Saturday, November 3, 2018

I'm not mourning her today

I’m not mourning her today. 

Six years ago this evening, my mom died. Holding my hand, surrounded by most of her family. It was sad, devastating, and painfully traumatic. It was the worst day of my life; a culmination of the worst week of my life. 

By all accounts, I should be mourning her today. I should have been mourning her this past week. But I’m not. Today is insignificant, except it being her death anniversary. And I’m prepared for her absence today. Like my wedding day. Or Mothers’ Day. 

It’s the days when I’m not prepared that I mourn her most. 

Like the day I had to walk into my very first mammogram appointment without her. SO IRONIC! 

In just this past year, I mourned her when I contemplated leaving my previous job for my current one - I talked it over with everyone (thanks for listening to me!) except her. She died knowing me as a reporter. What about now? 

And when I bought a new car (I drove her old one), she wasn’t with me, or in my passenger seat on an adventure, or prodding all the buttons and bells and whistles. She died knowing me driving a different car. What about now? 

Or in October when I went to a local tire store. The last time I was there, I was with her. I took a photo of her in front of a sign that said, “Bald is beautiful ... except here.” She covered the bottom half, so it’s just her, holding her hat and exposing her bald head. The sign is still there. But she is not. 

I mourned her a few weeks ago when I heard a commercial for a Mannheim Steamroller show and laughed out loud and teared up because she would have loved to attend. 

I want to tell her that a co-worker at my new job wears a perfume very similar to hers and when I first smelled it I cried in my office. Or that when my boss smiles his eyes crinkle up like hers. He looks like her dad, too. I want her to know. 

Her absence is a hole I stumble across nearly daily. On all of these occasions, I mourn her. But not on Nov. 3. 

On that date, I mourn myself. My old self. My self BHD. Before Her Death. I was so naive, and innocent, and trusting. Carefree. Less calculating. Lighter. Without worry. It all changed on Nov. 3. 

I see myself in her hospital room on the day she decided she had had enough, and I think, “Oh, girl. You have no idea what you’re in for. You are so unprepared for what you have to do, and what you’re about to go through.” 

It’s with the clarity of six years AHD (After Her Death) that I can view that time period like a video sequence. I can see how the trauma of that week froze and hardened and numbed me. I remember nearly every moment of her in the hospital. I remember waking up on Nov. 4 in my apartment and immediately wailing when the foggy morning grog wore off and I remembered that my mom. had. died. I pulled the sheets over my head, curled in a ball and cried. And then I don’t remember. I don’t remember much of her celebration of life, except that it seemed like a party - rooms full of friends and family. I don’t remember how I got to the funeral home. I remember being in a car, but I don’t remember with who. I don’t remember leaving. Did I sleep in her house or my apartment? What was I doing then? What was I doing a month from then? I don’t know. 

I remember saying that I didn’t want to remember 2013, the immediate year after her death, and saying I didn’t want anything significant to happen in that year, in case there was a proposal or an adventure or something. And I really can’t remember many specific things about that year. On purpose in planning nothing significant, I figured it would be a helpful, mindful coping technique. I didn’t realize my body and mind would employ this technique on their own, in different ways.

In that time, I now realize I developed trauma-induced anxiety, and I probably, very likely, was depressed. I should have listened to my husband and my best friend and saw a therapist. I would probably have felt better faster. I scoffed at taking medication because, I told myself and them, I wanted to feel all the feels now, and get it all over with so I can move forward. When my anxiety got really bad, I ended up taking medication for about a year. I’m not sure it was as helpful as I hoped it would have been. Truthfully, time, it seems, is what helped heal the most. 

I recently read an article about a psychotherapist who works with trauma victims. The article was about a shark attack on the Cape, but the way the doctor described how the body reacts to a traumatic experience - it stiffens and tells the brain there is a complete threat everywhere - resonated. It explained how I had felt - frozen and fearful.  “For people, there’s a surge of sensation that frightens them and keeps them in that frozen state indefinitely.”

Although my mom was battling cancer, her death was sudden and unexpected. She, I guess, just got sick, or got an infection, and her weakened body fought as hard as it could until it couldn’t. She was an immensely strong woman who overcame everything thrown her way. This infection just tripped her up.  

For me, I subconsciously felt like something - anything - could trip ME up. Or my dads. Or husband. Or aunt. And I needed to be in control and prepared and afraid of everything. A combination of fight AND flight. Voila. Trauma-induced anxiety. 

I remained in that state for years. Frozen. I’d say 2015 was the thick of it, and 2017 was when I felt ... warmer. 2018 was The Big Thaw. 
I’m not sure what’s changed. But if I was frozen in 2012, I am nearly thawed today. I’ve been writing every year on this anniversary about how I feel, and how I feel better than the year before. But this year, I feel ... great? I feel almost like my old self again. As if 2012 Kristin is thawed enough for me to grab her hand. I’m going to hold on as hard as I can. 

Time, I’m sure, is the reason. It’s been enough years for this not to feel raw anymore. I think I’ve described this pain as a cut, and then a scab, and then a scar. But this year just feels different. Six years feels like a new chapter. There’s so many new and different things that have happened, projects that are ongoing, plans that are being made, or trying to be made. It’s ... life. It’s life happening. Without her. That hurts. 
It’s always going to hurt. It will never be fair to me that this happened. To her. To me. And I can’t do anything about it, except to remember not to freeze. If I worry about life tripping me up, or my dads, or husband, or family, I’m always going to be anxious and frozen. I can’t prepare myself for every possible scenario, especially the ones that haven’t happened yet, or hopefully won’t happen for a very, very long time. 

But there’s always going to be those unexpected moments. That’s life, right? There’s beauty in that.  Beauty in the new chapters. Even beauty in the mourning.

Friday, November 3, 2017

Car conundrums

May 2009

A deep yellow light illuminated the outskirts of where my bright white headlights should have shown on my garage door. I continuously clicked the proper lever back and forth - no change. My headlights were out, and I took it as the sign for which I had asked. 
Rewind two weeks to Oct. 20. I’m sprawled on my living room floor, hiccup-crying and sputtering the words, “I,” “don’t,” “want,” “a,” “new,” “car” to my husband. News from a local auto repair shop was relayed to me that I need a new catalytic converter to the tune of $1,300. Paired with my recent idea to purchase four new tires before winter, in addition to the fact that my figurative pockets are not deep, I started to cry. 
Reality stings. It’s not so much the higher-than-expected-but-warranted repair costs, but that my car is old, needs another repair, and it might be more of a financially sound decision in the long run to put that money not into my beloved car, but toward a newer one. Lest you think I’m a “hysterical female,” I’ll offer the knowledge that I’m sentimental, frugal and I don’t particularly enjoy major change. The car also belonged to my mum. She died five years ago to this day, Nov. 3.
The coincidence of this car conundrum occurring in these last weeks of October is not lost on me. I actually laughed out loud when I realized. Enough time has passed where moments like this don’t gut me, but instead their absurdity or irony elicit laughter. 
Around the end of October five years ago, my life forever changed. I naively thought whatever had been ailing my Mum up to that point would be something from which she could recover or adapt. She had overcome so much already in 61 years as a 24-year breast cancer survivor who vacillated in and out of remission.
Eight days after she was admitted to the hospital that last week of October, Mum died holding my hand, surrounded by my dads, her best friend, her cousin, and her sister - seconds after her sister, who helped our family in a months-long round-the-clock system of care, had driven back from New York and entered her hospital room. I heard her last breaths, watched her take that final one, and felt her hand grow cold before I let it go. It was the most traumatizing, literally traumatizing, week of my life.
I can’t help but compare it to this current week, the one in which my car is dying - but on a lesser degree. Cue laughter. This car - it took us on journeys. It made memories for us. It’s a 2001 Subaru Forester that carted me around in my senior year of high school. It carried me to college for the first time and brought me back home at times when I just needed my mum. It heard our mother-daughter radio duets (to Lady Gaga and Cher) now turned solos. I transported her to chemotherapy in it, and she later gave it to me after my Impreza was totaled when struck in 2012. I recognized the car as “her” when I’d see it in my rearview mirror or as it pulled into my apartment driveway or work parking lot. My favorite adventures include my mum, who taught me to drive, behind its wheel, and later, in the passenger seat. 

My sentimental side is battling with my frugal side. I know it’s most likely a smarter, better-bang-for-your-buck plan to funnel my funds into a new, used car than repair this one. I’ve replaced both its rear wheel bearings in the last two years, and the car is plagued with weeping head gaskets. I’m disappointed that at 155,000 miles it didn’t reach 200,000 like my last two Subarus - and most Subarus in general - did. If I was wealthy, I would repair it forever. 
Torn on what to do, I asked Mum for a sign. I’d been researching newer, used Foresters, feeling guilty looking at them. I guess I just wanted her permission to let it go. 
Last Saturday evening I headed out to a friend’s house to carve pumpkins. I turned the ignition on and chalked up the lack of headlights to my husband who had driven the car earlier to unload leaves at the landfill. Flicking the light lever back and forth didn’t illuminate my garage but instead, me, realizing its lights had burned out - or so I thought. It’s likely a fuse problem because my high beams work. Regardless, I had my sign. I laughed out loud and felt relief wash over me. 
For Mother’s Day in 2012, I wrote a column about Mum and called her my North Star, “Always present no matter the weather, illuminating the way for me, never burning out.” Those words couldn’t hold more true today. My car’s lights didn’t burn out, but they’ve gone out. And she has illuminated a path for me to take, enlightening me with permission to let go of her car. My North Star, indeed. 

Thursday, November 3, 2016

Train of change

How many times can you pinpoint the exact moment - the hour, the minute, the evening or day - your life changed? Where with retrospection, you can see the figurative gears chug into motion, one set of toothed wheels slowly turning until the first link is made, and then the second, and then before you know it, this train of change is speeding up and on track ready to derail life as you know it, and there’s absolutely nothing you can do about it.
Change is inevitable, both good and bad. Every day it happens, but there are extraordinary moments of change that simply shake you up with such force you’re never able to put your pieces back together in their original shape. The edges of tumbling pieces dull over time, their corners rounding, and if you were to attempt returning them to their primary place, gaps would remain. Fissures have found their way in, and ultimately, your original form simply no longer exists. 
But that doesn’t mean you don’t. You still exist after this radical change. So you adapt and modify, make mistakes and work on them. Eventually you face your new fears and acclimatize to life after the severe change. It’s a metamorphosis. It’s terrifying. It’s ugly, maddening and sad. It’s profoundly lonely. And it’s a journey only you can take, only you can truly work at, only you can decide to no longer feel a certain way because it’s miserable and affecting those closest to you no matter how hard you tried to not let it. Time is the only solution that works best.
I can look back four years ago to Oct. 26 and can clearly see, “Ah yes, that evening when I was wearing a red and white striped sweater at my Mum’s house where I made us dinner, and then brownies from a box in a yellow pyrex bowl that had a photogenic drip so I took a picture,” - that is the exact moment my life changed. Because my Mum wouldn’t eat much of the dinner or brownies I made, and she wouldn’t be able to get out of bed to go to the bathroom, and she wouldn’t be able to stay awake to have a clear conversation. And she would suggest I call her doctor, who would suggest we call an ambulance and head to the hospital. This night, where I arbitrarily watched a couponing show on Netflix in a green recliner chair, so naively thinking that whatever had been ailing Mum up to this point would be something from which she could recover or adapt, this night where I was not scared following her ambulance or entering a hospital because she overcame so much already in 61 years - this is the night where the first link was made in those wheels of change. Eight days later, on Nov. 3, 2012 at 9:33 p.m., mere seconds after her sister, who helped our family in a months-long round-the-clock system of care had driven back from New York and entered her hospital room, Mum would die, surrounded by my dads, her best friend, her cousin, and her sister, holding my hand. I would hear her taking her last breaths, watch her take that final one, and feel her hand grow cold. It was the most traumatizing, literally traumatizing, week of my life. And then that train of change took me on the rockiest ride of my life yet. 
Every year on this day, this anniversary, I reflect on the past year and write about how I feel better than last year. I’ve noted how I feel lighter, every year, and talk about how that year must be the “year of acceptance” because of how much better I feel. But this year, year four - which whoa, I haven’t talked to/danced/laughed with my Mum in four years!? - I know for certain is acceptance. Everyone’s grief is their own, and different, but mine, I can say with certainly, has finished after four years. I know because I don’t feel bad about feeling happy, about feeling grateful to have paid off student debt and to reside where I currently do, because that wouldn’t be a reality if things turned out differently. I love my life, and even though my life for the last four years hasn’t had her in it, I still love it, and that is okay, which was once difficult to reason with.
This train of change had to happen; it was inevitable. It did attempt to derail life as I knew it, and it did deeply change me, but with retrospection, I think this was more of a detour than a derailment.

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

A scar

Three years later, I've digested my mom's deep, devastating loss, and learned to accept it. My heart no longer has a hole, nor a scab, but a scar. Grief is an excruciatingly slow, long process. Throughout these years, I've thought, "Okay, I've gone through all of the stages," but really, it's taken three entire years for that final stage. This third anniversary feels so much better than the last, because that scab of sorrow is now a scar - a battle wound that shows flesh forever changed. You can pick at it, but it doesn't flake like a scab because it runs deep within. Nothing, not surgery nor the sun, can alter its existence. Initially it feels fresh but soon it doesn't catch your eye for being new, and eventually, it just becomes a part of you. You'll see it every once in a while, and years later, you can retell the story of how you received the scar without wincing. But you're forever changed. That is grief. Well, that is my grief. Yours is different - and that's okay. My universe will never be the same, but I'm alright with that now. If I stop and really think about Mum's absence in my life, I still cannot believe it, and I would give every part of me for just one more hug, one more, "Hey, Kris" or "Hey, Chip," one more dance, adventure, one more day. That's a constant wish, but I understand it won't happen. This third anniversary feels lighter, not as crushing, and I know that this is "acceptance." She's forever a part of me; she's the scar tracing around my fractured heart, holding it together in an eternal hug. She's in my laugh, she's in the booming thunderstorms, in the waves washing ashore, the moon and me. My North Star, illuminating my way, never burning out. 

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Mammograms, my mum, and motivation

Only her faded, well-worn denim hat adorned with various enameled pink ribbons and survivor pins accompanied me to my first mammogram appointment instead of Kathy herself. The irony is not lost on me.

For years, my OBGYN recommended I begin mammogram testing at age 27. My direct family history screams, “Test early!” At age 37, my mum, Kathy, was first diagnosed with breast cancer. Her sister was diagnosed in her late 60s.

According to my OBGYN, I needed to get a baseline mammogram 10 years prior to my mum’s age of diagnosis. Because of my age, and subsequent dense tissue, I’d likely receive a false positive.

When you’re 18, 27 is eons away. Annually hearing the same advice over the course of 10 years naturally dulls its impact. It also twists time.

Although I eventually surmised enough independence to venture to appointments on my own, without mum sitting as a security blanket in the waiting room for me, I’d always assumed Kathy would take me to, at the very least, my first mammogram appointment, when I finally turned the ripe ‘ol age of 27. 

Never did I expect she would die from metastasized breast cancer when I was 26, two months shy of turning the long-awaited age of 27.

Here’s how hearing that same advice twists time: age 27 seems drastically old when you’re in your early 20s making a mental note to schedule a mammogram. But thinking about losing your mum at 26? That’s so young!

Visions of chatting with Kathy about her first mammogram while I waited to be called into the doctor’s office, of reclining casually in a waiting room listening to her compare the difference in technology from the late 80s to today, promising her I’d ask to see the resulting picture, disappeared.

Crammed out of my mind in the year after her death, while my brain weighed pressing needs like, “What does Christmas look like without her?” and “Who’s going to call me in the afternoon on my birthday to comedically retell the story of my birth?” and “So if you’re really not coming back, what do I do?,” was scheduling a mammogram.

It wasn’t until I began planning a month-long series profiling breast cancer survivors for the paper of which I am editor did I seriously consider scheduling one.

While chatting with one survivor, who had her breast cancer discovered through a routine mammogram - a tumor so small a self-exam wouldn’t have revealed it - I instinctively shared Kathy’s battle. It comes so naturally; I can’t disassociate breast cancer and survivorship with my mum. She was in and out of remission for 24 years; diagnosed when I was 2. Telling her story, proudly, is different these days, I realize, because there is now an end.

I told the survivor how I’d been recommended to have a mammogram at 27, but put it off. Now, at 28, I was a year behind. Simply, she said, “Well, schedule one!” Perhaps it was her familiar positive attitude or gentle prodding mothers often use when attempting to convince their older child, who is no longer a child, that resonated within and motivated me. Whatever it was, I made the call.

A week later, I showed up for my first mammogram. The radiologist was unsure if I needed it or an ultrasound with less radiation exposure. But after a call to her main office, it was determined I’d get a mammogram.

Speculation about mammograms has produced a reputation associated with pain. Pressed against the cold, metal mammogram machine, I was worried. But the radiologist was friendly and accommodating. She apologized for the repeated repositioning and length I’d have to hold my breath. She was creating my baseline, the image to which future exams would be compared, so she wanted to create the best, most informative picture. I could appreciate that. Plus, she let me see the picture.

Twice on each side I was squished and mammoramed. Uncomfortable? Completely. Slightly awkward? Totally. But manageable? Heck yes!

Following the exam on my way out of the room, I stopped to take a survey in which I’d been asked to participate. The door to the waiting room remained open, and I could see my fiancé, who tagged along (my dad also offered his own company), reading in a row of seats. I’d answered the last question and hit “done” when I heard, “Kathy? The radiologist will see you now,” as the next patient was called.

Hearing that name, at that time, in that place, sent a shock through me. Despite it not “belonging” to my mum, it made all the difference. I teared up and smiled.

Forty-eight hours later, I received my results in the mail and braced for the expected false positive. But it wasn’t there. My test results were normal. I cried.

What I’ve learned in these past two years is you can’t expect certain things to happen. I never expected to lose my mum when I was 26. I honestly didn’t expect to see a clean mammogram. And I didn’t expect to not have Kathy with me at my first exam. But maybe I wasn’t without her after all. And her story, her inspiration, doesn’t have to end.

Schedule your mammogram or call to start that conversation with your doctor today. Urge the other women in your life to do the same -you could be that motivation they need.

Friday, June 28, 2013

Running for a reason

Peter called my bluff with which I didn’t consciously realize I was faltering. 
“No you’re not,” he told me matter-of-factly, in the way one says the sky is blue and the grass is green.
I had just told him I was okay, was holding up fine. 
It’s a keen intuition unfortunately gifted only to those who have experienced tragic, piercing loss; the ability to calculate unnatural blinking patterns, a nod too many, a slight raise of the eyebrows used when trying to convince with conviction. 
Dumbfounded, I paused and reclined in the chair facing him, repeatedly capping and uncapping the red pen I was using to proof the newspaper. A nervous tick. My façade was faulty. Someone could see I was falling apart at the seams.
In the seven months since my Mum passed away, “How are you doing?” is the question I’m most often asked.
Everyone has taken my reply at face value. “I’m okay,” I’ve said. And so they believe just that. 
I like to think they don’t second-guess my answer because, well,  A) I’m a trustworthy woman and B) they can see I’m just as strong as she was. 
But what else am I supposed to say? That I feel lost without someone for whom to care? Entirely too angry I have to deal with this at 27? That every time I wake from dreaming of her I cry uncontrollably, inconsolably, when reality quickly comes crashing? 
I’m sure friends ask because they’re genuinely concerned. But I know they don’t want me to unload the whole of my emotions on them just as much as I don’t want to be a burden.
So I run from a real answer. I mean, I do work in public relations.
Until I had talked with Peter, I hadn’t considered it was okay to not be okay.  I assumed the racing of my mind was normal. That I would soon stop mentally running in circles from an emotional ebb and flow.
Initially, I ignored it, like most things I don’t want to deal with in life. But after chest pain, continual stomachaches and breakouts worse than the whole of my teens, I had to be honest with myself. I’m not okay. I have anxiety. 
Mum and I had a running joke when she would tell me to not lift something heavy or she’d ask someone for help. “Don’t you know who my mother is?” I’d reply back. “I can do anything.”
To realize I’m not invincible – and that’s okay - was kind of an “ah-ha” moment. Something needed to change. 
On a whim, I joined friends Trudy and Janet in May and ran the route of a local 5k. Every .5 miles I had to stop and catch my breath. But for the first time in months, I fell asleep without a case of the “What-Ifs?” I slept through the night. And I felt great the next morning.
Today, we run three times a week. I participated in my first official 5k Saturday. More importantly, I don’t feel so anxious and sad. I’ve learned to focus and channel my energy, nervous or excited, into a steady cadence.  
On the third of every month, I still have a hard time leaving my bed. I still ache for my Mum. And my mind will race every once in a while. 
But I’m keeping the running for the road. 


Coincidently enough, I'm obsessed with this song, called, "Time to Run," by Lord Huron

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Messages from Mum

Cheeses of all kinds blurred together into one bright orange block as I attempted to compose myself in Big Y’s dairy aisle last week.
Moments earlier, my body let out an audible, involuntarily gasp as I passed a woman whose perfume wafted my way.
It was Tova. My Mum’s signature perfume.
I nearly dropped my basket.
Memories are one thing I’ve managed to confront with little problem these days. And I readily inhale her faint smell still traceable in sections of her house. But to come in contact with this scent I’ve forever associated with my Mum in a random aisle in a grocery store six months after her passing literally stopped me in my tracks. I was not prepared for this.
I understand I cannot equip myself for every similar moment, although I do try. Each month seems to bring its own high and low.
April found me preparing for the six-month marker the first week of May, and conversely, her birthday the last. Ironically in this effort, I had forgotten about Mothers’ Day.
A purple sign displaying “Mothers’ Day Cards!” caught my attention in Target and I thought, “Ooh!” and then immediately, “Oh.”
This holiday dedicated to mothers is not something in which I will participate this year. And I feel wholly cheated. It makes me want to scream with anger, frustration and despair. 
I just want my Mom!
My friends feel her absence, too. One recently told me she had a “What would Kathy do?” moment when solving a problem. Another just this evening said it feels like a night she would drink tea with Mum and I and get some good advice.
My Mum was a mom to more than just my brother and me. So many of my friends wished she were theirs. Her nickname was “K-Mom.” I know I’m incredibly lucky to have called her mine.
She is here, though. I can feel her.
A partial lunar eclipse paired with a pink moon April 25 found me ascending the Mt. Holyoke Range to snap some shots of the giant moon. As that vantage point didn’t pan out, I drove to various spots in South Hadley to look for a better view.
Parked in front of a field near McCrays, I lamented the loss of my moon-watching Mum and adventure sidekick. She once gave me a card that said, “Every time you see the moon, it’s me watching over you. I’m with you always.”
With a giant moon in my view, I felt closer to her that night than I have since she passed.
Last weekend at the Springfield Symphony with my boyfriend, Sean, I picked up tickets a co-worker held at will-call under my name. Mum and I often would have symphony dates. She loves those strings!
“Enjoy your show, Kathryn,” the ticketmaster said.
Again I found myself gasping out loud, with tunnel vision focused on the name printed on my ticket envelope – hers. Shaking, I held it up to show Sean, tears instantly streaming.
I can’t explain how her name appeared on my tickets. But I’m taking it as a sign she’s saying hello.
Last Mothers’ Day I wrote a column about Mum, calling her my North Star. Always present, no matter the weather. Illuminating my way. Never burning out. The best in the universe.
That analogy couldn’t have held more true.
These days are painful, but progressively less so. And like the cheese I composed myself in front of last week, this pain will get better with time. But it’ll still stink.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

That's the thing about pain...

I just devoured "The Fault in our Stars" by John Green in two days. It was otherworldly to read exactly what I'm feeling without knowing I was feeling that way until I read it. Some of these quotes just struck such resonating chords inside.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

I miss my biggest cheerleader

I put down the receiver just as quickly as I picked it up after learning I had won. I disconnected that number months ago; there would be no one on the other end to listen to my excited chatter. 

Sitting at my desk tucked away in the back corner of my newspaper office, in this small town, in the state of Massachusetts, on the East Coast, in the United States, on planet Earth, in the Milky Way Galaxy, I felt small, unconnected. With whom would I share this news who would match my own excitement?

Mum. The only correct answer is my Mum. But she's not here. And it makes this exciting moment actually painful. 

I drop the receiver in its cradle and stare at the telephone - an ancient way of communicating - choking up because I cannot use it to communicate what I want to say to the sole person to whom I want to say it.

This knee-jerk instinctual reaction to call her surprises me, because it has been three months since Mum passed away. I should have known better than to reach for the phone because I know she is not on the other end. I'm the one who disconnected the phone number, my home phone number, in December. I'm the one who called the ambulance that Friday night to transport her to the hospital. I'm the one who slept with her overnight in the ER and ICU. I'm the one Nurse Debbie called to say Mum was calling a family meeting. I'm the one who had to rally our family. I'm the one who pleaded with Mum to change her mind, that it was not her time, that it was not the right decision. I'm the one who had to instantly process that it was time, swallow my sadness and inform her siblings wearing my brave face. I slept in her room that night listening to her breathing slow. I was in the room when her breathing stopped. I held her hand until it was cold. I know she is dead. My brain can process the facts  - my body cannot and my heart refuses. 

Sitting at my desk, I felt breathless. I could feel my cheeks grow hot and searing tears form. But then the phone rang.

My friend Aimee was on the other line. We have a standing "Monday check-in."  

I relayed how she has funny timing and that I was genuinely upset about not being able to tell Mum about the news I just learned. And how that aching sadnesses outweighed the award. Nonchalantly, Aimee just said, "She knows. She's watching," in a factual tone. And that was that. She is watching.

Up until then, the thought hadn't occurred to me. She already knows I won, because she's watching.

Last weekend, award recipients were supposed to gather with the New England Newspaper and Press Association in Boston for a convention and subsequent award ceremony. I won third place in Environmental Reporting for a series of articles and an editorial I had written about our town's landfill issues. They're not particularly outstanding on their own, but together I guess they were noteworthy. Truthfully, I'm upset this article wasn't recognized, which I feel I put more time into. But I digress. 

The Nemo Blizzard prevented me from attending the ceremony and honestly, I'm glad. I had been dreading going, to an extent, because I would have been a melancholy mess. It's not that I can't share my excitement with my dads, who were siked, or with Sean, who was equally proud, but it's just not the same as sharing it with Mum. She was so proud of me when I, her beloved  "flying crime writer," won last year. She was my biggest cheerleader, whether I won a regional award or successfully cooked a tasty new dish. My prize was seeing the love on her face. 

Quiet honestly, I wish I hadn't won anything. To me, it's just the beginning of a series of firsts without her. 

I really would like to fast forward this coming year. I want to put so much distance between myself and  Nov. 3, 2012 as possible. I'd like nothing remarkable to happen this year because I don't want to remember right now. I don't want to remember this moment and this deep pain that penetrates every pore of my person. 

It's a longing, sorrowful frustration I'm forlornly fighting. Each morning I wake up feeling like I'm back at square one with handling my erratic emotions.  I'm either "on," and focused and strong and forging through this awful grieving/healing process, being a rock for myself and others, or I'm emotionally immobile simply going through the motions of what I know I need to do that particular day without being "there."

I began taking a yoga class, because internally, I need to calm down. My heart literally feels heavy. There's a dull ache in my chest that lingers on those "off" days. In November, right after she died, I went to the doctors because my chest hurt so badly I thought I had pneumonia. (My uncle had it at the time, which was another reason to go). I had an X-Ray taken. An X-Ray! It showed nothing. The pain in my chest was grief. A tangible grief.

I need to relax. I need to let go. 

But I also need to be reminded she is watching me. I talk out loud to her at least once a day. And when I catch a glimpse of the moon at night, I say "Hi, Mum!" because she loved the moon and anything astronomy related. 

On my desk, I've kept this moon card she gave me when I was in college. Then, it was taped to my wall. When I became editor in 2010, I placed it on my office shelves. I hadn't read it in years and recently picked it up because I wanted to look at her handwriting. I gasped when I read her words. "I know there will be tough days, but you will get through them fine. Every time you see the moon, it's me watching over you."  And then she quotes our favorite movie, "Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer." 
She knew when the time came, I would severely struggle with moving forward, so she would always write notes like this, knowing I keep everything. It was such a pleasant shock to read this one I had forgotten about in a time when I need it most. 

"Every time you see the moon, it's me watching over you," she wrote. She's telling me she's watching. I just need to remember.

Monday, November 19, 2012

I will be okay

“Do you want to come ice skating?” Sean says to me, in the living room, from the kitchen. He glides across the linoleum floor in fluffy socks, exaggerating his arm movements, making his way to me on the couch.
“Okay,” I say.
Okay. I will be okay. It’s moments like these in which I know I will be okay.
Two weeks and two days ago I lost the one person who could read me and my mind within seconds of seeing or hearing from me, who could communicate with me in literal mumbles and beep sounds, who always knew how to make me feel better instantly.
And as Sean skates back into the kitchen after pretending to be hurt when I accidentally struck him when he leaned in to kiss my cheek, complete with fake tears of saliva running down his face, I know I will be okay.
He, nor will anyone, ever replace Mum or the fierce bond we had. But he truly “gets” me, in a similar way. He knows when I need him and his comic relief even when I don’t. And we communicate in our own weird way of just “knowing” without having to say anything. And he knows that I will always want to join a fluffy sock ice skating party in our kitchen.
I will be okay.