Saturday, August 22, 2009

Good Grief

Is Grandma going to die?
Yes love.
This week.
Yeah, but what day?
They don't know.
The doctors can't tell you that?


A million moons ago, sometime in July, began the influx of house guests. They came to party primarily, and say hello, and for my mom there was also the added benefit of a high school reunion. At some point in this initial seizure of good times, my grandmother was hospitalized for dehydration.

I suppose no one ever foresees this kinda thing, but in that bout of institutionalization came MRSA. Followed by organ failure. The day my mother was to drive west for a few days of wine and old yearbook hilarity, we had a conversation in my kitchen about DNR's where I suddenly found the following words leaving my mouth, as though my lips were possessed by their own small wee brain:

I know all situations and doctors are different, but when we were at Children's . . . . . There's a lot of gray area in there between "yes" and "no." You can give them a half-assed answer, there's a lot of wiggle room . . . .

Under what circumstances does a daughter tell her mother these things?

For a while, grandma was "stable." And anyone with time clocked in the NICU knows "stable" simply means "not plummeting in a death spiral at the moment." It does not mean "good," or even "better." She wasn't eating. She recognized a vase from her china set when I brought in flowers. Me not so much. Because of the infection, we all had to suit up, and I had to wear gloves just to touch her.

There is no comfort in latex.

After stabilization came a stint at the nursing home, and decisions were made about hospice. There was no time line, but it was understood that she was seriously compromised and the next step -- whether in days, weeks, or even months; whether a small stumble or a flying headfirst leap -- would be her last. Plans were made to dislodge the house guests.

And then hospice called: we could expect only days. Flights were changed; my brother madly hopped on a red-eye.

And after dinner on Monday I drove out to the nursing home to say goodbye.

Did you touch her?
I touched her hair. It was so soft. She's not in pain, she's very peaceful. She didn't talk. She looked like she was sleeping. I told her you loved her.

It was deja vu all over again, sitting in a dark nursing home room, listening to her shallow, long breaths. Her eyes were closed, she may well have been sleeping, and I sat not knowing what to say. Again. A life so short, I couldn't possibly cram everything in versus a life so long I couldn't possibly cram everything in. I left it at I love you. Awkwardly hunched over a bed, this time with no suiting up but strict instructions to wash my hands very well afterwards. Some things never change.

My brother's plane touched down at 8:19 a.m the following morning; Grandma died at 8:00 a.m.

Bella, Grandma died.
Oh. Will we bury her?
Can I help?

Pieces of conversations slammed me: "We're going to the funeral home. I have no idea how long it will be; I don't know what they do there." I do. But I decided not to regale them -- they'd find out soon enough.

The funeral director offered to include ashes in the casket, and apparently there was a whispered conversation between my aunt and Mr. ABF about Maddy's remains. We were touched, but opted no. Grandma will be buried at her church, where she's been a member for 40+ years -- a move I couldn't argue was more perfect for her. It is not perfect for us.

The burial was Friday, a private affair, just immediate family plus one family who will not be there for the memorial service next week. Plus since my dad can't lift, we needed another pallbearer. We stood in the hot noontime sun, my aunt, my mother, and I wearing grandma's jewelry we had laid claim to the day before while sorting through her apartment. We went to a brew pub afterwards and drank and ate. And that evening, we all dissolved in tears.

Can we visit Grandma?
Next week at the memorial we will. And later this fall we'll plant flowers, ok?

It has been an incredibly long month. We've had uninterrupted house guests since July 29, and more are on the way this week. I have been in constant motion since July 27 or so, always planning the next 48 hours. I am exhausted.

For Bella's birthday my father gave her a fish tank, and since that fateful day, we've been through (I am not making this up) 8 fish. We finally realized the primary goldfish we bought was aggressively trying to make meals out of his/her compatriots, and then sadly the last partner we brought in brought disease with. Before the major cemetery ceremony, we had a few in the back yard. Until that got old.

Do you want to bury Lily in the yard or flush her so she goes back into the water?
Flush her. I'll do it.

Poor kid has overseen 9 burials in the past four weeks. The silver lining is that although there have been tears, there has been only honestly, no mincing of words, no euphemisms. No hiding, no secrets, no lying. No finding a babysitter. She has asked great questions, she understands perfectly that we will never see grandma again.

Mom, can you get another grandma if yours dies?
No love. No you can't.

Sadly, I know exactly where she's going with this.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Spare the Messenger?

Still processing how family and friends deliver the new me news of a delicate nature. Please go share your stories and opinions today at Glow in the Woods.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Spinal Tap

I started this blog with the primary purpose of recording my grief. I thought there would come a day when the writing would wane, when all that was left to say was said. When all the metaphors had been used, all the social ramifications had been chewed through (or perhaps more accurately, put through a shredder), and we hit some plateau regarding our daughter and our missing.

Today is not that day.


Saturday a.m. I awoke late and somewhat . . . well surprisingly, not hungover per se, but full? Still tired? Friday evening, neighbors invited 10 of us to celebrate their anniversary with a trip to one of the area's top-rated restaurants and even sprung for a bus so no one would have to drive (and thank goodness, because by "Philly area" we're actually talking "practically Delaware"). It was delicious, it was wonderful, and I haven't laughed that hard since . . . well I honestly can't remember the last time I was surrounded by people I considered friends and laughed quite that hard. Probably grad school.

So there I am, weeding with coffee mug in hand, smiling at this great thing that is now my life and thinking I wouldn't eat for at least four more days, when Mr. ABF got a call and walked away looking somewhat grim and serious. Huh. Inside a bit later he approached me and said, "[SIL] had a baby this a.m.; they had to deliver it early due to pre-ecclampsia." I got wide eyed and asked how far along she was, expecting the absolute worst since we hadn't heard boo from or about them in over a year, and was met with a steely, "Nine months. Over 37 weeks. Baby is fine. They never told us she was pregnant."

We sat there and gaped at each other. I kinda understand his (asshole) brother not telling us because dude doesn't talk to us anymore. I actually consider him least to blame in this present mess. Mr. ABF's mother though, was in my house for five days last week and said nothing. She invited over shitloads of relatives who ate at my table and said nothing. Only minutes before getting the serious phone call, Mr. ABF called to confirm a late birthday celebration for Bella at his Dad's, and he said nothing. Let's forget for a moment, the past -- let's give them the benefit of the doubt and say six -- six months of interaction with this family. We found out from a cousin, who apparently sat in stunned silence on the line and said, "I thought you knew."

Within a space of minutes, we realized we had become the social pariahs, the fragile freaks around whom no one can speak freely (apparently), and we felt like utter assholes. Everyone tiptoeing around us now thinking they deserved some fucking medal for not speaking the P-word, but never once considering to simply stop and ask us: How are you guys feeling these days anyway? How are you doing? Never once in this entire two and half years stopping to say, "You know, we still think of Maddy all the time. I know this hasn't been easy." No, they simply assumed through the vast powers of osmosis and probably some bad made-for-television movie swirled with a bit of family drama, that "we couldn't handle it." No one in this entire fucking family could find the stones to start a conversation, "I'm going to tell you something, and I realize it may hurt, and I understand that completely, but I didn't want you not to know . . . "

I suppose the supreme irony here is that my reaction would have been: whatever. Honestly. I'm kinda beyond the pregnancy = jealousy stage, and into the pregnancy = fear stage. I root solidly for my online friends to find two lines in the morning. When my mother said to me about six months ago, "[SIL] is having some infertility issues -- she's wondering if it's ok to talk to you," I leaped at the chance to help her. Know why? She's been one the good ones, one of the best ones. One that's communicated with me from the get go, one that interweaves Maddy into everyday conversation like it's no big deal. I can honestly say I'd be thrilled if anything I told her resulted in a healthy, live baby. Is there a twinge of regret? Sure there is. Honestly though, I'm more put off by the banter than I am the actual news/view, and I'm a big girl and can go entertain myself just fine, thanks, when the conversation veers toward college funds and the best place to get maternity formal wear. Mr. ABF's BIL? We don't even talk to these people. Hearing they were expecting their second would probably draw a lesser reaction from me than finding out a neighbor was.

But. They obviously wouldn't know I've come around to this position (or, that I ever had another position on the subject, frankly) because no one every bothered to talk to us. About anything.

And I realized, as I ran through the vast array of bullshit we've experienced with the IL's since Maddy's death, that Maddy's death was just one big inconvenience to them. It upset travel plans. Holidays would be "too depressing" to spend with us. Memorial services "too wet." The only feedback we've ever received are things like "you're wallowing." And now apparently they can't talk to us either. Poor them, the verbal gymnastics they've had to endure this year.

When we had the blowup with FIL two Decembers ago, our therapist said "I don't recommend cutting off communication with family unless there's abuse involved." To which I responded, "Damn." But we tried to be the bigger people. We sucked it up, we tried to make people comfortable around us for the sake of Bella -- so she could have relationships with people. And now we discover people weren't communicating with us at all -- they were communicating around us, they were communicating in spite of us. And now, frankly, I'm tired of playing fifth grade and am ready to move on to people who take us for what we are: parents of a live child and a dead child who have come a long way in two years. We have such an amazing support and friend system here, it seems a waste to spend time on people who would feel more comfortable if we weren't in the room.


I opted not to go to my FIL's this weekend when it was determined that I would not be able to keep my mouth shut this time. (I even offered to drive a second car in the event I turned tail and walked out the door.) And perhaps, good thing, because FIL was genuinely shocked that we didn't know, and at one point in the afternoon apparently turned to Mr. ABF and said,

"Do you want to talk about it?"

I'm giving him a few points for this, delay notwithstanding. It's nice an old dog can learn new tricks, but a whole lot of crap could've been avoided here if someone in this family had uttered those seven words about, oh, 26 months ago, and then continued to use them every now and again. Also nice I wasn't there, because the "talk" would've been a stream of expletives. They talked, although no consensus was reached: FIL feels badly, but I'm not sure I'm ready to let him off the hook for "I thought you knew." Someone had to step up. Someone had to ask around.

FIL also said, "Here we thought you knew, and we've been walking on eggshells." And this? Made me feel like a big, fat freak. When I told one of my good friends this whole soggy story, her response was "It sounds like they've projected a whole lot of crazy on you." She's absolutely right. (Incidentally and somewhat pertinent to this narrative, this friend is nine months pregnant.) (Hahaha, funny story about how I found about her pregnancy: SHE TOLD ME. I know! ) I feel as if last weekend (and countless times before) I had people into my home, cleaned for them and made them dinner, gave them our good bottles of wine and entertaining conversation . . . . but they were all in on the performance art of the evening. They had a conversation on the way about the entertainment, and unbeknownst to me, it was me. And when they left, I can almost hear them saying to each other walking down the porch stairs, "Dude, you're right! What a fucking freak show! We're back for lunch tomorrow, right?"

I guess we were supposed to find out at Christmas time, when Bella's present arrived "from" another child's name we didn't recognize. I guess in their heads that would hurt less than simply sitting down and telling us. Scratch that, it would hurt THEM less if that's how we found out. Because who wants to sit down and talk to us?

Today's post brought to you by the Cold War Kids : Something is Not Right with Me. How Was I supposed to know?

Crash Into People who're sleeping late into the evening
Reach behind they can hardly find their spines.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Lightning, And This Time I Mean It

Two weekends ago, on the 26th, we dragged Bella to an outdoor rock concert. We decided to leave when we did in part because I could sense the internal meltdown slowly brewing, but also because the sky looked a wee tad ominous. On the drive home we had a view of the coming storm through our windshield, and at one point, a dagger of lightning sliced across the sky sideways. It was beautiful, blue, veined. "I've never seen like lightning like that," Bella cooed.


Wednesday, the big day, at around 5 p.m., we had what is a typically normal but this summer is a bit unusual afternoon thundershower. There was thunder, and lightning, and a tree across the street got hit dropping a branch onto the electric wire. Poof went the electric, in came the fire department, the electric guys, and finally, the bastard tree butcherers. It was an "event" as no one got hurt, and everyone gathered on our corner to gape and chat and talk about their crude 19th century evenings.

Ours went like this: we have a gas range, which was already lit since daddy made his little girl homemade tomato sauce for her birthday. We simply slid the pot off the flame, and popped on our pasta, and ate a lovely dinner by candlelight. Afterwards, we invited a neighbor family over for champagne and s'mores, outside, next to the grill. Rough, right out of Little House on the Prairie. Well, everything minus an outfit Bella received from a far-flung relative that had her father and I gaping and struggling for words when she came out to model it. (Seriously, this is from a major kid's clothing chain -- one I never shop at, incidentally, and now I remember why -- and in size 6 they make a rhinestone encrusted tightly fitted cotton halter top with matching skirt. "Your job to keep her off the pole," I whispered to Mr. ABF and then turned to Bella, told her she was absolutely stunning, but she did know this was a dress up box outfit, yes? Dress up for what exactly remains to be seen. Please no one send her the matching thigh-high white leather boots.)

We had planned Bella's school-chum party for Friday evening; I invited a gaggle figuring it was summer and only 10 would show up, but, gak, 18 accepted the invitation to drop their children off for dinner, cake, and a moon bounce. Whatever, how hard can that be?

Thursday I watched the weather report go from 20 to 40 to 70% chance of showers on Friday. And Friday evening, three minutes before the scheduled start of the outdoor party and hot dog grillathon, the heavens opened. In my house were 18 amped kids who blew through my "rain back up plan B" activities in about 4 minutes. Over was the draw a picture of yourself guest list; whatever-d were the foam doorhandles, cool but quickly completed was the scavenger hunt. When there appeared the slightest glimmer of light through the drops I hissed at Mr. ABF, "Go blow up that thing, NOW." All 18 hustled into the moon bounce. Skies clear, kids eat, kids pinata, kids bounce again. Party saved, barely.

Saturday was the get-together for the neighborhood (sunny, of course), which featured "Adult Bounce" on the hour ("Man Bounce" was especially entertaining), followed by dinner for about 16.

I woke up Sunday, groggy, tired, and facing rain. We packed up the soggy moon bounce, and Mr. ABF went to return it, and I stepped in the shower.

Just as I turned off the water, there was a huge crack of thunder coming at the same time as the flash. Moments later, while toweling my hair, I heard the fire engine go by our house, and stop nearby. I traipsed out the front door in bare feet, and admittedly a small smirk on my face, completely expecting to see a live wire dancing down through the neighbor's yard.

I was met by clouds of black smoke.

My neighbor's house was on fire. In fact, two of my neighbors' houses were on fire: lightning hit one side of the twin, and the fire jumped the roof to the other. I ran down in driving rain to . . . . I don't know. What compels people to run to certain things and not others? Just the day before as I was grocery shopping there was a police take-down of some guy near the fish counter. No idea what happened (Out of Easy-Peel shrimp? That always pisses me) , and I honestly just tried to mind my biz and not gape. And yet here I was going to the mouth of the disaster. I met my one neighbor standing on the sidewalk looking as if she personally had been struck by lightning -- if she were a cartoon, I'd put swirls in her eyes. "Is everyone out?" "Yes," she responded, clearly a million miles away. "Let me take the dogs," I said and she robotically stuck out her hands with the leashes and off I went to add two more canines to my brood at home.

Everyone got out, including three cats and three dogs between two houses. One side was two-thirds damaged, but the other side -- only just recently renovated -- was totaled. It's a gut. Again.

My awesome neighborhood absorbed both families and their children, clothes were found, toys were pulled out of yard-sale bins, pizzas were ordered, wine was poured, dogs were walked, tv's were housed, suitcases were loaned in order to dump clothes into them. We've all been walking around bewildered, stunned, that one minute you can be minding your business on a Sunday morning, and the next, your life is up in flames.

I guess a lot of us understand that metaphorically, but it's really grim to see it happen literally.

The family came late in the afternoon to collect their dogs -- they needed to be with them, and I understood that completely. When I asked what she needed, she looked like a zombie with the eye swirls returning, and I said, hey -- I'll come by in a few days and ask again. You'll know more then. In the meantime, just ring the bell and ask. We went for a walk after dinner this evening, in the beautiful breeze of a sunny summer evening, as if the perfect day had just occurred. Past the charred remains of two homes, emiting smoke fumes. Contractors already at work with tarp and plywood. Past the littered front porches of the adjoining houses, which now contain the saved remains of two families lives.


I've always had a secret fascination with thunder storms. Since a child, I've loved counting in between the flash and the boom (a trick I've used often this summer while trying to grill, standing safely on my porch figuring how much time I have to go flip things over), feeling the bass run through my legs, watching the lightning dance and weave. I've never been afraid of being struck -- maybe before because I was naive, and afterwards because . . . . I don't know. Naivite again? Won't get struck twice? Figure I can live through it, so run and enjoy?

Sunday, I sat in my family room, holding a shaking, soggy dog (not my own), listening to yet another wave of thunder and lightning go through (1, 2, it's getting closer). The rain was torrential (we got 4" on Sunday, alone), the multi-alarm fire had trucks planted outside our house tapping the two hydrants and running them down the middle of the street and through neighbors' back yards. Mr. ABF came in with an update: a few of the trucks were getting peeled off to go fight another lightning-inspired fire a few blocks away.

(That one didn't turn out so well.)

And I sat watching the fireman run like ants from my window, and willed that storm away. No more. No more lightning. No more heartache, no more work and danger for these guys, no more acrid smoke. Please no more.

A front is supposed to move through this afternoon. I will sit through it, undoubtedly, jaw firmly clenched with my fingers hovering around 9-1-1, counting. Always counting.