Five Stages of Grief

Stage 1:

I'm standing in front of the toilet dressed in my black skirt and ocean blue silk top, black heels, and the stockings I last wore to his grandmother's funeral when I was newly pregnant with our daughter.

There's a turd the size of a burrito clogging the opening, courtesy of my son's inhuman ass, so I've got the auger fished through this shit soup and am cranking away on the morning of my husband's funeral.

I do not cry. I am devastated.

Stage 2:

I'm glued to a bed, shower floor, hammock, hot tub, or bar stool.

I cry. I am sad.

Stage 3:

I'm dancing on a stage, in a a cage, in a crowd, on a pole, in Denver, in Manhattan, in Chicago. Anywhere but here.

I cry. I am untethered.

Stage 4:

It's St Patrick's Day. I fall. I grow. I move. I move on.

I cry. I am breaking. I am healing.

Stage 5:

I find my feet, in high heels and in flip flops. I sit in the quiet. I eat life in chunks. I live its stories.

I cry. I am whole. I am happy.

How It Feels This Year

This is the first year I’ve voluntarily felt like I could do Christmas.

Not the first year ever. The first after that demarcation point. The After Death Year.

There were years I faked it, and it was excruciating, and wrong, and painful.

There were years I literally stuck to the bed, pillow soaked through with tears, knowing a light would come, gasping for the air that would get me to that spot. That was last year. The fifth year.

This year I have half-decorated trees, bins strewn about the house, no gifts wrapped, company set to arrive in under an hour, and I’m the most at peace I’ve been.

I mastered the art of Fuck It long ago.

Next year could be different. I know that.

Depression isn’t predictable. Liar. Thief.

Grief is a cunt of another stripe. Curling through everyday life, popping in for inopportune visits.

But this year. This year I get to Do Some Things.

And I’m furiously happy about that shit.

Jars

Broke in the new shower finally. Sat right on the floor. Water mixed in nicely with the tears. That honed river rock felt about like I thought it would when I picked it out.

We were nineteen, maybe twenty, when some smartass asked that stupid question, "So picture yourself being put into a jar. Now the lid gets screwed on. How do you feel?"

Him: Safe.

Me: Suffocated. Trapped. And what the fuck is wrong with you? Safe?

Person: That's how you feel about death.

Twenty years later.

Him: I still feel safe.

Twenty-six years later.

Me on the shower floor knowing you can't answer that question twice.

Chapters: House

I let go today. Didn't take a single picture of the house. Didn't need any. Hasn't really been mine since we moved out four years ago, except it has. It just hasn't lived inside me, or me in it. We've let go of each other…slowly, as you do with these things.

I built the memories from the inside, all of them. His first steps at 8 months old. Bringing her home from the hospital on rodeo weekend, rain pouring down in the middle of June, gladiolus blooming halfway up the picture window.

The DOJ sitting in our living room, just after your diagnosis.

The walls we knocked down and worlds we opened up.

And your spirit leaving us at the end of that long hallway, all of us with you. The window we had to open before you'd go.

Now the slate is ready for a new run; another family can paint their memories on the walls. They'll cover ours, wonder why we did what we did to that sixty-year-old house, just like we wondered why beer cans fell out of the walls we opened up.

Sometimes you don't know why, or don't want to.

Our home now is the place we've chosen for ourselves, the place that chose us, and the place where we are together—the one with the bitchin' bathtub, wild turkeys, a crazy old diving board, and Neiman Marcus just a skip away. A girl needs her shoes.

Thank you for another chapter; I'd never have written it without you. I wish you were here to write the next one.

Circles

December Moms (that’s what we call ourselves). We met each other online in 1996, brought together by our December 1996 due dates.

We started as a group of over 200, all over the world. We’ve dwindled to a group of maybe 35 or so now. I’ve met many of them in person, consider some my closest friends.

In 2005 we lost our first mom to cancer. I was the second mom widowed. Sunday, a fourth mom lost her husband. Two widows on each coast. A widower in Norway.

I started blogging in 2004 because of Karine’s cancer. Our blogs were a sort of solidarity—how we stayed connected during her yearlong battle with cervical cancer.

The birth of my first child led me to social media; death made me a blogger.

Help

That's all he said.

No question mark. But that's what it was. Questions spilling from his soul, from that place that got split open and made raw.

How do I do this? How do I keep breathing while she's dying right in front of me? What do I do first? Last? Today? How do I make time stop? Why is this happening? Why her? Why not me? How? Why? What?

Help.

Spend every moment with her.
Accept help from everyone.
Be selfish of your time with her.
Devour it.
Everything else and everyone else can and will and should wait.
Take pictures. Videos. Record her voice.
Plan for the end.
Talk about it so you know exactly what she wants. Write it down. Write it all down. Through the tears. Write it down.


Missing It

She drives herself most places now—work, school, the ranch. Where she doesn't drive herself, her boyfriend typically takes her. And her choices, for the most part, are good ones. They are all age-appropriate choices. They are far less concerning than many of the choices I made at her age, if we're comparing choices.

He gets to and from most places on his own, too. No desire to drive, still. He's proficient in the arts of public transportation and begging a ride. I still can't figure out how he knows what he knows. He's simultaneously smarter than me and dumber than me; I think it's one of the things he knows, but he doesn't let on.

They are finished baking, but still on the cooling racks. I didn't get them to this point on my own. I really thought He'd be here for this (not God the other Him). For them. For me. Forever.

Would've been our twentieth wedding anniversary at the end of this month (plus another 5 ½ years together beforehand). That either means I'm old, we met young, or He's been gone a long time. Maybe all of that.

She Is Sixteen

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It feels cliché to say I can’t believe you’re turning sixteen, but I can’t. And for all kinds of reasons—because you’ve already seen more of life than many kids your age. You’ve learned that life is not meant to be measured by fairness, and you’ve learned it head-on. Still, you rise. 

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You make better choices at sixteen than many adults I know and certainly better than the ones I made; it’s exactly what Daddy and I hoped for you, but the actions are all your doing. We wanted our kids to know how to make decisions for themselves, because we knew we wouldn’t always be there.

From the time you could dress yourself, you knew what you wanted, and that hasn’t changed. You have strong convictions about how you think things should be, and how and whom you want to be in the world. You may not always think of yourself as tenacious, but I challenge you to look at all you’ve seen, done, and accomplished—take a deep breath, my child, you are resilient. 

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If I could give you anything for your birthday, you know I’d give you more time with Daddy in a heartbeat. I miss seeing the light in your eyes that was automatically there when you were with him. All other gifts feel like poor substitutes. They just do.

They have an easiness together that everybody sees.

I am forever grateful that you have a passion that gives you such peace and joy, because your smiles feed my soul. Your ponies are your happy place, and I imagine they’ll always be part of your life. 

Riding Deuce

Happy 16th Birthday, Peanut. You are my favorite daughter, and I am so incredibly proud you are my child. 

Seventeen

By the time the story hits my fingers it’s a roaring waterfall of words I cannot stop. This one is about you, looking up at him. Just before he died. It was his last race before the cancer returned. You look so small. Him, so big.

You fill doorways now. Your voice fills rooms. Your laughter fills the hearts of those who miss him and love you. Taller than even your grandfather, you are no longer a little boy looking up.

You turn seventeen this month. I am asked what you’d like for gifts, and I fight giving the answer that’s always in my heart—your father. Gift cards and games seem poor substitutes, yet that’s all you say you want. Or a sword. You’re practical like that.

I read an article yesterday about a neuroscientist’s research that showed autistics don’t lack empathy; in fact they feel more than others. They experience the world as a sensorial overload, taking in too much too soon. I cannot think of a better way to describe your sensitivity to the emotions (and information) around you, the people you love, and how you care for others. The way you just know things without ever letting on; it’s always left me dumbfounded.

You notice things so many people miss. I adore your texts telling me what you see on your daily commute. I hope I still get those no matter how old we get nor how far apart we live from one another.

Happy Birthday, bud. You truly are a gift and an amazing kid. I know teenagers get a bad rap from a lot of people, but I really do like mine. You make my world and the world in general a better place.

Love,

Mom

Diamonds Of The Deceased

As I do most mornings, I checked my email this morning. One of them was form submission via my blog from a person telling me their site had selected my blog for a Top Single Parenting Blog award. Here is the email, with identifying information removed, because I don't want to drive any traffic their way, and you'll see why in a minute.

On Monday, July 22, 2013, Squarespace Services wrote:

This email was transmitted via www.califmom.com.

Submitted from address XXXX.

----------------------------------------------------------------------


Your Name: Ms. L
Your Email: XXX@XXXX
Subject: 5 Diamond Blogger award Winner
Message: CalifMom has been named a Top Single Parenting Blog!

We wanted to let you know that you have been awarded a one of our Five Diamond Blogger Awards.

Please take a moment to check out your blog’s profile on the XXXXX page.

We culled through thousands of blogs and received hundreds of nominations before we finalized our top blogger awards, and we are pleased to be able to include you on the list.

In addition to recognition on our website, you can grab the Five Diamond Badge and put in on your sidebar or footer, and feel free to write a post or otherwise let your readers know that you have received this award.


Here is the text for the badge:
<p align="center"><a href='XXXXX'><img src='XXXXX' alt='Top Single Parenting Blogger Award' width='150' height='150' border='0' /></a></p>

Here are instructions for posting the badge:
XXXXX

Here is a link to the announcement award announcement page:
XXXXX


Congratulations again!

Yours,

Ms. L.


Interesting, I thought. I'd never heard of the site, so I cautiously followed the link. I read their synopses of my blog and a few others I recognized. I cringed at the grammatical errors. And then I read more about the company and site itself. The site is a business that makes its money buying and selling the diamond rings of the deceased, their widows and widowers, and the divorced. Their tagline is something about finding the bright side in your tragedy by making a buck off your diamonds. 

Yes. I'm serious. 

No. I won't post a link, but I'm pretty sure you can find the site without much effort.

And yes, I wrote a reply.


Hi Ms. L,

 
Before I accept this "award" or post a badge on my blog, it's important to me to understand more about your company and what you sell. 
 
I took a few moments to read the synopses you'd written about my blog and those of some of my fellow bloggers. Aside from the extensive grammatical errors, it was clear to me that this wasn't about our blogs' content, per se, as much as it was about our blogs' content complementing your company's advertising needs. And that's tacky. 
 
Do you work for free, Ms. L? Maybe you do. I don't know. I can tell you something about myself; I don't work for free. My time is valuable, and the space on my blog is available only to those who earn that privilege. 
 
Your company's backhanded attempt to find free ad space for, of all the classless things, diamonds of the deceased and widowed on the blog of a widow!!, was a complete failure. 
 
I surely can't change your business model, but I do hope you'll consider a change to your PR. If you contacted all of those other widows and widowers as you contacted me, it is likely you have more damage control on your hands, whether they contact you directly or not. 
 
For shame,
 
Califmom
 

My Diamond Anniversary Band

We'd been married about seven years, I guess. I don't recall any itches, yours or mine. Dates and numbers weren't so much our thing; we've established that, haven't we?

Friends who'd married around the same time—all of the Joneses—were doing that circle of diamonds one adds to one's wedding ring. We had never even seen the point of a separate wedding band. Just one ring sat on my finger. Just one diamond. More than enough.

A circle of diamonds felt useless.

I asked you if I could have patio furniture instead of diamonds. A round table and four chairs felt right. We loaded it into the back of your new truck, trying our best not to scratch its paint. We brought it home and set it up in the backyard.

A circle of diamonds felt unnecessary.

We still sit at that table. We gather. We laugh. We eat and drink. And I remember.

Friends, family, children all come and go from that patio furniture. Parties, dinners, games played at that table.

Thank you.

A circle of diamonds would have been silly.

Why I Care So Much About HPV

Some of you might know why I started blogging nine years ago; most of you probably have no idea. Teaser: HPV was involved. And children. And death.

A brief history:
In the spring of 1996 a group of women formed a listserv for mothers with due dates in December of 1996. I joined that group along with about 250 other women around the world.

As you all know, online communities are a powerful thing. Our group dwindled in size over the years, but we still hover around 30-40 members. We've met in person many times, had reunions with our families, spa weekends with each other, attended weddings and funerals.

In early 2004 one of our moms from the group started a blog. A handful of us joined her in starting our own blogs. Two of us have remained consistently active bloggers since then. The original mom has not.

Her blog was started as part memoir and part update for those of us in the far reaches of the world who couldn't be with her as she lived out her final days with cervical cancer.

Her son and my son are the same age. They are both children who have lost parents to cancer. One of those cancers now has a vaccine. Vaccinating my children increases the odds a child won't lose a parent to cancer.

Dropping Stones

Waterproof mascara was the good idea I had heading into today. The dark eyeliner beneath was not. Sunglasses and lipstick. Why I ever stray from that simple rule is beyond me.

It turns out that holding a blow dryer pointed at your face in hopes of drying the tears as they come does nothing for your tears and horrible things for your already-dry hair. The end result is a wet, puffy face and scarecrow hair. This makes it hard to "blend" at parties.

Parties. That's what started this. Peanut had her birthday party today. Fifteen. She's turning fifteen.

And just like her past four birthdays, he's not here. And I can't do a damn thing about that. I can't resurrect him for her or for her brother or for me or for anyone. And every birthday I think it will get easier and it just doesn't. Because he's still not here to see his daughter grow up. And she's still growing up without her father who loved her so fucking much.

Fifteen. Another stone we dropped here along this mile we travel. Us without him. Us together. Us changed.

Your Tree

You were born during El Niño, rodeo weekend and even though it was June, it was rainy and cold. The gladiolus in our front flower beds were taller than I'd ever seen—I swear some were four-feet high. To celebrate your birth, Grandma asked if she could buy us a tree to plant in our yard. We picked out the biggest fruitless plum the nursery had, mostly in hopes it would survive. As new homeowners, we weren't sure how green our thumbs would be yet. Every year, I would prune your tree and watch it grow. I would also watch you grow. Eventually, your tree and you reached a size where you could climb your tree. This became one of your favorite past times. When we moved, I think leaving your tree was difficult. Today, I went back to prune your tree. Just like you, it has continued to grow and change into an amazing part of the universe. And I sent you a picture, but I thought we should share it with the world because it's kind of impressive to see how much a tree can grow in fifteen years.

Days And Dates

When Bob and I got married my mother cross-stitched a quote from Shakespeare along with our wedding date, framed it, and we hung it above our bed in our apartment, then our first condo, and eventually on the wall of our bedroom in our first house.

And that was how I would remember the date we got married.

Still, there were years where the two of us would note the actual date of our anniversary had passed without us noticing. Sure, we'd have celebrated in some fashion around that general time, but the specific date was often missed.

Dates. Days. I'm not great with them.

When I wrote the blog post about the three-year anniversary of Bob's death, I noted the day as Wednesday this year, all-the-while knowing in my head the date of his death was the 18th (something I've had to look up on occasion, if I'm being completely honest).

Days and dates.

I can tell you his two high school football numbers, the addresses of our college apartments from all five years, his cell phone number, social security number, my credit card numbers, the hour I was born, my childhood phone numbers, employee ID numbers from places I worked in college—but days and dates? I get them wrong. Often.

And it has nothing to do with how much I care, love, hurt, feel.

They don't stick in my patterns. The feelings surrounding them? The people? That sticks.

That Day: Three Years

I don't know if I'll post Thursday. It will be three years that day. Three years since the children and I and our friend gathered around Bob's bed and said goodbye.

Three years.

I can't explain that time. The three years.

one more time

I could tell you how many days it's been (1,094 as of right now), but it doesn't feel like days. And this hasn't been a completely linear journey.

I could tell you how many hours—26,256, roughly, as I can't bring myself to pull out the death certificate and do that exact math.

And it doesn't feel like the hours, either. Unless I can write a defining moment from each hour on a post-in and stick it to an enormous wall. There would be spirals of time.

And then the tracks. They aren't marked equally in hours or days.

Going

Some tracks of time have moved faster than others. Some stopped altogether. He stopped that day. Dead. Stopped. Part of me stopped that day, too. Same track. How could it not? Twenty-one years together, you're going to leave some of yourself on that track.

The rest of me started on another track, moving at my own pace—still have some of the same luggage (a carry-on, I think; added a new bag or two along the way, boy did I ever).

And the kids kept going. They kept me going. Tracks of their own, but merging in and out with mine.

IMG_1796

Grief is a funny thing; not stages like we've been told—it goes in circles. It wraps around itself. It repeats sometimes. It skips parts. Jumps ahead. Comes back. Asshole will drop you down. And then you won't see it for weeks, it seems. Or maybe that track runs parallel in a way that gets hidden behind the bushes once in a while so you see the scenery on other stretches life brings past.

Maybe.

But I don't know about Thursday.

I did give up predicting things three years ago; I did not, however, give up.

The sayers of nay, and oh how they say, were so wrong that day and many a day and that is okay. Fuck 'em.

It's all downhill, until you look up.

It's all downhill until you look up, you know. That's why I bought the house at the bottom; I like to be able to see where I'm headed.

Yesterday Forever Ago: The Wave

It's been almost three years since Bob died, and it feels like he was just here.

And it feels like he's been gone forever.

Every year, every day, it's different. And I miss him.

I remember in those first months after Bob died, widows and widowers more years into this journey seeming like seasoned pros to me, so wise, but they always had this thread of commonality—there remained this instant access to the raw emotion of their loss. Years out. YEARS.

It didn't matter if they were happily remarried, had remained single, or what their relationship status was, so much as it did that they had this loss and this journey and it was part of them.

It doesn't mean grief defines you in a negative way, per se—though I guess it can. But just as any tragedy can be faced with courage, losing your partner gets incorporated into who you are in some way. It's never NOT a part of you. You don't "get over it."

What I find myself doing is learning where my loss fits, how to breathe through the waves of grief—that come less often, but still do come and deserve to be honored—and what it means to have this duality of love lost and love found living together in my heart so comfortably—I never expected that would be the case, by the way (love again? Ha!)

My life feels very chaptered as I reflect, and I'm thankful for the ability to see how this next chapter holds hope, love, dreams, and possibility. I have been an incredibly fortunate woman.

And still, as this month arrived, I find myself weeping, sobbing, missing. So I make space and learn, keep learning that it's okay to need this time and this space to ride this wave.

 

Green Hills Every Time

It's April. You probably knew that. It's a hard month to forget, starting with the fools on the first, but mostly because the green makes me remember.

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It starts in March, really. And I remember driving. 

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Bob and I would wind our way through the hills to chemo, or the emergency room, or appointments, and the green would make me feel safe. 

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His initial diagnosis was in March of 2009. And that green—I hung onto it with white knuckles.

Out the Car Window

It was my meditation as we would drive our familiar route from home to Kaiser. Then home to Stanford. Then home to whichever hospital could get us in the soonest. It was my meditation to look out at those green hills at just breathe. Take pictures. Be still. And breathe.

He died three years ago this April, and I still remember driving those green hills that spring. To the airports for trips to carry me away, to the family and friends who just let us be us. 

April hills

And as I wind my way from the place we now call home, back to the ranch, I am folded into those green hills again, each year, each spring, and I remember feeling safe, and knowing I would be okay. I will be okay. I am okay.

So I apologize to the line of impatient people who couldn't understand why I was only doing 5-15 mph over the posted speed limit on my way to the ranch this afternoon when y'all were in a rush to get home from work on the backroads. You were in my Happy Place, and y'all need to breathe. In through the nose. Out through the mouth. Some day those hills might save you, too. Until then, just slow the fuck down. I've seen enough accidents on those roads to last me. Nothing is worth that kind of hurry. 

Gone. She's Gone.

And not because it was God's fucking plan as some douchecanoe felt obliged to offer up in a "comforting" comment to her husband on her blog, and not so she could now find peace with Jesus.

Cancer.

Or what do I know. I'm just a bunch of matter on a planet, but I can HONESTLY say that anybody who feels obligated to comfort someone with that sentiment doesn't understand the meaning of comfort. Doesn't understand the best place for your loved one is here. Now. That you will not feel peace for some time, so you cannot fathom your loved one's peace or lack thereof.

You just want to remember how to breathe without telling yourself if it's time to exhale or inhale and why are there only four sympathy cards on this planet that you'll be receiving in duplicate, then triplicate, and then not opening at all along with the rest of the mail.

Let's skip guessing what was planned for this occasion. I think your god will probably be okay with you offering comfort and not worrying your pretty little head about the plans. Mkay? Mkay.