Getting over it, Literally

There I am, lying in my bed (alone) staring straight up at the ceiling, trying to feel the vibes from my Himalayan salt rock to my left, and all I can think of the report I read on the bar in the Midwest that prominently featured a sign that read something to the effect of: any patron using the word “literally,” will be escorted from the premises, and that they would have no Kardashian here.

In the depth of my recent despair (death of a loved one) you would think I’d have better things to occupy myself with than this, but that’s the irony. Until you have lost a loved one (or two), you can’t guess at the physical, mental, emotional and spiritual wringer that’s going to occur. After a while, the body gives, then the mind, and not necessarily in that order.

So, I’m ruminating on girls and a word apparently used in a show (and real life) that I’ve never watched even once, literally. How could this obsession gone so far and wide and deep in to the fiber of middle America to cause a bar owner to literally put up a sign on the window?

This, then, gives way to my own rumination on the word itself. The more I start to think about the word, the more I literally think it’s valid for many things:

  • a comma, used for a pause in a sense (literally)
  • a period. He’s an idiot, literally
  • a question. You think I want you, literally?
  • an exclamation. I’m so pumped, literally!

Come down to it, those dark-haired, big-bossomed LA gals referenced in the media have it right. Literally is about the only non-offensive word that is used at the White House and an outhouse, what’s more Americana than that, I wonder, trying to will myself to sleep.

Literally.

 

When the world goes dark

Everything seems a bit brighter, and my troubles a bit smaller when in the mountains

This last Thursday, we received the call no one wants. My father-in-law will only live a few more weeks. We were shocked, perhaps because we were hopeful the brain cancer wouldn’t spread so fast…that we would make it to the summer…one more Fourth of July, one more birthday. But one of my mantra’s in the corporate world is “hope is not a strategy,” and sadly, it applies to our personal life as well.

The tears had barely started to give way to a deeper level of grief and pseudo acceptance until Saturday, when I got another call. This time, telling me the husband of our dear friends and neighbors of 15 years had 24-48 hours to live. There was no time to process that–just stunned disbelief and grief. He died this morning, and my husband, who was still in his robotic, I-can-and-will-take-care-of-my-family mode, was determined I wasn’t going to spend another day riding the waves of tears and weepiness. He announced he was taking us skiing, and loaded me and our youngest daughter into the car and up to the hill we went.

I cried for most of the drive, then the liquid seemed to dry up the higher we climbed in elevation. At the top of the gondola, the sunlight blinded me and I had to concentrate on my eight year old zooming down the mountain. The heartache of loss was gradually replaced with the joy of youth, her unfettered happiness of swishing down a mostly empty hillside. Rog caught me in a moment of smiling, that point in time where I forgot everything and just saw the beauty of life.

Taking another look around, I pulled out my phone and took a photo. From above, the grief I experience down below, in the real world seemed so far away.

As we rode down the gondola, the dark clouds weren’t just metaphorical, but very real. My heart constrained again, my eyes blurred, but I didn’t lose it. I felt like a little of the hurt had been replaced with light, not a sunbeam or super nova, but enough to allow me to see through the dark.

 

The Reluctant Dad

As tempted as I am to write about all things Halloween, I can’t get the image of a man sobbing in the arms of my husband, and then turning to me when my husband says, “He just lost his baby. He needs a hug.”

To backtrack, we’ve known this slightly-built man in his mid-thirties about eight months. The time it has taken him and his crew to work on projects on the property. Over this time, I’ve learned several things: he hunts, he has two rescue pitbulls, he’s married to his high school sweetheart, he’s never really believed in dental work or caring much about what he puts into his body other than highly-caffeinated drinks and beef jerky. I’ve also learned and seen that he works tirelessly, can eyeball nearly any piece dimension at a glance (and is nearly always right after he measures) and has a hard-as-steel outward countenance and like most men with a tough outer shell, is equally as mushy on the inside. Oh, and he has always maintained that he never, ever, wanted children.

Then came the incident above. This was preceeded by a week-long all-expense paid trip to Hawaii, courtesy of his boss, the owner of the small business. It was the boss’s 20th anniversary, and he was treating the man I’ll call Travis and his wife for a week on the big island. When Travis showed up at our house, it was two Saturday’s following his return. Rog observed him from the kitchen window, noticing he kept going back and forth between sites, looking around and off into the distance. His pace was slower, his head kept shaking. Rog thought something was amiss. He went out to investigate. Not long after, I looked out, and saw the two talking. Rog didn’t have his normal, casual stance. It was a serious, stand-to-the-side pose, his arm up on the temporary chicken coop, then I saw him put his hand on Travis’ shoulder.

At that point, I’m not sure what is up, but it wasn’t good. It needed a woman’s perspective (or at least input). I go out, the typical smile on my face, ready to say hello for the day. I see Travis’ eyes are red and he quickly put his fingers up, shadowing his eyes. I look at Rog. His own eyes are a little glassy. I tell Travis it’s nice to see him, and that it must be a hard day. Rog looks at me and says bluntly:

“Travis’ wife was pregnant and she just lost the baby,” he says in typical Roger fashion. “Travis needs a hug.”

“You asshole,” says Travis as I come forward, wrap my arms around him and hold on. The man loses it, his shoulders shaking so hard and his gasps come ragged. I say what someone who’s been through a late stage miscarriage says: it hurts. It’s normal. We love you.

He cries harder.

Eventually, I release him and tell him he should have stayed home. His wife and her emotional needs take priority over anything at our house. Rog concurs, and eventually he leaves. Only later does Rog inform me that his wife had told him on the Hawaiian vacation, and at first, he was shocked, then freaked out, then, as all men who originally don’t want children (think Roger, for 7 years), he turned the corner.

A child. His child. A family. Together, the three of them. All the emotions that accompany the prospective of creating a life and new experiences together came rushing forward. He had all the joy of that ideal for two weeks. They shopped for baby items, started talking about names and then it was over. His wife had waited over three months to tell him once she learned she was pregnant.

Then it was over. Since this occurred, two and a half weeks ago, the doctors, and Travis and his wife, expected the baby to come out on its own. It didn’t. Yesterday, she had to go in, and the baby had to be surgically removed. I will spare you the details. It was horrible. Like another death, all over again. I think in some ways, for those of us who have experienced this, it’s worse than the fetus dying (when its that far along, I call it a baby, for everything is formed).

Once again, Rog got a call that he was going to come today, the “day after.” I said no. Roger pre-empted me, already telling Travis to stay home and be with his wife. He did, and we were both grateful for it.

The entire experience has caused me to repeatedly reflect on how the unexpected changes us, and then how those of us surrounding the one in pain are able to–and I think, required–to give love, empathy and support. It’s the benefit of going through painful experiences: helping others. Love comes around. Empathy can be universal. The unexpected hug can mean so much.

It’s also another confirmation point that we have no idea what is going on in another person’s life. When I was at Costco, the day after my brother died, I was standing in line, with toilet paper and tissues; we were out of both. Life had to go on, I was the mother, and the man behind the counter, with whom I usually bantered with, got very stilted when I didn’t smile or laugh or joke. He took it personally. I found myself going out of my way to be happy and what I thought was “normal” because I didn’t want him to believe I had taken a sudden dislike of him.

And therein lies the resulting change in my perspective over the years. When someone cuts me off, I don’t get mad. Maybe that person just lost his/her job or got dumped. When a person is mean in line, I think–maybe that person just lost his or her brother. We never know the lives, loves and heartaches of another, and I’ve learned that listening is a great gift and hugs don’t cost a thing.

 

The Hardest Call: what to do and say when a person dies

I’m pausing from writing my brother’s eulogy to write this blog because I awoke at midnight, responding to the sound of my puppy’s evident need to go outside, and I was reflecting upon grief, and what to do when someone died.

I was the one that never knew what to do or say when someone not related to me died. I wanted to express condolences in some way, but tortured myself with the questions and thoughts about bothering the person, being one more call back to make; worried that my feelings of sorry and sympathy would come across silly and insignificant, for as the saying goes, what can you do?

Now that I’m in that position, I’ll tell you exactly what to do.

Make the call, eventhough you know it may be the hardest one you will ever make in your life. The call you never thought you’d want to make and honestly, you don’t want to do it because it opens the door for the anguish and pain of the person on the other end. All legitimate, honest emotions; I know, I’ve had them. So here’s why you overcome your own fear and worry, and what to expect.

Why: You do it to show the person in grief you care
Day one, I was in shock, and only told my closest friend and one cousin. This was through text only, because I wasn’t ready to talk. The first communication I received was from my cousin Steve, who sent me a message through Facebook. It didn’t occur to me until later that the last time I’d heard from him was when our Grandfather died, and he was complimentary of the blog I wrote about how Swedes don’t Cry. It didn’t matter. His note was simple, it was genuine, and it was so badly needed and greatly appreciated.

The next day however, word had spread, and I started receiving calls. Some people were sobbing so bad I only identified the caller by the phone number. I didn’t pick up. I just listened, and it showed me the person who called me cared about me or my brother or my family–depending on their relationship. A person in shock and grief needs to feel loved.

Don’t worry about what you say- just be honest
For my entire adult life, I didn’t have much of an opportunity to deal with death and dying. Grandparents, all of whom lived to be ripe like a wizend grape, were at the end of life. I didn’t go through sudden deaths of younger or even middle aged people. I’ve not had a single friend or relative die (while I’ve been an adult), so of course, I was not armed with the “right phrases,” or so I thought.

This experience has taught me that it really doesn’t matter, and that I like honest expressions the best. My cousin said ‘he didn’t know what to say, he’s just here for me and loves me.’ Another cousin called and said she hurts for me and my family and loves me. Day two (yesterday), as the news spread, I received call after call, or emails, of people my age (not many who have dealt with death) who said variations of the same thing, and it all feels good. My reaction, living it now as opposed to my theoretical existence of “what would I do if.?” is– who would know what to say? This isn’t supposed to be happening to me or anyone.

Don’t expect a return phone call
Day three (today), I’m now simply tired. Emotionally, mentally. The words I’ve read over and over about people “cry themselves out” is not entirely true, at least for me. I deal with the tough details during the day – funeral photos, the child involved, do I want some of his possessions- and then late at night, when no one is around, I relax and then in private, I fall apart. Whereas day one I couldn’t talk, yesterday, when I did, it was reliving the circumstances, and today, I have gone a quiet sadness that includes recognition its final, but a peace that in three days, I’ve seen miracles happening in my family, where old grievances have been put aside, forgiveness had occurred and even the little miracles, like getting a feeling I should line up playdates for my two girls for no reason, for three days in a row, and then this happens.

All those things, good and bad, don’t make for a great conversationalist, and I haven’t called back many people. I have tried to text a little, and I’ve sent two (count them, 2) to individuals who could let others know that we’ve suffered a devastating loss and I’m out of touch for two weeks. Evenso, that doesn’t mean I don’t care. Quite the contrary, I care so much, as does my family, it’s like the outpouring of love and convenience of prayers is the thing that’s overwhelming. Mom said it best- “I had no idea we were so loved.”

Allowing others to help and support
Even now, I’ve not told anyone else at church other than the 2 women who are looking after the girls, nor my inner circle, none of whom I want to burden with the information. As my brother is not from here, nor do any members of my family live in this state, it’s fewer conversations I need to make. I say that knowing that when I do share the information, I’ll get pummeled for not sharing and allowing others to help. It will go like this:
Friend- what did you do this summer
Me- jetskiing once before I broke 3 toes, turned 45 then attended my brothers funeral.
Friend- Full stop. what did you say?

And this will be followed by being berated, and so I will give this advice: if you find out from a “friend of a friend,” it doesn’t matter, call anyway.

No matter the circumstances of the death, be it of natural causes, an accident or suicide, remember this: there is no such thing as a stupid or silly show of affection or condolences. There is no such thing as receiving ‘too many calls.’ There is no such thing as receiving too much love. Give it and show it, for it’s all welcome.

 

Stop the vomiting and pooping: homemade pedialyte

There I was, crouched in the shower, suffering from vomiting seizures the likes that had not been seen in…well…since my last dog died, all due to the fact that my 8-month old puppy Daisy had to be put down, and Rog dares peek his head around the corner.

“You need anything?” He’s in more misery than I am, because you see, men hate to be helpless. I’ve come to believe that a man would rather lose his hee-haw truck or get a medication-free root canal than watch his wife be in pain.

“Yes,” I croaked. “Pedialyte.”

This is my magic recovery drink, the only thing my stomach will retain after a spout of vomiting. In this case, it was about 6 hours on an off, through to dry-heaves and blood. Not good. When Rog tells me we are out, I block out his words and they become one with the falling water.

Sometime later, he comes back in (I hadn’t noticed he’d left) and asks me to look up. I see a gallon jug full of water that looks yellowish-orange.

“I made my homebrew pedialyte,” he proudly announces, with the hope-infused voice that expresses his sincere desire that all my grief over losing the second dog in less than a year will dissipate when I drink his concoction. “I got it off the World Health Organization site,” he continued.

Later, when I have a glass of ice (I must have ice to crunch on this stuff) I take a sip. It wasn’t bad. In fact, it lacked the “syrupy” nature of the real thing, and I got it down a lot easier because it wasn’t so sweet. When I tell Rog this, he is clearly pleased with his efforts (the survivalist-in-training that he thinks he is), and he tells me that another recipe exists that is even more bare bones “for people who really are in the desert).

Ok then. For all you folks who will get sick, are sick or just believe in experimenting, here’s the recipe. I couldn’t actually find it off the WHO site, but Rog told me what was in it, so I went to several recipe sites. Rog said he substituted the packet of Cool-aid with 1/4 cup orange juice. walla! If only the grief could go away as easy as the vomiting.

INGREDIENTS:

4 cups water
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons sugar
1/2 packet Sugar-Free Kool-Aid (optional)- sub with 1/4 cup orange juice

DIRECTIONS:

Mix all until disolved.

Store in the refrigerator. Throw away any remaining after 1 week. You can also freeze some in ice cubes to use later, or keep drinks cold.

Use instead of juice or milk for diarrhea, vomiting, and fever. Children under 3 months old should go directly to the doctor if they have any of these symptoms.

 

Death during holidays: the last words

Emma, the former meth-addict turned pregnant, reformed, happy cashier at our local Mt. Store was smiling. Her Christmas was great. My next door neighbor, devoid of their annual Christmas bash, was relaxing from hosting her extended family for 14 hrs. My puppy-toddler, fresh from surgery on her paw, was attempting to bound over the couch.

Life, post Christmas, seemed pretty normal.

Then I talked to Kathleen. Upon asking her about Christmas, and fully expecting a traditional answer, I inserted a mouthful of leftover Chinese noodles.

“Pretty bad, actually.” This, coming from a woman who is perennially up, like a lilly that never expires,  stopped me. Thus, I expected some fun story of woe. “My best friend’s son committed suicide a few days before Christmas.”

Can never go wrong with a hug and an I love You

I choked, then spit out my food. Kathleen’s best friend had two children, a boy and a girl, the same age as her own by and girl. They’d grown up together. Been at each other’s weddings, birthdays, births. Watched each other’s kids, carpooled. Losing this son, who I’ll call Jackson, was like losing her own son.

“How did she- and you- handle it?” And of course, in the forefront of my mind was wondering about his personality- what- with the Newtown massacre and seemingly an account of another violent act of death everyday. It had been three weeks.

Kathleen told me Jackson was valedictorian. Well-liked, social. The family “did everything together,” ski weekends, hiking, you name it. He was off the charts smart (accepted to Yale at 15, but elected to stay and play in high school), class clown, voted most liked.

“She’s still reeling,” Kathleen told me. They, along with the teachers, friends were stunned. He wasn’t an anti-social person, nor mean or a bully. Two weeks after his death, his parents found a journal. In it, he wrote of the absolute loneliness he felt. No matter where he went or what he did, he felt alone.

Last night, on a date night with Rog, we talked this through. I choked up, retelling the story. Can you imagine, I said, being a stay at home mom, doing everything you can for your children, then learning later that child felt alone? The mother is racked with guilt, what she did or did not do, or not ask when she should have. Rog hypothesized that a brilliant, outgoing young man, perhaps felt alone because anywhere he went, he didn’t find his equal. What a burden for a kid going through puberty.

“My husband’s been really lov-ey to me,” Kathleen then confided. It happens, said a friend of mine who’s a shrink. Families on the periphery draw closer together, seeing the grief and pain that occurs with sudden loss. Thankfulness. Gratitude. Appreciation. Knowing everyday might be the last.

“What can we do,” I wondered outloud, as our conversation transitioned to protected our kids and ourselves. “We kiss them goodbye and have to let them out in the world.” Rog could get hit by a car at a rate 3 times higher than a year ago (people texting- be it the driver or the pedestrian and bam! it’s over).

“You’re right,” Kathleen agreed. “You do the best you can, say you love them and put it in God’s hands.”

My last words, before they hit the door, the classroom, the bus, should be I love you, instead of goodbye or see you later. I “thought” they were, but now I’m not so sure. My new year’s resolution for 2013, be sure.

A response to grief

Who wouldn’t fall in love with a rottweiler puppy?

Today, the trees came falling down. Good thing the mighty maples did so at the hand of eight crew, armed with chainsaws, clamp-on cleats to scale the hundred-foot tees, a crane taller than my house and chippers and cutters galore.

During a break, I donned on my hoodie ski jacket (that looks like it belonged better in a chalet than in dirty rain of Washington), clipped the collar on Daisy, our 5-month old pitbull puppy and went to catch the action. After talking with one crew, I went to another, where a large, bald, fierce-looking man with a goatee stood waiting for the crane to descend so he could assist in loading a log with a stump the size of a small volkswagon.

He took one look at my dog, and instead of shirking in fear or kneeling in welcome, his eyes started watering. Uh-oh, I thought. There’s a story here.

“Is that a puppy,” he choked out. I nodded, moving beyond his emotion. It was going to come pouring out whether I was ready or not. “My puppy died yesterday,” he said, the deep voice cracking as he bit his lip, cutting off the sentence. I sympathized, and of course, asked what happened. He wanted to talk.

“I thought I was doing the right thing,” he said, telling me he’d been trying to train the one-month old Rottweiler to go down stairs. “We were going down the stairs on a leash, and he was just a little thing,” he spilled, his words pouring out. “I was sort of getting tired and I was trying to teach him independence,” he continued, “so I took off the leash and told my fiance something and when I turned around, he was going down the stairs and stumbled, and went head over heals. He couldn’t walk, and my fiance rushed him to the hospital.” There, he continued, the xrays showed the puppy had somehow punctured a lung and within an hour he was dead.

The man was devastated. He’d wanted a Rottweiler puppy his whole life.

“I cried like a baby,” he admitted, to which I told him we’d just lost our dog to cancer. The crane was coming over, a blessed relief to the man, who had stopped talking.  I invoked my standard phrase for death.

“You’ll make it through.” He looked away from the oncoming metal and into my eyes, searching for sincerity. Finding it behind my look of understanding and shared pain, he squinted and nodded.

“Yeah.”