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Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Hold the Confetti

Here it is, another year.  I had to stay off social media on New Year's Eve and New Year's Day.  The jubilant outcries were just so foreign.  I couldn't join in without feeling like a liar or the worst sort of fake.

This new year?  I can survive. I think I've got that part worked out.  But, I am terrified...terrified...of her becoming smaller in the frame of my future.  All the new stuff crowds her.

As time marches forward, and these years just fan out, one after another, effortlessly, it would seem, although trudging through them is excruciating, the gulf between us seems to get larger and larger.  I live in fear of the day she will have been dead longer than she was alive, as if the tipping of that scale will negate her very existence (and it's only fifteen years away, if I live that long!)   Is that irrational?  Maybe, but it doesn't feel that way.

Rationally, I suppose, she will never be any farther from me than the day her heart stopped beating.  That was the moment the world stopped for me and never rightly began again.  Sure it moves, but everyone marches along in line so fast, and I seem to shuffle along, never going fast enough or jauntily enough to suit those around me, most of whom have been lucky enough to not have their pace disturbed in quite the same way.

Here's the thing:  each day that goes by, there are moments where she should be, but isn't.  And yes, it's the right thing to make new memories with my remaining child and my family members, but it's scary as all hell, too.  They pile up, the new songs and the new movies, the books and the world events, and if  I wrote them all down, ripped them out of my journal, and laid them at my feet, eventually I wouldn't be able to see the ground for all that paper piled up around me, let alone be able to remember with crystal clear accuracy the time before all of it happened, when she filled my world, when her voice was one I heard every day and her face one I saw every night before I went to sleep.

I want that recollection to remain intact.   I need it.

I'm supposed to feel proud of all the new stuff I did this holiday season, right?  After all,  I did put up the tree and baked the cookies and cooked a couple of  holiday dishes.  I went to Christmas Eve and Christmas day without any meds.
 But it's not over.  It'll never be over.  There is no fucking finish line.  I check off all my neat little boxes and then the blasted thing just starts all over again.  This grief thing is a sorry ass business.  And I'm not as progressive as I might lead you to believe.

See, I still haven't taken her coats off the coat rack in the entry way by the back door. It's going on five years now.   I thought about about it awhile back for a split second and felt like such a traitor I could barely live with myself.  So I left them right where they hung.
 But let's be realistic, she doesn't need those coats to be there... I do.

Because in the light of all this lovely progress that has everyone so pleased with me, there will be the moments that still bend my knees when I think of her in any small fashion...the line of a song, something on tv, a conversation...and there will come, most likely, another moment like the one last night, when it was raining and I got up to put the dog out, during which I broke out sobbing as I opened the back door, for no other reason than my child is dead and it is almost too much to bear.  I shut the back door, still crying, and turned to her coats, hugged them and tried to smell them- futile since her scent has long since departed them- but it didn't stop me from trying...trying so hard to recreate that feeling of having her precious body in my arms.  After I'd let go and stepped back, I searched her pockets, hoping to find a note in her handwriting that I'd missed by not being brave enough to look before, but finding candy wrappers instead, which I nevertheless cried over considerably.  If that doesn't say desperation, I don't know what does.

It's almost too much to bear.  Yet I am bearing it.  The pain is so great sometimes I think I will die but then I realize I may not and that's even worse.  It's a stretch of hell, not a happy new year, all masks aside and truth be told.  Of course, I'll keep going for her little brother but I'll pass on the streamers and party blowers, thanks all the same.

Logically, I should put the coats away.  But grief isn't logical at all.
Logically, she doesn't get any further away with the more time that passes, but it sure feels that way.
It sure does.

Sunday, January 1, 2017

Sink My Boat

Of course it was Jacob who went down to the basement with me, hand in hand, to retrieve one of Cory's Christmas ornaments, per Dr. Z's homework assignment.  How appropriate that it would be Jake to help me through this horrid errand, as we have suffered through the loss of the biggest person in our worlds with a million words to say about it and him wanting to say none at all...yet, somehow, we have held each other up.

So, I already knew which one I wanted to put on our little tree that was looking less Charlie Brownish once Jake and I had given ourselves permission to give it a little love and care.  I wanted the little circle ornament that Cory had made for me at my Mom's daycare when she was about two.  It featured a candid photo of a tiny Coy Girl with her signature Pebbles ponytail off to one side, wearing little denim jeans with ruffles and a pink flower printed sweatshirt.  To top off this adorable ensemble, she had ventured into the dress up box and came out with a football helmet that she pulled jauntily over her head with a look of infinite pride because nothing toughens up an overly sweet girly look like a piece of athletic equipment.  Duly noted, Cory.

I had already decided not to look at or for any thing else, but instead use my grief-stricken tunnel vision for that one ornament and get out before I had a complete mental breakdown beside my fourteen year old in my dusty basement.

Isn't it funny how we plan every move so painstakingly just to watch shit blow up in our faces?

My heart started hammering a little too fast when the ornament box wasn't with the other Christmas decorations.  It began beating faster once I discovered the tubs of Christmas decorations were in various places in the basement instead of all together the way they are supposed to be.  Jake and I, having watched many episodes of Law & Order SVU began a grid search.  We covered every inch and came up with nothing.  All the ornaments had been stored together in a Rubbermaid ornament storage box- the clear kind with the lock-down side handles.  It couldn't have just walked away.  The sinking feeling began before I even texted Tim to ask him where he had put them.  Why were all the little hairs on the back of my neck standing up?  Why was I so certain the ornaments were gone?

/Which, in the end, they were-
over twenty five years of ornaments.  The Precious Moments expectant mommy ornament my first bosses had gotten me when I found out I was pregnant with Cory- the one that Bob broke in a rage and I glued carefully back together...because that girl?  She was a survivor.  Gone.

The Baby's First Christmas engraved ornament from Things Remembered that was a gift from Bill.  Gone.

All the ornaments Cory made for me through the years at daycare, Sunday school, and grade school:  school pics glued to foam snowflakes, the popsicle stick Rudoph, the lop-sided, glitter laden little kid creations.  Gone.

All the ones that Jacob made, too- foam stockings with his name spelled out in glitter at the top, 3-D snowflake foam sculptures, school pics glued to predictable Christmas shapes- his shy smile making them glow.  Gone.

The picture ornaments Cory, Jake, and I had picked out together at Target during much happier, healthier days.  I remember the exact day and errand. I remember their hands, smaller, when they took them down off the racks.  "Can we get this one, Mom?"   Gone.

A few of the plain bulbs that had to be twenty five years old now, tireless soldiers, first hung on a tree at Elm Street in the apartment I shared with Bob, but pulled out every year to put on every subsequent Christmas tree.  Gone.

The pet ornaments carefully chosen to represent family members no longer with us.  Church.  Sassy.  Oliver.  Romeo.  Boo-Kitty.  Gone.

A special ornament given to me from my Mom, if I remember correctly, a year or so after I left home under not the best terms.  Gone.

The handful of ornaments Bob's mom had sent to Cory when she was little and the two newer ones she'd sent to Cory and Jake when Bob came back into our lives.  Those ornaments meant something to me.  Even they were short-lived, there were moments of glorious happiness for my little family.  I wanted to hold those moments in my hands always.

Twenty five years of my life.  So many changes.  My family.  My families, actually.  My dead child's life- her straggling letters and her toothless grin.

 Can you understand the enormity of my despair?  My rage at such a careless mistake has passed...finally... and now I am just sick to my stomach.

Saturday, December 24, 2016

A Little Help Here

You know how they say it's easy to give others advice than it is to take your own?

I woke up out of a dead sleep at 5 am this morning and realized what I need to do to get through the holiday gatherings.  Well, two things actually.  Since they are things I suggest on my job ALL the time, I don't know why I didn't think of them sooner.

Whenever a child is struggling with an activity they find overwhelming in our program, we often suggest giving them a helper job.  It gets them out of the fray if they are feeling overstimulated by all the noise and traffic.  It gives them a focus and a purpose.  They feel successful because they have accomplished the transition, just in a slightly different fashion than the rest of the class.  And that is ok.

I need a helper job!  I can't keep going to these holiday gatherings, trying to get through it the same way everyone else does.  My needs are different now.

My helper job will be to take pictures.

I got this idea, I think, from my planner/art community who has had me trying something called "December Daily" this month.  The premise is to write, take pictures, and draw about every day in December in an effort to appreciate all the joy the admittedly stressful and busy season brings.  This has been a good assignment for me.  I have a devil of a time finding joy this time of year.  It didn't go so well at first as my journal was chock full of my sad-face girls and pictures of the cemetery, which is honest and ok, but made me think a little harder about fitting Jake into the frame.

Gradually, as the month bore on, I included a memory that made me smile in public out of nowhere about holidays past with the babies.  I took some pics with friends.  I baked cookies with my son. It all went into my December Daily.  As I flipped back through my pages,it started to look not so scary and sort of nice, actually.   Conscious Discipline is onto something: you will get more of what you focus on.

That's where the brilliant part of my helper job comes in- not only will it be a distraction, it will keep me looking at the good things life still has to offer.  The coolest part is at the end of the gathering, I will have treasures of my parents and sisters to keep forever.  Until you've lost a piece of your heart, you may never know just how valuable those pictures can be.  I do.  I really, really do.

So part two of my little behavior plan here will be to pull the positives from the experience.

Stay tuned; we shall see how this goes.

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Movie Review

Ok, so can we talk a minute about Will Smith's new movie Collateral Beauty?  I feel I must.  (Obviously, spoiler alert here).

I don't expect a lot from movies about child loss because they usually take either a "God needed another angel" route (ahem, Miracles from Heaven) or show the mother in question handling herself with grace and strength beyond those mere mortals possess (please, pour that on, I love to feel less than).  But I remain curious each time and hopeful that someone will get it marginally right.

So a couple of inconsistencies with the movie that were hit-you-over-the-head obvious:

No one who is that depressed has that clean of a house without the benefit of professional cleaning.

I wanted to know more about the child who had died other than she liked to spin around in circles with her Dad.

Acceptance does not flip the switch to happiness.  Most of the movie centered around the father not being able to say his daughter's name or cause of death.  At the end, when he accomplished this through many tears (and perhaps the best scene of the movie), the next frame showed him smiling and frolicking through the park with his ex-wife.

I've accepted for some time Cory's death and have been able to speak to individuals and groups of people about it and it has not once sent me frolicking through nature with a happy-but-not-too-happy smile on my face.  To accept your child's death is not to like it and does not stop the constant gnawing pain.  It is as Will stated to Time, "a jail sentence".

So let's talk about the ex-wife.  Will's character turned out to be one of the 79%- the 79% of couples who divorce after losing a child.  To state this in the movie only made me, someone hanging out in  21% land by the barest skin of my teeth, wonder just what the cause was?  Did Will not say their child's name enough?  Did he refuse to talk about her?  Did he in a careless moment  throw out twenty years of Christmas ornaments, including every single one the child had ever made?  There's a scenario I'd love to see played out on the big screen.

Let's also talk about how the co-workers schemed together to create footage of Will's character talking to people who would be digitally removed to prove he was incompetent to make business decisions.  This one was unbelievable.  How could Hollywood stoop so low as to make symptoms of Schizophrenia into a game and way for someone to profit?  As someone who has watched someone I love more than myself struggle to know what is real and what is not, I shudder at the insensitivity and stupidity of this plot line.  Shame on you, Hollywood.  Shame, shame, shame.

So then that brings me to the only redeeming line in the whole thing, which took place as Will argued with Death on the subway, "'s all a bunch of intellectual bullshit, man, cause she's not here to hold my fucking hand!"

Honesty, I spy you.

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Target Black Ops

So the last Christmas shopping season with Cory alive, Jacob was nine and Cory was eighteen.  We bundled up and went to sharpen up their Christmas wish list at Target.  Basically, we walked the aisles together and I took mental notes as to which sweater or which scarf made Cory's eyes light up and which toy Jake had a hard time setting back down on the shelf.

As always, they each asked me to buy them a little something pre-holiday and I had to say no.  Cory pouted beautifully as I forced her to set the fox face purse back on the hook and the fox ears hat back on the shelf.  Jake changed his plea to popcorn, and it was there that I got a terribly, awfully good idea.  Almost everything Jake had pointed out was on sale, but one never knew how long the supplies would hold out or when the sales would end, and for Cory, there were only two fox face purses and one fox ears hat in the joint.  There I was right there, cash in hand.  What was a Momma to do?  I got Jake engrossed in Pokemon cards and took Cory to the side for a little strategic planning.  Grinning impishly, thinking only we were putting one over on the younger brother, while also ensuring his Christmas dreams came true, Cory agreed to make him go look at girly stuff for a few minutes with her, with the promise to follow up with a tour of the tech department while I pled a fake case of gastrointestinal upset and headed off in the general direction of the restroom.  I grabbed her hand for one final reminder...we must stay out of each other's designated areas as we could NOT run into each other or all would be lost.  There could be no sightings!

"You can count on me, Mom.  I got you, girl!"  she said.  I winked at her once, and then doubled over with pretend cramps, which didn't alarm Jake too much, as IBS has always been an unwelcome, but frequent interloper in my life.

I staggered off towards the "restroom", looking behind my shoulder once to make sure their backs were turned.  In a manner reminiscent of Beat the Clock on the Price is Right, I quite literally ran to the carts.  Cory and Jake safely headed toward the Junior department, I went in the opposite direction towards the toys.  Within about two minutes, I had thrown every toy on his wish list (many, many Star Wars action figures, several Lego sets, and a handful of HexBugs) in the cart.  I added a couple of Nerf guns and ammo for good measure and my boy was set.  Jake was done.  It was the fastest Christmas shopping I'd ever done in my life, even better than Black Friday.

It was time for the ninja part.  Feeling like I was wearing a sign that said, "Hey, kids, look over here!", I rolled steathily towards the accessories department.  I parked the cart at the place where jewelry joins the little girls department and peeked around the corner.  No kids in sight.  Head down, I ran over the foxes display and scooped up Cory's loot.  I snuck around the endcap and searched the entrance of the junior department for the kids.  It had been exactly five minutes.  Was that long enough?  Had they moved onto the tech department?  I had to get to the sweaters without them seeing me.

I ran back to my cart before it was commandeered, and decided to make a break for it.  Using big displays as camouflage, I entered the danger zone.  I grabbed up the knit goods, darting glances all around as I went.  This was like laser tag, but shopping.  Not able to finish all of Cory's shopping at one place, I nonetheless had a few items I knew she wanted badly.  It was time to hit the checkout before I got busted.

Of course, the lines were long.  There I was with a cart piled high with their treasures, feeling incredibly exposed and checking my watch.  How long would Jake remain entertained by electronics?  Normally, the case would be until Cory and I physically pulled him away, but who knows on this particular day?  I've never been a very lucky person.

Just when I thought I'd spied the shape of Cory's head bobbing around the corner, causing my heart to jump into my throat, a service counter clerk called out, "I'm open if you want to come to the service counter!"


I shot forward like my life depended on it and looked furtively behind me while she scanned all my items.  A few hundred dollars later, I was racing towards the exit with bags and bags of contraband.  I plowed through the parking lot like a manic, popped the trunk, and got rid of the evidence as fast as I could.  I shoved my cart into a cart corral and ran for the door.

Once inside, I headed at what I hoped looked like a leisurely place towards electronics, when who should come sauntering towards me but my babies.

"We're all done looking, Mom.  Are you feeling better?"  Cory asked.

I broke into a guilty grin.  "I am."

Jake looked from one of us to the other and then launched comfortably into the virtues of the latest tech gadget, oblivious to all.  Cory and I exchanged a look that said, "Mission accomplished.  We rule the world.  We can do anything together."

This is Christmas shopping used to be like.  They were the best times of my life.


Friday, December 16, 2016

Five Christmases

I had to get a sticky note out the other day and write the years down before I could believe it:  2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016.  I counted the dates again.  Yes, it was true; this will be the fifth Christmas since Cory died.

If you're looking for some progress, check out the last word of the previous sentence.  I didn't say "since the accident" or since Cory "passed away".  I said died.  Cory died.  She no longer lives.  She is not coming back.  Acceptance.  Dig it.

Stunned, I sat with those five Christmases ticked off on my fingers and searched myself for any conscious memories of how they were spent.  On the first one, I seem to remember my friend, Nicole, stopping by and bringing me scrap booking supplies which launched my first healthy coping skill to navigate this whole mess.  She does not, to this day, know the magnitude of that particular gift.  She put into my hands the ability to survive.

On the last one, my victory was showing my face, however briefly, at the family Christmas Day dinner.  You know that saying about the most important thing in life being to show up?  Yeah, I may have adopted that a bit literally.

 As for the others?  I have the vaguest recollection of my dear mother bending over my bed and touching my hair, having stopped by with a plate of food and because she could not bear to pass the holiday without laying eyes on every one of her children.  For the most part, those Christmases are black holes of suffering in my mind, a bit hazy due to the meds that helped me get through them.  But I did get through them.  I lived through them and got up the next day to try again.  So there's that.

But the question is begged, then, what sort of Christmas did I provide for my remaining child?  I had to ask Dr. Z about this today because this exact topic had been brought to my attention recently.  The person who spoke to me about trying a little harder to be festive during the holidays, for Jacob's sake, is the single person whose opinion matters most to me.  Of course, this observation was meant to push me a little further, to get me to the next level, and was perhaps born of a desire to see a glimpse of the pre-Cory's-death Nick (which I'm sorry to say no longer exists).  I, being plagued with anxiety and depression these last few weeks, took it as a "you've been a bad Mom" statement.  Of course, this was never said, it's just the way my guilt-ridden, sleep-deprived mind interpreted it.

Dr Z, ever clever and on his game, said immediately, "Well, let's get away from the good-bad labels, shall we?  Are any of the children you support in your job bad?  No, there are no bad children- there are only children who struggle.  Of course, you are not a bad Mom, but you are a Mom, who quite rightfully, has struggled these last few years.  Yes?"

Tears streamed down my face.  He reads my heart, this man.

"Let me tell you what I see first and then let me take a guess at what the true message was to be from this loved one whose opinion means all to you."  He stopped here with palms up, waiting for permission to go on.  I nodded.

"I see a mom who has kept her son safe, who has given him love, and who has modeled for him how to grieve with honesty, even if it isn't the model of grief that society around her supports.  I see someone who doesn't force her son to take steps in grief that he isn't comfortable with because she knows exactly how intrusive that feels and how counterproductive it can be."


"I suspect the message was that time with your loved ones here on Earth is all too short and incredibly precious. Do you think maybe that was it?"

I nodded, accepting the kleenex box he passed to me.  Idly, I wondered how many boxes of kleenex he goes through in a week.

"Before you can join in these holiday celebrations and rituals, and be truly present and engaged, we've got to find a way to move the focus from the very real anguish of Cory not being here now to how grateful we are for the time she was here...and what she brought to us a fighter, a champion, an artist, a friend.  It is not an easy trick, this shifting of perspective.  It will happen on no one's timeline but your own.  And you are doing better every year."

"Should I do be doing more for Jacob?"  I had to ask because once you've unintentionally sent one of your children to her death, you will never again hold your head high, confident in your parenting skills.  Every move is second-guessed from there on out.  It sucks to no longer trust your own judgment.

"No, you are doing all the right things for Jacob."  he dismissed, with a little wave of his hand.  "But  for you...I ask, what would it be like for you to bring up one of her ornaments that she made you as a little girl from the basement and hang it on your little tree?"

My face must've shown my explicit horror at this homework assignment from hell, because he smiled gently with all the charm he possessed and held up a single finger.  "One.  Just one...a little one."

Only because he was the man whose comfort I sought frantically the morning after the accident...only because he sat silent with me, my journal open on the table between us during my first visit with him....  only because he helped my daughter to see herself as strong and competent...only because he led her out of the darkness...

did I reluctantly give my consent, "I will try."

And for him.  I will.
 Dr. Z has a way of making you want to be the best possible version of yourself.  No wonder he has always reminded Cory and I of my father.

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.