Saturday, June 1, 2013

Five Things that Don't Suck, Green Hill Edition

1. the Duffy beach
2. the non-Duffy beach
3. beach glass
4. tide pools
5. water so cold it numbs your feet

Friday, May 31, 2013

Five Things that Don't Suck, Last Daily FB Post Edition

This is the end of a year of FTTDS status updates on Facebook. From now on, daily FTTDS posts will be here on the blog, in relative anonymity.

1. all of you who have been so awesome during the past year (and in general, but this past year in particular)
2. everyone who has commented, shared, taken over list posting duties for me when I was away, or made their own list at some point
3. the non-FB spouses and friends (or at least people who aren't my FB friends) who get the FTTDS lists read out loud to them on occasion (that's right, I'm talking to you! Hi!)
4. basically, all of you
5. me

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

The More Things Change...

Today is the first anniversary of Turquoise's death. A lot has changed in the past year. A lot has remained stubbornly the same. Monday morning, for no reason I can pinpoint, I thought of last Easter, when I told some of Jed's family that Turquoise was dying—specifically, I thought of his brother, who despite my momentary calm immediately seemed to understand the vastness of this impending loss and put his arms around me. I remember the way that realization swept over his face, how quick it was, and how encompassing.

Then I remembered my mother's reaction, the previous year, to Turquoise's diagnosis. My parents were visiting from Florida when Turquoise sent me an email telling me that her cancer—which had disappeared from the original site after radiation therapy—had metastasized to her liver. Before I responded to the email, I looked up at my mother (a retired nurse) and asked her what she knew about secondary liver cancer.

"Not much," she said. "Why?"

"Turquoise," I said.

There was a brief pause, and then she said, "Oh, God."

That was the moment I knew that Turquoise was going to die.

It took me a while to figure out how I was going to deal with it, outside of trying to be supportive of her. I didn't realize, at first, how advanced her cancer was, and she didn't tell me. Even when I knew she was in serious trouble, she sent contradictory messages. One, about two months before her death, said that an MRI had come out great. In an email an hour or two later, she told me that there was nothing that medical science could do for her. I asked a couple of times during her last six months about coming out to see her after my classes ended ("late spring/early summer"). She didn't respond, and it wasn't until I went through the emails to make sure I had the details straight for this post that it occurred to me that maybe she didn't want to tell me that she didn't think she'd live that long (she did, but barely, and only because I'm on a college, not K-12, teaching schedule).

I would like to be able to say that I was focused on her, that I didn't contemplate my side of her illness until later. That would be a lie. Turquoise was my compass—part big sister, part bad influence, part inspiration, part troublemaker, part lifeline. We were often each other's chief supporter and chief competitor and, while it might have complicated some aspects of our interactions, we always understood where we stood with each other. We made each other laugh until we got sinus headaches. During the periods in her life when she struggled—and she did struggle, desperately and heartbreakingly—I foundered and, I suspect, let her down in ways and at depths I do not wish to contemplate, all because I didn't know how to bear her pain and didn't want to risk getting it wrong. I got it wrong.

I tell myself that I got enough of it right that the wrong doesn't matter, but I think that might also be a lie.

When I found out about Turquoise's diagnosis, Jed and I were about halfway through the first year following his father's death. We were both working our way through mourning together, and doing fairly well, relatively speaking—we had the usual ups and downs, but seldom at the same time, which meant that we could prop each other up when we needed to. I had discovered that the whole situation was easier if I focused on getting Jed through this, as if losing his dad were some kind of cave that I just needed to navigate him out of (and, I suppose, me with him). I knew at the time that this was bullshit thinking, but I also knew that if bullshit thinking was what it took to get us through the day-to-day for a while, it would have to do. Get up, get to work, get groceries, pay bills, walk the dogs. Lather, rinse, repeat. Jed was mourner-in-chief and I was second in command and my job was to take care of him. And then I got the email from Turquoise, and a thought began to form in the back of my mind as I processed my mother's reaction and started to research secondary liver cancer, and that thought was this: We can't do this now.

Helpful, right? I give myself credit for not fully giving in to it, but there it was. I had no idea how on God's green Earth we were supposed to do the things we needed to do in order to bear this situation, both of us in a grotesque yin-yang of mourning, each trying to balance our own grief at our loss with the perceived larger grief of the other's (because make no mistake, I grieve deeply for my father-in-law as Jed grieves for Turquoise). Hell, I didn't even know what those things were—how was I supposed to know how to do them?

Sometime after that thought arrived, I began to make decisions. I don't know how many of them were conscious, but they were in fact decisions. I've talked about a lot of them already, and I'll talk about more of them in future posts. They often came by degrees and they often concern eating or exercise or something I call "getting my head straight," although I'm not really clear on what that's supposed to mean, exactly. But they pretty much boiled down to this: I decided that if I didn't feel like I had any emotional strength, I could at least teach myself physical strength. I started walking, and then running, because I made, somewhere along the line, the decision to be physically strong, in large part so that I wouldn't be falling apart on both fronts.

I liked the way counting the running and walking intervals gave me something to focus on. I liked counting the push-ups and the crunches. Numbers were good. Numbers were not words. In the days following my father-in-law's death, I often felt like I couldn't bear language. I turned off NPR because the constant talking was almost physically uncomfortable. I turned off the local college radio station because I didn't feel like I could process anything new. The only thing I could stand to listen to was oldies—unsurprising melodies, comforting harmonies, lyrics so familiar that they were often stripped of meaning for me. When I came home from California, having seen Turquoise for the last time, I hit the oldies preset on my car radio. On the treadmill, I did pretty much the same thing with my iPod, and I counted, and I logged my progress, and the next day I did it again. I took days off when the schedule told me to. I took two days off when Turquoise died (I tried to work out on the first day, as part of my attempt to make something make sense in the world, but I don't think I lasted through the 5-minute warm-up). And then I got back on, moved my feet, listened to songs that were older than I was, counted. Counted some more. Kept counting.

It would be facile to say that Turquoise saved my life. It would imply, for one thing, that I was dangerously unhealthy because of my weight, which is not the case (although it very well may have become so). It also creates a single route through the cave, as it were—Turquoise died, and through her death I found a way to save myself. Call Lifetime and get me a film deal!—which is a terrible oversimplification. The fact remains that losing Turquoise could have killed me just as easily as it saved me. I could have turned to food, or followed the lead of so many of my family members and turned to alcohol or drugs. I could have nurtured and coddled my grief until it became depression. I'm not going to pretend I didn't struggle there—grief and depression are definitely on speaking terms, and I also don't mean in any way to imply that depression is something one can choose to allow or not. I'm just saying that I tried to deliberately take actions to prevent myself from becoming depressed. I tried to remain aware, and I asked a few people to keep an eye on me, and when they voiced concerns I took them seriously. A couple of days after Turquoise died, I started writing a list, every day, of five things that didn't suck, and posting that list on Facebook, and, eventually, here on this blog. That was June 1, and on May 31 of this year, I'll make the last regular FTTDS posting on Facebook (I'll still be here on the blog every day). For whatever reason, I ended up here instead of there, and I doubt I will understand the mechanism by which this occurred.

So now it's been a year, and everything is different, and nothing is. I weigh less. I eat better. I think some things through a little more. I'm more centered in some ways, less so in others. I run. Some days, it still brings me comfort to count, so I count. I have not yet figured out a way to put Turquoise into words in a way that satisfies me, so I have not yet eulogized her, even for myself. I have not yet discovered how to live in a world that does not contain her, despite the fact that I've been doing so for a year and will continue to do so for the rest of my life. That very notion still stuns me. I can still be smackdaddied by the enormity of what I have lost. There are times when I feel like I stepped out into the road with my back to a bus. There are times when someone makes a reference to a joke that Turquoise and I shared and it makes me laugh and laugh. And sometimes I realize that at some point I've begun to cry. And it's all okay. The day she died, and for days afterwards, I found myself repeating, "I'm okay, I'm okay, I'm okay," into an empty room, or to the dogs, or to Jed, or under my breath in the shower. I learned to keep saying it until it began to be true.

Five Things that Don't Suck, Turquoise Edition

Note: Today marks the first anniversary of Turquoise's passing. This list is full of things that she loved. I could write countless lists for her, because she was full of love, but I'm stopping at these (random) five.

1. the sea
2. beach glass
3. grapefruit (and basically the whole gamut of uses for grapefruit)
4. creativity in almost any aspect you can think of
5. Angela Lansbury

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Five Things that Don't Suck, Nasty Big Pointy Teeth Edition

1. being able to keep both dogs away from the dead baby rabbit in the driveway simply by using a magic word*
2. live baby rabbits
3. rabbits maybe keeping to the woods instead of hanging out in the yard
4. the fact that I haven't seen a "lucky rabbit's foot" in a really long time, because what the hell is that all about anyway?
5. The Killer Rabbit of Caerbannog

Monday, May 27, 2013

Five Things that Don't Suck, Memorial Day Edition

1. former service members
2. current service members
3. the families who wait and support and wait some more
4. the hope that maybe we can figure out how to not need any of it
5. not needing a #5 today

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Five Things that Don't Suck, Long Weekend Edition

1. in-laws who are family, not just relatives
2. having an excuse to make the brownies you've been craving for the past 2 days
3. the prospect of warmer weather
4. leftover blueberry muffins (not as good as the first day, but that's almost balanced out by not having to make them)
5. reports (unconfirmed) of a round, yellow thing in the sky somewhere in the northeast