Don’t call us, we’ll call you

April 30, 2015

2014 “Holiday Letter”

Clearly, the “holiday letter” thing wasn’t happening this year, but true to form, when the flu kept me up until all hours of the night in January, I jotted down some highlights of the year. I held off sharing it, naively thinking we could take a couple of quick family snapshots to go with it. The fact that it took 4 months to get said pictures is a testament to the photo aversion in our family. But without further ado . . .

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If 2012 was a quiet year, and 2013 was quite eventful, then 2014 seemed to be somewhere in between. In March, life in our small town got a little busier when I took a second job working in the community. I am a part-time case manager, connecting low-income individuals and families with needed resources to increase stability (I’ve written about a couple of my meaningful moments here and here). I love my coworkers there, so the side benefit has been getting most of my social needs met as well!

During the summer, I traveled (!): a work trip to Idaho, a family reunion in Utah for all of us, and a three-years-in-the-making family reunion in . . . wait for it . . . Hawaii! We couldn’t save enough for Neal and Addison to join me, but I fell so hard for Hawaii that I’m determined to go back with them someday! To round out the summer, I took Addison on a little mommy-daughter trip to San Francisco. If we were in any doubt that she’s still struggling with small town living, this trip kinda settled it. She was inconsolable when it was time to leave, wailing “But I LOVE San ‘Cisco! Please don’t take me away. I think I was supposed to be born to Mark and Sarah!” (my awesome life-long friend who graciously hosted us). So, apparently Addison would choose the big city over me and Neal. Duly noted.

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The fall brought some fun things like Addison’s new preschool and her first taste of soccer, but on the whole it was rough.

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I had to say goodbye to my dear friend Kaila very suddenly, followed closely by my Grandma receiving a terminal diagnosis of pancreatic cancer. I’m grateful that I was able to spend some time with my Grandma before she passed (at the end of January), but my heart has definitely been heavy for awhile. Neal was pretty amazing through the whole ordeal, supporting me so I could stay on top of my work and making sure Addison sailed through my emotional roller-coaster.

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Thankfully, December ended on a happier note when I received a promotion at my online teaching job (moving into a more managerial position in addition to my teaching) and the purchase of our house finally went through! We spent our first Christmas just the three of us in our own home, and it was beyond wonderful to just relax and stoke a fire all day.

Our big task of 2015 is to finally become foster/adoptive parents, something we’ve been slowly working on for the past couple of years. We spent a lot of last year priming and preparing Addison for what lies ahead. She was a bit confused at first, often asking us, “So . . . when will I become a foster child?” We think she gets it now, however, as she’s taken to coming in for a hug with “I love you, guys. You’ll always be my biological parents.” Our undying extrovert can’t wait to get some foster siblings, as evidenced by her rushing into the agency director’s office at our first meeting and demanding, “When will my foster kids come?!”

We’ve got a ways to go before then, especially in the home improvement department. It’s going to be no small feat to get our 962 square feet ready for a family of 5. When the foster home inspector first visited, he asked, quite nonchalantly, “So, are you planning on keeping all these boxes around?” More storage needed; duly noted. Neal, always a creator at heart, got to work on space-saving ideas, beginning with this fantastic children’s book display:

Book display

Have I mentioned you should vote for his entry (you can vote more than once) in this Ryobi Power Tools contest? (Oh, I have? ;) ) Pop over before April 30 at midnight (EST) to help make his custom-furniture-building dreams come true!

I’m pretty sure 2015 is going to be a wild ride (but a calm one, Neal, a calm one)! We’ll probably continue to blog about it sporadically here and at Raised by my daughter. With any luck, we’ll add two more personalities to this family before the next “holiday letter”!

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 T-shirts courtesy of our crafty sister-in-law Marisha

April 5, 2015

A moment

Filed under: Family, Motherhood, Personal, Social Services — Tags: , , , , — llcall @ 12:48 am

“Just write about a moment,” Neal simply said in response to my writer’s-block whining. “Just a moment, not an idea or concept. Don’t get abstract.”

“Like what moment?” I said, still frustrated after several days of writing starts and restarts.

“Like driving to your home visits. What’s that like? What music do you listen to? Or a recent conversation with Addison. Or write about our old phone.”

Ah yes, an ode to our old, nearly dead phone; that seemed important. After all, moving on from a phone that’s been a workhorse for you — it even got run over by a car in 2011 and kept right on going! — for the last 8 years is no small thing. But as I labored away on Tuesday night, trying to write about our old phone, my writing slowly veered toward our new smartphone and this profound identity shift I’m experiencing as a result. I am a person without a smartphone. That’s who I am. And now for the sake of frugality, I own a smartphone. Two of my deeply held values, not having a smartphone and being frugal, clash in an ultimate battle for my soul.

“Just focus on a moment,” Neal reiterated when I was again stumped and annoyed on Wednesday night. “If writing about the phone isn’t working, try the drive to your home visits.”

That sounded like an important window into my life right now. I could talk about the beautiful scenery I’ve discovered, things my homebody self would never have seen if not for this job. I could talk about why I always seem to pop in the Jeff Buckley CD when I head west deeper into the mountains and Tori Amos when I head east toward the freeway. It would be simple, a description of driving winding mountain roads and trying to make it up washed-out dirt trails in my little Honda Fit.

But really, writing about driving? To what end? The driving only matters because of the destination. The people I’m going to see, the food I’m going to bring to kids who sometimes greet me like they forgot what food looked like, the little ones I’m trying to help through so many life forces beyond their control.

“No, just focus on the moment of driving,” Neal prompts me again. “What do you see on the roads? What does it feel like to navigate those curves? What do you hear?”

“I can’t write about that! I don’t know what to say. I don’t know what it feels like!”

Even though I growled at Neal, hoping to blame him for being ridiculous, I was starting to see the problem. There were moments — there are always moments — but I haven’t been feeling them. I’m too tired from 50-hour work weeks; too busy juggling multiple church responsibilities, the foster parenting application, and needed home improvements; too burned out from helplessly watching children suffer. I could barely think of a recent interesting conversation with Addison. Nothing was vivid.

I thought about throwing in the towel, turning my attention back to 90 assignments still-to-grade and instructor assessments due by Saturday, but if I don’t stop now to try and capture a moment, when will I? Moments started to race through my mind:

  • The 11-year-old who lifted up his shirt and said, “Look! See how skinny I’ve gotten since we don’t have enough food!”
  • The 8-year-old who told me, “I know my mom loves me because I’ve only been taken away one time,” after which he was taken away again when his abusive stepfather came back home.
  • The time I was on a conference call and all of a sudden there was a squealing pig running around outside our office window.
  • The time I was in a home conducting an assessment on the financial stability of a family and a young goat wandered up and started eating my paperwork.
  • The morning last week when they dropped me off for work and Addison said, “Mom, can you do me a favor today? At lunch, can you ask your boss if it’s okay if Dad comes and does your job for awhile so you can stay home with me?”

I thought I had finally decided on a moment and was about to really get somewhere when I heard little feet in the hall. Soon Addison cuddled up in bed next to me, demanding “MORE pillow” and begging for a “toy video.” Oh, these toy videos! I applaud a successful female entrepreneur, but how can opening boxes of Disney princess toys and mixing and matching accessories be so mesmerizing to children?

I really wanted to shoo her away, or at the least send her off with a device, but since the moments haven’t been vivid enough lately, I decided for once to just snuggle up and watch with her. The 15-minute video was probably going to feel like 17 hours, but I was gonna watch it, dang it, and be in the moment!

I got to about 1 minute, 34 seconds before I couldn’t help myself: “You know, I don’t really enjoy these toy videos. I don’t find dressing toys or people very fun.”

“I know, Mom, but I do!”

“What do you think I do for fun?”

“Work,” she replied without a pause.

“Is that all you think I do for fun?”

“Well, sometimes you watch videos that aren’t toy videos . . . but shhh, I’m trying to watch her put this green dress on Belle.”

Me again, at 3 minutes, 47 seconds: “Don’t you think that’s too many purses?! Do you think people should have that many purses?”

“No, that is too many purses,” she conceded. “But it’s still fun!”

I’m looking at her now, instead of the video. Who IS this little person? Once she was my appendage, but now . . . she craves toy videos, dresses, rings, and make-up. She tells me, “It’s hard having a mom who loves brown,” and proposes a new plan wherein we paint pink stripes all around the house. “We can alternate: pink, brown, pink, brown. Wouldn’t that be a good idea?!” I know her and yet she’s completely foreign.

We’re still only at 8 minutes, 20 seconds and “Disney Collector” is gushing about the new dress she’s making out of Play-Doh for Princess Aurora. Will I survive 15 minutes of this? I wonder. “Disney Collector” says the pink purse will look perfect with that dress, and Addison matter-of-factly says, “There is no perfect.”

“What?”

“There is no perfect,” she repeats.

“Why do you say that?”

“Well, the lady said it was perfect, but there is no perfect because we’re always gonna make mistakes cause that’s how we learn.”

Well, maybe this little person isn’t completely foreign. And maybe there is a little perfect, every once in awhile. For a moment.

February 3, 2015

THE house

Filed under: Family, Personal — Tags: , , , — llcall @ 12:00 am

Back in July 2013, when we were first working on our move to the National Forest, I wrote about some of the first things I was smitten with when we checked out this house. From the first moment I stepped out of the car, I loved the strong piney smell, the little hill in back (for sledding, I thought — but alas, extreme drought), the garage that could be a painting studio, and the proximity to the park and library. What I didn’t mention at the time was one of the things that made me feel most at home:

tinfoil window

That’s our neighbor’s window, one of the first things we see when we walk out our front door. And it has foil covering it. Be still, my beating heart.

Perhaps I should explain, for those who have never lived with me. I like darkness, especially when I’m sleeping but also when I’m awake. So as often as possible, I made it a habit to cover my windows in tinfoil. While roommates tolerated it, my parents weren’t too thrilled with the idea of me covering up their front-facing windows for all the neighborhood to see. Probably after a brief rant about being a slave to others’ expectations, I resigned myself to the bits of sunshine and street lights coming in at all hours.

But my heart truly swelled when I saw our new neighbor’s window. Here was the place for me. Tinfoil on the windows, abandoned toys in the front yard, random traffic cones in the driveway — and no apologies necessary. I’ve always had modest tastes and prefer functionality over appearance; two (of several) reasons “the O.C.” was far from a natural fit for me.

After living here for a year and a half, and officially becoming the owners in December, I have found so many more things to love. In no particular order:

  • No lawns! Ain’t nobody got time for lawn-mowing!
  • No trash collection. Neal and I always sucked at remembering to take our trash out in time, so being able to take it to the dump at our convenience is a relief.
  • Three steps up to the front door, and none in the house. My parents’ house has other virtues, but three separate staircases in a split-level is not one of them. Stairs are not my friend, so one story was a must on my list.
  • Only 964 square feet means when I call out for help, I can be heard anywhere in the house. Not to mention the bathroom is so small, it can be cleaned in a jiff, provided we can motivate ourselves to get started.
  • Between living on the “shady side” of town, so-named because the sun sets behind our mountain early in the day, and having several large pines shading our house and property, we don’t even need tinfoil on the windows.

This truly is the house for me.

February 2, 2015

Privilege

I wrote this back in July 2014 and I’m not sure why I never posted it. So, here.

“Would Lindsay be able to help me with this?”

I recognized the voice immediately, even though he was an exceptionally soft-spoken man. Or perhaps it was because of his gentle tone, not in spite of it. There’s no shortage of booming voices in this mountain town and we hear a lot of them at the Resource Center. My heart swelled just a bit that Greg was back and asking for me. Although he wasn’t one of my usual clients, I had spent several hours with him over the last month: finding job postings, applying for insurance, and seeking prescription assistance after his employer unceremoniously dropped his health insurance.

It was the latter appointment that was most memorable. As I began filling out the paperwork with the contact information I was beginning to know well, I asked what specific prescriptions he needed help with. He slowly pulled out a packet of carefully folded prescription receipts, drug usage information, and two business cards for his doctor and therapist. He placed each one on my desk, smoothing them out one-by-one. When he was finished, he held up his hands in a gesture to calm me and said, “Now, don’t jump out of your chair or anything, but they say I have . . . I think it’s called paranoid schizophrenia. The medicine is for that.” After a pause, he added, “But I’m not going to hurt you.”

There was no fear in me, just a sudden ache. Can you imagine feeling that you had to make that disclaimer every time you sat down in someone’s office? Several responses crossed my mind in that moment, and I almost blurted out, I’ve been locked down in a jail before – you got nothing on that! But I finally leaned toward him and said, “I’m so glad you came. I think we can help. And I’m so glad you’re seeing a counselor to help you through this. Keep going.”

Over the next hour, I filled out the paperwork, made calls to several pharmacies, and verified the needed prescriptions and costs. I sent him home with a promise that I would personally check on the progress of his prescriptions, even though my job generally ends at the paperwork. There was something about the anxiety in his request that made me want to give him some extra assurance.

It had been several weeks since that visit and I hadn’t seen Greg. I wondered how he was: if his prescriptions were holding up while he waited for new insurance; if he had found a job that he could actually afford the gas to get to; if he would feel comfortable seeing me again after having to lay bare so much of his medical history the last time. “Would Lindsay be able to help me with this?” was just exactly what I wanted to hear. It meant that he believed me. He believed that I was glad he came. He believed that I would help him.

Back in January when I was stressing that my teaching hours would be reduced, I had no idea that another opportunity was waiting just around the corner. But not just any opportunity; this is an opportunity 17 years in the making. See, when I was 17 years old I received my patriarchal blessing, a blessing of guidance and direction that all Mormons can receive. Over the years, one line in particular has followed me: “You will have the privilege of working among the people in the communities in which you reside.” It would be difficult to quickly encapsulate how this statement has influenced my life. When I was young and naïve, I thought the community I would work in would probably just be THE WORLD. Or maybe that would be too broad, maybe just the whole United States. I wanted to move to Washington, D.C. as soon as possible so I could start working on changes in the “community.” Apparently my teenage brain read that line as “You will change the world! No big deal.”

Even when I decided to narrow my vision and worked with some legitimately community-based organizations (book donations for struggling schools, domestic violence shelter, teen mentoring), it never felt quite like the realization of that promise. Until now. I’m not exaggerating when I say that nearly every single day of work at the Resource Center, I feel an overwhelming sense that this is precisely the fulfillment of that long-ago promise. This is the community. This is the work. This is the privilege. I have people like Greg to thank for that.

February 1, 2015

December: Read

Filed under: Books, Personal — Tags: , , , , — llcall @ 2:51 pm

Even though most of the year went quite awry compared to my plans (I only managed to Organize, Cook, and Travel on schedule), I was determined to stick with the program in December. Mostly because curling up with a book is just the best.

Of course, if there’s no spreadsheet involved, it’s like it didn’t happen so:

2014 Books

The last four or five were in December, so I’m calling that a success (although I read most of The Secret History in November and In the Dark Streets Shineth is really brief, so don’t be too impressed).

While we’re on the subject, I want to show you my favorite thing about my Books spreadsheet:

Books 1998

 

Since I’ve been using the same one since 1998, when I open it, that image is what greets me. It may not seem all that interesting, but for me, it serves as a very important reminder. I can read books again! I’m so lucky! 1998 was one of the sickest years of my life and even though I had a lot of free time that year, in general, I had neither the mental focus to read nor the arm strength to hold a book. Instead, there was a lot of Jim Rome radio show and televised baseball games. No offense, but I’ll take reading any day. I think me and December and reading have a long-standing engagement.

So, have you read any of the books I read in 2014? Which did you like best? What’s on your 2015 reading list this year?

(Also, can you sense the sickness/insomnia here? Two posts in one middle of the night.)

August – September: Nest

Since I knew back in March that things weren’t going to go according to the plan, I was pretty open to any emergent theme by the time August rolled around. Neal was, of course, lobbying for more organizing/decluttering. But it didn’t seem to quite fit all the things we had in mind, things like trying to buy our house, going forward with our foster/adopt plans, and of course, organizing.  And then it came to me:

Nestverb. To build or occupy a nest: settle in or as if in a nest. To fit compactly together or within one another.

The genius of Nest was that it described both the actions I would take and the overall purpose of what we were trying to do: to build our home and family, so that it fit, and we could settle in happily. As the month went on, I realized I could just as easily accomplish it when I was cleaning the house or making needed home-buying phone calls as I could when I was holding a sick Addison in the recliner. (She even held my hand for about 17 seconds — so thrilling!) It was all nesting.

To that end, these are some of the things I did in August and September — before the grieving paralysis struck:

  • Attended the county foster orientation (to say it was not the best experience would be a huge understatement)
  • Got a referral for another foster family agency, attended their support group meeting, and decided to go with them
  • Read several books on transracial adoption and other adoption topics (while serving on jury duty for a murder trial, which of course, I was not selected for since no prosecutor ever would select me with my history and bleeding heart)
  • Cooked and froze a new batch of food for my work lunches
  • Agreed on a purchase price with our landlord
  • Researched the heck out of how to buy a house without the help of anyone with real estate knowledge (this was our landlord’s strong preference)
  • Started our mortgage application
  • Cleaned, organized, decluttered far less than Neal was hoping!
  • Took Addison for a mommy-daughter San Francisco getaway instead

Nest. It was such a peaceful theme. I’ll have to come back around to that one sometime.

January 17, 2015

October – November: Grieve

Filed under: Personal — Tags: , , , , , — llcall @ 1:59 pm

I’m temporarily skipping over August and September in my chronicle of my 2014 monthly themes. (If you’re keeping track at home — which is probably exactly no one since I barely am — here is January, February, March, April-May, and June-July).

You could probably guess from my posts here that my October and November monthly themes were utterly hijacked by this emergent one. I grieved and I studied my grief. Earlier this week, a former student shared this article on Facebook and it reminded me of so many of the things I’ve learned about grief. These are a few:

Tell people what’s going on with you. At worst, they’ll speak platitudes and tell you that your kid needs you to be happy and you’ll nod. At best, they’ll share their pain and some part of it will be just exactly how you feel right then.

Don’t equate letting go of the person’s “things” with letting go of the person. Do take a picture of said threadbare things and cry a little before turning them over to Neal for decluttering.

Take that final trip; make the extra visit. It will cost less than regret.

Go to the same sushi place that you used to go to; order the same eel roll, even though it was her favorite, because you always liked it too. (Just don’t wear mascara when you go to said sushi place.)

When you see family and friends, bring it up. Don’t let it be the elephant in the room, even though some mistaken impulse makes you think that’s a safer path for them and you.

Do contemplate the “stages of grief,” but don’t mistake them for actual “stages” that proceed in a linear fashion. While you’re at it, don’t assume anything in life proceeds in a linear fashion.

Even if you meant to do it months ago, do send a card or letter or pictures to the family. Maybe it will be just the right time, when they feel the outside world has stopped grieving with them.

Excise the word “closure.” It slips into the mind and out of the mouth sometimes, but it’s an illusion, and a bad one at that: “people understood that they didn’t really want to achieve closure after all. To do so would be to lose a piece of a sacred bond.” (from Patrick O’Malley’s “Getting Grief Right“)

Write in the middle of the night, as needed.

November 23, 2014

Pictures for the Weekend: Family pics 2013

Filed under: Family, Personal, Pictures for the Weekend — llcall @ 9:09 am

 

 

You guys know I’m all about the lofty goals. I like to git ‘er done. For the last six months I’ve been aiming high with this one: share family photos taken last Thanksgiving before this Thanksgiving passes.

Four days to spare. Boom.

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Thanks for the fantastic photos, Cat Palmer!

 

November 21, 2014

Evaluating my load

On a regular basis, my friend Steph’s blog posts make me reflect on my deepest values and whether I’m living in alignment with them. The one I read today on the loads we carry was no exception.

She shares the story and metaphor that Elder Bednar spoke about in his talk Bear Up Their Burdens with Ease in last April’s LDS General Conference. He talks of a friend whose truck veered off the road and got stuck in the snow. Ultimately, the only way he was able to get back on the road was by filling his truck with firewood.

“It was the load of wood that provided the traction necessary for him to get out of the snow, to get back on the road, and to move forward. It was the load that enabled him to return to his family and his home.”

Stephanie’s post quickly brought me to tears because I have been trying to jettison one particular part of my load over the last few weeks. Suddenly I felt guilty.

Am I not appreciating my opportunity to serve?

Am I thinking too much about my own busyness and obligations when the other people I serve with also have obligations?

If I’m able to pass off this particular responsibility, will I be robbing myself of some of the “spiritual traction” I need to keep progressing?

I wasn’t immediately sure of the answer to those questions. Hence, the momentary worried tears.

It’s hard to imagine that somehow stepping back from that one particular responsibility would seriously impede my progress when I have so many other things stretching me right now. At one job, I’ve spent several hours working with just one particular student, helping her think through ways to avoid divorcing, something she and her husband have been considering for the past year. At another, it’s been a roller coaster of emergency home visits, domestic violence, and children telling me they’re starving. (One of those incidents happened on my birthday; I didn’t feel particularly festive after this child lifted their shirt to show me how skinny they had gotten since my last visit.)

When I think about those situations, as well as my ever-present stretching as a mother (to Addison and if things go according to plan, two more kids next year) and a chronically ill person, I just can’t imagine that asking to be released from this one additional responsibility would be evidence of shirking opportunities for growth and service. But then again, I prefer ALL the foregoing activities and demands, even the heart-rending ones, to this one particular responsibility, which comes least naturally to me. Is that evidence that it’s the one that will produce the most “spiritual traction”? (If it doesn’t drain every last ounce of me first, of course . . . )

How do you evaluate your load? How do you know when eliminating something will increase your progress, and when it will hinder it? And most importantly, how  do you evaluate MY load? Ha!

October 30, 2014

A study of grief

I feel a little bashful writing about Kaila again. When I wrote about our last day in the sunshine, I thought it was just my own small remembrance in my little corner of the internet. I think of this space as a place where I’m talking to myself, current and future, and about 30 or 40 others who know me well. What I didn’t realize is that by putting in a link to one of her memorials, my post was being shared on that post. (The workings of the interwebz are still a mystery to me).

Within a couple of days, I had a few hundred hits coming from the memorial post. I felt a little embarrassed, exposed. I didn’t want it to seem, especially to her family, that somehow I thought her death was about me and my pain. But as a few people reached out to me because of that post, I realized that other people were aching to read about her, talk about her, hear anything related to her in the same way I was. My post meant something to them; feeling exposed is okay in pursuit of the greater good of connection and catharsis. Also, the fact that the most action my blog has seen in several years was because of her made me proud to have had a friend that was so beloved.

***

When you have a history of serious depression and are faced with a tragic event, your husband is pretty much willing to do anything you want and your mother is biting her fingernails waiting to see if this will push you over the edge. Your irrepressibly joyful 4-year-old, on the other hand, will wake you up each morning with, “Are you still sad about Kaila? Can you play with me today?” I’m not immune to that tugging at the heartstrings, but the answer for a couple weeks was, No, not today.

It may be strange, or even pretentious, to say that I am deeply affected by death, but it’s hard to articulate it any other way. (I am highly sensitive, after all.) I remember feeling the same way around the death of each important person in my life: life must stop completely. Anything less would be a betrayal of all they meant to me. So I kind of closed up shop for a couple of weeks. I worked some, but took days off, came late, left early. I let some things slide in my online classroom, thinking I would just have to settle for sub-par reviews this semester (though as it turns out my students and supervisor have been amazingly supportive). One night I even hid in a vacant classroom at church during an activity I was supposed to be responsible for; I just couldn’t face real life responsibilities.

Four things filled those suddenly cleared-out days: thinking, crying, reading Daring Greatly, and watching Psych. During those first couple of days, I was convinced that I should stop fostering such deep relationships. I have put a lot of effort into cultivating close family and friend relationships and sometime in the middle of the night on September 25th, I decided that that was a terrible way to live. I should stop that immediately! Because the pain. Oh dear God, I could never live through this pain again! Of course, I instinctively reached out to several friends, probably strengthening those relationships — very counterproductive when you’ve decided that the safest thing is to cut all ties with other humans.

I don’t believe it was coincidental that I was reading Daring Greatly for my online book club at precisely this time. Though not a perfect book, it was the perfect read to remind me to lean into the vulnerability inherent to human relationships. Even if I successfully cut ties with ALL THE PEOPLE, I would still think about them, probably frequently and beyond all reason. (I know this because for years Neal has been telling me I need to just forget about an old friend. He’s very subtle: “She doesn’t want anything to do with you! She’s cut off all contact with you!” Still, every November I think anew about sending her a birthday card.) The book also helped me recognize and face head on some shame I was experiencing related to “survivor guilt.”

We had only barely started watching episodes of Psych (I never caught it in its original run), but it will always have a special place in my heart now (although it might have earned that just from Dule Hill’s tap dancing alone). I would wake up, open up a browser to log into work, and promptly start crying, at which time Neal would call it a Psych day and turn on episode after episode. It was strangely effective in increasing my productivity. I’m still trying to understand how my brain works — Neal has some theories — but I think it is almost always in at least two places at once. If one of those places was Kaila’s death, I was darn near paralyzed. But if one of those places was Shawn and Gus, I could manage to accomplish some of my work tasks.

***

Life went on like this, doing the bare minimum for survival and job maintenance, until two things happened: a beautiful dream and Kaila’s funeral. It wasn’t what you might call traditionally “beautiful;” there was all the strange randomness inherent to dreams: several layers of leotards that Kaila wanted me to try on (she gave me many clothes over the years, so that’s not as weird as it sounds), a microscope and spare set of glasses that she begged me to store for her in my sock drawer until she got back. As in real life, there was SO MUCH laughing as I tried to determine why exactly I needed to store her microscope in my dresser. I woke up from this dream, slowly, very slowly. It was cold and dark and 5:00 am, but I felt warm. Like I’d just been for a visit to North Carolina. Like I was soaking in the sun at Duke Gardens. I could hear her unrestrained laugh all over again.

I knew that I had to attend the funeral but when the day came, I didn’t want to get out of bed. I have a great respect for the power of that public farewells, but this was the hardest one I’ve ever attended, at least in part because it was preceded by a 3-hour drive to get there. I know plenty came even farther, but man, it’s just awful to drive that far for an event you wish in the worst way was not even happening. As I walked in the door of the church building where her service was held, we were greeted by a poster-sized picture of her, a truly stunning picture I had never seen before. In what felt like a very violent reaction, I turned around and buried my head in Neal’s shoulder. It took me a few minutes to reemerge and greet her family. The funeral was more or less a series of these sudden sobs and leaning on Neal, but it was incredibly important. I think I left at least some of the pain there. The next day I graded 45 papers with no Psych-crutch to get me through.

***

I’ve often thought what would happen to all my online accounts, social media, chat programs if I died. Should I make a list of all these applications along with my passwords so that in the event of my untimely death Neal can delete each one? (Please tell me I’m not the only one that ponders this at least quarterly . . . ) That’s been one of the distinct things about losing Kaila in comparison to all the elderly people I’ve said goodbye to: she’s always there. In my phonebook and “most recent texts” list. On gchat, Google+, and Facebook. When I log into Skype, and on this mysterious “People” page that my laptop created on its own apparently based on who I seem to have the most contact with. Her pictures and contact info still show up everywhere. My first instinct was to delete her from all my various contact points. I took her out of my phone, but felt a pang of guilt as if I was trying to erase her. I decided to leave things as they were, but have questioned that decision after a couple of times seeing her in my contacts list while at work and experiencing sudden waves of nausea. That instinct to cut all ties with people was wrong, and I think it’s just as wrong to bury all the things that remind me of Kaila even though that feels entirely logical at times. But how selective should I be in what things I keep around? How much control should I try to exert over how often I’m reminded of her? I hung the program from her service on our hallway tackboard, which in a 964-square foot house is one of the most frequented spots, and so far it is doing a beautiful job of reminding me of all the love, light, and happiness that was part of my relationship with Kaila.

***

I can’t only give Brene Brown credit for helping me through the turtle-hiding-in-its-shell phase. In my music-as-therapy efforts, I put on R.E.M.’s Reveal on the drive home from a client visit. I got to “I’ll Take the Rain” just as I pulled into our driveway and predictably broke down in tears. I seem to come back to this song periodically for its reminder: rain and shine, a package deal.

I used to think
As birds take wing
They sing through life so why can’t we?
You cling to this
You claim the best
If this is what you’re offering
I’ll take the rain
I’ll take the rain
I’ll take the rain.

***

I never did finish anything I wrote about my Grandpa or his death in 2011. I regret that now, both because he was a remarkable person that is so dear to me, and because I feel compelled to study my own grief to know how to get through what lies ahead (I think of this post as the real beginning of that study). The morning of Kaila’s funeral I found out my Grandma was quite ill; she was diagnosed with terminal cancer 6 days later. This cycle of grief is just beginning.

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