Wednesday, April 1, 2020

End of an Era

March 2020
Two weeks ago, I had my last conversation with my Granny. She had been talking about having dinners in her memory care facility and talking with the men there. I asked her if she had a boyfriend. She replied "I don't remember...most likely!"

Sass until the end.

I didn't know that would be our last conversation. She was doing relatively well at the time. She remembered who I was, but wasn't sure at all who the little four year old with me was.
Me and my grandparents, 1979

Just a few days ago, it became clear that things were coming to a close. And in the midst of all that is going on in the world, we all knew that meant that she would be mostly alone when the time came. My mom, thankfully, lives close by and they lifted the Covid-19 visiting restrictions so she could move in with her for those final days.

Since there is no real place to be alone right now, I spent an hour in my car yesterday morning. I recorded my granny's favorite hymns (How Great Thou Art and Holy, Holy, Holy) on marco polo and my mom played them for her. What a miracle technology is! My mom is certain she heard me singing. Afterwards, I told her I loved her and that it was ok to say goodbye if she was ready.

But now.
Granny and her whole crew, late 80's

She's gone. 41 years of memories of an incredible woman are all that remain for me. Some of those memories are just captured in pictures but many others are clear to me...summers on the Cape with all the cousins and her digging for clams with our heels, the balcony view in her Florida condo. The hilarious interactions between her and her twin sister, Ann. She and my Gramps shouting back and forth when they both became hard of hearing. She was always up for a trip to the beach and she knew EVERYONE in her neighborhood. You could find her in the hot tub talking with anyone and everyone or on the golf course or taking classes just to enrich herself or at mass. Bringing my besties in high school down for spring break and then again my Hoohah friends down four short years late and Granny just fussing over all of us the whole time. My husband and I visited her the week after we got engaged and she insisted on taking us to the "club" for dinner and dancing. I will never forget she and my Gramps dancing to their song (Harbour Lights) and wishing us the best in our own upcoming nuptials.

She was a one-in-million kind of lady.
Their family: 60's

And now my family wrestles with how to say goodbye when we can't go travel. When there won't be a funeral anytime soon. When we have to grieve alone in our homes while the demands of everyday life continue around us.

I'm not sure where to go from here. I'm not sure exactly what grief looks like during a time like this.

I guess, just like real life right now, it's one day at a time.

Hank and Bea
I got the news of her passing just as I was getting my littles down to rest. They didn't really understand why I was crying and why I couldn't really read them books or do all the normal things. After I had them settled, I sat on my bed and looked through pictures and just remembered. Remembered a woman who always made me feel safe and loved. Who always made me laugh and stuffed me to the brim with food. Who insisted I take pre-frozen bottles of water from her freezer to the pool anytime I ever went. Who wasn't afraid to call out bullshit when she saw it but always did it in love. Who loved God and her family fiercely and faithfully.

Granny, words can't fully express how deeply you were loved and how much you will be missed. I can't wait for the day when all this current craziness passes and our family can give you the celebration you so truly deserve.

Rest well, good and faithful servant, beloved mother and grandmother. The world is changed forever.

Friday, January 17, 2020

Seeing Him

He walks slowly through the hallway. No one can see his beautiful smile or know the depths of his heart because his eyes are cast down, hoping, praying, that today, they will leave him alone. He just wants to go to school like everyone else. To learn, to make friends, to get through the whole day, ONE DAY, without being pushed or insulted or mocked. Without someone focusing on his differences and using them against him.

But he doesn't make it. Someone whispers "stupid" in his ear as he passes in the hall. Or "wouldn't it be better if you killed yourself?" They push him in gym class, to the point of injury. They interrupt his learning in class to the point where he has to ask to move chairs. Again. But the teacher warns him that the other side of the class may not actually be greener. Kids are mean. Seventh graders, in particular.

His mother cries herself to sleep. She has tried everything. Talking to the other parents. Getting the administration's help - but they barely return her calls. Speaking to the teachers about a safety plan. She builds him up as much as she can. He has friends outside of school who love him, who support him.

But none of this makes a difference. She can't protect him. He isn't like the other kids so they see him as expendable. To be forgotten or tortured or flat out ignored.

So, every day, he comes home heavy. Exhausted by another day of just trying to keep it together.

I was this boy. I remember. When you have no friends around you. When the people in your classes can only find terrible things to say. When people don't see you for who you truly are. And make you wish that morning alarm would never go off.

I was this boy. I have not yet been this mom.

Are you her? Do you know the terrified, exhausted pain of wondering if you are going to get a call that your child has been hurt by bullies? To take him to the doctor to get a concussion treated? Do you know what it feels like to watch him or her cry? To give up? To start to believe the things people are saying to them?

You may be neither this boy or his parent.

But are you human?

Because this is happening. Every single day. Kids are being cruel and horrible. And while some parents react well and make it clear that there are consequences if their children are the bully, too many either ignorantly believe it couldn't possibly be THEIR child or else they say that kids just need to toughen up and get over it.

I think we all know that our kids are capable of a lot we wouldn't necessarily be comfortable with. THAT'S why we teach them to be kind. THAT'S why we teach them to be anti-racist. THAT'S why we teach them about disabilities and inclusivity. They aren't going to be magically empathetic and loving. One look at a facebook thread on just about anything these days will show you just how cruel we humans can be.

So, parents.

This is happening. It's happening at the school down the street. Kids are killing themselves around the country because of relentless cruelty. We have a president who has normalized bullying and name-calling, so much so that I can't even let my children watch a presidential speech.

But we shouldn't be ok with it. We cannot tell our kids to just get over it. Can they be brave? Of course. Can they keep waking up and going to school? SURE. But I refuse to believe that this is who we are. Cruel adults telling kids to grow up and handle it on their own have no place in our society.

Discipline the heck out of your kids who do unkind things. Use those moments to teach them what it means to choose love and to speak up. Show them heroes who have done good, brave, kind things, who have fought for the rights of those who are in the margins. Teach them to see the kid sitting alone. To look around and notice those who are hurting. To sit with them, extend friendship, embrace awkwardness if it's a part of reaching out.

But whatever you do, do something. Don't wait for it to be your child who comes home in tears. Don't wait until you are the one crying yourself to sleep in helpless, terrified frustration.

Our kids lives depend on it.

Thursday, January 9, 2020

How You Do It

Time wound down towards the end of my therapy session. I hadn't had to cancel this one for an emergency, which was rare and lovely. As I began to pack up my things, he looked at me, took a deep breath and said "I'm going to refund your money for this session. I just can't charge you for it. I don't know how you do it."

I don't know how you do it.

Those seven words.

How often have I heard them over the years? Daily? Weekly? Hourly? I guess it has depended upon the season, the level of relentless impossible parenting we are experiencing.

The past two months have been the hourly type of stretch. I have heard those words from doctors, therapists, friends, parents.

I have said them to myself, then taken a deep breath and kept going. Because here is the honest truth.

The quick answer is that you don't. You don't really. There's no choice to do it or not. You just wake up and, to be honest and raw, get the shit kicked out of you for about 12 hours straight, try to reset as best as possible in the evening while worrying about all the things you couldn't accomplish that day, sleep too briefly and start over again.

The only other options are committing a felony or leaving. I'm not exaggerating. That's what it's like.

Normally, when people say those seven words, I just shrug and say "you would do it if it were your life." Which is the trut- most people would. While there are things we can pick and choose, decisions we can make to steer our life in a certain direction, there is also plenty that is out of our control. Some people want to get married and never do. Some people want a child and can't conceive. Some people envision family life the way it's portrayed in the movies and end up with a chronically ill child. Some people have dreams for a career and life and get stuck in a cycle of poverty because of medical bills or job situations or natural disasters.

The illusion of our choices being completely our own - well, it's just that. An illusion. Our only real choice in life is how we react to what is happening and what choice we make in the aftermath. That is literally all I have control over. And, sometimes, I don't even have that. Sometimes I am just too tired, too done, too overwhelmed to choose a healthy reaction. We all have those moments.

I don't write this to ask for sympathy or pity. The thing is that we all have something, at some time or another, that someone else cannot imagine handling. Loss, grief, addiction, illness, divorce...we could all list a time when we knew it was too much for any one person to handle, but in that moment, we did. A friend of mine recently shared the story of the stillbirth of her son and I could not imagine having gone through what she went through and having come through the other side. She did, though. Unscathed? Of course not. But she did it.

I write this because we all "do it." We look at others and think they have it all and then find out they have "done it." The bible says that in this world we will have trouble but that we should "take heart" because Jesus has overcome the world. At its core foundation, the "doing it" is an act of audacious hope. That life might get better, that we are not alone in the hardest moments. That Jesus knows what it feels like and hasn't left us out to dry or told us we have to dry our tears or suck it up.

Do I know if anything will change?

Nope.

Do I go to bed dreading the morning a lot of the time? Wishing that I could sleep for 24 hours and see if I might feel better?

Of course.

But we wake up. We do it. We work. We play. We remind ourselves of the truth. We love, even in the most unbelievably exhausting circumstances.

And we choose how to react to it all, when we can. We can choose honesty and rawness and even find gratitude in the days that seem to hold nothing for which to be thankful. And in that choosing, in the doing it, in the perspective, even when we cannot see what's happening, God is at work. Molding our story to encourage someone else. Slowly healing the places in ourselves and our families that we cannot or will not see.

When I head back to my next therapy session in a week, I'm going to hand him this blog and tell him to keep his money. The refund only made me wonder how I possibly COULD keep doing it. And the reality is that I can't. Not alone, not really. That's why I am in therapy. That's why I have friends and family I ask for help. That's why I wake up in the morning before I have to parent, sip my coffee and find perspective for the day in prayer and writing and scripture and song.

That's how you do it, friends. One minute, one step, one choice at a time of how to respond to life, even in its most vicious and relentless moments.

We were never promised ease.

We were just promised we aren't alone in the doing.