Bits and Whatnots, Grief

New Year, New Me (and other things I won’t be doing).

THAT day has come. That one day we all sit down and decide on our goals for the New Year, maybe even write them down to keep ourselves on the straight and narrow. We’ve come through half of Winter by now, and see Spring just ahead of us, a time for new beginnings. We’re going to lose weight! (No but for real this time!) We’re going back to school! We’re putting in for new jobs! Cleaning the attic! Organizing the basement! Helping the needy! Sewing all our own clothes! Composting! Recycling more! Running a marathon! Everything! Everything we’ve ever wanted to do in life, here it is! Right in front of us! Every thought requires an exclamation point!

It’s all there! We just need to reach out and grab it….we’re right on the cusp of…….

Nah. Nope. I’m really not.

I’m not doing it this year.

This last year has, quite likely, been the hardest year of my life. Last year on New Year’s Eve, I was looking ahead to spring, to fulfilling my resolutions, to marking To-Do’s off my bucket list. I spent New Year’s Eve with my family, and looking around our home, I was filled with hope, and pride, and ideas, and…..and well, just that sense of New-ness, of wiping away the year before and focusing on gettin’r done in the coming twelve months.

And then.

And then that bright, shiny New Year knocked me flat on my ass.

We started the New Year with my husband very unexpectedly losing his job. It seemed like that was just the beginning of a downward spiral, a dirty snowball of Fate getting fatter and fatter as it flew down the hill of 2013. Before we even caught our breath, there was an accident – my sister-in-law and nephew spun out of control on an icy road and a pick-up truck DROVE THROUGH their tiny car, slicing it in half. Our hearts collectively stopped for a beat of time, until we knew the two of them would be okay. Not the same as before, but alive, and that meant all the world. We stopped to breathe deeply. My sister and I cried together in the Emergency Room, and hugged each other as we waited for our sister-in-law to come out of surgery. Again. And again. And again. We talked about the exciting news in my sister’s family: her first grandbaby was to be born in July. Due to be born the same week as Royal Baby George, we laughed and said her little grandson would be the best thing in the year, the one special thing we could look forward to. We loved the name that had been chosen for him, and we talked about how he would be chubby with blue eyes, maybe, and long lashes like my nephew. We made plans for the baby shower, and sometimes during our talks, my sister would reach back and rub her shoulder. She said she’d slept wrong, maybe, or pulled a muscle when moving out of her old house.

March 1st, the baby died. Our family was heartbroken. My sister wept and wept and the pain in her shoulder worsened. She wasn’t sleeping well, she said, she was so upset about the baby, and sad for her son and his girlfriend.

In April, we learned the shoulder pain was a mass in her lung. She was so afraid. We all were.

I would lay awake at night and think, “I can’t lose my sister. I can’t lose my sister.” I would read, and watch television deep into the night, but the phrase kept repeating.

In May, she started chemo and radiation. There were complications. Things went bad. Quickly.

Her long and beautiful hair came out. Her weight plummeted. She seemed confused. And then one day, she couldn’t get out of bed.

That foul disease had metastasized. To her other lung. To her brain. To her bones.

And in the blink of an eye, my beautiful sister, my only sister, was gone.

I never imagined we could survive it. Every day I woke up and thought, “This is the day the world will stop,” because I simply could not imagine it would keep going without my sister in it. For so long, my only feeling was a blessed numbness, a surreal feeling of limbo. Days came and went. I shoved reality away. I filled my mind and days with nonsense. Anything to keep busy, to stop myself from thinking.

Somehow, life went on.

My husband changed jobs again.

There were new medical diagnoses and decisions about treatment plans for some of my children.

I started a new semester at school, but apathy quickly overwhelmed me. I quit attending one class three-quarters of the way through the semester, and utterly failed the other one. I haven’t even checked my grades yet, but I know there will no longer be a shiny 3.9 in my G.P.A. spot.

I don’t understand why I don’t care anymore. I just don’t.

One of my mom’s best friends died. I called her “Aunt” all of my life, and when I dropped in at the funeral home, I felt an odd hollowness in my belly, as if a chunk of my childhood had been somehow yanked out of my memory.

I started a new job. Within just a few months, I was injured and am still off.

The physical pain coupled with the emotional pain leaves me so exhausted, I wish I could just sleep and sleep and sleep.

I force myself awake because I have a family and I want to be there for them. I know they are still hurting, too.

But I have a hard time really feeling present, regardless of what I’m doing.

I want to do something, anything, that will make me FEEL.

But that would require effort, and I am quite tired.

Life keeps moving forward, and my children seem to grow older by the day.

It looks like there may be another job change on the horizon.

Changes keep coming. We keep adjusting. Sometimes my eyes overflow with tears and I don’t know why.

Last New Year’s Eve, I would never have imagined everything that would have transpired in the coming months.

That’s probably a good thing.

Still and all, there were some good things. I crossed a few items off my bucket list.

In 2013, I was excited to publish my first and second articles.

I started this blog. Having a regular reason to write has helped me keep my sanity.

I found a Super Awesome Someone willing to edit my book.

The creations I design were accepted at a Renaissance Festival, and I had the pleasure of dressing as a pirate wench, and sometimes as a gypsy, for an entire month last summer as my friend and I manned our “Hooker” shop…..hookers o’ yarn, we were.

My husband and I celebrated 20 years of marriage.

I learned people, even total strangers, will give and give and give if they know there is a need. I was blown away by the support and love shown by others when my sister was ill.

My oldest child began her Senior year of High School.

I’ve reconnected with old friends and made some new friends (including a Wicked Witch, some Giants, a few Gypsies, and a crew of Fire Flinging Belly Dancers…..WHAAAT? YEAH, I KNOW PEOPLE.)

I survived both the Mid-Season Finale of “The Walking Dead” and Icemaggedon 2013.

I learned my heart can be ripped from my chest, and I won’t die.

Knock me on my ass? I might stay down and nap for a minute, but I WILL get back up and keep going.

So, nope. I’m not making any New Year’s Resolutions this year. I’m not even making plans.

I’m just hoping.

I hope I wake up every morning and get out of bed.

I hope our marriage grows stronger.

I hope I don’t miss the changes in my children a year will bring.

I hope my Mom is still around next year on New Year’s.

I hope I get a few steps closer to publishing my book.

I hope I graduate in May.

I hope the physician I am waiting to see can fix my back. I hope I don’t need surgery.

I hope I don’t hear the word “Cancer” again. AT. ALL.

I hope I can help someone who needs it.

I hope I never forget to say, “I love you”.

I hope I have the opportunity to publish more of my words.

I hope.

I hope that in 2014, I no longer feel numb.

“Five hundred twenty-five thousand six hundred minutes.”

A million years long.

A blink of an eye.

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Bits and Whatnots, Poetry

The Twelve Days of an Ice Storm Christmas.

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On the first day of Christmas, Santa brought to me

Some herniated back discs, three.

On the second day of Christmas, Santa brought to me

Spinal stenosis

And some herniated back discs, three.

On the third day of Christmas, Santa brought to me

Three days no power

Spinal stenosis

And some herniated back discs, three.

On the fourth day of Christmas, Santa brought to me

Four freezing children

Three days no power

Spinal stenosis

And some herniated back discs, three.

On the fifth day of Christmas, Santa brought to me

Five weeks, no paycheck

Four freezing children

STILL NO POWER!

Spinal stenosis

And some herniated back discs, three.

On the sixth day of Christmas, Santa brought to me

Mountains of laundry

Five weeks, no paycheck

Four freezing children

NO! Don’t flush the toilet!

Spinal stenosis

And some herniated back discs, three.

On the seventh day of Christmas, Santa brought to me

Woot! A generator!

Mountains of laundry

Five weeks, no paycheck

Four freezing children

I just want a shower. PLEASE!

Spinal stenosis

And some herniated back discs, three.

On the eighth day of Christmas, Santa brought to me

A never-ending ice storm

Woot! A generator!

I know it’s dirty. Just wear it.

Five weeks, no paycheck

Mom? I can’t feel my fingers!

I’m going to kill myself tripping over these friggin’ extension cords!

Spinal stenosis

And some herniated back discs, three.

On the ninth day of Christmas, Santa brought to me

Warm, spoiled groceries

A never-ending ice storm

Gas for the generator costs HOW MUCH?

Mountains of laundry

Five weeks, no paycheck

S-s-s-s-s-soooooo c-c-c-c-c-c-cold, M-M-M-Mommy!

SERIOUSLY? I need to wash my hair. Seriously.

Spinal stenosis

And some herniated back discs, three.

On the tenth day of Christmas, Santa brought to me

A kid with flaring asthma

Great. Just great. A month’s worth of meat, wasted.

How long can one ice storm last?

FREAKING GAS GOUGERS!

I know there’s no clean laundry! I know it! Just wear it!

STILL NO PAYCHECK.

Mom? Help! I’m frozen to the toilet!

If we unplug the fridge and the space heater, maybe we can light up the Christmas tree for a minute.

Spinal stenosis

And some herniated back discs, three.

On the eleventh day of Christmas, Santa brought to me

Six inches snow fall

Unplug everything, I need to fire up the nebulizer.

Will insurance cover all this lost food?

The longest Christmas week ice storm in history. Yay.

This generator does NOT last eleven hours once it’s filled. False advertising. You suck.

It’s okay to live in dirty pajamas, kids, no matter what I’ve told you before.

I’m never getting my paycheck. Never ever ever.

MOM!! My toes turned blue and fell off!! Am I going to die?

Not to scare you kids, but I’m pretty sure this is the beginning of the Zombie Apocalypse.

Spinal stenosis

And some herniated back discs, three.

On the twelfth day of Christmas, Santa brought to me

HECK YEAH! I think I see….if I squint just right….an energy company truck down the road!

Really? MORE SNOW?

Please stop coughing. Please stop coughing.

Well….the bread isn’t spoiled. Here, eat some bread.

Okay, so the iced over trees would look kind of pretty, if they weren’t responsible for the destruction of mankind.

It stopped! Whose turn is it to refill the generator? Go, go, GO!

Layers, kids, it’s all about layers. I don’t care if you look like a marshmallow.

PLEASE. SEND. MY. PAYCHECK.

Mommy? I can’t blink…..I think my eyeballs are frozen.

No but seriously though….isn’t this how “The Walking Dead” started out?

Spinal stenosis

And some herniated back discs, three.

Chronic Illness

Don’t Kill Ben.

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I love this meme so much. Many people do not realize how their decision to not vaccinate may impact those who have no choice but to remain unvaccinated. In fact, through a multitude of conversations and readings, I have found many people assume the only illness that could weaken an immune system in such a way that an individual could actually die from easily prevented (through vaccination) diseases is HIV/AIDS. Thousands upon thousands of people in our country live with a form of primary immunodeficiency. Primary immunodeficiency means the body lacks or is deficient in the part of the immune system that fights bacteria, which also means the body cannot produce antibodies to an illness or vaccination.

Simply put…if YOU came down with strep throat, your body would rally a defense, you would fight it, get better, and then, say, a week later you were near someone else who had strep, your body would recognize it and you would not get it again because you now have antibodies against it.

My kids get strep throat, take weeks of antibiotics, miss weeks of school, finally get better, encounter someone else with strep, get it again, and again, and again, and again. This goes for anything…..stomach flu, influenza, upper respiratory infections. Every illness they struggle through weakens the body further, leaving them vulnerable to any bacteria or virus out there.

Now imagine what could happen to them if they caught….chicken pox. Measles. Mumps. Polio. Whooping cough. We could be talking about lung collapse. Sepsis. Death.

Now, I’ve heard the old argument, “I had measles back before there were vaccinations, and I was perfectly fine.”

Whoop-de-do for you. You were fortunate to be born with a healthy immune system. Not every one is. Luck of the draw, buddy. You can’t assume that because you were fine, everyone else would be fine, too.

And I’ve heard it stated, “I don’t care about anyone else. I only care about me and my family and I don’t want to vaccinate.”

Isn’t it great you get that choice? Wow. Some of us don’t get a choice. But hey, very thoughtful of you to risk the lives of others because you are selfish. Bet you are raising some nice kids over there. Obviously, the only lives that matter are the ones under your roof.

But we all share a planet. We should try to help each other. Can you really sleep well at night knowing you may have caused the death of someone else’s child? A child whose parents love them just as much as you love your children?

Our family and other families like ours rely on the “herd immunity”…..that other people are vaccinated and thus form a protective circle around the people who can’t be. The more people that choose to not vaccinate, the more people with primary immunodeficiency seriously affected by that choice.

There is no cure for immunodeficiency. The only treatment is a monthly or weekly infusion of a plasma by-product called IVIG. IVIG contains the antibodies from thousands of donations of blood and plasma, boiled down and put into one little bottle. This infusion gives my kids a sort of “temporary immune system” that lasts a few weeks, until we have to do it again.

Hypothetically, if this trend to not vaccinate continues, there could come a day when there aren’t enough antibodies in the pool of donated blood and plasma to create the IVIG that we rely on for survival.

There is no other treatment for primary immunodeficiency.

There is no cure.

If such a day ever came……….what would we do?

Families like mine don’t get a choice.

But YOU do.

What will you choose?

Bits and Whatnots, Grief

Stuffing, Veterinary Liniment, and Other Holiday Delights

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On the outside, it seemed so much the same. I was thankful for that. I’m a fan of sameness.

Routine. Tradition.

I dislike big changes.

As a child, I cried when my parents changed the kitchen wallpaper or traded in the old Station-wagon for a new one.

So it stands to reason that on this day, this year, this first major holiday without my sister, my entire soul craved routine.

Carefully, I asked my mother what time we would be eating.

1 p.m.

Good. Same as in years past.

Breathe in. Breathe out.

Carefully, I considered recipe choices for what dish I might bring and in the end, decided on the same pineapple cake with homemade cream cheese frosting that I’ve taken every year for at least ten years.

Breathe in. Breathe out.

Carefully, we made snacks and hung out with the kids the night before, our own little accidental tradition that has come about over the years – this celebrating big holidays on the eve of the actual day – mainly because the actual holiday is so fast and crowded and loud and it can be hard to pay attention to each of my own four kids during a giant family meal, and also because I’m a lazy mother who would rather make snacks and play Aggravation or Sorry! than spend hours making an identical dinner to the one my mother will make the next day.

This year, it was a little different because there was a new boy hanging about. I can’t say he is my teenage daughter’s boyfriend, because evidently that’s an archaic term that is no longer groovy or hip to bandy about, but I suppose I can call him “The-Boy-My-Daughter-Exclusively-Holds-Hands-And-Hangs-Out-With-Whose-Facial-Piercings-Give-My-Mother-Tics” without dropping any points on my Cool-o-Meter.

He seems like a nice boy.

Breathe in. Breathe out.

Carefully, I rose early the next morning to turn on the Macy’s Parade, and began preparations for cake baking. I had time the day before to do it, but intentionally left it undone, because I usually make it the morning of Thanksgiving, during the Parade, and this was no year for change.

Breathe in. Breathe out.

The snow was falling prettily, dusting the roads and grass and the mountains of leaves in my unkempt yard that I haven’t bothered to rake up and it all looked rather picturesque as we pulled out of our drive.

Carefully, we stopped at the local gas station to pick up two newspapers; one for us, one for Mom. Something my husband started doing years ago, when my Dad was still around, and after the big meal had been eaten and Mom’s fancy gold-plated utensils washed, and the desserts sat forlornly on the table, warm and messy from attack, we would spread out the papers and look at the ads and detail which sales might be worth fighting for.

Breathe in. Breathe out.

Carefully, we maneuvered the somewhat slick, old dirt road that led to Mom’s house, the one we all grew up in. The house my father died in. The house my sister died in.

Breathe in. Breathe out.

Carefully, I swallowed hard as I realized ours was the only vehicle arriving for Thanksgiving dinner.

Usually, there are so many cars pulling in on a holiday morning, some of us have to park in the road.

This year, the white blanket in Mom’s driveway was untainted by tire treads.

Carefully, I blinked hard and fast and bit my lip, really hard.

Breathe in. Breathe out.

But the smells were the same. Turkey, stuffing, gravy, biscuits, green beans with mushroom soup, all mixed together and wafting from the side door as Mom leaned out to greet us, the scent getting caught up in the bitterly cold air and drifting up my nose all at once.

The sight was the same. Mom dithering back and forth, back and forth, worrying over the pots simmering on the stove, ordering the carving of the turkey, wondering aloud if anyone else might show up.

The fancy Christmas tablecloth was on her large, wooden table; golden silverware tucked into little poinsettia pockets; the good, glass dishes overflowing with tossed salad and deviled eggs and every other traditional Thanksgiving delight.

She was smiling because one of my nephews had called and he and his girlfriend were able to come.

Back turned to me, she announced, in a slightly wavering voice, a change this year: instant potatoes.

Potatoes.

Mashed potatoes were my sister’s particular dish. Every year since I was a little girl, Mom would boil a giant pot of potatoes and then they would sit, mushy and waiting, for my sister to arrive to add the butter and milk and do the actual mashing and whipping them into fat white clouds.

So this was different. Mom just boiled the water and added some milk and the instant flakes, stirred them up, and rubbed her age-weathered-but-well-manicured-hands together as if swiping something crumbly and sticky off them.

It worked out okay. They turned out pretty well.

For instant potatoes.

And this year, she remembered to set the timer for the biscuits, and did NOT burn them.

I’m kind of used to the toasty bottoms.

But I realize I can’t always have my way.

It sounds ridiculous. I know.

This year, we did not pray over the meal. Nobody mentioned it.

Nobody gave thanks for anything. Not that we were ungrateful.

It was just exhausting enough, smiling and trying to keep some balance.

My nephew and his girlfriend sat across from us, and he joked about being 23 years old and finally getting moved up from the little kids table.

At the head of the table where Dad used to sit, was Mom’s Canadian Boyfriend. She’s been seeing him for a couple of years now.

It used to be that there would be at least 20 people present for any holiday, and quite often, more than that.

This year there were eleven.

That might sound like a lot, but considering seven of them came in my vehicle, not so much.

So we ate and cracked jokes and complimented Mom on her cooking and passed the stuffing and gravy and cleaned it all up and washed the dishes and then set out the desserts.

There were so many desserts, and so few of us.

But we plowed through them, like the steadfast soldiers we were.

We sent the kids to help carry up the heavy boxes of Christmas decorations and Mom’s tree, while the adults sat in the living room and sorted through the newspaper ads.

By some unspoken pact, we seemed to all avoid the family room, where my sister’s hospital bed used to be.

At least for most of the day.

Mom kept repeating to me, “We have to do this. We have to make memories for the little kids. We just have to do it.”

And we did.

Mom boxed and bagged up the majority of the leftovers for us to take home.

The Canadian Boyfriend gave me a hug and a bottle of Veterinary Liniment and told me to rub it on my knees and injured back and it might help.

I’m still trying to figure out if that was some sort of passive-aggressive insult, or an actual gift.

We gathered our crew together and left a little bit early. My husband had seen an ad for a TV he wanted to try and grab at Best Buy. Ours has been broken for about a year now.

In general, I am adamantly against shopping on Thanksgiving.

But hey, I guess it’s a year for changes.

The new TV is nice.

The leftovers were tasty.

I’ve not yet tried the Veterinary Liniment.

At any rate, we made it through.

Carefully.

Breathe in. Breathe out.