February 2010

Beginning to Rebuild

by Tim on February 25, 2010

Not surprisingly, we’ve had a rough go of things lately. So I was thrilled to get our child care person in for about four hours yesterday. We know we can hand the reins of the house and whatever else to her for a few hours and do whatever we need to do. We’ve found a variety of ways to reduce the amount of money we spend on various things during the month, and we’ve used some of that savings to pay for occasional in-home child care, which lets us have a few opportunities to get some things done and generally get a break.

Yesterday for me was the truest form of respite care. I’ve been so tired lately that I feel delirious much of the time. All the lack of sleep that went into all of us traveling to my grandmother’s funeral and all the extra emotional exhaustion that went with it has just about done me in. Having her come over is always a godsend, but yesterday felt close to a miracle.

She got here about 12:30, I did a couple of quick chores, and then fell into bed, piled on the blankets, and tried to sleep. It took me a while to unwind enough to rest, but finally I could feel myself sinking into something close to unconsciousness. I slept until about 5:00. I barely even knew who I was when Mary nudged me and told me it was time to eat dinner. I probably could have slept another 24 hours.

I imagine that most of us develop a pretty high tolerance for lack of sleep, mental and physical exhaustion, and all sorts of stress. We build up the equivalent of Kevlar armor like our own brand of callouses. If we don’t, we fall apart. I’ve drunk enough coffee lately to keep half of Central America in business and eaten enough donuts and sweets to stone an elephant. It’s another coping mechanism. But I’m realizing that this is like charging all that energy we put out on a credit card; eventually you have to pay it back somehow.

One of my words for the year is ‘bamboo’, but I’ve been more like a gnarled, old tree lately. While I have been giving myself some latitude within the understanding that this is so much about grief, I can’t keep this up. Life doesn’t wait around for us. It’s not like I can tell the kids to take a couple of weeks off from being themselves while Daddy regroups. Finding ways to grieve and rebuild myself at the same time is just something I have to start figuring out.

Mamaw frequently gave me a piece of advice that I often didn’t care to follow. Don’t dwell on the past, acknowledge it, move on and move forward. She tried to have this attitude about everything. I don’t think I got this at all until after the J-Man was diagnosed. I guess I liked holding on to all the psychological debris of my life as if not to would be to deny who I am. But I think what she was getting at is that holding on to all that stuff requires us to pay a steep toll, and paying it costs us and our families too much.

I invested a lot of time and energy doing what I needed to do for her obituary and funeral because I wanted everything to be perfect for her and to honor her in the best way I could. I am content with how things turned out. I feel like right now she would be gracious and thankful to us for that celebration of her life, and with her next breath she’d kick us in the behinds and tell us to get moving on with life because our families need us in the here and now.

I finally understood today that we honor her not with how much sleep we can get by without or how much coffee and donuts we can consume, but by the way we build up our families, do good for others, spread some laughter, and keep trying to leave the world a little better each day. She left us the blueprints for a well-lived life. It’s about more than survival and getting through the day; it’s about living a life that others will want to honor and celebrate, just like we did hers.

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by Tim on February 16, 2010

My grandmother passed away at sunrise on Sunday, February 14th. It was the first sunny morning in her town after many, many days of cold, wintry weather.

Everyone noticed how bright and colorful and warm the sky looked. Of all that she taught us – so much that it would take volumes of books to tell – we think that wonderful sunrise was her last teaching to us. No matter how bad things seem to be, there is always light that will shine into our lives if we decide to let it.

We’re finishing up our multi-day, mad scramble to get out the door to go up tomorrow for the funeral. This has been very hard for me to talk about these past three days. I’ll write more after we get home, but for now, this is part of what I wrote for her obituary. I took my own advice and wrote a series of six-word stories about her.

I want to thank everyone for your support, thoughts, and prayers over the past several weeks. It’s meant a lot to us, more than you can know.

Six-Word Mamaw Stories

Superheroes wear aprons, get hair fixed.
Stood straight, head high, facing forward.
Uphill, both ways, overcame every hurdle.
Didn’t dare tell her she couldn’t.
Cleaned her gutters, because she could.
Brightened every day with infectious laughter.
Nobody went hungry at her table.
Soup beans, cornbread, fried potatoes – home.
Plates always full, glass never empty.
Always constant, our family’s true compass.
With every breath – grace, dignity, strength.
Watched over us, and always will.
Best in us comes from her.

Nothing is more important than family.
Love everyone and everything God made.
You can’t love someone too much.
Make your home everyone’s safe place.
Provide more than what people need.
Leave porch light and coffee on.
Hot biscuits and gravy cure anything.
Enjoy life; go back for seconds.
When times get rough, tell jokes.
Be a survivor through every challenge.

Your legacy lives on in us.
We remember everything good; we remember.
Rest now, surrounded by our love.
You are forever in our hearts.

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Six Words

by Tim on February 6, 2010

My grandmother is still with us, but her health continues to worsen. She’s had some OK days, but the last couple of days have brought a more significant decline. I’m starting to expect the phone to ring any minute. I’ve constructed ways to detach myself from that inevitable moment. I realize I’m pretty good at walling things off. When I drop those defenses, I start to lose it. I guess I’m the kind of person who has to grieve a bit at a time.

Between scrambling to finish work projects that have about sent me over the edge to dealing with snow and snow days (and the resulting craziness that comes from everyone being off schedule), I’ve had plenty of opportunities to wrap myself in other things. Even when life is really busy, I normally still try to write or read something or reflect about life or do something that grounds me. Now all I want to do is zone out and forget about the clouds hanging over us.

I’ve assumed the responsibility of writing my grandmother’s obituary and funeral bulletin. Writing usually comes easy to me. This feels more like climbing Mount Everest. I stare at the blank screen and feel paralyzed, but I know if I wait until after, I won’t be able to do it at all. I try to do the less emotional parts like listing surviving relatives just to make some progress. When I get into more complicated details like colors and pictures and design, my brain just shuts down. It’s taken me days just to be able to sit down and write a blog post.

The most important part to me is that I don’t want to write some dry account of her life. It’s not like we get to publish a small novel in the paper, but it needs to say something worthy of her. In addition to the factual details that go into obituaries and funeral bulletins, you do get room for a paragraph or two to summarize someone’s life. But this is not just any someone; this is the someone who has kept all the mismatched parts of our lives woven together since the day we were born.

A year or two ago, somebody turned the idea of six-word stories into a popular phenomenon. The idea is to try to tell an entire story in six words. It sounds impossible, but I’ve read some fantastic ones. (Samples here via Wired and here at the Six Word Stories site) Then came the natural extension of that – six-word memoirs. (the Smith Magazine project and illustrated ones at NPR) The suggestion I read: write the six-word story of the person’s life and let that guide how you write their obituary.

This certainly isn’t easy either, but there is something more focused and less daunting about it. You can’t encapsulate an entire life this way, of course, especially not one full of rich stories that touches countless people. It does, though, let you capture one particular theme or characteristic or truth about someone that can speak to the whole of their lives. In a world full of words and noise, perhaps this is the path to speaking simply and clearly to what’s most essential and fundamental about someone and what they stood for.

So while I sit down this evening to reflect on that for my grandmother, I encourage you to try it out for yourself and your kids. Thinking about your life, what would your six-word story be? What would it be for your kids? What about just something that happened today? What about six words about autism?

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