The Bomb in The Cookies

Sometimes I commit to something without thinking.  I don’t do this presumptuously, and neither is it an act of carelessness.  I do it because if I stop to linger and examine every what-if or possible outcome, I would never follow through.  The walls in my own brain are my worst enemy, and not thinking is the backdoor I run for.  Otherwise I would never leave the house.

So when a friend and fellow blogger found out I had said yes to driving 130 miles to see her new favorite band, she requested a favor.  And without thinking, I said okay.

The day before the show, a cardboard box showed up on my doorstep.

Inside were two packages, one for me and one for her band – Dreamers.

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I opened the envelope attached to the box with my name on it.

Dear Colleen, thank you for delivering my Dreamers package.  Bigger thanks for taking the chance and going on a road trip to go sees them.  I hope you have a wonderful time.  I know it’s not Airborne, but it can still be magic to be part of something exciting.  I think you’ll see that charm in the Arkells, but I also hope you’ll be brave and chat up Dreamers.  They are darlings and have a great way of appreciating you be there.  And that’s what I wanted you to feel . . . the special buzzy way that they are glad YOU are there.  Because they are.  Have a great time.  Here’s a little something for your boys or for your road trip.  Give Nelson & Nick big love from me. :)  Have fun! ❤ Susan

Susan and I have never actually met.  Strangely, however, she sensed my apprehension over text.  The Internet is funny that way.

Beneath my box was theirs, accompanied with its own message, and it sat on my dining room table for 24 hours.

Over the course of those 24 hours, I would sometimes glance at the box while making dinner or just passing through the kitchen.  And there it sat.  Quiet.  Undisturbed.

Sort of like a bomb.

But exerting a pressure on me that grew more intense by the hour.  It was tangible evidence of a commitment I made.  That I was largely starting to regret, mostly out of fear.

I began making mental excuses of why I couldn’t go to the show, none of which held up.  It was like walking backwards through my backdoor, running into every what-if and possible outcome.  What if we get into an accident on the way there?  It’s supposed to rain.  What if I die?  Who is going to take care of my kid?  What if something happens I hadn’t even thought of?

But it was too late.  The box was sitting on my dining room table.  Then it was in my car.  Then we were on our way to the show.

Meanwhile, I was running away from my fears.  Having been afraid of being afraid, I numbed myself into a state of disconnection, to the point I didn’t care about anything.  I didn’t care where we went for dinner and I didn’t care if we were late.  I didn’t care if we just dropped the cookies next to their tour bus and went home.  I didn’t care if we made it to the show at all.

I apologized to my Concert Buddy who had invited me to the show in the first place after Susan’s promotional band posts on Facebook.  Though I never promise to be the life of any party, I’m always afraid of being a drag and bringing others down because I’m followed by a very dark cloud.

Over pizza at a restaurant a few miles away from the venue, she confessed she hadn’t even bought her ticket yet.  Normally this would send my detail-oriented, schedule-y brain into panic mode, especially when she tried to buy her ticket online and found out she couldn’t, probably because it was after the 7:00 doors open time.  But I was already numb and would not have blinked an eye if we turned around and went home.  Truthfully, I would have been relieved.

“You probably can just buy it at the box office,” I reassured her (and myself).  “It’s not sold out.  Is it?”

“Maybe you’ll have to tweet the band and see if they can get me in,” she said with a smile.

“It’ll be fine,” I said, wondering if I should give Susan a play-by-play of our experience.  I decided against.  One anxious person was enough.  Two anxious people, even though one was a thousand-plus miles away, was too much for me to bear.

Outside the venue, I waited while she uneventfully bought her ticket at the box office.  Then I realized we were really doing this, and I was going to have to make sure this box of cookies I was carrying found its way to the recipient.

I had never brought a present for a band before, and I wasn’t exactly sure how one does it.  I never even knew it was possible until semi recently.  Because in my fangirl mind, I’m just a fan and a nobody, and why would any band accept any gifts from me?

But of course, they are just people.  And their people are people, and there has to be a way.  I guess?  Maybe?

Concert Buddy walked in the single door of the venue, The Basement – literally the basement beneath a bar – and handed her ticket to the girl at the door.

I walked in behind her, pretending to ooze confidence.

“What is thaaaaaat?” the girl asked suspiciously, pointing to my box.  There was a hint of fear in her eyes.  And I wondered if there was some in mine as well, which was exactly the opposite of what I was going for.

“They’re cookies for the band,” I said sweetly, hoping I would seem non-threatening.

“Cookies,” she repeated.  She wasn’t buying it.

Out of nowhere, and in the corner of my eye, a guy with a bearded face and glasses appeared.  “Hey I know them!” he said.  When I turned to the side, I realized he was talking to me and pointing to my shirt.  My Airborne Toxic Event band shirt.  I wondered why he was talking to me at all, why he had announced that, and didn’t he see there was something going down between me and security here?

“Oh, cool,” I said dismissively, and then turned my attention back to the girl who was watching me with eyes narrowed by distrust.

“You can’t bring those in,” she said coolly.  Then she called for the bouncer standing a few feet away.

Oh, no.  She thinks I have a bomb.

“So, can you just take them and give them to someone who can get them to the band?” I asked nervously.

“I don’t know.”  The bouncer was now standing beside her.  “Which band?”

By now I was thoroughly done.  I didn’t want to be here, and these weren’t even my cookies, and this wasn’t even my band.  And now I was going to be accused of bringing a suspicious package to a public place, which, in light of the recent attacks in Paris, wasn’t so improbable, despite the perfectly-coiffed pink bow and Susan’s professional Delish bakery sticker on the box.

“It’s written on the box,” I said.  “Dreamers.”

With extreme hesitation, she took the box from my hands.  Then she turned to the bouncer.  “Hey, can we take this?”

“What is it?”

“She says they’re cookies.”  The way she said cookies, it was clear she did not believe it was actually cookies.

“We’ll have to ask.  Who are they for?”

“Dreamers,” she said.  “Who do we ask?”

Then it occurred to me that this kind of thing was not common – some fan bringing a parcel of gifts to a band, and they were just as confused about accepting it as I was about bringing it there.

Suddenly, Bearded Glasses appeared again, never really having left, and was now reaching for the box.

“That would be me,” he said.

He took one look at the box and his eyes lit up.  “Oh, you’re kidding me.  How did she get this here?  Oh, my god.  She spoils us.”

Instant relief.  Everyone relaxed.

Bearded Glasses turned to me with an outstretched hand.  “Hi, I’m Plotkin.  I’m their tour manager.  What’s your name?  How do you know her?”

I explained that we were friends and had met via Airborne, the very band he said he “knew.”

“I’ll take these,” he said to both me and security.  Meanwhile, the girl was scanning my ticket and checking my ID.  I was no longer a threat.  Plotkin had diffused the situation.

“Hey, you know what they said in school,” the bouncer added jovially, “if you bring cookies, you have to bring them for the whole class.”

“You’ll have to ask the band for cookies,” I said coyly.  “I’m just the courier.”

And I walked inside the venue and found my friend.  We headed for the bar.  I pulled out my phone and sent a flurry of messages to Susan.  Meanwhile, my head was spinning.

Concert Buddy asked if I wanted a drink, and I said no.  Did I need one?  Yes.  Of course I needed one.  But I found myself so dizzy with anxiety that the very idea of speaking to another stranger and telling them what I wanted would have had me collapsed on the floor.  I excused myself and went to the bathroom.

There I could barely meet my own reflection in the mirror.  But when I saw the Airborne shirt, I smiled.  Hey, their tour manager had said, I know them.  Yeah, I knew them, too.  Once.

There is a person I like to remember when I’m afraid of being brave, or talking to strangers, or when I’m suddenly in awkward situations I’ve never been.  It’s a version of myself that is usually put away and out of sight from disuse, like a costume.  And to be honest, I don’t even know if it fits who I am anymore, but I love the memory of who I was when I knew Airborne, or that time we hung out backstage with them and I put the fangirl away and pretended I was confident and someone worth being backstage with a band.  I know that deep down that “version” is just me, Colleen, the person.  But buried so deep in crippling anxiety and a loss that has made me question the value of my own existence, I forget that she and I are the same person.  And sometimes, when I’m really in doubt, I wonder if it was real.

Real or not, I took a breath and summoned the costume and its faux confidence, and went to find my friend.

The opening band, Karma Killers, had just taken the stage.  In the L-shaped space of the venue, Concert Buddy hung back near the bar, sipping her beer.  “Are you sure you don’t want a drink?” she shouted over the music, and I shook my head.  It wasn’t something I could explain at the time.

Meanwhile, I was back and forth with my phone, texting Susan, feeling more like the cardboard box the cookies came in and that used to sit on my kitchen table, buried beneath layer after layer of useless excess that would just get thrown away later.  I wanted to be the box with the pretty pink and perfectly coiffed bow that nobody could refuse.  I wondered where the bomb cookies were now in the building.

I did a quick head count, quietly surveying the people around me, which didn’t take long at all, given the fact there were only 50 people or so in the whole place, and most of them looked to be about my age.

After Karma Killers had finished their set, out of the corner of my eye I saw the band members that comprise Dreamers walk past Concert Buddy and I, toward the middle of the bar, with their tour manager, Plotkin.  They weren’t flanked by fans, and didn’t seem too bothered, so I nudged Concert Buddy and pointed in their general direction.  “That’s them,” I said.  “Should we go talk to them?”

She shrugged and turned to walk.  Just like old times.

Let me just reiterate how completely vulnerable I feel approaching a group of people who regularly go onstage and perform and sometimes are on my TV and phone at home and then suddenly are in the flesh and don’t know who the heck I even am.  It’s weirdly bizarre at best, and then there is also the very real possibility I am about to say something epically stupid.

I can’t explain what happened next.  Maybe it’s just a band-fan thing, I don’t know, but Nick – the lead singer – made eye contact with me and held out his arm like he was waiting to give me a hug.  And that simple, unexpected gesture put me at ease at the same time it made me clam up because of the imaginary pedestal I put these people on.

I’m not even sure I said any words.  I hope I said hello and introduced myself.  I don’t know.  Because Concert Buddy swooped in as Nelson extended the same gesture to her and explained that we were the ones who delivered the cookies and we wanted to introduce ourselves.  “There’s cookies?” Nelson said, and then Plotkin or someone confirmed that there were cookies.  And the guys – Dreamers – were super sweet.  Again, I’m not sure I said a single word due to my state of star-struck awe, but I do remember leaving the conversation feeling better about the whole thing.

We said we were looking forward to the show and then excused ourselves.  Concert Buddy leaned in and said, “Best to keep it short and sweet.  Don’t want to overwhelm them, you know?”

I looked around at the out-of-control and wildly insane crowd of 50 people and observed, “Yeah, I really don’t think that’s a problem for them yet.  Maybe one day!”

“Sorry about taking over earlier,” she said, referencing to swooping in with Nelson.  “I hope you didn’t mind.”

I laughed as the next band, Arkells, was setting up.  “No, of course I didn’t mind.”  Then I wondered if I could ever be that confident person again who didn’t care if people were in bands or not.  It didn’t seem to fit.  I was going to need a drink or I would never loosen up.

A few more people filed in, making the total count to around 100, and most of them were filling the small pit below the stage.  Arkells had a greater following, from what little bit of research I had done before the show, and I was looking forward to their set.  It didn’t hurt their lead singer, Max, was super attractive and had more than enough charisma to fill the entire room.  The set was lively and fun, and though they had fans who had traveled out of state to see them that night, Max made the comment this show reminded him of the shows they used to do in their hometown, and I immediately thought “small, and probably in someone’s Basement.”  But if the band was bothered by this, they didn’t let it show.  It was one of the best sets I had seen post-Airborne, with enough heart and pageantry to more than make up for the lack of a crowd.  And I instantly had respect for them, that they would put so much heart and soul for such a small audience.

Something about live music has this transcendent effect on me that I forget about until I’m at a show.  The loudness of it, the revelry, the lights and colors and expressions of art happening right in front of you just hypnotizes me and sends me to a kind of sacred space in my head where the music drowns out the anxious chatter and the spotlights chase the darkness away.  It’s cathartic and wonderful and I kept thinking it’s too bad I don’t do this more often.  It’s too bad I let myself get in the way.

After the Arkells’ set was over, I headed for the bar and very bravely asked the stranger behind the counter for a whiskey and Coke.

As I sipped on the strong bite of the whiskey mixed with the sweetness of Coke, Concert Buddy and I talked about the playlist between sets and how all the 90s music was bringing up memories for her of concerts past.  All I could think of was how short my own list was, and how few the years I had actually been going to concerts at all.  If someone were to tell me 10 years ago that one day I would be bringing cookies to band from a stranger across the country that I’d never met, well, I wouldn’t have believed it.  Not to mention all the other Airborne-related stuff in between.

Dreamers took the stage, and the whiskey started to do its work.

The show could be summed in the response of the crowd.  Once Arkells had left the stage, the majority of the pit had cleared out, and it was obvious Arkells held the greater fanbase.

But midway through Dreamers’ set, everyone was back in the pit, proving it was truly “Never Too Late To Dance.”

Their set was tight and fun and full of energy, and totally blew away any preconceived ideas I had about the 3-person band.  Nick was a confident and talented frontman, his voice clear and compelling.  Nelson was tearing it up on bass and background vocals, and Jacob was killing it on drums.  Their songs were just plain fun, and I found myself dancing and singing along, though I barely knew any words.  Their 11-song set was over in a flash, and I was both impressed and humbled.

So Susan was right.  There is life after Airborne, and there is magic at a Dreamers show.  I witnessed it firsthand, and it was an exciting thing to be part of.

Barely remembering I had an assignment, I approached the stage as the crew was taking everything apart.  When a crew member bent down to retrieve a setlist, I reached for it and he handed it to me with a smile.

Now I was buzzing from the excitement and energy of the music, and so was the rest of the crowd.  Concert Buddy and I made our way to the back of the building where a throng had gathered around the band merch tables.  I bought a Dreamers tee and the band suddenly appeared in the throng.  I high-fived Nick and Nelson and told them I genuinely enjoyed the show.  We talked about how I knew Susan, and my nervousness melted away to the point I almost forgot they were in the band I just saw, and I asked if they would sign my setlist.  They happily obliged.

While they were taking selfies and signing autographs, another random fan approached me and said “I like your shirt.  I love The Airborne Toxic Event.”

“Oh, yeah?  Me, too!  They are great!  Have you seen them before?”

“Yes!  But just once.  It was an amazing show, though.  It was like, life-changing.”

“I definitely know what you mean.”

We talked Airborne for the next few minutes, and in the back of my mind I was laughing, thinking how funny and how true it is that Airborne is this instant bond between two strangers, whether they just met, or had known each other years ago but lost touch and were now reconnected, or are Facebook friends that live on the other side of the country or even the continent.  It’s funny and strange and yet familiar, and as it turns out, it was exactly what I needed in more ways than I could ever express in words.

I got a quick photo with the band and we said our goodbyes.  I even talked to and took photos with Arkells, genuinely adding that I thoroughly enjoyed their show.  Looking back now, I suppose I could have said more, or tried to be the most confident girl in the room, or invited them out for drinks somewhere.  I could have tried to take something away from that night as proof that I was special, and that they were truly glad I was there.  But I didn’t.  I guess it didn’t seem to fit, and it wasn’t what I wanted, and it wasn’t me.  The me that is now just wants to support the bands I love and tell them how much I appreciate what they do, and give back in some way, whether it’s dedicating my blog post to them or nearly being thrown out bringing cookies to their show.  I’m just a fan, and that’s okay, because being a fan can be so much fun sometimes, I forget about everything else and all the things that bring me down and make me never want to leave my house.  Being a fan is the bomb in the cookies, and it has blown up my world and made me tear down the walls and open doors I never thought existed.  Being a fan has been an adventure for me, and I am forever grateful.

In the bathroom before we left the venue to head home, another random girl approached me as I was washing my hands at the sink.  “I really like your shirt.  I have that exact shirt at home.  I love The Airborne Toxic Event.”

“They are awesome,” I said.  “And their fans are pretty awesome, too.”

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This post is dedicated with love and admiration for such amazingly talented people such as DREAMERS, Arkells, Karma Killers, their managers and crew, and of course, Plotkin, who saved the day.

And as always, The Airborne Toxic Event.

With much love and thanks to Concert Buddy, and Susan for the infamous cookies.

 

 

 

Waves and Radiation

I’ve been waiting days to talk to my hubby about gravitational waves.  This past Sunday I woke him up jabbering about it, trying to understand it, hoping that if I repeated what I’d heard and read on NPR, it would make sense in my elementary-school-level-science brain.  I don’t pretend to have a scientific mind at all, but the idea of gravitational waves had me fascinated at 8:00am on a Sunday.  My husband mumbled something about wanting to go back to sleep and asked if we could please talk about it later when he’s fully awake.

That was days ago.

Time for scientific discussions is hard to find for two working adults with a 2-year-old tornado of a toddler.  Our conversations are brief and mostly revolve around his care.  The rest are delegated toward our other responsibilities.  Having a conversation about something as huge and as trite as gravitational waves seems like a luxury reserved for a date night, to be savored slowly like a gourmet decadent chocolate dessert.

As it was, we finally discussed it in between bedtime and our latest Hulu binge-watch session of Parks and Rec, during the washing of the dishes.

Lest you think this post is an attempt on my part to spout some kind of science lesson on a blog that is mostly about wrestling with loss, allow me to set your mind at ease.

Because in the middle of our discussion, in which we played the parts of two excited children sharing what we think we possibly understood about Einstein’s theory, my brain went elsewhere to my own black hole that is tearing a cosmic gash in the fabric of my universe.

Days pass and I stay busy.  So very busy.  I’m trying to reach some new goals in between reading Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? and emphasizing the importance of learning shapes and colors to my dear sweet son.  I also have a job and friends and I don’t let myself think about grief and sadness because it slows me down at best, or stops me for days at worst.  It’s always there.  I just try not to get too close to it.  I stay on the outskirts, finding meaning and purpose and making sense of it from a safe distance.

Until something changes.  A hiccup, a trigger, or a series of choices all at once.  I find myself asking why.

Why am I here.  Doing this thing.

It could be anything.  Literally any stupid little thing, as insignificant as lingering outside for a moment to feel the breeze.  This time, it was something I had read about being a fan of a band.

I had written something similar myself a year and a half ago, but then I found myself reading someone else’s perspective, and I started thinking about it again in the background of my mind.  I even had a dream about it.  For days, I just thought about these gravitational waves and fangirling over a stupid band, and in my reality and my here-and-now, both seemed rather foolish from the perspective of a work-from-home mom who can’t even find 5 minutes to have a conversation with her husband that isn’t about Sesame Street.  Who gives a care about some band? I asked myself.

Oh, that’s right.  I do.  I did.  And it has become sort of a joke now, I guess, amongst my friends, in the way that when your friends know something about you, they use it to rib you.  And I usually just roll my eyes and roll with it, because I know I’ve set myself up.

But sometimes, in the harsh light of day, it’s a little embarrassing.  From a certain perspective, while harmless, it’s still foolishness.  And sometimes I think perhaps I’ve made myself into a spectacle, and I’m tempted to set the whole thing on fire and burn the fangirling to the ground.

Why am I here?

Why do any of us do anything?  We are made up of a million choices, the result of millions of decisions.  More if you want to go even further back.

But for me, everything about who I am now is orbiting around a single event in my universe, the waves of which I still feel and affect everything I do.

And as the spiral grows tighter, and my subconscious draws closer to the reason for my reasons, there at the heart of this orbit, pulling everything into a giant vacuum, is a quiet dark room with three people in it, and two of them are dying.  One of them is already dead.

It was almost 5 years ago, but it’s happening now.  It’s always there.  I just try not to get too close to it.  I stay on the outskirts, finding meaning and purpose and making sense of it from a safe distance.  Black holes spell death for celestial bodies.  At any moment, I risk getting pulled into oblivion.

But I choose not to let it define me, and by doing so I have relieved some of its power.  A universe expanding, I am constantly creating and building in all directions – even if some of them seem foolish.  It’s a blip on the radar, a moment in time, a band or a breeze.  It’s why I am here, but it’s not who I am.

I hope one day soon I will finally be at peace with all of this.  For now, I just try to avoid feeling alone at all costs.  I know I am not – I know there are some out there who are living with their own black hole, some of whom may even be reading these words – but truthfully, more often than not, the feeling of being alone pursues and haunts me, and it’s terrifying.

For now, I just try to take a moment to reflect on things like gravitational waves.  Sometimes they are long and loud and sometimes they are ripples, but still felt, and if you look closely, you can see them in eyes, across faces, between the lines and beneath the surface, as we delicately balance destruction with expanding hope at the speed of light.

 

 

Lights and Strength

The darkest stretches of this journey have been punctuated by bright beacons of light.  They offer a warmly comforting glow.  Sometimes they illuminate a place where I can rest my heart, such as the listening ear of a compassionate friend.  Sometimes they are as blinding as the stage lights at a concert, a sacred space where music heals and lightens the burdens I carry.  But eventually, time marches on and they start to dim until they are nothing but the smoky remnants of an extinguished flame.  Then it’s time for me to march on, too.

It’s good to reflect on how far we’ve come.  Where our journey has taken us.  Having made it this far is proof we can make it through another day, another week, another month, another year.

Last night I sat down with some friends to talk about how I’m doing.  And as I openly shared my honest truth – that I’m surviving fabulously and even happy, but always struggling – I realized how strong I really am.  The word “strong” gets thrown around a lot, and its meaning is fluid.  For people (like me) who feel like they’re constantly scraping the bottom of their barrel, “strong” is never a word we would use to describe ourselves.  Truly, by tomorrow I might not feel strong at all.

But when I look back at the mountains I’ve climbed, and the person I used to be, I see nothing but strength.

As I proudly showed pictures of Wesley, and told them my son’s short life and how beautiful he was, the old me still inside beneath layers of change was shocked into silence.  This is the way it goes any time I decide to have courage and be bold, which, in the last few years, has been happening more often with less clumsiness, and more confidence.  It feels good to be at peace with myself, with who I am and what has happened to me.  For me, I have found that peace is synonymous with healing.  It doesn’t mean I hurt less.  If anything, it means I have learned to lean in to the hurt, to feel the pain and still have inner peace at the center of my core being.

There, in the center of my heart of hearts, is where I carry my own light.  And the same grief that tore me to pieces has somehow stitched me up with a gold and glistening thread of divine quality, a material that is nearly unbreakable in a physical way and indestructible in a spiritual one.

This is what it means to be strong, and this is what I find when I look in the mirror of grief and loss.  This shiny material is stitched through my whole being, and made me capable of doing things I thought I couldn’t do.

Never is this most clearly manifested in my sudden and surprising desire and ability to help others dealing with loss, specifically infant loss.  Once unable to even discuss my own feelings, now I help others process their own.  And as I’ve been able to do this, I find myself wanting to go beyond the people that I know personally and lead a group in some way, the details of which I am still exploring.  Regardless, this strength to help others is what drives me to offer help in any way I can, to anyone who needs it, and I am excited to explore this new facet of Who I’ve Become.

Instead of dreading another year without Wesley, I’m stretching forward to the coming days and months where I can use the lessons his absence has taught me to be a source of encouragement and strength to others, to be a good friend and a great mom and a pillar of faith in my community.  That’s not to say I won’t fail, but I hope the time between falling down and getting back up is less, and that the fall is softened by being kinder to myself with a more accurate assessment of my worth.

That’s the beauty of the journey, that we can look back and see how far we’ve come and see our worth stretched over miles and miles of darkness, an immeasurable brilliance that burns long after the lights go out.

So as I carve another notch for another year on this road, I tell myself I’m one year stronger, one year wiser, one year closer to the finish line.  If you told me at the beginning I would have come this far, I wouldn’t have believed you.  I wouldn’t have been able to comprehend the part of the journey that is my reality now.  But that’s not really the point.  Sometimes the destination we have in our mind is blurry, unfocused, unrealized.  But we keep moving anyway.  We may struggle to cover a few inches on some days, while other days we can run miles, but any distance is good enough.  Any distance is evidence of the strength we already have.  The strength is in the struggle.

While I don’t really have any concrete goals for 2016 (other than The Same Goal I’ve Had Forever, aka ‘finish your book’), my plans for this year are more abstract and forgiving and less to do with me at all.  Help others.  Listen more.  Show hospitality.  Practice gratitude.  Be empathetic.  Show compassion.  Be courageous on behalf of someone else.

After all, no one will remember whether or not I lost X amount of pounds, or climbed Mt. Everest, or finally learned how to fold a fitted a sheet.

But people will always remember how you treat them.  Long after you are gone, your light still shines within them.

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Dude, This Is Awesome

Sea turtles are very popular at my house right now.  They are quickly taking over my 21-month-old’s world, and by extension, my world too.  When we go to the park, we have to look for turtles.  When we go to the aquarium, it’s the turtles he wants to see, not fish.  And now that I’ve shown him parts of Finding Nemo, he constantly asks for “Turtles” at home.  In fact, I’m pretty sure he thinks the movie is called Finding Turtles and that they are in fact the main characters.  He doesn’t really give a care about poor kidnapped Nemo.

He has even started saying “Duuuuuude.”

I was never really into the movie to begin with, and now that I’ve faced infant loss and PTSD I really don’t like the movie at all (the dad’s character, Marlin, hits way too close to home), but my son loves his turtles, and they have an integral part in the film – one might even say the best part.  I know my kid would agree.

In the scene where Marlin wakes up and finds himself riding the back of Crush the sea turtle, he asks for help finding the “East Australian Current” so that he can get to Sydney, and Crush tells him they’re already on it.

The camera pans up as Marlin beholds a flock (?) of Sea Turtles swimming behind him, and you’d think my son has just witnessed a computer-animated miracle.

He holds his breath and screams “TURTLES!” over and over, flailing his little arms.  Sometimes he jumps up and down.  He experiences so much joy from those turtles, he can’t help himself.  He just loves them that much.

No matter how many times he has watched that scene, his level of exuberance is the same.

He also looks back at me (or my husband), as if he’s gauging our response, and waits for us to cry something like “Yeah, turtles!” or “Wow, look at all those turtles!”  Which we always do, no matter how sick we are of watching the same scene over and over and over and over.

He smiles at us, and then goes back to reveling in his joy.

I guess this is the part in Parenthood where your kid starts reminding you of yourself.

Because we are not so different, he and I.  I get just as excited about stuff that I like (a certain Toxic Event comes to mind) and if you were to witness me enjoying a particular thing (say, a show), I probably wouldn’t look that much different than my kid watching Finding Nemo for the millionth time.

I guess I’ve always been that way, even since childhood.  I’m a passionate person, and when I love something, I really, really love it.  I want to talk about it.  I want to tell you about it.  And I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t gauging your response as a kind of way to validate my own feelings about it.

Because experiencing joy is great, but experiencing joy with someone else is even better.  Especially if you like the same thing.  That’s why there are fan clubs and Comic-Cons.  We all have something we completely “nerd out” about.  Being a nerd is just loving something to the umpteenth degree.

The problem is, of course, there are always haters.  There are always people who like to rain on someone else’s parade.  And no matter how much we tell ourselves “the haters gonna hate, hate, hate, hate, hate,” sometimes it’s hard to shake it off and go on experiencing our joy.

No one should tell you to tone down your joy.  You have every right to be as happy as you can be, whether you are broadcasting your happy relationship on Facebook, sharing a hundred baby pictures on Instagram, going to your twentieth Airborne show, or watching those darn turtles in Finding Nemo.

There is enough sadness and tragedy to go around.  There is not nearly enough joy.

And while I am a fan of many things – bands, music, animals, babies, faith – after living through days of not feeling anything except lonely and being numb – I am a huge fan of experiencing joy and having something to be joyful about.

Even if it’s turtles.

 

Capture Your Grief – Day 5. Empathy

Empathy has been defined as “your pain in my heart.”

True empathy can be found in that dark, scary place that all of us are afraid to go.  You know the place I’m talking about – the saddest, loneliest, scariest place in your mind, full of unpleasantries of every sort.  Embarrassment, fear, shame, hopelessness.  No matter our story, we’ve all been there, and we all hate it.  It truly feels like a god-forsaken wasteland of despair.

Yet, when someone bravely dares to sit with us in our own darkness, they are bravely sitting in their own dark and scary place at the same time, and that is empathy – courageously feeling the worst emotions in behalf of someone else.

For bereaved parents, finding true empathy is scarce outside of other bereaved parents.  Someone who has never lost a child simply does not have the capacity to understand.  In other words, it doesn’t get darker than this.

However, I am blessed to have friends who try to show empathy, and sometimes that’s enough.

1. They listen more than they talk.  90% of the time we just need someone to listen (or read) and just be there for us.

2. They don’t try to fix it.  It takes humility to realize they can’t “fix” us.  Some people want to be the ones to make us “feel better” by saying just the right combo of flowery words.  But there is nothing they can say to make us “feel better” about our child being dead.  Absolutely nothing.

3. They don’t use words like “At Least.”  Because there is no “at least” in child loss.  (See video below.)

4. They do say things like “I’m so sorry” or “I’m here for you” or “I love you” (and mean it).  These things are ALWAYS good to say to someone who is going through something awful.  You needn’t be afraid of saying the wrong thing if you stick to these words.  Just make sure you follow it up by being a good friend (see #1).

5. They let us be our broken selves without fear of judgment.  I can’t tell you how grateful I am for friends who have listened through my angry tears and have seen my ugly cry and have heard me say horrible things and acted out in unconventional ways to feel my pain.  They know we (as bereaved parents) are unfixable and unfathomably hurt.  But they see through it all and love us anyway, because ultimately I think they sense our courageousness to simply go on living after the Unthinkable has happened.

Finally, I think the following video best illustrates what empathy truly is, and what it’s not.

May we all practice empathy, and may the pain in our hearts turn to healing.

Capture Your Grief – Day 1. Sunrise

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I remember when the sun rose on the day my son died.  The way the light cracked through the windows in jagged pieces as I covered my eyes and buried them in my hands.  That old saying – something about the sun rising and setting in spite of whatever – echoing in the graveyard that was my mind, and I thought I would scream.  How dare the sun rise as my son dies, as part of me dies too.

It was dawn for the other part of me, the one that survived, the side of me that is still here and the resilient spark of a phoenix that rose from the ashes of this dismal wasteland of grief.  From this resiliency is where I speak now, standing on the other side of cripplingly utter despair, and watch the sun come up again.  And then I think, well isn’t that funny.  The sun and I are not so different.  We go on rising and setting.  But we still get up again.  Day after day, in spite of whatever, even when our brilliance is hidden by clouds.  We go on.

The day the sun rose when my son died, I wanted to die too.  But then I survived another day.  And another.  And another.  Until one day I realized I was not just surviving, but living, and not in darkness, but in light.  And now with time and distance between me and that day, I have strung a hundred days where I am grateful the sun continued to rise, and I did too.

We can do this, one sunrise at a time.

Capture Your Grief 2015

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Since October is Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month, I have decided to take part in this project.  While I do not plan to post something for each day of the month-long project, I do think having a share would be of some benefit, both to myself and perhaps anyone who stumbles upon this blog.

As the months and years pass, the pain ebbs and flows, the seasons of grief come and pass, but there is something that never changes for me: a desperate need to feel connected.  When I’m happy and experiencing joy, I want to share it.  When I’m in the depths of despair, I don’t want to be alone.  Pregnancy and infant loss can be isolating.  I suffered in silence for a long time, and there are times even now when I’m afraid to tell someone I need to talk and ask for help for fear of being perceived as a downer and a black cloud, or as if I’m too consumed by grief to express gratitude for the joy I do have.

The truth is I live a full, joyful life with my husband and young son, and not a day goes by when I don’t meditate on all the reasons I have for joy.  But the darkness always comes.  The weather can change on a dime, from sunny and wonderful to downpours of rain and tears.  So many times I feel split in two, as if one half of me is living in a colorful world with my rainbow baby, and the other is trapped in the cold, dark, and lonely world of infant loss.

The only way to process and heal myself is to connect these two different worlds and keep a steady balance so the darkness never consumes the light, but lets the light shine through the darkness.  So many of those lights come from connection.

Grief is a journey.  Thank you for taking a moment to walk alongside me.  It is my hope that you can see that despite the ugliness and raw pain, there is beauty in broken things.