Two weeks and three days

These days, we measure out our grief like it's a newborn: counting the days and weeks. 
"Oh, look at your new grief! How old?" 
"Two weeks and three days, so, you know, still really new." So new it still has that horrible newborn acne that makes you cringe a little. So new it still startles you awake at night or corners you in the bathroom with waves of exhaustion, catching you out when you just want a moment of quiet. But when people ask, you smile and nod and say, "I'm getting by." You pretend it's OK. And those who have been here before, who have cradled their grief for a time, they know better. They know you're OK until you're not and then there's nothing you can do about it but wait for the impossible to pass.

Today we gathered in a huge celebration to honor my Aunt, my other-mother. The church was packed. The church, by the way, she was baptized in. The church, by the way, where she went to elementary school. The church, by the way, she was married in. The church, by the way, where she lived her splendid, full, outrageously beautiful, spiritual life. I couldn't walk two feet in that church without someone reaching out with their own grief, she touched so many souls. I lean down and ask my uncle if he wants some tissues for the service and he says, "We're not going to do that. We're going to cry, unabashed, open-faced. I'm not wiping it away." 

The mass starts and there is heart wrenching music, but I don't find myself folding. Her grandson sings a solo, "You Raise Me Up" and as his voice breaks out over the crowd I turn to my friend at my side and say, "Are you kidding me?" He's so amazing that I want to fall apart right here, in this moment, but I turn to his mom in the pew in front of me and watch her face, lit up with joy at her son and his musical confidence. She's nodding and beaming and saying, "That's my boy!" and I find myself beaming along with her.

I watch others pull apart and I go through the motions of the service. We stand, we sit, we turn to the Songbook, number 564, "Hail Mary: Gentle Woman", we litter the pews with tissues and suffer the breaks in the voice of her priest, someone who loved her like we did. There is laughter, too. She gets called naughty by a chuckling priest and the room goes nuts. "I'm not even breaking the sanctity of the confessional by saying that!" And we all nod and laugh, because we all knew about her wicked side. All of this and I hold myself together, feeling like I'm going to get out of this alive. Maybe.  

It's not until the very end, when the incense winds around the box containing her ashes and the priest talks of her spirit rising to heaven like the smoke. That's when I I feel something crack in me. And I don't even believe that whole spirit thing but suddenly my insides don't feel right. Moments later, the church erupts in a spirited rendition of "de Colores" and that's when everything in me cuts loose. In the hand clapping, stomping wildness of the song, sung loudly and passionately by hundreds of people, I am suddenly wailing. I sob with eyes squeezed shut and body shaking and in the noise of the song, only my daughters and my friend next to me hear. They wrap arms around me and I sink to the bench, gasping for air. Of all the moments, it's now? When voices are raised in joyful song? Before I know what's happening, I am laughing and sobbing and hiccuping in what little breath I can gather, a mess and a joy and a big open wound, all at once. 

This grief is precious. It's only two weeks and three days old. It is unpredictable. I don't know it yet, not in the way I will years from now. I can't yet anticipate it's mood. It still needs protection and respect and constant attention. It has demands and there is nothing I can do but try to meet them, like a brand new mom in a hands-on, crash course of parenting.

Crack open.
Now.
See the joy in all things.
Now.
Open up the painful parts.
Now.
Close up in a ball, crouched in the corner. 
Now.
Be a mess.
Now.
Act totally normal, you freak.
Now.
Heal.
But just a little, because I'm not done with you yet. 
Not now. 
Maybe never.

It's just how it works.

Skateboard Art from cousin Jens Ritchie, made for Betty.

Skateboard Art from cousin Jens Ritchie, made for Betty.

One week later

There's blood on my bedroom floor; streaks and spots of it all over the master suite. The kitty hasn't brought us a creature in an age, but the day after my Aunt died, she showed up with half a rat. The bottom half. She literally gave a rats ass for me.

Now that's love. 

Last night we went to bed and discovered her eagerly pawing at the dresser, meowing while reaching under it. A flashlight didn't revel anything under there but the reality is that there is something dead or dying in my bedroom.

I slept poorly.

Today, everything feels too hard. I ended up sobbing in the kitchen, my hands coated in olive oil as I try to make roasted veggies. Lily, at 12, puts her arms around me and tells me it is OK. "I can't get my emotions under control" I tell her.
She shushes me and replies, "Stop trying to control them and simply feel them."

When did she get so damn wise?

Grief has let me move through my week without too much trouble but today, grief wants me to resubmit to the waves. I am undone. Unable to breathe. Gasping at the sink, being supported by my child. Feeling unable to get by for one more second. My Aunt - my other-mother - been dead a week and today, this feels impossible to navigate. I'm drowning in the loss of her. I feel her in everything an her loss is everywhere. Bigger than that, I feel the reality of my own age. I'm old enough now that this will just keep happening. And I don't want it to get easier. And I need it to get easier. 

Anya spins on the deck... giggling and dizzy as she blows bubbles and attacks them with all the intensity of a ten-year-old. "I'm a bubble ninja!" she exclaims. I watch her play, free of this shit. She's in the moment, where I want to be. Watching her feels survivable. Watching her allows me to breathe. Being comforted by my 12-year-old tells me that I'm doing a good job with these kids. I just wish she didn't have to comfort me.

Tomorrow will be better. Tomorrow will feel possible.

Today, I'm going to let grief have me.

Adjusting

Yesterday I started to get my feet under me on a new job. I'm working as an Enrichment Coordinator for a K-6 school, the sister site to the school my children attend. It's still a new school and there are so many challenges to a new charter. Kids are always needy and individual but these kids feel like they are even more so. That could be because I'm in the middle of it and I am new and they don't yet know how far they can push me. Even the ones who I've known for years give me sidelong glances and then push the envelope. Can they get away with this here? I stare down one kid -- one who I've known since he was a babe -- and whisper, "I know your mother." He straightens up and stops pushing, but keeps his eyes on me. 

I feel like I'm in the weeds.

And then there's the ones with their own IEP and who speak with a brutal honesty, but without trying to hurt you in any way. Today it was M who walked up to me and touched my temples. "Your hair is white right here."
"Yes, it is." I reply.
"You're going to want to dye it."
"Am I?" I question.
"Well, you don't want to look old!" he insists.
"I don't feel old."
"Then you should dye it."
"You know what I've been thinking about doing with it?" I ask, "Dying it purple."
His eyes light up and his face breaks into a smile, "YES! YOU SHOULD DO THAT!"

I haven't met his mom yet, but it seems inevitable. 

"Hey, do you know what happened to the scratching stick you were holding?" I ask a kindergartner. 
"Nope." She replies.
"I had six in this bag and now I only have five." Her body shifts slightly towards her backpack. "I feel like you had it in your hand when you came out to put your rainbow paper in your bag."
She backs right up to cover her backpack and shakes her head, "No, I don't know where it went."
"Huh. Your body is telling me that you are hiding something in your bag."
Her eyes dart back and forth and she makes a decision. "Maybe we should look in my bag and see if it walked in there when I wasn't looking."
"Oh, what a fine idea!" I exclaim.
She rummages around and produces the stick, "HEY! Look what I found! It must have walked into there... that happens sometimes, things just walk into my bag."
"We're lucky we caught it before it ran right off campus!"
She nods solemnly while placing the stick back where it belongs.

Her mom? We've been drunk in Palm Springs together. 

Sometimes you have to just take off your pants

IMG_8193.jpg

"Who are you?"

This is the thing we have to answer on the first night of The Shed Workshop.

"Who are you?" 

Fuuuuck. Seriously, none of us want to answer this question. And when we do, we answer it in context to the relationships we share: "Mother", "Wife" or list a job title. Some of us just blurt out, "I don't know" and then ramble on about all the things we can come up with, in the allotted time. 

The next day, we settle in to why the question is important as we spend three hours focusing on self-portraiture. Nothing intimidating about that. Nope. I can totally make that work. Except that it's so much harder than holding out a cell phone and snapping a selfie. I wish it were so flippant. But as I struggle to understand aperture and ISO and focus when dashing back and forth from behind the lens to in front of it... I find myself frustrated and pulling at a dress when I DON'T WEAR DRESSES! Why am I wearing this dress and draping myself around like a spastic supermodel, way past her prime?

Finally I give up and take my pants off, pull on someone else's top and find the courage to stare directly into the lens. In essence, I stop fucking around and just show the camera who I am, even though I wasn't sure how to define that in words the night before. 

Using yourself as the subject means you get to make all the mistakes without wasting anyones time. It also means you have to love yourself a little. Dammit, you have got to be kind. I can do that when it's another soul in front of my lens, but when it's me I want to curse and yell and tell myself to get it together, GAH!

The results are more honest. They don't make me feel so much like a failure. It was still hard and the number of successful portraits are limited. But the lesson is tangible: don't try to make your subject into something they are not. Ask them to be who they are, even if that scares the shit out of them. Let them settle into the moment and play. Let them be comfortable.

Even if that means they have to take off their pants.

 

in the small hours

My Aunt Betty, on a sailboat in La Paz

My Aunt Betty, on a sailboat in La Paz

I find myself digging through old photographs, trying to catch a glimpse of her, full face and smiling. Smiling isn't hard, but straight on? To the camera? Not so much. She was always motion and work and play and beauty. She was always on the edge of the frame, my lens never taking her in fully, too bright to capture. 

Or at least, that's how it feels, right now.

In the small hours of this morning, after only a handful of months since diagnosis, my Aunt Betty called out to her parents and went to join them. My Uncle at her side, her kids both nearby, her extended family a trail of love from the previous day. She went out how she lived, surrounded by love. 

Sitting by her bed yesterday, I watched her sleep, restless and fitful. Her face, frequently breaking into a smile, working around the complications of breathing, swallowing, living in the last day. When my mom told her she was flying to Europe on Saturday, her eyes fluttered open and a smile took over her face, that light spilling out of her in waves. Paris! Italy! She was so delighted for my parents, "Go go go! Live live live" her eyes sparkled encouragement. 

I spoon soup into her mouth and tell her about the kids, "They're back in school and doing so well," I babble on, filling the air with my voice. She replies in soft tones, taking in the words and nourishment slowly, carefully, thoughtfully. And that smile, it just keeps landing on my face, filling me up with her love, making the loss of her so much more sharp and tolerable, all at once.

Her son Mike and I are only four days apart and we grew up hand in hand. We were cousins and friends and constant companions when we were little. She was second Mom, taking care of me and my brother and lending a hand. Once, Mike and I were riding big wheels out on their street, a long winding hill, when I got going too fast and couldn't stop. I ended up bloodied , screaming out like kids do, dying (obviously), from skinned knees. Mike hauled me up onto his back and carried me up the hill to her, where she kissed and washed and bandaged me up. I always felt so safe under her care.

Once, I broke apart on her living room floor. I was a teenager and life had thrown me a set of curve balls, all at once. I didn't know then that this would be how it always is: beauty and life and love and then WHAM, BASH, IN YOUR FACE pain, almost always in threes. I didn't know yet that you could continuously crumble into grief and then be stitched back together. So I broke in her home after death had taken a friend, and my peers helped hold the pieces together. I thought I was broken forever. After, she held out the sutures and guided my repair.

Aunt Betty with my niece, Michelle

Aunt Betty with my niece, Michelle

On a beach, in Mexico, I watch her play with my daughters, carry my niece across the hot sand, laughing loudly and fully, taking over the shore with her beauty. She helps blow out the candles on a birthday cake while holding my naked, squirming kid. Her arms were always ready for any of us, be it tired mom or small person. And they were just as ready for a naked, mad, and dirty child and as clean, sleeping one; she took them all in and quieted them in her embrace. She was in every moment, all in, no holding back.

Always these two, with these faces. He's scheming up something and she's humoring him.

Always these two, with these faces. He's scheming up something and she's humoring him.

After almost 20 years with Mark, I more often now noticed her gaze, as it so often landed on her husband. Her partner of 48 years. The love for him was always so clear and it was easy to use their relationship as a guidepost. She was honest about how it was sometimes hard. But that love. That love just poured out of her when she looked at him or the children they brought up together. 

Leaving the hospital yesterday, we said our goodbyes thinking we'd see her today when she transferred back home for the remainder of her hospice care. You always think there will be one more chance. You always think this moment can't be enough. And it's never enough. Except for that it has to be.

Full smile, bright eyes, love and light and beauty filling the room. 

I am forever marked by her hands, her smile, her life and her love.

Taken just last week in a last minute family photography session. This. This is the light I'm taking about. 

Taken just last week in a last minute family photography session. This. This is the light I'm taking about. 


a meditation on little boys

Photo and © by Kate Inglis

Photo and © by Kate Inglis

Listening to a little boy singing about farts. And santa, who is mad, apparently. While the other boy makes accompanying rude noises with his dinner mouth, despite the fact he's supposed to be eating pasta and broccoli. One of these boys lost his pants up a tree, after he stripped them off to jump into the ocean and then became flummoxed that no towel instantly appeared when he emerged, sopping and gleeful. "Did you bring one?" I ask him? He shakes his head no. "Well, maybe next time you will," I shrug, then chase him with a hermit crab.

Being around boys, with this energy and constant movement and sparkle of spirit, it's been fun for me. Kate's boys are the kind of people you want to spend your days with, asking deep questions and listening to their awesomely insightful or disdainfully flippant responses.  "Do I want to talk with you about this?" their eyes ponder. You never know which way it'll go. But oh, it'll be good no matter which way they respond. They offer up their tiny nuggets of brilliance and then return to fart jokes and wiggly bodies, giggles and overwhelming brightness. 

They make fast friends, these boys, and are in your lap and tickling before they realize they forgot your name. 

On the drive to the airport this morning, we talked about how very different little boys are from little girls. I used to believe that concept was a gender construct and with some, it absolutely is. But in general, boys seem to be a bundle of sound and movement and chaos, flinging their backpacks and jackets to the ground as they run from the bus, zippers down to pee on a tree. A perfectly organized and clean home can become homey and disheveled within minutes of arrival.

It's exhausting. And achingly beautiful.

Watching those boys bundle off to the school bus in a rush, sleepy eyed and gripping lunch bags, running to make it in time... they are all the things.

I'm going to miss this crazy, lovely land.

Waking up

A year ago I left my job at The Pub and, after our road trip, came home to find a job that would be enough. I had a good amount of money saved in Unemployment and I resolved to use it, giving myself a year to get by and avoid the pressure to figure out what I want to be when I grow up.

My year is over.  
My Unemployment insurance ran out. 
And I'm still working part time with no idea what to be when I grow up.

Time to wake up, folks.

When your village is a village...

So much love for these three.

2014 sucked.

I may have mentioned that before, but I need to really drive it home. 2014 really, really sucked. Granted, there were some moments of pure beauty in there, but most of the year felt like one fresh wound after another. Two full months into 2015 and I'm finally starting to pull my head out of the sand, abet cautiously. It's scary out there.

The worst part about 2014, though, is not the shit that happened to me and my people. Honestly, most of my regret is about how I shut down. A friend suffered her own huge loss and because I don't see her very often, I never even acknowledged it. I pretty much didn't acknowledge anything that wasn't physically on fire and standing one foot in front of me. Which means a lot of "showing up" just didn't happen. And one of the things I strive for, every single day, is showing up for the people in my life.

And now, I'm not sure how to come back from it. A couple cherished relationships fell away last year, but I get it. Being friends with someone who is actively hiding from the world can be challenging. Being friends with someone who doesn't act like the person you know and doesn't show up for you when you need them? That's darn near impossible. I have to accept my part in that.

But I also need to remember those people who set down their expectations of me and simply showed up for me. Turns out, those people are the ones you need in your corner. And without them, I don't know how I could have made it through 2014 without an extended stay at an institution. These are the people who looked me square in the eye and called bullshit. These are the people who cooked meal after meal after meal and quietly put it on the table. These are the people who sat silently next to me when I could not breath and took in air so I could survive. These are the people who stood next to my kids when I couldn't. These are the people who held me. 

The ones who left? Turns out I didn't need them anyway. 

us


Well, that felt good.

Lily's mandala, made Saturday night.

Lily's mandala, made Saturday night.

Yesterday I had to sit in front of a judge and explain myself. This, in case you don't know, is nerve wracking. 

Short story is that I was denied unemployment after leaving a job under very difficult circumstances. I don't want to go into that in detail here, but my departure was not really a voluntary quit (despite the fact that I resigned) and I have been struggling with the emotions around it since it happened, three months ago. When I was denied unemployment, I took it personally, which is dumb, but emotions are dumb sometimes too. Mostly, I didn't understand how I had told my story and the women interviewing me didn't get what I was up against. Her denial made me question everything.

Regardless, I filled out the appeal form and then met with a friend who is also an attorney. She helped me talk out my case and encouraged me to write up a statement, collect my documents and believe in the goodness in the world. 

Yesterday, sitting in front of that judge and telling my story, it felt a little terrifying. But I was assigned a judge who looked me in the eye, nodded her head as I spoke, asked me questions gently and who made me feel safe. My Mister accompanied me to the hearing and though he had to sit in the waiting room, it was so good to have him there when I walked out. "No matter what she decides, we're moving on," he told me. "We're strong and we can do anything together and this is over. Period."

Sometimes you need someone to look you in the eye and give you permission to put down the heavy stuff.

And sometimes you need a judge to tell you that you're not unreasonable, that you made the right decision, that you don't have to wonder if you were wrong anymore. 

Translation: I won

Translation: I won


This time, with these people

Black Rock City Love, photo by Lisa D. Eller

Black Rock City Love, photo by Lisa D. Eller

One of the more fascinating conversations I paid witness to at Burning Man was all about couple time. This woman was speaking about how she and her partner don't ever camp together because, well, that's just too much together time. I glanced over at my Mister, who I had just spent a month living with in a tiny pop-up trailer, every day together ALL THE TIME and I didn't know what to feel. I mean, good for them, knowing what works. But, 24/7 I had been with my husband... for a month. And I still couldn't get enough of him. Don't get me wrong, I love getting some alone time. But after 14 years of marriage and 18 years together, I still LOVE being with this man. I still look forward to long hours of couple time and days where we can just do what we want in each others company. Being with him feels so good, most of the time; it's when we are apart too much that life feels hard.

Sometimes I wonder if there's something wrong with us. 

My Wonder Twin Cousin, Mike, making music in the mountains

My Wonder Twin Cousin, Mike, making music in the mountains

But yesterday, a category 3 hurricane hit Baja California, smashing into La Paz, where some of my family lives. My cousin Mike (a.k.a. my Wonder Twin) holed up at CasaBuena and reported yesterday that he's alive and safe and totally numb. He spent the storm with our family and rode out the night surrounded by people who love him. His boat, which is where he lives, is MIA but may have been spotted with 20 other vessels piled on a sand bar. His friends, who planned to stay with their boat through the storm, are missing and their boat looks to be underwater. The city looks like a war zone and there are no services, no potable water and people in shock at the destruction of their city. My heart feels like it's trying to beat itself out of my chest when I see the photos and think about my people there. 

sleeping babies are the best

snuggling my nephew at CasaBuena

What does this have to do with my relationship? Nothing and Everything, all at once. Here's the thing: I get to spend my life with someone I adore, who clearly adores me in return. Who knows what kind of time we all get for that? My family is safe and for that I am infinitely grateful. But some families they love may not have fared so well in this storm and that breaks me in two.

We get this time, with these people and dammit, if you don't live it well you don't get it back. Does this mean you should spend every moment in service to your relationships? YES. Though part of that is, of course, taking the "me time" you need to feel fulfilled and ready to give everyone else what they need. Whatever works. 

In the meantime, I'll be waiting word on my cousin's home and the people he loves. Fingers crossed, everyone. We all need this to end well. 

Four years ago on the water in La Paz with family I adore.