It Passes

The day passed. It was harder than many: it was cold and rainy, with the sort of overnight temperatures that make planting bedding plants unwise. The garden I spread my mum’s ashes in remains closed, so I could not go and sit on her bench and tell her about the winter that was.

Which left me with the coping mechanisms of staying off social media and being thankful for the friends who texted me to tell me that they knew this was a hard day for me.

It was not a good day. I suppose, and this is what matters, is that it wasn’t a bad day either. I keep wanting to say that it gets better or it gets easier or something. In truth, I think I get better at making it easier.

I also think that maybe we should start handing out badges for this sort of thing.

Posted in Baby Loss | 1 Comment

Dear Andy

Last Wednesday Christie called me to tell me that Andy was failing. In another world, a world without COVID, that would have been the point where I dropped what I was doing, went home and grabbed the bag that has been packed in my closet since December, and grabbed my passport and started driving. I would have slipped 4 ouzo candies into his pocket before the cremation. A reminder and a promise about a magical night.

Instead, I wrote him a letter. Andy left us about 10 am on Friday May 8th.

Dear Andy:

We said goodbye in October, although you didn’t realize it. What I said back then was right – my life was better because you were in it. It was better because you came crashing in at a wedding, having downed a bottle of ouzo and I removed your IV line and I guess that’s what makes family.

My life is better because you taught me to make bacon in the oven and now every time I do this, I will think of you.

My life is better because you taught me to be less serious, to be a bit less proper and a bit more open minded. I really won’t die if someone puts salt on bread and butter. (It was close. I need you to know that. It was so very close).

My life is better because you taught me about steadfastness. You taught me about what it means to do the work put in front of you, to do your best for your family and to be the person who watched out for others. On that note, I spoke to my financial planner. I can start putting money away for the kids’ college fund. I know you’ll be as annoyed as I am that I don’t get a tax receipt for this.

My life is better because I heard you when you called us to tell us that Ben was born, and I was fortunate to witness joy like we so rarely see in this world.

Your work here is done. I don’t like that, I don’t think it’s fair, and I have been so filled with rage since I found out that there are no words. But no one asked me and eventually you have to stop raging. It happened sometime in January, when I realized that Christie had always had a spine of iron. She just needed to realize it. She has now. I promise you, she will be fine and she will not be alone.

You will be missed every moment of every day. We will tell the kids about you. We will watch over Christie. And we will remember you. We will remember your fart jokes and love of feeding people. We will remember how much you loved a good deal. We will tell the children how much you loved them, that the best of you will live in them.  It will not be the same as having you here, but it will not be nothing either.

This still isn’t a final goodbye. I won’t see you and touch you and we won’t drink coffee in a quiet house; but I’ll hold your memory. So, put the coffee on. Try not to shoot anything important. Try and remember, even though salt won’t matter, you should taste your food before you salt it. I’ll try and remember to look for sales.

I love you. Go cuddle the babies in heaven. I’ll watch over the ones here.

Posted in The language of families, the nieces and nephews | 6 Comments

Love in the Time of Covid

(Still no nickname for J. It’s on my list. No, I don’t know why it’s taking so long either, it’s not as if I have a ton of stuff to do.)

For the first bit, we went back and forth between houses. I stayed at his, he stayed at mine and we both avoided everyone else. It worked, mostly. Eventually, our Chief Medical Officer of Health suggested that it was unwise. Stopping the virus mostly depends on staying at home as much as possible, not moving between houses.

So too is the problem of his kids. His girls are with their mum and can’t move. His university-aged son hasn’t seen his girlfriend in forever, and there I was, moving back and forth. We might reasonably argue that a 41-year-old woman is more responsible, but fairness is often more about optics than procedure-ality. I can be a grown-up, and so can he.

So you live a relationship of doorway drop-offs. Cookies and a pigs’ ear for Charlie. Coffee beans for me.

I drop off his easter basket early on Easter morning, with what I got in the US before this started, with what I could order from Amazon, dig up from online grocery ordering. From him, it was chocolate and dinner and a nonleaking french press and 5 kilos of flour (the flour was the true gift).

It’s a world of face time calls where we watch mindless TV. Lately, it’s been Tiny House Nation. Neither of us would ever buy one, but we enjoy critiquing the design choices.

We had coffee last night, appropriately socially distanced. I told him I couldn’t do that again, it’s too hard to walk away without hugging him.

It’s a lot of emoji’s and I miss you. Photos of our day, sent back and forth.

And every single thing about this sucks.

Posted in Pandemic | 2 Comments

Radical Self Acceptance

I keep seeing this meme on Facebook and Twitter about now not being the time to learn a new skill, take up a new hobby, start a new side business (and I’m sorry, but I am so done with the idea that a second job is called a side hustle.)

Now is the time for radical self acceptance.

I sit at my desk at home, no makeup. I’m neatly dressed, my house is more or less tidy, I have a small to-do list for the day next to me. I’m largely ok. I am not feeding fear, at least most days, but I still feel fear. I guess, the good news, the upside of down, is that I know fear. I have lived with it before, in the ten days between my diagnosis and Gabe’s birth. In the time my mother lay dying. Every moment of every day since Andy was diagnosed. I am not going to be blithe and say that fear is a friend. It isn’t, it never will be. Somewhere in the last few years I’ve learned a bit of what Peema Chodron talks about when she advocates leaning into fear.

I had a panic attack on Saturday night. It was a bad one. I’ve had bad ones before, but I think the last one like this was probably the night of Gabe’s funeral. It lasted for a good 45 minutes, I wound up having to have a shower after, given that I started to vomit in the middle.

Everyone has a breaking point. Saturday was mine.

I’m not good at radical self acceptance. I’m not ok with the fact I broke that badly. It seems like at least the start of this might be to be honest.

Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments

Feeding Fear

I was so careful when I was pregnant. Never mind having quit smoking months before I conceived; I gave up lunch meat and fish and soft cheese; rare steak and peanuts. I wore gardening gloves to garden and refused to go within 15 feet of the cat litter. I avoided sick people, got my flu shot the day they came out. Not just alcohol, I gave up communion grape juice (but made sure I was at church every Sunday). I refused Tums and slept sitting up when the heartburn got bad. I lost 15 pounds in the first three months from ‘morning’ sickness but refused to take Diclectin, which has been prescribed since 1957 and is safe as houses.

I gave up coffee. (let that sink in for a minute).

I figured you couldn’t be too careful.

The night that my blood pressure hit 210/160, the night they told me I had to give birth even though Gabriel was going to die, there was a woman in the bed across from me. She was, oh, probably somewhere between 35-37 weeks pregnant. She didn’t know how far along she really was. She’d had no prenatal care. She didn’t take the vitamins because she didn’t like the way they tasted. And would they hurry up and take the fetal monitor off her, because she really wanted to go and have a smoke.

She went home with a healthy baby, you know.

I’ve told you about how I held my son in my arms and sang him lullabies while he gasped for breath and suffocated to death. I’ve told you that there is no fear after that. There is nothing the world could do to me that would hurt more. There is no other way to break me. When you put back the pieces after something like that, you live without fear.

Up until that moment, I had done everything out of fear.

The Cree, the Ojibwe, the Salteaux, they talk about this creature they call the Wendigo. It’s a sort of folklore monster that comes out in times of famine and strife. It’s a cannibal, but no matter how much it eats, it’s still hungry and lean. However much you feed it, it cannot be satiated. I think the Wendigo also eats fear.

You give up fish and cheese and lunch meat. You will do everything in the pregnancy books and add in edicts from a few more random old wive’s tales besides. You will feed fear. The Wendigo will stay hungry. Your mother will still carry her only grandson down the morgue. The baby that you did everything right for. It was not the things that you were frightened of anyway.

I wear my seatbelt. I care about triglycerides and A1Cs. In these days of a pandemic, I wash my hands and practice social distancing. But when Facebook tells me that it plans to hide its basement? When Twitter tells me it sanitizes boxes before allowing them in the house? When Instagram tells me it sterilizes its clothes with a flamethrower? When I hear the muttering of old wives’ tales and the murmurs that you can’t be too careful?

I see the Wendigo behind you.

You still can’t feed it enough.

Posted in Feats of Wonder | 1 Comment

The Lessons of 20-Year-Olds

Because I’m worried about my job (I think I’m going to be laid off in the next 2-4 weeks), the general state of the world, an uncle in congestive heart failure and a nephew who is dying, and I will not be able to get to him**, I am teary.

Bread is a soothing sort of thing. It reminds me of how much I love cooking for others, how much it connects me to the people I love. I made bread for J’s. son, who reminds me so much of Travis that it sometimes takes my breath away.

So universe, if you are listening. I know Travis and David won’t talk to me anymore. I know that when they returned a wedding gift, I was never going to be told what I had done. I know whatever it was, I’m likely very sorry for it.

But Universe – they are still my nephews. They will always be my nephews. They get included in the total count and always will be. I can’t bake bread or make mashed potatoes or knit for them. So universe, if you would keep an eye on them – deal gently with them? I’d appreciate that.

*Does this work as a nickname? He was J. in my phone for quite a while, while I hoped things would work because I liked him, but wasn’t sure.

**Update to Sit Rep – The border has not been militarized, but no one official on the Canadian side is recommending travel. They aren’t sure if I would be allowed in, or at what points I could enter and they have been very clear that if I catch Covid 19 and die, no one from Canada and our socialized healthcare is coming to get me.

Posted in Uncategorized | 3 Comments

The Downside of Up

I have been trying to stick to a routine in these days of social distancing. I have been trying to get up at about the same time, go to bed at the same time, get dressed, put on makeup, walk the dog, take a lunch break. I have set up a coffee meeting with friends and colleagues three times a week. I have a little list of people I text on a regular basis. I see the boyfriend (He does not have a nickname. He needs a blog nickname. I’ll work on this) because we (and his lovely oldest son) are not really ever seeing anyone else, so we count as some sort of isolation buddies. I’ve done all the things that should be assuring me some form of mental health protection. Nope.

The downside of up, or the upside of down is this: it’s hard to scare me after the universe made me hold my baby in my arms while he suffocated to death and died. Really, what else could you do to me? What more is there? You can’t threaten me with the fear of pain and hurt and sorrow and near death, so I’m not worried about getting sick and dying. I should be, what with the MS. I should be at least a little bit worried. I’m not. I’m worried I am going to lose my job, that I shall become homeless and Gracie and the cats and I shall have to go and live in a cardboard box.

What makes me panic is randomness. When the universe took away the fear of pain and hurt and sorrow, it left me with an ironclad sense that the world is not fair. The world is not just, it is not reasonable and it does not care whether or not you are a nice person. Bad things happen to good people, to bad people, to meh people. Bad things happen. You cannot predict them, you cannot stop them, you cannot even hedge against them.

I tell myself that we are all panicking. Indeed, I would question the mental health of anyone who wasn’t worried. This is a time of panic.

Still. It’s exhausting.

Posted in Feats of Wonder, Learning Life | 2 Comments

Sit Rep

This morning I asked my niece in law if she could, in her “spare time”, please get a hold of one of Andy’s doctors to get a letter indicating that Andy was going to be dying soon. You see, the borders are closed except for “essential travel” and the definition of “essential” wasn’t as robust as one might expect. The letter might help explain that no, this wasn’t a fun jaunt, I was coming because Andy was dying. Not dying in the hypothetical, not dying in the abstract, but actually dying right this minute and could you just let me through.

We were working on that when the . . .

Screech.

I have tried, more or less, to be at least somewhat civil about Trump. I have tried to remember people I love voted for him.

The absolute flaming pile of horse shit that 46.1% of Americans (including the niece and nephew I am trying to get to) voted for has decided that what he most needs in the middle of a pandemic is not universal healthcare, it is not to value science, it is not universal basic income, no it is to militarize the borders with . . . . Canada.

Canada and the US have the longest unmilitarized border in the world. Indeed, we couldn’t be bothered to decide what the full and official border was until 1908 (this was 41 years after confederation for Canada and 132 years after the US declared independence). We had a joint commission and sent out a bunch of surveyor’s and sometime around 1925, we all decided that the map they came up with was good enough.

Until today, the Department of Foreign Affairs in Canada, while not encouraging me to go to the US, did seem to understand that the situation was rather dire. They could tell me that with my Canadian passport, Canada Custom’s would have to let me back in and that at least now, and likely then, if then was not too far in the future, I would have to quarantine myself in my house for 14 full days if I had no symptoms, and then the length of the symptoms plus 10 days after if I did develop Covid like symptoms.

Until the moron that somehow got elected president got involved and was confused about what a pandemic meant and what one should do and also – again – the military on the border – and now?

Now?

Now I can’t get there.

To be clear – I may be the only Canadian wanting to actually get into the US right now. I am probably the only person I can even think of who wants to leave the world of the social safety net, universal healthcare, kindness, good government and a Prime Minister who has managed to govern the country from home because he’s also a full-time parent, whose wife is in quarantine.

If you’ll excuse me, I’m going to have another (Canadian) beer.

Posted in Uncategorized | 4 Comments

Burn the Boats

Somewhere between the tension of being deeply practical and sensible and being, well, somewhat fierce, I . . .

It wasn’t that I hadn’t realized I’d fallen in love with this guy. I’m dumb, but I’m not that dumb. I’m smart enough to know when I’ve fallen in love. No. the problem was that I am practical and sensible. Practical and sensible women do not fall in love with someone they have known for two months.

It doesn’t matter that said man went and bought snacks for my trip to Montana, and carefully figured out what I like to drink and bought me that and carefully remembered that I really like Cheesies and included chocolate and pepperoni (because he felt that I am often short on consuming protein). It doesn’t matter that he called me almost every night and listened to me talk about how crazy things were. It doesn’t matter that he spoils my dog and likes my cats and brings me coffee in bed. It does not matter that I get texts asking what I ate for lunch, which is really a gentle reminder to eat lunch, because we both know damn well I have forgotten to eat. Again.

It was impractical to have fallen in love with someone you have known for 8 weeks. It didn’t matter that I had fallen in love with him, the sensible and rational part of my brain pointed out that you can’t fall in love with someone that quickly. It’s unwise. It’s a great recipe to get hurt, how much can you really know someone in 8 weeks, he could be an ax murderer . . . . It is not practical or sensible to fall in love with someone in 8 weeks.

It is now 10 weeks.

I’ve fallen in love with him.

Thought you should know that.

Posted in Feats of Wonder | 6 Comments

Mind // Body Dualism

In the third year of my undergrad degree, I took a philosophy course which was mostly on epistemology (how we know what we know). We spent rather a lot of time on Mind // Body dualism.

The thought experiment goes thus:

A young man, body mangled in an accident cannot survive the trauma. In an attempt to save him, we transplant his brain into the body of a middle-aged woman in a persistent vegetative state. Her body was healthy although her brain was gone. The riddle, the thesis of the paper, the crux is the answer to the question – who is that young man // middle-aged woman? Are we our bodies? Our brains? What makes us, well, us?

Our brains are perhaps as mysterious as the whole of outer space. Dimensions unknowable and six inches between our ears; we don’t know much about either in spite of what we may have heard. It’s rare. The doctors tell us that. In a few papers maybe it’s mentioned.

It’s not the tumour, it’s not swelling from the radiation, it’s not trauma. It’s not meds. The doctors shrugged at us. They did it kindly. The cops who forcibly brought him into the hospital were as humane and as gentle as they could be. Still, I took his wife past the security guards and the nurses gathered outside of Andy’s room. It took 4 huge men and 2 nurses, a syringe filled with Haldol and Ativan and Benadryl to restrain him. When they got him out of his clothes there were 6 knives and ammunition. A locked psych unit. Threats, screaming. An involuntary committal hearing.

I feel like I’m telling you about a newspaper story or the crazy friend of a friend story you tell with hand motions at a dinner party.

No, I have been pondering the wrong thought experiment for more than 22 years.

The thought experiment now goes thus:

There’s a man you love like a brother, you have known him for almost 20 years. He looks like the man you have always known, but you cannot recognize his brain. When you cannot fathom the rage; when his wife cannot manage his aggression and his small children are terrified; when everyone decides to discontinue chemo and meds; is the man restrained and guarded still Andy? If not, who is he?

Posted in Grief, The language of families | 3 Comments