Wednesday, February 10, 2016

A Dash of Veruca Salt

     We had a family dinner last night, multigenerational even. My grandparents and parents and my sister and all our kids. It was 4 generations of chaos and calm for a few brief minutes at one table. Dinner conversation was certainly polite. It started with poop. I swear there is not a meal that goes by in my immediate family that doesn't include some potty talk. Maybe it's because we have young children....or maybe it's because I'm a nurse. Regardless, we moved from the bottom of the bum as we filled our stomachs to chatting about matters of the heart. We speculated about a recent family member's untimely death and pondered mortality for some odd seconds then got to the nitty gritty mid-garlic bread. It was deliciously covered in mozzerella and spice and butter and salt. Cut to the asparagus, bathed in olive oil and parmesan and garlic, and of course...salt. My grandma clucked at her husband and chided a bit about the sodium, I guess he loves it a little. And don't we all? My nephew played at the end of the table with the grinder full of chunky sea salt; my 6 year old as'sault'ed her rotisserie chicken before even tasting it. I'm not even sure it counts as a spice but it is the most readily available one on every American table.

     It's so easy and quick to grab and sprinkle, those tiny white grains that flavor everything with the familiar zing we've become accostomed, even addicted, to tasting. It was a seamless drift in the conversation from that always loved and yet stubbornly hated salt to the heart failure that plagues my grandparents, usually minimally. 
     As Grandma lamented their love of salt and the obvious havoc that it can wreak on our health, I immediately turned and muttered, "He's 85, YOLO!"
   My brother in law heard it and gave me a sideways look. He asked if I was going to be one of those parents that kept up with kids' slang and while I assured him I really wasn't thinking of it for my kids, I wished I'd had the courage to speak up to the older generations about that theory of living. See I'm in such an awfully awkward mood these days. Not exactly a You Only Live Once type of mood, but more like a 'Dash of Veruca Salt.'

I suppose I'm from the age group that has enjoyed instant gratification. It's like salt, the spice of life, has been sitting on my table for so has been constantly at the ready and easy to grab, and I could pour on a sprinkle to flavor my day or coat the whole of my year with it whenever I wanted something. We dreamed up a life and Aksel and I had found each other so we went for everything right when we wanted it. Wedding, house, jobs in a new city. Then a baby or two or three or four. 

     Things get a little hazy at that point. The heart failure kicked in when we overdid the spice of life. I don't mean to say that our babies were too much but all of it, the joy and the loss, the health and the chronic illness and repetitive trauma, it has broken us a little bit more than we'd like to admit. We cut back, way back, and thought that starting over could be healthy. 
     My life went from flavorful though heart wrenching to bland but difficult. It feels like cold turkey therapy and I swear I'm in withdrawal. Lately it doesn't seem prudent, nor nearly as easy, to reach out and grab what I want. I feel like a petulant toddler stomping my foot and demanding the world bend to my will and lately, noone is giving in and I'm not getting my way. 
I'm working on my deep breathing, I'm trying to get more sleep and drink more water. I've upped my caffeine intake to compensate and still I feel tired and whiny. I must be getting older because I know that I don't want to be a 'Bad Egg' but man that mantra is hard to kick, when really I want things to fall into place. I want an easy routine again to this life and the simplicity that we dreamt when we were younger. I want space to deep breathe again and patience to plod through the necessary changes that we chose to make. I don't need commentary about our decisions, I just need some compassion and above all time. And time is the least of what I want to pass. I don't care how, I want it ALL now. 

Monday, January 25, 2016

Missing the Greener Grass.

     It's been so long since I've posted. My fingers are slipping to all the wrong keys and I can't quite get my posture correct sitting at this little desk tonight. I feel quite like a square peg in a round hole here. I've arched my shoulders and stretched my neck, adjusted the lighting and shifted my hands back to home-row. I'm trying, that's the best I can say.
     Aksel and I have returned to our hometown after ten years living away. We'd only moved three hours north but it was a lifetime apart from this place, it was our own space. We built a marriage, a family, renovated a house and moved ourselves, settled into a routine that was comfortable if not fully functional. Funny thing about that original move, we'd done it when we were young. We had such stars in our eyes and such big plans. Of course when we began it was a simpler life, a lot less baggage in the way of boxes and emotions and obviously fewer little people in tow.
     Since our extended family was aging and changing, new little people branching out the family tree among other things, a pining started pinging in us, a familiar calling to come home. The thought of being there for our nephews and our siblings, the neighborly raps on the door to call on a parent, rather than ringing them on the was all appealing.

     I laugh a bit bitterly as I think that it must always be spring in my recollections of this hometown. The ground giving way to beautiful blossoms and the smell of the rain and worms and earth everywhere. And the color- unmistakenly green. Like lightning has struck and the storms have electrified the grass back to growth, we must have been charged with an envious surge of energy to uproot our family and begin anew here.
It is starting over. It is vast and empty, white space and blank, like the stares that I can't help but give at my new job (at least it feels that way) when the tasks I am set to do make no sense.
     I can't speak for Aksel, I only know what I hear, but I can feel him spinning his wheels, both figuratively and today literally, as I pushed the minivan from behind as he gunned the engine to get my tires out of the ruts. Driving my van after being stuck was probably the most successful feeling of the day, a day that will probably never be a good day. We spoke about little at dinner tonight, he and I, attempting to partake in some ritual of 'celebration' that should belong to this day. I never know what to say. "Happy Dead Baby Day"? Doesn't seem politically correct. So we ended with blue cupcakes to share with the sisters and silence settling between us as we snuggled into bed.
     We're two years into this Grief business and not proficient at it yet. Perhaps I'm used to a private time to lock myself away and muse, to flip through the one and only baby book and touch the glossy pages unobserved. Maybe the current climate is mixing and muddling together all our sentiments, our restlessness with the weather and our perplexion at finding little green grass here, back at home, is most likely mucking up our optimism and hope. Spring will come and with it, air a touch easier to breathe, tepid temperatures to wade outside into, and soon enough a growth of color we may recognize as the one which drew us down here again.

Sunday, May 3, 2015

A Blip on the Radar

      Last year this day meant so much to me. I launched a week of self-reflection and forced positivity and I started with Griffin's Shoes, a look at who I was as a newly bereaved mom, Griffin's mom.
     This year, a dear friend messaged me to start my day, one who also shares the title of Bereaved Mother, telling me that I was on her mind and wishing me well. To be honest, with so much going on in our lives with four busy little bodies buzzing about, I had forgotten that it was Sunday, May 3rd. I forgot that this was the launch of "Beth Week" again  with its many days to reflect on who I am.
     I acknowledged the reminder, though did I appreciate it? More than a year into this loss world, I find days randomly strewn into my calendar that have caught me feeling like Beth the Bereaved. I know I valued the label once, now I'm not certain I'll ask for it on a special day every year.

     The history of this day is relatively new but I think it is well placed in May. Read about the 'holiday' here:

    I have had to think about where this mother's day for me and my firstborn son has found my heart...It would be wonderful to say that it has healed. Most days it feels almost whole. I can speak Griffin's name without pausing, without choking back tears now. I can hear someone talking about him, usually his big sisters, and usually I smile. 
     Today was a typical mother's day for me, though we weren't playing it as one. We moved flowers, weeded gardens, and assessed the new growth that spring has sprung in our lives. I raked leaves and unearthed green little buds, rolled dead and dried blossoms to the woods, scooping up a few toad friends on the way. We shared the discovery of the hopping wonders, all camouflaged in the grass and constantly attempting the escape from tiny prodding fingers. Among all the living things are the reminders of our dead. We were given a garden stone, a cuddling cherub, and a stone griffin, all to serve as mementos for our little man now long gone. They had been placed next to the creeping thyme, marking time itself as the seasons changed everything but its stone facade. My family helped them migrate this afternoon, cozying the cherub next to the catmint, finding the fierce griffin a home amidst the hydrangeas. My little girls love this garden and are welcome to explore it. Our last little buddy came out to play today, and though he didn't make it as far as the rocks or hill, he was so comfortable lounging in the grass, laying out in the shade. It was quite the juxtaposition, his cheerful activity settled near the outdoor memorial for a brother that is forever still. 
For once, for probably the only time it will not be planned, we were a cohesive unit, a whole family frolicking in our front yard. It was a great mother's day, if still a little bereaved. 

Saturday, May 2, 2015

Magic Mommy Moments

     I talked to a really good friend today, reviewed our plans for the weekend and discussed how our week has been shaping up. She mentioned that she read last night's post, and before she could tell me her reaction to it, I confessed how frustrated I was that I couldn't push myself harder to get the details on paper. Then I twisted the sentiment, telling her how frustrated I felt that I needed to delve at all, that I had felt compelled to mark the date this way, lamenting. I was irritated that I couldn't have written about my evening with my kids in the here and now instead. She listened patiently and I could hear her giving me the space to get the stream of thought out, all the real emotions and the story of my night that went with it.
      It felt better, marginally, to focus on the present and my success with my kids rather than all my failures. I was ambitious last night, after realizing that I had grocery coupons that were expiring and desperately needing to restock my caffeine and breakfast larder. I kissed the hubby goodnight in the late afternoon, told him to enjoy his "guys' night out" at the Twins game, lying through my teeth that I wasn't upset that he was going. I knew he needed the down time though I was a touch bitter that he got to escape the madness that I was gearing up to orchestrate.
     I herded the girls one-by-one into the truck an hour late, buckled the baby boy in the middle of the middle seat and said a little prayer for extra patience to be bestowed on me on the short drive south. Destination #1: Culver's for dinner. Eating out with four kids is a nightmare that we can barely survive when we parent together and here I was, attempting to reign them all in, all alone. Baby in sling, I ordered our food and the girls scattered in a blink. I found them a minute later after filling my own cup with root beer and letting the foam settle for a few extra seconds, watching the little bubbles pop and bracing myself for the ketchup flinging, soda spilling, fit throwing dinner that was inevitable.

    Those smily girls sat quietly, deceptively so I thought. They had chosen a table in the middle of the dining area, a spot next to a grandma and middle-aged daughter eating out, perfectly placed to begin their mayhem on center stage. I was sure they would out me as a hot mess of a mama before long. Crayons and sheets of paper were being shared and our number sat on the table without a single girl feeling the need to own it. 
Cups with pop were lidded with straws still in the top, noone was blowing bubbles or even tipping and dripping down their fronts. I was waiting for the moment when the crack would show in my calm facade, when my buttons would be pushed and I would lose my cool. 
Can I tell you without bragging that moment never came? Maybe I should brag. For that one hour, that one dinner, noone had a meltdown- including mommy- and we were admired for our success. The diners next to us chatted up my little ladies and inquired about my babe in arms. They each commented more than once on how well behaved they all were. One joked about how smart I was to have ordered cold food, knowing how often moms are interrupted to help, then remarked how I actually finished my own dinner at the same time as the girls. I even sat at the table while my oldest took her sisters independently to the counter to order their special sundaes, watched them share bites of each other's without getting ice cream in their hair and then  neatly wiped their own faces with napkins. 

I followed them out the door with a grin on my face, with a sweetly sleeping Henry in my sling, and loaded them all up to cross the road. 

Dang that ice cream wound them up! I celebrated my small victory of dinner next to the epic fail that was the following hour of 'bedtime trip to the grocery store'. I won't rehash it all, I don't want too much sympathy for the plain real life that we all live. Suffice it to say there were aisle races with tiny grocery carts (complete with yells and chasing mama), smirks on fellow customers' faces, a screaming two month old sitting on my coupons, and a checkout clerk that had to call for backup to bag my food just to finish faster. 

I can laugh today; last night it wasn't so funny as I was tucking four tired and whiny or wailing children into their beds while the milk warmed in the waiting truck and my caffeine called wantonly. 

      I told my friend that someday, maybe even someday soon, I will have all my days looking more like this one. I want all my perspective to be on the present and even in the future, much more than on the past. She's agreed to be patient with me, to keep listening while my healing heart talks and bares it all, and I love her for letting me have this time and space to share it.

As a side note, last year on this day I shared a post about my successful dinner with its share of failure mixed in. No Substitute for My Son reminded me tonight how to frame my head and heart around this year, this dinner. Every time we are sharing our family with strangers, I am proud and pained. It is easier today than last year and I'm certain it will be easier still in years to come. I am happy for these moments of magic that sparkle in our everyday lives, these glimmers of normalcy where my children behave when I least expect it then act like the total wild animals I know they are at heart, when I hope for perfection.


Thursday, April 30, 2015

The First Cut is the Deepest.

     I can't write this post. At least not well. Not the way it needs to be written, with authority and pride, with the heart that it deserves. The first cut was the deepest, was the worst for me. 
April is Cesarean Awareness month and with four of them, quite literally, under my belt I should be an old pro and be able to speak comfortably on the subject. Yet I really can't. There is not a single comfortable thought in my mind about this type of birth, this surgery that I have endured and survived so many times. 

Maybe you know already, that my first c-section, my second daughter's birth, was a simple one. She was breech and though I disagreed with the plan, she was evicted too early at 34weeks because she was low on fluid and the doctor was worried. 
There is so much you should know about how that one cut, the first cut, was not right. I'm certain it was textbook and perfectly executed. But it was all wrong for me. 

How can I tell you without sounding ridiculous, without the words cutting with blame and bitterness, how that one cut permanently changed our trajectory? 

I don't know for certain what ended our next two pregnancies, but that first cut likely was a factor. 
My third daughter's premature birth was a complication of that first cut, her placenta attaching itself in the worst spot, hemorrhaging and placing both of us in danger. 

And all the dreams that were dashed from that first cut. 
Another tiny loss, an early one, again without a cause. 

And oh the heartbreak that came directly from that first cut, last year and again this year. 
The muscle scarred once, then twice, like my heart, that has never healed again to be whole and perfect. 

For some, the cut is necessary, for some it is desirable, for some it is a minimal memory. None of this is true of my first cut. It can never be minimized. 

Since I've lost my perspective to teach without bias, perhaps I can suggest some "light" reading for anyone interested: 

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

What's in a Grave?

(originally written 4/21/14)    

        I've never understood the gravesite part of death. Who chooses a plot in a random lot to be buried with strangers and why? In my healthcare directive I have written up what to do with my remains- I'm to be cremated and taken somewhere my family would like to visit. Scatter me in the lake, sprinkle me in the woods, plant me under a new tree to fertilize a tradition. I've wanted to be where my family is or at least somewhere they would like to come to visit me.
       Despite this "wanting to be visited" part of my wishes, I've not really been one for cemeteries and gravestones. It seems antiquated and sad and very distant in my life where I've moved from city to city more than twice in the last eight years alone.
       When my son died we needed to make decisions about his little body. There is no emergency fund labeled for just such an occasion as 'Death of Our Child,' so financially there was little room for a plot of earth in a gated community of corpses. It was a simple and quick decision to have him cremated, for one of the main reasons that we were not sure where we would bury him anyway...where we live now is not a forever home and our hometown, though possibly perfect, is so far from us. Cremation was also inexpensive, with one of the local funeral homes offering to provide that service for free, including his little urn.
       When we brought him home for the first time we had to think of a little space to place him, one that wasn't going to be disturbed by his sisters but one that put him front and center in our daily lives. He resides on a shelf in the living room now, space shared with a photo of each of his sisters at about a year old. It's a lovely location to look in on him.

       I realized though, not too long after he found his perch, that there is no privacy there. There is no safe space, no sacred sanctuary for me, or any member of our family to speak to Griffin alone. It came to me in that moment, the allure of the grave, for this purpose specifically. Perhaps for other parents, there is a nursery that can be left alone, like a shrine, devoted solely for a length of time to that invisible person. In that room it would be appropriate to close the door and have the peace and quiet that I'd imagine one could find in the cemetery visiting the dead. In our home though, no such room existed. This baby was to be welcomed into the family bed, sharing his room with us as parents to a newborn, a bassinet beside me in the night as we had done for his three sisters before him. There is no personal touch for him there now, and with no nursery to retreat to, for a reprieve to share my thoughts with him, I did struggle.
       I missed the grave in that moment. I missed that ceremony that comes with visiting him, walking through the seasons of that fenced locale, a designated berth for the Grief that cannot be kept in my living room. We most likely will not bury him, at least not in the foreseeable future, but maybe someday if we settle permanently, he might be given a spot, a little shady glen where we can sit and remember when our family was whole. 

Sunday, April 26, 2015

The Petulance Problem.

       I'm fed up. So over this. Ugh. Can you hear it? The juvenile whine, the annoying repetitive nature and immaturity in my voice. I hear it. I'm sick of it too, this attitude that comes with Grief. I have long held the belief that to enjoy the good times in life we need to endure tough times. It seems only logical to me that I could never appreciate the full depth of joy in life if I was born on a sunny day that never turned to gray.
       Why then can I not logic my way through this Grief? It should be simple enough to say to myself, endure this difficult time and you will see soon, soon enough, how wonderful again your life will really be. I can say it, sure, plenty of times, coach myself in the mirror even. It doesn't seem to help. I am peevish with my reflection, irritated that I cannot be convinced that there is purpose here, in this loss.
       Had we not endured enough? Was there not enough trial in our lives before this? Was it not someone else's turn? I can't seem to stop it, the frustration nagging at me, making me huff and pout, sigh and snap.
I know that this attitude will not change my circumstance. I cannot bring my son back, cannot turn back time to divert the course of our lives. We are here, forever, and being sulky and petulant is hurting me.
       I'm doing my best, knowing this Grief will continue, to catch myself when that mood strikes, before I lash out at others. I am working at my ill-temper, trying to control it, to show my family that I am bigger than this loss, better than this Grief that threatens to change who I am. I don't want to be irritable and easily-crossed.
       I am going to push past this phase, tuck in my bottom lip, paste on my smile again, and brush aside my petty thoughts. I am strong enough to get through this...I just don't want to.