It Came Without Tags, It Came Without Packages

I am typing this by the light of my Christmas tree, with about a quarter of a butter tart sitting on the couch arm next to me. The other three-quarters of the tart are safely ensconced in my tummy.

It is a surprising thing that I have a tree this year. To put a positive spin on Christmas, I might say that I took the opportunity to consider what Christmas traditions I liked and how I wanted to interact with Christmas.

To be more honest, my biggest problem was, and had been for months, what I was going to do for Christmas Day. I’ll put in a big PSA at this point. If you know someone whose circumstances changed over 2017 – they got divorced, they moved, someone died, they lost friends, would you please consider providing them a plate at your Christmas dinner? There is nothing so terrible as realizing that you are going to spend Christmas alone.

I thought about it hard. I did the baking because I love giving it away. I like the opportunity to thank my neighbours for being great neighbours. I did the festival of lessons and carols, which I used to do with my mum, because I love the feeling of history and connection it gives me.

I stood in line at the bookstore and they had Christmas Cards on sale. I couldn’t be fussed to get cards with a photo, but I managed a greeting card and a Christmas letter, in part because I liked the letter part. More than that, I like getting cards from people and giving them seems to increase the likelihood of getting them.

The tree came about differently.

I like staring at the lights. I like sitting with a coffee, with a butter tart and losing myself in the lights. I found myself, on Saturday, almost without thought, pulling up the tree, putting out some ornaments. Digging through the many boxes which can allow me to vomit Christmas over my entire house, finding enough to make the place look festive inside and out.

My present, which arrived in the mail from Ms. Fab is sitting under the tree.

I am staring at the lights.

And suddenly, Christmas is here.

Posted in Divorce | 1 Comment

Bi-Cameral

Ten years on, it is a strange thing to celebrate your child’s birth and mourn their death. You receive texts and calls and messages from friends. You are reminded that you do not mourn alone.

But you go and live an ordinary life. Do a load of laundry. Put gas in the car. Write Christmas cards. Submit your thesis. Talk to your neighbour.

You remember, as you are driving to meet your ex for dinner, that you forgot to put more kleenex in your purse and you wonder what will happen when you go and sing happy birthday to your son, just like you always do.

The first year, you couldn’t get any of the words out.

This year? You sang the entire song. There were tears in your eyes. You blinked them away.

For years, today was hard. It was the re-integration to the other part of my life. This year it was different because I spent yesterday in both houses.

It seems like it was only last week that he died.

And also a life time ago.

I left the hospital on December 12 of 2007. There was a couple as we were leaving, the nurses were checking to make sure that the baby was correctly seated in a car seat. We slipped past the nurses as they were distracted. I had no luggage, no balloons, no flowers. My few things were in a plastic bag, given to me because I came to the hospital without packing a bag. I had no baby and no idea what I would do next.

I thought about waiting until Tuesday to submit my thesis. I thought about driving to the parking lot of that hospital, tethering my laptop to my phone and sending it from there.

I was so very lost ten years ago. Broken, inconsolable.

I’m bi-cameral now. I live in two places. Most of me lives here. Here, where I do laundry and I write a thesis for my MBA and I sit with a junior consultant as she prepares for her first big facilitation gig.

Also there. That space out of time, a space where my son and I were together. I carry a pocket of grief with me, an enduring sadness.

Almost no one will know. That’s ok. I’ve made my peace with it. They will not know that I am a mother, that my dearest love is not with me.

And I live in two places.

Posted in Baby Loss, Gabriel | Leave a comment

The Vortex

At some point your realize the death of your child will be ever thus – a howling vortex of pain and anguish, lasting only a few seconds.

Standing on a hill at a summer folk fest, singing along with a band I love. The very last of the set begins. It’s that song.

I walk away from my friends. I stand alone and stare at the candles we are all holding. Then, we are both here. In the vortex, you come back to me. In the dark, by the light of hundreds of candles, I am your mother, singing your first and last lullaby.

The vortex. It comes from the day when my head and my heart realized that I had your life growing inside me. The first time I ever felt you move. The nickname I gave you. The moment I first stared at you on an ultrasound screen. The conversations I had with you. All those moments only we know about.

I figured out pain and anguish so very quickly. I figured out how not to talk about you. I learned to tuck you between my heart and my lungs. I found out ways to make my life meaningful without you.

A decade later, I understand the vortex. I hold my pain and sorrow as immutable truth. I loved you. I loved you with every ounce of my being. I love you still. I will love you until the day I die.

The vortex is the price of that love.

When it comes, I fall into it.

Happy 10th birthday little boy. I miss you.

*****
Dear friends and loved ones,

With great joy and heartbreak, we wish to announce: at 10:26 PM on December 10, 2007, Gabriel Anton was born into the hands of Cathy, his midwife, sang to in the arms of his mother, rocked in the arms of his father, bathed in the arms of his grandmother, and baptized in the arms of Regula, his Parish Priest.

At just after 11 PM, he was carried to Heaven in the arms of the Angels, where we will meet him again one day. At 520 grams (1 pound 2.4 ounces), and 33 cm (13 inches) he was wee, with 10 fingers and toes, and a full head of hair. He was a perfect, but very tiny baby.

For where your treasure is, there also will be your heart. Luke 12:34

Posted in Gabriel | 4 Comments

Like her and . . . Not

I stood in the line at the grocery store, ordering my groceries so they got bagged in a simpler order. I walked through the parking lot, looking at the at the hefty receipt. I was muttering “I’m so glad I came for only a few things.” I came home, put my groceries away into various jars and bins. Flipped a load of laundry. Found myself thinking I needed to sit down with a cup of coffee. If you knew my mother, I just described her. Perfectly.

I finished my grocery shopping early because for the first time in my dating career, I was stood up. My friends were all one would want in this situation. They agreed that he was lame, a jerk. Mostly I just wanted to know if I got some sort of badge or trophy.

In truth, it might have been a missed communication, he might have been abducted by aliens or maybe he just stood me up. I don’t know. I choose not to take it personally.

My mother spent most of her life a classical narcissist. Fundamentally, everything was about her. With a narcissist, when someone wrongs them, it is personal. Wrongs turn into vendettas, grudges and grievances.

I worry about becoming my mother. I worry about causing the damage she did. I worry that leadership will become control. Don’t tell me I won’t, NPD is a mix of genetics and upbringing. I have told you I am her daughter. I had a traumatic childhood.

So, I try not to make things about me. This was Brene Brown’s gift to me. The idea that on the whole of it, most people are doing the best they can. I choose to believe that, not because I’m a pollyanna who doesn’t want to see bad, but because believing this changes me. I get the power to let go, to not hate, to not be angry, to not resent.

I thought about all of this, sitting on my front porch, drinking my coffee. About the good and the bad. The ways I miss my mum and the ways I try to live differently.

She died three years ago today. I miss her. And I don’t. I am my mother. And I’m not.

Posted in Adult Dating, The language of families | Leave a comment

Randomly

Baz Luhrman rather famously says you should wear sunscreen and that there’s no point in worrying because the real troubles in life will blindside you randomly on a Tuesday at 4pm.

At 9:15am on Thursday, before a second cup of coffee, I was being grilled about what I would do if the training data in a neural network led to an algorithm that provided incorrect outcomes. I gave a pretty good answer, which is not a bad feat for a political science major who reads about machine learning for fun.

I’ve made mention of the fellow I was dating. Casually. He was (and is) a nice guy. But he was looking for a different kind of woman. That’s ok, but it does mean there’s an incompatibility. I ended it on Monday. I miss having someone to chat to, but fundamentally I’m ok.

I have all these thoughts about it, about what I learned, about what happened, about how I feel. I’ll probably get around to breaking that down.

Mostly, I know that the things you never know to worry about, they happen randomly on a Tuesday at 4pm. So too do the best things in life.

Maybe I’ll be single for the rest of my life. Maybe, randomly, I’ll meet the love of my life.

Who knows.

Baz is right. Wear sunscreen.

Posted in Adult Dating | 1 Comment

Good with the Bad

I’ve had three true performance problems in my career as a manager. One was resolved by transferring her, the other two had to be let go. In the latest case, it was blatant incompetence combined with astonishingly poor social skills. (Buy me a beer and I’ll tell you stories that will make your hair curl).

This time I hired my last performance problem. At least with the other two, I inherited them. I can tell you all sorts of things, but it will come down the the fact that my back was against the wall, so I ignored my gut and hired him. I figured I could make it work. (Nope. Very much no. Not possible.)

It’s been good for no one, this last hire. I’m trying not beating myself up about this, but it’s worth reflecting on what I could do differently next time, for my own sanity.  Equally, I doubt that it has been much fun for him. He’s been good at nothing. Everyone dislikes him. There’s constant conflict.

I had this university prof who said that as long as the number of teaching awards he received was greater than the number of crazy students who stalked him, he was going to call his career a success.

In the midst of my reflecting came the most beautiful vase of yellow roses. My young intern (that I also hired) has gotten a full time job and he wanted to say thank you for my coaching. Jack is my fourth intern (or minion) as you may hear me call them. I’m enormously proud of all of them.

By my prof’s metric, I’m still winning at the success game. I’m going to take that.

Posted in Flying with Warthog Air | Leave a comment

Silly

About 3 years ago I started playing this silly little game on my iPhone, called Pearl’s Peril. I think I started when I was first diagnosed with MS. Someone told me, I read somewhere or I just decided that one way to stave off worries about cognitive decline was to play a hidden object game.

Which I did. I (mostly) refused to spend money on it, so I played it for a bit more than three years. Usually only a round a day. It was part of my morning routine. Make coffee, feed pets, play a round while I drank my coffee.

I finished the last level this weekend. Pearl and Klaus got married, and I found the last fire extinguisher/canteen/cobweb and bat.

This morning I got up, made my coffee, fed the pets and sat down on the couch. I’ve tried a few other games, but none of them fit quite so well.

Like I said, it’s a silly game and this is a silly thing. It was a silly part of my life for about 3 years, and that’s not nothing.

Thanks Pearl’s Peril, I’m glad you were around.

Posted in Interruption. | Leave a comment

The dark and the cold and the wind

November, after the time change, is hard for me. I come home in the dark, it’s cold, windy, snowy.

10 years later, I know this.

The early part of December? It’s filled with loss. For the first 10 days, I march through the memories. Admission to hospital, those days in that bed. The moment he came and went.

In the dark, in the cold, in the wind, I know it’s coming.

In the dark, in the cold, in the wind, I remember.

I know it will pass.

10 years on, you learn that. You learn it will be tough, you know that the waves will engulf you and that you will emerge, spluttering and gasping for breath. You know you will live.

In some ways, that’s harder. You know you will live. And that it will happen next year. And the year after that. You know that you will take care of yourself, you will be kind to yourself, you will seek out warmth and light and care, and you know, on the 10th of December, for a few yours, you will drown all the same.

And that’s life.

I wouldn’t change it. I wouldn’t change the time I had with him, I wouldn’t change the way it broke me, because it made me kinder, wiser and more caring.

But in November? In the dark, in the cold, in the wind? When I feel alone and cold and tired?

It’s tough.

Posted in Uncategorized | 3 Comments

But Without the Sword

As I was driving home on Thursday, I listened to an exiled Egyptian Political Satirist and Comedian. Egypt, with all of its turmoil and upheaval, does not exactly seem like a funny kind of place. The current regime in Egypt is not a bastion of transparency and openness, one wouldn’t think that being a political satirist is exactly a sensible decision. I suppose it’s not exactly a surprise he was exiled.

I found myself annoyed with the journalist (so earnest, so determined to get to the sore parts) and sympathizing with the comedian. His job is to be funny and he was funny. You wouldn’t think you could be funny about corruption and revolution and exile, but he was.

I found myself understanding that he was playing a role. He may grieve, deeply and profoundly, about the loss of home, culture, hopes and dreams, but he’s going to make jokes. That’s what he does. That’s how he responds in public – true to type. It’s his job to make us laugh and think, in that order. His grief and is sorrow? That’s a private affair.

So too it is with me.

I have a cane these days.

I woke up on Thursday and my left leg had stopped working. If you ask me, I will tell you her name is Rosie (because she’s  red and because together we can do it). I will tell you that my brain and my leg are experiencing some technical difficulties in communication. I will let you know as soon as you can stop standing by. I will tell you that the number of cane manufacturers who make sword canes is minuscule and I’m, quite frankly, annoyed by this.

I will make it clear that I do not actually want to talk about this. My grief, my fear and my frustration at my relapse, they are a private affair.

Posted in MS Gets on Your Nerves | 2 Comments

As Friends

One of my colleagues, having both finished an advanced degree and recovering from breaking her knee has been struggling a bit to find level ground.

I have watched, knowing that this will be me. Well, the degree bit and hopefully not the knee bit.

This weekend she is to read a novel. We got to talking about books. If you have met me in real life, you know I am a reader. By reader I mean that I have a built in bookshelf that covers 90 square feet in my dinning room. It’s full. There are stacks of books by my bed and we won’t talk about the digital books on my iPad. I have books from my childhood, books I loved as an adult, books from courses, books I haven’t read yet.

I had planned to bring my friend three books from my shelf. I thought that was enough to be getting on with. But it’s hard. You peruse through the shelves and you see all these books that you want to share.

This morning I came in with 7 books. Using post it notes, I annotated what I loved about them. I included a card, asking her to pick what she likes or feels like (hence the post its), return them when she is ready.

Books journey with me. I can often tell you when I read them. Sometimes where I read them. It doesn’t feel like I’m giving her books. It feels like I am giving her friends and spaces and times in my life.

I’m looking forward to seeing what she likes.

Posted in Books | 2 Comments