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Friday, September 4, 2015

Brain Matter(s)

School has almost started, and in Head Start land, the beginning of school means many in-service trainings for staff.  I presented about Conscious Discipline, which is a social-emotional curriculum that focuses on the connection between brain state and behavior.

When I train, I always try to tell stories and give personal examples to illustrate points.  I sort of stumped myself as I tried to give examples of survival state- fight, flight, or freeze.  The flight part was a piece of cake; I simply shared how I chucked my cellphone at Angie's head and took off running barefoot down the highway when that horrible woman from the driver's insurance company told me over the phone that I needed to accept that Cory's death was no accident.

But fight?  I'm no fighter.  Freeze?  When have I ever done that?  I am a well-accomplished flee-er.

So I thought about these other brain stem behaviors for a couple days, and realized I actually have done them, I just didn't realize it.

Let's start with fight.  I remember being in the car with my sister and mom a couple days after the accident, my hardcover journal (i.e.  funeral planner) in my lap, trying to tune out their voices that pursued every detail of the plan to plant my daughter in the ground.  Everyone was upset.  Things were beyond tense.  At one point, an argument ensued between my mom and sister, and in response to the raised voices and hammering home of the fact that Cory was indeed laying on a slab somewhere, lifeless, I simply picked up that heavy hardcover book and began to beat myself in the face and head with it.  Fight.
The possible fight reaction is the reason I won't drive by the driver's house, just to see what it looks like...to see if the exterior of her house gives away any sense of personal responsibility, guilt, or poor mental health.  Is her life falling apart the way mine is?  Do her surroundings give away her inability to organize or care for herself?  Is she suffering?  Is she?!

No, I won't even drive by because I would surely be tempted to stop and knock, and if she were right in front of my face- the woman who side-swiped my girl, caving in her head and breaking her little body:  neck, arm, hips,  I don't think my hands would be able to stop themselves.  My pre-frontal lobe would be on vacation, and I'd have a nice long time in prison later to wish I'd never sought her out.  I don't want- as a Hispanic friend of mine who speaks English as her second language says- to ever "regret myself" that way.

So then- freeze?  When have I ever frozen?  This one was a toughie.  All I could remember doing in brain stem situations like being choked up against a wall or chased through the house at knife point was running.
Finally, days later, in the shower, it hit me.

At the road side, the bystanders held me back and I didn't fight them.  I have hated myself for this for three years.  Night and day.  Obsessively.  HOW could I not go to my baby?  Touch her?  Feel the warmth beginning to flee from her body?  Provide her the thin or even imaginary comfort of my hand on her face, her precious, precious face?

Let me tell you how.  My brain wouldn't give the order to my feet.  I was frozen to the spot.  I never had the chance to think how I would feel about it later on; it just was.  
I'm not a bad person.  I'm not a bad mother.  How about that?  I was just in the lowest part of my brain, surviving the scariest thing that has ever happened to me- and that wasn't the possibility I would be hurt or killed, it was that my child might be.

Isn't it funny how long it takes until some things click?  No one can tell them to you; you have to come to them on your own, in your own time.  So now, in my "reason and logic" pre-frontal part of my brain, I forgive myself for freezing beside the road, for not fighting tooth and nail to get to her side.  I forgive myself for that part.

Baby steps.




Tuesday, September 1, 2015

When All Else Fails

When all else fails, there is ice cream.

I just remembered ice cream tonight...you know, that it is available to buy in stores and can be served at home.  Sure, we've had our share of milkshakes and flurries through the drive-thru, but I haven't bought ice cream in a grocery store since Cory died.

Moosetracks!  All of a sudden, it struck me, and I jumped in the car to get a half-gallon at Family Fare.  I came home and scooped it with our blue ice cream scooper that's been on hiatus for the last three years.  I put it in a coffee mug and added a splash of milk, the way we always did.

How could I have forgotten about ice cream?  And did I forget, or was this another way to punish myself for failing her?  And shame on me if it was the latter, because Jacob has suffered the same dismal absence of ice cream in his household for the last three years, right along with me.  He didn't do anything but wait on the lawn.

Maybe it reminded me too much of our movie nights and "shows" watched back to back after dinner.
Whatever the reason, I scooped it with a heavy hand tonight.  To hell with the extra calories, it could be worse, right?  It could be cocaine or meth or heroin.

A Day in Her Shoes

Lately, I've been wearing her shoes.

It started as a good luck thing for a public speaking thing, but I've kept wearing them right along the last couple of weeks or so.

And as I do, I think about what it was like to walk in her shoes.  I think about her forgiving nature, about her bravery with her mental illness, and I try to be more like her.  She was admirable.

She rounds my corners.  I'll admit it; I like nothing more than a good nattering of gossip.  Cory would go along for quite at awhile, but the older she got, the less she was okay with talking behind someone's back or just being blatantly mean.

So, that said, she tempers my anger.  And I have quite a lot.  Most days, I feel robbed of what other parents take for granted:  the culmination of a childhood, the transition to adulthood, the passing of the torch to the next family- your child's features on a baby's face and your prize winning holiday recipe intact.

I know every parent that loses a child goes through some testing of their faith or question of faith, at the least.  And, buddy, I have questions.  He (if there is a He) couldn't salvage this meek girl who struggled but still turned away from gossip because it wasn't kind?  He could spare so many others who blatantly bent his rules? Restart their hearts?  Make them walk again?

 I know this tragedy has my mother asking questions.  My dad asks none.  He has that sort of firm, blind faith that says God knows better than man, and he must have had good reason, Amen.

Mom wants to know, "Why my grandbaby?  Why couldn't she be spared?"  And I respect them both in different ways.  I respect my father for having the sort of blind faith that can survive such a heart wrenching disaster.  At the same time, I equally respect my mother for continuing to follow her faith, but expecting answers when this whole sad mess is over.  There will be a conversation.

And me?  I may never believe.  Part of me wants to believe Cory is in heaven, while another part sees her such as she was, spread out on the road for any passerby-er to see...and what sort of God would allow that to happen to a girl that hurt no one, and struggled everyday for a normal life and any sort of peace?

Beats the hell out of me.

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Little Brother

Jake and I went to see her at the cemetery tonight.  We got out and stood in front of her monument, our conversation quieted to whispers in this special place.  Jacob would no more goof around in a cemetery than he would streak naked down the street.  He is a respectful old soul.  I greeted her the same as always, and Jake followed suit.  "Do you want to tell her something you miss about her?"  I asked him.

"Oh, I miss everything about her."  he said.  The sweetness of his honesty made me bow my head and take a step back, just letting the siblings be together.  Their world was lost when she left, and it's worth mourning all on its own.

We stayed only a couple of minutes; I'm careful not to force these visits to be too long, afraid I'll stop Jacob from wanting to come.  We gave our kisses and ran from the stark reality of her name carved into that beautiful stone.  As we drove away, I asked Jacob if he thought Cory was happy where she was.

"Well...I think she misses us, but you know, she doesn't have to see those terrible things anymore so maybe she is happy.  You said she was smiling when she came to see you, right?"

Yes, she sure was.

A Visitor



"Mom?  Mom?"

I opened my eyes and there she was, sitting cross-legged at the end of my bed.  In my dream-state, hallucination, or visit between worlds, I couldn't move to touch her, so instead contented myself with going over her every feature with my eyes:  her hair beautifully mussed from a nice, long sleep, her eyes, so huge and full of life, her gentle smile, her long limbs whole and bent under her own control, and her little hands resting comfortably in her lap as she awaited my response.

"Cory?  Cory!"  I choked out at last.

She said nothing back, only smiled again and sat there magically, filling for a moment the gaping hole that I tote around daily.  She wanted nothing from me this time.  She needed nothing- not a snack, not my comfort, not my opinion, nor my companionship.  She was far more content than I could even imagine.  She was here for me.

On her face, without the need for words, was the knowledge of my struggle.  She knew all about the horror, the terrible images, the nightmares, the loss of control, the weariness, the despair, the hopelessness...she knew about the depression, the anxiety, the plaguing guilt.  She knew the things I've done when coping well and things I've done when coping poorly.  And she loved me anyway.  She knew that my heart knows no calendar and that every moment without her, I fear I might soon die, and many, many days wish I would so that the pain would end.  She knew that I am not the same happy, attentive Mommy that she and Jacob had known those years ago, but forgave me because she also knew I've been doing the best I can.

It was a sort of telepathy as I "told" her how angry it made me when other people weighed in on my progress- the well-meaning tough-lovers who insist I couldn't control the event, but I could control my reaction.

She sat there silently, calmly and relayed that they meant well and don't understand.  It is another world when a mother loses a child and someone who doesn't live there can't possibly give you directions to help you get around.  They can't know how long trips take if they have never made them.

True, I agreed, and added that a grieving mother can't control her reactions to the unexpected death of her child.   She's been plunged into brain stem to sink or swim for however long it takes her to learn to tread water.  When she bobs to the surface, it's only to catch her breath and react to the emotional part of her brain.  Finding that problem-solving part of her brain and staking a claim there, actually living there day to day could take years.  For the most part, you are in survival, floating to the top to feed your other child a meal or remember to pay a bill.  All you can do is try to fight another day.  And Cory, if I weren't trying, I wouldn't be here anymore.

"I know, Mommy.  Trust me, I know."

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Safe Place

I made dinner- not until 9 p.m., but I made it.  I had a bit of a rough day.  At a training I learned about signs and symptoms of several different mental illnesses, which I was happy about- happy the training was available to the community and happy the stigma of getting help was being addressed.

 When the presenter got to schizophrenia and schizoaffective disorder, I could feel my heart beating faster.  It was Cory's face I saw as hallucinations and delusions were described.  There were video clips and role play, but I knew even the best of intentions would never be able to describe the terror, the confusion, the fear, and the anxiety that Cory lived with.  My heart still hurts for all she went through and that I wasn't able to take it away.  She was getting better, but she'd lived in hell for a good long time by then, and there was nothing I could do about it.

"Telling them that they are safe, that you'll keep them safe is one of the best things you can do."

I can't tell you how many memories that single statement brought back.  How much I wish I'd been able to keep her safe one last time.

Monday, August 24, 2015

Without You is How I Disappear

I've got a lot of work left to do.

I don't even want to go home today.

I don't want to go home and walk into a house where she isn't.  I don't want to make dinner in the godforsaken kitchen with my cool Blue Apron meal supplies. I don't want to cook for three people.   I don't want to take a leisurely shower afterwards uninterrupted by her pounding on the door to ask me a question.  I don't want to beg Jacob to watch Switched At Birth with me, get rejected, and then end up watching it alone, feeling sad and empty.  I don't want to kiss one child good night, while the other one rests underground, surely bones by now.

I wish I could just disappear.  It's too hard, and I'm tired of trying to be okay.
I'm not okay.