Guest Post: Someone, Somewhere by Woz Flint

Deep in sleep, newborn cries awaken me from a foggy dream. Not yet a mama for two weeks time, my babe is hungry and we are falling into a routine. A choppy one, but a routine nonetheless.

The rest of the house is quiet as my son and I cozy up on the couch for his early morning feeding. The first of many. He’ll have Hobbit style secondsies in less than an hour to come.

I begin to drift in and out of sleep until my phone beeps letting me know that someone, somewhere is thinking of me.

The last couple of weeks have presented an outpour of love from family and friends:

“Congratulations on the new baby!”

“Can’t wait to meet the little guy!”

“Don’t worry, sleep is only a few years away!”

Message after message made my heart swell with bliss. Yet, one message never came — the one I needed the most. The one from my own mama.

Having died when I was just a child, my mom was never going to meet my son. She would never see his smile. Attend a birthday party. Heart his laughter.

I was going to have to navigate these new, muddy mama waters without the one person so many new moms turn to…their own.

As I sank into my couch, baby on my breast, I felt a wave of sadness wash over me. A sadness soon replaced by anger for my mom not having the opportunity to meet this precious six-pound package of perfection.

Now with a full tummy and heavy eyelids, my son fell back into a hazy slumber and I was close behind. It didn’t take long for me to walk into a dream where my mother came and sat down at my kitchen table, soda in hand (a warm Dr. Pepper with lemon, no doubt) and reached for my hand as I sobbed “It’s not fair that you’ll never meet him, mama.”

She paused.

She smiled.

“It’s okay, sweetie. I met him before you did.”

Just then, my phone beeped letting me know that someone, somewhere was thinking of me.

WOZ FLINT is a writer, a mama, a lover of green olives and toast. You can read more on her blog, Simply Woz.


 

EDITOR’S NOTE:  as a fellow motherless daughter, even though I am not a mother, I know the feeling of grief, of how grief for those of us who have lost parents at an early age continues throughout our lives even in the happiest of times.  Each moment of happiness, is often tainted, sometimes ever so slightly, by a feeling of longing, of lamenting the absence.  This is true for anyone’s loss of any loved one at any age, but for those of us who experience our first significant loss when we were young, that feeling of loss starts earlier: bringing home a good grade, earning an award, graduating high school, getting your first apartment, falling in love, getting your heart broken, graduating college, a first job… you get the idea.

What I love about this piece by Woz is her ability to so well articulate those feelings:  happiness, sadness, and hope all rolled up into one sweet and poignant moment.  In fact, I loved this piece so much I asked her if I could republish it on my website.

If you would like to guest post here, let me know.

 

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Posted in creative writing, grief

Review: Ghostbelly

Ghostbelly by Elizabeth HeinemanI’m embarrassed to admit that I have had Ghostbelly by Elizabeth Heineman since June of last year and was invited to review it for this blog.  But cancer happened again (my sister, Stage 4 breast cancer, round 2)** and all of the sudden I found myself preferring to read lighter fare like Tana French’s psychological mysteries or binge-watching Netflix (Wallender, Last Tango in Halifax, Doc Martin, Broadchurch, The Fall, Happy Valley, Foyle’s War).  Now having typed that list I realize that my idea of “light” may be a bit darker than most.  And British.

At any rate, I finally read Ghostbelly and I am so glad I put it off.  Because while it is beautifully written, it is gut-wrenching.

From the publisher:  “Ghostbelly is Elizabeth Heineman’s personal account of a home birth that goes tragically wrong—ending in a stillbirth—and the harrowing process of grief and questioning that follows. It’s also Heineman’s unexpected tale of the loss of a newborn: before burial, she brings the baby home for overnight stays.”

I am not a mother, I’ve never lost a child nor experienced a miscarriage.  Ghostbelly, however, did exactly what a good memoir should do:  it reached beyond the personal to say something universal.  Heineman’s story not only explores her own experiences, her loss, and her grief, it examines midwifery and the medical industry, and how we (as a society) deal with death, specifically bodies.

I admit that for me there was a certain cringe factor, the idea of bringing a dead body home.  I remembered how horrified I was to see my mother at the funeral home, dead, not looking at all like herself, but rather like some waxed version of herself, too pretty to be dead.  I was 13. None of it made sense. I remember thinking it was wrong to put a dead person, my dead mother, on display.  Mothers aren’t supposed to die.

When my grandma died in 1994, then ten years later my granddad, we had a closed casket, but when my dad died in 2005 we had an open casket–his fiancee wanted that and my sister and I accommodated her wishes.  Even now I wish we hadn’t done that.  I did not want to have the image of my father, waxy and gray and too still, as the last image of him in my mind. Back to Ghostbelly.  Here’s some of my thoughts about how the book is crafted (nerdy writer alert): Continue reading

Posted in Book Review, creative writing, grief, grief memoirs | Tagged

Honoring Grief: The Red Shoes Award

daraEarlier this year I received an email letting me know that I had been selected as the recipient of the Red Shoes Award, given in honor of poet and activist Dara McLaughlin (January 9, 1951 – May 27, 2006). The award is given by a group of literary ladies in Corrales, NM who have been meeting for many years.  They now call themselves The Friends of Dara McLaughlin.  The award is give  “…in Dara’s memory to a writer whose generosity & creative virtuosity honor Dara’s own verve and passion.”

To say that I was blown away would be an understatement…  Dara’s were big (red) shoes to fill. Not only was she a poet, she was a community activist advocating for the disabled. You can still get a copy of Dara’s book, a collection of poetry A Map of This World, and you can read one of her poems online, “Temporarily Able Bodied (TAB)”.

Dara’s friend Lisa Lenard-Cook shared this with me:

[Dara] grew up in Buffalo, as did I, although, except for one passing moment when we were both recruited by a now long-defunct department store to be teen models, we did not know each other (she kept up with–and loved–the modeling; I did not).

When she was in her 30s, a cancer was treated with cobalt radiation that ended up deteriorating her spinal cord, and her husband subsequently left her–with the kids (Dana, Marla, and Santo). When the kids were grown she (and her son, Santo, who truly embodies his name) moved to NM, where she built a beautiful house on a ridge overlooking the river in Rio Rancho….[where she] wrote, painted, and became an activist for the disabled.

I remember when the Hyatt Tamaya first opened, Dara was one of the first there, in her wheelchair, demanding they improve access. (They did.) In addition to daughter Marla Millitello, an actress in LA, & Santo, her daughter Dana often visited from Buffalo with Dara’s grandchildren.

Dara was a founding member of a writers’ group that met in the Corrales Library every Friday morning at 10. Half of us are gone–Dara, Bette Casteel, Hope Bussey Mackenzie–& half of us are left–Judy, Barbara, me. We all miss her, but Judy especially, as she & Dara were very close those last few years when Dara was bedridden & had to eat through a feeding tube (she’d lick various foods just so she could have the tastes, if not the textures).

Judy Fitzpatrick shared this:

Dara was a very good friend to me.  We spent a lot of time together. Given she was bedridden for 2 1/2 years; it was easy to get together.  She’s been gone nine years, but there are times I feel her presence and I hear her giving me advice.  Mostly it is about being happy – as she never felt sorry for herself or wished her life had been different.  At least not that she talked about.

When I hate doing the dishes, I think of how she would have
been happy to stand at the sink.  Or when I wheel the heavy garbage cans to the end of the drive way for pick up, I know she’d have been happy to walk that distance without complaint. She was talented and fearless. Beautiful and smart.  She didn’t ask permission to write the things she wanted to write, she went about writing as she did about the rest of her life, knowing she was entitled to her opinions and feeling confident, trusting her audience would be open to what she had to say. She wrote erotica, satire, and simple poems about her feelings and her life experiences.

She worked with the handicapped and with children. She raised three children while in a wheelchair & showed them you could live a life with no limitations – if you were willing to work hard at what you loved.  When I was with her, I always felt she was more interested in me than she was in herself.  Not many people you can say that about.

I am in good company in receiving this award:  Joanne Sheehy Hoover (2007), Phyllis Hoge Thompson (2008), Gloria Zamora (2009), the late Doris Born Monthan  (2010), Lisa Gill (2011), Cirrelda Snider-Bryan (2012), and Lisa Hase-Jackson (2013).

Usually the recipient of the award is invited to give a presentation at the Corrales library, but that didn’t happen. Instead, Paris happened for me and for the Friends of Dara–travel, a couple of surgeries and illnesses in the families happened all of which made scheduling the presentation a particular challenge. Finally this past week I received my award and was feted at a luncheon in Corrales.
red-shoes

It was so touching to me that they have chosen to honor Dara in this way, that they took their grief and their loss and made it into something positive in the literary community is amazing and brave.  Every year when they offer the award they remember Dara and her work, and share their memories with another writer.  They’ve been doing this since 2007  and I am so honored that I was a part of it.

 

Posted in grief

Grief Averted in Paris

Debby and Me (L to R)

Debby and Me (L to R)

I was lounging in bed listening to “Morning Edition” on my local public radio station. It was April 15. Tax day. But I wasn’t worried about that–I’d filed an extension. And I wasn’t awake enough yet to remember that it was the anniversary of my father’s death eight years earlier, though I’d remembered it in the days before.

When the phone rang I let the machine pick up. I hadn’t had coffee, but the message Joe left was more of a jolt than even the strongest espresso could have offered.

“Hi Jenn, this is Joe. [pause] Everything’s okay [pause] but I just need to update you on a situation about your sister.”

Joe (L) and Mike (R)

Joe (L) and Mike (R)

Debby has known Joe and his partner Mike since the 80s when they were in training together to become flight attendants. I’d spent the occasional Thanksgiving with them, shared countless dinners out, and celebrated a couple of monumental birthdays: Debby’s 40th, and more recently, Debby’s 50th.

His voice sounded calm, but Joe never calls me, so I knew something was wrong.

Potentially very wrong.

"House sitting" in Hawaii

“House sitting” in Hawaii

My sister and I are close even though I currently live in Albuquerque and she currently lives in Chicago. We spent two weeks together at Christmas in Hawaii house-sitting (which involves sitting on the beach, reading, eating shrimp and drinking wine).

We talk on the phone regularly, but she’s always travelling and often I don’t know where she is. Layovers in Shanghai or London, training in Dallas, visiting a friend in Denver, working a trade show in Florida, or monthly trips to San Diego for appointments with her oncologist–Debby has Stage IV breast cancer, which she has been managing for the last 10 years. Approximately 20% of those with Stage IV breast cancer survive long term and my sister seems to be one of them. But there is a part of me that always wonders how long her lucky streak will last.

Had something changed?

Eyes wide open I jumped out of bed, grabbed the phone off my desk, and hit the redial button.

“JoeThisIsJenniferWhat’sWrong?” I asked.

Joe told me that Debby was on a layover in Paris. She had collapsed, had a cardiac arrest, was in the hospital, in a medically induced coma, but she was fine. For a moment I felt my own heart stop. I had questions, but I couldn’t articulate them at first.

“What does that mean?” I mumbled, my body numbing, my eyes blurring with tears.

Joe said that he and Mike would fly to Paris, I didn’t need to come yet, they’d have a better idea of what was going on once they got there. But I didn’t want to wait. As Joe talked, he reassured me that Debby was not alone, there were airline crew members with her, that she would be fine. I nodded while I checked flights to Paris. As Debby’s registered companion I could fly standby using a non-revenue pass. The flight out of Albuquerque, however, would leave in an hour for Dallas and I knew there was no way I could make it, so I resigned myself to leaving the following day.

Debby’s supervisor in Chicago, also named Debbie, arranged for my travel the next day, departing Albuquerque for Chicago at 6:30 am, leaving for Paris at 5 pm, arriving the day after that. An eternity, and for the first time I really wished for a Star Trek teleporter. Would I get there in time I wondered.

I spent the day packing, tracking down my passport, dashing off emails to clients, rearranging plans, letting family know what was going on, and fielding phone calls from Debby’s friends who’d heard about what happened. I always joke about the airline grapevine– best way to disseminate information: telephone, telegram, and tell-a-flight attendant. I talked to Nancy and Barb who would fly to Paris with me. Jackie called, Kat emailed, and Pam messaged me on Facebook, but I had no news to share.

I spent the night tossing and turning. I’d made the mistake of googling “heart attack medically induced coma” only to discover that the survival rate for cardiac arrest is dismal: 11%. And there was a high risk of brain damage if CPR assistance wasn’t rendered quickly to maintain blood flow to the brain. Maybe it wasn’t “cardiac arrest” I prayed.

* * *

It was cardiac arrest.
If help had arrived minutes later, she’d have brain damage.
If she’d been in her hotel room, she’d be dead.
If no one had stopped to help, she’d be dead.
If someone hadn’t administered CPR, she’d be dead.

* * *

I’d drawn the shades and closed the door, muting the sounds of the hospital: the clanging of still-full lunch plates being collected, the moaning of the man across the hall, and the incomprehensible (to me) rapid fire French of the nurses. Debby had been moved the day before from the Intensive Care unit to the Cardiac Intensive Care unit, which seemed like an upgrade of sorts, but she was still connected to machines that monitored her heart and to an i.v. drip. Nancy had returned to Chicago and Barb and Mike and Joe had decided to walk up to the Chagall Chapel. I wanted to stay with my sister. Besides, the cobblestoned 3-mile walk the day before to and from Notre Dame had left my knees aching. And I still wasn’t sure what time zone I was in.

“I’m going to close my eyes now,” Debby said as she pulled the rough cotton sheet and felt blanket over her shoulders. Always petite, my sister seemed to have become even smaller since the last time I’d seen her, her olive-toned skin had turned pale, with a yellow tinge, and the drugs from the medically-induced coma were still affecting her. She’d been repeating questions like “When did you get here?” “Where are you staying” or “Cute top, where’d you get that?” although with less frequency than she’d asked the day before. She’d also repeat her own stories, or lack thereof. “I don’t remember anything,” she’d tell us, or “I don’t even remember the layover. Who was on my crew?” and even though the doctor assured us this short-term memory loss was normal, that it was the drugs they’d administered, I still worried about brain damage.

I settled into one vinyl chair, propped my feet up onto the other and closed my eyes. Since I’d arrived in Paris I’d yet to get a good night’s sleep or a decent meal, sustained only by the offerings in the Marriott’s Executive Lounge: bread and cheese and Bordeaux the night before, café au lait and croissants earlier that morning.

As I started to drift off, Debby’s tiny voice, still raspy from the breathing tube they’d removed two days earlier, called out, “Jenn.”

“Yeah,” I mumbled.

“Why am I still here?”

#  #  #

My sister is back in Chicago recovering.  She still experiences pain from the implanted defibrillator, the device that will engage in case she suffers another cardiac arrest (as a survivor of cardiac arrest her risk of cardiac arrest is increased), and she tires easily.  Her prognosis is excellent and she is a fighter.  What we don’t know is how long she will be off work, and what her work life will look like.  To help Debby during this time when she is not working, her friend Joe (the one mentioned above) is coordinating a Debby Simpson Recovery Fund to help with her living expenses, and out-of-pocket medical expenses while she is healing.  I have been amazed at the number of MY friends–some of whom are acquaintances, some of whom have never met Debby–who have donated to money.  And the well-wishes and prayers are also welcome and have helped Debby keep her spirits up. If you’d like to give money, follow the link above. If you’d like to leave words of encouragement, drop a comment here.

Why is she still here?  I don’t know, but I am grateful.

Here is Debby, one day after having a defibrillator implanted, with her French cardiologist.  And here Debby and I are on the plane, happy to be heading home.

A big SHOUT OUT to Mike, who stayed with me the whole time.  Couldn’t have done it without him, his moral support, his French laundry skills, his ability to select a good bordeaux, and his sense of humor as evidenced by THIS photo:

Mike on a borrowed bicycle (for a minute)

Mike on a borrowed bicycle (for a minute)

SPECIAL THANKS TO : Emelie, who first stopped when she saw Debby on the ground, and garnered help from a passerby who performed CPR and another who called for an ambulance.

Emelie:  she saved my sister's life

Emelie: she saved my sister’s life

And BIG THANKS also to the AA crew (a special MERCI BEAUCOUP to Paula!!)  who stayed with my sister before we could get there, the AA folks in Chicago (Debbie! Trina!) who got us out to Paris super fast, the crew members who stayed with us, and the people at the Marriott Hotel Rive Gauche. I would have fallen apart without all these people, not to mention the love and support from everyone via Facebook.  And the bordeaux.

Posted in creative writing, grief | 1 Comment

Marketing Grief

Recently I signed up to be a part of the outreach team for the Children’s Grief Center (CGC) and while I know it’s important to share information about the grief center and the services they provide to grieving families, I feel a little weird, macabre maybe because I get a little excited when I hear about someone who is grieving.  But really it’s because I know just the place for them!  I know the CGC can help!

This past week I had my first  opportunity to share my grief story with the Kiwanis, and so I thought I’d share it with you here:

 

7-7-2010_001

Me, Mom, Debby (L to R) circa 1974

My name is Jennifer and my mother died when I was 13.

First there was shock which slows everything down to a pace that allows your mind to catch up with the loss.  Shock after the death of a loved one gets you through the phone calls, able to say, “I just wanted to let you know that Donna died,” or nod in agreement, “Yes, she is no longer in pain.”

Shock lets you choose a casket, select music for the funeral, write the eulogy, arrange food for after the funeral.

Only then do you realize that everything has changed. Continue reading

Posted in grief, grief memoirs

The 5 Stages of Grief Over my Shoes

skechersAt the end of January I  bought my silver- leather-bedazzled Skechers from Zappos.com.  I couldn’t wait for them to arrive and once they did I immediately put them on, took a photograph and posted it to Instagram: “sparkly new #shoes !” I wrote.

Oh how I loved those shoes.  They were sporty and comfortable and they matched everything.  I could walk in them.  To the grocery store, to the bank, the post office.  The perfect travel shoe– easy to slip on and off through the security line– I wore them to Seattle. I could wear them with socks, with tights, and even with bare feet.  The memory foam insert added a little bounce to my step.  They made me happy.

And then one day, less than two months later, they broke.

skecher shoe broken

Stage 1: Denial

For days they lay under the coffee table as if they were just waiting for me to put them on.  I was in denial.

328109_200_45

My fancy Josef Siebel shoes

Eventually I tossed them into the bottom of the closet, while I struggled every time I got dressed trying to decide which pair of shoes to wear.  Sure, I had a nice pair of Josef Siebels that were comfortable to walk in, but they were kinda fancy.  Yeah, I had a pair of good running shoes, but they were kinda boring.  And I had a pair of Keds, but they were kinda worn out.

My roommate suggested that I contact Skechers. “I’m sure they’ll send you a replacement pair,” she said.  But I was waiting for the shoes to spontaneously repair themselves. As if.

Finally, I tweeted a picture of them @SkechersUSA “love my new shoes. Sad they’re broken already” I wrote. Continue reading

Posted in creative writing, grief

National Grief Awareness Day 2013

thefam

Christmas sometime in the 80s (notice my sister Debby’s big shoulders)

The Thursday before Thanksgiving (that’s today, November 21) is Children’s National Grief Awareness Day, recognizing that the upcoming holiday season is especially difficult on grieving families.

Even though my mom died more than 30 years ago, the holidays are still difficult.  Not horrible, I’ve managed to have some good times over the years, but my mom loved Christmas, and each time I decorate my tree with ornaments from my childhood– the clear glass ones my mother collected or the ones we made together–or hang tinsel on the tree “one strand at a time” as Mom always advised, her absence becomes a presence in my family room.

xmas

Not sure what Christmas this is… we always wear these stupid paper hats that come from our stocking crackers (1)

And as I bake Christmas cookies, using Mom’s  recipes (also known as the Joy of Cooking’s recipes), rolling pecan balls, or dropping chocolate drenched chow mein noodle cookies onto wax paper, Christmas carols playing, a fire crackling, her absence becomes a presence in my kitchen.

Over the years the sadness has lessened, but there are other losses as well: Grandma died in 1994, Granddad in 2004, Dad in 2005…  and there will be others, because whether we like to think about it or not, people keep dying, it’s part of life. Continue reading

Posted in grief, Uncategorized