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Saturday, December 3, 2016

Cut Short

"The hardest part is letting go of your dreams."  And her dreams.

After Thanksgiving, I spent hours holed up in bed binge watching the new Gilmore Girls, A Year in the Life, that had just been released to Netflix.  I had my reservations about watching it at all because it was our show, and I haven't been able to watch a single re-run since she died.  My hesitation was that Rory, the daughter, would show up engaged, married, pregnant, or any combination of the aforementioned.
But I thought, what the hell, and watched it anyway.  Spoiler alert, stop reading if you don't want to know what happened.

The last four words were:



"I'm pregnant."

I think my next words were the f-bomb dropped four times in a row, loudly, and with genuine fury.  I may have pounded my fist on my bedspread.
Yes, I was truly angry about this fictitious character's ability to bring forth life.

Is this logical?  Probably not.  But neither is grief.

People who have commented on the ending of this show talked about the parallel of Rory telling Lorelai she was an unwed mother-to-be when Lorelai had been unwed when she carried Rory and then raised her alone.  In whatever way you want to look at it, the story had come full circle.

My full circle was to have my daughter die at 19, which was the same age I was when I gave birth to her.

Am I saying I wanted Cory to be pregnant and unmarried?  Well, not preferably, because I know how hard it is to do, even with the best parents in the world behind me.  But would it have been the worst thing?  No, not at all.  The worst thing is to have no chance at all to feel life grow within you, whether or no that life was conceived within the more socially acceptable bounds of matrimony.  The worst thing is to never have the chance to give birth to the person who would be your soulmate and make you a better person.

So then, obviously, someday becoming a mother was one of my dreams for her.

What were some of hers?  I've relayed a lot of them here from conversations we had, but this past week, I found some black and white evidence from Cory's own words.

While cleaning through my desk, I stumbled upon a copy of Cory's Individualized Education Plan.  Because of her age (she was 17),she was able to provide input to her evaluation team.  They asked her specific questions about her future goals and recorded exactly what she said.

Adult Living:  Corinne wants to live with her mother.  She truly never wants to move out.

Career/Employment:  Corinne wants to become a mental health/disabilities coordinator like her mom or go into some line of social work.

Community Participation:  Corinne wants to remain involved in her church.  She would like to volunteer for school programs.

Post-Secondary Education/Training:  Corinne would like to go to Kellogg Community College for 2 years and then transfer to Western Michigan University.

Those were her dreams.  She asked for so little, and deserved so much more that what she received.  I sobbed over this, and it disturbed my sleep for the entire week.

My sweet girl just wanted to feel safe, help people, and learn.

I knew this already.  But to see it written out from Cory's own words.  Oh, my heart.

Friday, December 2, 2016

A Place at the Table

So let's go over this again...
if you're wondering whether or not to bring up the Mom's dead child at a holiday dinner...

it's always a DO.

It's not going to catch the mother by surprise.  She is well aware her child is dead.  She gets no peace from this constant thought.  It is always there.

It's not going to upset her or make her sad.  She is already upset.  She is already sad.  It will, however, hurt her deeply to have no mention made of her absent child  while festivities go on as if she never existed in the first place.

These gatherings that celebrate family and togetherness when togetherness for you and your loved one is an impossibility....they are hell to go to and hell to sit through.  Am I clear?  I am living in hell every day I spend walking around this earth with my heart in the ground in the first place.  That is my baseline.   And then, you want me to come to a place where everyone is gathered, alive, and eat food, smiling and laughing while I am hurting so badly I cannot think straight?   And Cory is never mentioned?

 Instead of looking at an empty space at the counter or a chair that sits unused...could we make a space for my Cory-Girl?  Can we please set out a plate for her?  Her favorite pink cup that she always had to use every Sunday dinner?  Can we light a candle and set out a framed photograph of her?

Save her a space in our family.  Include her.  Make it impossible to NOT talk about her.  Somebody get up the balls to say what Cory liked best to eat or something funny she said once.  Somebody please say you wish she was here!  Are we thankful only for ones left that can belly up to the table and smile into our faces or are we thankful for the ones who can no longer do that, but deserve to be remembered, all the same.  Come on, people, I know you have some Cory stories in there somewhere.

Does it always have to be me inserting her into conversation?   If I'm the one who always brings her name to the table, well...I was the one accused of "wallowing" in my grief, wasn't I?

Thanksgiving this year was rotten.  It went like this:

Saw Mom and Dad.  Good.
Had a plate of food.  Nice.
Everyone was jolly and smiling, happy and joking.
No one said her name.  Not once.
It was a lot of pressure to look normal when I felt anything but.
Ate my food.  Got more ham.  Cut the first slice of pumpkin pie.  Shoveled it in.
Ran away from all those happy faces and sat on the couch with my knees up to my chin, taking refuge in a carb induced nap
Kissed my parents' dear faces.
Ran like hell.
Spent the next two days in bed, heartbroken, jealous, and angry by turns.

Here's the deal.  If Cory's not gonna be some form...I'm not coming.  We are a package deal.

She's worth mentioning.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Countdown to Turkey Dinner

I'm trying like crazy to distract myself.
Because as another bereaved mother stated today, "It does not get easier with time, as so many people have said".
So these last few days moving towards the big family gathering, I've been cooking big meals, trying new recipes, immersing myself in news, politics, music, art...I've been logging too many hours on Netflix, Youtube, "pretend" internet shopping (where you fill the cart with all your wanties, but never actually pull the trigger).  I've been painting, collaging, drawing, and writing up a storm...anything to fend off this inevitable jealousy, that is so real and so thick. Picture me, camped out in Starbucks for hours, hunched over a pile of paper and leather notebooks, with a heap of art supplies spread out in a semi-circle around me.   I'm trying to be a good person, and rise above, but in the end I sink back, exhausted.  I'm just a mom who wants her girl.

It does not get easier with time. The loss of Cory still fills my world.  Some days, it's buried under routine and busyness, but it's always there, just under the surface, and some days -like today- it's the loudest voice in my head.

And so here comes the stupid holiday that magnifies this loss, as if it's not big enough already.  I want to hide, but I know I have to go to be with my parents and part of me wants to, I love them so much.  The hard part will be to see everyone else who is alive and flourishing...there will be job talk and house talk and wedding talk...maybe future grand baby talk.  Each conversation about another child's steps through life will feel like such a blow to my flesh and Cory's face will rise up...what would she look like now?  What would she be doing?  What would her plans be?

The unfairness of it all rises up and with it,brings the anger and rage.  I'll smile tightly in all the right places.  I'll banter because I'm pretty good at that, but it will be killing me inside.  My mom's incredible dressing that we all fight over, especially the crispy corner pieces, will sit in my stomach like a rock.

"The hardest part is letting go of your dreams."
Yes, and watching others get theirs.  Where are my girl's engagement pics?  Where is her handsome young man who is kind and funny?  Where is her little diamond to wink in the sunlight when she talks with her hands while sharing a funny story?  Where is her cramped kitchen with the hilly linoleum floor?   Where is the joy she should be experiencing to never have to say goodbye again at the end of the night?

The dress?  Sure, she should have that.  Walking her down the aisle?  I have dreams about it to this day, certainly, but marriages fail...
so I grieve for her just that feeling alone.
Where is her shot to put herself all in with another person?  Where is her "no one else will do" big love of her life, even if it's not one to stand the test of time?  Where is that for her?  Why did she get cheated out of that experience?
I'm not completely selfish, I don't just grieve the experiences I don't get to have, I think all the time about the ones she didn't get to have.

It's a lot to swallow.

Monday, November 14, 2016

Brain Stem and Limbic System Collide

I've been thinking a lot lately about Cory's service, and about how Bob flew up here to see her:
 "It's Bob, devastated by the news, on my way to BC."

I was frozen.  Didn't respond.  Couldn't respond. Brain stem.

 How do you text someone to explain that  you inadvertently, but most certainly, sent your mutual child to her death? Would he agree that it was indeed my fault?

So instead, I held the phone, reading and rereading that single line in the backseat of the car, unable to stop shaking, finally allowing myself to be led by the arm into a florist to pick out gobs and gobs of flowers to put on top of my child's casket.  It was the beginning of several surreal experiences. They all had capital letters:  The Selection of the Flowers.  The Choosing of the Casket.  Deciding on a Cemetery.  The Securing of the Plot.  Dressing Your Dead Child.  Viewing Your Child's Corpse.  The list went on and on, each thing more horrifying than the last.  Brain Stem.
 I have the vaguest recollection of demanding roses and firmly overriding Tim's suggestion that everything be pink.  There was a little table or a desk that we gathered around, some woman, my Mom, and my sisters. I remember my knees shaking hard enough to move the table above them. There was a big album to choose from like when you plan a wedding.  I remember feeling like I was floating above my body.  I fought the urge to vomit the entire time I sat there.  Walking out of that store was sweet relief.

By the time Bob got here, I had decided he'd forfeited his right to be there when he told Cory she was crazy and when he told me I could keep my schizophrenic kid.  Yes, I would keep her and I would put her to bed this last time without him just like every year of her childhood. Just like every single year-the sweet smell of her baby scalp, her chubby toddler body, her sturdy little girl body, her gawky pre-teen, long, lanky frame, her young adult body that sometimes shook with tears when the voices were particularly scary and demanding.  "Hold me, Mommy, I'm scared."  Limbic system.  Where were you for this girl?  You show up NOW?
 Was it the right thing to do?  It sure felt like the right thing, but I was quite out of my mind, so I'm not really sure. Protecting her seemed paramount, probably even more so since I had failed to do so when it counted most.  I had all those times he'd hurt her and disappointed her pulled up in my mind ("I lived without you for ten years and I can live without you for ten more") and anyone who had hurt her like that...well, they were not welcome.  Limbic system.

So now, when I look back, I can see I made that decision with my emotions and I start to feel responsible.  But then, I remember that his actions towards Cory happened, regardless of how I felt about them.  Those actions were not my fault, so I cannot be held entirely to blame.  Stand up fathers who treat their children well, who provide for them, who love and care for them their entire lives are seldom turned away from their children's funerals.  You just don't see it much.

 I don't feel good about my decision.
But somehow, I bet Bob doesn't feel too great about his decisions, either.
 It was what it was.  I have to live with my decision of not allowing him to come to the funeral just as he has to live with failing Cory her entire life.  I hope for his sake and his son's that he's doing better by his boy than he did by my girl.

The Good Fight

My approach to the holiday season over the last four years has been "Hell, no, I won't go!".  The only thing missing was a strongly worded sign with a catchy slogan to express my disapproval and objection to the holidays going on without my girl- something I could heft around while marching around my parents' neighborhood, actively making my voice heard. #notwithoutmygirl

It struck me when I woke up one morning this weekend that opting out of family holiday functions has been a protest to Cory's death entirely.  Part of it has been avoidance to the task-it is damn hard work to be around a bunch of joyous people who can touch and hug their children at will.  Underneath the fog of anxiety meds, I would gaze across the room at her empty chair, my eyes would fall on one of my nieces, nephews, or one of my sisters and I would feel the jealousy just swallow me up, covering any kind or decent part of me and turning me into somehow I'm not proud to be.   I'd listen to the casual chatter and laughter, all the while trying my best to figure out how they got to be over there while I was over here in hell.  Cue the guilt, with suicidal thoughts soon to follow.  But underneath it all was the simple fact that I didn't want to acknowledge that she was really gone.

What I figured out pretty quickly was that if I didn't put myself at that table, eating dressing and faking small talk, I could ignore what was happening entirely.  Denial, we meet again.  And again.  And just when I think we've parted ways forever...we might hit each other up just to see how the other has been.  Hey, stranger.  Long time, no see.

The longer I put off coming to or being full present (i.e. not bombed out of my mind on anxiety medication) at holiday events, the longer I could refuse to accept my new reality.  It was more time that I could preserve the past as it was when Cory was here.  And let me tell you, that felt markedly better than sitting there watching the happy families bantering away while my heart shriveled in my chest.  I could be safe in my bed.  If I took enough meds, I could sleep through the whole damn thing.  If had to show up, they'd get my body only, I'd medicate myself right out of the experience.  I'm here, can't say I'm not...but it hurts too much, so I'm not really here. Are you happy now?

It worked quite well for me, so what's the problem?  One problem is the time I gave up with my parents.  I know that someday, all too soon, I will be wishing for five more minutes with them, just five.  And by the time I'm wishing for it, it will be an impossibility.  Losing Cory has taught me that.  It would be a shame to lose the lesson.  What else is her senseless death worth, if not that?

The second problem is that I'm giving up the chance to make new memories with Jacob.  This is his childhood, his adolescence, and his upbringing, too.  He does not deserve to be short-changed.  He is important.  He is worthy.  And even though, our holidays, I suspect, have changed forever and will always have a somber cast to them until he goes off and starts holiday traditions with a family of his own- creating a safe circle in which all participants are alive- they are still special days to share...together.  Watching his face, making him smile, hearing him laugh...these are the things that make living,despite the pain, worth it.  I don't want to sacrifice those moments because it's easier.

So, I'm gonna try to show up for Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners, and...wait for it...  I will try not to be bombed out of my mind. 

Christmas Eve is still open for debate.  I may not make that.  But at least I'm starting to think that at some point I probably should.

Sunday, November 6, 2016

Power Nap

Today, while napping, I had my favorite dream- the one in which she's home running around fine and they buried someone else in her box.  I could feel her solid weight as she jumped into my lap and I could breathe her in as I kept asking her if she could believe the whole thing had been a mistake.  Pure joy.  Pure delight.  Utter and sheer relief.  The world was a safe place once again.

I wish I could touch her hair and hold her that close again.  The dream was so vivid and shot my senses fuller than any illegal drug ever could.  Somewhere, even while asleep, my subconscious knew the truth because the paranoia set in, wondering when this sweet respite would come to an end, which it did all too soon.

Oh my, the feeling of her in my arms one more time.  People just don't know if they haven't experienced it.

Sunday, October 30, 2016

Here I Am

The question right there at the scene of the accident was, "What have I done?"
By the time her body was prepared and she was lying on that satin pillow, it was, "How did we get here?"
After the shock wore off, it was dully, stolidly, "What is the point?"  My heart was put right into that dark hole in the ground with her.  Let me die.
So much anger followed...anger at the driver, at the paramedics, at the people whose children still lived.  Most of all, there was anger at myself.  And so often, searing hot rage at the people who refused to let me give up, who refused to let me get down in a dark hole in the ground right beside her, in the plot now set aside for my body...that someday, she will never have be there alone, in the dark, again.

Grudgingly, over the last year, I've admitted that continuing to live is the right thing to do.  I seldom entertain thoughts of suicide anymore.  My lens has finally widened enough from the trauma to see Jake in my world- my responsibility to him, but also the joy he brings me every single day.  One thing about losing a no longer take for granted the magic of watching your child breathe and move.  I won't squander that magic.  I won't.

"Let me die."  is basically what I said over and over again for the first three years after Cory's death, sometimes lightly, sometimes bitterly, and all too often with a dangerously flat and practical tone.  It seemed so obviously to be the only way out.  It was not that I was weak or a coward or did not love my family and friends; it was that I could not see a future out of the immense pain that enveloped me every day, and I was tired, so tired.

Here are the people who refused to let me hurt myself, who refused to let me give up, who saw value in me when I no longer saw it in myself, who shook sense into me, who sat uncomfortable, but steady, while I sobbed, screamed, and ranted:  Mom, Dad, Angie, Anna, Nicole, Kim, Bud.  Still others:  Tammy, Roz, Jessica, Susan, Tim, even Jake.

It has been a living hell figuring out how to stay alive without her here.  it has been damn near impossible to manage the guilt that I still cannot fully shake.  But if I had died when I wanted to some two days after her death or any time since then, I wouldn't know the person Jake is today.  I wouldn't be here, standing eye to eye with an incredibly kind, compassionate, smart, funny, and decent young man.  I would not know him.  And that would be another tragedy, one that I actually could have avoided.  Just as I at one time couldn't imagine every living without my Cory Girl, I don't want to imagine not knowing my boy.

Jake and I may not share all the same interests and we can't wear matching outfits (the one time I tried, he gave me the look and I went to go change), but make no mistake, he is my boy.  I am shaping him every day, listening to all the things that are important to him both big and small, asking him his opinion all the time, challenging his thinking, teaching him anything worthwhile I can think to pass along, in hopes that he will grow up to be a good man, a kind man...a good husband and an even better father.

As long as you're alive, Jacob Norman Mansfield, here I am.