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Sunday, August 28, 2016

You mad?

Yeah, I'm still mad.  But it takes over less often.

I used to be so angry all the time that I felt sick.  Now I do okay most of the time, except when triggered.

I took Jake to freshman orientation at the high school a few days ago, and that was really difficult.  I expected to feel sad and see her around corners- what I didn't expect was to get so angry I could barely see to drive home.  I started thinking about how she started there in ninth grade, just an average girl, braces and skinny, tiny and beautiful, and how the mental illness descended on her, wreaking so much havoc.  I looked around at all those bright, shiny faces just starting out on their high school careers and felt enraged that Cory didn't get to have her time.  She wanted to be at school with her friends.  She wanted to be learning.  She deserved the best years of her life.  She didn't ask for voices or hallucinations, crippling depression, anxiety, or delusions.  Why did such a sweet girl get such a raw deal?  Why my girl?

And the kicker, of course, being that she finally stabilized and was doing remarkably well, only to be hit by a lady who wasn't watching where she was going on her drive home from work.

I went home that night from Central, tears burning, and sort of folded in on myself, having went to a viewing that day that was not only at the same funeral home but also in the same room Cory's casket had once stood.  I loved being strong enough to be there for my friend the way she was there for me, but it was not easy to do.  That being said, I'm so glad I did it.  We help each other as best we can.  That's what we are here for.

The anger that night at Cory's missed youth, stolen by mental illness, burned hot and quick.  The next day, it had dissipated, and I was as okay as I ever am these days.

I can smile at babies now.  I don't hate parents who have live children, although I do sometimes envy them to a covetous degree.  I watch mothers and daughters together now with a desperate ache, but no real hatred.

Then the other day, I had to do CPR and First Aide training at my work place.  You wanna talk triggers?  Oh buddy.  The lingo alone, "non-responsive, no heart beat, not breathing, bleeding that will not stop" completely undid me.   Then there were the videos that outline all the steps to helping save someone's life.  They are so clean cut and so logical...nothing like what I saw on the side of the road.  Not even close.

The whole time all I could think about was being on the scene...what she looked like, my confusion at why nothing was done to help her.  Images of her body popped up as certain words were said "depressed skull"..."bluish tinge"...others.   I kept seeing them cutting her shirt open over and over and over again.  I could feel that same mad fluttering of hope and rush of relief as I realized that meant they were getting the paddles.  She would be ok.  But of course, they didn't get the paddles and she would never be ok again.  It was obvious to everyone but me that she was dead.

So I cried silently.  I stayed through the training.  And afterwards, I found a  friend that I could vent to for a few minutes.  All I really needed was get the poison out to another mother who would understand what crap it was that my girl never even got a shot.  Just what kinda crap was that?  Logically, I can understand now.  I get it.  Nothing could be done.  But in my heart, where my girl lives and breathes forever, there will never be understanding. Never.

 I will always question why nothing was done.  I will always question why she couldn't be spared while others are... if you buy into the whole higher power thing.   Some days I will seethe with the injustice of it all, but at least not every day.  Not anymore.

Progess, not perfection.

Monday, August 22, 2016

The Yes Woman

One of the hardest parts of raising a remaining child after the death of a child is being able to tell them no.  About anything.  I'm not kidding.  I know it sounds ridiculous, but I promise you it's true.

In the beginning, it's the shock.  You don't even notice if your child just had 3 pops in a row, nothing for dinner, and candy before bed.  If you do notice, you're not sure where the pop and candy even came from, aren't sure what the steps are to making a meal, and frankly, who the hell cares?

It goes on this way for some time.  Many, many meals come from a drive-thru window.  Bedtimes are a ridiculous thought since no one is sleeping normally and the entire household has been thrown into unimaginable, dark chaos.

Your child seeks you as his shelter and you provide it, as best you can, most of the time only dully aware that he is even next to you at all.  You are still seeing your girl on the road.  You are still on the road running to her.  You will be there for at least eighteen months.

After the shock, it's a long dark tunnel that spans years.  All any of us could do was survive.  One foot in front of the other, or better, one knee in front of the other as we crawled.  Who cared if your child cleaned his room, ate his veggies, and washed behind his ears?  Once one of your children has waltzed out the door with a smile and never returned, all the small stuff just ceases to matter.

All that good parenting you did before you came upon your child splayed on the road?  It fades away.  Instead you ruminate over the time you disappointed her by saying "No, you can't buy two purses today.  You have to pick one.", You wince thinking of the times you were grouchy with her because you were tired or she was difficult.  You find yourself second-guessing the times you wouldn't let her date the wrong boy whose red flags were a mile long.  Shouldn't I have let her have any small happiness her heart desired, even if she may have gotten terribly hurt in the process?

See, cause if all those "good decisions" came to a bloody, broken end, what's the point, anyways?  That's what you will think for a long time because you are hurt and angry and broken yourself.  You will also be stingy with your love for a little while just because you can't bear to think of loving this next child just as much as you loved the first only to have him snatched away from you at a second's notice, and put into a box, too.

Finally, after way too long, you give your love freely because your other child is worth it and being a coward is no way to live.

But you still don't want him to be denied any small pleasure that you can by any stretch of the imagination afford, because what if you were to say no and he died at school the next day?  What if he got hit by a car walking home from the bus stop? You'd have to carry that with you for the rest of your days, and with the don't-breathe-on-me-at-the-movies and keep-your-hair-out-of-your-soup thoughts already in there, there's just not much room left.  You also tend to do almost everything for him because it feels good to take care of him when you can no longer do anything for his sister.

But then, suddenly one day, it occurs to you.  What if he doesn't  die?  What if he lives and has been given anything he wanted and was never told no only as an insurance policy against your parental regret?  What if he grows used to having everything done for him and not contributing to the household or world around him?  What kind of man would he be?

This is why I am beginning to say no sometimes and let my teenage son be disappointed.  This is why I am beginning to make him wait for things that he really wants.

I catch myself sometimes wavering and wanting to sayyes to whatever he asks for because it is true, he could die tomorrow- look what happened to Cory.

But then I remember that being a good mom isn't about preparing them to get everything they want right away in case they die.  It's about raising a child into a young adult who can handle being told no, who can wait for things they really want, who starts to look at the decisions they are making, and the consequences of their actions.   Those are life skills, not death skills.  I can only go forward thinking Jake will live.  He may not, but in the meantime, I'm filling his toolbox with the things he needs to know if he does.

Friday, August 12, 2016

Retail Therapy

Fall fashion used to be my favorite thing in the world.  I could easily go without buying a single spring or summer item if it meant I completely indulge when the cozy sweaters, bright tights, and boots hit the stores.  Dresses, tights, and boots have long been my favorite outfit in the world to wear.  With a Dooney tossed over my forearm to balance myself while walking in those heels,  I was a force to be reckoned with from late August till the snow flew.  Man, those were the days.

After Cory died, I spent about a year keeping up the facade.  Once I returned to work, I returned to fashion as a distraction.  Maybe I thought if I continued to look put together, I would act put together...kinda the way Cory used to hold herself so tightly together until she was home in her safest place.  Or maybe I thought if I preserved the way I presented myself to others, nothing would change. Preserving things is the most important task when your child dies.

I also shopped with wild abandon.  The first foray to a store after she was buried was with my oldest and dearest friend, Nicole, who took me to Kohl's.  I remember walking around in a daze, touching things Cory would like and feeling my chest cave in.  I did not like being there in a place we'd been so many times without her, and yet I couldn't leave.  So instead, I just piled everything I thought she might like into one of their little black carts and hauled all that shit up to the register.  Swipe.

Since going out places was so difficult, I started shopping online instead.  Within months, I had so many clothes, I was running out of room to store them.  But it kept me busy.  If there's one thing I can do, it's build an outfit.

All that fell flat eventually.  No matter how cute of an outfit I managed to come up with, I couldn't show it to  Cory and I couldn't let her borrow it.  In the end, the clothes stayed in my drawers, and I started to show up to work mismatched, wrinkled, and frankly, a little smelly.  I stopped wearing makeup and the only thing I did to my hair most of the time was stuff a hat over it.

Since Cory died, I've gotten my hair cut just often enough to avoid being called out on it at work, but nothing special.  No highlights.  No lowlights.  No faceframing layers.  My hair couldn't even remember its last acquaintance with deep conditioner.

So, I got my hair done a couple of days ago.  I've decided when I get Jake's school clothes, I'll get a couple things for my work wardrobe, too.  I've put myself on a strict behavior plan to wear heels to work at least twice a week.  We'll see how this goes.

The last time I was at Macy's, I wandered through the handbags out of sheer habit, and after I'd fondled a few, I saw one Cory would've went bananas over.  It was leather, caramel colored, and sort of a slouchy bohemian saddlebag kinda thing but with some hardware and studs to glam it up.  I opened it up and looked inside, imagining all her things resting inside and being carried around by a beautiful, funny, silly young woman who could walk and talk, laugh and cry because she was alive and existed in the same world as me, above ground.  I desperately wanted to take it home with me, but I reluctantly set it back on the shelf, ever so gently, not only because it cost two hundred dollars, but because  the one thing I learned with all that shopping is that buying things only made me feel better for moments at a time, and no object, no matter how desirable, could fill the gaping hole in my heart.  She is not coming back and  I've had to learn how to cope with that in a way that doesn't keep me in debt up to my eyeballs.

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

The Chow Wagon and Other Things That Make Me Sob

My husband, Tim texted me the other day to tell me he was thinking of Cory, and remembering how when she was a little girl, she'd decided to start her own small business.  She bought dog treats, repackaged them with fancy names and stickers and resold them to family and friends out of her plastic Little Tikes knock off, aptly named The Chow Wagon.  "Remember how mad she was when we went to the mall in Kalamazoo and saw The Barkery?  Someone had totally ripped off her business plan!"  Yes, indeed, she was furious.

I see that little girl, so full of life and ideas, and wonder what it would have been like to know back then that she had only ten or eleven years see it all, do it all, say it all?   Would I have raised her any differently?  Treated her differently? What would it have been like to have known the clock was ticking to an early death?

 I can see her on the first day of school, each year, standing for her required photo in the dining room, new back pack hiked up on her narrow shoulders and it's almost too much to bear. Back to school time holds so many triggers.  No more new beginnings for my girl. Eff you and your tears of the time passing and your child being in such and such grade.  Be happy your child is standing before you passing the time at all.  You are lucky, so, so lucky.  I hope you never know how lucky.

Tim somehow only talks about the good times, and smiles when he says her name. I have no idea how he does it unless it's because he never knew the new baby smell of the top of her head or watched her take her first steps.   I try to remember her with joy and purpose, but I usually end up tearing up, sobbing in mid-story, and at times of high stress, become completely consumed by my memories of the road.  They invade my workday, my drive home, and my sleep.  I don't want to remember her that way, but I cannot seem to escape it.

And when I remember the good times?  It's not the gentle comfort thing Dr. Z always promises.  Instead, it pushes that panic button in the center of my chest that screams, "You will never see her again!!!!  You will never see her again!!!  CORY!!!  I'm talking about CORY!!!"  Terror.  Sheer terror envelops me, a thick, black fog, and first I think I will die from the pain, and then slowly it dawns on me that I won't.  Somehow that's the worst thing of all.

Saturday, July 23, 2016


I'm finally getting around to some much needed de-cluttering.  I spend an evening last week sorting through the horrid landing ground of a small shelving unit in my dining room.   Everything on it should've been filed away or thrown away sometime in the last four years, but the shock and trauma of Cory's death, followed by debilitating depression prevailed. Go through papers?  I struggled to pay bills and cook meals.  But since those things have been going better lately, I finally faced the stacks.

I had to stop two or three times during the process, and slip away to watch something funny on youtube or joke with Jake.  In those stacks were the following items, each a horror to stumble across:  the police report of the accident, the receipt for Cory's plot at the cemetery, the detailed funeral bill, the quote for her monument, including the many e-mails back and forth with the designer about frost lines and installation, and something I'd never laid eyes on before...her death certificate.  Looking at that single piece of paper challenged every bit of progress I've made in the seven months.  I wanted to run away, straight out my back door and into the street, but I didn't.  I wanted to go gulp down a handful of Ativan, but surprising, even to me, I didn't.  I went to the safe haven of my room, took some deep breaths, distracted myself, and came back.

Not gonna lie to you- I harbored some of the same crazy thoughts as I did so...coming back and back and back again to the police report to the driver's name and address.  Whenever anyone kindly tells me I'm strong to have survived losing my child, I think maybe the strong part comes in when I resist the urge to go hunt that woman down.

And finally at the very bottom of the last shelf were a couple of non-official papers that wrung my heart until it dripped.  One was an I.O.U.  typewritten declaring that Cory Mansfield owed Jacob Mansfield owed three dollars, due at the end of March, with a dollar per week interest charges to be incurred with late payment.  They had both signed it.  I just bawled.

What could be worse?
 I found a spiral bound single subject notebook covered with Cory's careful print that listed all the plans for her nineteenth birthday party, had just months before the accident.  I smiled as I sobbed to see she started out with a list of over fifty guests:  childhood friends, current friends, church members, past and current teachers, and family.  I'm sure I quite crushed her bubble when I said the budget would require cutting it down to her closest handful of friends.  When told that, she decided on an American Girl doll tea party.  A few pages farther, I found a few different outfits down to tights and shoes that her doll might wear and various hairstyles.  In the end, she'd realized not everyone she had invited owned an American Girl doll, and subsequently switched the theme to a Twilight party.

She asked for little.  She wanted to include everyone.  As I scanned over the list again, I was pretty sure everyone she'd originally set out to invite to the celebration had ended up coming to her funeral,..absolutely no consolation.  Did I screw up again?  Should I have found a way to throw a huge blowout for her nineteenth birthday?  I sure wish I had, considering it was the last birthday party she would ever had and the last chance to be surrounded by all those people she cared about.  Amazing on how time produces all sorts of new things to feel guilty about and the pot of regret just grows and stews.

That was all I could handle in one setting and the shelves were empty.  The next day I looked at the wooden bench under the dining room windows that had become Cory's locker.  I lifted it, glimpsed a peek at all her school supplies, folders, and notebooks, and shut it back with a bang.  Nope.  Not going there.  Not ready.

Instead I cleared away some of miscellaneous items that keep collecting on the top.  Once those were gone, I stood and looked at her pink purse, not moved since the day she walked out my back door.  I looked at it for a really long time, walking over and peeking down inside, jerking my eyes away as if my retinas were burn right out if I lingered too long.  I tried to go through it once or twice since the accident, and fled in horror each time.  This day was no different.  Eventually I called Jake in and asked him what he thought...should it stay right where it was?  Should we move it?  If so, where?  I explained I didn't want, couldn't bear, actually, the thought of "putting her away".  He nodded silently.  We discussed at length how we felt ready to try to make our environment more orderly but we don't want her to be, in any way, not present in our everyday lives.  The "carry in your heart" stuff is lovely and all, but I'm a concrete sorta person- I need an object I can touch.  I need to lay my hands on the fact that she was here, that she was mine.  So in the end, we agreed on this:  we'd take her dozen scarves or so off the nearby coat tree, move them to her room, and hang her pink purse on the coat tree instead.

Feeling most disloyal, I picked it up and moved it approximately one foot from its original resting place.  I waited to see what I felt after it was done and watched Jake's face carefully.  "She's ok with that, Mom."  he said.  Jake, who never cries...who I don't remember seeing cry much since the funeral at all, teared up and hugged me hard.  How appropriate that this small but significant decision belong to us two and that we have equal say.  She had lived with us and shared our lives more closely than she shared any one else's.  We'd had a front seat to the best times and the worst times, some more scary than anything that should ever happen to a child, a teenager, or an adult.  She was ours. Our Cory Girl.

I looked over at her purse hung on the coat tree and decided it was ok.  Of course, I realize I just did that hoarder's trick of moving stuff from one space to another without really getting rid of anything, but maybe that's ok, too. Maybe in this case, any movement is more important than the distance travelled.

Monday, July 11, 2016

Lay Me Down

We buried Cory four years ago today.

I've felt some relief having had her death day pass six days ago.  Some of the weight slipped off my chest.  Then I opened my Facebook today and a flood of memories popped up, one on them reminding me that it is the eleventh of July and just what significance that date will always hold for me.  I don't count it down like I do the day of her death.  It somehow always takes me by surprise.  

They say you don't remember days, you remember moments.  But buddy, I remember so much of this particular day, so many moments- 

I couldn't sleep a single wink the night do you sleep the night before you bury your child?  Tim ran around the house that morning a nervous wreck, practicing his speech and asking me over and over again how old was Cory when we met...was she four?  Four, right?  Jacob in his shirt and tie, looking so small lost, his eyes eating up his face. One of the most painful moments of my life:  watching them shut the lid of her casket.  How did this happen?  How did we get here?  Feeling outside my body at the cemetery as I watched my nephews carrying her casket from the hearse to the grave site.  The final words, of which I remember none, that were spoken, nor who said them, only the fierce panic as the clock counted down the minutes until they would put my baby down there in the dark.  Feeling disassociated again at the funeral luncheon as people around me ate and talked and laughed quietly. Food being pressed on me that I refused. Our snap decision to have sparklers outside the luncheon for everyone because she had died on the fifth and our fourth had been busy, and we'd neglected to get sparklers for the kids...I held onto a sparkler someone handed me, realizing maybe for the very first time that this was real and not a nightmare.  I held onto that sparkler feeling like I might just fall off the face of the earth; my pain was too great and my mind couldn't cope. At one point everything around me faded away, everyone seemed to disappear and the volume of the world turned down low enough for me to hear the blood pumping in my ears.   I 'm still here, still alive, while she's not.  How is that fair?  Setting my alarm to nap an hour when we got home and getting right back up to go check on her at the cemetery.  Going there and seeing her plot filled in with fresh bent my body over with the brutal truth of it all.  That turned earth was just too honest.  But still my mind tried to reject the blatant evidence..  I remember wanting to shush everyone who stood beside me.  I was listening for her.  Maybe this had all been some horrible mistake.

Mostly when I first woke up this morning, I relived this day in a five minute reel in my head.  The feelings were as genuine as the day they first happened, and as my mom would say,  the tears just rolled.  I'll go on about my day now, and take comfort in Jake and my dog.  I'll do my chores and make dinner.  I'll smile and laugh because it's ok to be sad, but it's ok to be happy, too.  What I remember  most about this day every time it comes around, what is undeniable, is that the eleventh of July, 2012, is the day so much color was taken out of my world.  Putting it back?  It's a crap job, there's never enough to get it completely restored, and I can't do it alone.  Good thing I have family and friends to help, and I just do the best I can.

Monday, July 4, 2016

My Hypocrisy

So look...

I got really frustrated with Jacob yesterday...sweet, mild-mannered, easy-going Jacob.  I know.  I can't believe it, either.  He has to be the most compliant fourteen year old out there.

We'll take the sexist PMS thing right off the table.  Maybe we'll replace it with the fact that this particular week of the year I am pretty much an unpredictable grab bag of strong emotions.

What happened?

Well, Jake and I went to grab some dinner at Subway the other night.  I have been trying to go grocery shopping for about five days now.  How do you try, but fail, at something so simple as going grocery shopping?  It's the same as anything else, you procrastinate.  With Cory's death date looming, the last things in the free world that I want to be doing are grocery shopping and/or cooking dinner since these activities prompted the errand that put her in harm's way.

I made a joke the other day to my sister about it:  I'm just gonna embrace it and eat my way through the fifth of July, one restaurant at a time.  Where else can I run to?  Italy is not in the budget this year.  So even though it's not very affordable and not particularly healthy,  Jake and I have been eating out night after night after night, always with my weak promise to hit the store the next day and make enchiladas for dinner at home like a good mother.
  There are worse ways to cope, trust me.

So back to Subway.  I was halfway through having my sandwich made when I realized the handsome young man preparing it was Cory's friend's little brother.  I can't believe I didn't recognize him at first, but his hair was tied back and he looks like a young man now and not a boy.  Sure enough, when I glanced down at the hands preparing my food, there was a purple Cory bracelet around one wrist.  She is not forgotten.

This one single act massaged some salve onto my bleeding heart, and I felt better for the first time in days...the last time being when I noticed that my nephew had worn his Cory bracelet in his wedding pictures.  She is not forgotten.

And while I sometimes think perusing Facebook just makes me feel worse...a playground of all the happy people with their weddings and babies, the posts and pictures from Cory's friends have started to pop up.  She is not forgotten.

But back to Jake and Subway- I asked Jake once again why he doesn't wear Cory's bracelet.  He shrugged at first, then said, "They're too big."  If you haven't seen Jake lately, he's as tall as I am.  Maybe the bracelet was too big four years ago, but I doubted it to be true now.  I took one off my wrist and had him try it on.  He humored me, demonstrating how it fell down over his hand if his arm hung down slack.  I showed him how mine did the the same exact thing; we are a slim-wrist people.  He handed it back to me, saying maybe he would wear it later.

"Is it because it's purple?  Are you afraid people will say it's girly?"  I pressed.

"Maybe."  he answered.  I answered this with a canned speech about gender-bias and then laid out all the examples of strong males in his life who wear the purple proudly.

He listened, but didn't respond, and certainly didn't ask for a bracelet.

So that hole in my heart just got bigger.  When I feel like Cory isn't being being seen, I go into fight mode.  I pointed out that I didn't think the nice young man at the counter even knew Cory very well, but her death and her life had obviously touched him.  "You were her brother, Jake.  So what if someone asks what the purple bracelet is for?  It will give you a chance to say her name and tell them about her.  Don't you want to do that?"

As he does in almost all conflicts of opinion, Jake went silent.  His message was clear.  No, he didn't want to say her name, and he didn't want to talk about her.

Since I struggle so deeply to understand this, I just went ahead and made things worse by saying, "Jacob, if things were reversed, if you had died, and Cory were here, don't you think she'd wear your bracelet?"

Monstrous, I know.

I am the first one to call shit on someone telling me how to grieve.  The ones who tell me to move on, move forward, do this do that, stop dwelling...what do I say to them?  You have no right.  You have no idea what you would do if it happened to you.  So obviously I'm a complete hypocrite, because I can't make that stick when it comes to someone else.

And Jake's not the only one.  I don't understand why Tim doesn't go to the cemetery unless I prompt it.  It used to hurt me deeply that Cory's biological father didn't post pictures and memories of her often on Facebook.  To me, it looked like his life just went on, with little interruption.  To this day, I don't know if he's been to her grave, at all.  One of Cory's cousins hasn't been either, to my knowledge, and it remains a steady, raw ache.  See her.  Acknowledge her.  

Like it or not, the way our culture handles grief has shaped my views.  I fight many of them, but some remain. Pay your respects.

But is that any better than the "be strong", "move on", "stoic in public, crying is for private" crap I abhor?

I don't like it, and I will always be hurt for her- when people don't speak of her, show outward signs of their grief, show up to her grave,,, but it's really not my place to dictate.  How would I like it if someone told me I had to go to the cemetery every day or else that meant I didn't love her?  I held myself steady to that expectation for months after the accident and it nearly burnt me out.  When the crisis worker told me that I should stop going so often, that it meant nothing about my love for her or my ability to mother, that was freeing.  Going there every day to her final resting place would surely have driven me to suicide years ago.

For me, I hate going to the cemetery, but I could never not go.  There is an undeniable pull to visit the place where her precious bones lay.  There is little comfort in running my hands over the letters of her name, in letting my tears wet the grass above where she lies, in kissing her monument when I leave-it will never measure to kissing her face, not even the cold marble it had become the last time I saw her -, but all the same, I couldn't imagine not doing those things.

But maybe Jacob can't imagine being asked about his sister in math class and having to trot out the horrific story, becoming teary and vulnerable in front of  his peers.  That doesn't mean he doesn't love her and miss her deeply.  The bracelet?  It's a lovely gesture, and it makes my heart smile every time I see someone wearing one.  But Jacob?  He has nothing to prove.