I am sitting in my office, keeping you company.
You can stop meowing at me any time now. . . .
I am sitting in my office, keeping you company.
You can stop meowing at me any time now. . . .
Dear Crash and Mars:
It was a tragic sort of weekend as you said on the radio. A young woman, about to be married was killed at a Jeep demonstration. A young man ran into traffic and was struck and killed by a 17 year old driver. And yes, a car drove into a patio, and a 2 year old boy was killed.
You said the family of the 2 year old was ruined.
I was offended.
You see, there are a group of us who know what you are so frightened of. There are a group of women in my city, who bit their lips and closed their eyes and viscerally felt the pain of that mother. We know what it is to hold your lifeless child.
We know what it is to stare into closed eyes, willing them to open.
And we know what it is to wake up the morning after, and the morning after that.
And so we know – they aren’t ruined.
We know because we had to make a choice. We had to come back from this. We know that life, the universe and everything may come to an end in a terrible way one day. We know that life isn’t fair, it doesn’t even out and that declaring how you would never recover is no guarantee that the fundamental inequity of the universe won’t visit you.
So, we are offended.
Because, from this computer, in the 20 minutes I have squeezed out between meetings, in the middle of giving my best friend’s cat sub-cutaneous fluids and talking to my husband, I know that ruination is too extreme and not descriptive enough.
I held my son’s body in my arms while he died. My husband stood and watched us, held our baby as we said good bye. And then stood next to me for a long time as we clawed our way back to life.
And then, when it became apparent that there would be no more babies, we started a foundation to help others.
And then we became the world’s greatest Aunt and Uncle. And we fed a parade of young adults Sunday dinner. And we did a good job at our work and got promoted.
And we planted a tree for our son and renovated our house and we went for dinner with friends and paid our bills and went on vacations.
It has been five years since that day.
Long enough to know that this isn’t ruin.
When you say that they are ruined, you say that they can’t come back from this. You say that there is no hope and no redemption. They are, forever, broken.
Not broken, not ruined say we. Forever changed and forever missing their children, but not ruined.
So please, in the middle of this horror and pain, don’t use the word ruined. Because, when they are ready, there is a group of us who will help them try and crawl out of the hole. Just like others did for us. We will sit at the edge and wait, until they hold out their hand. And then we will tell them – what we did, what worked for us.
We will stare in their eyes and we will be unflinching. We will tell them that it will always hurt. The pain doesn’t go away. It is simply balanced, more distributed. It will not always hurt like this. It won’t always seem like this.
And a group of us, who have climbed from that hole, we know this isn’t ruin. We know that the universe that broke them, that dealt with them so brutally still holds sunshine and joy. We know that the universe will wait for them, will hold out the promise of better days.
We know that you can come back from this. We know that you have to. You aren’t ruined.
Dispatches from the crazy cat house. . .
It is quite clear, should Mr. Spit die, that I will never be a crazy cat lady. It’s just too much work.
I woke up two weeks ago on Sunday morning feeling like I needed to clean out my bookshelves.
Most of you are probably nodding your head. A few of you, those who know me in real life, or worse yet, have been to my house, are recoiling in horror.
Let me try and give you some perspective. Mr. Spit and I have a rider on our home insurance to cover our books in case of fire and flood. We have library software. Not enough perspective? People call us when they can’t find a book. You would be surprised how many times we have been able to help. Still not enough? I have 20 copies of the Bible in various translations – I feel like I should tell you – my degree isn’t in theology.
You can go through an almost entire life as you sort through books. The books that were given to you as gifts (I kept those.) The book you picked up at the second hand sale, the book you picked up because you needed a reference. I have books from when I was a youth pastor, I have books on marriage from our early days when we were trying to sort things out. I have 15 books on becoming a manager. I have excel reference books for the last 3 editions of excel. I have grammar books, project management books. Text books from University.
The collected works of Ken Follet? Got ‘em. All of the Tom Clancy books? Check. The entire Lord Peter Wimsey series? Present. Every Nancy Drew book from the second edition? Those are on the top left shelf in the dinning room. I collected them as a little girl.
Books were and are a form of security for me. All of that knowledge, laid out in straightforward format, in black and white, organized into a table of contents and indexed in the back. All of those adventures, some of my oldest friends, waiting for me on page 1, ready to pick up, where we left off.
My default response is to look for a book. I am never without a book in my briefcase, in my purse.
I have a relationship with books. A complex and multifaceted one to be sure, but a relationship. And on Sunday morning I started to pile books on my dinning room table. Some were easy – books left over from my very fundamentalist Christian days were pulled off the shelf with nothing more than a “Wow! Has my attitude ever changed on that!”. Some of the piles, the books about perinatal demise, they came harder. A few of those stayed – not because I needed them but because I will have them when someone else does.
The books Mr. Spit bought on being a dad? I pulled them off the shelf and held them to my chest, closing my eyes and wincing. The text book from an economics course that I flunked? It went on the pile because I’m never taking that course again. The Roget’s Thesaurus from 1991 that is in the old format (non alphabetized): I mourned that we no longer read thesauri and dictionaries, mostly because while a computer and website is faster, you will never run across a word you haven’t seen before. So much ephemeral knowledge is lost.
Some of it is hard. My Nancy Drew’s, Mr. Spit’s set of Children’s Bible Stories – we have no need of them and yet we hang on to them. I simply don’t know what to do with them.
I have no idea how many books this is. The shelves look more empty. I have returned things to a state where I don’t have to double shelve books, I can fit them in using only one row, and that’s something.
Mostly, as I am getting ready to box things up, I am sorting through things and I am thinking that I used to believe that I needed that knowledge. I needed to read the book on Christianity and Capitalism, so that I would be smart. Now? I know that I need to know a lot less than I ever dreamed of.
On that note – I have all of the Nancy Drew books in the yellow binding. All of them from the Secret in the Old Clock to the end of the series. I collected them second hand when I was a little girl. I have no need of them and no one to pass them on to. If you or a little girl you know would like them, please send me a note, and we can arrange shipping. I should like them to go to a new home and find a new person to have adventures with.
On Monday I was at my esthetician’s. She was listening to talk radio – I have no idea of the station, and there was something about Mother’s Day and something about all the reactions that people have, and then the host said something about wanting to talk about women who didn’t become mothers or whose children died.
I was getting my eyebrows waxed and was therefore somewhat trapped, and God bless Tara forever because she suddenly said “would you like me to turn this up or turn it off?”
I asked her to turn it off. It came off and Sarah McClachlan was turned on.
We could say so many things about Mother’s Day, and I swear to you, it seems in the five years that Gabe has been gone, every year that it comes around, I think “Oh, yes. This. Again.” And I think that maybe I should blog about it, but I don’t know what else I could say, what hasn’t already been said, what is novel or redemptive or even just really interesting about the whole day. The day always seems to sneak up on me. Some one says something about it in mid April, and then maybe I see a card display, and then there’s the stupid advertising (This years brilliance located by Mr. Spit. Give mum a break from the kitchen by ordering KFC. Because, you know, mum’s should be chained to the kitchen and dad is a loveable buffoon who can’t cook.)
And you wake up the morning of, and stupidly, first thing in the morning, you check facebook and then you back slowly away. You go into self protection mode. You stay off facebook and you don’t listen to the radio or watch TV and you don’t go to a restaurant or to a mall. You ignore the floral display in Safeway. You tell yourself it’s just a day, just another day and that it’s no better or worse than this day has been every year, and at any rate, you know that this day will pass, and if there is anything that the death of a child will teach you, it’s that you can survive a whole lot more pain, for a whole lot longer than you would ever have imagined.
Perhaps Loribeth expressed it best, I find the whole thing tiring. Not tiresome, where you feel ennui and listlessness and just a general weariness. There are no traces of cynicism. I don’t want to get rid of the day and I don’t care if you celebrate it. I listened to the stories of cold coffee and runny burnt eggs on Monday and I smiled.
No, I’m tired. If December 10th is the one day that I think about the little boy who was so very nearly here, the day that my arms ache to hold my son, the day that I want time and space to do what they don’t do, and I just want the little boy back – I just want my son and there is not a thing that you can do or say that will ease the pain or the passing of that day.
If that’s what the anniversary of his death is, then Mother’s Day is all of the rest of the year, rolled into one 24 hour period. Mother’s Day is every single hope and dream I had, every single plan or thought for what my life would look like at 34. Mother’s Day was the one sure thing that I had – the one thing I thought would work. The one chance I had to take my sorry and messed up childhood and redeem it for someone else.
In times past Mr. Spit used to get me a card and a gift. From the dogs, from Gabe, from just him. And each year whatever comfort it provided receded into hollowness. Not because the gesture was anything other than kindly meant, but because there is nothing that can ever take away the hurt, and the best thing you can do is know that you have to live with it – don’t try and play it false – fill it up or smooth it over.
And this is the point that Sarah Mclachlan comes back into play. She has this line – Hold on, Hold on, this is going to hurt like hell.
And so when that day comes around, when it becomes almost too much effort to lift your head off your pillow, when you need a nap, when you don’t want to stir off the couch, you try to pace yourself.
Because whether the world realizes it or not, the truth is it hurts like hell most days. It hurts like hell because I’m here and he’s not, and as much as I love my life, I would have loved it more if my son was here.
Even here, sitting in seat 17C of Air Canada Flight 143 to Vancouver, even in this seat, typing on my computer, I would like a life with my son in it. I would walk away from the briefcase with the electronics and the slide deck I should be working on. Take the suits in my carry on – send them off somewhere because I would be barefoot, hair in a pony tail, reading the Wind in the Willows, doing the voices. I would be making chicken fingers and bribing him to eat carrots and I wouldn’t be trying to figure out how to rescue a project gone south.
And on Mother’s Day, when everyone celebrates what they have, I am left with a fist full of nothing. I hold on to, well, nothing. Your fist simply can’t close on what doesn’t exist.
But I hold on all the same because I know – this is going to hurt like hell.
Sad Cat ate some dinner last night and ventured out from under the bed. He came all the way down the stairs.
Where he met Toby.
Sad Cat is still sad.
It’s a thing with me, this expecting myself to be perfect right off the bat. An unwise and illogical thing, but a real thing none the less.
I have had an icky HR sort of thing with a staff member consume a great deal of my work time this week. It’s been a problem, both because of the time – it wasn’t like I had a bunch of spare time to deal with this, and to deal with the resulting work – and it has just been icky.
Well, no. Let me allow the lesson of Saturday to stand. It wasn’t icky, it was just plain hard. I am trying to be kinder to myself, and believing that the roots of that kindness may be found in admitting when something is hard, even when I do a good job at it.
This thing has been hard. It has taken me out of my comfort zone and forced me into confrontation and made me stand up for not just what I believe in, but to take authority over something I manage, and I had to detail what was wrong and what I expected to be fixed. It’s not the sort of thing that I normally do, and it has been hard.
Now, I have been singularly fortunate in that those around me, my management team have taken the situation very seriously and have affirmed that I am right and I have the authority and have asked how they can support me.
But still hard. Because I still have to deal with both the mess and the extra work.
I exercised my phone a friend option tonight. I called Ms. Fab. I told her I needed to debrief and talk about what happened and what I did.
Ms. Fab, who does this sort of thing for a living and has experience in this, as well as rock solid judgement that I would bet my very last dollar on, has this great feedback mechanism.
She asks “What went well, what was tricky and what you would do next time?”.
I have lived with the did wells and next times mechanism for years, and mostly I found it to be not quite comprehensive enough, and more than that, the next time always made me feel like I was never quite going to be good enough. The next time component always left me feeling incompetent, even when I had more “went wells” than I did “next times”. I always felt like I should be able to do things perfectly the first time and the did well and next time feedback mechanism just seemed to reinforce all of these ideas and it didn’t seem to help.
Tricky has a slightly different feel to it. It feels ok for things to be tricky. Tricky is not life threatening, tricky isn’t falling short of the mark. Tricky is learning to knit and rolling your r’s in french class and trying to rub your belly and pat your head. Tricky just needs extra practice. Tricky I can conquer. Tricky isn’t the sort of thing you worry about. And tricky? If you don’t ever quite get it? That’s ok. You can keep trying with tricky things, it’s what you sort of have to do.
So, I talked about tricky. I talked about went well and I talked about next time. And then she does the same thing for you. She tells you what she thinks you did well, what was tricky and what she might suggest for next time.
And it was good. Not just because this is her life, but because she really is a wise lady.
And then she said an interesting thing, a thing that ties into both the tricky and the recognizing things are hard – she said “next time this happens, you will have this experience to draw on. You will remember and you will have learned a bit more and you will feel a bit stronger.”
Which doesn’t sound like it should be a novel idea, it sounds sensible really, but it was novel to me. The notion that I didn’t have to know how to do hard things right off the bat, that it was ok to practice continuous improvement on myself. That it was ok – acceptable – expected really – that things would be tricky the first time. It was ok for things to be hard.
Tricky is ok. Tricky just needs more practice. Hard things are tricky things.
Many thanks my Ms. Fab. Life is made up of all sorts of good things, but friends who show you splendid truths are surely one of the best things.
On Saturday, I went to teach at the Prostitution Offender Program. I have, for the last 7 or so years, gone to teach about once every quarter, about the effects the street level sex trade has on my community.
I talk about fear, about how the street level sex trade causes crime and vandalism and general debris and disrespect. I talk about the bad things that John’s make happen, by their presence as consumers in my neighbourhood.
It, rather unsurprisingly, isn’t an enormous amount of fun and the men in the room aren’t always happy to see me.
At the end of it, one of the women who had been listening to me talk about the struggles grabbed my hand. She sat and held it, and talked to me about how hard it was to present – that she could see it took a toll on me. It was hard last week. I have been doing this for seven years, and sometimes it feels like an uphill battle.
And I put this in the context of trying to be kinder to myself. I’m not going to stop presenting, I think the work is important, but I did realize this – this thing I do is not easy and it is not fun. Just because I am the sort of person who volunteers and recognizes the importance and wants to be part of the solution doesn’t mean that it is easy or fun.
My normal response would have been to shrug and say it was ok. And on Saturday, when she said that this was hard for me, I stopped. I said it was.
Maybe the roots of being kind to myself are somewhere in here – acknowledging that I do things, but they have a cost to me.