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Saturday, July 23, 2016

Paperwork

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 before...how 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 dirt...it 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.

Sunday, June 26, 2016

The Death-Versary

And so it almost here again- the death-versary.  The dread begins with the first truly hot day of the season and ends not the day of her death, but maybe by September?

Every single failure, guilt, and horror are trotted out for my perusal.

Hey, remember how the night before she died, you told her to stop breathing on you at the movies?  

Yeah.  I did that.  I told her to stop breathing on me at The Amazing Spiderman, and not even twenty four hours later, she would never breathe again.

I can't believe you scolded her for eating with her hair in her soup at Panera's...that was the last meal she ever ate.  How could you?

Yeah, I did that, too.

Hey, don't forget how when you got home from the movies that night, you holed yourself up in your room to work on your paper for class, and probably made her feel like she wasn't as important as your grade point average.  Good job there, dumb ass.

All the rest are darting images and feelings...none in order, all that cut and hit and knock me flat:

The casket lid being closed...running down the road, slap-thud-slap-thud..."Love you, bye!" ...I killed her...I killed my baby...that's it, then, it's over, can I be done now?...please don't let this be real...why aren't they doing anything?  where are the freaking paddles? ...her name is on the board, people are coming to see her BODY because she's DEAD...does it matter where we put her?  does it matter, it's all just a hole in the ground!!...God doesn't exist, he wasn't there...her shoes were still tied...how fast do you have to be going to embed your vehicle's paint on...things...?..."You sure you don't mind, Cory, it's awfully hot out there?"








Thursday, June 23, 2016

Lost

Jake and I have been rewatching Lost on Netflix these last couple of weeks- at least two episodes before bedtime, sometimes three.  Cory, Jake, and I watched the entire series together years ago, Jake being the brains of the operation as we all struggled to follow the plot, but in all actuality he was only eight or nine at the time, so for him, it's like a brand new show...he has forgotten all but the major characters and basic premise.  Me, though?  I remember most of it, and especially what it was like to watch it cuddled up on the couch with Cory on one side and Jake on the other, one of us always  called out for hogging the blanket.

We did Lost Pizza Night for the first couple of seasons, and I'd make homemade pizza.  We'd eat in front of the tv (shameful, I know, but quite delightful, really).  Then we went through the phase of baking cookies or brownies.  There was always something to share.

I remember how fun, if slightly awkward, it was for Cory and I to find ourselves lusting over Sawyer and Sayid with equal enthusiasm.  She used to say that whenever Sawyer entered a scene, I would thrust my chest out involuntarily.  Maybe I did.  She spent her fair share of time fanning herself at the sight of Sayid's burning gaze, so we were pretty even.

 I didn't experience anything like it with my mother until we went to Italy together years later and helplessly drooled over all those beautiful men.  Also, Mom has quite the crush on Liam Neilson, which I don't share, but quite enjoy watching.  It is so cute.

Invariably, I'll find myself crying while watching an episode of Lost with Jake because I can so clearly remember what it felt like when she was here and we were all together, our bodies in a line, shoulder to shoulder, everyone warm and alive... when the only danger was make-believe on the screen and our circle of safety was still intact.

  I haven't quite figured out how to remember her without it tearing me apart.  I wish I had a magic sieve so all the happy moments could float right to the top and  all the pain of her not being here would retreat down the drain. I wonder if that ever happens.  I kind of doubt it.  I think you can't have one without the other.  They are seamless, unavoidable partners.

To love and to remember her- it comes at a cost.  So if I seem to be embracing my suffering- as some have accused me of- I can only say, I won't move on without her.  I will never leave her behind.  And if it hurts to do so...so be it.  She's worth it.

If anyone figures out a better way- you know, a way to time travel, a cure for PTSD, or happens to invent that magic sieve, let me know.  I'd be all over it.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Duck Duck Goose

 I saw a little girl at Pizza Hut tonight that reminded me so much of Cory at that age, it completely unnerved me.  She didn't really look like her, you understand; she behaved like her.  I smile a little now to report the two or three year old with the whispy Pebbles ponytail that I saw was quick on the move, listening to none of her parents' scoldings as she made for the kitchen with a certain determined flair.  Her mother pulled her back as she marched her way past the register, and I could see her wide eyed expression as she was toted back to the table (with a modest swat on her plump little fanny):  not fazed in the least.  She waited a couple of minutes- perhaps for her parents to catch their breaths- before giving it another go.  

Have I mentioned that Cory quite knew her own mind from a young age?

The first date I went on with my husband was dinner at the local Chinese restaurant.  Cory went with us, and spent the majority of the meal under the table quacking like a duck.  This bothered me very little, as I found her very entertaining, but I fully expected to never hear from Tim again.  He already didn't strike me as a kid kinda guy, and Cory was not the seen-and-not-heard type of child.  

So I stalker-watched this little girl at Pizza Hut and restrained myself from going over to the family's table to tell them that although this little lady might be a wee bit challenging at times, she was also full of life in a way a merely quiet, fully-compliant-at-all-times child would never be.  I wanted to tell them to take it easy on her because it wouldn't matter in ten years that she needed to sit under the table instead of at it, because she would eventually learn to do it, and while she did, she would probably make them shriek with laughter until their sides hurt.  In short, she would be their delight, as Cory was mine.  

How do you measure grief?  Can it be measured?  Sure it can.  How much of your heart did she occupy when she was here?  That's how empty it will be when she's gone.  How many of the dark corners of your soul did she set alight with her eyes, her voice, her laugh?  If there were many...if it was all of them...well, my friend, you are screwed.  I've always been an all or nothing sort of girl, so yeah, there's that.

I spent the rest of dinner thinking about this one certain toy Cory had when she was a toddler.  It was a washer and dryer combo from KayBee toy store at the mall, which was kind of a big deal as most of her toys came from the Dollar Store except for what Santa brought once a year.  I remember worrying she didn't have enough doll clothes to do a proper load, and how I raided the kitchen drawers for dishrags to fill the gap.  But in the end, she wanted to wash her baby dolls.  Maybe some of her pretend kitchen food...a chicken leg here, an ear of corn there.  She was content as could be.  I can see her now, all chubby cheeks and stubby pony tail, laboriously stuffing that washing machine with babies until the door would barely shut, opening it up now and again to stuff in an errant limb.  
She knew exactly what she wanted to do, and how to do it.  

She always did.

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Managing Expectations

Tonight, I caught myself in one of those situations that was absurd, yet completely typical.

Crying while remembering Cory?  I do it all the time.  Sometimes I start crying and then get caught up in something else...my phone beeps or the dog barks to be let in or Jake calls my name.  Tonight, all three happened, and I was well into putting Winston into his safety harness with Jake, playing ventriloquist in my most convincing seven month old puppy voice before I felt the tears were still on my face, having grown cold there.

Jake didn't notice, and I rather suspect that I've cried so much since the death of his sister, he considers it my baseline behavior.  What struck me was that I could be engaged with Jake, quite properly, but still aching so much that the tears came and continued, whether I was aware of them or not.

That is what it is to bury your child.  I get dressed and pour juice and pay bills and do laundry and drive and feed pets and joke with my son.  I work and sleep and argue with my husband.  I watch movies and laugh and read and draw.  I do it all while watching that wretched sheet float down over her body.  I do it all while watching them lower her coffin into the ground.  It's not the easiest multi-tasking, let me tell you.  But I do it.  I hate it.  But I do it.

Moving forward is staying alive.  Full stop.