Everything else, Grief

A Grief Named Lucille

 

sad-2668488_1920

It comes out of nowhere.

Wait. That isn’t accurate.

It’s there, always. Sometimes it’s hiding, just under the surface. Sometimes it’s shoved down so deep it seems like it’s gone.

Sometimes I forget, just for the briefest of seconds, when I encounter something that really strikes my soul in some way, like a string of powerful song lyrics. I pause and absorb that small fraction of time; peace settles within, and I am overwhelmed with the perfection of what is happening around me. Puppies playing, children laughing, snow falling, my husband’s warm hand linked in mine.

I never see it coming, until THWACK! Negan has sneaked up behind me, and Lucille connects to the back of my neck with a force so abrupt and painful I can do little more than collapse on the floor and try to catch my breath. The crushing hopelessness is upon me and I can’t think how to get out from under it.

It’s been a while since I had a full-on anxiety attack. I came close the night before Easter, when we (as is typical for us) were running around getting things at the last minute for the kids’ baskets. Walmart was so crowded, most aisles were impossible to get down. I could feel the familiar signals creeping up on me, and I pulled my husband aside and told him I needed to finish and get out of there. While we finished getting the final few things, I worked really hard to keep my breathing even, to not give in to the panic thrumming in my veins. What I’m finding is I’m okay and I’m okay and I’m okay and I’m okay and then all at once, I am absolutely NOT okay. It doesn’t have to be anything big that sets me off.

Saturday I had a table at a local book event for horror authors. It was inside a busy farmer’s market, but I knew the room we’d be in was off to the side and less crowded, so I figured I’d be fine. And I was. Mostly. Some of the authors in attendance I knew from the previous year at the same event, and it was nice to talk and catch up. Sold books. Had some good talks. Met a couple new friends. During a lull, I was standing at the table next to mine, talking with the artist, flipping through the pages of his albums, checking out prints I wanted to buy. Nothing in particular was going on. I wasn’t being crowded or upset. But all at once, I felt it creeping up my spine. And I was so hot I couldn’t catch my breath. My chest began twitching. Clenching. I hurried back to my seat. Drew my shawl around me. Pulled my hair up inside my hat. My husband went out and bought me a big bottle of water, then sat with his arm around my shoulders until the panic passed. It wasn’t a full-on attack, but still bothersome. For the most part, I had a great day.

But then I overdid just a little. After the event, I went to a store, and then to a busy restaurant for dinner. I did okay while in those places. I was okay, and I was okay, and I was okay, and then about 2:30 a.m., while I was in bed, in the dark, relaxed and dozing –

Dammit. There she was.

Lucille.

At first, I thought, maybe it’s asthma. It could be asthma. The weather has been weird and my lungs can be sensitive. My chest tightened. Yeah. It’s probably asthma.

Please be asthma.

Even as I thought it, I knew it was that freaking bat. At least that time, I was already down. I curled up and burst into sobs. I searched my brain for breathing exercises to do. Thought calming thoughts. Tapped my fingers. Wept until I was all snotty. Caused my husband some alarm. It lasted probably a half an hour before it began to ease.

Occasionally, people will ask me why I keep talking about grief and mental health issues. There are happier things to write about, aren’t there?

Well, sure. Of course there are.

You’re usually so funny! Write something to make people laugh!

That’s true. I do have a knack for humor. I enjoy making people laugh, and often write that sort of thing.

But life isn’t always funny. Sometimes it hurts. Sometimes the pain is so disabling, you struggle just to get up off the floor.

It’s important to talk about those parts of life, too. People need to know they aren’t the only ones struggling with depression or anxiety or grief. They need to know someone out there understands what they are feeling. If there is anything worse than being depressed, anxious, and grieving –

it’s being depressed, anxious, grieving, and completely alone in it.

Sometimes people say I seem to be dwelling on my grief.

“Get over it.”

“It’s been months already.”

“Pretend to be happy, and then you will be.”

I know there is a lot of truth in the idea of focusing on the positives. And I do, truly. Maybe even more than most people do, because I know how awful it is to have family and happiness ripped away in a blink of time. Focus on your joys. Be grateful for what you have. Absolutely.

But, guys, there is an enormous difference between “dwelling” and “acknowledging.”

Forcing yourself to act happy all the time, refusing to acknowledge your grief and pain, that’s some unhealthy shit right there. That agony you shove down deep and refuse to talk about? It’s gobbling you up from the inside out. Dwelling on the past and your hurt, yeah, it’s probably not so good. But taking it out, recognizing it’s there and it’s valid, finding ways to keep getting up every day in spite of it; finding ways to laugh although you ache –

that’s important. Grief and pain, those are experiences that shape us. Change us. Empty and refill us.

So I keep getting up. Keep writing. Keep looking for small joys to hold onto. Keep enjoying those fractions of time that feel like utter perfection.

Even though I know Lucille is going to hit me again. Knock me down. Make me weep.

I keep getting up.

My bones ache. I bleed. I think I can’t do it one more time. It’s not possible.

I keep getting up. Sometimes it might take an hour or a day or a week to get entirely upright.

That’s okay.

Because it’s worth it. I promise, it’s worth it.

My website

My books

Join my FB readers group

Advertisements
Bits and Whatnots, Everything else, Grief

One Step Forward. Three Hundred Sixty Four Steps Back.

staircase-209914_1920

People who know me keep asking if I’m feeling better.

I’m never sure how to answer that question.

What exactly is “better?”

Better from grief? From depression? Anxiety? I don’t know. It’s all tangled up in me and I can’t always pull the different emotions apart.

If the question is, Have you gotten over the deaths of your siblings? Then the answer is no, and I never will, so you might as well stop asking.

If the question is, Are you making any progress at all? Then the answer is, Yeah, I think so.

It feels like I am. In really, really, miniscule ways, I’ve made some progress. For a long time, I felt so raw I could barely stand most of my clothes, so it’s been leggings and soft shirts  most of the winter. But the last few weeks, I’ve been able to wear jeans.

Last Thanksgiving, I hosted the family dinner. My niece brought a turkey. It was too heavy to pull out of the oven, so I transferred much of the juice to a big Mason jar. I set it on the windowsill above the kitchen sink. I’ve been looking at that jar for months, disgusted with myself for not taking care of it, but too exhausted and overwhelmed to deal with it. Two weeks ago, I dumped it out and washed it.

Three weeks ago, as I was walking out the front door to take my boys to school, my youngest son said something funny and I heard myself laughing. Like, really laughing out loud. Hard. And I thought to myself, Oh my God, I’m laughing. How long has it been since I laughed last?

My therapist says she’s proud of me. I wonder how I got to a place in my life where it means so much for a therapist to tell me she’s proud of me for doing simple things like leaving my house or washing the dishes.

I’ve gone to dinner at a couple of smallish restaurants without having an anxiety attack. I told the psychiatrist I’ve been seeing about the anxiety attacks that hit when I’m in crowds and she told me to breathe into a paper sack. So that was just phenomenally unhelpful. Glad I’m getting charged nearly $200 for that bit of advice.

Still can’t watch television or read much. I’ve found a few more musicians I can tolerate the sound of, so my playlist has gotten slightly more diverse, but I still listen to the same songs every day. I have no idea what it is about these artists that makes their music tolerable, but for the moment, I’m just glad I can listen to any music at all.

But it feels like in more ways than I’m moving forward in, I’m stumbling back. Anxiety makes me more awkward than usual, and the usual is pretty damn awkward already. I work in a very small office, usually with three other people that I know pretty well. I have my own desk in a room with two other desks, but there’s usually nobody else there when I’m working. So I walked in last Thursday to find a new person had been hired. She seems entirely pleasant, but I was caught off-guard. I couldn’t think of what to do, anxiety had my brain all jumbled up, and even in the best of times, I’m not huge on hugging, especially with people I don’t know. But the new chick is a hugger, so she jumped up to hug me hello and introduce herself. Entirely inadvertently, I jumped backward and flung my hand out like “stop.” Immediately, I attempted to apologize and shook her hand, babbling incoherently about my own inadequacies and anxieties, and generally making the situation even more awkward. Anxiety ballooned this incident in my mind until it was nearly all I could think about. At the end of my shift, as I was walking out, I thought, I need to make this right so it’s not super awkward next week. So I stopped to shake her hand again as I left, and said the most inane thing I probably could have. “Sorry I’m so awkward, but I’m seeing a psychiatrist about it.”

I’m sure that helped matters. First impressions and all that.

My husband surprised me with a night away at a hotel and planned a night at a casino. He said I seemed overwhelmed and needed a break, which was true. The hotel part was awesome but the casino was crowded and smoky and I had to take frequent breaks from the people. I wrote part of my new book out on my phone while my husband played games, so I didn’t have to interact with anyone. The next day was release day for When Knowing Comes, and as I’d decided to go low-key and stress-free as possible, I’d planned a live video in my FB readers group for the event. We came home twenty minutes before the video was to start. My laptop decided to do updates at the last second, which left me in a panic. The FB app on my phone wouldn’t work for no apparent reason. Finally I grabbed my husband’s phone, downloaded FB, and started my live video twenty minutes late, which left me out of breath, anxious, and shaky.

I find I just really need a lot of preparation before I do anything. Time to work up courage. I hate feeling this way. It isn’t what I’m used to and I get frustrated with myself for not being able to get back to “normal.” Which, okay, with me is still pretty weird but even so. I used to be able to roll with the punches when plans changed. I want that part of me back.

Some days, I am anxious all day for no apparent reason. It feels like that sensation when you tip over the top of a rollercoaster hill, all day. All night. And I can’t link it to anything in particular, so I can’t fix the problem and by the time evening comes, all I can think about is going to bed so I can escape that feeling. Going to bed because you’re tired is a very different thing than going to bed because you can’t stand being awake anymore. Either way, though, I wake up over and over and over. I can’t remember what a solid night of sleep feels like.

But on the upside, I’m having less nightmares about my family and pets dying in front of me. So I’ve got that going for me, which is nice.

I’ve pulled back more on social media. I’ve unfollowed or left all the groups I was in except my own readers group. Weekly, I cull more “friends.” I’ll continue paring down until I get to what I feel is a manageable number. I understand it hurts people’s feelings, but right now all I can do is try to take care of my brain the best I can. My focus has narrowed to my household, my mom, my job, and writing.

And speaking of writing.

I’m writing. A lot. For so many months, I couldn’t write anything, and that was painful for me. Now, I can’t seem to stop. I’m nearly finished writing the third Windy Springs book, and my mind races with ideas for the fourth.

A lot of the time I feel like all I’m doing is treading water. But hey, at least I’m not drowning anymore.

One step forward. Three-hundred-sixty-four steps back.

But still, a step forward is a step forward. And even one step is better than none.

My website

My books

Bits and Whatnots, Everything else, Grief

The Gift of a Song

music-2149880_1920

 

On occasion, I’ve experienced things that defy any simple explanation. I don’t understand how they happened, but I’m positive that they did. Cosmic mysteries, I guess, or whatever you want to call them.

My sister loved the song Wagon Wheel by Darius Rucker. If it came on the radio, she’d immediately start  smiling and singing along. When she was on Hospice, her son would sing it to her often. The night she passed, that same son sang Wagon Wheel as she took her final breaths.

We made a CD to play during the funeral viewings and service. Of course, Wagon Wheel was included.

She’d been gone just a little over four years when we learned my brother had cancer. He asked me to help him take his son on a promised trip to Nashville. Within weeks, we’d thrown a fundraiser, gotten time off work, and packed up our Yukon, Nashville bound. My nephew loves country music, and my brother had promised to take him to see the Grand Ole Opry. It took us two days to drive from Michigan to Nashville. My brother was quite ill at that point, and we had to stop often for him to get a drink or to rest. We had purchased tickets ahead of time for the Opry, for the same night we rolled into town. After dropping off our luggage at the hotel, we headed out. We had a wheelchair we’d intended to bring with us, but we couldn’t fit it in the vehicle, not with five adults and all the suitcases and bags. After literally hours of trying to get the chair into the Yukon, we left without it, as time was unfortunately of the essence. When we arrived at the Opry, we realized we had a problem: the parking lot was enormous and crowded. There was no way my brother could walk that distance, so my husband let the four of us out at the gates, and went to find a parking spot. If you’ve ever been to the Opry, you know how beautiful it is. The giant guitars, the plants and flowers, the lights. It’s utterly enchanting. And there is always country music blaring outside to welcome visitors.

It took quite some time for my husband to make it back up to where we were. Tickets in hand, our group entered the gates.

That’s when I heard it. Darius Rucker singing Wagon Wheel. It started playing just as we walked through. I nudged my sister-in-law. “Do you hear that?” I asked her. “It’s Charlotte’s song.” We all kind of stood still for a second, listening. A weird little shiver went up my spine and my eyes watered. How I’d wished she could have been there with us, and out of nowhere came her favorite song.

Which could always be a coincidence. But it meant something to me. It really struck my heart.

The show was fantastic. It felt good to know we had accomplished the biggest goal for the trip. We’d gotten my brother and nephew to the Opry. Anything over and above that was gravy. We hit a lot of touristy spots while we were in town. The wax museum, where my brother posed with his favorite singer, Reba McIntyre. We bought cowboy boots at a western shop. We laughed a lot. One day we drove right into the heart of the city, intent on taking my nephew to the Country Music Hall of Fame. Here in Michigan, I live in a town so small we don’t even get mailboxes. My brother and his family lived a couple of hours north of us, in another small town. You ever see the Uncle Kracker video for Smile? That was filmed in their town. Suffice to say, downtown Nashville was a bit of a shock to our systems. The noise, the crowds, the hella busy streets. First we had to find a rental place to get a wheelchair, which took time. Then we had to locate a parking lot, which was confusing. And by the time we had the wheelchair and had gotten parked, we weren’t sure which direction we were even walking. We went down one sidewalk, backtracked, tried another one. Finally, my husband told us to stop and he took out his iPhone.

“Siri, I need directions to the Country Music Hall of Fame,” he said, loud and clear.

Instead, his phone pulled up YouTube. And without him touching a button, Darius Rucker’s Wagon Wheel came blaring out of his phone.

That time, I did cry. In fact, my insides shook. The five of us stilled on the sidewalk, stunned. Staring at the phone in my husband’s upturned palm.

When the song ended and we looked up to try to figure out where we were, there it was: the Country Music Hall of Fame. Right across the street.

Another coincidence?

It feels like more than that to me. It feels like it was a gift, just for us. Two weeks later, my brother was gone. But the memory of that moment the five of us – or maybe the six of us – stood together on that sidewalk, listening to Wagon Wheel, has been a balm to my soul ever since.

I will treasure that fraction of time forever. Because I was given a precious gift.

The gift of a song.

My website

My books

Everything else, Grief, Writing

Permission to Rest

sky-1107952_1920

 

Once upon a time, I might have known what these three words meant.

Permission to rest. 

Somewhere along the way, I forgot.

It’s easy enough to forget things. I forget all the time. Most of last fall I was caught up in a frantic haze of activity. Keep busy, keep busy, keep busy. Holding still for more than a fraction of a second felt like failure. In the course of a session one day, my therapist told me I needed to give myself permission to rest. I nodded and said okay, sure, I’ll do that.

I mean, I’m a reasonably intelligent human being. And I’m pretty good with words. I thought I understood. But it turned out I didn’t. I understood the words individually, but when it came down to it, I couldn’t grasp how to turn them into a verb. Like having a jar of peanut butter in one hand and a jar of jelly in the other, and being unable to figure out how to make a sandwich. So I posted in a group I’m in on Facebook, a group of book lovers, because I figured they are smart and could help me out. And they tried.

But what I realized was, everyone else was too far ahead of me. They were giving me instructions for algebra, but I still needed help with addition. The more I thought about those three words, the bigger they became in my mind. I thought it needed to be some kind of special Permission to Rest time, at a specific time of day, and it seemed as if that would be too much for me, so I quit trying to figure it out. At some point, a friend said to me that it could mean just staring at the wall for five minutes a day. That was something tangible, something I could comprehend. I started doing that. There was something in that silence that reached through the cacophony in my soul.

For me, permission to rest meant permission to cut the noise out.

Once I had a handle on it, I took it a little further. I spent some time cleaning out my social media. Unliked a couple hundred pages on Facebook. Chopped my friends list by a few hundred. If I looked at a name and couldn’t recall where I knew them from, delete. If I hadn’t posted in a group in a couple of months, delete. If someone’s posts were stressing me out, delete. Even real life friends. Even family. Then I started in on Twitter. Same rules. This cost me a lot of followers, but I guess if they were only following me so I would follow them, they didn’t really care about me or my writing to begin with, so no great loss. I unfollowed almost all the celebrities or TV shows I used to follow. I didn’t do these things all at once. It took a few weeks. Some I had to really think about. Then I unfollowed news outlets. The final cut was local animal shelter pages. Anything that caused me stress or upset had to go.

Television was a struggle for me. There are shows I like, and I wanted to watch them. But plots were hard for me to follow and my brain would take whatever I watched and turn it into some horrendous nightmare about death. So, I quit watching TV. (Keep your TWD spoilers to yourself, people. I might pick it up back at some point.) For a while, even music grated on my nerves.

The silence has given me space to mourn.

The silence has given me space to begin to heal.

About two weeks ago, I heard myself laughing really hard at something my youngest son said. It was such an unfamiliar sound, I was startled.

Lately, I’ve been listening to music again. Really focusing on the lyrics. Good music does a lot to lift my heart and I’m grateful I can tolerate it again. I’m listening only to specific bands at this time. Only the ones that really speak to me, and that’s a fairly eclectic mix. Hello Dave. Dead Man Fall. Rend Collective. Hugh Laurie. Big & Rich, and Kenny Alphin’s solo stuff. I have a YouTube mix that I keep on a loop.

There’s a line in Alice in Wonderland where the Mad Hatter says, “It’s good to be working at my trade again.” I’m feeling that right now. Feeling it hard. The absence of the ability to write was a grief all its own. When Knowing Comes releases March 10th. It’s unlikely that I will do any sort of release event for this one. I’m learning to recognize my limits and adhere to them. It means more to me that I am able to write again, that I finished the book. Even in the midst of all the pain of the last few months, I finished the book. I’ll send ARCs out to reviewers, and I’m going to do a live video in my FB readers group on the day it goes live. That’s what I can handle, so that’s what I’m doing.

Not too long ago, my husband sent me a word game on Facebook. I was supposed to unscramble the letters. The letters I got were E-R-T-E. I looked at those letters for an hour. I could not form a word. I remember thinking it was some kind of joke game, because those letters didn’t make any word.

I’m a writer, and my mind was so cloudy I couldn’t spell the word “tree.”

Now I’ve finished writing one book and have a good start on another. I’m blogging again. It feels good. It feels right.

Permission to rest.

Permission to be still. Permission to cut the noise.

Permission to feel the silence.

Permission to heal.

My website

My books

 

 

 

Bits and Whatnots, Everything else, Grief

Life in Color

Sometimes forward steps seem so small. It’s imperative to remember that any step forward is still a step forward. It doesn’t matter if that one tiny step has taken you years to make.

Forward is forward.

purple

Yesterday, I did something I haven’t done in many years. Longer than that, actually. Something I haven’t done since I was about fifteen or sixteen. And I’m a long way past that now – forty-two.

It seems like a tiny thing. A normal thing. Something I imagine most humans do on a regular basis. Let me back up a minute.

When I was a young teen, my sister went to cosmetology school. I went in often to let her practice on my hair and nails. Eventually, she graduated, and after that, anything that was done to my hair took place either in her kitchen or mine. I haven’t been to a salon since then. Not once. Those times when she was cutting or coloring my hair were catch-up moments for us. What’s been going on, what the kids are up to, who she was dating.

Now, my hair isn’t something I spend a whole of time on. I wash it, blow dry it, and just leave the Medusa curls as they are. It’s thick, heavy, and generally uncooperative, and it just takes too long to do anything else with it. I’m also not good with keeping up on coloring it, so by the time I get around to it, I’ve got a couple inches of roots grown out. By the time my sister started having pain in her shoulder, it had been months since I’d cut or colored it. Then she wasn’t able to move her arm well enough to hold her scissors. And very shortly after that, we knew it was stage 4 cancer.

After she died, the thought of anyone else touching my hair was so repulsive I couldn’t stand it. For a long time, I did nothing with it. By the year after her death, my hair was such a mess, even I couldn’t stand it any more. The ends were dead and splitting inches up from the bottom, and it was making the curls look more like I’d just stuck my car key in a light socket.

I looked up how to cut my hair in layers on YouTube, and found a tutorial for doing it by putting my hair up in a ponytail and cutting. I did it myself in my bathroom, and when my hair hit the floor I cried because she wasn’t the one cutting it. That first time was rough, but once I figured out how to do it, it wasn’t so bad. Two, maybe three times a year, I’d just pull my wet hair up in a ponytail and lop off a couple of inches. It took me four years before I could let anyone else touch my hair, and even then, it was my daughter.

She’s a cosmetology student at the local community college. Last summer, I sat in my kitchen chair and let her even up the mess I’d made of my hair and then color it. It was funny how similar her hands felt to my sister’s. Quick and confident.

About a month ago, I woke up one morning and decided to cut myself bangs. They turned out all right. I just used regular household scissors. But after that, I felt like I needed a big change. I decided to color my hair purple.

So my daughter made me an appointment, and yesterday I drove to her cosmetology school and spent six hours getting the red out of my hair and the purple and brown put in. It was crowded and noisy, and at times, that was difficult for me to handle. Since my brother’s death, I haven’t been out in public much. Crowds trigger my anxiety attacks. But I made myself sit through it. Even though my daughter is the one who did my hair, it seemed so strange to be in a salon. The experience took me right back to when I was fifteen, sitting in a twirly black chair at my sister’s school.

When it was finally all done, I left the school and drove straight to my church. A friend of ours had passed away and I went to his memorial service. After I parked my car, I checked myself in the rearview and realized I had purple dye smeared on my cheek.

I went in anyway.

Funerals have gotten hard for me. I know most people don’t actually like funerals, but for me, having lost so many family members in a short span of time, it’s difficult for me to fight through flashbacks, and sometimes I have trouble catching my breath. This was the second funeral for me this week. The church was crammed full of people, so for the second time yesterday, I had to force myself to handle being in a crowd without having a panic attack. I made it through the entire service but didn’t stay for the dinner because my personal limits had been reached. Sometimes I just have to say no and either people will understand or they won’t. I can’t control their reactions.

It seems like a small thing – going to get my hair done. But for me, it was a huge, huge step forward. Yesterday was the longest consecutive amount of time I think I’ve spent in a crowd since my brain went to shit about six months ago.

That tells me two things:

  1. This combination of medication is working for me.
  2. Hope is out there. Somewhere.

Grief and its aftermath are such hard things to live through. But I’m doing it.

I’ve said before that intense grief is like suddenly having an enormous hole in your leg. At first, it seems like your life is over – how can you function with a gaping hole in your leg? You can’t walk. You can’t do anything. It’s awful. You need help with everything and it’s unimaginable that you will ever have any semblance of a normal life again.  At some point, though, you realize you can do some of the things you used to do, you just need to do them in a different way. And later, you don’t need as much help. You can go on with your life, though you might need a cane and you’ll always have a limp.

My purple hair is me walking with a limp.

But at least I’m walking.

My website

My books

Bits and Whatnots, Grief

A Different Sort of Love

heart-3142869_1920

 

Tomorrow is Valentine’s day, and in the spirit of celebration, I’m going to share a love story with you.

Not that kind of love story.

This one is about the love of a community.

My brother’s wishes were to be cremated. As a family, we decided to use some of his ashes to have jewelry made for each of us as a keepsake. Most of them came in back before Christmas, but my two daughters had ordered blown glass pendants, which took longer to create. They were ordered in early November, and just came in February 3rd. I drove out to the funeral home in our old hometown to pick them up. It was a Friday, and my daughters were ecstatic that they had finally come in.

Last Tuesday, February 6th, I was at work when my cell phone rang. It was my youngest daughter’s number. When I answered the phone, she was wailing, a terrible, strangled cry that broke my heart.

She had lost her necklace. She had come home from school, changed, picked up her pendant – which was still in the box it came in from Crescent Memorial – put it in her pocket and stopped at a local store on her way to her boyfriend’s house to show it off. During the drive, she realized the box was no longer in her pocket, and immediately retraced her steps. She searched the store and the lot, to no avail.

The beautiful blown glass pendant – ordered in blue and green, because my brother loved nature – the last link she had to her beloved uncle, was gone. Her heart was shattered.

I made a public post on my Facebook page with a picture of the pendant and a plea to help us find it. We live in a very small town, and I hoped local friends might have spotted it. My husband went to the store and looked again, and the employees felt so bad for my daughter, they got out dust mops and checked under all the shelving units, just in case it had somehow fallen beneath them.

By the time I came home from work that night, my post had been shared over 500 times. Considering I only have about 370 Facebook friends, that was pretty good. The next morning, it had been shared over 1,000 times, and I had glass blowers messaging me with offers to make my daughter a new pendant, free of charge, if we had more ashes. Around ten a.m., a local news station saw the story and asked to interview us. Neither of us were excited to do that, but we hoped it might get the attention of more locals. After all, the pendant had to be somewhere, right? Someone had to have seen it. So we went and we did it. The story aired on the 6 o’clock news, and my Facebook post continued to be shared, with comments by complete strangers who said they were looking, or were sharing in local buy/sell groups. I received notifications from people who had shared in Kentucky. Oregon. Florida. Literally across the United States. And it hadn’t even been 24 hours since the necklace had been lost.

Thursday, a local radio station reached out to my daughter for permission to share the story on their Facebook page. She agreed, and soon that story was being shared as well. So many people left kind comments, stating they were praying for us, that they understood our grief and what this necklace represented to my daughter. A glass blower in Oregon messaged me and offered to make my daughter a new bead, if we sent some ashes to her. She said she’d do it even if we found the necklace. This sort of generous spirit amazed us. So many strangers reaching out with love, with hope. It made a difference.

In the beginning, we offered a $50 reward for the safe return of the necklace, no questions asked. On Friday, I edited my post to raise the reward to $100. Later that day, my daughter received a call from a number she didn’t recognize.

“Are you Savannah, the one who lost the necklace?”

She barely dared to hope. “Yes, I am.”

“I saw the story on the radio station page and on the news and recognized it. I can bring it to you right now.”

They met in a grocery store parking lot. My daughter offered her the reward money, and the woman refused. She wished to remain anonymous.

We have this cherished necklace back, and there are hardly words to describe what that means to us.

The news  station ran a follow up story about it, and the comments from people who said they had been praying for us all week, that we had been on their minds, were simply amazing. I updated my Facebook post to thank everyone and let them know the necklace had come home, and total strangers contacted us to share their joy that we had it back.

That is love in action. That is community. That is family.

It’s a different sort of love story, but no less important.

 

My website

My books

 

Bits and Whatnots, Everything else, Grief

Keep Yourself Busy & Other Secrets about Grief

grief blog pic

Grieving makes others uncomfortable.
That’s the truth of it. That’s why we hide it, we crack jokes, we eat extra mashed potatoes instead of sharing our pain with others. The constant refrain from those who mean to help is always, “keep yourself busy.”
I’ve been keeping myself busy. The first month after my brother’s death, I found tasks to occupy myself for five minutes. Then another five minutes. I never let my mind rest. When I started to think of my grief, I started another project. I put together a short story collection and published it. I crocheted gigantic shawls to give away (seven of them, I think). I tried to finish my current manuscript. I read book after book. Anything to keep my heart and mind too busy to think about this catastrophic loss.
I made myself smile for others. I heard myself cracking jokes and getting others to laugh.
I struggled to stand beneath the crushing weight of the things I couldn’t say. The things I couldn’t let myself think or feel.
I hoped if I kept pushing myself, I would get back to “normal” faster. I berated myself for bad days, for being slow, for hurting, for not being able to keep up with everything I needed and wanted to do.
While I’ve never been the type of person to care overmuch what people think of me, for some reason I worry they will think I’m not getting over grief fast enough. As if it’s some kind of marathon and I’m the one two miles behind everyone else, sweating and gasping for air. But don’t bring me my inhaler guys, I’m fine, I can do it, don’t worry about me. It’s just a little asthma.
Just a little death.
Just a little grief.
I don’t want to burden anyone else. I don’t want them to have to feel this constant heaviness, the lethargy, the foggy mind. So I try to keep up the appearance of healing while inside my soul feels like it’s been scraped raw and God is dumping salt on me.
It’s like covering a half-baked cake with frosting and sprinkles.
Speaking of sprinkles. Here’s a story.
My therapist had me make a sand art mandala in memory of my brother. I made a big, colorful flower. At the end of my session, we dumped the sand into a clear plastic dish. She told me to hold on to it until the spring, then let the sand go in a nearby body of water. I brought it home, set it on the table in the kitchen, halfway forgot about it. Until my 15-year-old son mentioned he had gotten up in the middle of the night to fix himself a snack and by the way, Mom, those sprinkles you left in the dish on the table tasted terrible.
People ask me how I’m doing. I say I’m fine.
After all, it’s been over two months since he died. Two years since my mother-in-law died. Four and a half years since I lost my sister. Nearly nine years since I lost my dad.
Of course I’m fine.
I’ve pulled myself up by my bootstraps, like we are supposed to do. I carry on. I keep myself busy.
I don’t cry in front of others. My burden isn’t theirs to bear. They’ve got their own.
I’m not certain what they are, because they’re keeping frosting and sprinkles all over their own half-baked cakes, too.
We don’t discuss grief because people get uncomfortable. To examine grief out loud is to accept a loved one is actually gone. It means we accept others we love will one day leave us.
It means one day we will leave those we love.
Instead, we talk about anything else. The weather, the roads, the holidays, the kids, what we’re putting in our Insta Pots tonight.
I’ll tell you about my dog’s recent surgery and her recovery in minute detail. (cruciate repair, she’s doing great) I’ll tell you about the puppy we got our daughter for Christmas. (a Jack Russell and Havanese mix, he’s ridiculously cute, he apparently has a bra fetish, he’s white with one brown ear). I’ll tell you about the next book I’ve got coming out, what I’ve recently read, what my personality type is according to the test I took (INFP, which totally makes sense).
What I won’t say is that every day my body hurts as if I have the flu. I can’t concentrate on anything. I am unable to follow the plot of anything on television. Nor can I follow a book plot – I’ve been reading mostly non-fiction books about dogs lately. I won’t say that my sleep patterns are so jacked up that I fall asleep, wake up at two in the morning, my mind races until five, I fall back asleep just before the alarm goes off. I push myself through the day by promising myself I can take a nap later. I think about sleep constantly. I won’t say anything about the nightmares I have, that I dream of finding dead bodies in my closet, or piled on my basement floor, or in the backseat of my car. I dream about my family members dying, one by one. Or that my dogs are all diagnosed with a terminal disease. I won’t say I eat ice cream to stop myself from thinking about being sad, or that I’ve gained ten pounds this month, or that my attention span is so short, I type for five minutes, crochet five minutes, pick up a book for three minutes, then rotate them all again. I won’t say how many days it’s been since I washed my hair, or that when I do wash it, I often forget to rinse the conditioner out before I turn the water off. I won’t say how many days the shirt I’m wearing has been laying on the bedroom floor. I won’t say how often I have anxiety attacks when I’m around people – but I haven’t gone to my writer’s group in months. I dread the thought of picking up milk at the grocery store. And I would do nearly anything else in life if I never had to enter a Walmart store again.
I won’t say how long it’s been since I’ve been able to write anything of substance. I’m 5k from finishing my next book, and am afraid I never will.
I won’t say how hard it is to fathom life without so many of my family members around.
But that’s okay.
I won’t tell you I’m grieving. You won’t tell me you’re grieving.
Grief makes people uncomfortable, and we wouldn’t want to do that.
How’s the weather over there, anyway? Read any good books lately? Many potholes in your neck of the woods this winter? And hey, what flavor of sprinkles did you put on this cake?

My website

My books

 

Bits and Whatnots, Everything else, Grief

Four Weeks, Nine Days

Time is weird when you’re grieving. Untitled design

It seems at once too slow and too fast, and feels like it’s moving through water.

Churning.

It’s been two days shy of three  months since my brother was diagnosed with stage 4 lung cancer.

It’s been four weeks and nine days since he died.

I count time like this now. Each minute, each day, each week, I remind myself I’ve made it through another one, and am strong enough to get through the next.

“Stay busy,” everyone tells me. “Keep your mind occupied.” So I do. I haven’t missed a day of work since I went back after the funeral. I’ve put out a new book, a collection of horror shorts. I’ve made five gigantic shawls and one miniature one. Most I’ve given away. It helps my anxiety to have something to do with my hands, so I haul my bag o’ yarn with me everywhere. I make dinner. I shuttle my kids around. I text friends. I try to read, but the truth is, I’m having trouble focusing. My mind drifts, and sitting still is such an uncomfortable sensation, I can barely tolerate it. I hosted Thanksgiving at my house this year. It was different and sort of quiet but we made it through. I miss watching the TV shows I used to enjoy, but I can’t seem to follow the plots enough to grasp what is happening, so I stopped watching.

My therapist says I need to give myself permission to rest. I struggle to understand how to put that into practice. I have forgotten how to let my mind be quiet. If I don’t keep it constantly filled with projects and sounds and plans, grief hits me so hard and so fast I can’t catch my breath.

At first, I feared I’d lost my words. I tried to write, but nothing came. But about  a week ago, I worked on When Knowing Comes, and I thought if I could just write one good paragraph, that would be great. It took me a while. First I typed a few words, and then a few more. Rearranged them. Deleted. Rewrote. Then all at once I had two paragraphs worth keeping. Then a solid thousand words.

I released Consumption with zero fanfare in November. I didn’t have the strength at the time to contact reviewers & bloggers. Last weekend I spent a Saturday working backwards, contacting bloggers to see if they’d be willing to review the book I surprise-released a month ago. Some were really nice about it. Most remained silent. I don’t blame them. It’s not their fault I dropped the ball. They don’t know what’s going on in my life. As far as they’re aware, I’m just another author with no regard for their time. I’m really grateful to the ones who responded, though. It means a lot.

For the most part, I’m learning to cope with the anxiety attacks. If it comes on slow, I can use the breathing exercises I’ve been taught to stave off the worst of it. Sometimes, though, they hit when I’m in the middle of a store, or driving to work. I’ll have a cart full of groceries and out of nowhere I think, “There are too many people in this store. There’s not enough air for everyone.” Even though I realize it’s illogical, the thought won’t leave. And before I know it, I’ve broken out in a sweat, my heart is hammering, my hands are shaking, and I’m stuck there in the produce aisle, hoping my ice cream doesn’t melt before I can pay and get out of the store. The week before last, my son texted me at work “lol my school is on fire.” I was so instantly panicked! I was able to reach him by phone and the kids were out in the parking lot, the fire was just in a bathroom (some kid dropped a cigarette in a trash can full of paper), and everything was under control in minutes. But I couldn’t calm back down all day. It’s days like those I realize how  much more amplified the anxiety has become. When I realize it’s in control of me instead of the other way around.

Sleep is a crapshoot. I fall asleep most nights but wake back up at two a.m. for no apparent reason at all and remain that way. Grief is a kind of exhaustion all its own, but sleeping less than three hours a night just makes it worse. I stare at nothing in the darkness and try counting backward from one hundred in an effort to trick my mind back into sleep. It never works, but I keep counting.

Counting backward. Counting days. Counting through anxiety attacks.

Marking time.

I’m still here. I keep getting up. Keep showing up. Keep working. Keep writing.

It’s been four weeks and nine days.

I’m still counting.

My website

My books

Bits and Whatnots, Everything else, Grief

The Thing I Hate about April Fool’s Day

11102897_783404595100875_4119443253846615260_o

Seven years ago on this date, my youngest son Bean was up early, telling me he had jokes planned for his friends at school, laughing already because he knew it was going to be so much fun.

He was six.

I took the other three kids in to school (Bean was in afternoon kindergarten) and while I was gone, my mom called and told my husband my dad had collapsed while brushing his teeth in the bathroom and had fallen against the door, preventing her from being able to get in. She called 911 and then us. We hurried little Bean into the car and took off.

All the way there I kept thinking but he’s not sick and maybe he needs CPR, I can do that and Mom must be so scared but never in my mind did I think he was dead.

He was, though. When we arrived at the house, the ambulance was there and I ran in the door to see my dad on the floor in the hallway and my mom was screaming, “He’s not breathing! He’s not breathing!” I stumbled back out the door, fell on the cold garage floor and cried for my daddy. My brother and sister came just then, my sister with a half drunk bottle of orange pop in her hand, and she promptly bent over the grass of the front yard and threw up.

The EMTs loaded my dad on a stretcher and put him in the back of the ambulance. I could see the vehicle bouncing up and down in time to the CPR compressions, could count out the amount of time while they stopped to give breaths and the ambulance held still. Then compressions would begin again and the ambulance would bounce along.

As we drove to the hospital, I felt hysterical inside but outwardly I kept whispering It’s okay, It’s okay and I wished with all I had within me that I had signed Bean up for morning kindergarten, if I could have gone back in time I would have done just that, because he was far too little to have to be in the speeding car with frantic me, far too little to have to lose his only Papa. Far too little to have to witness our raw grief.

When we pulled into the hospital lot, the song that was playing on the radio was one called, “Dead and Gone.”

And I knew.

When the doctor came and told us that despite their best efforts, my dad was gone, my bones shook within me like they were going to explode and I felt so lost, so inadequate for the task set before me.

I had to start calling people.

My voice shook and seemed to echo in that terrible, stark room they had us in at the hospital. I hated that room so much. And the tissues provided were terrible, thin and scratchy and did not help much at all to sop up my tears.

I ran through the list of contacts in my mom’s cell phone and called my aunts first, then on down the list of people who needed to know.

One of those people asked me, as I spoke through muffled sobs, if this was an April Fool’s joke. Was I trying to be funny?

I’m not sure anyone would use death as a way to be funny, but no, I said, this is real.

Oh God, was it ever real.

It’s been seven years, now. Seven years without my dad.

I still kind of hate April Fool’s day.

 

 

Bits and Whatnots, Writing

Failing NaNo in 5 Easy Steps

12321112_897024190405581_7880570903779500092_n

 

I decided earlier in the fall to try and do NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) this year. I had been a bit afraid to try it in the past, largely because the idea of setting such a short deadline on writing seemed like a great way to set off my anxiety.

Death by panic attack looked like a reasonable outcome, so I never tried it, though I watched with a little envy as my friends started their novels and posted their NaNo updates. I wanted to do it, but I was chicken, and that’s the pure truth.

So I had this idea for a new book and had a little bit of it going. I titled it “Maternal Consumption” and it was to be about this woman,  Samaria, who had a past filled with blank spots that she couldn’t remember, a dead mother, and grumbly tummy. As she begins to eat her mother, she consumes her mother’s memories, thereby filling in those missing pieces of her life. I got about five thousand something and something words in and that’s about it. I hit an absolute wall. Nothing was flowing, but sometimes that happens, right? I planned to just force some words out, but what ended up happening was just…plain nothing.

I thought of another idea, a new story. Sometimes if I’m stuck, writing something else gets the words and ideas going. So I started the new story, hoping it would unfreeze the ideas for Maternal Consumption.

Nope. Nada. Zilch.

Here we are, at the end of NaNoWriMo, and I have successfully failed on my first try. If you’d like to fail as I have, let me give you some advice. It can be daunting, I know, but if you really want to fail, you can do it. I believe in you!

How to Fail At NaNoWriMo in Five Easy Steps:

  1. Is someone in your family terminally ill? This is a great time for their health to take a horrific downturn. Spending 5-12 hours a day at the hospital sucks the creativity right out of you. As an added bonus, ask your loved one’s physician to call you several times throughout the week and tell you to get to the hospital right away, the end is nigh. Of course, when you get there, nothing will happen. However, you will be afraid to leave again, just in case. If the doctor can spend some time talking to you about calling in Hospice, so much the better. This will feed your anxiety and send your stress level through the roof. Now you can utilize the time you would have spent writing to rearrange your parent’s (or other loved one’s) house to make space for the hospital bed. Things can get a little twisty at this point, but it helps if you get a call from out-of-state to let you know another family member is expected to die at any moment. The added worry of how to make it to that funeral while still remaining at your dying parent’s bedside will successfully stop you from ever sleeping, which of course, only solidifies your inability to write anything.
  2. See if you can’t start planning a funeral for your loved one ahead of time. Your laptop battery will likely die (the nature of the environment) once you get there, and anyway, you’ll feel conspicuous typing while you’re supposed to be picking out a casket. This is also a great time to be reminded of legal paperwork you need but have no idea where to find, and the panic of finding out even the most no-frills service you can plan will still cost upward  of six thousand dollars will make your mind completely blank. Bonus move: hunt beneath  couches and dog crates for any spare change. Count it up, and mentally calculate how much funeral money you still need once you subtract your newly acquired $3.26.
  3. If you haven’t already, start a new job. Make sure it is a job you love and can’t believe your luck in getting and that you really want to impress your new boss with your skills. Now make sure you are late for deadlines because of time spent at the hospital, and if you can pull off a couple of sixteen hour workdays to make up what you’ve been lacking, well friend, that’s just gravy. You can’t be blamed for not NaNo’ing when you are frantically trying to keep up with work. I mean, you’ve got to pay your mortgage and feed your kids, right?
  4. Get some teenagers. If you don’t own any personally, borrow some. These are helpful for a variety of reasons. Slamming doors, screaming, and refusing to help with chores when you’ve been at the hospital all day and then working half the night are just some of the bonus features of keeping teens in the house. If you can get at least one of them to develop a mysterious medical condition, such as passing out and having a possible seizure while at a music concert hours away, necessitating multiple doctor visits and extra medical tests, you’ve really got it made. Your mind will be so blank with worry and medical jargon you won’t even be able to remember what that story was going to be about, anyway. For additional anxiety power, see if the kid who is struggling can also have a complicated medical history, such as a rare chronic illness. This helps baffle both your mind and the physician’s. Writing? What writing? You won’t even be able to spell at this point, let alone attempt to think creatively.
  5. Stop doing any housework. Overflowing trash cans, stacks of dirty dishes, and mountains of laundry will only cement your status as a failure on every level. If you can manage to get every single glass dirty and then forget to pick up dish soap, you won’t even be able to pour yourself a cup of caffeine. Obviously, no caffeine, no writing, so there you go. Pro tip: Throw your back out. This makes everything you attempt to do nine thousand times more difficult, from taking a shower to treks through the hospital. You won’t be able to sit to write, as the pressure from back pain will make your legs numb.

 

And there you have it, kids. How to fail at NaNoWriMo in five easy steps. Of course, what worked for me may not work for you, and that’s just the nature of the creative beast. Sometimes you really have to play at life to see how best to mess up your own plans. If you truly take my advice to heart, you can get a jumpstart on how to fail at next year’s NaNo. Of course, there’s always the possibility that you may try to fail and still succeed, but keep that chin up, cupcake. If you really, really want to fail, you can do it. I believe in you!

P.S. If you like the way I write and want to dump some cash into the sorely lacking funeral services fund, please consider buying my books. I don’t do crowd funding, but we could really use some extra money right now. As my mother in law continues to fade away, the worry over how we will manage to pay for her final arrangements only gets more real. For those of you who continue to be supportive of my writing, thank you. You mean so much.