The Gifts of Grief

ImageMy hope is that someone experiencing love and loss will read this and feel comforted and less alone.

It has been almost 6 months since my mom died and though I’m better,  I am still sometimes oppressively racked with grief.  It doesn’t render me incapable of experiencing joy as it did those weeks following my loss, but it has fundamentally changed how I live my life.

Horrible:  I felt guilty for not being who I was before the loss – my normal adventurous, glass-half-full self.  I loathed bringing anybody down and acting happy felt suffocatingly disingenuous.  So rather than choosing to work out with friends, go out to lunch, or attend get-togethers, I ran to the lake alone, skipped out on parties, and got into my pajamas embarrassingly early. When grief took over, the want-tos were a struggle.  And the have-tos?  They were damn near impossible.  (The truth is, all of these things still sometimes happen.)

Also horrible: I am frustrated because I feel that my grief is not commensurate with my loss.  This is how I would have imagined feeling had I lost a child.  After all, shouldn’t I have been more prepared for this?  She had been sick for a long time and even if that weren’t a factor, losing a parent is the natural order of things, isn’t it?  So when grief settles in, I sit in my self-imposed, emotional solitary confinement, knowing the sadness can’t possibly make sense to others.  It barely makes sense to me.

But here’s what’s not horrible:  Grief has been a great sieve, sifting out the tiny grains of unimportance and retaining in its mesh what is real.  This analogy came to me years ago when I was dealing with a different loss, but the feelings that propelled it quickly vanished and I was back to life as usual.  This time, I don’t know how long it will be before I am “back to life as usual”.  And maybe that’s not a bad thing.

And here, the gift:  Those who have reached into my dark microcosm and shared laughter and tears or offered a powerfully simple “thinking of you” have taught me one of life’s greatest lessons – that real love steps forward, not back.  And I will forever carry that with me.

A favorite song by a favorite artist, perfectly encapsulating right now.  Click to listen:  In Repair

Where Did The Time Go?

DSC_0968Nostalgia set in a few weeks ago when the above photo slipped out of a book I had decided to reread.  It was taken on a crisp fall day nine years ago, back when life was about hours around the Lego table and playdates at the park.  Now with a month of milestones on the horizon (including Hannah’s 11th birthday and Will’s 8th grade graduation), I am in full-on retrospective mode.  They could not be more different – she my dancing, singing, adventure-seeking free spirit; he my thoughtful, humble, quietly charismatic computer genius.  In common are their warm, constant smiles and compassionate natures, and though they have their fair share of quarrels (as all siblings do), the love they share almost always shines through.IMG_0891

IMG_0726IMG_0328_2IMG_3795IMG_3018DSC_0612IMG_0839DSC_0558DSC_0689IMG_0175IMG_1121IMG_5164IMG_0174DSC_0685DSC_0225DSC_0524DSC_0170IMG_3775_2DSC_0291DSC_0766IMG_0424IMG_1071IMG_0505DSC_0227DSC_0538DSC_0643I asked during a recent dinner if they could each name a favorite childhood memory.  Will recalled a fall day in second grade when we had forgotten about daylight savings and stood waiting for the bus for ages until it dawned on us.  He remembered walking to the backyard and playing on our swing set with nothing to do but pass the time and how happy he felt in that moment.  Hannah spoke of a summer afternoon spent on Lake Five where we sat on the pier and let tiny minnows nibble our toes (to this day she calls minnows “nibble fish”).  It made my heart ache that both recollections were of simple, spontaneous family experiences unspoiled by the sense of urgency that swallows so much of our time these days.  The lesson is not lost on me.

A Dessert First Kind of Day – Strawberry Rhubarb Crisp

DSC_0038Both of my kids were having a crummy couple of days, so I surprised them by making dessert mid-week (something usually reserved for weekends) and having it ready for their after school snack as they walked in the door yesterday.  As my grandfather wisely once said, “Life is too short – we should have dessert first.”

DSC_0016Strawberry Rhubarb Crisp recipe found here.  Make it now before rhubarb is out of season!

photos via the aesthete and the dilettante

The (Healing) Power of Food

If you are a regular reader of this blog, you know how passionate I am about food and that I derive a great deal of joy from cooking for friends and family.  The intention varies from simple nourishment to celebration, but preparing meals is most often an act of love.  When my mother died, several friends took turns bringing dinner to my family anticipating I would be too paralyzed to do anything, and it was one of the greatest gifts I have ever received.  Whether purchased or prepared, the meals that came through the door (and the comforting hugs and words that came with them) made us feel taken care of.

Truthfully, I was cooking a lot during that time.  The immediacy of tasks like chopping, baking, and kneading kept my mind occupied while allowing me to feel connected to my mother and the times we had shared in the kitchen.  In essence, I needed to return to my experiences with her in a way that only food could fulfill.  I can’t prepare a roast chicken and baked potatoes without being transported to my childhood kitchen table with my sister, mother and grandmother surrounding me or have mussels in white wine and not  mentally flip back to Le Bouchon in Chicago where my now husband and I used to go on special occasions when he was in law school.  Isn’t it astonishing how scent and taste can take you back in ways nothing else can?

DSC_0016

Easter was a little rough and emotional.  It was my first holiday without her and one we had often prepared for together.  Part of me did not want to celebrate this favorite holiday of mine but I needed to do it, to cook for those I love and to have them near me.  My daughter Hannah and I spent three days preparing the food, decorations, and Easter eggs for 24 guests, and we made my mother’s famous carrot cake.  When she took her first bite, Hannah said the cake felt comforting like home, and in that moment I knew she was with us, smiling down on her family’s bittersweet celebration of life.

Hell.

The view from my mother’s ICU room is horrendous. The blinds open to a cement wall covered in bird droppings and a small patch of ground where sun loving plants have been thoughtlessly plunked in the shade, leaving them pale and struggling to reach the sun.

It doesn’t matter, really. Not for her – she is fully sedated and has been for the last five days. And not for me – my eyes stay on her or on the monitors that prove she is still alive. I’ve become immune to the beeping of the alarms connected to her 7 IV drips and the whirr-hiss, whirr-hiss of the ventilator that breathes for her. Sleeping, eating, and showering feel more like indulgences than necessities. Writing down these words, even. It feels selfish because I can do this, perform this act. And she cannot do anything but exist under the care of doctors, nurses, respiratory therapists, and countless others who continually suction, stick, monitor and adjust her.

They are incredible human beings, the people in this hospital far from home. Their kindness, compassion, and patience bring me often to the brink of tears. I would have guessed that working in a place like this would cause one, maybe even necessitate that one, become hardened to the emotional vapors. But it could not be further from the truth. They are saints and angels and will forever have my respect and gratitude.

They seem to embrace our hope, though that hope is increasingly difficult to define. We cannot stand the thought of her suffering anymore. But we pray for recovery, wanting desperately to have more time, more of those moments we all seem to take for granted. A quick phone call to ask for a recipe, a shared laugh over something funny one of the children did, a Sunday dinner. At this point I’d exchange anything just to see her eyes open or hear her voice. There is so much left to share.

It’s Been Quite a Ride

Navy Pier Ferris Wheel

I am ready to close the proverbial door on 2012.  Anyone with me?  It has been a year of great highs and lows both personally and globally, but glass half-full kind of girl that I am, I prefer to reflect on the moments worth celebrating.

One of the highlights of my year was launching this tiny little blog in January.  Talk about a learning curve!  Starting with the retelling of a crazy adventure that was too good to keep to myself, I dove head first into the blogosphere intending to share my, well, my love of life I suppose.  I leave the year much more tech savvy than I entered it and with a clearer sense of where I want the blog to go.  The new format (which I hope you have noticed today!) is part of that focus, and I look forward to bringing you more original images and content that take advantage of this clean, wide, streamlined layout.

my dressing room

February brought what continues to be my most widely read post.  From India to Indiana, it seems women everywhere are still searching for the perfect nude pump.

sleeping sails

Beautiful and unexpected weather visited Chicago in March, bringing runners and revelers to Lake Michigan months early.

 upside down chick

A visit to The Museum of Science and Industry on the last Saturday in April taught our family  a lesson about Perseverance.

mom

In May I counted celebrating Mother’s Day with my mom as one of my greatest blessings.

mini carrot cakes

I also leaked her closely guarded carrot cake recipe.

sharpie triathlon tattoo hugs

Ah, June.  My first triathlon was a great high and horrible low all at once, and because of that I walked away with tremendous gratitude.  And exhaustion.  Thank goodness my little sister sharpied our  favorite expression on my arm before the race because I almost sank  and think it may have saved me!

alligator

sea turtle

A trip to Kiawah Island in July brought us close to creatures big and small.  Witnessing the journey from shell to sea for a group of loggerhead turtles is something I will never forget.

Lucy Vincent Beach

fishing

fishing nets

the bare essentials

Martha’s Vineyard in August was the best part of summer.  Exploring Lucy Vincent Beach, fishing with Captain Tom Langman, and wandering Menemsha were highlights of the vacation.

acorns

September brought autumn’s arrival.

apple picking

And October, a trip to the apple orchard in Wisconsin.

birthday

And my 40th.  Yes I’m fussing with my candles.

The Sartorialist

Fashion blogger and photographer Scott Schuman of The Sartorialist came to Chicago for a book signing in November.

peppermint bark

ginger cookies

Cookies and chocolate were all over December – just ask my poor neglected bathroom scale. Which brings us to the New Year.  Resolutions or no resolutions?  I’m already working on my list….

All images via the aesthete and the dilettante

What to Do

Image 2Last night at my daughter’s 5th grade Christmas concert, a collective and profound sadness weighed heavily in the auditorium.  It was impossible to live in the moment and not contemplate the atrocities of last Friday as we waited for our young musicians to take the stage.  When the children began to sing their carols and eek out the notes of The Holly and the Ivy on their instruments, many of us had tears streaming down our cheeks over the enormity of it all.

When horrific, unimaginable things occur in life we justifiably seek explanations so our thoughts can rest on something concrete.  Concrete facts bring understanding and allow us to categorize and file things away.  We all know, though, that this one is too big to push into the corners of our minds or slip quietly into the past.  And I don’t think we want it to.

We mustn’t forget that we are blessed to live in a country where we have not only the privilege and right to voice our opinions but also the ability to affect change.  Please, please call, e-mail, tweet, or hand write your state and national level leaders and let them know what you want to see in legislation.  I am working on letters to my senators and representatives in support of an assault weapons ban with clear and concise language without loopholes.  I am also writing to ask for readily accessible healthcare and insurance coverage for mental illness.  Click here (http://www.usa.gov/Contact/Elected.shtml) to find and contact all state and federal elected officials and government agencies.  It is so much easier than you think.

Gratitude

This is not an easy post for me to write.  After months of training and anticipation, the final result of my first triathlon was not what I had hoped.  Please don’t misunderstand – I am proud of completing the course and thoroughly enjoyed (most of) the race, which should be all that matters.  But I did not come close to the time goal I had set for myself and I’m having a terrible time letting it go.

So I have decided to focus on the overwhelming gratitude I have for my family’s cheers and support and for my close friend Fronzie who was by my side throughout the entire race.  And I am tremendously grateful for the journey.  There were many lessons learned from the day I decided to register to the moment I crossed the finish line, and I will take them with me into the next one.  After I relax.  For a few weeks at least…

Waiting to dive in. Fronzie is next to me in the white swim cap.
Toward the end of the swim. By far the most difficult leg of the race.
My little sister and my son looking concerned.
My daughter and husband walking the shoreline.
My niece Lily.
Seriously one of the top five happiest moments of my life was exiting the water.
Transitioning to the bikes. I lost a full three minutes trying to maneuver my wetsuit over the time chip on my ankle. It was almost comical. Except it wasn’t.
The bike was hands down my favorite part of the race. It was a gorgeous and hilly 25 mile ride through the countryside. Please note the aforementioned time chip on my ankle – it’s so big you’d think I was under house arrest!
Taking off on our 6.2 mile run. The fact that we are smiling clearly shows we cannot feel our legs yet.
Heading to the trail. Also very hilly.
Getting ready to cross the finish line. My father, stepmother and sisters are on the left cheering while my daughter slips under the fence to join us.

I didn’t cry until I hugged my mom.
The end of the chapter. Not the end of the story.