Here’s a guest post I wrote for my publisher’s blog! 🙂
Ok, Mac people – bear with me – this analogy will be short.
The year was 2007. We were all happily acclimated to our Windows XP operating system when, bam! Microsoft dropped Windows Vista on us and we collectively went, “Thanks for nothing, a-holes!”
Because Windows Vista was that shitty little upgrade nobody asked for.
It was buggy and slow and didn’t seem to make anything better. But Microsoft, in its infinite wisdom, said, “Tough shit. You’ll use it and you’ll like it.” (But it only lasted a couple years before Microsoft got tired of our bitching and came out with Windows 7 – but I’m not here to give you a primer on Microsoft operating systems.)
So, what’s my point?
Well, a couple of years ago I started this blog so that I could write silly posts about stupid things that I found amusing and thought maybe other people would find amusing, too. Then, almost two years ago, my mom, my rock, my BFF, died, suddenly, for no good reason because her heart (despite being healthy and barely 67 years old) went, “That’s it – I quit.” And just stopped.
And then this blog took a wicked hairpin turn and became a place where I wrote mostly about grief. (No, that isn’t the Windows Vista upgrade I’m talking about. Stay with me.) For those of you that have been following along, these last two years have been the roller coaster of a lifetime. And I would come here and talk about terrible, heartbreaking things (but marinate them in sarcasm, hoping to get a laugh here or there). But, regardless, I sort of took you along with me as I figured out my own post-apocalyptic world.
So, here’s my point.
When you lose a close parent or someone important, the general consensus is “You really won’t start feeling like yourself for a year.” Truly. Many people who had lost a parent said the same thing. A year.
Well, the first year came and went. And true, the grief ebbed and I was gradually less of a shit-show. But I kept waiting to feel like myself again. Now I’m approaching two years. And it hit me: There is no going back to the old me because she doesn’t exist anymore.
Cue the Windows Vista metaphor. I’ve been upgraded! Those bastards! I’ve been force-fed the system upgrade I never asked for and that certainly doesn’t seem like an improvement to the prior version. This version isn’t as happy, is slightly less compassionate, has a much narrower bandwidth for bullshit, and crashes regularly around birthdays and holidays. The only possible upside is that this version is proven to be wicked resilient and excels at letting shit go (because they apparently narrowed the “Bullshit Meter” but expanded the “Fuck It Meter“).
So, since I had shared the rest of this Mr.-Toad’s-Wild-Ride-esque journey with you, I figured I would share this revelation as well. If you’ve lost your person, don’t keep waiting to feel like yourself again, because you’ll be waiting a really long time. Just start looking for positives in the system upgrade (that you didn’t want or need) and hopefully you’ll find an improvement or two that will make the You 2.0 version worthwhile.
And to those that know me who preferred the Windows XP version? We apologize for the inconvenience, but that version is no longer supported.
I love the movie, “As Good As It Gets.” I’m using the word “love” here, about a movie. And if you love the movie, too, you’ll get that joke. Anyway, it’s a perfect movie about imperfect people without a single wasted line. Including this one:
Remember? He’s trying to get in to see his shrink without an appointment and he turns to the waiting room full of the damaged, anxious and depressed and poses the question, “what if this is as good as it gets?” And there is a collective gasp in the room in response.
So. What if this is as good as it gets?
My mom’s birthday came and went. The anniversary of her death was December 15. The holidays are over. It’s a new year and my catastrophic loss is now 13 months in the rear-view. And I’m haunted by Jack Nicholson’s question.
What if this is as good as it gets?
I mean, it’s not as though I’m sad all the time. But definitely more than I thought I would be 13 months later. And I still think, no less than five times a day, of something I wish I could tell her or show her or ask her. And I still miss her every damn day. And now I’ve racked up a considerable number of days.
I’m sure it will continue to improve with time. But, after 13 months, I can tell you, it moves like molasses. Maybe because you’re trying to watch grass grow because you’re so anxious for it to be green again.
So, I’ll continue to focus on the good – while trying not to dwell on how much better it would be if she were here.
And I know that if this is as good as it gets – I’ve still got it pretty damn good.
I can’t be the only one who feels like shit is more than a little out of control…like we’re just one terrorist attack – or one viral outbreak – or one economic collapse away from utter chaos.
And I am confused by my emotions. Because I simultaneously loathe society but find myself inspired by people. I detest all the hate-speech on social media but I love the connectedness it provides. I am disgusted by the large news outlets but I crave understanding.
So I have one very real question. When did it become okay to not validate anyone’s opinion because it is different from yours?
The divisiveness in this country has reached a fever pitch. And it’s pissing me off. We’re buying the rhetoric and it’s tearing us apart.
The news. Facebook. Twitter. All you see and hear is how it’s the whites against the blacks. The Christians against the gays. The Democrats vs. the Republicans. The rich vs. the poor. The Americans vs. the world. Pro life vs. pro choice. The gun owners against the gun control advocates.
It’s rhetoric. It’s being put into our water like fluoride and we’re drinking it. But if we could stop and think…really think. We are always more alike than we are different. The divide between belief systems is not the chasm we’ve been led to believe.
But back to my question.
One of my oldest friends is incredibly liberal and I’m a moderate conservative. She and I have some of the most enlightening discussions because we listen to each other. We don’t change each other’s minds or positions but I know that, for me anyway, I come away with a better understanding of her beliefs. I thought understanding was the goal? Something to strive for? When did we abandon that ideal?
I try to stay a-political because I’m never willing to fight the militants who simply want to beat you into submission (as though yelling at me over social media is going to change my beliefs), but I’m going to break that rule today.
I am a Republican who supports gay marriage. I have Mormon family members who do not. But I respect their viewpoint. Why is it so hard to understand that people who fundamentally believe in the bible will struggle with this? They have a belief every bit as sacred to them as a gay person’s belief that they should be able to marry. That doesn’t make them evil for opposing it. (And for the record, I actually believe the government has no business marrying anyone. Separation of church and state, my ass. This whole fight was over religious ideologies. The government should only grant civil unions which confer legal rights relating to taxes, insurance, property and the like. “Marriage” should have been left to the churches. Then religions that opposed it could refuse to grant them, but there would always be churches that would approve. This had no place on the political stage.)
Moving on. I’m a gun-owner who understands the argument for gun-control. This is a very difficult topic without simple solutions. But the anger people fling at each other on social media for having an opinion is ridiculous. Just because you have guns and want to keep them doesn’t mean you don’t have to think about the very real problem in this country.
I am pro-life but believe in exceptions, first and foremost being the health of the mother. And I also know dozens of women who have had abortions. And I don’t judge them. The belief about when life begins is something so deeply ingrained in a person that we can all talk until we’re blue in the face and not change a single opinion. (If you’ve never read the case of Roe v. Wade, you should. It is actually a wonderfully written opinion about a very difficult subject. I read it in law school and was surprised – it wasn’t what I thought it was after hearing the case name thrown around in all the pro-life/pro-choice debates.) Point being, those beliefs go deep. I may not agree with them, but I understand them.
Bottom line. Not all Christians are against gay marriage. Not all bigots are white. Not all gun-owners are rednecks. Not all republicans are religious. Not all cops are racist. The overgeneralization is out of control.
You’re not enlightened if you are shutting down opposing viewpoints. Aren’t the wisest people the ones that can see from all sides?
If people opened their minds again – they would realize that the chasm is not that wide – we aren’t that different. If more people moved toward the aisle, we might actually get a moderate president instead of the extremist options we have who feel the need to pander to their right and left wing bases. The base should be closer to the middle – where you actually have a 360 degree view.
I know. I’m being naïve. But a girl can dream.
Until then, this will continue to be my moment of zen.
I feel like “every day” is an overused expression. As in, “I could eat pizza every day.” Or “I’m pretty sure I’m gaining weight every day.” Or “he gets on my nerves every day.” We don’t really mean every day. We mean a lot of days. Enough days to be significant. But not literally “every” day.
The reason this has occurred to me is because there is one instance when it is entirely accurate but its overuse has sort of watered-down the phrase. Because when you lose one of the most important people in your world and you say that you miss them every day, you mean every. day.
My mom died 238 days ago. And I have missed her every. day.
Some days its more like several glancing blows throughout the day and you just keep moving. Other days it settles in to your bones and you wear it like a lead cloak throughout the day.
But the point is that it is every day. No days off for good behavior. Every day. Not a lot of days or enough days to be significant. Every. Fucking. Day. For 238 days and counting.
Oh, and by the way, don’t give me that dirty look for posting something sad on a Monday. It’s Monday. It was going to suck anyway.
[Ok – consider yourself warned – this is going to be a sad one. If you aren’t up for it today – move along.]
You died six months ago today. And my whole world changed forever. It’s strange how surreal it still feels when I consider you’re really gone, even six months later. I’ve replayed that day in my head a thousand times and it never ceases to feel like science fiction.
And we’re muddling through the best we can. I wonder if you realize how much everyone relied on you. You were the sun we orbited. You were my sun.
I never realized how much joy I got from sharing things with you. Things really got their meaning when I told you about them. Now, something exciting or interesting will happen…and it sort of dies on the vine. I think about telling you – and can’t – and I think about telling someone else…and nine times out of ten, I decide it’s not worth it. And I let it go. Even awesome things have been lackluster since I can’t share my excitement with you.
I got a book deal. Everyone assures me you know. Something I’d dreamed of most of my life…happened! And I cried all day. Because your absence was unbearable. You’re the only person who has read every book I’ve ever written. You gave honest, valuable feedback and I relied on your opinion so much. What do I do now? You are truly irreplaceable.
You said you were amazed by my drive…by my fearless pursuit of my dreams. Well, your fearless daughter has developed a new fear. I’m so afraid of ever needing someone again the way I needed you, because losing that person…is a killer. I can hear you telling me that isn’t the answer…that our lives are worth living because of the people in them. And I know that’s true. But I really feel like over the last six months I’ve been testing the theory of whether or not you can die of a broken heart. Because sometimes…oftentimes…it’s devastating.
But you knew this all too well. And I didn’t understand. You can’t understand until it happens to you. But I understand now. I understand that underlying fissure of sadness you had most of my life – that you got from the loss of your father who you adored and your mother who was your best friend. Who were both gone by the time you were 38.
And I’m not unique. I realize that. People have lost their most important people, just as young, younger, under all kinds of tragic circumstances. And people survive it. And I will, too. Just like you did.
I may not know precisely what I believe, but I believe that you are at peace. That death is only sad for those left behind. I believe that you are with your parents, who you spent decades missing. I believe that, even if you can see us, our sorrow is not making you sad because you now have that wisdom that assures that we’ll be together again in what will seem like the blink of an eye.
All the goals I had – being a published author – being an attorney. My goal these days is to be able to say “I miss my mom so much” without crying. It’ll have to be a long-term goal.
Apparently the only thing bigger than your presence in my life was the hole left in it when you died.
People tell me to focus on the good memories, the happy times. But that’s not what we were. We were the constant sharing of every thought and every feeling. Every day. Sure, there were good times – but I don’t miss being able to take a vacation with you. I miss the 20-minute talk on my way to work. And the 20-minute talk on my way home. And the phone call I would have made to you when I found out about my book deal. (The very FIRST phone call I would have made.) And the phone call I would have made to you when I found out about the suicide of a friend from high school. And when I won that motion in court. And when that dog got into my yard and attacked my dogs. And hearing your input on the sequel to my book that I’m working on. And hearing what you thought of the season finale of The Blacklist. Or you showing me how well your apple trees were growing in your yard. How will focusing on the good memories ever be a replacement for the million things you and I would have told each other about in the last six months? Or the next 20 years?
But I’ll make it through, obviously. I get my toughness from you. And I hope my own fissure of sadness isn’t too big. And I hope that I dream of you. And that after I heal some more, I hope I’ll believe people when they say “she’ll always be with you.” And I hope that I make you proud.
I miss you so much.
But I suck at keeping secrets – well, my secrets, anyway – so here’s a few that my grievy little heart has been bottling up. And because I’m not special, odds are, if you know someone who is grieving, these are their secrets, too.
- You’re not okay. But you do a pretty good impression of it. And it’s exhausting.
- There are different kinds of grief. I’ve had the normal kind…lost people I loved and missed terribly. Now I realize there is a different category when you lose the person that was your foundation and this type burns you up and remakes you from the ashes and you suspect you’ll never be the same. (Plus, some of the most honest shit you say sounds super melodramatic.)
- You feel isolated. You feel like you don’t see the people in your life much. Logic tells you that life is busy – nothing more. But grief tells you that it’s too much work to be around you. So you do your best to be cheerful when you’re with people, but this only makes the isolation worse because now even when you’re with people, you feel like they don’t really see you.
- The people that assume you’re actually still a mess are the only ones you can really connect with. And that friend that tells you “it doesn’t matter if you cry every time we’re together – you’ll always be worth it” said the one thing you needed to hear more than anything.
- Life looks different. The good things aren’t as good and the bad things are worse.
- After four months, you still live in the theater. And the movie hasn’t stopped playing yet. It’s the background noise of your life.
- You still cry all the effing time. And you’re sick to death of it.
- That good spell you had gave you a false sense of security that you were coming out the other side. But now you realize that this is actually the most messed up tango ever and you don’t take a step forward without taking a step back.
- You miss your old self. You want to be that upbeat and optimistic again. But you aren’t driving this train and apparently you don’t get to decide when you get off.
- And you keep these secrets because nobody likes a whiner.
I’m a fan of zombie movies, new and old, and a huge Walking Dead fan. But what I’ve realized is that there is an emotional component to the draw of the zombie apocalypse that’s driving my desire for apocalypse-themed entertainment lately.
Think about it. It’s all about survival. Nothing strips away the bullshit of our day-to-day lives like a hoard of mindless, flesh-eating zombies. Because that parent-teacher conference you were dreading next week? Pretty sure it’s canceled. Still upset that a couple of your friends checked in on Facebook for happy hour without inviting you? Nope. Just worried about surviving till happy hour. Stressed about losing 10 pounds before bathing suit season? There is no more bathing suit season. Plus, you’ll probable be in kick-ass shape from walking all day and swinging a heavy machete.
The point is, there is no more worrying about your kids grades, their college paths, their life choices. Your new parenting goals? Food, water, no bites. I can get behind that. Plus, no more stressing over your career, your mortgage, your retirement account. Congratulations. Your five-year plan just went out the window. You’re now working on a 24-hour plan with one goal: survive.
This sounds good to me. Because I’m at a point where my threshold for bullshit is microscopic and there’s so much bullshit. The things I worry about in a given day are so insignificant in light of what I’ve lost. But somehow I still have to worry about them. Because life goes on, with all its bullshit intact. Unless we fall into a zombie apocalypse. Fingers crossed.
Today marks 12 weeks. I thought, perhaps, my next post would not be about my mom. Well, I am happy to say that this post, much like my life, is not all about losing my mom.
So here’s what I’ve learned in the last 12 weeks:
- I like lists. They require little cohesion and no organization at all.
- There is a very fine, at times imperceptible, line between “grieving” and “crazy.”
- You don’t really get it – not really – until it’s you.
- I’m stronger than I thought. I lost the one person I talked to more, shared more, listened to more, relied on more, leaned on more than any other person in the world. And I’m okay. Despite my previous concerns, I wasn’t swallowed by the hole she left in the world.
- I like cemeteries. You can cry all you want and no one looks at you twice. Cause you’re in a cemetery.
- Death is arbitrary. My mom wasn’t even two weeks past her 67th birthday, she had low blood pressure, low cholesterol, ate healthy, didn’t smoke, rarely drank, got all her mammograms, colonoscopies, physicals, etc., stayed active, and took her vitamins. And she was literally gone in a matter of seconds. Be healthy so that you can feel good while you’re here – but all the healthy living in the world isn’t going to grant you longevity if it isn’t in the cards.
- The dead apparently do not haunt by request. No matter how much you wish for a visit.
- Apparently I don’t need to share every thought that ever pops into my head with someone. I used to have someone I told everything to. Now, I probably share 50% of those thoughts. Which, I guess, means I have a lot of insignificant thoughts. Or just no one that finds significance in them.
- Even on dark days, wine makes me happy.
- Getting my eye makeup tattooed on a year and a half ago was a sound investment.
So this was my brain a couple months ago:
And this is my brain now:
Dark, lonely, altogether less awesome. Except for Batman. Why is Batman there? Why wouldn’t he be? Okay, I think you’re missing the point – try to stay focused.
Interestingly, the broad array of emotions my normal brain had are gone. Now, I seem to have two settings at a time. For the last couple of weeks, my options were sad or strange, with really no other arrows in my quiver, as they say. Sad involves much crying and varying levels of hysteria. Strange was impulse driven and unpredictable. I think we should have champagne and Taco Bell for dinner tonight. How many chickens do you think I’m allowed to keep in our suburban backyard? I can’t decide on a movie…I’m torn between Sleepless in Seattle and The Exorcist. What’s wrong with me putting whiskey in a wine glass?
You get the point. You can guess which Steve preferred – and not just because he loves Taco Bell.
This week is different. I’m only crying every few days now, but I’m somehow sadder with my settings now being between anxious and depressed. (We should probably all take a moment to pity my wonderful husband for what he is enduring. Okay. Moment’s over. Moving on.) So in between moments where I feel like I’m verging on a panic attack and the ones where I don’t want to get out of bed, I’m lonely.
In all of my angsty self-reflection, I’ve put my finger on this loneliness. My mom and I talked about the details, the facets, the little things. We would put together that 5,000 piece puzzle to get the big picture – which is what I shared with my husband and my friends…the big picture. But my mom, alone, knew exactly what it was composed of – each thought, each worry, every hope and fear. I have supportive people in my life, but never anyone that cared about all the little things. Sure, partly it was because moms have to listen to your crap – it’s in the job description. But part of it was just who she was. Because she cared about your details like they were her own. So what the hell do I do with all these puzzle pieces now?
And there is no loneliness quite the loneliness you feel when you’re surrounded by people.
In other news, I was a little worried all this doom and gloom would make people stop following my blog. I have this to report: you all are a very dark and twisty bunch. But you’re my dark and twisty bunch. ❤