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Saturday, April 19, 2014

Catching Up

Coffee with one of Cory's closest friends since kindergarten goes like this:

It is pure joy to see her, and always a somewhat of a shock to see her looking so beautiful and grown up.  We last saw each other the evening of Cory's birthday, when a group of Cory's friends knocked on my door, ready to laugh and cry while we remembered her together.

On this day, she looks so much like her mother that I feel a catch in my throat.  I want to say it to her, but it's exactly what Cory used to hear, and I can't bring myself to say the words.  No matter; she knows.

As we gossip and chatter over the next hour or so, I keep looking and at her, trying to figure out how the cute red-haired little girl from elementary school grew into a bona fide adult with adult problems and dilemmas, and I can't quite make the leap.  Across the table she sits comfortably, leaning forward in her eagerness to relay a story and I try to picture Cory sitting in a third chair at the table.  What would it be like to hear Cory contemplating careers, husbands, and children?  Sigh.  Wistful doesn't begin to cover it. 

Before we part ways, she tells me she watched an old you tube video the other night that Cory had made.  Instantly, I know the one she means, and I am so excited I am bouncing in my seat.  I beg her to send me the link the minute she gets home, and she agrees.  I am barely in my own car, before it pops up on my phone.  I stab at the link, disappointed to find out it won't play on a mobile device.  Eagerly, I put the car into drive and wheel out of the parking lot- just ten minutes to home, and I'll see my girl.

--to be continued

Sunday, April 13, 2014


I was tidying up in the dining room today, deliberately ignoring the bright pink purse on the bench.  But suddenly, I wanted to touch anything of hers, and especially to rifle through her "locker" as the the little bench had become during the years she was taking courses at home.  I needed to see her handwriting.  I needed to see her exclusive mark on the world, and run my fingers over the letters.

Somewhere under the pile of school folders- color-coded to help her organize- I came upon a little purple owl agenda I'd gotten her one day during one of our many pilgrimages to Barnes and Nobles.  A little sound of recognition, joy tinged with misery, escaped my throat.  I excitedly began to leaf through it, not finding a lot, as some pages had been removed from the spiral binder:  her cousin, Blakie's cell number, her Aunt Kim and Uncle Bud's home number. and some random notes.  As I flipped through, I found a page with the makings of a grocery list, and recognized it as the planning for our Big Non-Turkey Thanksgiving Feast:  roast chicken, roast beef, garlic shrimp, sweet potato casserole, garlic roasted mashed potatoes, mac-n-cheese, green bean casserole, sautéed mushrooms, asparagus, and stuffing.  Desserts:  pumpkin pie, chocolate chip cookies? 

I cannot tell you how special this single piece of paper is to me.

I found a second journal further down in the bench.  It has a little girl writing a letter on the cover.  I already knew what was inside.  Cory's therapist had suggested journal writing to work out her feelings about her biological father.  With a deep sense of sadness, I read her entries- conflicting, raw, emotional, full of a yearning love and bitter resentments.  I marveled at how Cory, so young and vulnerable, beset with a mental illness was still able to find a healthy way to cope with the pain.  Drugs and alcohol were not her mistakes to make.  She'd gotten a good, hard look down the path others had taken, and wanted nothing to do with it. 

My father is the best man I know.  I am by definition a "daddy's girl".  I will never forget being put in my place by a mentor of mine about Cory's conflicting feelings about her father.  My mentor told me to remember that I  had a father, a good father, a positive role model, an anchor.  Cory, since birth, had not had that particular type of relationship, and would always crave it.  I must try to put myself in Cory's place, walking the tightrope of protecting herself while reaching out with the possibility of being turned away once again.  It was, by way of reading Cory's words, one of the most difficult paths to walk, but she did it with strength and self-preservation.  I admire her so much for that.  She was much stronger at her age than I ever was. 

Accepting the truth when you want it to be anything else is something I still struggle with to this day.

Strong, Cory, you were strong, strong, strong.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

For the Love of Paper

I think it all started at G.L. Perry Variety Store in the Urbandale Plaza.  My father not only instilled a love for reading on those payday trips to pore over the latest Trixie Belden or Nancy Drew in stock, he also helped foster a love for writing.  I think a lot of times those two particular loves go hand in hand.  It's pretty much par for the course that the more you read, the more your writing will improve. 

But back then, I didn't know that.  What I knew is that I was a student, and my job was to learn.  Every fall Dad would take me to G.L. Perry's and outfit me with school supplies.  He said you had to have the right tools.  I'm not sure to this day if it was that time with my dad poring over pencils, pens, paper, and binders that pushed me into the love of paper, or if it was that feeling of starting over, a year full of possibilities.  A brand new 64 pack of Crayola's with sharpened tips certainly made me swoon.  Throughout the school year, the weekly trips to G.L. Perry's continued.  Dad made have spoiled me a little, the last little chick in the next.  He had a difficult time denying me a book or paper product.  At the time, I covered his cheek with kisses, and clutched my Critter Sitter folders and paper to my chest.  When I got home, I would spread out all my school supplies and just gloat over them.  I was a paper hoarder in the making.

Fast forward thirty years, and not a lot has changed.  I sit here writing at the coffeeshop with my Filofax nestled safely beside me on the table, stuffed to the brim with cute post it notes.  I have to grin.  The more things change, the more they stay the same?

A few months before the accident, the kids and I were out and about on a Saturday.  We'd just dropped Tim off at work, and Cory mentioned wanting to get back into journaling.  Have I told this story already?  We spent at least an hour in Staples, and eighty dollars later, we walked out with all sort of goodies for both of the kids.  Cory was going to make a smash journal, while Jake had decided to take a stab at making his own comic book.  I could not resist their creative ambitions.  The smile on my face couldn't have been wider as I swiped that debit card.  I was passing something onto to them that my dad had passed to me.  What else is life really about?


I wished for a lot of different things during the years that Cory was being stabilized.  I wished for God to take the illness away.  I wished for the meds to work faster. I wished I could make her better.   I wished I had a partner in the household to help me keep things together.  I wished for sleep.  I wished for someone to take care of me when I felt absolutely worn out.

I seldom wished for Cory to be more cooperative.  It's only by seeing others in similar situations who remain stuck in denial, to their own detriment, that I  realize just what an amazing young woman Cory really was.  She was able to accept that she had an illness, in the first place.  That's not an easy thing to do, especially with the stigma that mental illness brings with it.

She learned about her illness, and built relationships with the people who could help her.  She took her meds, even though they never came without a price.  She struggled, sure. She took her time deciding who to tell, and how much.  But she was honest.  She was not ashamed of her illness.  She knew it was something that she had, not who she was.  She also knew she wanted to control her illness, rather than having it control her.

She didn't enjoy hurting herself or others, even if only with careless words.  She wanted to get better, and she was doing just that.

I am so proud of my girl, and so incredibly blessed that her hand was mine to hold.  I wouldn't have traded her for the world. Not a single moment.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Filofax Therapy

It's been almost two weeks, and I have to say using a Filofax planner has been a huge help.  I have been a little less anxious, and have gotten a lot more accomplished.  Here's how:

We use Conscious Discipline, a social emotional curriculum, with the birth- 5 year old children in my Head Start program.  A huge premise behind the logic is that adults often have to "lend" their frontal lobe problem solving abilities to children who may not be able to access their own at any given time.  My Filofax is my frontal lobe to borrow against.  Being a grieving mother, I am often stuck relentlessly in the emotional state of my brain.   What do you accomplish when stuck in this state?  Not a hell of a lot.

I think of my daughter, gone now nearly two years, all the time.  It makes it difficult to concentrate at times, or remember things that need to be done.  There have been days I am barely functioning.  My Filofax reminds me of what I need to do and when, even how.

Using a planner has helped in a couple different ways.  One, it has lowered my anxiety.  My Filofax is a place I can write down my obligations, and also dump out all my worries.  They are safe, captured on paper, and I am free to think about other things.

Secondly, my Filofax encourages me to keep trying every day.  If I don't complete everything on my to do list on a given day, my planner holds no judgment for me to transpose them to the next day, and give it another shot.  I can keep trying every day to have a good day, and stay healthy.  I often note down a happy moment which when read over the end of a week that has gone by helps me to feel a little more positive about life in general.

I keep my daughter's picture in my planner, and carry her with me everywhere.  She is a tremendous inspiration to me to  never, ever, ever give up.  I also keep pictures of everyday moments of joy, so when my negative thinking says life isn't worth living without my girl, I can calmly flip to the section of my Filofax that houses concrete proof to the contrary.

I so wish I would've had one of these for Cory, in fluorescent Barbie pink; she'd have loved it!

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Is This Healing?

Someone said, "What is healing, but a shift in perspective?"

On that note, here's what went through my mind when I woke up this morning.

Grief becomes your constant companion.  What started as a traumatic meeting and intrusive relationship evolves over time.  Grief is not your friend, per se; she will never hug you.  She will, however, bear silent witness to every tear and every scream behind closed doors.  She waits stoically in the corner as you get it out, and pull yourself together for the thousandth time. 

You used to try to escape her advances by whatever means necessary- running, putting things between you, ignoring her calls.  You now know there is nowhere to run that she will not follow, quietly entering the room your in, in whatever country you're in, and closing the door firmly behind her. 

After awhile, you throw up your hands in resignation.  Isn't it best to just invite her in and offer her a chair?  Let's just get on with this, shall we?

The days go by, and Cory doesn't return.  Grief is always there.  If I live long enough to become old and gray, she will still be there, watching silently as I sob my heart out over wounds decades old, but only days old in my heart, in my chest, where I live and breathe.

Grief and I will spend whatever is left of my life together.  We'd might as well figure out how to get along.

The last year has been much more solitary than the first few months following Cory's death.  I think a lot of people may think I am isolating myself on purpose, due to depression, maybe, or just angry at the world.  While both are truth, there is another factor.  I've been working out how to sit with the pain.

 It takes time.  And I have to be okay with being alone with my grief before I can be much use around others.  So to those who feel I've dropped them like a hot potato, I'm sorry.  It hasn't been on purpose.  I've had a lot of work to do.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

"If I Die Young..."

Every day, there are dozens of little triggers.  To function, you must mentally or physically walk away from most of them.  Once and awhile, though, you step in.

Today, at work, I settled into a repetitive task, and put on my headphones.  Listening to music helps me to focus and keeps pain at bay.

Unless, I've course, I've put my Iphone on shuffle, and forgotten all the songs from Cory's service and slideshow are in my song library.  Each song that popped up as I worked generated a deep sigh, and a desperate scrambling to the next song.

Except those first notes of "If I Die Young".  I have been known to scream when that song comes on the radio in the car.  I always flinch.  But today, I took a deep breath and let the music play.

Why in the world would I torture myself so?

I am coming to realize why it's so difficult to rejoin the living after losing your child.  The pain becomes your last tie, your last tangible connection to her.

 These passing thoughts of how beautiful she must feel as an angel or how much she must enjoy being able to fly are merely ponderings.  But the tears that scald my face as they fall?  They are real.  I can see them and feel them as I wipe them away.

 When your child is underground, you cling to whatever you have left.  Even if it hurts.