09 December 2019

National News

For the past few months—several months, quite a while—I've been involved in a thing, a thing that I could not talk about to people outside my day-to-day life. But that thing is now out in the world, like really out in the world, and I'm so excited to share it.

I don't have adequate words to describe the powerful experience of working with Caitlin Gibson as she crafted this incredible piece. Go read everything she's ever written. The beauty and sensitivity with which she handled this story overall and our family's piece specifically are staggering. Alisha Jucevic's photography is the perfect visual complement. Spending time with both Caitlin and Alisha was an honor and a joy.

Even though nothing in the article is a surprise to me, I'm still crazy emotional about seeing it online. (Aside: Caitlin's piece will be the cover story on the December 15 print edition of the Washington Post Sunday magazine on December 15.) There's something about reading my quotes, Maddie's quotes, Riley's quotes, seeing our photos, getting that perspective, that really drives home how far we have come since John's diagnosis. I'm proud, deeply sad, and overflowing with joy and abundance. It's confusing and rich.

John would have been 47 two days ago. If there's one thing I hate, it's when people say, "John would have been so proud," or "John would have loved this." I've never quite understood why I have such a strong reaction to what I know is are natural and meant-to-be-comforting statements. All the feels I have from this article, though, are helping me to understand that I'm just projecting. I hate the idea that anyone would try to ascribe feelings to me, especially about the experience I had with John and the experiences I've lived without him. I'm constantly surprised, heartened, annoyed, frustrated, embarrassed, overjoyed, and a host of other things by what my life was and what it's become. I could never guess at what my own feelings would be; how could I possibly know someone else's?

[stepping off soapbox, which I had not planned to climb on, but there you have it]

What I'm trying to get at is that I don't know what my life would be like if John had not been sick and he were still alive. But I do know two things: 1. Sharing part of my life with John was profound and full of love and challenges and certainly changed me and the course of what's happened since for me, Maddie, and Riley. 2. I am overwhelmed by what my life is today, by the joy and abundance I feel, and by the people Maddie and Riley have become. I thank Caitlin for giving voice to that in the article, and thank everyone who has been a part of my virtual and IRL support system along the way.

Truly, I am blessed. <3 br="">

14 August 2019

Hot August Nights

Fifteen years ago, on a hot, August evening, John and I got married.
You can see us sweating! It was seriously hot.

Three weeks later, he was diagnosed with terminal cancer.
Days after John got his diagnosis, being comforted by The Best Cat in the World, Dinner.

About 18 months later, Maddie and Riley were born.
Mads on the left, Riley on the right.

And ten months after that, John died.
Last pic of John with the twins, three days before he died

Now, I'm 47.

And the twins are 13.

And today would be John's and my 15th wedding anniversary. Only he's dead, so it's not, but that's always felt a little weird to me because it's not like we chose that ending, or did something to undo being married. I mean, obvs, I can't be married to a dead person! Creepy! But I do feel cheated  out of 13 years of not being married when it wasn't my choice to be done with that.

Most people I interact with day to day never met John. That's been true for years now, ever since I moved back to Portland. I have probably even blogged about that, but hot damn, it's been so long since I blogged that I just don't remember. The kids and I talk about him; they are at an age where they are really aware of not having a dad, and want to know more about him, know how they are or aren't like him. They miss what they have never had; I miss what I briefly had but didn't get to keep.

I've been thinking about coming back to blogging for a while now. I dated someone for a long time who did not like being mentioned on the blog, and I respected his wishes, which meant that I mostly didn't blog during our relationship because it was such a big part of my life that I couldn't figure out how to make that work. In retrospect, our very different approach to public/private life was likely a harbinger that despite both of us being wonderful people, we were not destined to choose a life partnership. But it ended up taking us five years to figure that out, and by then, I didn't know how to come back to this.

Still don't.

But trying.

Over the intervening years, quite a few people have reached out to me, so empathize, sympathize, ask for advice. To all of you: I'M SORRY. I didn't reply. I . . . I . . . I needed that time away, I think. I needed a bunch of years where I put the widow part of my identity aside so that I could figure out who I am in the wake of years of all-consuming grief. During those years, it was just too much to feel all of those feelings that people had when they would reach out to me after finding themselves facing a similar situation to what John and I faced in 2004. So I'm sorry for being selfish, at a time when I understand just how much you needed to know that someone else gets it, and that you can and will survive.

I've recently had occasion to think about the grief of not getting to have something, of the conundrum of the wrenching, wretched realness being cheated out of something you wanted and even felt like you DESERVED. This summer I was blindsided by something happening that brought all of that up to the surface for me, with an intensity that took me down crying for days. Truly, I was crying all day, every day, for days. I didn't even know I could do that. It sucked. Dumb grief that never, ever ends.

But all of those tears, once they passed, I found that they had opened me back up to a big range of feelings at the opposite end of the spectrum: happy, curious feelings that I also hadn't felt with such intensity in years. This coexisting of things that seem like they can't both be true at the same time, yeah. That is something that this stage of my life seems to be full of, which is confusing and beautiful.

I'm going to try being back here, to share the beautiful confusion, fifteen years later and counting.

09 May 2014

I used to yell a lot.

For one thing, I used to be more angry.

Then there was the toddler factor. Those tiny people don't listen to reason! Sometimes I just couldn't take it anymore and I resorted to my own primitive form of communication.

These days, I'm more even-tempered, and my tiny people are mid-sized and capable of logic, at least some of the time.

But the one thing that will push me over the edge EVERY TIME is lying. As I've said to Maddie and Riley countless times, tell me the truth, even a hard truth, and we can work on resolving the problem, whatever it may be. But lie to me, and then what can we do? Lies hide the real problem, and keep us from finding a solution.

Riley has been the one who experiments more with lying, but tonight it was Maddie who looked me right in the eyes and denied something I knew she'd done. I know They—you know, the capital-T They—say that at this age, it's best not to make a big deal of a lie, just calmly acknowledge that you know that the child has been dishonest, ask for honesty next time, and move on. I'm sure that's great advice, and I try to follow it.

But tonight? Tonight this is what I did: LOST MY SHIT.

I was so bothered by Maddie's insistence that she was telling me the truth, even when I knew she wasn't. It was so . . . defiant. And disrespectful. And BRAZEN. And she was so good at it! The preview of coming attractions was too much to bear. I'm so gullible and she's already so smooth. I can see what's coming in the years ahead, and my fear got the better of me and I yelled like I haven't yelled in a long, long time.

In the end, she came clean and I apologized and everything is OK. Now she's exhausted and I'm exhausted and I feel so bad about the example I set. I've apologized to her and we're fine, but it hurts.

A friend posted on Facebook today that she'd watched the movie August, Osage County, and that she was still trying to sort out how she felt about the film. I saw it about a month ago, and it was tough. Humans can be so cruel to themselves, and so cruel to each other. As I was yelling and as Maddie was yelling back, and as we slammed doors and blustered about and cried, I thought about that cruelty and about what motivates it, what we learn from it, why there are times you know you're engaged it it and just can't stop.

I hope I can learn something from this. I hope Maddie can, too. And I hope we can help each other in that process. I ordered for us a book to read together, one that a friend and her daughter enthusiastically recommended, and it will arrive tomorrow. May it be helpful to both of us.

28 April 2014

Seven years and change

I don't post here anymore, not because I don't have anything to say, but it's like I've forgotten how to say it. That, and some of it I say in other places now, like Facebook. And then there's some of it that I only say to the people who are involved, in person, in real conversations. Then, sometimes I'm tired, although I'm never tired like I was back in the early days of all of this, so that seems a strange reason to not post. I guess back then, I couldn't acknowledge that I was tired the way I can now.

There's more luxury in my life, now, more margin for error. I run a ship that's not quite as tight as the ship I ran when John was sick and the twins were so small and there were days when every minute felt like a tiny, desperate lifetime. The ship I run now regularly veers of course with no grave consequences and lots of able crew to right it. On this ship, I sometimes choose to not do things rather than to do things—like blog. I read now, whole books sometimes! And go to bed early. Or stay up too late. Or myriad other things I didn't always allow myself to do back then.

I do want to acknowledge, though, that this space and the support I got here got me to the place I am now, and I don't want my silence here to be interpreted as turning my back on that. I'm still here.

Seventeen days ago, April 11, 2014, was the seven year anniversary of John's death. On that day, I posted to Facebook a poem that I found when a friend of mine posted it to her Facebook page. It's beautiful and so right. I will post it below, seventeen days late, but never too late for the sentiment to be right.
Reposting this beautiful poem in honor of John, who died seven years ago today.

To My Husband, Who 33 Years Ago Died at the Age of 33

De mortuis, nihil nisi bonum
Of you dead, I’ve spoken nothing
but good, nodded at over-fond
family memories, the favored first
son who skipped school to sneak
into the new museum. I’ve let
strangers tell our girls how you fell
forty feet taking a leak, behind
the garage, at your graduation party,
never dropping your grilled chicken
leg. Such was not the nature
of the man-to-be, yet these dull shards
are now my own. What else of you
can I offer our daughters, raised
by another man? You are at our table
always—in the gap, the sainted lost
father, shrouded in respect, silence
the price we pay for life. Was it wrong
to let you slip into cliché, pallid
memory? But how could it have been
otherwise? You have been undoing now
as long as you lived. Even the ink in your
notebooks fades. Remember how you
used to read “Dover Beach” and we would
shudder with faux foreboding? Remember
our pleasure when Emily said she didn’t
know how the sun set? Neither did we
then, nor did we much care. But oh, now
to see it rise again, one ribbon at a time.

Maryanne Hannan
Rattle #41, Fall 2013
Tribute to Single Parent Poets

25 April 2013


I've been thinking about ambition lately, both in a general way and also as it relates to the workplace.

I've not read Sheryl Sandberg's book Lean In, but I did read Anne-Marie Slaughter's piece in the Atlantic earlier this year about parenting and working, and I just read in the Washington Post this article by Elsa Walsh about a "good enough" life. While I take issue with Walsh's framing of the "good enough" choice as a woman's decision alone (I think problems with work/life balance are not exclusive to women), the article resonated deeply with me overall.

My boss is leaving her job, and many of my coworkers have asked me if I intend to apply. Many of them then seem quite surprised when I say that I don't, and that the main reason for not wanting to is that I'm not interested in taking on any additional responsibility right now (I also don't feel that I'm qualified). I make enough money to support my lifestyle; while I'd rather have more time at home than I do, most days I leave the house at 8, get home at 5:30, and rarely bring work home; my office is supportive of an occasional need or desire to attend a parent/teacher conference, be in the audience at a school play, or stick around to be there with the refrigerator repair person shows up; I get generous vacation and sick time; my employer contributes a generous sum to my retirement plan. In the imperfect world of work/life balance, I have things pretty darn good.

While I appreciate those benefits and support, I would prefer to see Maddie and Riley more. They are at a stage where we all want to be together most all of the time. For me, someone who wasn't sure she wanted to have kids at all and who then for years (years!) did not feel that deep, Primordial Bond to her children that people talk about, this change is a surprising shift. I had begun to wonder if I was defective in some way, rendered callus and unable to attach to people in the wake of John's death. Maybe that was the case for a while, or maybe that had nothing to do with it at all, but now, now! Many nights these days--after years of sleeping in their own beds--I find one or both of the twins in bed with me at night, and on the nights that doesn't happen, I'm sad. We all feel that our family time is at times infringed upon by our busy social lives. When a school friend wanted to stay at our house until 6 the other night, Maddie piped up, "But our mama time starts at 5:30!"

Oh, sure, they still can make me crazy (Will Riley ever give up the constant picking of his nose? And memo to Maddie: six is too young to start with the foot stomping and the eye rolls. Also: I'm on to you guys. I know you're stalling about going to bed.) But mostly, we just like each other so much right now. They are too young to know I'm not cool, old enough to enjoy great books and listen (at least occasionally) to reason. They are enthusiastic about pretty much everything. They are happy, and being together makes us all happy. I understand how they need me in a way that goes so much beyond their physical care and comfort, so much deeper than a predictable schedule, and I want to be there to respond to those needs while allowing them to face challenges and grow independently of my love and parenting.

So I say no to tossing my hat in the ring for what could be a logical big step up the professional ladder. I feel already stretched to the limit on work, home, family, and social life. If I add to the mix, I don't want that addition to come from work.

Does this make me less of a feminist, not taking all the professional risks that I could? Does it make me an underachiever? Does it make me wise? Or does it just make me the pragmatist that I usually am?

Sometimes I think about what I would do if my not working were a viable financial choice for our family. Would it change how I define myself if having an office job were not part of the equation? I think about what brings me joy and satisfaction. I wonder about my responsibilities in terms of who I am as a person, my family's needs, and society as a whole. Other than the paycheck, what is my job bringing to my personal life, to my children, to my community? Other than the paycheck, what would be lost if I were not doing this job? What would I rather do? Or am I where I need and want to be?

I have male colleagues at my level in the workplace who I assume are being asked about my boss's job and their interest in applying. I don't know what they plan to do so, and I wonder if their thought process around it is the same. As I parenthetically stated at the start of this post, I perceive work/life balance as a family/societal issue, not just a woman's issue, although there seem to be ways that women feel it more acutely than men.

I'm looking forward to an evening with the kids, maybe going out for sushi, definitely reading some Nancy Drew (they are obsessed with N.D. and the Hardy Boys right now), some outdoor playtime in the gorgeous spring. While I'm at work, home is never far from my mind. When I'm at home, I rarely think about work. I'm not sure what any of that means, or what, if anything, I want to change or can.

11 April 2013

Six Years

A couple of days ago, Maddie asked me if she had seen her daddy die, and I told her no, that she had been asleep. She took that news with no visible emotion.

John died exactly six years ago today. I'm sure I've written about this day before, more than once, but this is how I remember it now, six years out.
I didn't tell Mads that the door to the twins' room had been open, the distance between there and our room, where John died, a matter of only a few feet. That whole day, it was not clear to me what John could hear, feel, or understand, but I left the door to our room open always, so that the sounds of our life could drift in, just in case. I remember almost nothing about the daylight hours of April 11. The twins went to daycare. I think I ran a few errands. I think a hospice chaplain came to visit John, although maybe that was the day before.

The evening, though, I remember. My mom was with me. We fed the twins, gave them a bath, got them ready for bed, took them in to give John a kiss. It was clear he was going to die soon. We put the kids to bed and called the hospice nurse, and she came, and we sat with John and waited. As with all of those big moments in life, that period of time between when the kids went to bed and when he died seemed to last both an eternity and no time at all.

It was liver failure that killed John, the inability of his body to rid itself of toxins that invaded his body, including his brain, taking away his ability to think clearly. This kind of death is slow and undramatic. He never seemed to be in pain. He was sleeping. Unaware? Unconscious? I don't know. He was sleeping, and his breathing just slowed, and slowed, and slowed, and then it stopped. The hospice nurse then listened to his heart, which kept beating for a while, much longer than I would have expected. And then, she pronounced him dead.

I don't remember crying much. Instead, I remember feeling almost manic. I had an odd, giddy sense of relief that John's suffering was over. For the first time in weeks, I was ravenously hungry. People from the funeral home came, and took John's body away, and then I went to bed. I'm sure I woke up early with Maddie and Riley, and I remember taking them to daycare and starting the wrenching process of letting people know that John had died.

Six years later, that condo has been sold, I've had two different jobs, I've moved across the country, and bought a new house. The twins are in first grade. I'm over 40. The part of my life I lived with John feels dreamy and unreal, certainly not overly rose-tinted, but just so intense that I have a sense of disbelief that it happened and that I kept myself together through it all.

John's brother and his fiancée are coming to town tonight for a long weekend. I like that they are arriving on this day, and I'm looking forward to the time with them, extra time with the twins, an overnight trip to the beach, dinner with my parents.

I never feel the way I expect to feel on this day. I'm never as sad as I think I'll be, but I'm always more preoccupied, unfocused, slower, more patient, more kind. I wouldn't have the life I have now without having had what came before. I don't know what I'd be doing or how I'd be feeling if John hadn't been sick, and at my core, I'm a pragmatist, so I know it's fruitless to try to imagine what would have been.

I've never been much to live in the past; I tend to live too much in the future, thinking about and planning for what's to come. All my thinking and planning had to be radically altered when John got sick, and my grief after John died was very much focused on the loss of the life we didn't get to live together. Today, though, is a day to be in the present, and to remember John.

Love always, Goose.

22 January 2013

Kids (Don't) Say the Darndest Things

What Riley said: "I love the fish gun in that game!"
What I heard: "I love the fisting in that game!"

Not the same thing. Not the same thing AT ALL.

That said, fish gun? I never did quite figure out what a fish gun is or why it is so great.