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Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Hoarding

Tonight I won't be cooking.  I gave my husband a heads up and asked what he wanted from Schlotzky's,  When he responded, "Oh, just get me an Albuquerque Turkey like Cory used to get.", my face broke into an unexpected smile.  He said her name in casual conversation.  He referred to her like a member of the household.  How long have I waited for this?

It made me think of a moment last week when I mentioned Cory when a meeting at work ended, and people were starting to disperse.  Casual chatter breaks out often as notes are gathered, and purses are put on arms.  Without a thought, I pulled up a pic of Cory's monument on my phone and passed it around the semi-circle.

Was this appropriate?  Oh dear, I hope so.  Were my colleagues taken aback to gaze down at a headstone versus a fluffy cat or slobbering baby?  I don't know.

I just know that I still need Cory to be part of my everyday life.  The casual way I pushed her pic on people says that somehow in the midst of all this muddled grief, I have formed a new relationship with my dead child.  And guess what?  I'm just as proud of her as ever.  Isn't that why parents brag and pass photos around in the first place?  They are proud.  And I am so incredibly proud of the life Cory lived.

 Her monument is a poor substitute for a daughter, of course- a beautiful girl who talks and laughs and runs into my arms- but it is a fabulous representation of her life and the way she lived it.  It is strong and graceful.  And before the peanut gallery in the back guffaws, claiming Cory's dancing was certainly interesting, but perhaps not the exact definition of graceful, let me say this:  Cory carried herself with grace.  She fought a horrible illness with grace, dignity, and determination.  And for that, I will always admire her.

So then, there is this new relationship with her.  It's not everything I want and need, but it's what I have.  I will embrace it; but what I'm still having a hard time doing is letting go of the pain.  I am so afraid if I don't keep her death at the absolute center of my world every moment, I will lose her.  I'm afraid the razor sharp techno-color movies in my head will fade and become fuzzy.  I am barely retaining my sanity as it is, my friends.  If I had to face the rest of my days without her memory clear and strong...I would not be able to function.  So as my friend, Angie, pointed out in a recent conversation, I hoard them.  I hoard my memories of her and play them every free moment.  My anxiety has placed me in charge of preserving her memory, of keeping her alive.  Do you understand?  Jake was only ten.  What if he forgets her voice?  What if he forgets the stories?

Am I really a hoarder?  Step in my bedroom, my friend.  It is hard for me to let go of objects.  That shirt might come back in style in 5-7 years.  And yes, actually, I DO need every color offered of anything I truly love.  A Nook?  Are you kidding me?  You will pry my old, dusty, paper books from my cold, dead hands.  And yes, come to think of it, I did put a copy of one of Cory's favorite books in her casket with her.  Why?  Because you are never alone if you have a book.

So, then imagine trying to give up my daughter?  I realize there was never a choice in the matter, as far as her body and life went.  But her memory?  All the things she said?  I am the keeper, and even if it kills me, I am determined to keep them close and fresh.  I don't want that candle to blow out.  It can't.  I fear with every ounce of my being, that if I turn my attention fully to the living, to the present, to apple orchards and Christmases with a family of three, I will lose my memories of her.  They will diminish.  And if they get any smaller, I won't want to be here, anymore.  Just wind me in my shroud (the memorial blanket with her face on it, as a matter of fact), and let this horrid nightmare be at an end.

I know, I know.  I have another child.  Why aren't I making sure to take him to the pumpkin patch?  What about his childhood memories?  There is an unspoken but definitive push from others to make sure I don't forget to "make new memories" with my son.

To that, I say this:  what makes you think we aren't making new memories already?  And who says they have to take place at a pumpkin patch or at a holiday dinner?  So much that is meaningful about our lives takes place in the routine of an ordinary day.  Jake will look back on his childhood, and there will be a clean cut division:  before Cory died, and after.  I can't change that for him.  All the family gatherings or dinners out in the world won't make that any less pronounced or any less painful.  It is what it is.  Our family has had to do some very difficult adjustments since Cory died.  Some of the rituals we've kept, and others have fallen by the wayside.  That doesn't mean Jake has lost his childhood or is loved any less.  I think it means things are different now.  And that's okay.

When Jake looks back, he may remember how silly he and I are together, running around the house and cracking jokes.  He may remember that I let him take an ice cold cup of apple cider to drink into the hot shower with him the other night or how we snuck hot dogs into the movie theater.   He may remember the way we trudged through our weekends without Cory, eating meals together, just the two of us, stolidly putting one foot in front of the other.

  He will remember the good and the bad, just like any one else.  Most of all, I hope he remembers that we treated each other with love and kindness.  Really, what more can you ask for?


Monday, October 13, 2014

Better in Time?

I tolerated my birthday better this year.  Before the legion of people who have, in fact, not lost a child yet say it gets better with time leans back, nodding with satisfaction, let me say it again:  I tolerated my birthday better this year.  It was...okay.

It wasn't particularly joyous, and although it was nice to eat some yummy seafood I didn't have to cook across from my two handsome boys, I was still overwhelmingly sad and lonely.  I watched Jake laugh up into Tim's face, and Tim laugh down into his.  Those two are mirror images.  I love watching them, and it kills me at the same time.

 Tim works nights, and time with him is precious to Jake.  I get that.  I watched them so in tune with each other, as they joked and bantered.  At one point, Jake reached up casually and swiped his hand across Tim's whiskers, just to feel them.   Tim looked surprised and bewildered, but Jake kept up the chatter, never missing a beat.  I reached out and rested my palm on the empty space in the booth next to me.   It's hard not to seethe with jealousy, even towards my own husband and son.  This pain can turn a person into someone he or she doesn't want to be, someone that's hard to like.

We all got a slice of cheesecake to go- even Tim can tell when the party of three has become too much for me to handle.  Once home, I retreated to my bed with my new journal and pen in hand.  After some bitter journaling (not bullet journaling, mind you,  bitter journaling), I pulled out my planner to wrap up my day, and smiled the tiniest bit to see the note I'd placed there.  I'd run across it a dozen times in the course of my day.  It said, "Happy Birthday, Mommy!"  Heart, Cory.

Such a small thing, really.  But somehow she'd been included in the day.  I had given her a voice, imagined what she'd tell me if I was ready to hear it, and put it somewhere I'd see it often.  It helped more than I'd ever thought.  I must have smiled five or six times that day.
 Last year, I smiled none.
Progress.

Saturday, October 4, 2014

Letting Go?

"Sometimes you find yourself letting go of things simply because they are too heavy."

That line was in my story about Cory and I trying to carry a gigantic out-dated TV down the steps to the basement alone. Cory made it about halfway before letting go and walking away, leaving me holding something much too heavy for the two of us to be hefting in the first place.  Do you remember that story?

I reread it off the blog a couple of days ago, and I thought about this:

There are things I wanted from Cory's biological father for her, and for me, that he could not or would not provide.  End of story.  I can let that all go now.  I have met that primal need to not just scribble something down in my private journal in the middle of the night or to draft a letter meant to be burnt into ash at sunrise as my pets watch on dubiously, but to publicly name the one who hurt and disappointed me and the child we made together.  My heart has been so sick with it, and now that all chances are gone for him to make things right with her, it is time to lay those hurts and disappointments to rest, as well.  They are too heavy to carry.  And they really never belonged to me in the first place, did they?  Why in the world did I ever reach down and pick them up?

 I don't have to talk to him to know he regrets much.  He does.  And I'm sure he always will.  I need room in my heart and my mind for the image of that cockamamie tv moving endeavor gone wrong.  I need to see her cackling on the living room floor beside me, "Sorry, Mom, it was every man for themselves!"

And last night, I read an old blog post with this line:  " I would share my pain with no one; it was all I had left of her."

That is just how it has felt for a very, very long time.  The thing is that I don't think it's accurate.  I think that perspective was skewed deeply by the trauma of the accident scene- the way I saw her was so horrifying, it filled the world.  It filled my world.  And what happens when you see something so significant, so emotionally charged?  Your brain replays it over and over again, and a certain weight is assigned to that singular experience. 

 It was, hands down,  the most terrifying thing I've ever seen.  I was with no one I knew.  There is no one who can truly understand just how awful it was to see her that way.  There is no one to talk it over with that doesn't wince and try to change the subject.

That was the last way I saw her, outside of the funeral home.  But it was not the most frequent way I saw her.  It was not the ONLY way I saw her.  It may have been the LAST interaction we had, outside of the funeral home, but it was an unfortunate end to a LIFETIME of wonderful, laughter-filled, loving experiences.  

My pain is NOT all I have left of her.  I have love and kindness, patience and humor.  And those are meant to be shared with as many people as I possibly can before I join her in the plot next to hers someday.  


Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Tonight Is One

There are the nights when I can't sleep- my chest too tight and my throat threatening to close up shop.  The smallest memory brings it on- just her smile or the thought of the two of us doubled over in laughter, as we so often were.  I see her often in my mind, waiting with Jake at the window, watching for my car to pull into the driveway after work.

 Usually smiling before I could see them, I'd coax the car over the bricks- bounce, bounce, bounce- and then turn my head to the right, searching the windows for the sight of their well-loved faces pressed to the glass.  One or both would begin waving wildly, and more often than not they would both jump up and down.

 No matter what sort of day I'd had out in the world, coming home to my babies was the best part of it.  Sometimes it wasn't easy- being a parent isn't all fun and games- but I knew I was where I belonged, and that as long as those two beautiful souls were smiling to see me approach, I was doing a lot of things right.

It is hard to live in this house.  I see her everywhere.  I hate pulling in the driveway after work.  I hate the road.  I fantasize about blowing it up one day- that stretch on which I ran to get to her and the part where she landed after the driver struck her.  Prison time might just be worth seeing the whole stupid thing just going up in a huge fireball, pieces of concrete and asphalt falling like rain.  Maybe the yellow line could end up embedded on someone else, like the paint from the driver's car ended up embedded on...things.

But most of all, it is hard to believe that this has actually happened- that she is dead and in the ground.  How can this possibly be?  Two years later, and I still don't have the faintest idea, nor does my heart believe it's true.  Not Cory.  Not my girl.  Not my cherished one.

There are those nights where I can almost sense she's about to creak open my bedroom door and come in, complaining that she can't sleep, that the voices won't be quiet.  Tonight is one.

I watch the door with my breath held and listen so carefully.  It never opens.

Acceptance, I abhor you.  You are a heartless bastard.


Saturday, September 27, 2014

From Why to What and Back Again

Trying my butt off here, my friends.  I've been making a conscious effort to stop asking "why?"  and start asking "what?".

The why is never answered, anyway.  Why Cory?  Why when she was getting so much better?  Why did I lose my child when so many others get to keep theirs?  Why to a million pieces of this horrid puzzle that add up to nothing but the same old misery and rage.

So then, let's try what.  What can I do to get through this day?  What can I do to get through this moment?  What comes next?  What example do I want to show Jake about grieving, about honesty, about accepting help from others when you need it?  What can I do to keep Cory's name on people's lips?  What can I do with all this love for her that I need to give?

See, I try.  Sad faced Nicole who has bad days and worse days, seldom good days, does try.  I've filled my trusty planner with optimistic quotes, so completely out of character, that I think Cory just shakes her head at me, and says, "Bless her heart, has it really come to this?"

 A few days ago I bought a new dress and a new purse, which sounds like no big deal, but really is.  Right after Cory's death, I bought the stores out trying to distract myself and keep up appearances, but once the dust settled, I couldn't care less if I wore a burlap sack day in and day out.

I saw no one I knew when I looked in the mirror, just a broken old woman who never smiled...and didn't care what she wore or how she looked, or even remembered why she should care about her appearance at all.

 And somewhere, deep down, for a long, long time, I've felt I didn't deserve to buy something pretty or feel good about how I looked- not the woman who'd let her firstborn get run down in the street like a dog.  I didn't deserve to look good or feel good, or even be here drawing breath, if you got right down to it.

So there's your honesty for the day.

  Now here's my progess:

I bought a pretty lace pale pink vintage-look dress the color of ballet slippers.  I have a pair of  greige boots postively covered in buckles and hardware,  that paired with tights will toughen it right up.  I will wear my long Cory locket with it- the one with the picture of her, all dark hair, creamy skin, and luminous eyes, and a big silver "C" on the back.  When I wear this dress, I'll frame my eyes with gray eyeliner, and take the time to put a couple of curls in my hair.  I strongly suspect I'll look in the mirror, and see the girl who carried herself so proudly as Cory's mom not too long ago.  I hope that will be a good day.  I hope.

This past week, I went to the dentist to have my teeth cleaned for the first time since Cory's death.  I had put it off for far too long, first not giving a crap if all my teeth fell out or not since I wished I was dead beside my girl in the ground, and then terrified and certain they would tell me my teeth must be pulled right away...all of them.  Gum disease.  Bone loss.  The whole nine yards.

Well, I buckled down and made the appointment.  I nearly cancelled it.  Then I hiked up my big girl panties, and went anyway.  I called ahead to ask if I could take anxiety meds before my appointment, and they were very understanding.  They let me listen to music on my Beats, and although I kept my butt muscles clenched tightly throughout the entire appointment, and sat nearly a quarter inch off the seat, resting solely on my fear and anxiety, I got through it.  The dentist laughed indulgently at my predictions of tooth loss, and declared I had no cavities, and my gums are perfectly healthy.

Back in the parking lot, I turned a page in my planner, and crossed dental visit off my self care list I've been ignoring forever.  Only about a dozen things left now.

And finally, I went to a family event of my own free will.   My dad turned 80 this past week, and although I dreaded seeing that imaginary empty chair where Cory should be, I could not give up the chance to spend this special day with my father.  He is everything kind, gentle, and trustworthy that can and should exist in a man.  He has laid his hands on me, along with my mother, as the wracking sobs of losing Cory have had their way with my body- two days after she died, two months, two years, and an untold amount of days in between.   Every time I pass the threshold of his home, I know I am in a place of comfort and no judgment, just love and kindness, patience and understanding.  If he can give that me consistently, surely I could bear this one dinner for him?

So I did the thing I despise in others the most: I put on the mask, and I performed.  I smiled; I laughed; I even table-hopped.  I made jokes and told stories, hamming it up as the old Nick would've done, prior to 2012.  I wonder if anyone could tell I was dying inside to see my niece and nephews healthy and whole, sitting with their folks, just existing the magical way that they seem to do.  All my whats fell short in the sight of parents with their children within arms reach, able to touch and kiss and talk at will.  The whys came back to haunt me, winding their way slyly around the tables of  happy people eating lobster and pasta, so bold and obvious, I could nearly reach up and pluck them out of the air.  What to do with these pesky whys?

I shall paint them out, captured by my own hand, and then despite their desperate cries to stay a little longer, I will firmly turn the page.

What and I have business to do.



Monday, September 15, 2014

Confessions From the Mosh Pit


Self-regulation:  some children learn it at an early age; some adults have never mastered it.  I confess when I taught pre-school, it was my number one objective.  Yes, I wanted them to learn pre-academics, but I knew that someday they would most likely know all the letters of the alphabet and how to count to a hundred.  Most of them would eventually learn to  identify shapes and colors, and cut paper with scissors.  So what instead was my biggest focus, and something they might not ever learn unless I taught them?
To manage their feelings.

I explained it to parents this way:  their children needed to enter public school ready to learn, and while all the academic skills would certainly help, but they also needed to know how to get along with others, how to follow a routine and directions, and how to problem solve.

Without these skills, school and life can be much more difficult.  Most felons?  Probably not the best with self-control.

If at school, you become overwrought with fury and sock it to the person next to you, learning comes to an immediate halt, and consequences aren't far off...more time away from learning.

The adult's question is always "why?"  Why did Tommy hit Sally?  It does no good to ask Tommy, of course- Tommy may or may not even know.  It does help to ask the question to ourselves, and watch Tommy a little closer next time to see what, if anything, prompted his action, and what gain he was able to derive from it.

All of this well-intended behavior analysis aside, last Friday night, I discovered that there is still this humble but undeniable truth:  it just feels good.

Doesn't it?  Have you ever just wanted to give someone a good shove or a light slap?
The reason we don't is because it's not acceptable behavior, and there are consequences for those who cannot follow these basic social norms.  Most of us enjoy our freedom too much to risk it for the satisfaction of beating someone senseless.  (Well, that, and most of us developed some self-control at some point in our formative years).

So, what if you remove those expectations?  What if you put a few hundred people, with their various rages and angsts, inside a dwelling and tell them it's perfectly okay- even encouraged- to push and shove?

Buddy, sign me up.
Do you hear me?  I stood there the other night at the concert of my favorite band watching the crowd begin to move back and forth in a light wave, and slowly realized that to the music, these people were "moshing"- deliberately pushing and slamming up against each other to demonstrate their enjoyment of the music, and perhaps to work out their anger?  The word mosh was originally an acronym for "move over shit head"- as in that obnoxious stranger in the crowd that in your line of sight and refuses to budge an inch.

Look, I had already realized I was very nearly the oldest person a this show while waiting to get in.  When an eighteen year old slip of nothing girl with a belly ring came up and asked if I'd take her and her friends picture, it was all cemented home, "Umm, excuse me, ma'am?  Would you please take our picture?"

Ouch... ma'am.  I guess my days of climbing on the speakers to see the band better are over.  What I wasn't too old for, however,  was to take advantage of the new rules of etiquette.

I looked around at all the sweat streaked faces- some with smeared makeup, some with piercings, and saw in my mind some people I'd like to have a good go at:  the insurance lady, a few of Battle Creek Police Department's finest, the rescue workers, and none other than the driver herself.  To the angry music, I gave a satisfying yell, and pushed with all one hundred and twelve pounds of me.  I really put my back into it, and you know what?  It felt mighty fine.

I was lost in the satisfying meaty feel of pushing against someone else's flesh in an effort to knock them off balance, if not completely over,  perhaps picturing her father's face when he showed us his back for the hundredth time, when my husband caught up to me.  I was just considering climbing into some stranger's hands for a little crowd surfing when he pulled me back, shaking his head with a grin.

Maybe he was right.  I was wearing glasses that night.

But the next mosh pit?  Count me in.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Worth

I can't avoid writing about this any longer.  It's stuck in my throat, and I can't get past it.


For too many years, I measured my worth on my value to another person.  If he missed me, I felt good about myself.  If he didn't, I must not be enough for someone to miss.

If things didn't work out, I hadn't tried hard enough, performed well enough, or tolerated enough.

It was never him; it was always me.

So he told me, and so I believed.

I am so past all that shit.  Or at least I thought I was until I realized I've been keeping tabs on someone else's reaction to Cory's death for the last two years, and for what reason?

Why do I care if he misses her?

Cory's worth does not depend on how another person grieves her, or what she meant or did not mean to him.  She had a full and happy life completely independent of him.

 I cannot judge or even know how someone else grieves for my daughter, but this much I do know:  as much as I feel I am being burned alive in my grief for her, I was once completely set alive by her smile, her eyes, and  her laugh.  The pain now is the price of the joy then.

  I am mourning her entire lifespan, every moment, while he can only mourn the small slice of her that  he took the trouble to get to know.  I could name every scar on her body before the day she died.  I knew every story.  Her tears were mine, and mine were hers.

So what if he doesn't mourn her out loud, in public, or at all?   She will always be completely irreplaceable magic and joy, not a disposable girl to be forgotten, a failed attempt, or a closed door.

 Sure, she deserves to be missed, but she deserves to be missed by someone who knew her well and treated her better.