Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Christmas Cards

Is it just me, or does it seem like people are sending fewer cards this year. I suppose it's just as well. Over the weekend I burst into tears upon opening one to find a handwritten note saying they hoped I had a wonderful year. It struck me so hard. Had they not heard? Maybe they just forgot....or, was it possible that I did have a wonderful year?

It's a choice between defining my year as terrible because of the loss of my precious sister, or defining it as wonderful because of all the beautiful first moments with my son. It was definitely wonderful at times, but always cruelly conflicting.

I'm just so angry how it all went down. I can't grieve the way I want to for my sister because there's just not time. Yet it eventually flows out in the form of a spontaneous breakdown, once at the dentist, but usually while digging through my crafting supplies. I constantly find things and it astonishes me just how intertwined our lives were, and how that can be yanked away at any damn time.

I took the time to write a little belated Thank You in a few of my Christmas cards. It was hard for me to acknowledge the kindness I'd been shown at the time, and is still difficult now. I can barely muster the energy to wish people a Merry Christmas, so I cut down my mailing list to the bare bones, and even those recipients didn't get much more than a "Love, Jessica, Dave and Benji". I just don't have much to say that people want to read in their Christmas cards right now. And it's entirely too painful to consider whether or not 2011 was wonderful.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011


I can't sleep because I'm torturing myself over a time when Doreen came to me and asked to borrow $500. I agreed to loan it to her, but not without lecturing her about it first. I gave her the spiel that would've made Suze Orman proud. It was something like, "$500 is a lot of money for me. I'm going to loan it to you because I believe you're going to pay me back, but this is an uncomfortable situation for me and I don't want you to ask me again." It wasn't those exact words, but the message was along those lines. Why didn't I just say yes and leave it at that? I should've just given her the money. It had to be hard for her to come to me, and she likely knew the judgemental response she'd get. She was desperate and I probably made her feel so small.

I'm sorry for all the things I did that weren't very nice. They're coming back to haunt me now.

Monday, June 27, 2011

July is Looming

I don't want June to be over. Doreen was alive for 11.5 days in June, but no days in July. She's slipping away too quickly, and I'm trying to grasp tightly every memory, lest I forget the tiniest detail.

Keeping it Real

There are lots of times these days when I catch myself zoning out. Often I'm fantasizing about talking to my sister or dreaming of ways to lessen my sadness. I think about taking a pill that would dull my senses, but then I remember I can't take pills because I'm breastfeeding. It would be so handy to just have a magic wand.

What I realized today is that if I had a magic wand that would remove all my sadness, then I'd be left with a bunch of guilt for not being sad. I'd rather be sad than guilty about not being sad. At least that wouldn't shake up my whole perception of myself.

But if anyone has a magic wand that would make me skinnier or richer, I would still be interested in that.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Letters to Benjamin

Dear Benjamin,

You lost a very special person this month. Your aunt Doreen died suddenly and unexpectedly, leaving us all with unanswered questions and unfinished business. Doreen loved you and her other niece and nephews so much. The last time we saw her was at a truck stop while we passed each other on the road. She was driving back home after meeting Aisha and we were driving back home after visiting Grandma Gigi for her birthday. I'm so glad we stopped and took pictures that day. In fact it's so strange that we took photos at a truck stop, but it is now a very treasured last memory for us.

Doreen drove all the way from Michigan to meet you when you were 5 days old. She came again in April to be your nanny for a week so that I could continue to work and we wouldn't have to leave you with a babysitter. She brought your cousins Annalisa, Olivia and your Uncle Rob and we all had such a wonderful time together. It was during that week we all went to your first Orioles Game (Orioles vs. Tigers at Camden Yards). Doreen didn't have a lot of money but she bought you one of your favorite toys and your favorite pajamas and bibs. She also started a very nice scrapbook for you. She had made 5 pages already.

When she was here, she taught you how to spit. Your father and I were not pleased at the time. I guess it didn't fit into our vision of our perfectly well-behaved and polite son, but it all seems so petty now. Everyone else thought it was hilarious and cute. Every time she changed your diaper she would ask, "Do you need a new butt? One that don't stink?" and we would all laugh.

She loved all the cute photos that were taken of you. She would print them out and hang them up at work. Her favorite was the photo taken of you and your cousins Ahmed and Abdullah on the tiny couch in their apartment in New York City. It made her laugh every time she looked at it. There weren't very many pictures taken of you and her together, but the ones we have are so precious. You can tell just by her facial expression how much she completely adored you. Whenever I called her she would ask, "How's my nephew?".

You lost someone very important when Doreen died. I will make sure to tell you all about her as you get older so that you grow up knowing her and knowing her love for you.


Things You Don't Realize About Grief

There are many things that you don't realize about grief until you actually experience it. At first it goes completely as planned with the K├╝bler-Ross model (Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, Acceptance). You go through all those steps, usually multiple times. Other things aren't so obvious. Such as:

#1. Grief is Awkward

Before Doreen died, I could say things about my sister without making myself or others feel uncomfortable. And people could speak freely of their own sister as well. Now if I bring up Doreen, I feel like people are put in a situation where they either feel uncomfortable or they feel they need to be understanding of my grief by giving me a knowing look or hug. I can no longer say that Doreen did something without it creating a pause, no matter how small. Even if it's only in my head, it's still there. If your sister is living, such statements go without further examination, but not if your sister is dead.

Before Doreen died, I didn't get hugs from my boss...well, not very many. He didn't meet me at Applebees with a plant and ask questions about the family she left behind. I am lucky to have a boss who cares about me, but it's still awkward.

If someone hasn't died, most likely your out-of-office reply on your e-mail means you're on vacation. It's awkward when co-workers and customers assume you were on vacation and when they ask about it you have to tell them that you were on bereavement leave.

It's WAY more awkward when people avoid you than when they approach you and attempt to comfort you. They never know what to say, mostly because there's nothing TO say that would make you feel better, but even if they say something stupid it is still less awkward than pretending you don't exist.

It's also awkward to be constantly comforted. It's awkward to receive cards, calls, messages, flowers, meals...it all makes me feel needy, but it also makes me feel loved. It's healing when you can graciously accept love and acts of service from people who love you, but it's still awkward to accept charity and to feel the pity of others.

#2. There is a lot of guilt

I have few regrets about my relationship with Doreen, but there is still guilt whether it's logical or not. Why didn't I tell her to go to the hospital? Why wasn't I more concerned when she said she wasn't feeling well? Am I so selfish that I was only focused on my own problems? Why did I think it was no big deal that she thought she had an ulcer? Aren't ulcers serious enough for me to care about? Why did I move to Baltimore? I could've been there at the hospital with her if I wasn't so far away. I would've made it there before she died. I could've kept on top of the hospital staff and I would've known that something bad was happening just by looking at her. Why didn't I try to call and talk to her in her hospital room? I had a BBQ at my house that evening and was tired after cleaning up. Why didn't I read up more on Bariatric Surgery so I could remind her that she shouldn't wait to get help if anything was out of the norm. Why didn't I help her keep her weight down? Why did I make pies, quiche, pancakes and other unhealthy foods for her when she visited? I should've only made healthy food. Maybe I encouraged her to over-eat while she was here by making foods which are difficult to resist.

The guilt attacks from both sides. I also feel it when I'm happy. Why am I laughing with friends or enjoying my baby? I should be sad because my sister just died. It has only been 2 weeks. Surely I should be mourning longer than that.

#3- It renews itself

Just when you feel like you're in a good place, something happens that starts it all over. This year it will be the 4th of July (She was here last year), when Benjamin starts crawling, then walking, when Doreen's 40th b-day comes up, when Olivia's 7th b-day comes up, when Benjamin's 1st b-day comes up, Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year's Eve/Day. It will all be clouded by the lack of her presence. Events where you would normally be celebrating will be terribly sad because she's not there. And then it will start over in 2012. Every first holiday will be the worst, and each year should get a little easier...but only a little at a time. And then it will hit you harder than expected every once in a while. It will take a very long time to quit grieving. I'd say a good 15 years, unless another young person dies in the meantime (please no!). I was just making peace with losing my father 12 years ago when this happened. I feel destined to be depressed.

#4- You realize most things are really unimportant

There was a customer who was a real ass to me via e-mail and telephone over a very minor problem he was having. He was grossly exaggerating the inconvenience he was experiencing from a problem that was not caused by me, yet holding me personally accountable for it and even attempted to get me in trouble. And other people continue to bicker about the stupidest things with their loved ones. In general people care about really stupid things. I want to tell them but I don't want to get on a soap box and make it awkward for them to be around me. Especially since I was worried about the same things 2 weeks ago. That one saying is very true. You really should be nicer than you have to be, because everyone is fighting some sort of battle.

I'm sure there are other things most people don't realize about grief, but these are the only ones I can think of right now.