Good Grief

I am not an authority on grief. I have neither studied it, nor written any theses on its effects on the human psyche. I have no professional training, whatsoever. And until 365 days ago, I barely understood it. I have lost people that I’ve loved, and been deeply saddened by their absence. I’ve cried. I’ve missed them terribly and thought about them often. But never had I felt the sickening, suffocating sort of grief that makes you question what point there could possibly be to moving forward. The kind that shreds your entire sense of self and leaves you in absolute pieces. The kind that takes up your whole being, leaving no room or energy to do anything but miss.

When you google the definition of grief, you get results like “deep sorrow,  especially that caused by someone’s death” and “deep and poignant distress caused by or as if by bereavement”. While those words certainly get the point across, there are no words in existence that can really capture the way you feel when someone who is unspeakably important to you just ceases to exist. Believe me; I’ve been trying to find such words for a year.

And while I have never taken so much as a Psych 101 course, I have lived with the complexities of the cruel but effective teacher that is grief for an entire year and, therefore, I feel reasonably qualified to share some musings.

1. Grief is not linear. 
I had heard of the five stages of grief. I was vaguely aware that they affected people differently. But I truly had no idea what sort of rollercoaster I was boarding when the very kind doctor took us into that very quiet waiting area to tell us the very sad news.
There were times when I felt like I was going through all five stages in the same day, or sometimes, in the same moment. There were times when I was simultaneously numb and in excruciating pain. Rational thought and normalcy have no place in grief.
The worst day of the entire thing for me was not the night of February 26, 2019. It was not the day of the funeral, when I saw my mom’s beautiful, still face for the very last time. It was eighteen days after she died. The previous seventeen days had been so, so hard, but they were filled with more love, support, and chicken broccoli ziti than I knew what to do with. On the eighteenth day, however, there were no calls. No texts. No check-ins. Not because people had stopped caring. In fact, the checking-in resumed the very next day and continued for several weeks. It was just a lull. But on that day, I was on my own with my pain. And that was the first time it really sunk in that, no matter how much or how hard my family and friends loved me, I was always going to be on my own. I was a rock. I was an island. Before my mom died, I had never experienced that. Which brings me to my next point.

2. Grief changes you.
I am not the same person I was a year ago. How could I possibly be? For one thing, I am much less likely to sweat the small stuff. When my mom first died, I felt like shaking people who were complaining about school closings and busy weeknights. Didn’t they know how much worse their lives could be? Of course, that subsided as time wore on. This morning, for example, when I found no fewer than four separate piles of cat puke on my rug, I almost cried…okay, I did cry. But, on days where my mental health is otherwise fairly stable (aka not today), I find that things that once would have ruined my day, are much easier to shake off. Sorry, rude lady that rolled her eyes at my kid at Trader Joe’s, you are not going to live in my head rent-free.
The other, and broader, way that I feel fundamentally changed as a person, is that for the first time in my life, I’ve had to stand on my own. Like a bicycle right after the training wheels are removed. My mom and I were always a team. No one understood us the way we understood each other. Losing that was like losing a piece of myself. I’m still learning how to be me without her.

3. Grief has layers.
Yes, much like ogres and onions, grief is a many-layered phenomenon. The layer that I feel is the most obvious is the missing of the actual person. Like my brother said in his unbelievably touching eulogy, my mom was effing cool. She was funny and smart and weird and I genuinely miss hanging out with her. When I’ve lost loved ones in the past, this was the layer that I was well-acquainted with. There was this person you loved and enjoyed spending time with and they are no longer here so you miss them. Painful as all get-out, but simple.
Then there’s the layer that you feel for the other people affected. The first call my dad made from the hospital room was to my mom’s lifelong best friend. The exact timbre of her cry of anguish and disbelief when my dad told her the awful news is burned into my memory forever. In that moment, I forgot about my own pain entirely, because I hurt so much for her. And of course, there’s my dad, who still has to go home to that empty house. To this day, when I go over there, I still half-expect to find her in her sitting up in bed, watching The New Adventures of Old Christine, with her reading glasses propped up on her head, ready to tell me about yet another expensive pillow she ordered on her seemingly endless quest for the perfect pillow. Thinking about him going through that sensation nearly every day makes my stomach hurt.
And there’s regret about all the things you never said or did, and all the things that she will never get to experience. She died before she got a chance to visit Italy. She died before my son, who was the light of her life, started saying “I love you”. She died before my brother found himself a nice girl. She died before she found the perfect pillow. It’s so desperately unfair and infuriating that she will never get to do or see so many things that mattered to her.
Then there’s my own selfish grief. I’m not saying that feeling sad for yourself when you suffer a terrible loss is selfish, or that selfish has to be a bad thing. But the things I find myself getting most upset about have very little to do with my mom at all. When a friend from my childhood has a baby, or a mall that we used to go to together goes bankrupt, I want to call her and tell her. I am so used to mentally tagging something as “tell Judy about that” that it took at least six months of sudden, painful realizations that I could no longer “tell Judy about that” for my brain to break the habit. There have been so many stupid, “Hey, what was the name of that place we went that time?” type questions that I will never get answers to.

4. People do not know how to handle one another’s grief.
Grief is such a personal thing and no two people experience it in exactly the same way. Throw in the fact that humans are generally not skilled at dealing with things that make them uncomfortable, and you get some really interesting reactions. Like the people at the wake who said awkward things like, “Well, it happens to all of us in the end”. And you get an abundance of “Let me know if you need anything”. Like, sure, random person my mom used to hang out with whose name I can’t quite remember, I will definitely be in touch. I know these sentiments are all meant with the best of intentions, and even in the throes of mourning, I appreciated them.
The truth is, there is no one right way to help a person who is grieving. In hindsight, it truly was the little things that made all the difference. Like all the amazing, generous people who brought or sent us food in the days when we could not possibly have fed ourselves. Like when my best friend, without consulting me, bought several pairs of black flats for me to try on so I wouldn’t have to go buy funeral shoes myself. Or when my cousin tracked down some liquor for me during the wake because I needed something to take the edge off after my introverted ass had to hug a bajillion strangers in the receiving line. Or when I asked if people were planning on coming by after the wake and one of my friends said the most beautifully simple thing. “We’ll be wherever you need us to be.”

5. Grief can be beautiful.
Pain has driven the production of art for as long as art has existed. There is something so inexplicably beautiful about sharing your pain with other people, especially when those people are in pain as well. I don’t feel like I understand that bit of the human experience enough to go into any great detail, but I what I do understand, is that after the funeral, when my brother hijacked the piano at The Common Market and led a room full of sad, suffering souls in song, it was just about the most beautiful moment I’ve ever been a part of.

6. Grief is forever.
The most accurate description of grief I have ever come across was from a reddit user. The entire comment is beautiful and you should definitely read it. But for the tl;dr crowd, I’ll paraphrase. Grief, the comment said, is like shipwreck, in that when it first happens, you feel like you’re drowning, and you’re surrounded by the wreckage that reminds you of the beautiful ship that once was. And for awhile the waves are a hundred feet high and coming at you fast, and it is all you can do to hang on and survive. And after some time has passed, the waves are still huge, but they’re coming less frequently, so there is time to take breaths and rest and live in between. And someday (and I feel like I am personally approaching this point, though not quite there yet), the waves get smaller and easier to see coming. And even though they knock you out, you’re prepared for them when they come and able to trust that you’ll be okay after you emerge.

I am going to spend my whole life missing my mom. And the wild thing about human nature is that I want to miss her. I want the pain to knock me out and leave me breathless. I want to love her fiercely and messily and beautifully, the same way I loved her in life. I want to hold space for her memory and let it prop me up the way she propped me up when she was here.

A year ago, grief was an unwelcome house guest, but now it’s an intrinsic part of who I am. I am not an authority on grief. But I’d say I know it it pretty well.

Walking in a Cold, Soggy, Windburnt Wonderland

I have spent all thirty of my years living in New England. For someone so very accustomed to winter weather, you would think I may have adapted by now. You would be mistaken. I hate shoveling. I hate slush. I hate having to bundle up (and re-bundle…because I ditch all my cumbersome cold-weather gear any time I am in an enclosed space). I hate my car being encased in salt and ice. I hate dressing my kids in super cute clothes that no one gets to see under their coats (this one may be a me problem). I hate my heating bill. But the winter isn’t all bad. Just like 95% or so.

Here are the very few redeeming qualities that winter possesses for me:

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Football. Fall always gets all the credit with football fans, and yes, the rush that comes from the beginning of the season is brilliant, but c’mon. Play-offs. Super Bowl. Pro Bowl (jk fuck the Pro Bowl).
Of course, being a Pats fan nearly always pays off come January, so I may have more of a reason to appreciate winter football than most.

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Christmas. You know those jackasses who start playing Christmas music the day after Thanksgiving? Don’t worry, I’m not one of those. I’m actually one of those even more annoying jackasses who starts playing it the day after Halloween.  This year, I’m pretty sure I spent approximately 5% of my life wandering through the holiday displays at Target and Homegoods, soaking in the magic.

 

 

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Hygge. If you’re not familiar with the Danish concept of hygge (unexpectedly pronounced (HEW-gah), it’s basically a hipster-y way of saying coziness. Yes, there’s more to it than that, but the pseudo-bastardized American version mostly means a plethora of blankets and socks and low lighting and greenery and warm beverages, all of which I am rather fond of.
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Quiet snow. There is something unbelievably peaceful about snowfall. I’m not talking about blizzards, which account for most of the snow we get around here. I mean the kind of snow that falls gently and muffles the sound of the world.

 

Signs of spring. This is a bit of a gimme, but there is something so hopeful about little hints that spring is on its way. Technically we only just past the halfway point Screenshot_20170409-175134of winter last weekend, but we all agree that winter sort of unofficially runs from December through February, and that March is like a transition into spring, right? Last Monday was Truck Day for the Red Sox, which means that baseball is just around the corner. Local photographers are already starting to book their spring mini sessions. We’re only about a month away from the start of Daylight Savings Time. It’s coming, guys.

Turning Two to the Power of Five, Minus Six, Plus Four

You can stop trying to do the math. Just as this post is bound to be, it is just a long winded way of saying that I’m turning thirty. Tomorrow.
So what? you’re thinking. People age every day. It’s better than the alternative.  Age is just a number. You’re only as old as you feel. Blah blah more cliches blah.
You’re not wrong. I’ve been aging for the last 10, 597 days, so I am reasonably well-versed in the process. A good number of those days have been difficult, but many more of them have been fun, or comfortable, or beautiful.
For reasons that I can’t quite place, thirty is especially hard for me to come to terms with.
Half a lifetime ago, I was a high school freshman, writing in my diary about turning fifteen and all of the hopes and dreams that were brought about by it. I wrote about switching out of my honors math class and how embarrassed I was because I had never struggled in a class in earnest before. I was hopeful that the new class would bring up my GPA. I wrote about I had just broken up with my boyfriend of three weeks. I didn’t say why, but I remember a huge part of it was that I had developed feelings for his best friend (as I did for most boys who I spent any amount of time with in my adolescent years) and I thrived off the drama of it all. It was okay though, I had assured my Microsoft Word document, written in purple Comic Sans. I had already set my sights on someone else. I didn’t say who, because I was vaguebooking before it was even a thing. I did note that I was wondering if he liked me back, presumably because it was the only question I felt was unanswered. Everything else seemed answered. Known.
I could fill an entire encyclopedia volume with the things I didn’t know on the day I turned fifteen. I didn’t know that mystery boy would not reciprocate my feelings. I didn’t know that I would hate the new math class so much that I would just stop going, choosing instead to wander the halls with a few friends I had recently made. I didn’t know that I would fail the class, and subsequently give up on my grades. I didn’t know that I was already surrounded by some of the most important people I would ever meet.
I mean, how was I to know that the quiet girl who sat next to me in World History and listened to me wax poetic about my sordid “love” life and sometimes talked about weird things like Dodge Neons and black and white TVs would one day become godmother to my firstborn.?
Or that the cute best friend of that ex-boyfriend, who wore his hat backwards and reminded me of Shawn Hunter, would be the person who awaited me as I walked down the aisle, nearly half a lifetime later?
Or that the same ex-boyfriend’s little sister would become one of my dearest friends, help me find my first apartment, and do a reading at my wedding?
Who would have thought that, seven years after I wrote that diary entry, my middle school nemesis-turned best friend would be happily in love with one of the guys who I used to skip algebra 1 with?
Or that a guy I had never spoken to in my French class, who I would eventually coerce into taking me to his junior prom, would later introduce me to the first person I ever fell in love with? Or that, soon after, he would begin dating one of my best friends and that they would stay together forever and ever, amen?
And really, I could not have possibly imagined that the random friend of a friend that I had hung out with once after school would be the first boy to break my heart, the person who saved my life when I believed it wasn’t worth saving.
Back then, I didn’t know  that any of these people would leave a lasting mark on me.
Fifteen

Looking back though the second half of my timeline and all of the things that have changed makes me equal parts nervous and curious about all of the things I still don’t know. What am I going to look back on five, ten, fifteen, or even thirty years from now and say “Wow. I never would have guessed.”?
But as my favorite philosopher once said, “The consequences of our actions are always so complicated, so diverse, that predicting the future is a very difficult business indeed.”
I don’t have any math classes or ex boyfriend’s relations to set the course of my life on a different path as I write this equivalent of a diary entry on the eve of my thirtieth birthday, but I would like to think that my future holds a few more certainties than my teenage self’s did. I guess there’s only one way to find out.

The Gray

Like most little kids, I liked to collect things. Beanie Babies, Pokemon Cards, and for some inexplicable reason, Starburst wrappers, were among the list of items that I sought out, hoarded, and eventually grew bored with. The one thing that I never lost interest in collecting is journals. I am a girl who loves the sound of my own voice…the writing one, that is; I’m not terribly fond of how I sound in recordings. And since I’m not as creative as I like to pretend I am, I went through a phase where my favorite kind of journal was the fill-in-the-blank kind. Sort of like the precursor to Myspace surveys, I suppose.
Anyway, I have this oddly specific memory of one of those journals that I had when I was in the fourth grade that I had received as a hand-me-down from my teenage neighbor across the street in a box of books that she had outgrown.
Once I overcame my mild horror that someone would give away something as precious as a diary (like, what if you wanted to go back and read it someday? No? Just me?), I dove right in and began answering the prompts. When I got to the question “What is your least favorite color? Why?”, my poetic nine year old self spent a lot of time thinking it through. Orange? I wasn’t crazy about orange. But it was still a fun color, and besides, orange reminded me of my favorite band, Hanson. Black? No. Even if  I didn’t know it at the time, I had a goth kid heart. Black was beautiful. Yellow? It could definitely be too much sometimes, but it was such a happy color and I was a happy kid (in spite of aforementioned goth heart). I decided to go with gray. My reasoning was not well-articulated, but it boiled down to the fact that I believed gray kind of obscured the beauty of other colors. I was satisfied with my deep understanding of the world, and didn’t give it much thought beyond that.

When I first began working on my novel, I started jotting down ideas and memories that I could potentially incorporate into the story in a note on my phone. This memory of decrying the color gray as dreary and boring emerged while I was purging my closet a few months ago and I was momentarily amused at how much I had grown to love the color. I grabbed my phone and logged it, because I thought it was an interesting idea to explore. I have not yet hit the point in the book where I have had the chance to use it, but I did flesh out the idea a little bit more. And this is what I came up with.

Sometimes, the quiet gray comes creeping in, dimming all the other colors in its wake. And it can be sad, hopeless even, being thrust so suddenly into a world devoid of color. But if you can get past that, you will begin to see that the gray possesses a beauty all its own. You just have to remember to look for it. 

It may come off a bit weird without the context of the book, but so be it.

We received some ‘punch to the gut’ kinda news this weekend. We learned that this house that we’re renting, that we have made our own and grown to love, despite the weird ugly green counter tops and 70’s wood paneling and the terrible acoustics, is not going to be our home for much longer. Our landlord, who has always expressed that this was his favorite of his rental properties, has decided that he wants to live here. Obviously, this is his decision and such is the risk that someone assumes when they choose to rent, but it was devastating nonetheless. I spent a lot of time alternating between feeling sorry for myself and desperately trying to keep myself from going over the edge and free-falling into despair, as is my instinct.

During the usual morning chaos yesterday, I asked my dear friend Alexa what the weather was like and learned that it was going to be pretty dismal all day. I decked my kids out in their rain coats and galoshes and went sprinting out the door. Getting the kids from the house to the car and back again is not often a leisurely process, with the omnipresent threat of tardiness hanging over my head. Add in the bleak weather aspect, and it becomes pretty frantic. But once I dragged them out the door and yanked my four year old’s hood on again and re-zipped my two year old’s coat, and prepared for the mad dash to the car, I turned around and faced the dreary, gray outside world. And I was struck dumb by how beautiful it was.
I took the long way home from my son’s school, so as to pass by one of my favorite spots in my neighborhood, a tree with a tire swing that sits right at the edge of the pond. I stopped my car, rolled down the window, and snapped a picture, because who knows how many more times I’m going to drive by that spot?
I chose an Instagram filter and tried to think of a caption that captured how I felt about the picture and also about my current situation. I may or may not have even googled “quote about gray skies”.  Nothing seemed right. After breakfast, I pulled out my phone to add eggs to my shopping list and when I opened my notes, I suddenly remembered my own musings on the color gray.

Things are a bit gray right now and it is easy to get lost in it. It’s easy to despair when it feels like the color is being drained from everything around me. But I’m trying to remember that the gray doesn’t actually remove the color. It just masks it for a little while. The color is still there. All of the good things in my life still exist and it doesn’t do me any good to let this particular gray make me forget that. And, once I started to look for the beauty in the gray, I realized that my husband and I are at our strongest as a unit when we’re feeling vulnerable as individuals. And we’ve started researching buying a home of our own, for the first time in our lives, which in turn, has made us examine our financial situation in earnest. It has also driven me to step outside of my role as the comforting friend, and seek comfort instead, which has been cathartic and a little enlightening. There is beauty both within this gray and on the other side of it and I look forward to finding more.

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What Would I Do Without You?: A Letter to my Husband on the Eve of Our First Wedding Anniversary

Dearest, darlingest you,

Right around this time last year, we were running through last minute checklists, packing the kids up, rehearsing our grand entrance, and playfully squabbling over yet-to-be finalized vows and speeches. We were nervous and excited and stressed and happy all at the same time.
Also, at this time last year, we wrote letters to one another to be sealed in a box with a bottle of wine for us to fall back on when we had our first fight, or, in the unlikely event that we didn’t have a fight, to be read/consumed on our first anniversary. Since those letters are still locked up, I guess there hasn’t been a point in the last year where we’ve felt compelled to remind ourselves why we got married in the first place. I kind of doubt we’ll ever reach that point. I don’t remember what I wrote in my letter (guess I’ll find out tomorrow), so here’s another one.
Our life together has not been what most would refer to as “traditional”. First came the apartment, then the ring, then the kid, then the other kid, and then, quite a bit later, the official paperwork. Our wedding wasn’t the beginning of our life together; it was more like a really expensive dinner party to celebrate a program already in progress. So, in theory, our anniversary shouldn’t mean much. Yet somehow, it does.
When I met you half a lifetime ago, I had not an inkling that one day, you would be the person that I insistently woke at 1 AM because there was a spider on the ceiling, or the guy that I would be pointing to after telling my daughter, “Mama’s super busy right now. But you know who would love to read Goodnight Moon to you…again?”. It’s kind of crazy, if I think about it.  You are the glue that figuratively holds our family together, and that literally does the dishes and gives the baths and makes the money, all of which I’m quite thankful for.
In my vows, I promised to be the spice to your sugar, the bad cop to your good cop, and the yang to your yin. I didn’t do that to call attention to the many ways in which we’re different, but to emphasize that we are two halves of the same whole. Solid. No one will write starry-eyed love songs about our great romance. Our love is not  the stuff dreams are made of.  What we have is so real, so intrinsic, that it can only exist in this world. It’s the mortar between the long commutes and the diaper changes and the omnipresent piles of laundry that never seem to end up where they’re supposed to. It’s like background noise, always there, never too loud, and very, very comforting. I couldn’t go to sleep at night without it.
Before I start getting too wild with the metaphors, I’ll end this here. I love you. Happy anniversary.

Love,
Me.

From the the desk of…

I’m working at my desk for the first time! I bought and assembled this super cute desk from IKEA several months ago, during my ill-advised, post-refund check shopping spree. Not only did I set it up in my closet/office, but I bought a motivational print from Etsy and a sweet driftwood-esque frame at Marshall’s to decorate my new workspace. And there it sat, unused (except as a junk catching surface) and largely forgotten for months. My excuse? The cheap chair I bought to accompany this desk (that I just had to have) wasn’t comfortable. Womp womp.
Luckily, whilst helping a friend move last weekend, I complimented him on his comfortable desk chair and he mentioned that he could snag me one from his office, which was closing. And boom. Here I sit.
I told myself I wasn’t going to get up until I created a blog post, but that went to hell about thirty seconds into typing, when my two year old awoke from her slumber. My husband is home now, though, and my excuses have run dry.
Now if only I had an idea of what I wanted to talk about…

I am not a goddess (domestic, or otherwise).

As you may have noticed, the internet is chock-full of captivating, Pinterest-worthy blogs, written by people who have mastered the arts of cooking, organizing, DIY, and parenting. So, why exactly, do I, someone who is barely a Jack of any trades, let alone a master, feel the need to start a blog?
Well, the truth is, I read these blogs. I follow these tutorials. I cook these recipes. I pin these educational games and beautiful crafts. And I feel…well, kind of inadequate. Not in a melodramatic “woe is me; I don’t measure up; my life isn’t worth living” fashion, but in the sense that I feel like these blogs simply weren’t written for people like me. They weren’t written for moms who have coffee and snot stains on the yoga pants that they’ve worn for two straight days or people who count grilled cheese as a home-cooked meal or folks who don’t happen to have mod podge or vanilla extract on hand. They were written for people who sort of have their shit together…and I just happen to not be one of those people.

“I am a hot mess.
Who are you?

Are you a hot mess, too?”
-me, with some inspo from my girl, Emily Dickinson