Becoming Mother

A book and a blog for first-time mothers

Tag: writing

Death

August 13, 2022, 4:00 a.m.

I’m running.

My purse knocks against my thighs as I sprint toward the bright red ER sign of the hospital.

It’s okay to go, Mom. It’s okay to go.

My mind flashes to a scene in Contact, where Jodie Foster’s character, Ellie Arroway, is on the verge of being launched into space in an extraterrestrial aircraft. When the spaceship begins shaking as it ignites, through her fear, Ellie continues to utter, I’m okay to go.

Even though she doesn’t know what awaits her on the other side, she continues to say these words.

It’s okay to go, Mom. You don’t have to wait for me, is my prayer.

But I’m still running.

I’m running because none of her children are there.

Because my father died alone, without anyone who loved him to hold his hand.

I’m running because my heart is screaming for just one more moment to be with her before she escapes to places where I cannot follow.

Just one more moment.

Just one more moment.

I’m running because Love compels me.

And I will expend every last ounce of my energy to help someone I love.

The ER sign grows larger in my sight and I am breathless already because I’m so anemic. But I keep running, my heart pounding in my chest, fighting the lightheadedness, my lungs seizing.

And part of me wonders if my heart has known for years that this is how it would all unfold.

If my body was simply following the rhythms of my heart.

And now those early morning runs, my feet pounding the sidewalk at 4:00 a.m., have prepared me for this very moment.

To run to my mother at this very hour, when she needs me the most.

Perhaps my heart has felt this moment approaching for years.

***

(It’s dark.)

I haven’t really slept in days.

(It always seems like it’s dark when these things happen.)

My dreams aren’t dreams right now. They are instant replays of the last three days, holding my mother’s hand, watching her heart rate tick up, up, up as her face loses its color, its tone. Her eyes struggling to remain open.

(Labor and Birth.)

The image had been replaying in my mind for hours and hours.

It’s both too early. And too late.

(Dying and Death.)

***

I burst through the doors to the ER and slow to purposeful walk until I reach a set of double doors. I jiggle them. Locked.

A voice comes on over the intercom.

“Can I help you?”

“I need to get in. My mother is dying.”

A pause.

“Do you need help getting there?”

“No,” I say. Then I repeat the number of the hospital room.

The door unlocks.

And I’m hustling now to the end of the hallway toward the first set of elevators. I need to go to the seventh floor. The buttons read 1, 2, and 3. I press 3, going as high as I can go. I ask for more directions, someone at a nurse’s station, a security guard, a custodian.

Every person stops what they are doing and guides me.

Down this hall, to the left.

What floor? Down that hall, take a second left. You’ll find the elevators to the seventh floor.

What room? Those rooms are in the west wing. Hang a right at the Exit sign.

I’m hurrying down the hallway when I see Doug come out of the room, flagging me down. He hugs me tightly.

“She stabilized again,” he says.

I gaze into the room and see that my mother’s bed has been lowered nearly to the floor. Warren is seated on her left, holding her left hand, the softer, unbroken one.

This room at the top of the hospital is dim, barely lit at all. The brightness and bustle of yesterday’s ICU room proclaimed plans and interventions. Real hospital work. But this room lacks any of that. Instead, it has been emptied, drained of all the light and equipment and interruptions. I wade into its stillness, as if it were a pond, the water barely rippling around my movements as I press forward.

She breathes heavily through her mouth. Says nothing.

There aren’t as many tubes and wires connected to her anymore. Just enough to monitor her heart and oxygen. An IV port for medication. Warren tenderly holds her arm where her last IV was threaded by Maria, an excellent nurse on the fourth floor who took the time to warm my mother’s arm with compresses to thread the IV on the first try into her tiny veins. The tape over the IV still bears the nurse’s initials and the date, MR, 8/11.

The monitor shows her vitals in bright green numbers and letters.

“Her heart rate is 155?” I ask Doug.

He nods.

155 is my heart rate when I’ve been running for 30 minutes.

“She’s been holding at that for hours. Until just before I called you. Her vitals started dropping, but she rebounded.”

He pauses and his voice breaks.

“I think she’s waiting for you.”

I swallow.

I look at her chest rising and falling rapidly, how she is still fighting, even here at this late hour.

We could be here for hours, waiting for her body to surrender.

But I am resolved.

I will bear this moment for her. I will be here for her, no matter how long it takes. No matter how hard this gets.

“Mom, it’s Sharon,” I say. “I’m here.”

She breathes heavily, the cool washcloth still folded over her brow. Her eyes are closed.

I have no plan for this moment. I wasn’t committed to being in the room with her when she passed. I’ve allowed myself to accept whatever fate would have for the end of my mother’s life.

Whatever was bound to happen would unfold just as it should be. And it did not need to involve me.

But here I am.

In this room.

And I know that Death is here.

I feel it thick and still in the air around me. It doesn’t spin around us, like a vortex pulling my mother into some other dimension. It drifts and floats, like dust in the air when the light shines through a window. Only there’s nothing to see. You can only feel it, seeping like thick syrup, settling heavily into your ears, your mouth, your nose. So heavy is Death in this room that simply uttering words takes a concentrated effort, not to mention anything meaningful or heartfelt.

I open my mouth to speak and, at first, I choke, the sob caught in my throat.

I push it down and remember.

I will bear it for her.

“I’m going to play some music for you, okay, Mom?” I say calmly, searching for the live version of Both Sides Now by Joni Mitchell, just recently performed at the Newport Folk Festival less than a month ago. “I’ll start with the one that you said you loved last night. Remember that? I played it for you and you said, ‘I love it.’ It was a little hard to hear you, but I know you said it. Here it is.”

I let the song play without interruption and we all listen to Joni sing to my mother with her haunting, soulful voice. I hold my mother’s right hand, rubbing her knuckles, her fingers. I say nothing.

But now they only block the sun
They rain and they snow on everyone
So many things I would have done
But clouds got in my way

I’ve looked at clouds from both sides now
From up and down and still somehow
It’s cloud illusions I recall
I really don’t know clouds at all

“Both Sides Now” by Joni Mitchell

More tears fall and I wipe them with the back of my hand.

I can tell how loved she is, the ICU nurse on the second floor, Regina, had said as she administered morphine the night before, into the IV that Maria had placed. Two amazing human beings who treated my mother with such compassion.

So many people here with her. You’d be surprised how many people leave this world alone in these rooms.

Have more heart-breaking words ever been said?

The song finishes and soon we are listening to troubles melting like lemon drops, away above the chimney tops, rainbows stretching off into the distance, leading my mother to an unknown land.

I want that so much for her.

Even as my heart cries out for her to stay.

I want for her to wander into a land of rest and peace, where her memories of broken hips and legs and arms and necks, of cancer, of diabetes, of untreatable, chronic pain… Where all these memories become nothing but distant moments in time through which she has persevered. Where she has no need for morphine or demerol or toradol or fentanyl or hydrocodone or any of the other medications that only cut the pain in half.

Tears and more tears. I pull her hand to my wet cheek. Just two days ago, when she could still utter words, I asked her if she was in any pain. She fought to simply whisper the words, “They can never make it pain-free.”

I wish I could have born some of this pain for her.

But I know her better.

She would never have allowed that.

Just as I would never allow my children to bear my pain.

The song finishes again and I look over my shoulder at the heart monitor.

156. 154. 155.

The fog of Death that surrounds us is growing. Why is it getting heavier?

Doug is seated behind me, his head rested against my mid-back, as if literally supporting me so I don’t fall over. Every now and then, I feel him turn to look at the monitors. Warren is gripping my mother’s hand, sometimes pressing it to his face, sometimes lowering to the bed and bending forward over it.

It’s so hard to remain upright. I’m not sure how I could explain to anyone else why, in this moment, simply sitting up and speaking takes unimaginable strength.

But it does.

How many moments has my mother faced that were as heavy as this? What would she do?

And then I know what to play.

The soft notes of the song begin and I’m transported back to those final minutes, laboring with Henry, this song soothing my ears while my screams filled the air and my hips lit on fire. Those last moments just before I hemorrhaged and nearly bled to death on the bed, only minutes after I finally pushed Henry free from me.

“I played this song when I was in labor with Henry,” I say. I pray that she can understand. That she feels my intention. Because I cannot find my words to articulate it in this moment.

What I want to express is that I’ve been here before, in this most sacred of spaces. More sacred than any cathedral or altar. I’ve been here before–But never on this side.

There is a stillness in the air when Life enters this world that I cannot explain to anyone who has not been present for it.

Now, I know that there is also an unexplainable stillness when Life leaves this world.

We all want to bear witness to the beginning of Life. We believe that it is good and holy and pure.

But who wants to bear witness to the end of Life? Even though it is just as sacred?

I will bear it for her, I tell myself.

“Mom,” I hold my voice steady. “I want to tell you that it’s okay to go. You don’t have to stay here for us. We’re all going to be okay.”

I pause and consider what to say next. Doug and Warren are both bent forward, their heads bowed, reverently as I speak, my head lifted, my back straight.

Now, I understand. Why Death is so thick, so heavy.

This room is not empty.

It’s Full.

It’s overflowing with everyone waiting for her.

My father. My mother’s mother. My mother’s father. And on and on. The generations have poured into this room, surrounding her and holding her, just as They held me when I cried out for help in laboring with Henry.

They have returned, these People of my Blood.

My heart almost cannot stand it.

I know what to say now. I close my eyes and I speak without any hesitation.

“And Mom…everyone is here with you. It’s not just me and Warren and Doug. Everyone is here. Anna is here. Nate and Lisa are here. Holly and Corey here. Dominic is here. Felicity and Henry are here.”

The words are spilling forth from me, as if she’s relinquished her sword to me and allowing me to fight this last battle for her.

So I will not stop.

I will do this for her.

I will help her over to the Other Side.

I keep listing all our family, as many as I can remember, all her brothers and sisters, their spouses, their children, her cousins, her friends. My shoulders hurt now, physically ache, simply from the action of sitting upright. I can almost feel my mother transferring her burdens, her cares, her wishes, her regrets, her Love, all to my own shoulders.

Perhaps that’s what Death really is.

A great transfer of all the emotions and cares that one person has carried to those they leave behind.

I will bear it for her.

The hospital door opens, but I don’t look at who it is. Words are still pouring out of my mouth, names, reassurances that we’re going to be okay.

“It’s okay to go, Mom. We will all be okay. You can go. Dad is waiting. Your mom is waiting. Your dad is waiting.”

“It’s okay to go, Mom.”

“It’s okay to go.”

I repeat this over and over, my last reassurance to my mother.

That if she would be courageous enough to press on toward the unknown, I would also be courageous and press on here in her place.

I choose to carry this pain of losing her. For the rest of my life.

Because it will free her.

“You gotta go, Sweetie,” Warren says, his voice as broken as his heart. He clutches her hand to his lips and kisses it, his tears freely falling. “I’ll see you there.”

“Mom,” my voice shakes. “There’s not a single person who loves you who can’t be here for you right now. We are all here and we love you so much.”

Doug taps me, but I keep going.

“But we’re going to be okay, Mom. I promise you. It’s okay to go, Mom. It’s okay to go.”

I say it over and over again.

Doug taps me again, but I keep going.

“And the last thing I’ll say, Mom, before you go…” I take a breath. “I just want to thank you for all the I Love You notes that you’d slip into my sandwiches.”

Warren reaches across the bed, over my mother’s body, and grasps my hand.

“She’s gone, Sharon.”

***

It’s true what they say about how a person changes in that first minute after death. In that first minute after death, I surrender to the wave of grief crashing over me and weep over my mother’s arm and hand until I feel her go cold.

But that coldness is all it takes for me to know wholly and thoroughly that the thing that made my mother who she was–a spirit, a soul, an essence–was not her body. She was not just skin and organs and fluids. She was so much more than this body that is now left, apart from her.

I’m the first to stand up.

It’s surprisingly easy to do.

To get to my feet and walk out of this room, knowing that I’m stepping into the shoes that my mother is leaving behind. She would be the one to say the hardest words to the people who need to know.

I feel it already, the passing on of matriarchy.

I will be the Keeper of Family Memory from now on. The one to memorialize what we’ve lost. The one to keep her memory alive by baking her recipes. The one to be a mother to all of us left behind.

And it starts now. With this walk down the hallway, where I will say the hardest words to say in this moment. I will say it.

At the nurse’s station, a young woman is eating what looks like her lunch, a large bowl of noodles, something that requires her to anchor her head over the bowl to not make a mess. 4:30 a.m. I suppose it is lunch for the night nurses.

She sees me and puts down her spoon.

I point to the room behind me.

“She just passed.”

The nurse’s face goes solemn.

“I’ll let the doctor know right away.”

I shake my head.

“There’s no rush.”

***

Dawn is breaking by the time I arrive back at the hotel.

The sunrise, Saturday, August 13th, Indianapolis, IN

I meet my sister in the lobby of the hotel. She is sitting on a bench, tears already running down her red cheeks. I lean down, hold her by the back of her head, and kiss her forehead. She stands to hug me.

Then, I tell her everything, as much as I have the words for. There is too much that I don’t have words for yet, that I don’t fully understand yet, that I will need time to make sense of, that I will need to find the language for. But I say as much as I can and promise to myself that someday I’ll sit down and commit the sacredness of this morning to human memory, that it may never be lost.

But in this moment, what I say over and over again is this:

“I told her we were all there. And we were. We were.”

Dying

Friday, August 12th, 3:30 p.m.

“She’s out of isolation, so you don’t need to bother with a gown or gloves. Whatever it is, it’s not COVID,” the ICU nurse says. I glance at the whiteboard. Nurse: Megan.

Through the window, I see my mother reclined on the hospital bed, her eyes closed, her chest rapidly rising and falling. This labored breathing has been ongoing for days now, her heart rate increasing steadily over the days. 90. 100. 110. 125. 130.

It holds at 140 now.

140 is my heart rate when I’m jogging or doing kickboxing. And there, she lies, reclined on the hospital bed, her body racing as if accelerating toward some unknown destination in the distance. Does she know where she’s going? And when will she arrive?

What’s causing her high heart rate? I had asked the doctor.

It’s the body’s stress response.

To what?

We don’t know.

There would be nothing else to say until more tests were done. More and more tests.

I look at my mother through the door.

She is dying. Surely, they can see that.

Can’t they?

I slide the door of the ICU room open and step inside and rest my eyes on my mother. And the reality of the situation washes over me again, a horrible reminder. Oh, right. It really is as bad as the last time that I was here, just hours ago.

But then, I realize. No.

It’s not as bad as last time.

It’s actually worse.

I want to tell every nurse and doctor and hospital worker, This isn’t what she looks like. She’s really not like this.

In a week, she has transformed from a robust 68-year-old woman into a woman who looks to be in her 80s. Frail.

I place my cup of coffee on the floor beside the chair next to her bed and sit beside her. The welts that have emerged on her face and arms are starting to crust over. The doctors guess that it’s a reaction to antibiotics to treat a UTI, but it’s just a guess.

I slide my hand under hers. It’s not as hot as yesterday, when her fever was 102, but it’s still so warm. Her fingers are swollen. From what? I don’t know. Why is she breathing like this? There are new masses in her lungs, ones that have grown rapidly at some time in the last month, but is that what’s causing her body to run like its out of control?

Her spinal tap is clear. There’s no infection. Her brain is fine. Her heart is fine. Carcinoid cancer is strange. We don’t know everything about it.

“Hi, Mom,” I said, trying to keep my voice steady. “It’s Sharon.”

I open a document on my phone. It’s a letter that I’ve written to her. I was going to read it at her funeral, but she deserves to hear it while she’s alive. My eyes skate over the first line that I’ve written to steel myself to read it, but I can’t see through the blurry curtain of my tears. They drop freely onto my dress.

That looks so nice on you! she had said, not two months ago. Stitch Fix? I’ve never heard of it!

I look around the room for a box of tissues and see nothing. There are never enough tissues in these rooms. I wipe my face with the back of my free hand as I hold my mother’s hand. Then, I pull a used paper towel from the dispenser in her last hospital room and dab at my face again.

I close the app with the letter to my mother and navigate to a song. Something that has comforted me in the past.

See me someday sleeping softly
Flowers draped across my knees
Hear the cries of friends and family
Missing me
Press on

She’s not gone yet, but I miss her already.

I look down at my mother’s hand.

Just two weeks ago, she responded to my touch. One week ago, she could still acknowledge that I was in the room. Yesterday, with effort, she could say a few words–if they were important. I fed her a small piece of strawberry, and with great effort, she chewed it. Now, when she is aware, her communication has reduced to groans and a look from behind glassy eyes.

In this moment, her eyes are closed. I could almost convince myself that she was sleeping, if she weren’t breathing like she were running a race.

My head drops to her hand and I press it to my cheek, where my tears are now sliding over her knuckles and down her wrists. I turn my head and look up the side of her arm, upward at her as she is reclined in the bed and suddenly she seems as large as she was to me when I was a child. Authoritative. Grand. Only now, silent and suffering.

I want to wake her up, shake her out of this nightmare. I want to curl up in her arms. She was not a mother who would say something like, “Everything’s going to be okay, Sweetie.” Instead, she would say something simpler, like, “Hey, now. What’s wrong?”

Her hand is slick underneath my cheeks, my tears still spilling forth. There is Life there, inside of her, as strong as it has ever been. But not for long. Soon, her hand will turn cold and there will be no warming it up with peach tea or coffee with cream. I can still see the steam rising from her mug as she laughed about my ridiculous guesses for unscrambling words in a puzzle book.

The sadness settling over me is so heavy I cannot even hold myself up and soon, I’m collapsed over the rail of the hospital bed. I’m crawling up the side of the bed now, my face and neck pressed against her arm and hand, gazing up at her. I want her to snap out of this. For her breathing to slow. For her to look over at me and say, “I had the weirdest dream.”

But her face is so thin now. Her face has never been this pale, this thin, this drained of life.

I want to go back. To my beginning. When I was the Protected, and she, the Protector. When it was her tears of joy covering me at my birth, not my tears of sorrow covering her just before her death. How short the years were between those two turning points in our universe. I didn’t always take those years for granted. I cherished them more each time she told us the cancer was back. But how many years had the cancer slept–and I lost sight of my gratitude?

Moments with someone you love become so much more precious when you’re threatened with losing them forever. You find yourself making frequent trips to see them. Cherishing every word they say. Not throwing away their cards. Taking more pictures. More videos.

My mind drifts and I think of the woman who wept upon Jesus’s feet and then wiped away her tears with her hair, just before pouring expensive perfume over his feet.

Why was she crying? Jesus and his disciples believed that it was because she was “a sinful woman” and was plagued with regret.

But no one asked her. They just assumed that she was sad about her sinful life.”

But now I wonder if she knew, in the way that I know now, that Death is at the doorstep. I wonder if she felt the same tight tug at her heart when she looked at Jesus, the tightness that I’m feeling now as I gaze at my mother in these final hours, as if she is being pulled into a thick fog while I am anchored here. Unable to follow, even at a distance.

Even though there was a time when we were so connected that the echoes of our heartbeats rippled throughout the same body. My hiccups were her hiccups, and hers were mine.

Wasn’t there a verse in Isaiah (Was it Isaiah?) that said, Death where is thy sting?

I know where it is. It’s here, in this room. I feel it needling me every time a monitor beeps, announcing some new threshold that my mother has fallen too far below or risen too far above.

The nurse, Megan, quietly enters the room and I don’t even try to hide my tears. What’s the point?

“Here,” she says softly, handing me a hospital washcloth. “This is better.”

I nod, unable to even thank her properly. I push the stiff, paper towels into my purse.

She doesn’t say anything.

There is nothing to say.

Life is filled with bitter music
Breeze that whistles like a song
Death gets swept down like an eagle
Snatch us with our shoes still on

Press on

Behind me, I can hear the soft conversations of nurses in the hallway. I can’t hear the content, but the tone tells me that whatever they’re talking about weighs infinitely less than what is happening in this room.

Do they know? Can they tell what’s happening? Is it obvious to them too?

When do we start using that word, dying? Is it too soon? It doesn’t seem too soon.

Instead, it seems too late for someone to be notifying me. Instead, it seems that I was meant to figure this out on my own. It seems that we are in the wrong place here. ICUs are meant for people to get better. Why is she here anyway? Shouldn’t we be in hospice? Why are we pumping high-flow oxygen into her nostrils and administering potassium?

Why did we do a biopsy? Will the results read as clearly as a pregnancy test? Dying or Not Dying? When are the results supposed to come back? After she’s dead? Why are we still testing?

The sobs overwhelm me and I find myself praying not only to God, but also my father. My grandmother. Any ancestors who will hear me.

Please. She needs someone to guide her. She needs help to find her way forward. I cannot stand to watch her suffer like this another day.

I love her too much to allow this to go on.

There is a doctor’s knock at the door. They all knock the same–an interrupting, quick signal that you are next in line. But I cannot even lift myself to acknowledge the sound. If this doctor’s time is money, they’ll need to pay the price for now. And I will come away from this moment knowing that I owe them nothing. I will not shield them from my pain or my grief. They should know the weight of what is happening here, how the gravity of this moment warps time, slows it down, so that every moment is lived painfully and with the greatest effort imaginable.

They should feel it, if even to a small degree, in the way that I’m feeling it now.

My mother is dying.

Whoever is about to sit with me and talk with me already knows that, too.

***

He’s very kind, this doctor in his late 30s. He uses phrases like, “How are you feeling about her condition?” And “Yes, I agree that it’s time to modify her goals.”

When I ask if we can help her pass without suffering, he says, “We absolutely can.”

Then, a new flood of tears arrives as phrases that should be uttered twenty years from now are spoken today.

We can move her to a private, quiet room. Make her comfortable. Give her morphine for pain. Give her anti-anxiety medication.

How long will it take, we ask as a family.

Could be 30 minutes. A few hours. Or days.

More tears.

I’m hoping for a few hours. Time to say what we want to say to her. To pray. To read to her.

But the thought of wandering for days in this Space Between Worlds…

The thought is crushing.

But I know that I will bear it, no matter how long.

I will bear it for her.

***

The night nurse comes, Regina. I believe she is the Holy Spirit, the Great Comforter, incarnate. She can’t be older than 35, but she speaks as someone who has traveled this road of Death many times. She props her hands on her hips like she’s telling us the specials on tonight’s menu.

“I want to be clear about what we’re doing tonight. We’re going to do a terminal wean. We’ll do everything to make her comfortable and relieve her pain.”

It’s not insensitive the way that she says any of this. Instead, it instantly puts me at peace. What we are doing is not unusual or awful. We are only getting out of the way of Death. We are simply fulfilling my mother’s wishes, even though it means that she’s leaving us behind.

We read last minute messages from friends and family who want to say goodbye. We hold the phone up to her ear to allow family who can’t make it to talk to her. My mother says nothing. She cannot talk. All she can do now is groan, and only when absolutely necessary. She breathes heavily through her nose and mouth, which quickly dries out her lips. The tone in her jaw is gone. She cannot keep her mouth closed. Every time Warren carefully applies Chapstick to her lips, tears sting my eyes.

Can she still hear? I wonder. While half of me is glad that we are talking to my mother as if she can still hear us, the other half of me remains skeptical and wonders if this is all a show to make ourselves feel better.

Her brain is fine, the doctors had said.

As I sit on my mom’s left, my daughter, Felicity, walks in, tears slowly careening down her nine-year-old cheeks. She has been pinballing between entering the ICU room and remaining in the hallway.

Anything you want to do is fine, I assured her. Only do what you want to do.

She sits on my lap, facing away from me. She’s too tall for me to hold her like a baby anymore, so I do the next best thing and bear-hug her from behind.

Felicity gazes over at her grandmother and places her hand on top of hers.

My mother groans.

My chest tightens and I swallow.

“She can hear you, baby girl. She knows it’s you.”

Felicity leaves her hand there as her little body shakes in my lap. I know in this moment, my mother hates that she’s making Felicity sad. She hates that she can no longer mask the fact that she’s dying. She wouldn’t want to scare Felicity. She would despise the fact that the only sound she could make to comfort Felicity was a monotone groan. She would encourage Felicity to not let her condition make her sad. She might even tell Felicity what she had said so many times before, “I’m getting better and better every day, Felicity. Don’t worry about me.”

Without warning, Felicity jumps to her feet and moves to the other side of the bed.

“Can I hug her?” she asks.

“Yes. As tightly as you want.”

She leans across the bed and rests upon my mother and pushes out her shaky words.

“I love you, Grandma.”

Warren helps Regina remove my mother’s neck brace, which had been supporting her nearly healed neck after her most recent fall.

They remove the arm brace, which had been keeping her broken right arm in place.

Regina pulls away the tubing that forces high-flow oxygen from my mother’s nostrils.

A lump rises in my throat as a thought occurs to me.

We are removing all her armor now, letting it fall away, leaving her vulnerable. We all understand that she can’t be any more broken than she is now. Nor, are we are protecting her anymore. We’ve wandered off the road to recovery long ago. Now, we’re on a different path, each of us recognizing it at different times, as if we are each acquiring a new language at different speeds. I’ve been able to read the signposts for weeks, but I know that others have only been able to read them for days.

We are handing Mom over to a Thing that we have all feared, no matter what our faith teaches us. No matter how many cheery faces have told us confidently that there’s Heaven waiting for us on the other side, none of us have seen this destination, nor have we traveled there. Perhaps someday I will find comfort in the thought of Heaven. But not today. Because my mother’s path to get there is covered in thorns, ripping at her mercilessly even as she barrels blindly forward.

She will travel this last path alone, exhausting every weapon and tool that she used in this life. She will do this alone, just as she did when she gave birth four times. Just as she did when she fought through unbearable pain when she broke her back in 2007–and all the years of pain that followed. Just as she has fought this cancer for 24 years.

Like every other time before, she would do this last battle all by herself.

No man has ever come close to demonstrating the strength that my mother has.

Not even close.

She is the only person I’ve known who has chosen over and over again to walk into the shadows of Pain and Loss.

And still found the Light inside of it.

And then held that Light up for all to see.

Warrior isn’t the title that she has earned.

She is the Hero.

Maybe that’s why her body is still wielding its sword, slashing at shadows.

We can’t tell her to stop fighting.

But at least we can take away her pain while she fights.

Both Sides Now

“I think she’s passing out,” I say.

My stepfather is on his feet in a moment, talking to my mom, asking her questions. I move from my chair to the edge of the bed and take her hand in mine without thinking.

Are you okay, Mom?

…yeah…

Do you know where you are?

…yeah…

Warren tries to talk to her.

Who’s holding your hand? Who came to visit us?

…Sharon. And Doug…

My stepfather leaves the room to get the nurse and my mom stares at a fixed point on the wall, somewhere faraway. I pull her hand into my lap and rub her hand, her palm, her wrist, her arm, over and over again.

I want to say, It’s okay. We’re getting help.

But my mouth is dry, the words catch in my throat, as large as stones. I could not cough them out if I tried. My eyes don’t sting with impending tears, nor do they water. My heart does not panic.

My hands keep moving, comforting her as she drifts between consciousness and unconsciousness. I have been there myself, on that cold, shaky cusp between states of awareness. Sinking into a cloud of thick unconsciousness, swallowed whole for a dark moment. The ringing in my ears, the cold sweat, the sounds drifting back into my ears as I push back through the clouds, breathing in the clear atmosphere once again. I know what it is like to be able to hear and understand–and be unable to speak, the task of moving your mouth and articulating words too much too handle. Hoping beyond hope that someone will just stay with me and talk me through it, until I rise to the surface again.

It’s the cancer in her leg, fueled by a reoccurring hormone-disrupting carcinoid tumor, that is causing these blackouts. Her heart is fine. Her brain is fine. Her endocrine system is not. These drops in blood pressure have brought her here, where she is now–in a rehab facility, nursing a broken arm and an injured neck.

I move my hand over her bruised wrist, where they drew blood several days ago. I cringe. That’s a spot where it would burn and sting. I rub the dark spot tenderly, careful not to push too hard.

I should be crying, I think.

But I’m not.

Because I’ve stepped into something familiar. A path that I’ve walked, both consciously and unconsciously, for the last ten years.

I think of the nights I held Felicity while her chest rattled with mucus from RSV, rubbing her back so tenderly, talking into her ear.

I think of the way I would carefully transfer Henry, so smoothly, so orchestrated to minimize the sensation from my arms to his crib.

I think of how I held each of my children after injuries and surgeries, the even and loving tone that I would hear come from my mouth, so assured. I surprised even myself.

I think of all the ways that motherhood has required me to use my whole body, my touch, my hands, my shoulders, my whole physical self to be present and to move along with the rhythms and pace of my heart.

I think of these memories. And I know exactly what to do.

I know how to hold my mother’s hand, how to talk to her softly and assuredly, without making demands or imposing undue stress on her, to let her know that I am there for her and there is nothing that she needs to do for me, that all she needs to do is breathe and hold on, and how grounded I need to be to keep her from panicking or floating away completely.

And she allows me.

*******

Whenever I ask my mom if she needs help while I’m visiting, she said, “Help is my middle name right now.”

I help her adjust the cervical collar, which holds her healing neck as still as possible. I help her grasp the dried banana chips that I’ve brought from the store. I hand the puzzle book to her to ask for her help on a clue. I direct the kids about where to stand so Grandma can see them better.

Warren is there every day, for most of her waking hours. He sits patiently next to her and helps her remember the days and what has happened. He keeps track of what occupational therapist has said, what the physical therapist has said, what the nurse has said, the medications that haven’t arrived yet, the outcomes of particular doses of this and that. He helps her lean forward in the inclined bed by gripping her unbroken arm and bracing himself. He does all the actions that she cannot do.

I don’t pray much these days. If I’m being honest, my prayers are sometimes confined to the liturgy, Help, save, comfort, and defend us, Gracious Lord.

But there as I’m watching Warren take care of my mother, I pray for him.

I downright thank God for him.

*******

The tears don’t come as I leave the rehab facility. They don’t come on the long drive home, with my husband and kids in the car. They don’t arrive while we’re making dinner or getting the kids ready for bed.

They arrive as I lay in bed, reviewing the day in the way that all introverts do: by carefully combing through the day’s memories. The considering and classifying and making sense of. Aligning memories alongside each other, drawing the far past to the what-just-happened. The contemplation.

It all gives rise to sobbing. The ugly, whole body sobbing that just wrecks you and turns you into a red, wet, messy disaster.

What do I think about?

I wonder how many times my mother has comforted me by holding me. As an infant. As a preschooler. As a young girl.

How tall was this mountain of memories that I would never remember? And I cry more because I know, I know, how many moments of my life have been spent in this period of suspension. When nothing else got done, except for the simple act of holding.

The simple act of caring.

Now, I feel the full Truth of that moment–It was worth it.

It was worth my time, my sacrifice, my pain, my life. I knew it was worth it then, but now I know it was worth it even more than I did in those moments.

And how much of a gift it is to offer this moment to my mother now.

And how I deeply wish I would have been able to offer the same to my father as he lay dying.

But now I know.

This is a gift.

To be there for her.

To bring her grandkids to her so she can see them.

To sit with her in the silence and simply be.

To hold her hand in moments when her body conquers her mind, and reassure her that, No, you are not going anywhere.

Not yet.

We will wait for that moment together.

But it’s not today.

Not yet.

Oh, but now old friends they’re acting strange

And they shake their heads and they tell me that I’ve changed

Well something’s lost, but something’s gained

In living every day

I’ve looked at life from both sides now

From win and lose and still somehow

It’s life’s illusions I recall

I really don’t know life at all

Joni Mitchell

Still Writing

I haven’t been writing much here, but I have definitely been writing.

What I’m working on has turned into a fantasy series with (likely?) 4-5 installments. I’ve finished the first book (although… I’m already thinking a prequel to that book would be nice to write later on) and I’m approaching the climax of the second book.

I’ve been slowly chiseling away at this monster of a second book on Saturday and Sunday mornings from 2-7 a.m. (Yeah, you read that right.) I’m not very exciting on Friday and Saturday nights, but the benefit is that I’m rarely, if ever, interrupted early Saturday and Sunday morning. Everyone is asleep. Because everyone else is sane.

I understand this.

It’s a price that I’m willing to pay to bring this story to light. It’s a story that just won’t go away.

Some themes that are central to this series of books:

  • Intercultural conflict
  • How humanity understands and interacts with the Divine
  • The relationship between pain, growth, healing, and death
  • Healing that causes harm and harm that causes healing
  • The cyclical nature of creation and destruction: Creation as destruction and destruction as creation

Some questions that the series explores:

  • Who deserves to be saved or healed? Does everyone deserve a second chance?
  • When should healers withdraw their healing and leave a person to their pain/fate?
  • When should the needs of the group take precedence over the needs of the individual?
  • Where is the line between pain leading to growth and pain crushing someone’s soul?
  • How do the dead continue to influence the living?

I’ve been inspired by When God was a Woman, a book about the transition in human history from primarily polytheistic worship of a female goddess of creation to a monotheistic worship of a male god of creation. If that sounds interesting, please check out my previous post, “God, the Mother.” I’m also combining bits of history and mythology from Turkey and Serbia.

I’m not going to lie: Writing this second book has been a slog.

In April, I had a few very bad weeks and almost abandoned the book completely. I was in that “murkey middle” part of the book and things were just getting very unwieldy. I struggled to keep in mind what the motivations for my characters were and what they would want to do in certain situations. It’s very hard to write alone, in the dark, sitting on a pile of words that no one else reads, for weeks at a time.

What got me through this part was sharing parts of what I was working with others. Just getting some general feedback of, “I like this character” or “I want to know more about that” gave me the motivation to keep going.

Some people say that quitting is easy.

It has never been easy for me to quit.

Once I start something that I believe is worth the effort of my creativity and persistence, I will nurture whatever I’m doing until it grows into what I think it can become.

So the next time you’re up at 2:00 a.m. on Saturday morning, drink a cup for me.

Wish me luck.

Ramblings about the End of the Trump Presidency and Blue Lives Matter

My son was born four years ago, just a few weeks after Trump’s inauguration. My life turned both inside-out and upside-down. Inside-out, as I struggled once again with bringing the life inside me into the outer world. Upside-down, as events that would once grab headlines for days, if not weeks, were now coming every few hours. The It’s-Not-a-Muslim-Ban Travel Ban. Michael Flynn. Betsy DeVos. I would put my son down for a nap, fall into a half-sleep for an hour, and then wake up to a new horrible reality of Things that Were Now Possible in the U.S..

I knew there was a reason that when I entered my classroom on the day after the 2016 election that I could barely keep from crying in front of my international students. My heart knew what was coming, even if they didn’t know it yet. I felt somewhere deep in my heart that the life that I had built teaching English and fostering intercultural understanding was now dangerously at risk of disappearing altogether.

It turns out my worry was completely founded and warranted. Because two years later, international student enrollment plummeted where I was teaching, just as it was everywhere else in the United States. I grieved the fact that I needed to seriously reconsider my career choice. It was a path that I pursued tirelessly just to be employed full-time.

Now here we are, four years later. I have left teaching, but I have managed to stay in the field of education. There are things that I miss about teaching (advising students, talking with families, joking before class, sharing snippets of American culture) and things I’m wholeheartedly grateful that I never have to do again (grade essays, sit in a faculty meeting that could have been an email, eat like a wolf at my desk while answering emails, just to name a few).

And miracle of miracles, we are saying good-bye to legitimately the Worst President in American History. I don’t feel that those words are too strong to use. And because I believe in supporting my opinions with reasons, here are just a few:

  • “They’re rapists. They’re murders. And some, I assume, are good people.” On the campaign trail, 2015
  • “There were fine people on both sides.” About the Charlottesville white supremacist rally, 2017
  • Separating children from their parents at the border. 2018.
  • “I would like you to do us a favor.” Asking the Ukrainian president for non-existent incriminating information about Biden, 2019
  • “No one saw this coming.” About the COVID-19 pandemic, March 2020.
  • Suggesting that “disinfecting” the lungs by injection may help with treating coronavirus, 2020

There is so, so, so much more.

Before the pandemic, at some point in 2019, I remember talking with friends about how concerned I was about the end of this presidency. I believed that if Trump lost in 2020 and we were following his playbook, he would say the elected was rigged, that voting fraud was rampant, and he would refuse to concede. I really wondered if he would have to be dragged from the White House. We talked about at length about the limitations of what Trump could do to hold onto power. My friends reassured me that the military swears an oath to the Constitution, not to the President.

Some of those words were comforting.

And then January 6th came.

Just. What. The. Fuck.

(Photo credit: Kent Nishimura, Los Angeles Times)

***

I’m not exuberant about Biden being sworn into office. I’m hopeful. But honestly, at this point, I’m drained. Not only by the division between Americans that is visible at the national level, but also by the division between Americans in my own community.

One of our neighbors STILL has a yard full of Trump-related campaign signs decorating her lawn. All Lives Matter. Back the Blue. Lock Her Up (a fav from 2016). God Bless America. And then to string the whole mess together in a frightening display of cognitive dissonance, a “patriotic” Christian cross, lit with red, white, and blue lights.

In January, the Trump flags are still flying.

This is deeply unsettling to me.

I drove through a middle-class neighborhood a few weeks ago and everything about it felt familiar and cozy. American flags hung from the porch or next to the mailbox or from the awning of the house.

Then I saw something new.

Blue Lives Matter flag

How can I explain to you how this made me feel? To see this bizarre twist on an American flag, flying as high and next to American flags?

I had a stone in my stomach just looking at it.

I felt disbelief, anger, and frustration.

I felt cold.

What are we? What is the United States when we cannot even agree about which flag deserves to represent what we hold most dear? Are we really so divided that we’re putting aside the flag that brings us together and pledging allegiance to something else?

It’s not just a flag. People fly flags to identify themselves. And if you choose to fly a Blue Lives Matter flag in your front yard–especially when it’s the ONLY flag in your yard–you are making a bold statement about what principles you follow and what values you hold.

That thin blue line on that flag is a clear divider.

The question stands: Who does it divide?

Who is on either side of that line? Is it police on one side? Community on the other? If it is, then I really don’t understand. Because I thought that the jobs of police officers were facilitated by working with the community, not fighting against it.

Or perhaps the flag is finally saying what we’ve all known to be true for a long time. I grew up on Cops. The theme of the show is very hard to miss. Poor people–almost always black–are criminals. Police keep us safe from them. I don’t recall a single episode where a tax evader or embezzler was dragged from his corporate office for defrauding a company for millions. But a coked-out dude running from the police? Every episode.

But we now live in a world where militarizing police departments is common in the U.S., so perhaps I shouldn’t be so shocked that this is where we are, debating on the meaning of flying the Blue Lives Matter flag in your front yard. My reflective self wonders if we are just on a slow slide into a police state. My gloom-and-doom self cries out that we’re already there. But my hopeful self remembers that we are not there. Yet.

But we could be.

On Grace

So I’m still writing.

Still from 2:00 a.m. to 7:00 a.m. on Saturdays and Sundays.

And there is a theme that I keep circling in different ways through different characters.

It’s this idea that people understand and anticipate things going wrong or falling apart or people failing them. Perhaps we prepare ourselves for this inevitability because we know that people are flawed and the world is imperfect. Whatever it is, we have created rituals and systems to deal with these imperfections. We have all kinds of rituals and systems set up to deal with tiny infractions (being caught in a lie) as well as with huge transgressions (sexual assault, murder).

But we are not prepared for grace.

Or forgiveness.

Or healing.

These things are too much for the mind to accept–because we can be so married to the idea of our own unworthiness. Or perhaps we distrust the ability for others to be altruistic. Perhaps the framework that we’ve created for our world is such a meritocracy that conceiving of grace is impossible.

What I’m saying is that when healing or forgiveness or grace is extended, it’s not uncommon for the recipient to view it with mistrust–all the way to the point of refusing to accept it.

I see parallels in this time of pandemic. This idea that even if there were a vaccine that were 100% effective, today, not everyone would take it–simply because of a lack of trust.

Healing, forgiveness, and grace can be freely given. But they don’t have to be accepted.

This is what I’ve been thinking about a lot.

2:00 a.m. Writing Life

I typically get up at 4:00 a.m.

Not bragging about that. I know how crazy that is. But, please, do remember that I’m utterly no fun at 7:00 p.m. I am yawning. I am so close to passing out.

Five days a week, Monday-Friday, I get up to exercise before the sun comes up, when I know no one will bother me.

My new addiction is waking up on the weekends to write.

At first, it was the same time frame: 4:00 – 7:00 a.m.

But then… things started to snowball.

I would find myself waking up at 2:00 a.m., 1:00 a.m., and sometimes even midnight, my mind working on overdrive. I would try to go back to sleep, but sometimes, once the train has left the station, it was best just to get on board and let it take me where we needed to go, consequences be damned.

It hasn’t been all bad.

I have written some amazing scenes during this time. I would discover a flaw in my character that would make him more interesting, or a hidden intention in another character that I didn’t originally see.

I have never had a writing experience like this before. There are a few pivotal climactic scenes that I know that I’m working toward, but this series of books is largely being written organically, step by step, following a somewhat planned outline. Still, so much of it seems to be discovered in the moment.

The other thing that makes is super unique is that I feel connected to the story in an almost supernatural way, like the story is fighting to get its way out of me. Like it has been living with me for far too long and wants its own air to breathe, its own space to stretch its wings and fly.

Instead of creating characters that I thought I would like, I’ve let my characters become who they want to be–and I’m finding that its giving them more depth and dimensions than I had planned. Sometimes, my characters irritate me. Sometimes, they downright piss me off. And sometimes, they break my heart with their blindness.

I am thoroughly enjoying this journey of following my characters and seeing where they lead me, even as I know that we are approaching a certain cataclysmic event that will change everything.

It seems ominous–this knowing of the changes that are to come for my characters, anticipating how it will change them and their lives, in devastating ways that will ultimately lead to their greatest growth.

I’m starting to understand how authors can actually grow to love their characters and empathize when they ratchet up the tension and the stakes.

Though it would be so much healthier were I able to do this at a reasonable time of day.

I am Writing Again

In January 2016, I had a great idea for a novel. I had some momentum and a lot of dynamite scenes that compelled me to sit down for a time and give it space to come to life.

But then I got pregnant. I had a baby. And then the Hamster Wheel of Life spun on ceaselessly for three years.

My inspiration and motivation drained as the questions that I had about the characters and the plot were so overwhelming that I boxed myself into a corner, unable to figure out how to get out of it.

Yes, it was a great idea. But quite frankly, it was not the right time. I worked a job that drained my creativity. My supervisors sucked my joy dry. I had diapers to change. A baby to feed. A kindergartner with a broken elbow. A toddler to follow all weekend long. A preschooler with poop in his underwear. Again.

I said so sorry to the idea and moved on.

But this past January, four years later, the idea floated to the forefront again.

It really was a great idea.

I sat on it more. I asked the questions. I thought of answers. I asked more questions. I wrote ideas down in a notebook. Some of the questions, I left unanswered. But this time, I had more answers. I had been thinking about the story on and off for the last four years, but now, things were starting to make sense.

Fuck it, I thought. Here we go.

I mean, really, what’s the worst that could happen?

Here’s the worst that could happen: I could waste my time writing a book that no one wants to read but that I care deeply about.

I’m fine with that.

I didn’t sell thousands of copies of my last book.

And I’m fine with that. It is a success because I created something out of nothing and it moved people.

That’s success to me.

For me, it really is about the process. The fact that I feel better doing the work. The fact that writing these thoughts teaches me things about myself.

It heals me.

Last month, I took a casual online writing class. One of exercises that we did was creating a voice of our Inner Critic. Then, we were tasked with defacing our Inner Critic in whatever way we wanted. Here’s what I ended up with.

So, what is the book about?

This is not something I’ll be openly talking about online until much further on, especially since I know that it’s not just one book that I’m working on. This will likely be a four to five book series.

So for now, just know that I am filling notebooks with pieces of characters and plots. I am thinking of symbols and themes, lines of dialogue that won’t go away. I’m plotting them in tables and writing summaries. I’m crafting a Shitty First Draft, that is actually isn’t too shitty. And, People of the World, I am actually now nearly to the end of the Shitty First Draft phase and prepare to dig into my favorite part–the Revision Stage.

Creating makes me excited. It energizes me in a way that nothing else does.

Here’s to the journey.

What is Getting Me Through (Week 5-7 of Pandemic Coping)

Weeks 1-2 were a mix of denial and anger, all set to rhythms of Survival Mode, acquiring food and necessities, making sense of pandemic life, and figuring out how to rearrange the landscape of life in a way that we can all live with in this house.

Weeks 3-4 have been, so far, my low point. Replete with the constant wishing things were different, feelings of helplessness, and depression.

Week 5 was my Saturation Point of News. Since then, I’ve only been able to stomach 20 minutes of NPR while I’m making dinner. It’s just enough for me to think, Yep, things are still awful and No, we still don’t have a handle on this.

By Week 6, the depression started to lift as we were faced with the news that we’d been expecting for weeks: Sorry, no more school for your kids this academic year.

And our President thought it would be a good idea to look into using disinfectant to “clean out the lungs.”

This week, Week 7, I feel mostly resigned to living life like this through the summer and well into fall. In my mind, I overestimate (I hope) that we’ll be doing this same type of life through Christmas.

In Week 7, I was able to see my mom in person, though from six feet away and with masks.

In Week 7, I learned that COVID-19 is not just a respiratory disease–it affects the whole body through blood clotting. And I read this ICU nurse’s account of the inconceivable situations and grief that she and other healthcare workers are facing right now.

***

In all this darkness, I want to make plenty of room for the things that are still bringing me light.

  1. My partner–My rationality, my burden-bearer, my chef and gardener, accountant and engineer. The person I still love to watch TV with (although we rarely have time to do that anymore).
  2. Running. Sweet, sweet exercise. Early in the morning. Nothing but feet on the pavement and music in my ears.
  3. Watching my kids grow closer together–This is both unexpected and welcome. They (generally) love being around each other. My daughter tucks my son in at night and tells hawks to “Stay away from her little brother.”
  4. Working with co-workers via Zoom. Sharing our little victories in helping faculty teach online.
  5. Attending church services via YouTube. I was surprised by how much my nerves are calmed every week by just hearing familiar songs and the liturgy. When so much is changing, my mind craves the unchanging, the stable.
  6. Taking on a short-term contract to help move some classes online that otherwise wouldn’t happen.
  7. Re-watching the entire American Pie series. And then all of the Austin Powers movies. (Apparently, this is the extent of problem-solving and just the right level of dumb that I need in my life to balance out all the soul-crushing news.)
  8. Reading “Dear Students: There is No Afterwards,” a letter written by a professor to Notre Dame students who won’t be returning to school. Profound and spot on.

It is freeing if we learn to accept that our lives are on loan and we are meant to give our lives over to others. That is the kind of lesson we are taught when we are young, though it often remains on the level of a noble idea that we may opt into or out of depending on our mood. What all the many sufferings of adult life show us is that this idea is actually the high and unbending rule, and it governs our bodies and our relationships and everything else, without exception. 

Leonard J. DeLorenzo

There will be no return to “normal” because we are all forced to face our own vulnerabilities now. And so the question put to us now is, How will we react to this vulnerability? What will we do?

9. Listening to Kate Tempest’s “People’s Faces.” But first, grab a box of tissues. You’ll need it.

Her poem hits all the right notes for this moment in time.

The uncertainty, the desperation, the frustration, and the sadness.

But also the hope.

The current’s fast, but the river moves slow.

Kate Tempest, “People’s Faces”

Holding onto that truth today.

The Line Between Exasperation and Gratitude: (Week 3 and 4 of Pandemic Coping)

…is so very real, is it not?

I feel emotionally dizzy.

I mean, honestly, what bizarre disaster movie are we living in?

From what I recall, even Hollywood couldn’t conceive of the current crisis. In all the apocalyptic movies that I can recall (Deep Impact, Armageddon, 2012, The Day After Tomorrow, Independence Day), the fictionalized president of the United States displayed a measure of calmness and wisdom that the balanced the public frenzy.

We don’t have the opposite of a calm and wise leader.

What we have is actually much worse.

We have a delusional, narcissistic, inattentive compulsive liar. In addition to his irredeemable character flaws, throughout the duration of his time in office, he has managed to drive away all of the last bastions of intelligence and competence from the White House so that he is now solely surrounded by sycophants and butt-kissers that hold onto their jobs by constantly showering him with unearned and exaggerated praise for even the smallest achievement while covering up his most egregious errors, which he makes based on his personal intuition (“That’s my metrics.”) which has always been and will always be directed by his own self-preservation.

Could we ever have imagined that a President would suggest that healthcare workers are either “squandering” or stealing masks? Or who would stand by the statement that the National Stockpile doesn’t belong to the States? Or who would encourage the general public to buy drugs that haven’t been properly vetted for fighting coronavirus? Or who would push conspiracy theories that the media is purposefully overhyping the coronavirus because they want to hurt his chances of re-election?

Just… what?

WHAT ARE YOU TALKING ABOUT?

NOBODY IS THINKING ABOUT THE ELECTION.

At least nobody who’s immediate livelihood is dependent on whether or not they are able to keep their jobs three weeks from now.

Just when you think our President cannot possibly make us feel worse about having him as a leader…

He rises to the challenge.

I just cannot.

This is literally the worst time to have this man in office.

I would take so many other politicians in his place right now.

Mike Pence, whom I despise for his “spiritual” quest to rid the country of birth control and abortion? Yup. Approved.

Mitch McConnell? Put in him.

Lindsey Graham? In this pandemic, I LOVE Lindsey Graham.

Mike DeWine, the governor of my home state of Ohio, whom I didn’t vote for in the last election? I kiss his feet.

I would literally take just about anyone in this entire country who has the ability to apply reason to situations, seek advice from experts, and speak in a calm manner.

My six-year-old is a better choice.

My three-year-old is a better choice.

(Although, admittedly, he’s at his best first thing in the morning or after a nap. Even then… He’d probably be less dangerous to the American people because he would be distracted enough to let others do his job. As long as tiny Oreos are involved.)

***

So that’s the exasperated part of me, lately.

But I want to clarify that it’s not my only mode right now. Because at the height of my exasperation, when I feel that I cannot possibly take another day’s news, my rational brain kicks in and I remember gratitude.

Despite the madness that continues to swirl around my house, we’ve managed to create a zone of (mostly) peace and normalcy within these walls.

It’s different.

It involves more teleconferences, Zoom meetings, and screen time than I’d like to admit.

But it also involves being in the yard and the garden a lot. And taking walks. And having the kids around as we prepare dinner. And reading books together. And listening to audio books as I fold laundry, do dishes, change sheets, and vacuum.

We took our kids to fly kites. They loved it.

It doesn’t leave much time for us (parents) to be alone.

Being a parent during a pandemic without any tangible social support networks turns out to be hard.

It’s hard if you’re still lucky enough to have a job that you’re trying to do while the kids are awake. It’s hard if you’ve just been laid off and are looking for work when all the jobs that are hiring require you to put your health and safety at risk. It’s hard if you have a job–but you’re wondering for how long.

But who am I kidding? It’s hard for just about everyone in different ways.

So, gratitude.

We have jobs.

Getting into the field of e-learning last year turned out to be the absolute best decision I could have made at this point in my life. I recently took on a short-term contract as an independent consultant to advise and collaborate with faculty at a small, private university who are moving their traditional face-to-face summer courses into the online format.

We have a home. We have a yard where the kids can play.

We have food. More than enough food, honestly.

We have education. And friendship. And camaraderie (even if only online right now).

We have love. And laughter. And a sense of humor.

And these days, we **do** have something that we didn’t have two months ago.

Shared purpose.

A reason to look beyond the frustration and stress that we’re experiencing and look for those whom we can help.

For there is always someone who needs more help than you do.

***

And here’s where the emotional dizziness comes in. Because if I think about it long enough, my mind swings back to the realization that…

Wait… I cannot stop at gratitude.

If all I do is focus on what I’m grateful for and not be concerned about how others are suffering, nothing changes.

The cracks in our systems that are opening and swallowing so many people, they will remain.

Just because I have what I need does not, and SHOULD NOT, make me stop noticing and raising issue that the systems that are supposed to support and protect Americans are broken.

It does make me wonder though…

…will Americans finally put their collective foot down?

Will they push for the urgency of providing health care to all Americans?

Not a stop-gap. But real, actual, tangible access to health care that anyone–working, unemployed, full-time, part-time, retired, disabled, even (gasp!) non-citizens–can receive health care at a low cost?

What about sick leave?

What about family leave?

What about universal child care and preschool?

What about humane systems of incarceration?

What about preserving the human rights of anyone who is in this country, not just those who are citizens?

Or will we, once again, be too busy to push for real change?

Will 45% of Americans, as always, follow the President’s advice?

Not me.

Each day’s news, each day’s death toll, each day’s mental and emotional burdens are driving this experience deeper and deeper into my memory. It’s exposing all the flaws of capitalism run amok.

This cuts too deep for me to allow it to be “quickly forgotten.”

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