DIY

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About two weeks ago, I looked into the living room and decided I didn’t like the brick fireplace very much.  My room is starting to come together, first with a light, sky blue paint for the walls, then a salsa red couch, a painting that my maternal grandmother bought years ago and I inherited and re-framed, as well as the rugs and throw pillows.  It’s a north-facing room and I love the way the colors pull the limited outdoor light into the space.

I knew we did not have the time or money to redo the masonry and I’m not a huge fan in most instances of opaque-painted brick (I’ve seen a few examples where it goes right but wasn’t comfortable with the high probability that it would go wrong).  Enter whitewashing: it lightens the brick but leaves the variation and texture intact.  I spent a lot of time browsing DIY and decor blogs and sites, figured out a general plan, and tried to figure out a time to complete the project.

Then, one day, I randomly decided to go ahead and prep the area with tape and tarps.  I’d planned to just do a test strip, but about two hours later, sent Arthur a text message with this picture:

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I may have gotten a wee bit carried away.

So that evening, I finished the brick and painted the first coats on the mantel.  By the end, what had originally looked like this:

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Instead looked like this:

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I’m still figuring out how to arrange everything on the mantel and such, but it really does brighten the room considerably.

It’s weirdly therapeutic to create a space for myself after so many years living in apartments and rentals.  It’s also a huge change to start and finish a project where I have a fair amount of control over the outcome.  I hadn’t realized how much the randomness of infertility treatments and the NICU (and the corresponding lack of control) had messed with my mind over the years.

Taking joy in creation is a wonderful new feeling.

This post is a part of Microblog Mondays.  To read more or participate yourself, head over to Stirrup Queens!  Thanks to Mel for originating and hosting.

 

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Pondering

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I’ve found myself reading mystery novelist Louise Penny a lot lately.  When the news and the world is horrible and dark, her novels are calming, a refuge of sorts, just like her fictional village Three Pines that can only be found by those who are lost.  Penny’s novels don’t deny the darkness, nor do they minimize or turn away from the ugliness found in human nature.  Penny does, however, present an alternative vision of genuine kindness and deep determination to do right in the face of unspeakable injustice and crimes.

Last week, Loribeth at The Road Less Travelled wrote a lovely piece on how we teach people to suffer (she gives a wonderful answer).  It’s been in my head for the last week because it is such a difficult, pertinent question.

As I was finishing up one of Penny’s novels and reading the acknowledgements section, I was struck by what Penny wrote of her own life during the time she worked on the book: “Michael [her husband] has dementia.  It has progressed, marching through our lives, stomping out his ability to speak, to walk, to remember events and names.  Dementia is a marauder, a thief.  But every hole it drilled has been filled by our friends.  By practical help and emotional support.”

It is the final part of her thanks that took my breath away: “I wrote A Great Reckoning with the peace of mind that comes with knowing I too am safe and loved.  And not alone.”

If I had to give an answer to the question of how to teach suffering, Penny’s words in the face of slowly losing her beloved husband are the best I could manage.  Create community.  Help find a way to let people know that they are safe.  Loved.  Not alone.

This post is a part of Microblog Mondays.  If you’d like to read more, head on over to Stirrup Queens!  Thanks to Mel for hosting and originating.  

Clothing-Specific Memories

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Sorting through clothing is a funny thing.  I know people who do not become sentimentally attached to their sweaters or jeans, who cull their collections regularly and who don’t overstuff their drawers, but I am not one of them.  There’s some clothing I can get rid of pretty easily: things that are stained, that obviously don’t fit, basic tees or undershirts that have reached the end of their usefulness, but there’s a whole separate class of clothing that lives in my closet that presents a bigger challenge.

Apparently, I’m not the only one who has this issue, something I was reminded of when I ran across this article, poignantly titled “What Do We Do With the Clothing of Grief?”  As the author recounts the sweater she bought so hopefully during a lost pregnancy, I couldn’t help but think of my own “clothing of grief”.

In my case, it’s the brightly colored peplum boiled wool jacket I wore to the doctor’s office the day there was no more heartbeat.  The black fleece pants that I wore throughout my pregnancy with E and wore to the hospital the day my water broke at 21 weeks.  The olive-green dress with embroidered cranes I wore the day after my brother died.  I don’t know why it’s that dress, the day after, that I associate so strongly with that tragedy, but for some reason, the two are inextricably woven together in my memory.

Sometimes I wonder if I’m ever going to make a decision about those clothes.  I did sell one piece, the sweater I was wearing the day I was diagnosed with PCOS that lay crumpled in a drawer for years, never worn again.  The others, however, seem either too practical (the fleece pants) or too much difficult to reacquire pieces that I really like (the jacket and the dress).  What’s really strange is that I had memories in the jacket in particular that are fairly happy memories before that day.

Perhaps it’s too much to ask that the clothing of grief be repurposed into something truly neutral, but I do sometimes pull out the pieces and wonder if I can find the courage to start wearing them again, make enough memories in them to imbue them with both joy and sorrow.  Instead of the clothing of grief, make them something more akin to the clothing of memory.

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The jacket, on a much happier day (visiting the Hoover Dam in Nevada)

Thanks to Mel for hosting and originating Microblog Mondays!  If you want more posts, head over to Stirrup Queens to read.

 

Returning Home

Big time spoilers for The Lord of the Rings – especially the ending – ahead.  

It’s no secret that I am a huge fan of The Lord of the Rings.  There aren’t too many things in my life that have stayed constant since age 14, but these books continue to inspire, motivate, and comfort me.  As I’ve grown, aged, and lived, the meanings have changed, the understandings deepened, but every time I pick them up, I find something new.  When I first read the books, I was thrilled by the exciting adventure, the battles, and, oh yeah, Aragorn.  These days, it’s a different part that I keep turning to read.

One of the things I love about The Lord of the Rings now is the ending.  The movie version leaves out part of the original ending, and I understand that choice at some level.  The original ending is messy, hard, and complicated in a way that’s difficult to translate to the screen.

For those who aren’t familiar with the book ending, it looks initially like a very traditional storybook ending wrap-up.  Then the movie and book part ways: there is evil waiting in the Shire for the returning hobbits.  They have to fight yet another battle to get the Shire back – their home is ugly and changed by that evil.  The book and the movie return to sync when Frodo departs Middle Earth.

When I initially read The Return of the King, the scouring of the Shire irritated me a bit.  It seemed…unnecessary.  The major task was fulfilled, the ring destroyed, the epic showdown at the gates of Mordor fought, and the hobbits returned home triumphantly.  Then Tolkien throws in this seemingly discordant sadness and destruction.  It’s no wonder Peter Jackson left it out of the movie.  It feels unfair that after everything the hobbits have done and the horror they’ve been through they don’t come home to a hero’s welcome, that there’s still more to do.  This isn’t a Harry Potter ending.

Now, though, I get it.  Tolkien has captured the reality of life after being touched by struggle and tragedy, in whatever form that comes to particular people.  You don’t walk through Mordor and remain untouched.  Even once the main event is over and evil seemingly vanquished or at least survived, it’s coming home to find more work to do and reminder after reminder sitting in your front yard.

We walked through Mordor the days my daughter nearly died.  We walked through Mordor when my brother so inexplicably left us.  The days when nothing made sense.

I hoped when we finally came back, naively, it would still be mostly the same.  I knew better.  But I hoped.

Instead, it’s been the weariness of battling back what those journeys took from us.

It’s no longer the epic battles of life and death.  It’s the bitterness at the bottom of the glass, the sh*ttier stuff, but battles that are no less for their smallness.  It’s fighting those unwelcome triggers and reclaiming home.

It’s knowing when to lay down the swords and begin the peaceful work of planting and bringing green life back to damaged land.  It’s showing mercy.  In some ways, this is almost harder.  It requires vulnerability, patience, honesty, kindness, and diligence.  Qualities that some days are tough to muster.

Tolkien doesn’t give Frodo a beautiful happy ending in his beloved Shire.  The wounds simply go too deep.  I take a lot of heart, though, from Sam’s ending.  Sam, who also bore the Ring, touched evil, who also walked through Mordor.  Sam, who “planted saplings in all the places where specially beautiful or beloved trees had been destroyed and he put a grain of the precious dust in the soil at the root of each.  He went up and down the Shire in this labour…”  Sam, who receives these words at the last, painful farewell: “Do not be too sad, Sam.  You cannot be always torn in two.  You will have to be one and whole, for many years.  You have so much to enjoy and to be, and to do.”

That is an ending – or perhaps another beginning – worth all of the work.

Alternate Routes

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When I started looking at nursing schools, I made a plan that looked something like this: get my associate’s degree in nursing (ASN) at the community college where tuition was affordable, practice for a few years, then go back for my master’s in nursing (MSN) after we’d had a couple of kids.  I knew that bachelor’s in nursing (BSN) was becoming more and more necessary for hospital, management, or critical care jobs, but I already had a bachelor’s degree in English and didn’t see much value in getting a second one.  I looked into MSN programs that would allow me to skip that step, found them reasonable, got my ASN, and started on having those couple of kids.

Ha.

In any case, after IVF bills, NICU, and knowing that we still have FET bills and a bit more time in TTC world, I am nowhere near ready financially or ability-wise to commit the time/effort to go after a master’s degree.  I’m not even quite certain what direction I’d want to go in for that master’s degree any more.  None of this mattered so much for a bit.  I was completely embroiled in doctor and therapy appointments, trying to get E to eat, and dealing with life as well as learning a new department at work.  I had a job, that was what mattered.

Into all of this entered a co-worker a couple of months ago who mentioned that one of the other local health systems was now pushing for all of their RNs to have BSNs.  While it didn’t threaten my position, I did sit up and take notice.  It marked the first time needing a BSN (or higher) had come up this close to home.  I saw the writing on the wall: it was time to talk about next steps.

At first, I re-researched the MSN programs.  Maybe I could fit it in somehow.  The research, however, more or less confirmed that an MSN was simply not in the cards right now, or really, for at least the next five years.  I took a deep breath, looked into BSN programs, and found an online one through my state system.  The price was reasonable.  Most of my credits transferred.  The coursework looked manageable with all of my other responsibilities.

I applied, got accepted, and plan to start in July.

It means I can wait until I know what I want to do for that master’s degree.  It means I don’t need to worry so much about jobs.  It means I can wait ten years or never go back to school if that’s what I want.

It’s not the route I envisioned originally.  As far as alternates go though, I’m pretty excited about this one.

This post is part of Microblog Mondays.  If you want to read more or get in on the fun, please head over to Stirrup Queens.  Thanks to Mel for originating and hosting!

Reorganizing

I knew when we started the home organization project that it was going to involve a lot of cleaning out.  I started with my closet and clothing.  I was ready to clean out my clothing, tired of having it spill out across the floor, tired of holding on to aspirational pieces, tired of not being able to find the items I actually wear.  The low hanging fruit as it were, and when I got done I felt an immense sense of relief and accomplishment.

Then our organizer came.

Holy h*ll.  I knew, somewhere in the back of my mind, that we had been overdue for a clean-out about three or so years before we moved – right about the start of the whole infertility nightmare.  I didn’t want to buy any new furniture because who knew what we’d need if we managed to have a baby or not?  I didn’t want to throw anything away because I couldn’t deal with sorting through boxes or letting go when I was already struggling with treatments, loss, and so much of life seemed up in the air.

Well, the organizer waded right in.  It’s precisely what we needed her to do, because there was no way I could have managed it on my own.  She gave me permission (essentially) to let go of things that I had some sort of warped, misplaced attachment to but really no longer wanted.  She helped keep me on task.  It was definitely an exercise in asking myself over and over again “why?”  Why did I want this or that item?  Why did I feel guilty letting something go?  Why had I acquired it or kept it in the first place?  It was far more difficult than I’d thought it would be and took longer than I wanted.

Our house is now clean and full of things I actually enjoy, things I actually want there.  The clutter, the items I kept storing out of guilt, out of sadness, out of a misplaced sense of ‘value’ are gone.  I can walk around the house without tripping over things.  I can get out the decorating items that only seemed to add to the mess before.  We bought a few new furniture items that fit our lives and are exactly what I eventually want to add to when we buy a house.  I find that the strict “one in, one out” system we’ve adopted helps me buy less on impulse.

I recently read The Next Happy by Tracey Cleantis about letting go of dreams and the notion that “if you try hard enough, you can do anything”.  It’s an apropos book as I’ve let go of various items in the physical world, found freedom in that letting go, and have realized that it’s time to perhaps start the process on some of the things in my head.  I’m a packrat by nature both with physical objects and emotionally, so I knew this was a bit of a step.

When Arthur and I got married, we always talked about having three children.  I planned a huge chunk of my life around that idea, from schooling to the jobs I’ve taken.  Even the fact that we started trying when I was 29, a bit before I was truly ready was done in service of that dream.  I figured I’d get pregnant within six to eight months, have the baby, wait a year, get pregnant again when the first child was about 18 months, and then if we wanted that third child, I could fit in that last pregnancy all by the time I turned 35 or 36. We’d buy a house somewhere in there and then I’d get my master’s degree.

Infertility, high risk pregnancy, and premature birth shattered what our dream family life looked like in my head.  The house?  The down payment was spent on IVF.  The master’s degree?  Probably much later than I’d hoped if at all, and the money for it also spent on IVF.  Three children?  Only if something truly unprecedented (and largely out of my control) happens.  I can’t do anything more beyond a few natural cycles (unlikely to work) and FET of whatever we have left once the two embryos thaw to make that dream come true.  We are out of emotional strength and money to do so.

When my brother died, I wondered why that situation – seemingly so different and separate from infertility – often tended to trigger strong memories of the difficult losses of the infertility and high risk pregnancy and vice versa.  I figured initially that it was because trauma is trauma, perhaps thinking of one made me think of the other.  Recently, I realized that they’re both linked in one very critical area.

I always thought I had an amazing family growing up.  I really do both love and like my parents.  I don’t call them out of a sense of obligation or family, I genuinely enjoy them.  This isn’t to say there weren’t issues or we were the Waltons or anything like that, but I always felt that my parents, my brother and I made a pretty good bunch, especially in the last few years.

That’s a really sh*tty part about suicide as opposed to a different tragic death – it colors and permeates everything for me.  It taints so many of those memories, leaving me wondering: were we really that happy?  Were we okay?  Were the seeds of this tragedy sown somewhere in all of that?  Where? Basically, it completely dynamites everything I believed about my family of origin and leaves me reexamining all the pieces through a completely different lens.

I’ve lost both the dream of the family I planned to create with my husband and the family I grew up in.  No wonder the two things twine together so often.

I’m slowly starting to work on letting go of what I firmly believed my life would look like, particularly in regards to family.  The first step has been reaffirming the decision not to pursue further fresh IVF.  I’d said it over and over again, believed it intellectually, but there’s a sense in which I’m finally truly closing that door emotionally.  It means working to ignore the nagging voice that keeps telling me “just one more round!  You could still make it happen!”  Or the other voice that tells me that I am somehow stopping short although objectively I can see that we went through h*ll and had a couple of extraordinary, unprecedented – and out of our control – breaks in our favor to get where we are today at all.

One of the other steps has been slowly letting go of the residual denial that probably kept me functional for a bit after my brother’s death.  I knew, of course, that he was dead.  At the same time, some part of my mind kept imagining him going out for a run along the city streets, going to work, generally living his life.  We didn’t talk all the time on the phone and lived several hours apart, so reality didn’t intrude constantly.  I went about my day, I imagined him going about his.

Over the last month or so, I’ve done that less and less.  The ache of the loss seeps in more and more as I begin to fully acknowledge that he is not in the city, not living, and that he is really and truly gone from this world.  No matter how hard I try or what I do, I cannot make that fact change.

It’s hard.  Really f*cking hard.

At the same time, the anxiety is a little bit less.  Instead of feeling hugely overloaded emotionally all the time, I’m finding that I’m closer to just being maxed out more often and hope that at some point it will reach a reasonable equilibrium.  There is so much good in my life, but needing uncovered and brought out.  It’s what keeps me moving and working, the idea that this massive and painful letting go will eventually be worth it, allowing me to fully embrace the whole of my life as it actually exists.

Winter Driving

 

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Over the last couple of years, I’ve developed a bit of a phobia surrounding winter driving.  I’m not sure if it was the fact that first winter I had a job further than ten minutes from my home turned into one of the worst we’d had in a long time, sending me slip-sliding all over snowy, icy roads regularly or if it developed more during my pregnancy with E as an outlet for all the anxiety, or if it was a combination of circumstances.  Whatever created the situation, I let out a sigh of relief when we reached late March and then early April.  We were through winter.

The second Friday in April came.  I got ready for work.  Arthur told me to take the four-wheel drive.  “They’re saying it may snow,” he said.  I rolled my eyes, but took the SUV.

At around 3 am, some of my coworkers who were coming in to start early shifts said it was snowing like crazy.  “Getting bad out there,” one of them said.  I gritted my teeth and hoped it was gone by the time I left at around 8 am.

By the time the full dayshift arrived, the weather was the topic on everyone’s mind.  “I slid through a stop sign,” one said.  “I got sideways,” said another.  The last summed it up succinctly: “It’s the worst driving I’ve done the whole winter.  And it’s not even winter anymore.”

Darn it.

I headed out to the car after finishing up and was struck immediately by how slippery the sidewalks felt.  It wasn’t snow so much as an icy grit that covered everything.  If I hadn’t been working again that night, I probably would have had a cup of coffee at work and waited for it to melt off a bit.  However, I needed to get home to sleep.  It was a short drive away, as once we’d moved, I lived about ten minutes from work once again.

The main road was icy but not terrible.  I knew once I turned off for the majority of the journey home, it would probably be a sheet of ice though, and I was right.

I crawled along, feeling the wheels slipping with every adjustment or tap of the brakes.  I could feel my panic rising.  Thankfully the road was all but deserted, but I flipped on my hazard lights to let anyone coming around me know that I was going very slowly indeed.

It took me nearly 25 minutes to get home, white-knuckling and fighting fear the entire way.  By that evening, however, the sun was out and the roads were clear.

Truthfully, that more or less sums up life these days: sudden, unexpected storms of worry, grief, or sadness.  But like driving on that icy April morning, we’re managing.  Even when it feels long or I have to essentially put on the hazard lights and go really, really slowly, struggling along.  Instead of wondering if winter will ever end, I know that eventually the sun and warmth will come back.

It’s finally spring.

If you want to read more Microblog Mondays or participate, please check out Stirrup Queens.  Thanks to Mel for originating and hosting!