Thursday, January 22, 2015

Taking Care of Business

I remember, after 9/11, there was an awkwardness as all the comedy shows I adored started coming back. It's difficult to pick up where you left off when things are so obviously different. I particularly remember The Daily Show's return and Jon Stewart's self-effacing and excellent open monologue . Part of his opening kept rolling around in my head last Wednesday morning when, after 6 weeks off, I decided to return to the office.

"They said to get back to work, and there were no jobs available for a man in the fetal position under his desk crying - which I would have gladly taken - so I came back here."

Word, Stewart.

I can't honestly say that it was the hardest thing I've ever done - I don't know if I will ever be able to say that again, frankly, because that kind of statement is sort of laughable these days - but it was up there. TB went back to work, too, after 3 weeks of coddling my sorry ass as it made its daily trek from bed to couch, and back to bed again (with only the briefest of visits to the washroom or the fridge, to do my little human answer to "supply and demand"). And so this left me, on a bright and cold weekday morning, staring at my ceiling, as every demon I'd fought off so valiantly in the last few days came back to haunt me.

Every memory I'd pushed back, every piece of crushing sadness, every regret, every worry, descended upon me as I tried my very best to sit up, to get up, to do *anything* but lie there. The sadness stormed my brain, a full battalion, freshly rested from days of being ignored and ready to fight. Between gasps and squinted eyes and bad war metaphors I called out the name of the only person I wanted in that moment:

"MOM!"

I joke to my friend Sarah that I say her name aloud a lot, but I can't decide if it's an oath or a curse (prayer/swear we call it). In this case it was an even-Steven split of both, no doubt about it. I don't know what I expected her to do, or how she was supposed to fix it. Even if she'd been here, I don't know that she'd have an answer to how I was supposed to get out of bed and go to work. I just needed her, and the reason I needed her was the reason she couldn't help. I couldn't even call anyone, because I'm a decent person and it was 8:00 in the morning and most of my friends were either in the middle of their morning routine, or a few hours behind me. As I sniveled and sniffed and wondered how in the fuck I was supposed to put on pants, my phone lit up. It was my friend C WhatsApp'ing me from Russia asking me how I felt about going back and cheering me up with silly banter. It was enough to at least get me mobile and dressed which, realistically, is about all the effort I usually put forth into my mornings.

It was strange, walking back into the building I hadn't seen in more than 6 weeks, turning the key in my office door, realizing I never did eat that lemon cake from Starbucks that was sitting on my desk. There were awkward moments, when someone, in the midst of offering comforting words, began going on about how much she loved her parents and how *hard* it must be to not only lose a parent but a sounding board, right? But mostly, it was okay. I only had to tell the story once, and it was to a friend, not just a coworker. I didn't eat much that week, but I did remember to drink lots of water and tea and by week's end, I even had drafted a note all by myself. Since then I've started getting back into the swing a bit. I still can't seem to get onto a bus for work, preferring the solitude of a cab, and I haven't been able to get to work before 9:45, since difficult nights mean not a lot of good REM sleep, but I'm there. Well, I only worked 3 days this week and last week but I'm there. I'm typing and I'm picking up the phone and I'm making edits and I'm grabbing coffee. I'm working.

Inside, I feel very much the same most of the time- sad, lost, pained, envious, angry - but at least now the outside is getting a fresh coat of lipstick every morning. My chapped lips are pleased with the progress.


Sunday, January 11, 2015

Thank you for your generous donation

After 6 weeks of basically living in my own filth, my sister and I decided to start attacking the pile of boxes, bags and laundry that I had dubbed "Fort Grief". Cans were recycled, clothing thrown into the washing machine and half-picked-at food scooped out of the pathway of an insistent pug.

Among the papers littering the living room was a piece of junk mail, stuffed fat with promises of "three free gifts inside!" I had to laugh as I opened it, revealing a small stick pin, a page of address labels and a pad of patterned paper. I remembered receiving a similar package last year, and that pad of paper sure had come in handy. I split it with my sister about 5 months ago and all 8 pages are covered in our writing and currently enjoying their new home, tucked within the hidden shelf in my mother's casket, .

The irony of the whole shebang is of course, that the this was all part of a fundraiser for the Heart and Stroke foundation.

"Less free gifts, more making sure my mom didn't die" I muttered to the envelope before shoving it in the trash.

I took it back out and put it in a drawer, incidentally. My mom wouldn't want me to throw out perfectly good address labels, after all.

That's enough

I had a dream about her this morning. In the scant hour between when the dog woke me up with her morning freak out,  and when i acquiesced and actually opened my eyes, she was there.

There was a lot of noise at first. I was at TB's parents' house. His family had just seen guardians of the galaxy and were discussing whether or not it was racist*. The doorbell kept ringing but we ignored out, eating cookies instead. I looked out the window at my family pulling up in a van they've never owned and i was waving furiously, worried that after i ignored their 9 doorbell rings they would leave without coming in. Not to worry, they all came in, bringing Tupperware I'd forgotten at their place.

I was stressing out to my sister about what the last present i bought my mom was. I had my dates all mixed up and my sister said "just ask her". And then, there she was. My heart was instantly full of her. A cruel trick of the brain means she's nearly always wearing what she did in her casket, and this time was no exception. But still, she looked beautiful. Hair done, jacket crisp, even her teeth looked whiter than usual - proof that Crest whitestrips are truly a gift from god.

The relief of being able to ask her something was overwhelming. "Mom, " do you remember whether you received the last present i got you for mother's day?" I asked. She thought for a minute "no, i don't think so, " she replied,  "i was pretty sick then. "**

I apologized and said I'd give it to her later but she turned to me and said "what i do remember are your big, radiant smiles beaming at me. You and your sister looked beatific."

Then i asked her if she wanted to get waffles with us tomorrow morning and she said "sure". And it felt so good knowing we'd get a table for five, not four.

I don't know if this means today's going be a good day, or a maudlin one, but we're damn sure going to eat waffles.



*i cannot speak to the racistness of that particular film. My brain has questions, apparently.

**this is untrue - she was fine on mother's day and i got her flowers and gifts after that as well. But i hate to correct dream people so i let it slide.

Friday, January 9, 2015

An Amendment

Re: My last entry, 2014's year-end summary

I was struggling with the question that asked you to name a lesson you'd learned this year. As so often happens, as soon as I pressed "publish", i found the perfect line: 

I’ve learned, from Aaron and my father’s death and my mother’s graceful entrance into widowhood, that this is what being an adult is: doing everything before you are ready. There is no syllabus for life that helps your graduate to the next event. It is happening all around you, all the time. This life itself is the lesson and the test and there is no honor roll, just the sum of your relationships and actions and how you feel when you lay down to go to sleep at night.

- Nora Purmort, myhusbandstumor.com

Pretty much. We're all faking it. But faking it with a raised eyebrow, shoulders back, and a teeny, almost imperceptible nod? That's about as close as you're ever going to feel to ready. Relish it, it doesn't get any more certain.

Thursday, January 8, 2015

2014: The Wig That Was

I've done one of these every year, since about 2002 and it felt wrong not to do it again this year, even though looking backwards is the last thing I want to do most days. I remember when we bought our house and when we got the dog, I had to stop myself from making every answer to these "I bought a house" or "we got a dog!". The same principle is going to apply here - my mom and grandfather died, it's been terrible, the end. But 2014 was 11 months before it became miserable. And one day, I'm going to want to remember those, too. Here goes


2014 Year in Review

1. What did you do in 2014 that you'd never done before?

Participated on an "expert" panel, wore a bikini, went to an all-inclusive resort, visited a prison.

2. Did you keep your new year's resolutions, and will you make more for next year?

Yes and no. My New Year's Resolutions were:
  • Read 12 books
  • Visit 12 new restaurants
  • Make 12 new dishes 
  • Do that hanger trick once in the winter, once in the summer, to try and downsize my closet
  • Make a list of things the house needs done and complete at least half of them
My reading resolution fell apart - my smartphone has effectively killed my love of reading. I've tried to get back into it lately, but paying attention to plot is not my strong suit these days. I really liked The Bluest Eye, read at the beginning of the year. The only other one I can remember actually getting through was a reread - Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen. I read it outloud to TB and he loved it. I bought a tonne of books second hand this year and joined a loosey goosey book club so I hope to improve on that once my brainmeats are ready.

Definitely did the new restaurants thing, but it's kind of cheating because i did so much travelling. In town, I visited Izakaya, which was okay but I think I need to give them another try to fully form that opinion; Wilf and Ada's , which is adorable and lovely as their old owners (and namesakes) were; Union 613, which has become a new favourite, even with the communal seating; the Cordon Bleu, which was for a work party, and that work party was a murder mystery, so I have no idea of how they "really" are, but was pleasant and well-prepared and in a beautiful setting; The Wellington Gastropub, which is fantastic, and has the most accommodating kitchen I've ever seen; Stella Luna, which, true to my friend's word, produced the best gelato I've ever had; and Good Eats, the around-the-corner sandwich shoppe that has stolen our hearts. Everything there has been awesome, and I was really really prepared to hate them, as they took over my beloved Scone Witch. All is forgiven.

I don't think I cooked hardly anything new. Off the top of my head I know I did an orzo pasta salad that's become a favourite, but nothing else springs to mind. Just twists on old favourites, mostly. I will try and change that this year. I miss cooking.

The hanger trick was brilliant - I did it twice and got rid of a couple of bags of clothes, then I sold a bunch more to consignment store and some friends. And then I bought more things. Because I'm a goober. 

Made the list for my house and I'd say I was justthisshy of completing half. Giving myself a "go" on this one, because I can, damnit.

Don't know if I'm going to be able to make any resolutions this year. Just surviving seems insurmountable at this point. Let's keep the first three and add a "try to become at least a shadow of who you once were". Sounds good.

3.  Did anyone close to you give birth?

TB's cousin gave birth to another adorable British lad, my friend Kait had her second, and a pal from University had her first. And it begins...

4.  Did anyone close to you die?

Okay, I'm allowed to answer this one with the obvious answer at least. My mom died on December 2nd, my grandfather on December 29th. They were the best people I ever knew.

5.  What countries did you visit?

You know, before this year turned into a shitstorm, it was pretty great-  I doubled the amount of countries I'd been to and did a bunch of new things. I went to Paraguay, Argentina, NYC, and Toronto for work. I went to Mexico, Upstate New York, and Montreal for fun. I was actually sick of airports at one point. Nice 1st world problem to have. To more adventures!

6.  What would you like to have in 2015 that you lacked in 2014?

Some semblance of sanity. A lower balance on the line of credit. And a carryover from the last 2 years: an inbox that's manageable.

7.  What date from 2014 will remain etched upon your memory, and why?

Okay, we've covered the deathiversaries, and do believe I'll never forget them but, other than that, let's see...

October 28 - Attended and reported on a debate at the UN, which was neat
November 10 - a really awesome girls' day with my sister and mom
December 17 - learned where I'll be going for work in 2016

8. What was your biggest achievement of the year?

I love the contrast here.

January -November: Presenting publicly and competently on a topic I'd only been working on for 2 months, Organizing a week-long program for a visitor who did not speak English and doing it well, getting around three Spanish-speaking cities with my very basic "Me llamo es" Spanish.

December: Writing and delivery two eulogies. Breathing in and out. Existing.

Bar is painfully low right now.

9.  What was your biggest failure?

Not getting my number 1 posting choice was kind of a letdown but that whole thing kind of faded into the background, to be honest. If you'd like to hear more about my personal failings, please visit me between the hours of 1-3am daily. I'll be happy to share my long list of regrets.

10.  Did you suffer illness or injury?

Flu-maggedon in March laid me low but otherwise, physically healthy for most of this year, I think.

11.  What was the best thing you bought?

Bought a picnic table for $40 from our neighbours that they just had out on their lawn and it's been great. And honestly? I just bought these amazing patterned long johns that I wear instead of pants lately and they. are. gamechangers.

12.  Whose behavior merited celebration?

God, where do I start? I have been utterly and completely spoiled by the kindness, understanding, humour and compassion of my friends. Jax, C, and Sarah have gone above and beyond the call of "best friend" and have checked in on me, sent me things, made me feel loved and appreciated and cared for, which has been all the more bittersweet, as I've lost the people who did that for me so effortlessly. Friends who showed up at funerals, or donated in my mom's name, or who have reached out and shared their stories of loss, or just let me know that when i want a distraction, they're there, have meant so much to me. And Owen, for all his not-knowing-loss, has been a rock for me. He visited my mother and my grandfather with me, went through funeral arrangements, holds me when I fall apart, and tries his very best to understand and love the basketcase that's replaced his girlfriend. I honestly believe that I would not be here without all of them.

My sister has been strong in a way that has just astounded me, as well. I hope I'm being half as good to her as she is to me, lately. My uncle and others who lived to make sure my grandfather was loved and taken care of are my heroes. I love them and am in awe of their seemingly bottomless well of compassion.

13.  Whose behavior made you appalled and depressed?

For all that compassion, and kindness, and love, and positivity my family has shown, some members are just so damn self-centred, so egregiously uncaring, that my use of the previously practically unuttered c-word has shown a 400% increase. However, now that I'm an adult I don't have to pretend that I respect, or even like these people, and it feels fantastic.

Also, Jian Ghomeshi.

14.  Where did most of your money go?

Travel, eating out, and taxis. And it feels fantastic.

15. What did you get really, really, really excited about?

Every one of the trips I went on. At some point, I was really looking forward to Christmas but... y'know.

16.  What song(s) will always remind you of 2014?

All About that Bass - Megan Trainor
I'm Coming Home - J Cole

17.  Compared to this time last year, are you:

i. Happier or sadder?
ii. Thinner or fatter?
iii. Richer or poorer?

Almost impossibly sadder.
Thinner, by about 5 pounds.
Poorer, in almost every sense of the word.

18. What do you wish you'd done more of?

Reading, visiting, getting my family to tell me stories of the past that are now essentially gone, dreaming of pleasant things.

19. What do you wish you'd done less of?

Idly surfing the 'net instead of working or doing something productive, crying, hanging out with the good people at Capital Memorial, worrying.

20.  How did you spend Christmas?

It's weird, knowing that a Christmas is going to be the worst you've ever had. That being said, it wasn't terrible. The tree was beautiful. The weather was mild. I had a meltdown the night of Christmas Eve that sucked all joy out of it, but Christmas Day was okay. Spoke to and laughed with some friends, opened presents with my sister and dad and watched Lily be dumb, had my uncle over for breakfast, made Christmas Dinner, visited my grandfather, ate the meal with that same uncle and my cousin. Finished opening presents around 1am, then drank a bottle of sparkling wine with my sister and dad and poured some out for my mom. Quiet, small, but okay.

21.  How did you spend New Years?

Again, not terrible. Went to the suburbs to my family's house with TB and the dog. Invited my uncle over. Played charades, watched the ball drop, drank more sparkling wine, traded stories, called it a night around 1:30. Warm, cozy, and okay.

22.  Did you fall in love in 2014?

With the aforementioned long johns.

23.  How many one night stands?

I could use a new night stand actually. <---- Keeping last year's answer because it is GOLDEN

24.  What were your favorite TV programs?

Game of Thrones, Archer, Portlandia, Modern Family, Rewatched all of Mr. Show, Mad Men. Lot of good tv this year.

25.  Do you hate anyone now that you didn't hate this time last year?

Family drama is amazing. Channeling your anger into one terrible person can feel so, so good.

26.  What was the best book you read?

I'm going to say The Bluest Eye, even though I fully admit it had no company. I tried to start The Magicians, re-start The Night Circus and re-read The Book Thief, and failed on all accounts.

27.  What was your greatest musical discovery?

I don't think I really listened to too much music this year. The Songza "Happy indie Pop" playlist was my favourite way to wake up, though.

28.  What did you want and get?

A space heater for our frigid 1918 house, a hammock, a container garden, a posting abroad, a true vacation (as opposed to "a trip")

29.  What did you want and not get?

A chance to regroup before the next blow, my first christmas morning ever with just my family, a more organized life, a new roof.

30.  What was your favorite film of this year?

The Lego Movie was just great.

31.  What did you do on your birthday, and how old were you?

Threw myself a little shindig at my place. Figured out that lemondrop Jello shots are infinitely easier than lime ones and went to town on those, invited the people who were still in town and we drank lots and ate a fair amount. The next day, on my actual birthday, my family came over and we hung out, ate dinner and, for the first time in ages, went down to the bridge to watch fireworks. It rained, but we insisted, and my sister gave my mom her umbrella so that she'd stay dry. In retrospect, I'm so glad we went. And then I was 32.

32.  What would have made your year immeasurably more satisfying?

To have not suffered the losses I did, obviously. But other than that - an office with a window. Or even keeping my old office. I have an office in a hallway now. I'm nothing.

To have my awesome friends be less than 1000 miles away, in every direction.

33.  How would you describe your personal fashion concept in 2014?

"Barely Acceptable". I stopped wearing blazers and dress pants, largely because i got too fat for 'em. Then I switched tights to leggings. And dresses became sweater dresses. And heels became flats became ankle boots. This time next year I'll basically be conducting meetings in a onesie.

34.  What kept you sane?

Borrowing Sarah's answer of 2003 - I was kept sane?

Playing games on my phone was once again MVP and I have no shame about that. 0hh1 is the most incredible therapist.

Our vacation in April was the most amazing way to unwind that I've ever experienced.

But really, my friends and family. I hate reaching out for help, but I'm so glad I have been. And Lily. God bless her little broken self. I am immensely thankful that dogs don't really understand human suffering. They just know that it's breakfast time and that you need to get the fuck out of bed.

35.  Which celebrity/public figure did you fancy the most?

Jon Hamm is still cut from marble, Joel McHale made a comeback. And of course, for the 14th year in a row: Paul Rudd.

36.  What political issue stirred you the most?

Ferguson and similar stories filled me with such sadness and anger, as did the myriad of  continuing "rape culture" stories that seemed to be part of a never-ending flow. It was a really sad year for news, it feels.

37.  Who did you miss?

My mom and my grandfather forever and a day.

The dozens of friends I have around the world who made their presence known, but distance prevented me from hugging them outright. The last cohort of colleagues who moved to warmer climes gutted me quite a bit, actually.

The person I used to be. I'm hoping I get to see her from time to time, though.

38.  Who was the best new person you met?

My colleague, Laura, is fabulous and emotional and down-to-earth and eccentric and Latin and great. I also got to know a few people better, including my favourite trivia quizmaster, and that was a delight. I "re-met" a cousin of mine who lost her mom when she was 31 and she was a life raft at my grandpa's funeral. I'm hoping we get to talk more this year.

39.  Tell us a valuable life lesson you learned in 2014.

Last year's was more apt than I ever thought it would be. It might be too much to count on it this year but it's worth repeating:

"There will always be times when you feel discouraged. I too have felt despair many times in my life, but I do not keep a chair for it. I will not entertain it. It is not allowed to eat from my plate."

-Clarissa Pinkola Estes

In reality, I think I've learned:

"That's the thing about pain [...] it demands to be felt."
-John Green

40.  Quote a song lyric that sums up your year.

"The smell of hospitals, and winter, and the feeling that it's all a lot of oysters, but no pearls."

-Counting Crows, "A Long December"
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This is the most depressing and repetitive one of these I've ever done, but I'm glad I did it. Even bad memories are part of the building of you.


Sunday, January 4, 2015

Compounded

6 days after I wrote that last entry, my grandfather, my mother's father, also passed away.

It was almost funny, walking back into the same funeral home almost exactly three weeks later, meeting with the bubbly and efficient Adrienne again, hearing her admonish us for not following her last instructions - "I don't want to see you back here for a long, long, time" - same room full of caskets, same catering menu, same pit in the centre of your chest that threatens to consume all of you. But a little different, of course. And, in some ways, just a little bit worse.

I did both their eulogies. I did one for my grandmother, too, four years ago. This has made me the de facto eulogizer in my family now, a task I would happily leave to literally anyone else - if I weren't so damn good at it. Unfortunately, it's half because it's easy to write about people you love so intensely, and half because, let's be frank, I've gotten some decent practice recently. The theatre degree continues to have unforeseen uses.

I'd be lying if I said I'm okay, though for some moments I'm "okay". I eat, I dress myself, I bathe, I laugh, I play with the dog, I watch my newly-acquired Netflix. I survive. In those moments I can see a bare glimmer about 50 miles in the distance, of how, one day, I might be able to rebuild a life for myself. But the nights are harder. Around 10 I can feel it coming in, like a tide, or a cloud cover announcing an impending storm. And before I even know to run for cover, the thoughts are there, smothering me, unable to let me alone for even a moment.

Sometimes I think about regret. I force myself to conjure up every shitty thing I ever did to them, or think about how things would have been different if only I'd paid more attention, forced them to get second opinions, helped out in some way. I think about how scared they might have been, or lonely. I think about how I can never give them presents, or affection, or tell them I love them ever again. I know it's useless, and probably damaging to think this way. So then I think about anger. I think about the way some family members treated them. I think about the things we'll never get to experience, the things that other people take for granted. I think about intact families in malls, multi-generational groups of women, arm-in-arm, getting pictures with Santa, eating in food courts, blowing on the bellies of oblivious infants. I get so angry that all I want to do is push those families down the stairs. I've taken to muttering "You'll get yours" under my breath instead, and it helps, even if I acknowledge this is pretty much the Most Shitty Thing to Think.

Sometimes the regret and the anger are too exhausted to come, so then I invite fear. Fear that this is my life now; that, one by one, month by month, everyone who means something to me will disappear, leaving me behind. Fear that the support I have right now will fade away as people expect me to "get over it" and I will have to go through life as I do now - a shell that smiles and says the right thing and nods at what you're saying when inside I am roiling, boiling lava, a heatwave of panic and despair that moves up and down my body like some Hellish tide. Fear that this shroud I put on every morning will always complete every outfit, every day. Fear that I am not strong enough to rebuild any of this life, never mind myself.

And when the regret and the anger and the fear and the despair and the panic have all tucked themselves in for the night, I settle back into agony. Because there's always, Always, a little more agony left at the end of the day.

Grief is a generous guest. He never lets you deal with anything alone.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Thief of Joy

My grief fills rooms. It takes up space and it sucks out the air. It leaves no room for anyone else. 
Grief and I are left alone a lot. We smoke cigarettes and we cry. We stare out the window at the Chrysler Building twinkling in the distance, and we trudge through the cavernous rooms of the apartment like miners aimlessly searching for a way out. 
Grief holds my hand as I walk down the sidewalk, and grief doesn’t mind when I cry because it’s raining and I cannot find a taxi. Grief wraps itself around me in the morning when I wake from a dream of my mother, and grief holds me back when I lean too far over the edge of the roof at night, a drink in my hand. 
Grief acts like a jealous friend, reminding me that no one else will ever love me as much as it does. 
Grief whispers in my ear that no one understands me. 
Grief is possessive and doesn’t let me go anywhere without it. 
I drag my grief out to restaurants and bars, where we sit together sullenly in the corner, watching everyone carry on around us. I take grief shopping with me, and we troll up and down the aisles of the supermarket, both of us too empty to buy much. Grief takes showers with me, our tears mingling with the soapy water, and grief sleeps next to me, its warm embrace like a sedative keeping me under for long, unnecessary hours. 
Grief is a force and I am swept up in it. 

- The Rules of Inheritance, Claire Bidwell Smith

As of today, my mother has been dead for three weeks. I don't know what else to say about that right now, especially since the above pretty much encompasses it all. 
Exceptions: I don't smoke cigarettes, but I make up for that in the amount of sparkling wine I consume. And I don't have the Chrysler building to stare at, just the four walls of a downtown single home that have become something of a cocoon, a clapboard sleeping bag where the only physical reminders of her are slight. Not to worry, of course, because grief provides enough of them on its own.

More to come, I expect.