Tag Archives: friends

Breath By Breath

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I’ve put my daughter Emily to bed.  I’ve laid in bed with her until she’s drifted off and her breath is slow and steady and almost hypnotic.

All of a sudden I’m bawling my eyes out, shuddering silently next to her.  I don’t want to wake her, but it feels like I will never stop as my body shakes and tears gush down my cheeks.  I feel like someone is punching me in my face, in my gut.  I feel like someone is wrapping their hand around my throat.

My five year old purrs in her dreams, and the noise tethers me to this reality.

I take out my phone and text my best friend.  I beg her to never die.  She says something warm and then tells me a joke and next thing I know I’m shaking again, but this time in laughter.

That’s how life is these days.

My mood shifts as though I’m dancing on the edge of a blade.  One moment, I’ve got my shit together and the next I’m dissolving.

It’s been four months since E. died.  Almost five.  It seems an eternity and it seems no time at all.  I still just want to talk about her all the time.  Her voice is still right beneath the follicles of my hair.  And yet, despite the immediacy of her presence, she is farther away than ever.

Death is a fucking fucker and that is about as eloquent as I can get about it at the moment. Grief is an even fucking-er fucker.

Someone said to me last week that grief is love that has nowhere to go.  That’s a more graceful way of putting what I feel I guess.  This pent up surge of love and emotion that has no channel.

I go to E.’s grave every week and I talk to her.  I catch my voice rise and fall in the same cadence it would when she was alive with me.  We had this silly, journalistic way of talking to one another, reporting all of the mundane.

She remembered everything I told her, even the dumbest, most minor details like it was something super important.  She relished stories about my husband and kids.  You know, as a working mom, it does not take much to make me happy.  I’d tell her stuff like how touched I was that my husband stayed home with a sick kiddo or remembered to buy toilet paper on his way home from work, and she’d bring it up months later.  Like if I was annoyed with my husband, she would say something like, “But he’s really a thoughtful guy.  Remember the time he brought home the toilet paper and took Jack to the doctor?”

She made me feel so important.  So special.  So loved.  Who on earth is every going to give a tiny rat’s ass about my membership to the big box store and the lifetime supply of granola I acquired?

So I go to her grave and I talk to her.  I tell her everything.  I tell her what I’m wearing.  I tell her what I had for lunch.  I tell her about the unicorn Emily drew, and I tell her that Jack learned how to play the Star Wars theme on his trumpet.  I read her poems.  I play songs for her.

There’s a part of me that knows I’m just talking to myself, and it breaks my heart.

It makes me cry from so deep within myself, from a place that is still little and frightened, from a place that wants to stamp my foot and pound my fist against my thighs and demand that she come back her right this instant or else!

I keep thinking that any day now I’m going to feel better.

Sometimes I do feel better.  I’m not miserable.  I still find pleasure in life.

But lately everything feels so hard.  Work.  Motherhood.  Grief.  Marriage.

You may have noticed I haven’t written much lately, and when I have, it has been these morose little poems.  Ugh.  Yeah.  I’m sorry about that.

It’s like I just don’t have anything else in me.  I feel terrible for not writing more about my kids or all of the other random myriad of great stuff that goes on, but I sort of feel so drained that to sit down and write anything cohesive and thought out like I wrote two or three years ago would just be impossible.

It seems like all around me people are doing amazing stuff.  Friends are going to political events and getting involved in volunteer work.  Colleagues are reading up on the latest in clinical research and going to conferences to stay current.  People on Facebook are exercising and drinking protein shakes and hanging out in clubs.

I’m just over here like, “How the fuck do you all feel like it?”

I just want to go climb into my bed.

I want to lie still and daydream about being  a mermaid, about swimming far far away under the water and not hearing anything but the swishy splash of my own tail.

I’m so freaking tired.  It feels a monumental effort to breathe.  Everyone else is engaging in their cool hobbies and I can basically say, “Well, I managed to keep breathing all week.  It was hard and kind of painful, but I did it.  So, I’ve got that going for me.”

It’s sort of ironic that I want to duck under the water and swim away when I spend so much of my energy just trying to keep my head above water, but then I’ve always been a portrait in contradictions.

That right there would have given E. a good chuckle.

I miss E. so much, and I wish I could talk to her about this.  I wish I could tell her how tired I am and how sad, how desperately sad, every single breath feels.

But then there is the squishy pillow of my daughter’s cheek under my lips as I get up from her bed to leave her room.  I draw breath enough to whisper that I love her into her sleeping ear.  I draw another breath.  Then another.  And I know I’ll keep breathing, breath by breath, until maybe it doesn’t hurt quite as much.

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In the Dream. . .

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. . .  Jack is in the back seat and I’m driving.  My car dies at the entrance of the cemetery.  I ram my foot down on the pedal and turn the key over and over, but my car won’t start.  It does however float off to the side of the cemetery gate.

We’re walking among the graves. There is a train, a small one, like in an amusement park. It’s dusk.

E.’s casket is unearthed, or maybe it has never been buried.  It is open and we can see her.  She is on a little hill of green, grassy earth and even though it is shadowy, there is a sort of fairy tale cheer about the place.

Someone approaches her and runs their fingers through her short, gray hair.  This does not seem weird to me, but also it does seem weird to me.  At her wake, I remember, we all remarked how they had not done her hair quite right.  It was too spiky, too piecey.  It looked like they had used too much product.  We all sat and laughed, but it was a loving and fond laugh, about how she used to sit in her office and brush that short hair into a fluffy little puff.  Oh, how we loved her.

Wait, I think.  We’ve already done this.  Why are we doing this again?  

Someone bends down to get a closer look at E.  Someone strokes her cheek.  Someone kisses her forehead.  I like seeing people touch and love on her.  It comforts me.  I want to touch her again too.  I want to kiss her too.

But then we are all sitting in chairs.  E. is sitting there too.  She’s wearing her wedding dress, the royal blue suit in which she was buried.  She’s there.  She’s talking to us.  She’s reading things from a paper in her hand.  That seems right.  That seems normal.  She’s a born orator, even though it makes her nervous.

“I won’t be around forever,” she tells us.  Part of my brain is wondering what this means because she is already gone, but she is also here.  “I’d like to have one more party,” she says.  We start talking about what we are going to wear.  I get excited about the idea of digging up my pink tutu.  We all laugh.  “I might only be here for another ten years.  We will have a party, and then you will have to live with whatever happens.”  She says this and she looks right at me.

I’d love ten more years I think.  

I’ll be good, I think.  I won’t put pressure on you or try to change you.  I’ll let you be. Just stay with me.  I’m thinking all this and she’s looking right at me.  I think maybe she is thinking that I need to let go.

Her face is changed.  It’s her, but it’s not. I’m strangely mute.  I can’t say any of the stuff I want to say.

We walk away to prepare for the party.  I remember that my car is dead and I will have to call for a tow truck.  My friend agrees to give me a ride, but she’s walking far ahead of me and I’m nervous that she will leave without me.

I walk past E.’s grave.  It’s a big hole.  I look down into it and the earth is deep and brown, but it is empty.  I look up, and a little ways off, I see her casket.  I look and it is open.  I look and it is closed.  I look and it is open and she is not in it.  It all makes sense, and I’m more nervous about my car now.

And my kids.

Jack is with me, but Emily has gone off.  We need to board the train.  I yell for Emily to come.  She comes.  There’s not a lot of space on the little, amusement park train, but we cram into it.  I am squished on the seat next to my friend. My kids are with me.

I’m nervous about my car.  I’m excited about the party.  I can’t wait to see E.  I’ll be so happy to see E.  There’s so much I’ve got to tell her.

I’m so excited to see E. . .

. . .  and so sad to wake.

Life Carries On. . .

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Last week found me writing a lot about Patty, who died in her sleep.

It felt okay.

That is, the writing felt okay.  It certainly did not feel okay that my friend died.

Writing felt like the right way to honor and feel my grief, and to mourn the loss of someone I knew and loved for many years.

I want to sincerely thank all of you for listening, for bearing witness with me during this time of great sadness and regret.  Your comments and virtual support have meant so much to me.

Life carries on.

I’m already getting swept up in the currents and tides of it as it carries me forward. . .

The greatest sorrow of losing Patty was the missed opportunity I had to reconnect with her during her life.  A very dear friend has suggested I might still communicate with her and that she might even answer me in some way shape or form.

Like the fluttering of a butterfly.

But it is hard and sad to know I’ll never hear Patty’s voice again, that I had the chance up until about two weeks ago to hear her voice.

Let it go, Darlin’, she would say.  It’s okay.

So, I’m feeling ready for life to go on.  I’m feeling ready for the memories of Patty to bind me to her evermore, as opposed to the stranglehold of grief.

I know it is what she would want.

I also know she would be happy to know I’ve reconnected with a couple of old friends who were mutual friends with her and that I’d also lost touch with over the past years of working motherhood.

I’ve been more cognizant of the urges I have to connect with people, and if it feels right, I shoot them a text or dial their number.  I don’t wait.  We never have as much time as we think we do.

Maybe that is Patty’s gift to me–  the awareness that we need to connect here and now while we have the chance.

Or maybe that is just something I am telling myself to be okay with the loss.

Either way, I am feeling peaceful about it.

In the vein of life moving on, it also seems like the appropriate time to share with you that we got a new dog.

For the sake of my blog, I will call her Muffin.  She’s a mutt.  We’ve had her for about three weeks.  She came into our lives a month to the day after we lost Doggy, and Muffin has brought us joy, love, and healing.  In this instance, a replacement pet was exactly what we needed.  And she is perfect for us.

I’d hesitated to say anything earlier, because of the trauma with Doggy, I wanted to make sure that this Muffin was the real deal.

And she is.

I’ll sign off of this post with lyrics from a Peter Gabriel song, “I Grieve.”  It is one of my favorite songs by one of my favorite singers, and it has brought me so much comfort so many times in my life:

Life carries on
in the people I meet
in everyone on the street.
In all the dogs and the cats
in the flies and the rats
in the rot and the rust
in the ashes and the dust.
Life carries on and on and on and on
Life carries on and on and on.  

It’s just the car that we ride in
a home we reside in,
the face that we hide in
The way we are tied in.
And life carries on and on and on and on
Life carries on and on and on.

 

 

Sitting in the Wound in My Mourning Apparel

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Here’s the thing:  Grief is not a one-size-fits-all kind of outfit.

It looks a little different on everyone.

I don’t wear it well.

I don’t know that any of us find it particularly flattering.  I mean, they don’t call it “ugly crying” because it looks incredible.

For me, grief looks edgy, quiet, irritated, isolated, obsessive, and exhausted.  It finds me drifting from room to room without a purpose, craving my bed and greasy meat, and playing too much Candy Crush.  Grief makes my back and head hurt.

Think PMS with more dysregulated moods and crying.

I feel flattened. I feel like I’m dragging myself around, just trying not to lose my shit, then losing it anyway.

It’s hard to tend to my kids, but I do.  It’s hard to brush my hair, but I do.  It’s hard not to eat only gummy bears and wine, but I don’t.  I manage to sneak some pizza and sweet and sour chicken in.  It’s too hard to get my shit together and cook, so I’ve ordered out and I’m going to be cool with that.

People used to wear specific clothes, usually black, for a year- or longer!- after the death of a loved one, or black arm bands, to signal that they were in mourning.

Let that sink in- a year or longer.

And these clothes allowed others to recognize the vulnerable phase of grief, and cued them to empathize with the bereaved.

I don’t think my leopard-print leggings and dog-hair-covered hoodie are imparting the same message.

Now we get a weekend of services, maybe five days of bereavement leave from work if it was immediate family, and are expected to get on with our lives.

If you grieve for longer than that there is an unspoken theory that there is something wrong with you.  Quick!  Get back to posting pictures on Facebook that make life look perfect!  Nothing to see here.  Move along.  Nothing to see. . .

People also love the notion that there are stages of grief and we march through them in a linear fashion.  Let’s keep it rhythmic, tidy.

This is not to say there is no regard for dying, death and grief these days.  Hospice and other support groups and counselors certainly offer empathy and understanding.

I read something the other day that compared grief to an inner wound in which we must sit, and feel it, experience the pain completely.  The writer suggested that we must tend to this psychic wound as we would to an external injury.

It is the creating of this space and time in which to sit in my wound that I am finding so tricky.

I’m not quite sure what to make of my grief about Patty’s death.

Or of my grief regarding it.

When I learned she died it was shocking.  Initially, it seemed that the fact I hadn’t seen her in person in years would soften the blow.

But it didn’t.

It really made it worse.

For weeks I’d been thinking about calling her.  When I switched jobs, I worked in a new part of the city that took me past her office on my commute every day.  I’d drive past and think, hey remember that time we went out to lunch a few years back?  Has it really been that long?  Gosh, I have to call Patty!  

But I never did.

I missed my chance.  

That’s the resounding thought, pealing like chapel bells in my head; that I missed my chance to reconnect with this person who was so special to me, a person who took one of my secrets to her grave.

That’s the wound in which I am trying to sit, in leopard-print leggings, in between making mac n cheese and going to work and walking the dog and doling out napkins and squashing sibling skirmishes.

My missed chance is my wound.

Funny thing is, I know Patty would not want me to sit in this wound.  She would hate to think people were having protracted grief and missing out on the budding lilac bushes and sparkling spring mornings filled with bird song.

I can hear her voice.  I can hear her voice!  She says, Hey beautiful doll.  It’s okay.  She says it in that matter-of-fact way, her voice calm and even, tinged with a smile.

At the funereal I offered my tearful condolences to her beloved husband.  He remembered being at my wedding with Patty nearly a decade ago, which might have been the last time I saw him.  I let him know that Patty helped me celebrate a lot of joy in my life.  “She loved you, Charlotte,” he said and wrapped his big arms around me.

I felt unworthy of that gift.  There I was, crying on someone who needed my comfort and support, and he was offering me that precious gift of Patty’s love.

Fucking love, man.

It doesn’t die.

When my wound heals, I’d like to be able to accept that gift of love that  connects us all regardless of distance, time, and even death.

New Jobs Are Hard

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This week I started my new job…

I love it.

I love my office.  I love my coworkers.  I love the clients.  I love the new challenges.  It’s complex.  It stretches me beyond my comfortable, familiar zone.  It’s fast paced.  There’s an employee’s only restroom with a paper towel dispenser that actually works.  I get home earlier.  I am closer to home.  All of these things, I just love.

That said, I’ve also spent a lot of time crying this week.  I’ve felt homesick, lonely, confused.

It reminds me of when I first moved into my new house–  my family was with me, I was thrilled with my cozy, little home, but I felt really sad to leave my crowded, cramped, but familiar old apartment.

I’m very confident things will be okay in the long run.

Perspective is a good thing.

I’m sitting with the sad, hard, frustrating feelings.

At my old job, I was in a good position.  I’d been there forever and had seniority, experience, and a muscle memory of how things worked.  I could go through my days with my eyes closed.

It is really challenging for me to be the new kid on the block.  I’ve taken a step backwards so that I could be more available for my family in the long run, to possibly have less stress in my life.  I am somewhere strange and new where I do not have the ability to make my body instinctively do all the things it needs to do to get through the day.

It feels like being on another planet.  It feels like being someplace totally unfamiliar and exotic and a bit scary too.  It feels like I’ve gone someplace where I am scared to drink the water or venture too far off by myself.  Every motion I make requires focus and attention.  This is not necessarily a bad thing. . .  but. . .

It takes a lot of effort.

I come home a bit fraught and exhausted.

But it will be okay.

Perspective and all. . .

In Which My Blog BFF Learns I Am NOT a 47 Year Old, Male, Serial Killer (and Other Neat Surprises)

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Jen confessed she had been anxious to meet me.  And that her family had been anxious about her meeting me too.

In truth, I was a little anxious also.  And not just because I’m almost always anxious about everything (some people think it’s charming, I swear), but also because I’ve never met anyone from the blogosphere in real life before.

She had suggested a place on the water in the southern part of our state for us to meet for coffee or tea or coconut water, which was eventually what I chose because I’d been drinking green tea all day and was extra jittery.  It was a great choice and not just because it was super convenient for me to hop over to after having my annual physical, but also because it was beautiful, sunny, and breezy.

I got there first and scarfed down a pesto, turkey wrap.  I had purposely starved myself all day because of the annual exam, and not wanting to weigh even a half pound extra.  Because I’m crazy like that.  (Note to self:  Work a little harder on that self acceptance shit and eat a sandwich).

When Jen arrived, we did the nervous peeking at each other, and then embraced warmly like long lost friends.  I prayed to the heavens and muses that I did not have pesto in my teeth because I had planned on doing a lot of smiling.

And pesto or no, a lot of smiling I did.

I think Jen, from the amazing blog Chopping Potatoes, was immediately put at east to see I was, in fact, merely a plump 41 year old mommy blogger, and not the 47 year old, male ax murderer her family and anxiety had maybe suggested I was.

But just in case there was even a shred of doubt left in her adorable, curly head, I pointed out that male serial killers don’t usually spend quit as much time as I do writing about breastfeeding.

Or maybe they do. I don’t know.

Either way, we had a good laugh.

Then we set about trying to remember when exactly we “met” each other online.  She started her blog in January of 2012 and I started mine only seven months later in July of 2012.

One of the greatest things I’ve found in blogging is a sense of community as moms, that even as quirky moms with “issues” we are not alone.  Jen’s blog does this in a way that is graceful, articulate, warm, and well researched (wink-wink, Jen!) as she writes about perinatal anxiety and depression, maternal mental health in general, and all the other nuts and bolts of mommy blogdom.

We shared about our families and I even showed her photos of my children, which for privacy reasons I never share on my blog.  It was a leap of faith that just felt right.

Jen and I discovered that we have led oddly parallel lives for decades, since we were small.  We actually grew up within minutes and miles of one another, then lived in the same neighborhood for a time as adults–  how awesome is that?!  We went to the same college, and may have even passed one another in the dining hall at one point or another.

We talked about this era we are living in of “highlight reels” on social media, and how it can make us feel so envious and strange and pressured.  When we talked about children and behavior (and our reactions as moms to our children’s behavior), I felt kinship, but also relief that I am not the only mom out there who has primal, monkey children in the car or Target.

We were able to share in our sense of “Is life really this hard?” and talk about what it is like to live with anxiety while striving to do our Type A best as moms.

We talked about our blogs, of course, and shared the stories behind birthing them, how and when and why we post, and where we find inspiration.  It tried, albeit ineptly, to explain why I am an in-the-closet blogger to my family and most of my friends.  And she shared about her writer’s group.

We were also able to relate deeply to one another on the subject of maternal depression and anxiety, which is a special thing over which to bond with someone.  Not everyone understands the shame, guilt, and despair that goes along with maternal depression.  But when you meet someone who has been there, and gets it, it just feels like arms are opened and the universe winks and says, “It’s okay.  I got you.”

Plus, it’s not every day you can engage in a conversation with someone about intrusive thoughts and turn it into a bantering competition about who has the weirder thoughts that plague them.  And laugh about it.

The universe does indeed work in funky ways.  Which is awesome.  I felt perfectly at home next to Jen, and was my regular, neurotic self, which was a relief.  And that is how I know a person is a true friend–  when I am totally at ease saying whatever thing comes out of my lips.

Jen brought me a lollipop from a Warrior Mom conference she’d been to earlier this summer.  She had invited me to go, and as much as I would have loved to, I had to work.  But she brought me back a little treat and saved it for me for weeks until we were finally able to meet up.

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It was worth the wait.

Someone gave me a picture frame once that said, “A friend is a gift you give yourself.”  That’s exactly how I felt after meeting up with Jen.

Jen, thank you for all you are doing to normalize and empathize with women who struggle with stuff.  You are amazing and I’m so honored to be your neighbor and your friend.  Until we meet again. . .

The Scoop On Poop

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It is amazing how focused you suddenly become on poop when you become a parent.  From the moment your baby is born, you count their messy diapers like rare birds, and closely examine the contents for color, size and consistency.  Green, frothy poop= bad!  Mustardy-seedy poop= hoorray!

After having a baby, talking about poop is no longer taboo.

I even had a conversation with a new dad, at brunch no less, about how his newborn’s poop smelled slightly like roses due to the mama exclusively breastfeeding.  (True story, breast milk poops don’t smell as bad as ones from formula, which in my humble opinion is yet another benefit of nursing.)

Today a dear friend/colleague stopped by my office and we had a chat about poop, but not our children’s.  We discussed  our own irritable bowels.

I shared with her about the miracles of fiber, and she shared her fear of colon-rectal cancer.   Closing my office door, she stepped closer to my desk, and we confided in one another about how our intestines often feel tied in knots from the stress of motherhood, work, worrying about money.

You may be shaking your head in disgust, thinking TMI.  Or maybe you already stopped reading and clicked over to a pretty travel/photo blog to cleanse your mental palate.  I wouldn’t blame you.

But something about my conversation with my pal made me feel great.  Relieved, even.  (OK, that was a really shitty pun.  My apologies.  Whoops!  I did “it” again. . .  )

When I was young, I used to bond with other gal-pals talking about raunchy, sexy exploits.  Or make up.  Or a hot new restaurant.  Or lingerie.  Or how amazing those fingers of that new-guitar-player boyfriend were.

Motherhood has changed the subject matter of my conversations.  As a mom, I spend so much of my time and energy talking about my kids, pridefully boasting, expressing my concerns about their well-being or my frustrations with their behavior.  I rarely get a chance to read or go to the movies, so my commentary on current culture is pretty limited to what I hear on NPR during my morning commute.

Often, I simply don’t get a chance to talk to my lady friends at all.  I shy away from talking about myself outside of my role as mother because it seems this all-encompassing identity.

Chatting about twosies felt intimate and self-centered, and reminded me my poop is important too.  I guess maybe this is my 40-something equavilant of “girl talk.”  Or maybe not.  I don’t know.  It was a nice, little moment of connection that rang a bell of mindfulness for me, and made me realize I need to touch base with my friends (and myself) a little more often.

And let’s face it, I love any chance to talk about how fiber therapy has changed my life.  It just feels like my duty to share.

Have you found you talk about different things as a parent?  What are your favorite or most frequent topics of conversation these days?