would experience a different kind of childhood, and we did.

– You saw yourself as an awkward kid. I never saw you that way, but you told me you felt like all your features were too big for your frame. “Big eyes, big ears, big nose in a skinny little face on a skinny little body,” you’d laugh. And then you grew into them and you were stunning. Not just stereotypically pretty, but soulfully beautiful. Especially those “big eyes,” with those never-ending eyelashes. When I was a kid, the way you said you felt about your looks as a girl gave me hope. I’d look at my beautiful mother and realize that one day all my parts that I didn’t think fit quite right would click into place and work together instead of against each other too.

– As a teenager, you went after what you wanted. You were smart and serious and you wanted to go to a Catholic girl’s school instead of a public school, so you worked and rode public transportation to make it happen. How many teenage girls would put so much extra responsibility on themselves to go to a school where there were NO BOYS? Surely not me!

– Many of the happier childhood memories you shared with me included trips to visit your Aunt Annie and Aunt Genny. I also remember stories of your mom working at a book factory, and of Aunt Nat, your oldest sister, getting married and having her first daughter Kim when Aunt Cin, your youngest sister, was pretty much a toddler herself. Aunt Cin wasn’t crazy about the idea of a new baby and tried to throw Kim in the trash (sorry Aunt Cin!).

– Your first boyfriend was named Milton Dodo. I have no clue if I’m spelling that right. I always pictured him as looking like Crispin Glover as young George McFly in Back to the Future, and once you told me I was kind of right.

– You wanted to be either a nun or a brain surgeon. I came along and you became “Mom” instead. When I’d whine to you about how much farther along I’d be with my writing if I didn’t have to work full-time, you’d remind me that if it weren’t for me you’d be wearing a habit or carrying a scalpel and say “that’s just life.”

I told you I wasn’t sorry I’d kept you from becoming a nun, because again – NO BOYS, but that I was sorry about the brain surgeon thing. Then one night when we’d had a few you gave me a laundry list of all the changes you’d make to our brains (mine, Dad’s, Jay’s) if you had become one, and I told you I was no longer sorry about that either. I so love that we could always talk and laugh about some of these things so many mothers and daughters I know would consider off-limits and maybe even hurtful. We shared a warped sense of humor and had a foundation of love and understanding that allowed us to be real.

– You met Dad because a close girlfriend of yours who went to school with him fixed you up. He was “that guy,” the one running around having fun and getting in trouble and doing what he wanted, while you were preparing for the nunnery or medical school. You fell in love with him and his parents too – one of my most powerful memories from our talks about your pre-me world is how Mommom and Grandad treated you like a daughter almost from day one.  I’m really glad you chose Dad over the nunnery. Even if we do have souls and mine would have ended up popping out somewhere else in that situation, I can’t imagine any other family that would have put up with me.

I could go on, but that’s enough for now. The story of a beautiful life is best told in chapters.

Love you Mom. Like a Dog.

 

 

 

 

Ordinary Worlding

Dear Mom,

I can’t believe how much time I have let get away from me since my last posting.  Take work, add a healthy dose of holidays and a great run of AFC football craziness, and time flies.

You have been with me every day, of course, so you already know the reasons behind the empty echo chamber that has been my writing lately. And you also know they aren’t all bad, or even mostly bad.

One of the themes in our conversations over the years was how to live a good life. Because you were my mother, you were proud of my ambitions. But they frustrated you, too. I have always been one of those “all or nothing” people. If I was chasing after a goal, it became an obsession. Every waking moment not being spent on that goal felt like a waste of time.

When my goal became to write and publish a book, and to do a butt-ton of other writing besides, that mindset became a little overwhelming. Those are long and arduous endeavors even when they are labors of love. And when you have a full-time-plus job in the kind of field where your work doesn’t always – or even usually – end at the moment the clock says the office is closed, tackling such a big project can completely fill the rest of your remaining hours.

While I was going full-speed ahead on the book, I felt happy. More than happy. I felt drive and purpose and determination. For some, those are the definition of happiness.

But in that way that only a mother can do, you saw something missing in me even when I was on top of the world. You saw that I resented anything and everything that took me away from my writing world. Working. Cleaning. Eating. Sleeping. Taking care of other obligations. Hell, sometimes even doing fun things that weren’t related to writing felt “off.”

I wasn’t capable of being fully in a moment that wasn’t spent wordsmithing. Even if my body and some of my heart was there, my mind was far away.

You saw that, and you called me on it. And we’d talk about how I didn’t mean to be that way, it was just that I felt like my life wouldn’t be complete until I was where I wanted to be. It wasn’t good enough – I wasn’t good enough – unless writing enabled me to quit my job and become a full-time author. I was trying so hard to free myself from my existing obligations so I’d have more time for the things I loved that I forgot how to enjoy the limited free time I DID have.

You liked that I wanted something more. You hated that I couldn’t appreciate all I had until I got it.

“You have to learn to be ordinary in an extraordinary world.” You told me that over and over again.

At first, I didn’t like that advice at all. I didn’t want to be ordinary. I thought it was your way of trying to nicely say that maybe I didn’t have what it took be a writer, and I’d be a happier person if I pulled my head out of my butt and got on with other things.

Then you got sick.

It was over that time – those awful and wonderful and beautiful and ugly moments that we had left – that I started to understand what you really meant. During that time period, I didn’t think about my book or any other type of writing much at all. How could something as inconsequential as finishing my book or writing a blog matter when we were all fighting for your life?

It couldn’t.

And so in those months, freed of all thoughts of what I wanted for my OWN future and focused completely on yours, I truly learned to live in the moment.

The obligations that annoyed me, like going to work or the grocery store or cleaning? Those became precious moments of normal living. My office was no longer a prison that kept me from writing. It was a place where a band of kind coworkers looked out for me and supported me. It was a place where I could solve problems and get little bits of something done – how good that felt when everything else was spinning out of control!

And the times we had together? When you felt good, they were beautiful and I wanted them to go on forever. I didn’t care if I never typed another sentence as long as we could talk and watch some football and eat some wings in your living room, and you were laughing and truly enjoying the game and the food was tasty to you instead of making you feel sick. Even the bad times – the doctor visits and procedures and days you felt like shit, mattered in a way that nothing ever had before.

I spent the first few months after you went away in a zombie state. I worked and ate and slept and cleaned and did things with friends and family, but most of the time I was hazy. I was functioning, and that was enough. If I crawled out of the protective mental bubble that was allowing me to do that much, I was afraid I crumble into a lost little ball of freakitude. I didn’t think about writing, and I didn’t care that I wasn’t thinking about it.

Gradually, with your spiritual guidance, that has changed. I am present in my life again. My laughter is real more often than not, and so are my tears.  I feel true frustration at work when I have a problem to solve, because I care about getting things done again. I feel true satisfaction when I get them done. I feel love and appreciation for family and friends and animals in a deeper sense than ever before, although I always did value them above all else.

I am feeling the urge to write again, in bits and snippets. I took a leap of faith and shared the first part of my book with a group of readers. I began playing with the unfinished bits in short spurts and stretches, when the mood struck. I began thinking of other things I’d like to write and jotting down notes.

But this time, those goals have a different priority in my life. They are not all-consuming. I spent most of my holiday break cleaning and reorganizing my home, because it needed to be done and I wanted to. The old me would have resented the hell out of that – it was supposed to be WRITING TIME, damn it! The person I am today enjoyed the act of doing it as well as the end result.

Everything matters now. Life isn’t something that takes me away from my writing. Writing is just one important component of my life.

It is struggling to find its place again, but I feel like that is so much better than when it was shoving everything else that mattered aside.

I am learning how to be more like you – “ordinary in an extraordinary world.” Your life was cut short, but you embraced every moment you had with grace and acceptance and love and enjoyment – and sometimes frustration and annoyance and pissed-offitude too.

You lived seeing the importance in everything around you, and seeing every moment and task as where you were supposed to be and what you were supposed to be doing. You tried to love them all.

That sounds ordinary, but it made you …. and your life … extraordinary.

That’s what you were trying to tell me. That’s how you were pushing me to be. Not because you didn’t believe I could do anything else, but because you knew that only those who live that way can truly have a life.

Writing is finding its place in my new outlook. That feels good too, but no better than the way every other puzzle piece is fitting.

And I’m OK with that.

Love you Mom. Like a Dog.

 

 

 

I Saw A Ghost

Dear Mom,

I have a confession to make.

You know that book I wrote? The one that consumed all my time and attention for a year? The one that I scribbled scenes for in committee meetings and babbled nonstop about over drinks at the bar every weekend? The one that filled me such inexplicable pride when I wrote “The End” the Christmas before you got sick? The one that actually had me teaching myself how to query agents and going to writer’s conferences and learning about self-publishing?

Mom, I’ve done absolute jack shit with it since you went away. If I’m being completely honest – long before that. I barely touched it the entire time you were sick.

I could give you a million excuses.

Time. But time was always a struggle with the demands of my job, and it didn’t stop me back then.

Heartsickness. I miss you, and some days just doing what I need to do to be a functioning adult with a day job exhausts me. But let’s face it – we both know writing is a healing tool for me, so that one doesn’t fly.

I’m at the hard part. Writing my story was FUN. So freaking much fun. Editing is not. Editing is more like doing math, and I always hated using that part of my brain. But every writer has to suck that up at some point if they ever want their work to be more than something that takes up space on their hard drive.

I’m afraid of rejection. Publishing is scary. As long as I don’t get to the point where the book is truly ready to publish, I don’t have to face the possibility that I suck. But I knew that going in too.

To each and every one of those points, you’d tell me to stick it up my ass. You were always good at pointing out when someone was making excuses rather than diving in and taking a challenge.

The truth is, I think my biggest block at the moment is not having you. I wrote this book, but you were almost as much a part of the process as I was. I shared bits and pieces with many friends, but you were the one and only person who knew just about everything. You read the most excerpts. You knew when I had a good writing day and when I was in a slump. You fell in love with my main character just like I did. Your thoughts helped me keep him and many of the other characters real … or as real as they were going to be given my topic.

You made me believe I could do it. You cheered me on and were so happy for me when I was in that place that writers go when a story has grabbed them by the imaginary balls and won’t let go. You were with me through the manic joy of the storytelling process. You laughed with me and commiserated with me when I was struggling.

You were a reader your entire life. I owe you my love of the written word. We always fell in love with the same books. So when I tackled writing my own, my guiding principle was  “if Mom had this book in her hand, would it be so good she couldn’t put it down?”

I so wanted you and I to go through it going out into the world together. I needed you there if it failed, but more importantly, I WANTED you there if it succeeded. In my wildest dreams, it paid off all our debts and our entire family lived happily ever after. Maybe reality would have been more along the lines of all our friends bought a copy and we made enough money for a nice dinner somewhere. That would have been OK too.

But the idea that you wouldn’t be here when the book went out into the world? That never crossed my mind when I was writing it. It was unimaginable. And now it just doesn’t seem right.

The truth is, there is a part of me I try not to acknowledge that is beating the shit out of myself for that. I started too late. I didn’t write fast enough. If only. If only. If only.

All those what ifs have squashed my determination. The urge to work on the book comes now and then, in tiny spurts that fizzle out as soon as I remember something I need to do for work or notice that the kitchen could use a good cleaning.

The part of me that says that since I didn’t “get er done” in time for you to see the doing I shouldn’t let myself experience publishing and succeeding or failing without you has been winning. I don’t want to fail without you here to hold my hand. I don’t want to succeed without you here to say “that’s my daughter. Now take your Momma to a tropical island.”

I’m not writing this just to whine to you. I really do need one of your “suck it up” tirades more than ever, but since you can’t give me one I wouldn’t put you through just listening to me bitch and moan.

See, I have a friend who started writing a book.

He’s had this great story idea stewing in his brain for a while. It is the kind of story that you and I always loved to read. He’s got quirky characters and a unique plot line and let’s just say this shit could be really, really good.

The thing is, unlike me, he is not someone who always dreamed of being a writer. He mulled the possibility over as a potential retirement hobby down the road, but he’s not there yet. He was never one of those people who felt compelled to write or go crazy, like I am. But he got bit by a damn good story bug, and it has him totally infected.

I have a lot of writer friends, but most of them are far away and we just communicate electronically. We sought each other out because we were looking to connect with other writers. Otherwise, we’d never have known one another.

There is just something different about seeing a friend you met for completely different reasons (in this case, work) catch the writing bug and dive in headfirst.

He comes to me with the fledgling first chapters. We talk about story lines and plot twists. We discuss what is enough description and what is too much. We envision what his characters look like.  He can’t wait to go home and start writing again.

And the whole time, he freakin’ GLOWS. I’ve always heard that pregnant women glow. Perhaps they do. But a writer in the throes of a good story coming to life? Those crazy bastards are bright purple neon, baby.

I know, because I used to be one. I used to blind myself in the mirror with that shit.

And when I see the way he looks when I’m reading a chapter or when we’re talking about his book, I see a ghost. The ghost of that girl.

In a way, it feels a bit like how we were when I was writing my book. Only he’s me, and I’m in your role.  Nothing I’ve tried since you left has made that part of me want to wake up until now. But over the last few days, I’ve felt her coming back to life. She’s yawning and stretching and has a long way to go to get her energy back. She probably has a bit of amnesia. But she’s still there.

I still don’t want to do it without you. But somehow, I think this experience is helping me get the strength to do that. Not the strength to finish the editing and go through the crazy train of publication. I know I’ve got the balls for that, when I’m ready. I’m talking about the strength to forgive myself for not doing it while you were here, so that I can.

A year ago in October, I was watching you start a horrible journey that we would all walk with you, until you had to turn onto a path that was only wide enough for you to go alone. This October, I am watching a friend start a wonderful, amazing journey that I took myself a few years back, and it is bringing me joy and a desire to fuel my own tank and at least start taking a few day trips.

I have to believe you have a hand in that.

Love you Mom. Like a dog.

 

 

 

I’ll Never Cut My Hair

004Dear Mom,

Once again, it has been way too long. Time flies when you’re having fun, and even when you’re not. I’ve been doing some of both, and you have been with me all the way.  Which probably hasn’t been much fun for you, considering I’ve been a mental furball.

As you know, a few years ago, Lee was diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes. When we got the news, we got our asses in gear and made a lot of lifestyle changes.  We weren’t perfect, but we were good much more often than we were bad. We looked good, we felt good, we lived well. Like so many others who go through this, we got a little cocky with our success and slipped up from time to time, but for the most part we stayed on our game.

That all changed when you got sick. Part of that was life becoming so crazy. Who wants to think about counting carbs and reading labels when the world is turned upside down? Who wants to exercise after a long day at work and in doctors’ offices? But it wasn’t just that. When you are living in fear of the inevitable, your vision narrows. You are no longer looking down the path with the long haul in mind. Your eyes are on the ground as you try not to trip over something treacherous in the moment. So instead of eating healthy meals throughout the day, we’d often go without eating at all and then realize at bedtime that we were starving and run out for cheeseburgers and fries. Often, there was no spare time. But even when there was, we’d spend it curled on the couch numbing life’s hurts with alcohol and HBO binge-watching instead of exercising.

Although you have been gone for four months now, we still hadn’t gotten back to form. The pain is still there – it always will be. And when you develop bad habits to cope with life, they stick around.

So Lee started feeling sick, and ended up in the doctor’s office to assess what damage we’d done. Over the last two weeks, we’ve gotten right back on the horse with the diet and exercise. And we waited for all the test results to come back to see where things were.

While we waited, I realized something. It wasn’t just him we had hurt. We’ve hurt me too.

Since you’ve been gone, I’ve remained in the same survival mode I was in when we were dealing with your pain. I have not cared about my body. I have not cared about my stress levels. I have not cared about writing, which is akin to air for me.

On the surface, I have been functional. I have gone to work and done my job as successfully as someone who has to manage Peoplesoft generally does. I’ve done many lunches with co-worker friends, venting and laughing. I have gotten together with family and non-work friends. I have gone to the bar and I’ve cheered for the Steelers, hoping you could hear me too. There have been glimmers of life in a lot of those moments. But a big part of me has been robotic, putting in the time, doing what needed to be done, and trying not to hurt.

Trying NOT to hurt, instead of trying TO feel okay. Trying to exist instead of live. Trying to fly under the radar and be a quiet little mouse, because somewhere in my twisted brain a voice was saying that maybe as long as I didn’t try to soar too high I wouldn’t get shot down again.

When Lee got sick, I started caring what we put in our mouths again – for fear of losing him. I started wanting us to exercise again – for fear of losing him. I was not ready to go through the heartbreak that is illness in a loved one again, and definitely not ready for anything worse than that.

And as we have made changes, I’ve been able to see that I was also in danger of losing me. Being the girl who works until she’s numb then binge watches shows that take her to another time and place … anywhere other than her own life … has been oddly comforting and maybe even temporarily needed. But it isn’t who I want to be. It isn’t who you would want me to be.

Once, many years ago, you told me you’d had a bad dream. In it, I was meeting you at the bar, and you were there waiting for me.  But when I arrived, you were stunned, because I had cut off all my hair.

“You weren’t you anymore,” you said. “You looked like shit, and you didn’t act like you at all. Don’t ever cut your hair off.” I promised that I wouldn’t.

And I didn’t. But I think the way I have been living since you left has been sort of the same thing. I still had long hair, but I had cut off the part of me that experiences and feels both the good and ugly things in life so intensely that I don’t just want but need to write about them. It took fear of a loved one being unwell to get me to start making changes. And making changes helped me see that I still don’t want to cut my hair.

We got Lee’s prognosis from his doctor yesterday. Given his blood sugar levels when he first saw him, his doctor was surprised to report that he is one healthy mo-fo. He now doesn’t want to see him again until November, and says that if he continues eating in a diabetic-friendly manner and exercising, he believes that he will ultimately be taking him off his metphormin because he won’t need it anymore.

His good news came the week before I attend the same work conference I was at least year when you went into the hospital, where we would eventually get the news that turned the world upside down.  I didn’t realize until his doctor’s visit was over that I had been holding my breath, fearful of history repeating itself in some twisted Stephen King novel version of “Groundhog Day.”

The opposite happening felt like a message from you – telling me it is time to stop being afraid to fucking fly – that life will happen as it will happen even if I hide from it and binge on Boardwalk Empire, so I might as well do something with it instead.

So we will stay on this path, looking ahead instead of keeping our eyes on the ground. I’m done dishonoring your memory by being a mouse.  I will connect. I will write. I will strive for great things. And when the hurt of missing you comes, I will no longer deal with it by being a robot. I will scream and cry and cuss if I need to – and screw the world if it thinks I’m crazy. Because I will laugh too, and reclaim the gift I was given of being the girl who could write even bad shit in a funny way.

And I promise you, I will never cut my hair.

Love you Mom. Like a Dog.

I

 

 

 

Rings, Clothes and Workdays

Dear Mom,

It has been too long since my last letter. Please know that it isn’t because I haven’t been thinking about you. You are always in my heart and there isn’t a day that you don’t cross my mind a hundred times. We have had many quiet conversations in my mind since my last post. But you know me. I can only get the words out through the keyboard when I get downtime and quiet – and there has been precious little of that lately. Working in higher education in August is a telegram from hell for us introverts.

I made it through my first birthday without you, and today is Jamie’s. She gave me the NFL Steelers ring she got you last Christmas, the one you loved so much, and told me you wanted me to have it. Of course I cried – and she knew I would. She even warned me not to in the card, but it had fallen to the bottom of the gift bag so I didn’t see the warning until after I was holding the ring. It is a pinky ring for me. Although your presence here was huge and the hole in the world since you left us is just as big, you were physically so much smaller than me, and that includes our fingers. I think my hands were bigger than yours by the time I started middle school! So I wear it with care and tuck it away safely each night so it doesn’t slip off in my sleep. And when I am typing away at work and it shines up at me, I smile and know you are there.

Hopefully the Steelers themselves will know you are too. They had a bumbling preseason. But we’ve been through that before, haven’t we?

You raised an amazing kid, Momma. Jamie, not me. She holds so much together without you there, and she does it like a trained acrobat juggler. Me? Give me three plates and two are gonna crash to the floor. You raised a weirdo too. Sometimes I look at us and think we are flip sides of the coin that was you.

So other than that, most of August has been work, work and more work. And when I’m not working, I’m recovering from work. I remind myself that this too shall pass – it is just that time of year, and try to breathe and carry on. I have noticed that it is much harder for me to deal with the long hours and the nonstop interaction this year, and it was never easy. Everyone gets so stressed and worked up because there is so much to do and so little time to do it, and we are all sleep-deprived and irritable. I used to be a like a sponge, absorbing all that anxiety and worry and frenzy.

I can’t do that so well anymore. I am in the midst of all the tasks and issues and concerns that have everyone in a frenzy, and I know they are important. But after the year we have been through, part of me swims through them like I’m in a calm lake instead of a river speeding towards a waterfall. My mind says if these are the biggest issues of the day, the worst that can happen is not so much to fear. The consequences are like a scraped knee or a bothersome mosquito bite compared to the jagged scars that watching you hurt and then go left.

I am pretty sure you would like that. My tendency to worry too much about everything at work needing to be right and to be done drove you batshit – if only because you saw how batshittier it drove me. You wanted me to accept that I am a person, not an octupus with 8 arms to tackle 8 different tasks at once, even if that was what others wanted me to do. You’ve finally gotten your wish. I didn’t just decide to stop sweating smaller stuff. I am truly no longer capable of doing so.

Yesterday I finally had a little time to myself, and was going through my closets getting ready for fall – my favorite time of year is just around the corner. There was the shirt you got me with the ferrets on it, and the tye-dye Steelers shirt, and the beautiful black dress shirt you got me that I wore to Grandad’s funeral. There was the sweater you got me that I adore but need to lose five or ten pounds to wear. There was the silvery scarf you picked out for me that I love wearing in the winter. And those were just the tip of the iceberg. Before I knew it, I was sitting on my bedroom floor bawling, surrounded by clothes and desperately needing something to wipe my sloppy face with but of course not wanting to use any of them.

That closet was like a book of memories – each one a Christmas morning or a birthday and then all the times afterwards where we did something together and I wore the gift and you smiled at the way it looked. You always saw me as so much more beautiful than I see myself. That was evident in the things you’d pick out for me. The things I’ve gotten myself that sit beside your gifts in the closet say ” gear for an aging work horse.” Your gifts say “something for a pretty woman to wear.”

I am picking myself up anew each day and trying my best to be the woman you saw in me instead of the one I see in myself. Some days, it works.

Love you Mom. Like a Dog.

PS – GO STEELERS!!