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Rocky Climb

February 27, 2011

If you are a regular reader, you know that I lost my sister to ALS on November 5th, a little less than four months ago.

People ask me how my sister’s kids are doing. How her husband is doing. How my parents are doing, and how I am doing. I appreciate this more than I can express, but I realize that it’s almost like I can’t climb down into how I feel without some sort of engraved invitation. It’s not that I don’t want to. I do want to. But I can’t, or at the very least, there is a delayed reaction. And so I usually think that I am ok, really, that things are good.

The truth is that so many things were so bad for so long that yes, things are better and we are not worrying about the stupid day to day ALS crap like, does she still have enough mouth control to eat, what if she chokes, what effect is this having on her kids. So yes, things are good in a certain way.

And then suddenly I’ll stop for a coffee while grocery shopping and I’ll be putting half and half in my coffee, and think about how much I love half and half and how cozy it is to get a coffee while out, and then I think, “Sure, I love half and half and coffee, but Beth really loved half and half and the coziness of getting a coffee while out,” and then like a flash I am up against the completely normal fact that I had a sister, and quickly followed by the need to re-digest the forced fact that my sister died, that she basically just died, and what the hell am I doing having coffee at Fairway when she is dead, and then this progression of thought is quickly followed up by oh, crap, where is Henry. Only about a second has passed, and he’s looking at the cow on the milk dispenser. Moo.

Friday, which is what I just described, is sort of a normal day. But then on days like today, I realize that I just don’t even know how I am.

For the last month I’ve done little other than make and eat cake for various events. I am drawn to cake like a moth to a flame, and that may be why my wings are melting.

I haven’t been writing, or doing yoga, or driving in the car and listening to music that sparks me to emotion, or laughing with friends, or doing any of the things that clean me out and let me emote or keep me centered. Another big mistake, I see today, when I woke up splattered with doubt and negativity and uncontrollable emotion.

I spent some time yesterday with the wife of one of my husband’s great life friends. I like this wife very much. She is a bit older than I am, and she has three children, and lots of great advice. She’s confident, self-deprecating, an MD, a Catholic, and hilarious. They live out of town but one time we went there for dinner, and she made us really good steaks. She’s also quite compassionate, though I don’t know her terribly well. My impression is that she is careful about what is important.

This wife lost her dad when she was young, and has spoken to me a few times about Beth, who she met at our wedding. That night, we all sat at the head table together. Beth had been diagnosed less than 3 months before, but her speech was awful, and she’d broken her leg really badly. If you didn’t know Beth before the wedding and you met her there, you might not understand that she was a normal person to whom a bad series of things were happening. Because you might not want to think that you were also a person to whom a series of seriously bad things could happen, you might be inclined to disassociate with her. I think that a lot of people don’t understand, when confronted with a health problem, that there aren’t sick people and healthy people, but rather just a pile of people, and let’s just hope you continue to have good days.

But I do think that the wife understood that. And yesterday, she asked me if I knew what grief would look like if you drew it. She explained that if grief looks like waves, and that at first the amplitude is large, and the periodicity is frequent. And that then the periodicity is less frequent, and but the amplitude of the waves that do appear is still large. And that finally, the amplitude shrinks.

As I walk through these winter days sisterless, I realize again and again that loss is a rocky climb up and down these damn amplitudic waves, with the bobbing and floating and dragging. But the worst is not even doing the grieving, and I feel like I’ve been irritable and anxious and overwhelmed, but that I haven’t managed to do the things that help with the grieving. I have felt more than once that spending time with someone compassionate who isn’t part of my every day is actually just the engraved invitation I need to climb down into how I feel. It happens when people ask, even if it doesn’t happen in that exact moment.

I’ve been doing TV and cake and dirty snow and the elliptical and wine in a box. Sugar, booze, and staring at screens are just like Tylenol — they may distract from the issue but they don’t get to the root of it. I need to be doing fresh air and laughing or crying and working out my thoughts and connecting with people. I need less cake.

I’ve started about a thousand posts and just haven’t managed to finish. One is an advice column, another is about Beth, another is about recipes. Don’t worry, I may be down on life and down on cake, but I still intend to share my marshmallow filling recipe with you.

These will come, hopefully this week.

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7 Comments leave one →
  1. frankly manny permalink
    February 27, 2011 10:39 pm

    This was lovely and sad and reminds me of how much we miss you.

  2. Amy permalink
    February 28, 2011 12:41 am

    Be gentle with yourself, Meredith. You’re doing just what you should be doing. The cake is just temporary. (And this is wonderfully written, too.) 🙂 Take care.

  3. jenn permalink
    February 28, 2011 9:07 am

    you are in uncharted territory so it’s perfectly natural to not know how or what to feel or do. and now most of this dirty snow is melting, maybe your pain will ease up as well. xoxo

  4. February 28, 2011 9:55 am

    Oh sweetheart. I would love to be one of the compassionate people no longer part of your everyday life. I feel linked to that time when Beth was newly diagnosed….. because I love you, because I have a sister, and also because I was myself newly diagnosed at that time and experienced so much of the same reactions from people. People who think there must be a reason, a reason why the bad thing that is happening to you can’t (or won’t, or mustn’t) happen to them. I think most people can’t see the pile of people until they realize they’re in it. It’s like fish and water. And so very very unfair.

  5. Karen permalink
    February 28, 2011 2:18 pm

    To say nothing of the fact that it’s WINTER still- that dirty snow is not your fault. It’s probably my fault- see below. And it certainly doesn’t help anything that it’s cold and awful, even when it’s comparatively balmy, for February. Spring will come.

    As you’ve been doing this, I’ve been kicking myself. Last week, a former colleague passed away after a short and valiant battle with cancer, just like my mom 5 yrs ago. I went to the reception at the funeral home, where I knew no one (my childess former colleagues were working late & coming later) and found myself talking to this former colleague’s daughter, who is probably a little younger than me with three young children.

    I am kicking myself because I thought that my goodness, by now I should have something wise and soothing to say to someone, even if I don’t know them, because they just experienced something very similar to my greatest pain in life to date… stands to reason, right? I spent a lot of time thinking, grieving, reflecting- right?

    No. I made this poor woman cry, I think sounded like a total idiot; I was not, I am sure, at all helpful and eventually I stopped myself. And thank god. It was not at all what I wanted to have said. Maybe it had more to do with me than with her. It didn’t feel good.

    I will know better next time. I can’t even comfort myself, let alone my friends who have lost, and never mind someone I don’t know at all. I can’t be insightful or compassionate, apparently. Your friend is a rare one indeed.

    We all do what we can, and sometimes we can’t. Or it doesn’t go the way we want. But… spring will come. See you then.

  6. michelle permalink
    February 28, 2011 9:25 pm

    We really don’t find out who we are until we experience the care and loss of our most treasured loves….We think we do, we believe that we appreciate and share our lives, but we don’t. We make excuses…taking care of the kids, work..no money starving, no time to talk…see you next week, but we are human, how do we move forward in our lives when it’ is so important to recognize that their are others who need us in theirs.. and then how do we move on when they leave us..Because they leave us and then we don’t have the …the unrequited love, the person(s) that know what the report cards said when we were 5 or that know we love our husbands..moms..sisters…but But….and when they leave after you’ve convinced yourself that they will be the Victorious ones..that they will be the 1% to show that you can beat the odds..that they were so good their goodness cannot be just tossed like this..you wonder..why are you here…drinking coffee in Fairway with your beautiful son when your sister or mother or best friend, or husband, wife has fought the hugest battle of all with courage and dignity and then though the battle was fought with absolute conviction it was time to let go..time to surrender….We have an obligation to honor and love the life they so courageously wanted to continue living and sometimes that helps…Those waves are reminders that we are here, we are here now…..Sadness. Happiness. it’s all life…and “winter does turn to spring” Henry is fortunate to have such a compassionate and aware mom…..Your sisters life will always continue because of her you are able to be a better person and you will feel closer to accepting this sadness and feeling ok a little bit more every day…..and the tears will fall and “That’s a good thing” ( never thought I’d quote Martha, but ……)

    With my deepest sympathy for your loss and my sincere wishes for your happiness

    Michelle

  7. Cari permalink
    February 28, 2011 10:09 pm

    Oh honey, I so wish I could pick you up and plunk you into our front yard with a cold beer and a brisket taco and balls and wagons to occupy the kids and lots of tissues at hand. I am so sorry for the grief you and your family are experiencing, and I so hope the amplitude shrinks very, very soon.

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