Week 2, Part 1: Attempting “Normal”

Monday is really the last day that I have any sort of cohesive memory of a day as a whole, so the events of this week will have to be lumped together, and even then, there is likely some bleeding into the following week.  I should have kept a diary.  But I just did not have it in me.

As the second week began, I knew I wanted to document Alice’s life. I wanted to never forget all of the adorable things she did, and said, and loved.  But I knew that I might forget some things, for I likely had a long life in front of me.  This thought sickened me.  I mean, literally sickened me.  The fear that you will forget all of the little things that made your child who they were is a fear so primal, so intense, so crippling, that it defies description. I wanted to get my memories down as fast as possible, because I was absolutely crippled with fear that I would forget. I have been writing for myself for years, but I could not yet get pen to paper after Alice’s death, and even if I could, the thoughts and memories came bubbling up to my brain so fast, I wasn’t sure I could write fast enough. The thought of trying to write them down seemed too overwhelming.  So I borrowed an audio recorder and made audio recordings.  I recorded all of the stories of Alice I could recall.

I had not listened to these recordings until I sat down to write this piece. I was somewhat afraid to do so. In my mind, I was a wreck at that time, and I was somewhat afraid I would set myself back by hearing the horror I knew was in my voice at the time. I remembered crying through the stories. But, oddly, I sound somewhat composed in most of them. I even laughed here and there.  I did cry too, but not as much as I thought I had.  I guess I turned the device off if a really big wave came down. I basically just walked through the house, and let what I saw cue the stories I told.  The backyard sparked certain memories, the house others. Her toys, even more. I am very glad I did this.  And I am guessing that Grace will be glad to be able to hear them one day as well.

In short, it appears I was in better shape that I thought I was that week.  I was coherent, and could string a sentence together. I would have never guessed that I would be able to do that under these circumstances.

Sometimes, we are stronger than we imagine we could be in certain circumstances. Not that not crying=strength, mind you, for I think that is hogwash.  In any event, I wish to God I never had to find out if I had this particular brand of strength.

I had videos of Alice throughout her life, but in the last few months before she died, I had fewer that I wish I did because the memory on my phone was always near max. Strangely, I had several from her birthday, and I had four short videos of her playing with her doll from the very morning she died. I have watched those videos a thousand times, and to this day, I just cannot wrap my head around how the little girl playing in those videos, so innocently, would be dead within a couple of hours. I had no idea when I took those videos that I was documenting her very last active moments on Earth. The brain just cannot wrap itself around such a concept, so I watched again and again, trying to make sense of it. Ramsay suggested that I back them up to several different places.  I did.  And I am forever grateful to him for reminding me of the importance of this.  Again, it seems like a no-brainer, but a person in shock barely has a functioning brain, so there really are no reminders to banal to share.

I recall being absolutely gobsmacked that second week by the number of people that wrote to tell me that Alice would be remembered in their church/synagogue/gurdwara/temple that week. I cannot even count how many notes I received from people telling me that mass was to be read for Alice, public prayers to be said for Alice, and so on.  I appreciate, from the bottom of my heart, each and every one of you that sent up prayers, public or private, for Alice and my family during this time.  All of you, from all of your different religious backgrounds, really touched me. Deeply. And you know, I do believe it helps. I really do.  Because I am still here, and I am functional, and that did not seem possible in the first 24 hours after Alice died. Thank you.  Thank you.

Meleva and Famke left in the wee hours of Tuesday morning. I must have slept fairly well, because I do not recall hearing them leave. The grandparents all left Tuesday as well.  I believe they all came by to say goodbye before leaving.  It was very hard for me to see everyone go, and I am sure it was difficult for them to go as well.  My mom said, numerous times, “I am just so sorry, honey. No mother wants to have to watch her daughter lose a child,” and that this was the worst thing that had ever happened to her in her life. She looked just absolutely crushed.

Caitlin was still here, but it was slated to be the quietest day since Alice died, and I was somewhat worried about that.  Having Caitlin here that first week after was very, very helpful.  It would have been very difficult to go from a house teeming with people to a house that so obviously was missing a member. Just remembering this gives me a pit in my stomach.  I am deeply grateful to her for changing her travel plans to stay with us. Our neighbor Skye was vacationing that week, and had kindly lent her house to Caitlin, but Caitlin slept here, at Grace’s insistence.  She was very helpful, especially with Grace, who absolutely adores her, and I will be forever indebted.

I was ready, on one level, to slow down from the relentless pace we had been keeping throughout the aftermath, but I was not yet ready to be “back to normal,” whatever that means.  I suppose this was because basically, I had no idea what normal was anymore.  I suddenly had a new normal that I had no part in creating, and I was going to have to just pick up and go on with this new normal I had never met before.  No warning.  No roadmap.  Just a proverbial gun shot that meant, “GO!”

 

Go, ye, into that dark night.

 

Up to this point, the flow of people in and out of here was perfect.  Unplanned, really, but perfect.  The day after Alice died the house was teeming, and I needed it that day. Thursday, very few people stopped by, and I needed it that way, that day. Friday was about the size I could handle, although, in retrospect, there were a couple of people I wish I had remembered to invite. Basically, if you were not directly in front of my face in those first days after, I was in such a daze, and so swamped, that I just didn’t have the wherewithal to call you.  Saturday, Sunday, Monday all seemed to provide the perfect number of supporters as well.  Well, as perfect as one can expect, in a tragedy such as this.

I noticed this, and decided that going with the flow, was the way to go (cheesy rhyme unintended). And let’s face it: I did not have the energy, or the mental acuity, to do otherwise.

I began to make plans to go back to work that Friday (the day Caitlin was leaving), but everyone seemed to think this was a bad idea.  When I say everyone, I mean everyone. So, I put it off until the following Monday. I am self-employed, so no work = no pay, and, therefore, a big long sabbatical was out of the question. I was going to have to pull it together and get back to work sooner than later. I love my job. I have never once dreaded going to work since I started my current career.  But I was filled with anxiety about going back to work. I wasn’t sure how I was going to take care of people. I wasn’t sure if I had the energy.  I wasn’t sure if I could make decisions, having spent the last week frozen over decisions as basic as “Eat? Or sleep?” I honestly could not recall if I had eaten at times.  Trust me when I say, this is not generally an issue for me.

Everyone knew my family was leaving that Tuesday, and most of my close friends started making plans with me so that I was not alone in the house. At first, I thought this was unnecessary, and the old me would have poo-poohed it, but the new me said, “yes” like a good girl.  I was also aware that they had all started communicating with each other, despite the fact that they were from different circles and some of them had never met until this terrible week.  I was fully aware that my status was being discussed and plans made accordingly.  It didn’t bother me, strangely.  I am deeply grateful to them all for managing me during this time.

It was a pretty brave thing for them to do, actually, because I am sure they all know I am not one that likes to be “managed.”  I value directness and efficiency. These back-room sessions regarding my emotional state were not direct, but they were quite helpful, because although I knew I needed help with certain things, I was far too overwhelmed to be able to come up with any sort of list.  I am normally a list-maker and a taskmaster.  I am all about the lists.   I make a list my bitch.  If I can’t make a list, you KNOW I am not in optimal shape.  I appreciate, so much, all that my friends did for me that week.

I know that either Tuesday or Wednesday, my sweet friend Alyssa came over to help. She is one of the kindest people on earth.  She is gentle and soft-spoken. And she is also a great organizational mind, making her a perfect person to help in that somber scene. It did not matter that I was unable to articulate my needs, because her talent is such that she can enter a strange house, look around and just know what needs to be done. She suggested that she could help by cleaning up all the floral arrangements.  I was so grateful that she thought of this.  I would not have thought of it, and, again, I was not in good decision-making form.  She spent a couple of hours taking out the dead flowers, trimming the stems of the good ones, adding fresh water and rearranging the flowers.  She also took pictures of all the arrangements with their cards so that we would remember who sent what.  It was an incredibly thoughtful thing to do.  I would have never gotten around to it.  We got another week out of those flowers because of the careful, loving work Alyssa performed.

Alyssa, along with Fran and Dawn, also brought me boatloads of votive candles. One of the pictures of Alice that had been enlarged had been placed on the mantle, in front of my gorgeous book of Tibetan mandalas. A makeshift altar for Alice had begun to form up there.  A book she loved placed here, her favorite matchbox car there, the recorder she had just started to play placed here, her binky (aka “aga”) there. Grace had placed a few things up there as well. Even now, I will occasionally notice a new addition to the mantel. Grace has placed such things up there as one of her Valentine treats from her friend Charlie, a clementine (one of Alice’s favorite foods,) a sippy cup that Grace had picked out for Alice, and a beautiful flower (aka dandelion) that Grace had picked for her.  The altar was not started with much thought, it just happened, but I have kept it going, because it seems to be so good for Grace, and myself, to have a designated grieving place.

I no longer light the candles every night. This was also unplanned. The first night I realized that I had skipped the lighting of the candles, I fell apart.  I felt guilty. I felt like I had forgotten my baby.  This is all nonsense, of course, but the pull of guilt in those early days was just far too strong to fight off all the time.  In the end, I have decided to go easier on myself.  I highly doubt Alice gives a rat’s ass if I light the candles, for she is surely in a more perfect place.  The altar is for me, and for Grace.  It is there every day, to use as we see fit.  Some days I just look at it.  Other days, I arrange it, or clean it, or add something, or light the candles.  I have tried to not judge myself too harshly in the last few months.  I wish I had thought of that sooner, like, oh, 44 years ago.  It’s pretty liberating to stop judging yourself so hard.

But I digress.

Tuesday afternoon I had an episode of intense anxiety.  I did not know it then, but it was a mild panic attack.  I had never before had one, so I had no idea what it was when it happened.  There were other people here when it came over me, however.  I lay down for a bit.  The people and the rest period seemed to help.  I went outside for a bit.  I stared at the fence, and felt Alice’s presence strongly.  I could just see her, hanging off of the fence, face pressed against it, saying “HIIIIIIIIII!!!!” to the passersby.  To this day, for whatever reason, I download more memories of her hanging off of that fence than I do anywhere else.  For whatever reason, I feel her more outside, that I do inside.  She’d like that, for she loved “OUT-siiiiiiiiiiiide!”

While sitting outside that Tuesday, a large colorful beetle buzzed right by my head. I mean, it missed me by a hair.  It dived towards me again.  And again. I moved.  It followed. It was LOUD. Everyone there thought it was strange how this beetle seemed to be drawn to me.  I recalled that in many spiritual traditions, beetles are considered to be a symbol of rebirth and regeneration.  I said, aloud, “Alice, if that is you, can you visit as something besides a beetle?  It’s a little much for Mama right now.” People laughed at this. The beetle eventually went on its merry way, and several butterflies appeared in the yard.

Ahhh.  That’s better, Alice.

This was doubly strange because one of Alice’s favorite books, “The Icky Sticky Frog,” is a macabre little tale about the cycle of life as Frog eats his way through a fly, and beetle, and then, right before he consumes a butterfly, is himself consumed by a fish.  Alice LOVED that book, and would laugh hysterically every time I read it to her, which was darn near daily.  She especially loved the beetle.

And this was triply strange because I had never before seen a beetle anywhere in my yard.  Make of it what you will.

Wednesday was eight days after Alice died. I thought I could use some yoga, and Caitlin had Grace covered, so I went. It was the first time I had driven a car since the Monday night before Alice died.  It felt very strange to drive the car, and to try to park it.  I won’t lie; I am an excellent parker (humble too.)  But trying to park the car that day felt like the first time I had ever parallel parked in my life.  Bizarre. In retrospect, driving was probably not a great idea.  I felt like I had forgotten how to drive, to some extent.  One thinks one feels “pretty normal” until one tries so do something “normal” outside of the cocoon one’s friends have built around them.

Driving showed me that I was surely not normal.  After the death of his wife, C.S Lewis said that, “There is a sort of invisible blanket between the world and me.” I concur. I could see, hear, smell, feel, and even taste the world all around me, but none of those senses were strong enough to convince me that I was A PART of the world around me.  This sense was not based on thoughts; it was a strong, intense, and immediate observation of a feeling.  What I mean is that this was not just me saying, “No one understands! I’m not like other people now!’  It wasn’t. It was just a feeling I noticed.  It was the strangest damn thing. I simply did not feel a part of the world around me, and did not really know why.  I say this not to complain or whine; it is simply true.

I had the overwhelming feeling that I was at the vortex of something much larger than myself, larger than the world even. I had no idea what “it” was, but “it” felt larger than life, and abundantly powerful, and quite wise, and it was whirring all around me, as I stood in complete and utter silence in the center.  I didn’t feel special, mind you, it is not that I felt like this power had sought me out for a special, shitty “lose-your-child-get-a-vortex mission” or anything. I guess I just felt connected to something that was perhaps always there, but that I had been too busy and self-absorbed to notice before that point.  In any event, it was a strange feeling, but at the same time, it felt very, very natural.  I still feel that way from time to time.  I have no idea what “it” is, but “it” seems to want me to slow down and pay attention.  And so, I do.

Or, at least I try. I go about things at a much slower pace these days.  And the world still spins, dontchaknow.

Back to yoga class: my teacher, Pagan George, hugged me when he saw me, but instinctively knew I did not want him making a big deal over me.  His assistant, Pat, whom I had become friendly with, did the same.  I was grateful and relieved that I was going to be allowed the space to do my thing, to work my stuff out, without a big fuss.  I’m a sit-in-class-and-don’t-chatter kinda yogini anyway.  I smile at people, but I do not often get into conversations before or after class.  I am social in nearly every other area of my life, but for whatever reason, I go back to my introverted youth at yoga class.  In any event, endless gratitude to Pagan and Pat for being able to pick up on what would be most helpful for me.

The “OMs” that day felt better than they have perhaps ever felt.  I REALLY felt it.  I REALLY felt connected to something bigger than myself.  I shit you not, I felt like I was actually plugged in to some electrical source by thousands of tiny electrodes.  I am completely aware that stating the aforementioned makes me sound like a nutter, or a stereotypical grieving mother grasping for any hope, but I don’t care.  It’s true.

At one point we did a pose called Salabhasana, Locust Pose.  You begin by lying prone, and then lift your upper body and arms off of the floor.  You hold for a while, and then lift your outstretched legs as well, so you are basically in an inverted backbend, balancing your hips. It’s harder than it sounds, naysayers.  This is considered a chest-opening posture, for obvious reasons, and chest openers are considered to be good for grief or broken hearts (again, for obvious reasons.)  I thought, well, we’ll see if this shit really works…

Pagan and Pat stepped quietly behind me.  Pagan placed one foot gently on my sacrum and strongly pulled my arms back, lifting my upper body MUCH higher off of the ground than I was able to do on my own, thus opening my chest an incredible amount.  He then leaned forward (this required balance; good thing he teaches yoga) and whispered, “Go, Melissa, go.  Go, Melissa, go.  Go, Melissa, G0.”

I went.  And I felt like a meteor exploded out through my sternum while the rest of my body completely lost all tension.  It was one of the most profound experiences I have ever had in all of the years that I have done yoga.  A few tears spilled out of my face, but I am not sure you can call it crying.  It was more like leaking.  It was silent, but wet.

Then Pagan returned, seamlessly, to teaching the next posture.  I kept at it.  I felt like sparks were flying out of my sternum for hours after this.  Wacky.  Tobaccy.

When I walked out of class I quite literally felt like I was walking on air.  The world around me seemed entirely false.  I felt like I was in another dimension. Again, I know this sounds crazy.  Again—I don’t care, it’s true. And I know people throw that phrase around, “I felt like I was in another dimension.”  But I really did feel that way.  Just like on my way to the memorial service, I felt like I could see the world around me, but I did not feel like I could touch it. And after yoga, for some reason, the sound of the world around me was dulled as well.  It was not scary.  I had no negative feelings whatsoever about this experience. It was just a very strange experience.

It was also an experience that led me to decide, “Yeah, I probably shouldn’t drive just yet.”   I took a couple more days off driving after this.

My positive experience at yoga class (driving not withstanding) lead me to decide that I had to do something for myself daily.  More specifically, I decided I needed to do at least one thing daily for my psycho-spiritual-emotional well-being.  I know what has helped me in the past.  I have spent years trying lots of different exercise regimes, meditations, therapies, types of bodywork, and researching various religions and philosophical beliefs.  By this point, I had a fairly good idea of what worked for me, and when, and what didn’t work for me, when, if ever.  I guess all of those years of psycho-spiritual window-shopping paid off, because I didn’t have time in the wake of Alice’s death.  I needed to get something going and stat.  So, I committed to do at least one of the following a day: yoga, meditation, hiking, therapy, massage/bodywork, or seeking spiritual guidance.

Some of these cost money, so they happen more rarely. But yoga, meditation (and prayer), and hiking are cost-free. I do attend a yoga class two to three times a week, but at $10 a pop, it is a good investment.  For $10 and 90 minutes, I get a great workout, release from muscle tension, stress relief, some clarity of mind, and I feel a connection to God.  For me, this is most definitely worth $10.

Seven and a half months later, I can say that I have upheld this commitment, and I believe it has made an enormous difference. My close friends and therapist all think I am doing amazingly well, and far better than could be expected given my current circumstances. And more importantly, I think I am doing pretty well considering the great loss and all of the major life changes I am currently experiencing. I think that keeping this commitment to myself is a very large part of that.

I’d love to know how great I’d be doing if I’d kept such a promise to myself before the shit hit the fan, but alas, pondering on such things is not very helpful, so I strive to push the poison out of my mind.

Stacy and Todd came over Wednesday with dinner and brought Stacy’s sister, her husband, and their baby boy who was just becoming mobile.  Stacy had wanted to bring us dinner and also go over some of the particulars of who brought what so I knew whom to thank for things.  I recall being walloped that night. I remember being particularly consumed with the guilts on this day. I remember crying on Stacy’s shoulder, just absolutely filled with dread and guilt and remorse.  I remember Stacy assuring me that I had done nothing wrong, and that if I had been able to do something to save her, I would have been given a chance to do so.  For some reason, this last bit seemed to help.  It turned me around for a minute.  And for that, I am deeply grateful.  Thank you, Stacy.

Up to this point, seeing children around Alice’s age had not particularly affected me, but for some reason, that night, when the wee boy cried and required a diaper change, I just lost it.  I started crying and could not stop.  I was very embarrassed by this, which, of course, made it worse.  Everyone was very understanding, but I was embarrassed nonetheless.  I think I turned in shortly after.  I had lost the ability to entertain.

Sometime this week, my dear friend Elizabeth Flaherty made plans to come stay with me for a few days.  I have known Elizabeth for years, and affectionately call her “my most reasonable friend.”  By reasonable, I do not mean affordable.  I mean that the forces of reason and logic are strong with her, and this really sticks out in a city like LA.  If I am having a hard time with something or someone, I know I can talk it over with Elizabeth, and say, “So, there it is.  Am I wrong?  Am I crazy? Or this situation just simply a stinker?”  Elizabeth can provide an excellent third party opinion, and can do so with a wit so dry, you need a bottle of water to get through her answer.

In any event, Elizabeth was working on location when Alice died, and had offered to come at any time.  Incidentally, Elizabeth was one of the first of my friends to meet Alice, having come to see us in the hospital.  We set something up for the following week, and I was so very touched that she would drop everything to come to be with me.  I would go on to completely screw up these plans, but that is a story for next time.

My mind was not what it used to be, you see. “They” say that this is common in the early stages of grief after a sudden death. “They” say that in those early days and weeks, grief has likely not even crept in yet, because what you initially suffer from is shock. I can see, in hindsight, that “they” were correct about this—in my case anyway. It was very, very clear that my cognition was impaired.  It bothered me, but not as much as I thought it would, most likely because I did not have enough energy to fight it.  I mostly marveled at it, and I did pray my brain would get back to normal one day, when it was ready to do so.  In the meantime, I had an incredible amount of support in those early days, from friends and family and neighbors and even a multitude of people I had never met before.  This support was invaluable, and I just have no idea what I would have done without it.

Mandy Schutt was one of these people. Oh, Mandy. Her contribution was fathomless.  Mandy was my fabulous doula when I had Grace.  When I moved into our neighborhood, seven months pregnant with Alice, I joined the MOMS Club as a way to meet other families with small children (if someone had told me that I would join a MOMS Club at any point during the 42 years prior to joining the MOMS Club, that I would do so, I would have fallen on the ground laughing.  But I did, and it is one of the best things I have ever done for my kids and myself.) The very first meeting I went to, Mandy walked in with her daughter.  I had no idea she had moved to this neighborhood as well, and was delighted to see her.

Mandy also helped me one horrible day when I was supposed to be working, but instead, Grace was sick AND had lice; I was in the last throes of planning a giant service project/holiday party for a Homeless Women and Children’s Shelter; the gas went out in the house, meaning no laundry to wash all the lice sheets and clothes; and my tooth broke in half requiring two lengthy (and costly) dentist appointments. One of those weeks, you know?  In short, Mandy rocks. She also hosts a lovely mommy and me yoga class at her house that Alice and I would occasionally get to attend.

Well, despite the fact that I hadn’t seen her in a while, Mandy took it upon herself to be the point person for the MOMS Club.  She took it upon herself to be the person the ladies reached out to in order to find out what we needed etc., so that I was not flooded with calls.  She checked in with me daily in those early days and weeks to see what I needed, if I wanted guests, etc.  She arranged with another mom, lovely Dana, to set up a meal delivery system for us.  She did so many things those first two weeks, and beyond, I am sure I am not even aware of them all.  My gratitude for her is absolutely undying.

I know that she came over Thursday of that week with her daughters, who were three years old and newborn at the time.  She just sat with me, while her eldest played with Grace on the front porch, and we talked, and cried, and discussed my needs. She recommended a spiritually minded massage therapist she knew and pre-paid for my visit, something I did not know she did until my session was completed.  I am so deeply grateful to her.

My second time driving a car after Alice died was en route to get to that massage. I think I went on Friday.  It was every bit as trippy as driving the first time, and in retrospect, it was probably foolish to drive.  When one is in shock, you see, one is not the greatest judge of one’s condition.  This is why it is important to trade info after a car accident even though you may feel “fine.”   After an accident, you are in a bit of shock.  You have no idea if you are actually fine, but you think you do know.  I had an even larger shock than a car accident.  I was in no shape to judge my own capabilities.  In retrospect, I should have accepted an offer to be driven to the appointment.  Nothing bad happened, but I think that was in part, a miracle.

In short, Unsolicited Advice #1:  Do not drive your car if you are in a state of shock.

The massage was a wonderful gift.  I had no idea how much I needed such a treatment until I was receiving the treatment.  In retrospect, I suppose a massage is the perfect gift for someone experiencing the shock of sudden loss.  What better way to get someone back in to the world, back into “your body,” than being touched, and having one’s body tension released by caring hands?  Thank you, Mandy.  And thank you to the others that have set up massages for me since.  It was truly very helpful.

The MOMS, via Mandy and Dana (I think,) had set up a meal plan for us, and I believe it started either this week or the next.  They opened it up to friends beyond the MOMS Club, which was an unbelievably kind thing to do. For three months, we had dinner dropped off at our door every other night.  There were always leftovers, and folks that came by “off plan” so for three months, I did not have to cook.  I like to cook.  I even love to cook.  But, let’s face it, I was not back to normal yet, and any task that was taken off my list was a huge help.  I can never, ever thank my community enough for doing this for us.  I love you all.

Several of the moms from the neighborhood came by at night that week.  Tuesday night, Deanna came by with nail polish for Grace, which was well received to say the least.  Deanna and I had first met at a mommy/baby playgroup in our neighborhood—one of only a handful I could attend.   Her twin boys are a bit older than Alice, and her eldest son is a year older than Grace.  I liked her immediately.  And in a perfect world, we would have become fast friends.  But we both work, and have kids, so despite all good intentions, we never had the opportunity to hang out. She told me she referred to me as her “future friend” when talking to her husband.  I like that.  And I felt the same way.  I was so very touched that she came by for a visit.

Deanna asked and asked what she could do.  My mind went blank, but someone else, I have no idea who, informed her that we had a trash problem. In that, after all of those people in and out, we had far more trash than trashcans.  If memory serves, Deanna handled some of the trash problem. That folks, is truly walking your talk when you say, “If you need anything…”

The largest trash problem, both literally and figuratively, was Alice’s crib.  The grandpas had removed it from the house, because it was torture for me to see it, but it was still in the garage.  I was still completely racked with guilt, and nothing whipped up my guilt like seeing that crib.  Just thinking of the crib directed my mind to the image of me pulling Alice up and out of the crib and seeing her blue face.  I still did not know how I was going to survive with that image in my mind.  Deanna offered to destroy it and get it to the proper disposal site.  I didn’t want any other baby sleeping in that crib.  It was doubtful there was anything wrong with the crib, both girls had slept in it, but still, I didn’t want anyone picking it up off the street for their baby.  It felt wrong to create a situation that would have lead to someone unwittingly using the crib my baby died in for their own baby.  I wanted it gone.  I wanted it destroyed.  And I will be forever indebted to Deanna and her husband for that enormous favor.

Many people asked what they could do.  My mind almost uniformly went blank.  This brings me to Unsolicited Advice #2:  When offering help, offer the grieving person specific choices.

In those first few days and weeks, I knew I needed things.  I knew I needed help with many things.  But I was in a daze.  I could barely talk.  Honestly, I would find myself in the hallway, frozen, trying to decide whether to go to the bathroom or get a glass of water.  I would occasionally just literally become stuck in space while I tried to sort out my bodily needs, as if my body were a foreign land in which I had just arrived.  I am normally a pretty high-functioning individual.  I assure you, there was no evidence of this during that time.

It was really helpful when people said, “Can I bring you dinner/wash your car/take Grace on a play date/organize your kitchen/take you out to dinner/send you for some body work/go to the store for you?”   If given choices, I could identify a need.  I could explain why some things would not be helpful that day too, giving the person a better idea of what might be helpful for me.  For instance, in the beginning, public places were extremely challenging for me.  Having someone offer to go get groceries was extremely helpful.  Now that I can go in public with more ease, other things would be more helpful. In any event, although I deeply appreciated all of the folks that said, “If there is ANYTHING I can do please let me know,” I did not have the inner resources to act on it.  I still suffer from this to some extent.  I also felt strange asking the people who had offered to do “anything” for me for anything.  Do they mean babysitting, or a trip to Bali? Do they mean clean my kitchen for me, or send a cleaner?  Do they mean do my laundry or take me on a hike?    The people that offered me choices took all of that awkwardness off the table for me.  They allowed me the opportunity to continue to say “yes” to offers of help, without suffering the indignity of staring blankly at them while I tried, and failed, to assess my needs.  THANK YOU.

Some people were just really, really good and listening to me talk about my feelings, and deciphering my needs from random things I said.  Those people are angels.  Thank you.  I could not identify my needs during this time, which was uncharted territory for me, and very scary.  But you could.  Thank you.  Again, you gave me chances to practice saying “yes.”

To be honest, I am still having trouble identifying my needs.  There are so many, after all, the largest of which cannot be satisfied.

I do not think Bubba knew what he started when he encouraged me to drop the strong act and just say, “yes” the previous Wednesday.   Maybe he did, I don’t know.  In any event, it was sage advice, and maybe even genius.  For there is nothing a grieving person needs more than to say, “yes” to life.  There is nothing a person so fraught with guilt that she can barely move and wishes she would not wake up in the morning needs more than to say “yes” to life.  Bubba set me straight on the path to “yes,” and this possibly made the difference to me healing, or not.

Seven and a half months later I can say, I am healing.  And some parts are actually healed entirely, I daresay.  So, in effect, I owe Bubba my life.

Another night, a few other moms came over.  They had each individually called, and I just had them all come at once.  That night, I could barely get off the couch.  I had gone about the business of life all day, but I was exhausted by the efforts.  From what I recall, Kendall, Mia, Nancy, and Kristen came.  All of these women are amazing.  All of them were women I had hoped to get to know better, but obviously, this was not how I wanted to accomplish this.

My girls both absolutely ADORED Kendall from the first time they met her.   And this was a bit unusual, because neither girl really went for strangers much.   Alice would say “hi,” but she didn’t want to be touched.  But, if we were at a party, both girls would go to Kendall like white on rice.  I decided then and there, Kendall must be some kind of supernatural being, and one that I should get to know.  True to form, Grace took over Kendall that night, and Kendall did not miss a beat, even getting Grace to bed.  Kendall, I think, hangs the moon.

Nancy, the girls knew a bit better because her son and Grace took a Spanish class together at my house for a few months.  Alice would play with Nancy’s young daughter sometimes while the older kids took class, which was a great distraction, because Alice REALLY WANTED IN ON THE SPANISH CLASS.  She would stand in the archway (she knew she wasn’t allowed in the living room during class) grinning ear to ear, trying to say all the words.  The teacher loved it, and would not have minded her joining.  But “the cute baby” distracted the kids who were paying for that class, so I would end up taking Alice on a walk, or to the library with Nancy and Mike’s daughter, or to the park.

I loved Nancy at first sight when I met her at the meeting that was the kick-off to starting the charter school in our neighborhood.  I just loved her. Nancy has the sweetest disposition you can imagine, and infectious smile, is smart as hell, and funny too.  Nancy is like a little present that keeps on giving.  Every time we hang out, I find out something about her that is seemingly incongruous and mind-boggling.  Nancy is a gift.

Mia was one of the original six or seven moms that started our school, and again, though I did not know her well, she went far beyond the call of duty to support our family. Mia is über-organized. She does it for a living, in fact. I used to be organized, before I reproduced, and I am in awe of anyone that can manage to remain that way with little people in the house.  She offered to organize the house, and although I have not taken her up on this yet, my thanks to her is never-ending.   She has done so, so much for us over the past few months, not the least of which was just sitting there while I talked and cried. I adore her.

Kristen is my neighbor.  And Kristen is hilarious.  The day after Alice died, she walked in with a trash bag full of (fresh) Kleenex and toilet paper. She explained that she was Italian, and therefore knew the value of having enough paper products in the house at such a time.  This was a genius move.  I would have never thought of it until we ran out, which would have been in about one more day. She is an amazing writer and photographer and also took the photos of the Memorial Service. I just love her.

I had a wonderful night with those ladies despite my fragile state.  I felt no need to hide, or pretend I was in a different place than I was.  I felt completely comfortable being my real self despite not knowing some of them all that well.  I even laughed. I cried a lot, but I also laughed. This.  Is. Crucial.  My thanks to these ladies in undying.

My neighbor Jen C also came by that week.  She is the mother of one of Alice’s two best friends, and was here the night Alice died, and nearly every day after.  She was, and still is, supportive beyond words, and I just love her.

Friends from my inner circle also stopped by on various nights, often bringing dinner.  Fran brought banana bread (aka Franana bread), votive candles, vodka, and coconut water (I do not mix the vodka and coconut water, don’t worry.) Fran had committed herself to do for me all of the things I advise my patients to do at such times. And this was a very special gift.  For I was so deeply in shock, I just could not do the things I needed to do to take care of myself in that way.  I could NOT go to the store, for instance.  Fran, I love dearly, and all of my friends fell in love with her in those early weeks too.  In fact, when she showed up one night, everyone erupted in applause and chanted “Fran!  Fran!” She erupted in a giant grin and did a pimp walk all the way across the living room.  I laughed.  And it felt really, really good to laugh.

My dear, dear friend Clara came by one night and spent the night, and Jon watched the kids so that she could. Chrislie came by one night to stay over as well. Bubba came by a couple of times.  Rey came by with lunch Friday, I believe, knowing that Caitlin would be leaving that day. Kim came and spent Friday morning with me, which was so kind of her.  I love all of these folks with all of my heart, and my gratitude to them knows no bounds. Again, I was ready for things to slow down, but I wasn’t quite ready to be on my own in a home that was so noticeably  missing a family member.

I still cried a guttural cry every morning when I woke up. I often woke up at 5:30 a.m., ironically—5:30 was Alice’s “first call.”  Sometimes, if lovingly ignored, she would go back to sleep until 7:00 or so. But then, in the wake of her death, I was waking up at 5:30 like clockwork, realizing she was gone, enduring a pit in my stomach and hole in my heart, and then becoming paralyzed with guilt that I had ever complained about the 5:30 wake up—for I would give anything to have her wake me up at 5:30 now.

These are just some of the ways one spins oneself into the vicious cycle of guilt. I would not wish it on a single, solitary soul.  I really wouldn’t.

One Comment

  1. Deanna Goodwin
    April 23, 2014
    Reply

    I am honored to call you my (current) friend Melissa. Your entries make me ball every time (this time especially your yoga experience) balanced out with laughter. What a beautiful thing you do for sweet Alice… xoxoxo

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