A Great Aunt Indeed

One mid-February evening as I was getting ready for work, my phone rang.  Arthur answered it and I could tell immediately by the tone of his voice that it was not good news.  My mind jumped immediately to my grandfathers, both elderly and not in the best health.  However, my mother told me that the news came from an unexpected place: my great-aunt J had died that afternoon.

While Aunt J had experienced several serious bouts of illness in the past year, she had recovered and was doing reasonably well at that point.  She had even gone out with my aunt for a drive earlier in the week and my cousin had visited with her the day before.  Apparently, Aunt J had been resting in her room, pushed her call light, and by the time the staff responded a minute or two later, she was gone.  It was quick and by all accounts, peaceful.

~*~

Aunt J was my maternal grandfather’s older sister.  I remember very clearly going to Columbus most years for the Fourth of July holiday to see my grandparents and her.  Since Aunt J’s birthday was on July 2, she always hosted a party for the assembled family and friends.  As the oldest cousin, I was the first to get to accompany her on trips to Star Beacon, a treasure trove for a child.  I got to help her select items such as small Styrofoam gliders that looked like airplanes and went much further than homemade paper airplanes, jelly bracelets, poppers (little plastic pieces that could be turned inside out, set down, and then jumped into the air with a “pop”), and other similar bits for the goody bags.  Aunt J always asked me to consider the smaller cousins or items that might amuse the adult guests as well as the children.  It was my first lesson in hospitality and thinking about others.

Aunt J was always ready with fun surprises, including everything from climbing walls to a simple trip to the local park.  She was the first in a long day to suggest a break for rest or food when one of us cousins got cranky, making sure she cared for our physical needs.  We always knew Aunt J took a nap herself in the afternoon, letting us know by example that it was okay to slow down a bit and recover.  She also helped support me during nursing school in many different ways.  It’s thanks to her that I stuck with school on the really awful days, and I am so grateful for that.

In so many ways, more than I can possibly list here, she taught me how to “adult”.

Beyond the ways in which I knew her as an aunt, Aunt J had a very full life.  With a degree in Biological Sciences, she worked in the labs at Ohio State for the College of Medicine, Department of Surgery, and clinical chemistry.   She traveled behind the Iron Curtain in the 1960s.  Aunt J also made many, many friends over the years and was active at church, writing down the names of newcomers so she would remember them if and when they returned.  Aunt J also did a great deal of volunteering with the library and other organizations.

In 2007, after having lived in Columbus most of her adult life, Aunt J picked up and moved to Pennsylvania, near one of my mother’s sisters.  When I asked her why she’d move so far away, Aunt J said she was ready for another adventure.  She was always up for a challenge and excited to meet new people.

~*~

It’s also worth noting here that Aunt J never married and did not have children.  This was the other way she taught me by her example: that a life without having children could be immensely well-lived.  As much as the infertility was horrible, I also had a role model for a life outside of the nuclear family structure.

~*~

My mother told me about Aunt J’s memorial service, held in mid-March.  All of her five nieces attended.  Several friends from Columbus made the trip out to Pennsylvania.  I wanted to go very much, but it was simply impossible given the timing.  A friend Aunt J had made after she moved delivered one of the eulogies.  There is no doubt that this extraordinary woman had made an enormous impact and touched many lives.

It was my great privilege to know and love Aunt J.

Advertisements

Eleven Years In…He’s Still Wonderful

Our eleven year wedding anniversary was on Saturday.  We went out on Thursday evening (since I had to work on Saturday) and Arthur brought me a card and small bouquet of flowers.  Sunday, Arthur got me up from my nap with the following words: “Hey, don’t freak out, but…”

Uh-oh.

“I think I saw a mouse.”

Management followed through superbly after I notified them and the exterminator came out yesterday.  He placed a few glue traps and a childproof box of mouse poison.  I winced.  “So…if the mouse gets poisoned…I might have to pick it up?”

“Yeah,” he said, “or it might crawl outside to die.  If it gets stuck in a glue trap, you’ll be able to see it, but you’ll just throw out the whole thing.”

I stared at him.  As much as I sometimes complain about it, I adult reasonably successfully most days.  I’ve dealt with job losses, infertility, IVF, miscarriages, and very premature birth.  I have a job with a high degree of responsibility.  I can balance my checkbook and figure out large swaths of paperwork.

Dead mice, though?  No way.

Arthur shook his head when I told him when he came home for lunch that I was not touching this one.  “But all you do is sweep it into the dustpan with the broom and get rid of it,” he said.

“Nope.  Not happening.”

“You weren’t this upset on Sunday.  You once had a live mouse in your hair during family reunion and didn’t start screaming because you didn’t want to cause a panic.”

“Live mice don’t ick me out as much as dead ones.  It’s not rational.  But I don’t want it living in our house, either.  So you’re just going to have to deal with it.  If I find it, you’ll probably hear the shrieks all the way over at work.”

Arthur was putting on his shoes to go back to work when we both heard it: a loud squeaking and rustling from the kitchen.  “I’m not going in there,” I announced.  “You go look.”

Arthur came back.  “It’s under the fridge, I think.  I’ll deal with it when I get home.”

I took the easy way out and called maintenance, who came, moved the fridge, and informed me the mouse had escaped.  I texted Arthur the news.  He texted back that he agreed “Mouse Hunt” would be a good movie to watch soon.

For our anniversary, I’d been working on a sweet, romantic sort of post about the reading we had done at our wedding called “The Blessing of the Hands”.  There are a few versions out there, but it talks about how these are the hands that will hold you in sickness and through trials and in the good times.  I had been thinking along the lines of how his were the hands that moved our whole apartment by himself and held mine during a long hospital stay and when we were pretty sure we’d never have a baby and so on and so forth.

That’s all true, but I have a very different, way less dramatic or romantic or sweet line to add now: “These are the hands that will check the traps and clean up the dead mice you hate so much.”

Or maybe not so much less romantic…after all, eleven years, and we’re still happily putting up with each other’s quirks and foibles.  We’re laughing and joking together, working as a team.

And really, what else could be better?

Out of the Shadows

The other day I couldn’t resist watching the trailer for Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children even though the book scared the daylights out of me. I was curious if the characters looked the way I’d pictured them, and I must say, I certainly never pictured Eva Green as Miss Peregrine (I’ve always seen Maggie Smith). At the end of the trailer, there’s a short image of what terrified me in the book.

While it’s not a creature I’d want to meet in a dark alley or, well, anywhere, seeing it on the screen made me go “huh…that was what scared me so much?” It’s interesting that I’d taken the outlines in the book and filled them in with my own terrors, insecurities, and ugliness to make a truly horrifying creature that scared me for good reason.

Finally pulling the monsters lurking in the dark spaces of my own mind out and really getting a good look at them this week has had a similar effect. They’re still formidable creatures and I still don’t want to deal with them, but they’re not as big or terrible as the shadows they cast.

~*~

Mali left a wonderful, sage comment on my last post pointing out that although the media (and social media) portrays family and big events as uncomplicated and happy, the reality is usually murkier. As much as I sometimes know that in the back of my head intellectually, it’s easy in the onslaught of joyful photos and exciting news to forget that this isn’t the whole of reality. I spent some time looking through what I’d posted over the past year or so, and it was interesting to note that after E was born, my Facebook posts take on a decidedly upbeat tone that wasn’t terribly congruent with what I was actually experiencing at the time. It’s also worth noting that I’ve never posted about my brother’s death on Facebook.

This didn’t happen in a vacuum, of course. After E was born, it seemed that any time I’d express concern or get upset (mostly IRL), I often got a variation on this: “But you’re thankful/should be thankful she’s alive! And doing so well!” It’s true that for a 28 weeker, especially with the early PPROM, E has done exceptionally well. She never needed a ventilator, much to everyone’s immense surprise, and at this stage of things, is right on track for her adjusted age of around 9 months. I was and am thankful for E, knowing how close we came to losing her. But it did not take away the reality that it was hard and still is sometimes.

There were days I could remind myself that people say sh*t like this for various reasons, ranging from the fact that outright sadness and suffering makes a lot of people very uncomfortable, to the idea that people often want to ‘fix’ the situation, to simply being ignorant or having their own issues. There were/are other days, however, where it was/is very effective in making me feel as though I needed to put a happy spin on a tough situation or, in many cases, simply ‘suck it up’. After all, someone had it worse than me. Honestly, I think this is a big part of where the pain olympics comes from: people feel they need to justify their pain and the complex feelings surrounding events culture often insists should be purely happy. That’s the pressure I’ve been putting on myself, and the pain olympics is all over my last post.

So I’m taking a deep breath and saying it fully: I am really excited and happy to be an aunt. I am really glad that my BIL and SIL don’t need to go through fertility treatment again and that the babies are doing relatively well. I’m sad for them that their lives/pregnancy/birth didn’t go as planned in scary ways. It truly doesn’t matter when it comes to NICU or fertility treatments – no matter the duration of either, they represent some big losses. It’s also not a shame to say that I’m sad and angry for myself at all the losses and the very real fear and sadness that surrounded my pregnancy with E as well as the difficulty of NICU and the subsequent months of taking her to 2-3 appointments a week on average and bringing her home on monitors and oxygen. It’s not wrong that siblings trigger the many unresolved feelings surrounding my own brother’s death and infertility. It’s also natural that all of this brings up difficult memories of messiness that are the events of my life over the past three or four years.

That, I suppose, is reality: some good, some bad, some uncertain.

Just as I knew that we would somehow go on and have lives of beauty and worth if we did not have a child, I know we will likewise have goodness if E is an only child. It won’t happen overnight, and may take years to fully work through readjusting those dreams and hopes but I firmly believe we will get there. I also sometimes have to remind myself that plenty of people are only children – and there is absolutely nothing wrong with that. E being an only child would not be the same as me being one of two and suddenly left alone. It’s easier to project my own sadness and insecurities as I’ve barely scratched the surface of grieving and coming to terms with what happened to my brother or to sublimate the memories I need to come to terms with by playing pain olympics.

I’m impatient in many ways. I wanted the battles with my demons done, you know, yesterday. Then again, I have to remind myself that there’s a reason I have the sign I do hanging over my desk:

DSC01218

It’s something I’m working to remember.

Cleaning House

When I was in college the first time around, I finally managed to break my 16 year habit of biting my fingernails. I was maid of honor in a good friend’s wedding and decided that while no one was going to be focusing on my nails, we were all getting manicures so I wanted nails I could be proud of instead of hiding in my bouquet. It took probably a total of six months to kick the acute part of the habit and another two years to stop reverting when I got stressed out. I’m pleased to say that other than a couple of isolated incidents during IVF cycles, I haven’t bitten my nails since.

I also managed to kick a lifetime of being supremely un-athletic when I was 24 (other than a year in high school where I ran, which ended when I got bitten by a dog out on my daily run). People told me it would take 21 days to establish an exercise habit, to which I say “HA!” It took me probably around 6 months before I started feeling “good” after going to the gym. Then it was another two or three years before I started enjoying running while I was doing it (most of the time), not just the endorphins afterwards. I still have zero athletic talent and I’m slow, but I’m proud of the fact that I made it off 18 weeks of various forms of bed rest and still retained a strong enough habit to currently get myself out and moving 3-4x a week.

This brings me to the next challenge I’ve tried to tackle on and off for years. I like being organized. I like having a beautiful, clean home. I suck at the implementation. I aspire to be one of those people who loves organizing their cabinets, making sure everything fits just so. I would love to find cleaning stress-relieving. But I don’t. I know how to clean and organize effectively and lots of techniques for doing so, I just hate doing it.

I’m pretty sure keeping up the house would have been a chore, but do-able if we had started from a “zero point” (house mostly organized/clean, just have to maintain it) after E was born. Of course, we were not starting from a zero point, having moved while I was in the hospital. When I came home, I had a bed to sleep on, a couch I could get to with a bit of effort, a suitcase with a few clothes, and thankfully, my MIL and SILs had unpacked most of the kitchen so I could make myself a cup of tea or coffee. I was (and am) supremely grateful we had that much done with help. It was enough to get us through those first several weeks.

Bit by bit, we got items unpacked as we needed them but it was slow going. With me working weekends and Arthur working weekdays, it was difficult to find times where one of us wasn’t completely exhausted or where we could summon up enough motivation to spend the precious little time we got together to deal with extra organizing on top of everyday chores such as keeping the bathrooms cleaned, the kitchen disinfected, or the laundry folded.

A couple of months ago, Arthur asked me why I was living out of a laundry basket of clean, folded clothes, instead of, you know, putting it away. I finally had to make an embarrassing confession: “Because it doesn’t fit in the dressers or the closet.” With my body changing so much during infertility treatments and pregnancies/losses/c-section, I’d acquired clothing that fit at the time as well as pieces I liked. The combination was flowing out of every bit of space we had, much of it in piles on top of the dresser or stuffed in the closet. It wasn’t just me or my clothes, either. It was Arthur’s desk. The dining room still with boxes. The den, which had become the place we put everything that didn’t go anywhere else.

Clearly, we needed help.

My aunt, who had seen our place, offered us a unique Christmas present: a personal organizer to get the place feeling a bit more like home. I didn’t know people who did this for a living even existed, but she found us some numbers, I called, and the organizer came a couple of weeks ago.

It’s a humbling moment to show someone your mess and admit just how out of control the stuff had gotten. Of course, we had done none of the normal minimizing before we moved. We’d spent nearly ten years in our former home, and all of our furniture had been bought with that space in mind, so it didn’t quite fit in the new space.

The organizer started by having us clean up the bookshelves. Then Arthur and I got the bit between our teeth, energized by having accomplished a small task, and tackled the bedroom ourselves. I went through my clothing mercilessly, getting rid of everything that didn’t quite fit, that I liked the “idea” of but that never truly looked right on me, and anything I didn’t wear. I listed what was saleable on an auction site, threw out some things, and sent the rest to a thrift shop. Arthur did the same. Between us, we sent seven large reusable bags to the thrift shop and I’m pretty sure I wound up cleaning out about half of what I owned. We rearranged the furniture. By the end of the day, all of our clothing fitted in the allotted space, laundry actually got put away, and we had the bedroom arranged to maximize the space.

Yesterday, the organizer came and we went through part of the den, dealt with most of the living room, and started a small bit of the dining room. It was very helpful to have someone working alongside us, keeping us on task. I know I would have stalled out in the living room especially – I hate dealing with papers, and the living room had become a morass of medical paperwork over the last several months. The organizer helped us get it under control. We threw out so much stuff from old papers to ancient magazines and sent another three bags/boxes to the thrift shop.

Arthur and I now have a few more small things to work on, and then the organizer will come back to help us continue with the big projects. While I don’t know that I’m ever going to reach my goal of being constantly neat, I think a house that’s well organized with a place for everything and properly minimized will help immensely.

And hey, it took me over 2 years to enjoy running…maybe in a couple of years, this will become better as well.

Light

DSC01436

Content note: baby shower

On New Year’s evening, I went to work and promptly found myself having an overwhelming, visceral flashback to New Year’s day 2015, which I spent in the ER with one of my worst episodes passing clot after clot after clot. January is filled with anniversaries I’d rather forget, including the weekend my uterus got extremely irritable and I had to go to L&D at the small hospital in my community, begging them to give me something to stop the contractions and of course, the night my water finally broke.

I literally work down the hall from the L&D unit I was transferred to on Jan. 23, 2015 where I spent 55 days and the NICU where E was hospitalized. Sometimes, if I’m in the right area of my unit, I can see the tower where the L&D unit is housed and I can almost, but not quite, see the window of the room I lived in.

Sometimes this is an issue, but other times, I find it weirdly comforting. My memories of NICU are overwhelmingly negative, which is not the fault of the staff -many of whom were kind, excellent, and we liked enormously – or the NICU unit itself, rather, they are colored strongly by that second NICU stay when I was tired of the whole thing and angry about my baby going back to the hospital for nearly two more weeks. My memories of my time spent on bed rest in L&D, however, are quite positive.

One memory in particular stands out. I’ve meant to write about it for months because it was an act of kindness so far beyond anything I’ve ever expected or experienced that it deserves to be remembered. In a month full of dark anniversaries, it is a light.

~*~

When my water broke, I had nothing for the baby bought. The entire pregnancy had been so tenuous that I couldn’t bring myself to start really planning for a baby, let alone buying the necessary items.

Slowly, the weeks passed. We updated our care plan from having them hand us the baby as soon as she was born and doing only comfort measures to intubation only to full resuscitation. I passed the point of viability and then some. We had wonderful nurses (and doctors as well). Over several weeks in the hospital, the nurses had gotten to know us and we had gotten to know them. At some point, one of them had remarked on the adorable blanket and knitted wash cloths my aunt had sent. I told her I was pretty excited about those because they were the only baby items we had, along with a bib Arthur’s grandmother had made.

One day, the nurse manager of the unit asked if I wanted to have lunch with her. Arthur was working at this point, so I typically spent the day watching Castle, reading, or playing around on the computer, trying to stay calm and in a sort of modified Trendelenburg position to prevent myself from gushing and keep the pressure of E’s head off my cervix. However, the doctors had told me that every couple of days it would be okay for me to sit up or go out in a wheelchair for an hour or two so that I could get out of the room. I thought some company for lunch sounded great, so I accepted.

On the appointed day, I was almost 26 weeks along. I put on my bathrobe and the nurse manager wheeled me off the unit into the elevator. Instead of getting off on the cafeteria floor, however, we got off on a different one. She wheeled me into the OB classroom and I gasped in surprise and delight.

My nurses had put together a baby shower.

It still brings tears to my eyes that these women brought us wonderful food and gifted us so many beautiful, necessary items for having a baby. One of the nurses had even made us a gorgeously decorated cake.  It was the first time I’d really felt like we were going to have a baby that we might actually bring home. It was the first time we’d truly celebrated the fact that we were having a baby and that fact – no matter what – deserved celebration.

Arthur had managed to get the afternoon off work in one of those serendipitous coincidences and we opened adorable onesies. Pink ruffled outfits. A soft musical giraffe. Bath sets. Stuffed animals. I brought E home in one of those outfits, and a onesie reading “Supergirl” hung in her NICU room to remind us how far she had come and all the odds she had beaten to get even that far.  To this day, I use many of those items, and every time I pick one up, I think of that incredible generosity and the even greater message of hope that they gave me.

This is what gets me through those days where I get cynical or sad or other memories seem overwhelming. It’s what reminds me of the real goodness and beauty that exists even in the difficult days. It’s a gift I am incredibly privileged to receive both then and now.