Thursday, October 23, 2014

Real

Why does five years seem so real all of the sudden?  They aren't coming back.  The girls are here to stay.  We are their forever family, but we'll always be aunt Peg and uncle K since their mom and dad are in heaven.

I have always found the day before the anniversary the worst and today is no different.  I had an upset stomach last night and hives. We have a very busy day (M got her new small cast on and lots of sports today) and I'm at the office trying to distract myself...not working too well obviously.

The memories of that day flit in and out of my mind.  The befores and afters.  Imagined images of what actually happened in the car that day.  The weight of sorrow laying heavy on my chest.  An almost out of body feeling all day as I walk through the day acting normal on the outside, but reliving that awful day and those following on the inside.  I feel an otherness more keenly this week. An anxious feeling that it's going to happen all over again tomorrow.  Irrational, but the reality of that day still feels, five years later, so very unreal.

*********************

Mike was a funny guy and someone that could capture a room with his laugh and open smile.  He loved Jeanne from the moment they met and we could all tell how different he was from her current boyfriend because he was always focused on her and not the rest of us.  Mike was handy and generous with his time to help out on a home project.  He taught me how to fix a toilet, put up a chair rail, and put in hardwood floors.  He loved his girls and made up the funniest nicknames (E was Booger or Boogs and M was Zeke).  He gave the best hugs and made us little sisters feel like we were each his favorite.  He was my first brother and will be my only big brother.  We liked the same music. While he could sometimes be a bit exasperating with his social and political views, he never let it affect our relationship and would shrug off a heated discussion with smile and an offer of a beer (one that he might have brewed himself).  Mike was great at barbecue and loved to use his smoker and invite all of us over to share his creations.  I miss him.  I love him.

*********************

Jeanne was a great big sister.  Her nickname was Zhea because when she was little she couldn't say her own name--my mom made up the spelling. As a sister, she offered the great balance of tough love and unconditional support.  When I was little she was my image of beauty and fashion sense.  I wanted her hair, her clothes and her overall sense of style.  Growing up, she loved Donny and Marie Osmond and used to tape record (as in the audio) their show yelling at all of us to shut up if we breathed during an episode. She had a crush in 6th grade on the San Diego Chargers quarterback Dan Fouts and he sent her an autographed picture. For the most part, we had an easygoing relationship with her teasing me about my big nose and me teasing about her size without any malice.  As adults, she was generous with her time and teaching me those early motherhood lessons about breastfeeding and nap schedules.  She loved my husband and boys.  She was silly and fun with her girls.  The Arthur matching game was her favorite and when playing that game she never let the kids win. She loved Sandra Boynton, the Froggy books and Little House on the Prairie. Those four girls always had the best Christmas and Easter outfits.  Her house was beautifully decorated and a comfortable place to be. I miss their house.  I miss my sister. I still find it unbelievably shocking and sad that she is gone.  I don't think I'll ever feel otherwise.  I love her.

**********************

Tomorrow we'll have breakfast at a local park and do the balloon release.  The kids will run and play with the adults making awkward small talk to avoid thinking about the real reason we are there.  I'll hide behind my camera taking family pictures to mark the day.  We'll FaceTime E at some point.  I'm driving her a balloon down tomorrow afternoon since she has a swim meet and I don't want her alone in this first year away from home.

I'll post the pictures online and repeatedly look at them throughout the day.  The smiles will make things a little better as I remember the two that are missing.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Context

As you can see by my previous post, M is driving me a bit batty.  Challenging is an understatement when it comes to M these days.

I vented to K last night for 20 minutes about how hard she has been. I've been venting nonstop to sister C and a good neighbor friend the last few days.  I've been a little overboard on my whining even for me.

This morning after dropping the kids off at school, I talked to C again and almost started crying expressing how bad I feel for the boys having to deal with all the crap that came with the girls.  How tired I am after five years of struggling with taking care of the kids and trying to keep my own grief at bay.  How it never feels like things are getting better or will ever get better.  Not a very productive conversation.

After hanging up, Heavenly Day by Patty Griffin came on my Ipod.  The tears came in full force.

Then I remembered.

Friday is five years.

Our balloons to heaven day.

I remembered to be kinder to myself and realize why I'm on edge a little more.  Kinder to the kids who have dealt with so much as such a young age (our 3 boys and both girls). More patient with my parents who need us all to be okay so they don't fall apart.

It's all just so very sad.  The kind of sad that makes you want to hide under the covers all day. Where songs on my Ipod can pull at my grief bandaid just enough to fill my eyes with tears and expose the still gaping wound. This week always makes it feel so real. Sigh.
 

Monday, October 20, 2014

Patience

On any given day my patience is seriously put to the test.  Usually it's our button pushing D who propels me firmly over the I'm losing my patience line.  M is definitely a close second.

As I reported in my last post, M broke a bone in her hand and she had to have a few pins put in to secure the bone so it will heal properly.  It's her right hand and I've had to do everything for her...bra, hair, etc.  It's been annoying, but frankly part of the mom gig.  We've had our share of broken bones in this house and I go pretty quickly into nurse mommy/aunt.

The hard thing with M has been her anxiety and overall attitude with this injury.  She has been insufferable.  Moaning and complaining.  Panic attacks (which aren't her fault given her mental illness) but OMG!!! trying to rationalize with the crazy has been exhausting.  The constant comparison with other people is out of control. She keeps pointing out how her injury is soooo much worse than anyone else.  At a low point on Friday night on the floor of the bathroom with her screaming and crying she declared that her hand was worse than childbirth and I've never had any injuries as bad.  I burst out laughing which caused more crying.

She complains that her current splint/cast is too big and looks silly and nobody will know anything is wrong with her like somehow a regular cast equals "really bad injury."

She's panicking about school, but refuses to do the homework she can do.

She gets mad at me for making her get up and do the things that she can do and when I point out that she broke a bone in her hand not her legs, I get the eye roll, nasty looks and more moans of "my hand, my hand, my hand!!"

The "it's not fair" complaining is getting really old.  I don't mean to sound unfeeling, but it's really hard to sympathize with somebody complaining about her cast not looking serious enough or refusing to take the medicine to take the pain away, but then moaning dramatically on the couch that her hand is killing her.  She has cried wolf so many times with her fake illnesses and injuries that her over drama comes off as insincere and just annoying.  The boys, especially A, are actually avoiding her.  After her really bad panic attack Friday night, L slept in our room.

Part of my problem is that I'm used to A (our primary injury boy).  He broke his ankle, cried and thirty minutes later was planning the things he "could" do during our upcoming beach vacation.

Not to sound like an uncaring evil aunt, I am obviously taking care of her.  I'm doing all that she can't do on her own with a smile, encouragement and joke to lighten the mood.  I got her prizes to help with the surgery day.  I'm giving lots of hugs and have sat with her through the panic attacks and crying fits.  It's been very tiring.

K and I have said multiple times that last few days that the girls are just hard to understand and difficult to parent.  The trauma of losing their parents has impacted their ability to see anyone or anything outside of themselves.  Nobody has suffered a loss worse in their eyes and, therefore, nobody can ever have anything as bad as them--whether it's simply a bad day or broken bone.  If anyone around them has something good, they are jealous and then act in ways to demand more attention (complaining, fake injuries, or in E's case grandiose exaggerations of her achievements or intelligence). 

Somehow we have to teach them that that cannot be defined by the accident.  Somehow we have to teach them empathy and help them recognize how their actions affect all of those around them.

Somehow all five of us have to find an unlimited supply of patience to get there.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Seesaw

This past weekend was a perfect example of the seesaw like nature of life. We had some really bad lows, but also some pretty great highs.

The downside:

--Just the logistics of this weekend were mind boggling.  Two soccer tournaments.  A swim meet located an hour and forty minutes away.  Homecoming dance.  A baseball game.  Two birthday parties.  Family dinner at our house for my side of the family.  Whew.  I had many a sleepless night leading up to it, waking up in a panic about how we were going to get everything done.

--E had her first college swim meet.  It did not go well.  She swam awful---like, really really bad.  This resulted in tons of tears on the way home (she got to come home for a few days since it was fall break).  I have also discovered that college swim parents are about tens times worse than normal swim parents in terms of intensity and involvement.  It was mind boggling.  I had to hand over $150 to the head of the swim team parent committee for procuring "spirit bags" for the swimmers including new yoga pants, water bottles, etc.  Huh?  This is a varsity college sport not the romper room.  I was also instructed in what to wear (school colors but "oh no!!" the parent spirit wear order forms aren't ready yet) and was told to pick up my "parents lanyard" during the meet.  I cracked jokes all week about said lanyard, and at some point during the meet I found myself approaching the lady with the box of lanyards for our parent identification.  In case you don't know (I certainly didn't), a parent identification lanyard has a giant laminated card with your swimmer's picture, name and then your name.  I went to pick mine up and much to my dismay, there were two lanyards for us with Jeanne and Mike's names.  Tears came to my eyes as I tried to explain to the woman that there was some mistake.  Rather than an "I'm so sorry" she actually got defensive and went off on me about "how she could have possibly known, etc, etc."  Actually on the team website (and media guide) it says that Jeanne and Mike are E's parents, but that she lives with her aunt and uncle.  Even if you don't know the whole story any reasonable person would either ask the coach or send a quick email to us.  She was so awful, I found myself apologizing and escaping as soon as possible.  It took me a bit to calm down, hold back the tears, text my sister and get rid of the nauseous feeling.  It was horrible.  Seeing their names.  The woman's insensitive reaction.  Ugh.

--Sunday morning during the last 5 minutes of her soccer game, M had a really hard fall and broke a bone in her hand.  She ended up breaking a metacarpal bone causing displacement which requires surgery.  I just got off the phone with the scheduler and she's having it fixed Friday morning.  She is out of sports for 3-5 months.  Ugh.  It's also her dominant hand which means no writing, dressing herself, etc.  Poor thing  Being normal M, it's like having a toddler again complete with the temper tantrums.  Good thing is that after a week in the splint, she'll get a cast that will free up her thumb and fingers so she can write and have more independence.  My patience is on overdrive.

--The girls had a really hard time this weekend together.  Mostly, they ignored each other.  M's injury totally set E off, because I think she thought the world was supposed to stop having her home and focus had to shift to M.  Somewhere along the way, both girls have lost the empathy card (another post being constructed in my head).  Not sure what was up with E, but her behavior was pretty crappy.

The upside:
--It was homecoming weekend for M and A.  A decided homecoming wasn't his scene, but M was on cloud nine.  We got the dress, the shoes, the accessories, Aunts C and S were coming over to do the prep work.  Unfortunately I couldn't be there due to the swim meet, but K and the aunts did a great job getting her ready and taking pics.

 
 
--Now E and M had a struggle this weekend, but the boys (especially A and L) had a nice visit with their eldest sibling.  L was so excited she was coming home and ran into the garage and jumped in her arms when we got home Saturday night.  Sunday night A and E went to the store and bought ingredients for homemade milkshakes for the crew.  E said they had a really nice talk.  Despite the tension E brings to the house, it was nice having all my minions under the same roof (and also good when she went back to school yesterday :) )
 
--As I mentioned above, we hosted family dinner on Monday night.  As part of the dinner, we decided a month ago (inspired by Jimmy Fallon) to have our first lip sync battle.  It. Was. Awesome.  All the adults and kids participated with my parents and M as the judges (M felt she couldn't fully do her song without the ability to do air guitar).
 


M, Grandpa and Grandma were the judges with a rubric for accuracy, choreography, song choice and overall passion brought to the performance. 


L owned Usher like a champion.

The littlest cousins brought it with Taylor Swift.

A was hands down the overall winner doing a hilarious version of Flash Gordon by Queen--his hip action was impressive.

CA and the little girls did some B-52s.

I definitely channelled my inner Flo Rida...lip syncing the rap was really hard :)

Twins W and I did Barbie Girl and proved I can convince her brother to do anything.

J was just happy to be part of it.

K set the bar with an impressive Aretha Franklin Natural Woman--everyone was crying with laughter.

D brought down the house with his moves and lip sync accuracy for Foreigner Jukebox Hero.
 
 
My dad texted me yesterday that he thought it was the most fun our family has had in months and the timing couldn't be better with the anniversary looming next week.  I topped off the night with a lovely dinner (my pesto chicken and penne, Italian chicken stew in the croc pot, bread, and salad.  It really was a nice night and all of us can't stop laughing and humming Natural Woman under our breaths.
 
Our family rocks.
 
 
 


Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Settling In

October
The trees are stripped bare

From all they wear
What do I care

October
Kingdoms rise
And kingdoms fall

But you go on
And on
And on
You go on
You go on
--October, U2

This song fits my attitude towards this month.

The pain from my grief and stress hurt.  The pain  is not your normal physical pain, but a weight sitting on my chest growing heavier as the day goes on.  Different, but pain nonetheless and the only way to describe how it feels.

Some people can tackle these feelings with a counterstrike strategy of positive actions.  Go for a run!  Save a puppy!  Make a fall craft!  Get more "me" time!

For whatever reason that is not me.  I do focus on trying to hold up the other people on this grief journey with me.  Give them the love they need to ease the insecurity and fear they feel at this time. Trying to take that weight off of their chests.  A futile effort at times. I have to try, though, and when I know I can't take it away, I can be the shoulder to cry on, a text message of love, and the arms to hold them and tell them I know how they feel.

Bottom line is that I can't fake it.

Jeanne and Mike are dead.  They aren't coming back.  This five year anniversary seems much more permanent. That sounds so silly, but it's as true of a feeling as the pressure on my chest.  I hate October and the fact that the anniversary is at the end of the month sucks.  The only thing that could make it go away is something that can never ever happen.  Ever.

It hurts.

So I settle in to my grief.  Accept it and feel it and wrap it around me like a blanket.  Not feeling it seems like a betrayal of them and my love.  I cry when I need to (which happens a lot and not always at the most convenient times).  I talk about them and how much we miss them.  When people ask me how I'm doing (depending on who they are) I tell them that I'm sad, this sucks, and it hurts.

I go on.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Conversation in the Car

"Mom is balloon day coming up? It feels like it is," says L from the back seat on the way to soccer practice.

"Yup buddy, pretty soon," I reply.

"I love that day.  We get to play and have donuts and send balloons all the way to heaven."

"Yeah, it's a nice morning."

"Do you think the balloons are really getting there?"

"I don't really know L, but I hope they do and it makes me feel better doing it."

"Yeah, me too.  Do you think Great Grandpa sees them too?  I think we should send him some too."

"He probably does, but that day is really all about remembering Aunt Jeanne and Uncle Mike and how much we love them."

"Was that the day of the car crash and when they died?"

"Yeah, buddy it was," I reply with the lump starting to form in my throat.

"Well I think all three of them are up there drinking beer and singing and waiting for the balloons to come."

I chuckle to myself and reply, "Maybe buddy, maybe."

"Did you know there is a berry in Australia that makes everything takes sweet?  I'd add it to toothpaste. Wouldn't that be a good idea?"

Life with a seven year old is such a blessing.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

A Plan

Last week I was walking L to his soccer practice when I was rundown by a mom on D's soccer team.  At the time I was carrying my chair, my diet coke (a must) and rushing L along because we were running a few minutes late (as usual) and I know he hates being the last person there.  It had already been a crazy day with ortho appointments, crap at work, toilet fixing jobs, and arguments with D to get his homework done before I rushed out the door.  I was feeling a bit flustered to say the least.

"Peggy!  I was thinking about D the other day and how "jerk coach" yells at him all the time and you may not want to hear this but I had a great thought."

I paused, after urging my 7 year old to move faster than a snail's pace over to his field, and said, "Huh? D's fine, he played well over the weekend and at this point we just encourage him to do his best when he's on the field and not let "jerk coach" define his ability as a player. We're good."

"Well..." said annoying mom, "I was just thinking that maybe God put "jerk coach" in D and these boys' lives to teach them a lesson."  She then proceeded to talk about her husband who is a negative person and how hard of a summer she's had and a few condescending comments about "how well D has been playing."

I snapped.  Well, let's be  honest, I snapped as much as I could snap on a soccer field surrounded by tons of kids and parents.

I told her, "First of all, D is perfectly fine.  He is a great player, always has been a great player and is a valuable member of his team, regardless of what "jerk coach" says and how much playing time he gets or at this point how the other boys treat him (which isn't always great since he is "jerk coach's" butt boy).  He is also 12.  Soccer is just a game that D plays and by no means defines him.  Second, I don't believe God has a plan and put "jerk coach" in D's life to teach him a lesson.  GOD HAS NO PLAN!"

"But, even if he doesn't have a plan," she sputtered, "he allows things to happen. We just don't understand why"

Here's the thing...I don't think God has a plan for all of us.  "Allowing" bad things to happen is the same as making things happen.  If God has a plan and makes or allows bad things to happen to innocent people then I don't want anything to do with that God.  Nothing good has come from Jeanne and Mike dying in a car accident.  God doesn't cause cancer.  God doesn't let innocent kids die of starvation or random accidents.  What makes me any more special than a mom in the slums of Rio? Yet God let's me live in relative luxury and she lives in poverty and struggles to care for her children?  I don't think God causes human suffering to teach us lessons or give us a test.

I don't believe that God is the master puppeteer manipulating us humans as He pleases.  In that scenario, I don't have free will or choice in the matter.  What I decide or anyone decides doesn't matter.  How can I truly choose to follow His will if He's already decided what's going to happen?

This is what I do think.  Bad things happen.  We all have different life experience for whatever reason.  And God is with us in the good and the bad.  He is there for us in the way we each need and it's our job to choose to recognize it and act upon it in the way we should as decent human beings.  Be kind.  Don't hurt others.  Love others.  Treat people with respect.  Be happy and be true to ourselves.

For some people, He is there in the beauty of the sunshine or a child's smile.  For some people, it means they don't believe in Him at all. For others it's the call to prayer multiple times a day.  Some need to feel like he's there to depend on and provide us the things we think we need whether it is a job, the latest gadget, healing from an illness, or just clarity of heart.

And for some of us, He needs to sit back on the sidelines until we are ready to realize He's still there. 

A gentle nudge every once in awhile to remind me that there is something bigger than me out there, and not to be so mired in my grief and pain.  A soft whisper reminding me of the good in my life.  The very, very good in my life.