bomb blast

My precious kitty, aged 16, was hit by a car a few nights ago. It feels like a bomb has gone off in my chest, the way grief does feel. She has been my friend, companion, and family member since I was 19 years old. She gave me such happiness just by being around. I’m tormented by thoughts of her lying on the side of the road, suffering and alone. I’m wracked with guilt that I didn’t keep her in at night (she would’ve hated it, but still). The cycle of grief, the fear of losing other pets and family members, the constant tears, the sensation of being irrevocably broken inside… it’s all there, just as it would have been if she were a person.

Finding out at work was terrible. I was forced to finish 2.5 hours of my shift while intermittently running to the break room to sob, and trying desperately to stop my tears while I cared for patients. (Google “how to stop yourself from crying for some tips and tricks.) Then I cried so hard in my car when I got out that I couldn’t drive at first.

It’s been so hard to do anything, let alone work on getting ready for the twins (due in 3 weeks!). Everything is just hard, when your heart is so broken.

self-care

I’m going through a bad spot in my emotional health, so many repetitive painful thoughts dominating my head space. So I’ve been trying to dig through my old bag of tricks for this type of depression, things that I painstakingly learned when I went through this for a long time in my 20s (and had a wonderful therapist).

1) Act “as if”. Acting as if I’m fine and as if it’s a normal day is not the same thing as denial, because it’s supposed to be used as a tool to get you out of bed and get out of wallowing. Go ahead and make coffee, clean the house, go for a walk, run errands. Don’t lie in bed in fetal position for more than an hour.

2) Give yourself permission. Permission to feel bad, really really bad, for as long as you have to.

3) Turn off the tapes. The tapes on repeat in your mind are damaging. Turn them off even if it means listening to political podcasts. It’s unnecessary to play things over and over… once you’ve had a thought, you don’t need to think it again times 1000.

4) Run new tapes. Tell yourself that you are ok, you are lovable,  you are strong, you have gotten through things before and you will again. Remind yourself that nothing is permanent, even and especially feelings. Find quotes that make you feel inspired or stronger and repeat them in your mind. Read books or watch shows that are about getting through hard shit.

5) Get a new perspective. Leave town, visit people, anything but staying home in your own little bubble. Even going to work can help. Traveling is also a good way!

6) Find something to look forward to and focus on that. Planning a trip is my go-to, but it can be anything.

7) Talk to yourself like your own best friend. Tell yourself that you deserve the best. You deserve happiness and to be surrounded by people who treat you well all the time. Don’t tell yourself that you are stupid, a fool, too needy, or too anything! A best friend would never tell you that. A best friend would tell you that you did fine, you are fine, and you don’t deserve to be anything but loved and treated well.

This is my first holiday season without my grandparents, and sometimes I talk to my grandma in my mind and try to imagine what she would say. I try, but I can’t always hear the answer. I can hear her telling me all of those things I said in number 7, however. So many of us are going through hard times and the holidays make them that much harder. Be kind to yourselves!

I’m home, and I don’t know

As usual, post-travel depression hits me like 2 tons of bricks. M was more than ready to come home, she was counting down the days and has exclaimed several times since getting here that she’s so happy to be home. But I… I’ve dreaded this moment since taking my first breath of Kathmandu air while stepping off of the airplane and the hugest smile spread across my face. I cannot shake the feeling that there is nothing for me here at home (except my mom and sister, but I mean future-wise), and coming home to my cat having been put to sleep and my grandparents’ house empty and the cold and the election… well… it’s all too much.

I’m struggling with parenting a lot right now. We’ve traveled so much, and M has always enjoyed it and asked to go on more trips and always behaved at her best while traveling. Going to Nepal was completely different… she was unhappy, unsettled, and her behavior was completely ridiculously awful. As a parent I was awful, too. I had a hard time finding our connection, or drudging up compassion for someone who, while so little, was being so insanely difficult all the time. I haven’t been such a shitty parent in a long time, but I had no idea what to do when I had to move her through a security line at an airport, or get her onto an airplane, and she was being destructive and hurting other people or running away from me. How to respectfully parent in these situations? I’m completely lost. It’s like last September when she was having the rages and I just sat there crying completely in over my head.

Part of why I was so irritable is that I just don’t know what to do with life in general. Nepal has a funny way of unearthing me and exposing me to the wind. We were in bad situations all around: not having our own space, being on the move too often, jet lag, culture shock… it’s no wonder she went crazy and I had a hard time dealing with it. But now we’re home and I no longer have even the possibility of happiness for quite some time. I know, I need to change my attitude. But something in me needs to go to Nepal. Needs to speak that language and hear its sounds and see its mountains. When I have to leave I just… my heart is broken, the way it feels broken when a relationship ends. I just cry. I feel nauseous. I wonder what the hell I’m doing here, in this life.

I’m sitting in my house at 4am. We’ve been up most of the night because we haven’t even slightly adjusted to the time change. The house is a mess. The air is frigid. My daughter just asked where the cat is, and I had to tell her she died. Just like grandpa and Gi Gi. The swimming pool people have called to say it wasn’t in their system that we were leaving (I made sure twice before we left). The travel nursing recruiters are trying to talk to me about being submitted for jobs. I have to go back to work Friday and Saturday and I hate work and I hate leaving my daughter. My mother didn’t eat and had a bad fall while I was gone, so I feel I can’t leave her anymore either. My daughter wants to go back to her school and loves being home and now, for the first time ever, I’m afraid that my daughter won’t want to be in Nepal with me. Or that I’ve damaged her, somehow, instead of inspired her.

I’d still get back on a plane tomorrow and go back if I could, because I hate it here. I hate it. Everything is different and empty and I feel so lost here. So pointless. I close my eyes and still see the Himalayas. I still feel their presence in my blood like a calling. Oh god, how am I still back here in this place. Without money I will never get out. I just have to work… more. I have to make money somehow so I can go back for longer. I have to have something to look forward to. It’s the only way to go back so… I guess I just put the pedal to the metal and go where there’s some money to be made.

I don’t know if I’ll ever be unstuck here, in America, in the Midwest. I don’t know how to be a single mom, take care of my own mom, and get out of the financial hole I’m in enough to get out of this country from time to time. But I have to. I’m dreaming of an apartment of our own in Kathmandu, trekking, and a contract once or twice a year in the states. A few summer months in Michigan at my lake cottage. That’s the life I’m working for. Somehow I have to push aside these post-travel blues and get to work. I have to be a good mother, I have to reconnect with the things that make me happy here, and I have to move on. I can do this. Right? I can do this.

grief and loss books for kids?

I had a dream last night that I was in my grandma’s house, and a winter wind was blowing around the house, blowing so hard that parts of the walls were blowing in and the frigid, snowy air was beginning to howl through the rooms. My grandparents were dead and gone, as they are now, but other people were coming and going in the household, much like when we had so many guests before and after the funerals. At one point I decided to leave and go back to my cottage. I stepped out of the house and was lifted and pummeled by the rough, hurricane-force wind.

And then… the wind was gone. The air became still. I walked toward my cottage from the house on green grass in still, mild air and suddenly my grandma was beside me, in her blue coat and purple fuzzy hat, still old and hunched over, but there. I knew she was dead but clutched her apparition fiercely, begging her not to leave me to go back to the other side. She told me that she could not leave yet, for now she was still walking beside me. She told me I should go home, and not try to stay at the house where she’d lived. She was as calm and practical as she ever was during my childhood. She didn’t say much, but walked me home, reminding me not to overreact the whole time. Get on with life, she seemed to say. You’ve never been good with change, Edith. But how silly, I’m still right here, not even gone. It’s just a house, you know. The grandma who used to tell me “this too shall pass” was there, telling me not to fret, not to struggle, and not to resist change.

Why, it’s as if she’d never left. Except, of course, it isn’t.

I woke up feeling as if I’d actually spent time with her, and the feelings of grief and loss then flooded in fresh all over again.

Back to the title of the post: does anyone have any books they’d recommend for preschoolers regarding the loss of grandparents or older relatives? M is now mentioning her Gigi and Grampa who died every day. She was playing on the piano and said, “this is a song about Gigi and Grampa who died in my heart”. She mentions feeling like crying because they died and went to the sky when we drive past their house. She talks about death. I think all of the talking is healthy, and I’m glad she’s opening up about it, but I was wondering if there were any good books out there for our bedtime reading repertoire…

the turning of the leaves

Autumn is always a nostalgic time, but this year I am finding the I’m feeling it more acutely than usual. Today marks two months since I said goodbye to my grandma. It feels like two years since I’ve seen her, and yet it seems like she should be calling me any minute to ask when I’m coming over. It hurts every bit as much as I always knew it would, and then some. It’s the end of an era: my childhood.

Her house sits empty, and soon that hallowed ground will be gone as well. Home is not what home once was. I’ve salvaged a piece of it here on my lake, but soon it will not be my permanent residence. Soon I will be gone.

In my 32 years I’ve loved and I’ve lost. I lost a baby, my daughter. I lost relationships, both good ones and bad ones. I lost the love of my life without ever really having her. I’ve lost precious times in my life, like when I was in nursing school with a tight group of karate pals. I’ve shed terrible times in my life, being cheated on and lied to repeatedly, battling crippling anxiety and depression. I lost a family when my Nepali friends moved away.

All of those endings hang over me in big ways, and now foster care and the drama of adoption are behind us, and the end of my time in the ICU where I’ve worked for 6 1/2 years looms ahead of me. Times are a’changing, but they always have been, haven’t they?

Do I have the guts, the courage, and the gumption to point my stern to the horizon and take on the unknown? Maybe I’ll find new families, new friends, new eras, and new loves. If I stay here, I’ll be a ghost of all the things I used to be. So I’m going.

Two things I haven’t lost: my mother and my daughter. So I’m strapping them onto my back and setting off into the great wide yonder.

And grandma, I carry you in my heart.

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loss continued

For some reason, my grief has been heavy on me today. You know how we often say, “I lost my [loved one] last month”? Sometimes it really feels like I “lost” my grandma. Like I put her down somewhere and every time I go to pick her back up, she’s missing. And I think, where did my grandma go? How did I lose her? Where do I begin looking for her? She feels like something misplaced or accidentally left behind.

In some ways she feels so much like she is still with us. For example, the way my mom has agreed to go traveling full-time with us. My grandma always made my dreams come true, and I see that selfless spirit in my mom. Also in the way I’m taking care of my mom’s money now (with her permission) and looking out for her. My grandma made me promise her, on her deathbed, that I would always take care of my mom. That was literally her dying wish. She never stopped wanting to do anything for her daughter. She entrusted that to me… which is a sacred thing. So I now carry on that piece of her. My mom carries on the piece of her that made my dreams come true, and I carry on the piece of her that protected and watched out for my mom. It’s unreal, right? She’d be proud. She’d be happy. But good god, how I miss her.

So many nights in my teens and 20s I would lie in bed either in my grandma’s house or my cottage and self-soothe by thinking, “We’re all here together, my grandma and my mom and me.” I felt the shadow of my future grief even then, knowing that someday I wouldn’t be able to feel what I felt in the presence of my two rocks (mother and grandmother). And then when M came along, I would lie in bed and tell myself that the four of us were here, on our land, together and ok. And now we’re not. The time has come when one of my rocks is gone. No amount of “living through us” will ever really replace the simple comfort of her human presence. Nothing can ever give that back.

Last week we extubated (removed the breathing tube of) an eighty-year-old who was dying, so that she could go home on hospice and live her last days without tubes, enjoying her time with her family. The first thing she said when the tube was out, through sobs: “I want my mom.” Somehow I know that when I’m old, or dying, or sick, or all three, I will say through my tears: “I want my mom, and I want my grandma. I want to all be together.”

Nothing will ever be quite right again.

the physical toll

My week of grieving, funeral prep, and hosting family members took its toll on my physical heath. I came down with a cold last week and it’s hung on mightily. I go to work and somehow rally to get through, but on my off days I’ve been slammed with fevers, congestion, headaches, and nausea. Poor M… she hasn’t really had her mom much at all the last couple of weeks. I’m hoping our upcoming trip to San Francisco will give us some restorative time.

We leave tomorrow for Chicago. I decided to forgo the train in order to save time and money. Luckily I never mentioned taking a train to her, so she won’t know to be disappointed. She’s excited about the airplane, though. I’m just hoping my health is better and it doesn’t feel like torture to be out of bed the whole time. We are flying overnight to the west coast, and then taxi-ing to a hotel room until morning. Then we’ll spend the day in San Francisco before settling into my friend’s home west of Oakland for a good part of the week. She’s had a baby and I haven’t met him yet, so I’m excited about that. Hopefully her older son (age 2 1/2) and M will get along a little better than they did last year!

the words I spoke at the funeral

Dear Family and Friends,

So much can be said about my grandma, her love of travel, her pride in her heritage, her stubborn insistence on keeping every sock and butter packet and letter. I could write a novel about her kindness, her strength, and her courage in life. There are things that she taught me that I carry with me every day: always stop and ask for directions instead of wandering around lost, ask where to find something in a store, plan ahead for the worst case scenario and be prepared for the bumps along the way. Put family first; always love family unconditionally.

This last she did especially well. She worried about each of us, she celebrated our joys and cheered on our triumphs. She suffered when we suffered. She flung her doors wide open for us, any of us, for however long we needed a place to stay. Her home was the shelter in the storm for many of us over the years, and for me it was the one place I found safety in the world. “Grandma, come and get me,” I would say over the phone, and she would come. Right away, no questions asked, she would arrive and take me home with her, where I could stay for an hour or for years. She would feed me, proudly save my report cards, and give me rides to and from school every morning and afternoon. She later told me she liked driving me to school as a teenager because that’s how she got to hear all about my day.

She not only protected me and gave me a safe base from which to explore life, but she gave me the wings I needed to explore it, too. She paid for and attended every one of my music lessons, and there were many. My concerts, karate classes, recitals, and sports games: she was there for every one. My first trip overseas was with her, and the means with which I traveled later to Europe and Asia were provided by her. She wanted me to fly, and because of her love, I did. And because of her heart, I always will.

We all think of birth as a miraculous event. The beginning of a life is awe-inspiring to witness but I wasn’t there for her birth. I didn’t hold her as a baby to soothe her cries, but I was honored to be the one to do so when she left this world, which is an event every bit as magnificent as birth. As often as I needed her to comfort and protect me in my life, at this most important time in her life she needed me to comfort her, to provide her with a feeling of security. I was humbled to be the last person she waited for, told about her day, and asked for. I was honored to be the last person to sing her a lullabye, to hold her in my arms, and to whisper goodbye.

I know we are in a church of God, but I hope you don’t mind a bit of a scientist’s offer of consolation upon the death of someone we love so much. Grandma herself was a lover of science, as well as a Christian, and she never saw why the two could not go hand in hand. This is a quote by the writer Aaron Freeman:

You want a physicist to speak at your funeral. You want the physicist to talk to your grieving family about the conservation of energy, so they will understand that your energy has not died. You want the physicist to remind your sobbing mother about the first law of thermodynamics; that no energy gets created in the universe, and none is destroyed. You want your mother to know that all your energy, every vibration, every Btu of heat, every wave of every particle that was her beloved child remains with her in this world. You want the physicist to tell your weeping father that amid energies of the cosmos, you gave as good as you got.

And the physicist will remind the congregation of how much of all our energy is given off as heat. There may be a few fanning themselves with their programs as he says it. And he will tell them that the warmth that flowed through you in life is still here, still part of all that we are, even as we who mourn continue the heat of our own lives.

And you’ll want the physicist to explain to those who loved you that they need not have faith; indeed, they should not have faith. Let them know that they can measure, that scientists have measured precisely the conservation of energy and found it accurate, verifiable and consistent across space and time. You can hope your family will examine the evidence and satisfy themselves that the science is sound and that they’ll be comforted to know your energy’s still around. According to the law of the conservation of energy, not a bit of you is gone; you’re just less orderly. Amen.

I will be looking to these words for comfort often in the days, months, and years to come. Because in a world without my grandmother, I will need to remember that all of the happiness, love, and comfort she gave to me is still here, in this world. And she would’ve wanted it that way.

Thank you.

caring for the dead

Over two weeks now, and some nights I still can’t sleep. My mind wanders to the last time I was with my grandma, because that is as close in time to her as I will ever be now. I still hear the agonal breathing, feel the slowing pulse, the sweaty skin… still feel the floppiness of her limbs. I hear the last words she said to me and wish I could hear them again, in real time. “I love you.” Mostly, I miss her. And I miss knowing she is. My childhood world no longer is, it only was, because one of it’s key ingredients is gone forever now.

Today, my patient died. He was alone and so I tried to stay with him. It was too hard sometimes, because before my eyes he would morph into my grandma. Later, as I pulled the tubes from his body and rolled him into his white body bag, I could not help but think of the nurses and aides who did this with my grandma’s body. I knew it wasn’t right but I couldn’t help imagining them rolling her lolling, limp body about, yanking out the IVs, feeling her warm skin now cold and bruising. I imagined the white, lumpy human form under the sheet being discretely wheeled out of the building on a cart.

Sometimes at night I imagine them feeding that body, that meat-covered skeleton that was beloved to me, that once rocked me to sleep and carried me on a hip and held my hand, being slid into an incinerator. I imagine each cell burning, combusting, and her form, the form that was love in the physical world to me, disappearing into thin air.

Like I did after Avalon (my baby) died, I wonder how a being, a whole person, could just be gone. “Into the everywhere,” I used to tell myself (thanks to Brooke at By the Brooke), “that’s where she’s gone.” This is the most comforting response, maybe even the most scientifically accurate, but it does little to soothe the unease of the void left behind by the deceased. I don’t want her in the everywhere, I want her in her orderly, familiar form. I want to fly far and wide in this world, but can’t imagine doing so without the base from which I launch, without the familiarity of “home” to return to, even if in my mind.

There is no bargaining, anger, or acceptance that will give me what I very simply want: my grandma back. Permanence. No amount of denial will bring it into existence. I am left with sadness, with loss, with a hole that can only be hovered over… never erased, never filled.

the saddest week

What can I say about this week except… it was a blur, a sad, anxiety-provoking blur. I spent a good part of it surrounded by stacks of photographs and creating video slideshows for the funeral. M suffered my tears and devotion to photos valiantly, and went to daycare twice. I also had to write my speech and practice the piano for the song I was playing. Oh and put together the memory table. Pretty much planned the funeral, set up the sound and visual equipment, picked out the music. Here is the life video I made:

Now there’s the house, the assessing and selling of it, the cleaning out of it, the buying of the gravestones. And the whole time I keep thinking, oh I have to tell my grandma about this! At the funeral and at the cemetery, I kept suddenly thinking, who has grandma in their car? I took photos of my cousins swimming that night, thinking, “I have to show these to grandma.” And then, oh yes, there is no grandma now.

Family came in. I think the meetings with the three children about the estate went well, but the weekend was not without family drama. It was upsetting to me in a general way to see my grandma’s house, my childhood home, torn apart and belongings dispersed. It’s just a general feeling of loss on top of the loss of her as a person. It’s the loss of a place I called home, the presence of which had always been my security, my blankie, my safety net.

I even had some anxiety yesterday and had to go home a while and just lie down. I haven’t felt so panicky in years. It passed, though. Now I’m back to work, which I guess feels somewhat normal. I have our airline tickets to California to visit my friend, and I’m trying to feel enthusiastic about it but it’s certainly not easy. Everyone wants to know where I’m going or what I’m doing but to be honest, for the first time since childhood, I don’t feel like planning or doing anything. I kinda just want to lie down in my bed, curl into a ball, and have nothing unexpected happen for a while.

M was wonderful for the funeral and the graveside ceremony. Just really well-behaved. I’ve been so proud of her. She’s had to absorb my anxiety and my grief, tension within the family, losing both of her great-grandparents, and a routine that was far from normal for over a week. She’s expressed her own anxiety, asking my mom if she was going to die now. She’s comforted me when I cried and needed to cry and be comforted. She’s clung to me and refused to go and play or swim unless I’m with her.

Everything just feels odd and like a parody of itself. The fact that my grandmother is not calling and leaving messages for me. The fact that she never will again. The weirdness of her home on the hill with no her in it. The apocalypse of my childhood mind. The distorted horror-film like memories of her death, of my mom and uncles releasing doves into the sky in the cemetery, of holding her ashes in their box and lowering them into a hole. This just doesn’t seem like real life. Any moment I’ll wake up and shake off this dream.