These days, it seems like it has been long enough that we shouldn’t miss Andra as much as we do. These days, it seems terribly strange that it doesn’t seem so strange anymore. But we do, and it is.
Last week when we were on vacation in Seattle with my Mom and sisters, I noticed all of us doing something that make me think of Andra, and I thought to myself, “There is so much of her in each of us.” Whether she got it from us, or we got it from her is irrelevant. She is with us. We’re like her.
Friday we went to the cemetery with some of Andra’s friends. We piled flowers on her grave, and we left love notes in the secret compartment we built in for love notes. And while I have debated posting a photo of the headstone, here is the shot that changed my mind.
Although faint, you can see the reflections of Hailey, Lily and Tiffany in the finish of the headstone. We didn’t plan it that way, but there they are.
Not only is there some of Andra in each of us, but we are all a reflection of her goodness and love.
My life isn’t turning out quite like I expected. If you dropped 1997 me into today, I would be happy. I would be grateful for the life I have. I would still be in love with Phil. I would love my house and job and I would be grateful for everyone in my life. I would be beyond ecstatic to have this beautiful, wise and good hearted child who had grown in me, shared my heartbeat and made me better.
I would be heartbroked over losing parents, but I would understand it. With time.
And taking the good with the bad, I could easily see how we got here. What the sequence was. What choices brought us this life.
When my Dad was first diagnosed with cancer, we talked about doing a “Live Like You’re Dying Tour” – a poor man’s version of the Bucket List, if you will. But the reality was that he was quite concerned with being uncomfortable or away from his doctors, so we stayed pretty close to home. I wondered at the time if it wasn’t better to do the “Live Like You’re Dying Tour” when all was well in your life.
A couple summers ago, when all was well in my life, I teased the girls that I was going to buy a woody station wagon and take them out of school for a year and we would just tour the country and I would home school them. However, they weren’t entirely on board with that idea so I let someone else buy that beautiful station wagon dream.
I was sorry I missed both of those opportunities to plan something wonderful.
But in recent days planning is hard. I struggle with it daily. Planning anything, from dinner to lessons to having to just about be anywhere but work or home is difficult. Even harder, is planning to actually GO somewhere, not to mention somewhere out of state. Somehow, we managed to travel quite a bit last year – but I packed the night before and was lucky to have most of what we needed.
This year, I am Making a Plan. (deep booming voice)
Somewhere between a full out Live Like Your Dying tour and the way we live regularly (if there is such a thing) is where I hope to fall out.
So far, we have sent the dog to training, made additional dog training appointments, made a golf lesson and invited Levi to dinner. We received the unbelievable gift of a piano, and we are planning piano lessons (thanks Bill and Rena!). Grace is playing basketball and doing dance. She’s selling girl scout cookies. Lots of plans.
We bought tickets to the rodeo. Made hotel reservations in Seattle for a girls weekend. Scheduled a San Francisco Spring Break trip for Grace and I. We won a trip to Texas (travel date TBD), we are talking about going to Hawaii and to Mom and Earl’s over the summer. Plans, plans, plans.
Phil and I established a non profit called the Andra Heart Foundation, and just sent 315 Valentines to announce it. I am working with lots of amazing people to do more cardiac screenings. So. Much. Planning.
It feels good. Really good. And I intend to execute my plan now whether anyone else is on board or not, while it still seems like a great idea to me. And if I need a reminder of why, I refer to the wise gentleman George S. Patton:
This week, I was out of town for work. I had a nice time, and accomplished the purpose I was meant to at the meetings. I also paddle boarded. I parasailed. And yet, I was disappointed to find how socially awkward I still am. At an event where you network, and at every table, and break and meal you are seated by people you mostly don’t know, the natural thing is to talk. The perfunctory “where do you work what is your job” soon evolves into the things we all really care about like “where do you live do you have children?” That is where the trouble begins. There are two options, for most folks, but really 3 for us. Tell the truth. Lie. Tell what feels like a lie but is mostly the truth. The easiest for everyone else, is the hardest for me.
Phil and I have discussed the issue – because inevitably, when you tell the whole truth, you often feel awful that you did. But when you the lie that is like the truth (leaving Andra out and saying you have one child), then you feel awful too.
The first night of the trip, I was standing by a beautiful campfire on a small island in the Florida Keys, talking to a gentleman who is just about to retire. As we were discussing his future plans, he turned to me and asked me “Are you lucky?” Am I lucky? It is an interesting question. Here is my final answer:
Tuesday night you asked me, across a lovely flickering fire in the warm air, if I was lucky. I think, in hindsight that you were asking me if I knew I was lucky to work where I work. I do know. I am very lucky to work with great people. Not OMG! Like you are so great! great, but the kind of great that changes lives, creates jobs, and provides a whole bunch of people the opportunity to grow families and friendships. I want to be like them, I am exactly where I am meant to be and in that regard I am very lucky.
Of course, right now, any reference to being lucky makes me immediately think of my personal life, which on a fundamental level doesn’t feel lucky right now. I am sorry I cried, but I suspect since you have lived a good life that you have seen women cry before. People who live good lives tend to experience joys and sadess, and tears are part of both.
However. I wanted to tell you what I want to believe.
I am lucky. I have always been lucky. I have worked very hard to gain the things that make me feel lucky – my job, my family, my home – but some things just come to me, like love, my friends, and my parents and sisters. I am lucky Phil picked me, and that Andra and Grace picked me too. I have amazing friends and I have been supported through this year by unbelievable people, including the people you were probably asking about.
I am sorry it took me getting all the way home before I had the whole answer, but I think more clearly when I am here.
Yes, Mick. I am lucky.
Thanks for asking.
Sidebar: As part of my socially awkward behavior, one issue I have is that I can’t help but bring Andra up in every possible conversation. This makes other people uncomfortable. I know this. I can’t stop myself. Nonetheless, I have a story about Andra now. Once when I was taking Grace to the doctor, the doctor walked in and told Andra “Your mom is very lucky.” at which point Andra turned around and violently spat out “She is NOT Yucky!” Not yucky indeed.
I have spent so much of the last year being terrified that I have gotten quite used to it. Every phone call, or lack of a phone call, or anytime someone calls and I miss it or they don’t answer when I call – these all start me thinking. Sometimes, thinking is bad.
New things start me thinking. Like dropping Grace off at school, or not knowing if she is running in PE or wondering if Phil has updated his contact information at the gym or if everyone knows I love them. Thinking. Worrying. Fear. I am afraid if I don’t stop emailing Grace’s doctor he will change his email, and stop giving me free advice on how to manage my fear.
I used to say that “Worry is a wasted emotion” but apparently, I have lots of emotion to waste.
This week, I am headed to Florida for a work conference. And I am slightly less afraid than usual, which, of course, scares me.
It was just weeks before Andra died that Phil and the girls went on a hunting trip together, and usually, that would leave me worrying the whole time about all the awful things that could happen, but that time, I opened my heart and said to myself “Stop worrying. This doesn’t happen to people. This just doesn’t happen to people.” And I honestly felt like I was letting go of the fear that had plagued me. You all know how that ended – and having lost all faith that things I don’t want to happen won’t, I am back on the fear train, and how.
I am hoping I can travel without hard liquor (my flight is before noon). I am hoping I can focus when I am supposed to be working, and that I can relax when the water beckons. Maybe there will be something calming about a place that has a high temperature, a low temperature and a water temperature that are all about the same.
Plus, if I were really smart, I will be investing some extra energy worrying about running in to my loser ex boyfriend who lives in Florida – that would be really scary.
2011 was something of a black hole. I struggle to find memories of anything before about May, and I don’t know if the memories were made, and then vacuumed up in moments of loss or if the record button just never got pressed.
I do know that every time a tsunami wave of grief knocked me over that I lost about a half hour, and maybe the waves just kept coming last year so there was scarcely a memorable moment left.
I do know that the waves still come, and will come forever. More days run together without big waves, but the waves are out there, and roll to shore without warning. But the waves only hit to my neck now, and usually, I can stay on my feet. With each wave there is a constriction of the lungs, and a gulp of air and a stabbing in the heart that drifts up to the head – the heart feels it first, and then the realization dawns on me. It still hurts each time, but I am used to it now. Its awful, but its mine.
During 2011, I respected the process. I let myself live it. I was patient with myself (kind of). I lay around when I wanted to do nothing. I drank more than was respectable. I cut us all a whole lot of slack, and spent a lot of money if I thought it would make us feel better, even for a second. I did learn stillness in 2011, which I think I will keep practicing. Sometimes, sitting still turns out to be just fine. I never knew that before. Which is funny, because in general, I feel like I know a lot less than I used to know, about everything. The funniest part is that I now know things, that I can’t remember why I know. So I can answer a question quickly, but then I second guess myself – how do I know that? Is that true? Did I just make it up? Oddly enough, I am right as often as I am wrong, which makes the whole thing worse because I don’t trust myself. I suppose trust is one of the hardest things to win back, when you are as betrayed by your sense of the universe as we were.
In any case, in the dawn of 2012, I feel a little lighter. I think I need to do a Susan Powter, and remind myself (screaming if necessary) that “You gotta eat, you gotta breathe and you gotta MOVE!” These are all important. I will try all 3. I will also try to cut back on spending. I probably should request a new credit nard number, and one that is very hard to memorize while I am at it.
I will try and write, again. When I can. Grace asks why I am not writing, and for the first time in my life I am not writing. I found a notebook I have carried with me all year that has one page that says “2011”, one page that has 4 lines of description of the excruciating first camping trip without Andra and one page that has a grocery list. Sometimes I think I should be writing, so I have it all down in case I want to use it someday but I can not thing of a single useful thing that would justify me reliving this pain. And since I don’t want to live it, I can’t imagine why you would want to so I have rationalized not writing to you either.
There are some good analogies I spout, that maybe I should get down – like “Grief is like an onion, one layer after another and they all stink.” or “Losing Andra is like losing a color. Everything still looks structurally the same, and everything still works but it looks completely different without blue.” Hopefully, I will remember those if I need them.
But for now, I will start with eating, breathing and moving. And when I have those off my list, I will try writing, too.
I don’t know why one day is harder than another, sometimes. Last week, I had one of the hard ones. Okay, I probably set myself up, by starting my day with 2 cups of coffee and Andra’s homework binder. Sitting on the floor. Next to her bed. With only the best intentions to constructively move a few things around in her room (which is quite a different thing from the furtive picking up and putting down I usually do).
I have been feeling like I should tidy up her room a little. I don’t know why. We use her room all the time. Grace wants it to stay just the way it is. It is certainly no sterile shrine to her – Grace pulls out clothes, and jewelry every day, we have used it to stage heart screenings, and Operation Christmas Child shoe boxes, and Andra heart Ben’s Bells. We are in and out of it all the time. People stay there. Sometimes people hang out in there, just to be close to Andra.
Maybe last Sunday, I got a little too close to Andra. Sitting there, going through her notebook, I was living her quirkly life, reviewing what she was learning, reading her writing assignments and just feeling her energy buzzing through the notebook that she carried every day. I can hear her, clearly. I can see her – and more importantly, the real her. Not the her at the end, which sometimes overpowers the real her in my mind. I am so thankful for her, but sometimes when I feel her with me so clearly it breaks my heart all over again into such itty, bitty, tiny pieces that you can never hope to put them back together.
Right now, I feel like we may have swept the pieces into a pile. That’s progress. We may have found some glue. That’s progress. But we are still walking around barefoot because we can’t remember to put on shoes (or else Rex the wonder dog has carried them off) and we find splintered pieces of our own broken hearts with our feet that cut and bleed. Sometimes, we can just tend to the wound and go on, but sometimes we stumble and knock over that already fractured pile and the shards spray out and have to be swept up again, with tears, woe and a renewal of disbelief. How can you knock over a pile that shouldn’t even be there? There shouldn’t be pieces. My heart should be whole.
Last week, Andra’s headstone was set. It is beautiful, and at the same time the most awful thing I have ever seen. It knocks over the pile every time I think of it. Thankfully, this Thanksgiving, I can look back with awe at my early grief’s wisdom. When I had it made, I knew. I just knew that I would need to be reminded.
So I had this carved into the back.
“I will be thankful every time I remember you.”
And with the reminder, I am.