Processing grief

I was stopped at the grocery store, again, recently when I passed an acquaintance who wanted to tell me how sorry she was to hear about my father-in-law’s passing. I keep saying the same thing over and over: That he gave us enough time so we could all gather, we were all with him at the end, it was super peaceful and super fast, and that is a blessing. That it sucks for us, but was the best case scenario for him, and we are at peace.

And that’s the truth. We are. Even my mother-in-law.

bean for blog

This post is kind of heavy, so here’s a picture of my Bean to lighten the mood.

Processing grief is … well. I had a really hard time with this one at first. I couldn’t reconcile the sight of my father-in-law unresponsive in that hospital bed with the man I knew to be an unending ball of energy. But as the week unfolded and the inevitable occurred, that feeling of anger and denial were replaced with gratitude. For the love and support we were shown (I mean, my friend Beth and her husband Jess actually left the funeral reception to get me a Trisha-friendly lunch. They asked the girls what I could eat and presented me with a bag. I can’t even tell you what that meant). For the memories we have of my father-in-law. That the Walkers are a close-knit bunch and readily support and love each other.

This is the easiest grief process I’ve ever experienced. And at first, I was wondering if maybe that meant I was weird or that some sort of something was missing in me, if I wasn’t still a wreck two months after the accident.

But I’ve realized that grief is different in every situation. I completely lost my shit at my grandfather’s funeral. It took me two years to get over my Grandma M’s death — which surprised me a bit because she had dementia issues for several years at the end and wasn’t even really the same grandma anymore; you’d think I’d have already processed the grief of losing that relationship. (She called Abby “Trisha,” and Johanna was “Trisha’s sister.” Well, she did rather love me a lot.) My lovely Aunt Jan passed away in February, and there is sadness there, but we also knew that was coming. (Although there’s grief in knowing ahead of time and coming to terms with it.) My Uncle Bob’s passing seemed like the end of an era.

There have been more losses, of course — some more intangible, like the miscarriage I had in 2003, and I would even count my jealousy at couples with two kids in this category, that loss of something that you never had, before I got pregnant with Johanna. And each has had varying degrees of grief.

I’m an English major, not a therapist, so I don’t have any grief tips or websites you should look up to help you “get over” a loss. I hate that phrase anyway: Get over. Screw you, I’ll take as long as I need, but you never “get over” something like the loss of a person, so why is that even the goal?

What I’ve learned from this latest loss is this: That it’s okay to feel what you feel as you feel it. That there are no rules for grief. That death might be inevitable, but it is still surprising. That all I can do is embrace this messy existence.

Accepting the unknown is hard for me — I don’t like surprises — but that’s another lesson this experience has taught me: It’s all unknown. All you can do is react. And positive or negative, that choice is yours.

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Mistaken identity

It’s the season of graduation parties, the local high school having held its commencement ceremony for students last Friday night. We were invited to a group party for four of the graduates on Saturday to celebrate the occasion.

Johanna made the cards. I wrote the words inside and grabbed envelopes while Eric wrote the checks. I had a brief flash that perhaps I should look at the invite to make sure we had the correct location … but eh, of course we did, it’s not like town is that big and places are easily confused.

We hop in the car and head down. The golf course parking lot was PACKED. We made our way to the patio and saw lots of people milling around.

Definitely a party. Whew!

I’m searching the crowd to find our friends and I’m coming up short. I’m not overly worried about it — so what if I’m not seeing any familiar faces? Four boys, one party. There will probably be lots of people I don’t know.

Except …

Um, this IS the right party, isn’t it? I whisper to Eric. He’s looking around and sees a friend of his. Are we in the right place? Eric asks, and the guy is like, oh, yeah, have a beer, have some food!

So Eric grabs a beer. I tell him I’m going to go stand in the sun … and then realize that the party decorations feature one boy and this is not a kid I even recognize.

Eric! I hiss. We’re totally at the wrong party! Look!

I point to the wall of photos featuring whoever the heck this kid is from kindergarten through now. Eric quickly puts back his unopened drink. We laugh. We head to the foyer to make a quick phone call.

I’m embarrassed to even ask this, Eric begins, but, um, when is Ben’s party?

Sunday. Huh, I guess I should have looked at that invite after all.

Eric went back to apologize for crashing (I mean, at least he knew the guy) and was encouraged to stay, but we felt bad and weird so we headed back home. Um, and made it to the correct party on Sunday.

You know I checked the invite beforehand.

The end, I guess.

Let’s hear it for small revolutions

I’ve mentioned more than a few times about how I do our grocery shopping once a week — on Saturday mornings, generally — and that, by Friday, the cupboards are pretty bare.

And sometimes even by Wednesday, as was the case last week.

I was finishing up a book when I caught wind of some grumblings in the kitchen. My family was bemoaning the fact that there was little in the house they could pack for lunch the next day. There were even some complaints over the sorry state of that night’s dinner (random crap in a tortilla. I mean, really, they could do a lot worse).

So I pointed out the obvious: That, aside from Johanna (who wasn’t complaining, that’s why she’s my favorite), everyone in our household not only has a vehicle, but a job. Which means that any one of us can go grocery shopping at any time. That waiting for me to get around to it on Saturday wasn’t necessary.

Abby and Eric just looked at me. I could see the wheels turning. It almost made me laugh.

First, they apologized. I was like, seriously, no sweat, I’m just reminding you that you have options. (Truth. I wasn’t worried; my dinner had been fine.) And Abby was all, you know what? You’re absolutely right, which kind of surprised me but also was a lovely thing to hear. Vindication! I went back to my book and Eric and Abby started making a plan.

Abby will be living off campus next school year with some friends and she keeps talking about learning to cook — so actually, maybe that helped my case. She’s been in the mood for taco soup and, as our weather went from the pleasant 80s to the rather chilly 50s in the span of a day and a half, she decided that was what was going on the menu Thursday night.

They found a recipe. They made a list. Eric went shopping after work (Abby was going to do it, but Eric ended up having more time than he expected, so he made the trip). While I lounged around, they made dinner. I had to save the day when it came to taco seasoning and home-canned tomatoes, but for the most part, everyone left me alone.

It was awesome.

They ended up with a big pot of soup. Johanna has textural issues (she refuses to eat cooked vegetables) and made herself eggs instead, and I can’t eat it, thanks to my jerk of a stomach (although I would if I could), so I had a rather lovely salad with leftover shredded chicken instead. But both Eric and Abby were happy with the meal.

Once upon a time, I’d have been ashamed that I had failed to keep the kitchen stocked. (Or the bathroom clean or the laundry washed.) I’d have taken the complaints as personal criticism. And I’m not sure if a switch flipped or if I’m finally learning my lesson, but I can see that this really isn’t a commentary on me at all. It’s a little bit being spoiled. It’s a little bit thoughtlessness — because they don’t have to think about how the fridge gets filled. And it’s also probably a bit of laziness.

I feel like a revolutionary. I feel like I’ve got a new notch on my feminist belt.

I’m kind of wondering if this will be a lasting lesson or if they’ll forget by Wednesday of this week.

Note to self: I don’t have to do it all. And it’s probably better if I don’t — for me, of course, because that means I can do more fulfilling work (or not: Reading, writing, taking a nap, playing with kittens, whatever). But also for them, particularly the girls, to learn a few basic life skills.

Also, this makes it sound like Eric is terrible. He’s not. He regularly cooks, does dishes, folds laundry and goes to The Store That Must Not Be Named to pick up toilet paper. (He doesn’t like to sit down, that’s why.) But groceries aren’t generally on his list. Um, they might be now. 😉

Introversion

I’m an introvert who happens to have a very busy, people-oriented and event-laden job as a journalist for a small town newspaper. That alone makes me want to crawl in a hole, aka my house, and shut the shades when the day is over. Actually, that’s exactly what I do.

There’s a myth that introverts aren’t good with people. I was in a coffee shop (obvs) a few weeks ago and ran into an acquaintance, and I was complaining about the lack of introvert time I’d had that week.

anusha-barwa-428445-unsplash THIS

Photo by Anusha Barwa on Unsplash. The cat is all like, “What do you mean, you’d rather go out tonight?”

“That’s interesting to me, when people who are great conversationalists say they’re introverts,” she said. That was interesting to me, that introverts aren’t supposed to be able to talk. 😉 I wasn’t offended, of course — she’d just said I was a great conversationalist! I was mostly just relieved to hear I don’t come across as an idiot because I tend to ramble.

What is true, however, is that I’d rather be at my house than be out in the world. I even consider grocery shopping or getting my hair cut as social events, which greatly amused my extroverted co-worker when I was recounting my weekend one Monday morning.

Basically, if I’m not in my house, I consider whatever I’m doing to be social. And that’s fine, but there’s only so much of that I can take.

I’m good at being by myself. That’s never bothered me, even as a kid.

The awesome thing about being married to an introvert is that, when we get home, there’s no questions or hard feelings when we both veer off into separate corners to gather our wits at the end of the day. And we’re both on the same page in that we prefer our house to going out. Maybe that’s why we’re not big on dates. We’re already in the best place in town! Why would we leave?

“Where have you guys been?” Eric and I have been asked more than once when we actually make a pubic appearance. “At our house,” is always my honest answer.

It’s also true that I prefer the world in my head to the world that’s out there. That’s why I read and write a lot in my free time (also, as it happens, what I do for a living. Hilarious).

And I get uncomfortable when I’m the center of attention. I am a GREAT backup, and that No. 2 position is right up my alley. I try to blend into the scenery, which is sort of difficult when you’re 6 feet tall. Give me a one-on-one conversation any day of the week, but when it’s a crowd (two people plus), I’d rather listen.

So I suppose it’s ironic that I’m in a public job and that I blog. I just pretend no one reads what I write. Otherwise I’d never be able to do it. I have no desire to ever be the editor of our paper. That doesn’t appeal to me at all.

Extroverts fascinate me. Are you telling me that you actually LIKE being with other people? That you’d rather be at a party than in your own living room?

I’m honestly not even sure how that’s possible.

Of course, there are the hybrid introverts amongst us — my oldest being one — who thrive in social situations but also need time to decompress.

Which I suppose means there are hybrid extroverts.

We’ve had a lot of changes recently and my introvert time has been greatly diminished. Which, on one hand, that’s fine. On the other, I know I need to be more protective and proactive when it comes to finding time to recharge. Which is why I’m writing about this today, I suppose. It’s on my mind.

A belated Mother’s Day

Mother’s Day in the U.S. was Sunday, but for me, it’s going to be today — because Abby comes home from college and I’ll have both kids under one roof again. And that’s my favorite. I know that we’re getting to the end of the line as far as frequency of this happening, so I just enjoy it and see it for the gift that it is.

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Where on earth has the time gone?

The words are telling me to share this Mother’s Day story: Abby was two months shy of 3 the first Mother’s Day she really understood what was going on. She had a terrific gift for language even then, and loved to talk. Eric and Abby had a whole day of surprises for me, one of which was to go to the town next door and do a bit of shopping. The entire trip, Eric kept saying to Abby, “Aren’t we lucky to have Mama? Don’t we love Mama so much? Happy Mother’s Day, Mama!” For her part, Abby would just beam at Eric and say, “I love YOU, Daddy!” and wish him a happy Father’s Day. Each time, Eric would look sheepishly at me — he was trying SO HARD — and it would make me laugh.

He never did get her to wish me a happy Mother’s Day.

Fast forward to July or August. Abby is now 3, and she’s running through the sprinkler with a banana-flavored popsicle. During one of her breaks, she looks up at me and says, “I love you, Mama. Happy Mother’s Day!” And I was like, wow, do I have a story for your father tonight when he gets home.

One of my best stories. And one of my most memorable Mother’s Days.

*

When the girls were younger, I’d get the day off and they’d do all the chores I’d normally complete on a Sunday. It was heaven. I’d read on the deck and the girls would run out and give me periodic updates on any catastrophes going on (like when they used powdered sugar instead of flour in a cake they were making). My gift was generally a new book to download to my Kindle. Perfect.

This Mother’s Day was a little different: Writing on the deck in the morning, a family barbecue at my mother-in-law’s that included my parents in the afternoon, basketball practice for Johanna in the evening. And that’s okay. I’m on the cusp of a big life change — Abby moving back today, my 95-year-old grandmother moving to town on Tuesday, and then the realities of my widowed mother-in-law — and I’ve decided that instead of trying to plan my way through it, to just let it come.

I’ll have three very darling people added to the fabric of my days. That just means more adventures.

Plan B is the new Plan A

Aaaaaaand the self-destructive streak continues!

My phone is telling me my screen time was up 62 percent last week, and I’m sort of shocked it wasn’t higher. Work has been a trial, and I’ve slipped back into my come home, veg on the screen routine. I gave up social media for Lent, but I downloaded a couple new mindless games for the sole purpose of wasting time. Johanna showed me how to put my phone on airplane mode so I can play the thrilling adventures of Block Games without having to deal with periodic ads. That game seriously gives me anxiety (it’s like Tetris, kinda), but I can’t stop playing.

Because I am an idiot.

Look, I’ve done the reading and the research, and I’m actually not an idiot — or, I’m smart enough to know that I’m dumb, I guess. I know that after a stressful day at work, I should take a walk or a hot shower or do some yoga or grab a book. I’ve got my spring cleaning list going and know the mental lift it gives me to see sparkling light switches and decluttered cabinets.

And even at work, I know that if I take a walk break after I finish my first cup of coffee, that makes the rest of the day better. I know that if I take a lunch break instead of eating at my desk, it helps me mentally get to the end of the day. That if I turn off my email notifications, I will be able to concentrate on the task at hand.

And I am willfully choosing not to do ANY OF THAT.

I’ve kind of had it with self reflection. I’m tired of weekly goals. Unrealistic work expectations are bringing me down. (What, three and a half people can’t do the work of seven? WHAT IS THIS CRAZY TALK?)

But, for better or for worse, that’s my personality: Take too much on, like to work towards something tangible, want to be a better person, get by through sheer force of will — until my will fails and then it’s me, the couch and my phone. And freaking Block Games.

This week, I am looking forward to taking Friday off — we’re going to spend Easter with Abby and are making a long weekend out of it. I’m looking forward to the FlyLady’s “bathroom and one other room” focus because my one other room is going to be getting Abby’s ready for summer vacation, which for her starts in May. I’m looking forward to Eric’s meal planning extravaganza and the new meals he’s making that meet my dietary restrictions. I am looking forward to warmer temperatures even though it will still be cloudy and a bit rainy.

My gut is telling me not to undertake any new personal focuses or plans or whatnots, to just let this week play out the way it’s gonna play out. To give myself a break with all that. But my brain is telling me I need to figure out how I’m going to do that ahead of time so I have a better chance of success. HA HA HA. The internal war that is Trisha, my friends!

Um … so I have no idea what’s going to go down after it’s all said and done. Will my brain or my gut win?

I don’t know that this is much of a post, but here we are. Maybe I’ll have it together by the time next week rolls around.

What we have here …

… Is a failure to communicate.

**UPDATED**

On Sunday afternoon, we welcomed two middle school Japanese girls to the Walker household. They will be with us until Friday morning. They have limited English and we have zero Japanese. Thank you, Google Translate! But it’s hard to adequately make someone feel at home when you don’t speak the language. Mostly I’m just afraid they’re going to starve under my watch.

So far, we’ve learned that neither have pets. I rushed into their bedroom after I heard a scream, and there was Pearl, hiding under the bed. (“Good call,” said Eric on the screaming. Pearl isn’t all that friendly.) “Do you have pets?” I asked, and they looked at each other, then shook their heads. Well, we got through that conversation, at least.

Basically, we’ve got the two shyest kids in their group, and they’re staying with three introverts. Um, and we’ve never hosted international students before. I feel like I’m lacking in certain skills that are necessary to succeed in this thing, but nevertheless, here we go. What could happen?

Will update as the week goes on … Tips appreciated!

Update, March 21: Tonight is our last night with the girls. We weren’t able to do as much with them as I’d have liked because their schedule was packed with activities, but we shared meals (gringo tacos, hamburgers and tater tots, and spaghetti and garlic bread — the hamburgers were the biggest hit) and an episode of “Survivor” (I do wonder what they thought of that). We showed them around the yard (they took photos of the mountain and the cats). I learned that bagels and cream cheese is a hit and that peanut butter is too.

I’ve learned that there is only so much Google Translate can do, but you can get pretty far with mime.

We’ve got the quietest two of the group, which is awesome because we are also quiet. But it would have been handy to have Abby around; she’s our cruise director and would have had us all whipped into shape. The girls like to hang out in their room with the door closed and unless we invite them to watch TV with us, they seem content to be by themselves. As an introvert, I understand the tendency and want to allow them that space. As a host, I hope that I’m not failing them somehow by not insisting they be with us every waking moment.

Even so, I’ve been gratified to see them get more and more comfortable here as the days go on.

I think that, were we able to communicate better, this would be so much easier. At the same time, I’m glad that we have been able to host these darling girls — they’re such sweeties — and give them a taste of American life. And maybe it’s good that the introverts got the introverts?

That’s what I’m telling myself, anyway. 🙂

And hey: They got to see a professional basketball game, go skiing, go shopping in the city, go shopping in our tourist trap of a town, visit sister city sites of importance, have a cooking lesson at the best restaurant in town and visit Johanna’s school. I’ve got a greater appreciation of our sister city program and the people who chaperone the many activities. It’s really cool to be a part of that.

We’d host again is what I’m saying. But wow, I’m taking all the naps this weekend.