Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Packing Up

Weekends have become very important to me. I mean, let's face it, I can't remember a time in recent years when I wasn't "working for the weekend" but now they've become virtual life rafts, keeping me afloat after a week of obligations and deadlines have had me going under for the third time. Something something water metaphor.

So when it was "strongly suggested" by my uncle that we start using the upcoming weekends to go through my grandparents' house in preparation for its sale this summer, I wasn't thrilled, to say the least. To be honest, the mere suggestion stirred up a lot of emotions in me - I felt panic at the idea that we were moving forward with the selling of the house so soon, anger that my personal time was being infringed upon by such an emotionally and physically demanding task, and resentment that the only reason I had to do this at all was because my grandparents were gone and my mom wasn't here to take my place. But ultimately, I wanted to help him and my aunt out, and I wanted to lay claim to a few knick knacks, so I agreed. Its times like those that I roll my eyes upward and mutter "See, mom? I'm helping."

I dreaded it all week, worried about the feelings it would stir up, thinking about how the last time I was here was to pick out photos for my grandfather's funeral. When I walked through the front door my first thought was how it didn't smell that strongly of pipe smoke. The scent of my grandfather's tobacco- the rich, warm, almost chocolaty aroma when it was lit, the acrid, greasy trace it left on your clothes - was the most distinctive part of him. It was so bizarre to not have him sitting in his chair, raising that pipe with a "hello, pet!" as we walked in. Almost as bizarre to think that nobody owned this house anymore at all; furthermore to think that I was now technically a partial owner. 

In the end, like most things, it wasn't as bad as I'd thought it would be. We did the three upstairs closets, the upstairs bathroom, a spare bedroom, the closet of Christmas decor, and the master bedroom. It took us 5 hours - 2 more than I'd originally committed to mentally. I vowed to come away with very little, and I think I held (mostly) true to my intentions. I took a few pieces of jewellery, some sewing scissors, a metal music box that cracked me up with a "made in occupied japan" stamp on the bottom, some blankets, some embroidered hankies and small linens, and the suitcase my grandfather used for his honeymoon. I assuaged the guilt I felt over taking these items by throwing out a trashbag and a half's worth of my own stuff once I got home, dredged up from cardboard boxes that had fallen victim to our rather leaky basement.

It felt good, in some ways. Throwing out my stuff and theirs, pairing it down to what was absolutely necessary felt important and cathartic - a way of bringing Spring to the surface even if the weather refuses to comply. I don't think the actual selling of the house will feel as good - my childhood and adolescence are contained within those walls, and the idea of walking away from that era entirely, in so many ways, makes my chest hurt. 

That's the problem with compounded grief - there's so many layers to it, and so much of this time would be made easier if only one of them were still alive. If my mother was here, she would have brought home practically everything. We would have admonished her for her hoarder tendencies and she would have shushed us and packaged everything up in the basement, my dad complaining all the while that "we don't need all this crap!". But she would have told us the stories of everything and she would have bonded with her siblings and she would have provided a buffer between us and our mortality. And if my grandfather was still here, then of course we wouldn't be doing any of this at all. 

I try to avoid introspection these days - I honestly don't have time for it. It so often leads to regret and sadness, a weariness that knocks you out of commission for ages, robs you of sleep and ambition. I have a job that needs me and a house to upkeep and a future to look towards so I keep it to a minimum. But it wasn't so bad being slapped in the face with the past this weekend. I liked hearing the stories I didn't know and seeing what my grandparents deemed worthy of keeping. But as we finished room after room, and kept closing doors behind us, both metaphorically and physically, I couldn't help but think that, while "see you laters" are decent enough, endings never really get easier. 

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

One Foot Back to Counter It

There are things I say to my therapist, not because I necessarily believe them, but because I want to believe them. That if I say them out loud, allow them to resonate, to bounce off the walls of the small, warm converted 2-storey walk-up where she works, then they will magically turn themselves to truth.

One of those things is "grief is not linear."

In my logical brain, I know that. I know that it is as true as anything that's ever been said. That you don't just "get better", with all the days lined up in neat rows, waiting for the "5 stages of grief" to tick by. But I can't help but feel that some days are setbacks, that I am not moving forward, that I am stuck.

I hadn't cried in weeks. I was showing up for work, if not on time, then at least close, did my job, and did it reasonably well. I was taking the bus again, and I went to trivia night, and made dinner, and paid bills on time, and did everything that, just a few weeks earlier, had seemed nearly impossible. And then, easily, delicately, like someone tugging at a loose string on a beloved sweater, it all neatly fell apart. On Monday morning, I stood staring through the front window, mud room door closed behind me, and I could. Not. Move.

I mean that quite literally. The simplest act- putting one foot in front of the other, walking down the porch and trodding the 6 blocks to the bus stop - seemed absolutely insurmountable. I could feel myself growing hotter and hotter, the weight of my winter boots around my ankles, the knitted hat my grandmother had made, lying itchy on my head, and yet I stood there, dull, doughy face peering back at me in the hall mirror. I envisioned myself picking up my purse and unlocking the door, but in reality I just stood, staring. After 5 minutes or so of this, I said aloud to no one, in a voice that sounded too small to be mine, "I don't think I can."

The Little Engine that Panicked.

I slowly took off my mitts, my boots, let the hat fall from my head, and went back into the house. I sent an email to work that blamed my absence on a physical illness instead, too cowardly to admit I'd been made catatonic by something deep inside my head, and too weary to put up with the sympathetic looks I'd get once I slunk back into the office.

I wasted the entire day in a forgettably boring fashion, watching YouTube videos of the Oscars, eating whatever was about to go bad in the fridge, and annoying the dog. I told TB, who was sweet and sympathetic as we made dinner. I got a good night's sleep and had a hot shower and went through my morning routine as normal the next day, hoping that I'd at least be able to make it into a cab tomorrow, if not the bus stop. But as I slipped an orange into my totebag, I heard a noise. A high-pitched wailing tone that was half mechanical, half animal. It was coming from me. 

I'd heard the idea before that some moments take us out of ourselves, that we feel as though we're watching ourselves from above, like we're in a movie. Like bolting upright when you've had a nightmare, I always thought that was just a cliche. But I get it now. I could see myself brace both hands on the dining room table, I saw my face crumple in on itself as the first droplets of my turns-out-it's-not-waterproof mascara hit my cheeks. I watched as my legs buckled, and my palms slapped the dirty wooden floor and my tears and drool made splashes on the cracks in between the hardwood. And I heard everything. The worst noise I've ever made, and one of the worst I've ever heard. I never fully understood what it was to 'keen' before, but this had to have been it. A rhythmic, rocking, shrill explosion that seemed to come simultaneously from my chest, my throat, and the top of my head. It sounded like some kind of alert, or alarm, though with no logical course of action. Less of a "Fire! Everybody get out!" and more of a "Let us all remark on the utter unfairness that fire destruction can cause!". Like ADT if it was run by Sartre.

The dog was totally perplexed. Here I was, about to give her breakfast, with maybe a biscuit if she did her business outside, and now I'd decided to eschew all that in favour of lying on the floor like a simpleton. She was not impressed, racing back and forth between her bowl and my pathetic display of surrender, trying to encourage me to pick up where I'd left off.

And with a shuddering breath, just like that, it was over. The skies cleared and I was back. And I slowly picked myself up, dusted myself off (seriously, we have to figure out some kind of chore wheel, we're slobs), and went back in the kitchen to feed the dog. I glanced at the clock on the stove as I walked by it - the whole thing had taken me less than 5 minutes. I may not be good at managing my emotions, but my God, I'm efficient.

Today has been better. I've had a few close moments, but no tears today, and I'm trying to go out and meet some people for drinks in order to do something that doesn't involve hibernating in front of a space heater or staring blankly at the myriad of glowing screens I possess. And hopefully the weeks and months ahead will be filled with more moments of normalcy and pleasantness than not.

It's not a step back, I know it isn't. But maybe it's a bit of a kick. A gentle tap of the toe saying "Hey, hotshot, this thing is bigger than you. And don't you forget it."

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Neurologist and author Oliver Sacks is dying. His piece in the New York Times is beautiful and sad and true and haunting. I love it. This part resonated with me in particular:

"There will be no one like us when we are gone, but then there is no one like anyone else, ever. When people die, they cannot be replaced. They leave holes that cannot be filled, for it is the fate — the genetic and neural fate — of every human being to be a unique individual, to find his own path, to live his own life, to die his own death."

The world will be a poorer place without you, Mr. Sacks. Though I suppose you'd say the same of any of us.

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

But he's a fool

One of the best presents I received this Christmas was a subscription to Netflix. As the cold and blustery winter months continue to batter us, we've been happily making our way through Archer, Portlandia, Arrested Development, one ill-conceived episode of Pretty Little Liars that has thrown off all my "recommended for you"s and a bunch of stand-up specials. Last night we decided to peruse the movies section as we munched on perfect grilled cheese sandwiches (seriously. Watch it. Life changing) and sipped upon the finest of Dr Peppers. Given our love of butt-and-dong humour, we decided to watch Forgetting Sarah Marshall, which TB had seen but I hadn't.

As the credits rolled, a familiar song played, albeit in Hawaiian. I hummed along with it, and TB looked at me, quizzically.

"How do you know this?"
"You don't?"
"No, what song is it?"
"You'll get it, just wait to the chorus."

As the familiar strains started up, I turned, expectantly to him, mouth open in a Muppety expression of "eh?? EH??? *NOW* do you see?" But... nothing. Blank stare. I belted out the chorus.

"Nooooothing compares! No-THING compares To Yooooou*!"

Silence. Blankness. Lack of comprehension.

"It's Nothing Compares 2 U! Sinead O'Connor? Written by Prince? Huuuuge hit in the 90s? The decade that defined our upbringing?"
"Huh. I don't think I've ever heard it."
"WHAT?? No, no. You must be mistaken. You've heard it. Here, let me pull up the video."
*gets video on YouTube*
"Come on, now you know it. Close up of Sinead's face. She's bald. She's pale. She's tortured."
"I know who Sinead O'Connor is."
"HOW? HOW WOULD YOU KNOW THAT? Why would you have any reason to know who she is without knowing this song?"
"I'm sure she has other songs."
"I'm sure she does, but that's not the point. No one says 'Oh, the Baha Men. They sing 'We Rubbin', right?I'm not familiar with them letting the dogs out, no."
"Look, there's plenty of popular movies you haven't seen and I don't rib you about it."
"That's true, but I know of their *existence*"

The conversation then basically devolved into me calling him a homeschooled jungle freak.

He is not, however, just a less hot version of me. He outranks me.
But that's weird, right? A kid who's born in the early 80s, has lived in North America all his life, has been going to movies since he was 5, loves 80's rock and 90's pop and dance music, but has never heard of what is, arguably, one of the most popular songs of our defining decade?

In truth, I'm kind of glad he was clueless about it, though. It gives me something to screech at him when he's complaining about how I've never seen Star Wars. Checkmate, Cady.

*2 U

Monday, February 2, 2015

A Nice Start

Somewhere in the sleepy moments between when TB got up to shower and I rolled over to watch the dog puke, she was there.

We were with my grandfather in his backyard, her standing and looking at me, and my grandfather in his favourite outdoor chair, playing with cats that wouldn't do as they were told. I told her about the arguments my sister and father had been going through, about my therapy, about the realizations I was having, about the conclusions I was tumbling toward. They listened, as they always did, as I ran through everything that was swirling through my head.

What made this one so different from the others was that all along, I knew she was dead, and I knew it was a dream. 

"I've been waiting for you to come to me," I said, "Not just as a side player in some larger story, but as the star, for a real visit. They say I'm supposed to feel you everywhere, all the time, or at least when I need you most, but I don't. You're there, and I'm here and that's how it is. But this, this is what I meant."

She nodded, and we hugged and I thanked them both for listening and for visiting and for just... being there. Letting me catch them up. Allowing me a moment to unload.

And then I was awake, everything fading rapidly except for the feeling of fullness, contentment, rising out my chest. Of course, writing this, it now feels like a tugging, grasping ache, a tidal wave of desire to be right back on that sunny lawn with those I love and two bizarre little kittens. But in that moment - it felt like being home again.

I'm not a big believer in religion or spirits or anything like that, but I hope you'll forgive me my little indulgence today and allow me a moment to think that maybe, a little message made its way from the great perhaps this morning. 

Thanks, mom. Now, if you'll excuse me, the dog's puking yellow again.

Friday, January 30, 2015

Tongue Tied

I'm bad at telling people.

I haven't figured out how to phrase things in a way that minimizes shock, that leaves the listener intact and allows us to move forward to other, easier topics. So far I've been settling on some version of the following:

"Oh, yeah, well, so, my mom died, actually. Like, a month ago or so, and, so, yeah. Things are.. well, I'm surviving. But there's that. Just, you know, so you know."

Slick as all get out.

I decided early on that I had no desire to make some grand social media confession. I'd done that when my grandmother died and, while it made it easier in some ways, it also resulted in some of my more tenuous acquaintances reading into everything I posted during the weeks following as some sort of "inner view" to my psyche. I got tired really quickly of heartfelt responses to Death Cab for Cutie lyrics, in other words.

Plus, this isn't really the same. The death of a grandparent is expected, in some ways. I was 28 when my maternal grandmother died, and she was 90. Though I loved her fiercely, and her death forever changed our family, there was some semblance of order. My mother was only 64. Her father buried her. There is no order there. There is no comfort in a life long-lived. I received a condolence card the other day that urged me to cherish "the lifetime of memories" we had together. I snorted. We hardly had a lifetime together. 2/3rds of a life time. Maybe 3/4. We got shortchanged, Hallmark, get the message.

I also wanted to avoid the social media rubbernecking. I think we're drawn to tragedy in some way, with an insatiable need for details that's only kept at bay by propriety. Maybe because by hearing more about someone's loss, we feel like we can outrun it, or avoid making the same mistakes. Or maybe by acknowledging its awfulness we feel like we're sending up an incantation to protect ourselves. Publicly we're all "How awful, I can't imagine. My thoughts and prayers with all of you." but quietly, to ourselves and to our deity we think "Thank you, God for making sure it wasn't me."

I know people stalk people's social media following a tragedy because I've done it myself. Looking for details on how they're doing, drawing conclusions from their reposted memes. And if you don't believe me, hours after her colleagues were told the news, my sister received a friend request from the sour girl who sits near her that hasn't spoken to her in the nearly-a-year they've been working together. Nice try, deets-seeker.

So, by not making it public, I've been faced with the slow reveal. When things looked grim, I told three friends, two of whom had lost mothers when they were in their 20s and 30s. When things ended, I told those same three. And when my best friend, Jax, asked if she could do anything, I asked her to tell people we knew, because that was an absolutely impossible task at the time. But still, even after the obit was published and the friends were told, and work was informed, there was still a lot of people that didn't know. Which is okay, but I'm still young enough that its shocking so every time I see someone I know (which, during this season is quite frequently), I usually have to steel myself up for another awkward explanation. All I want to say is: sorry to ruin your day with my dead mother.

Once my grandfather died, I doubled down and buttoned those lips even harder. Because one is enough, two is just... well, all aboard the pity blimp, y'know?

So why, after all this talk of privacy, am I here? Because, even if it's the internet, it still feels like something of a safe space. Because reading the blogs of my friends who have suffered loss has been really helpful, so maybe this is something of an offering in return. Because when you really only think about one thing, from the moment you wake up, to the moment you wake up again, you start to get self-conscious about talking about it constantly with "real people".

Because maybe the reason it's so hard to formulate the words to explain it to people is because it's not the kind of thing you can sum up in a sentence or two.

Although, basically it all comes down to this:

I miss my mom. I miss my grandfather.

Nothing profound, but there it is.

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:


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.