five. grassy skies and hair boob

I walk across the purple sky.

I gaze up at the blades of green grass waving down at me from where I stand on this cloudy earth.

we made the most amazing oceanman out of salty waves.

the girls swam in the snow until their skin was as wrinkled as their grandmother's.

my mom is dead.

my mom died.

no matter how much I say any of those sentences, they just don't make sense. they are all unreal.

sometimes I repeat the fact that my mom died over and over in my head, and it makes less sense the more times I say it.

as I said, I don't often talk about hear death, or my sadness, but when I've tried, the conversation has been a flop, so it makes me more and more nervous every  time.

for example,

I have really short hair, so I have to get it cut often. I can't stand when the hair on the back of my neck gets long--what a mom at school calls "hair boob"--so I need to go in and get my hair boob razored off every 4-6 weeks.

going to the hairdresser is a near-painful experience. it's a half an hour of small talk. I loathe making small talk. plus, i'm awkward and terrible at it.


I went to a hairdresser the morning before my mom was helicoptered to the hospital she died in. months later every time I went the to get my hair boob shaved off, I thought about telling that same hairdresser, because she was always asking about family and plans and so it was always relevant to explain why I was sharing what I was, but the thought of telling her made my palms break out in a panic until they were all sweaty and shaking each of my nervous little fingers. finally, one time--i'd just walked from the sink back to her chair--I said it. "my mom died last march."  she didn't comment. so then I didn't know if she hadn't heard me or didn't want to respond. the last thing I wanted was for her to feel uncomfortable or pity me, so I didn't try again.

this school year I started going to a different girl at a salon really close to my house. it's easier to slip away from the kids and husband on a Saturday. I can return before they notice I've gone.  this girl is young. really young. I won't even guess on her age because i'm terrible at that, but I realized something. time passes differently for young people than middle-aged people. here's how I made that discovery:

me: I didn't know you guys changed the name of the store.
her: really? it's been periwinkles for forever now.
me: seriously? I drive by this all the time and I only just noticed. wow, I guess I don't pay attention.
her: oh, yeah. it's been since, like, august.
me: uh huh. wow. that has been a while seeing as it's already October...

two months for her was forever. two months for me is blinking my eyes.

so we were approaching holiday season by the next time I visited her. thanksgiving. the anticipation of thanksgiving 2015 was...hell. i'm sure i'll do a blog post on that one. (you do all realize you're my grief counselors, right?) so she makes her usual small talk with me, the customer in the chair. and I decided, since I was feeling really low and particularly angry at the time, to try out my announcement again.

her: so, are you looking forward to thanksgiving?
me: not really. my mom died in march and my dad and I are fighting about where we're going to hold it.
her: oh, yeah. my family is a mess right now, too. my aunt who, like, never shows up for anything just announced she's coming, and my dad can't stand her so he doesn't want to be around, and then my sister,...
me: well, I hope it all works out.
her: I don't care. i'm going to the packer game, so I don't have to be there for any of it.
me: ah. that'll be fun.
her: yeah. so, are you looking forward to Christmas?
me: no.

so, this is where I learned that hairdressers are not the right choice for letting out my innermost secret emotions.  perhaps I should try the local bartender, you say? no, thanks. this is what you guys are for. insert smiley face emoji.

i'll leave you with this:

my mom died last march
she's really gone.


four. february 5, 2016

after my mom first passed away last march, a colleague handed me four booklets for dealing with grief that her husband had gotten after the loss of his parent. I thanked her. when I got home that night I opened Book 1 and read the first page and a half or so. after reading a sentence that said the pain might last for two years--or maybe it was five years--I tossed the book aside and thought, "forget this." and that's pretty much how I've dealt with my so-called grief since.

forget this.

I don't want any of this to be real.

I can picture my house, not my current grown-up house with my husband, dog, and kids, but my house...the one I grew up in with my mom and my dad, and I can SEE my mom there. she is standing in front of the stove stirring chili. she is putting make-up on in the bathroom. she is making her bed. she is looking at the new rug she bought and laid in front of the kitchen sink wondering if I like it or not, or if she should return it to kohls.

she's still there.

I mean, I can see her. her clothes are still there. her purse is still at the  end of her bed. her blue watch is still lying in her bathroom. her mary kay is still on the counter.

she's still there. could be there at anytime. I can still SEE her.

we're getting scarily and dangerously close to the anniversary of when the helicopter flew her to the hospital in Milwaukee and I sat in that green chair at the foot of her bed for two weeks, waiting.

two days ago I skimmed through Book 1 and Book 2 and started Book 3 until my kids called me away to play mancala.

one line said it was normal to go through this period of unreality. choosing to live in this false reality because it's safer and doesn't hurt, but that it will make the hurt way worse later.

so I get it. I get this. I do. i'm aware. but i'm going to stay in my unreality yet.

i'm not ready for it to be real.

within the past few weeks I've felt that reality sneaking up on me. I've had that near panic attack that it's going to hit, but I've been able to hold it off.

the Book also said that it'll be worse at night. in the quiet and dark of the middle of the night and that's true. that's when I can cry it out because that's when the worst of the breathless reality sets in for a few moments that she's really gone. like really, really gone ...like FOREVER. like the rest of my whole adult life. for all of my kids' future accomplishments. for in the morning when I want to call her or when i'm sick or my kids are or when i'm pushing my cart through the grocery store and there's not a chance in hell i'll run into her when I turn the corner. she's not at kohl's and she won't be at my son's first communion or graduation or birthday or wedding.

I went to the doctor tonight. I've been putting it off for months. thought i'd licked that months-long cold turned sinus infection. but I've been going deaf since sunday with plugged ears and finally gave in and went to the doctor.

it's been a long, long time since I last visited so I had to go through a whole health history.

"tell me about your parents. how is their health? any history of high blood pressure? cholesterol? anxiety?"

I don't cry. ever.

I cried in front of that poor girl in front of her laptop at the doctor's office.

"sorry. my mom died last year."

she handed me a box of Kleenex.

my mom had had a plugged ear for a year before she died. my plugged ear this week drove me crazy physically and mentally.

I have an ear infection. growing up I had so many ear infections, and always my mom slept by me as I ridiculously banged the wall in pain. she drove me to the doctor countless times in the middle of the night.

today I wanted to call her to laugh with her over the fact that i'm an adult and still I have an ear infection.

but I can't.

I called my dad. he bought a new van this morning.

he told me how he cried and shook buying a new van without her.

I don't even have any closure to end this post with.

miss you, Mom.


three. new year's eve & my birthday, january 2015

my mom was jealous of my in-laws. whenever I talked about doing something with my mother-in-law she'd get this tight-lipped look, and a perceptible amount of frost would cake her words. I chose to edit my stories or omit portions of my life when speaking to her, something that now haunts me as she and I used to be able to share anything and everything.

my husband and I lived with my parents while our house was being built ten years ago. I was pregnant with our first son. our house was supposed to take about two months. we didn't move in for over seven. during that time, my mom discovered that my husband isn't very talkative. she took this personally. my husband discovered my parents liked to ask him about his day and help however they could. I don't know what his problem with this is. the divide between them grew and grew.

I became more and more silent, because I wanted them all to get along, and that meant I needed to shed the brightest light on everyone I could. so when I was mad at my husband, I couldn't complain to my mom, and when my parents drove me bonkers, I couldn't tell my husband.

this is a very roundabout way to bring you to new year's eve.

my mother-in-law invited us to a wedding in green bay for her side of the family, a niece or nephew. my husband is one of five kids, and i'm an only child. I've always considered my cousins to be like siblings, and we get together for birthdays, weddings, Christmas, thanksgiving, mother's day, easter, and my grandma's birthday. my husband isn't close with any of his family, never calls them or talks to them, and balks at having to drive to green bay any more than necessary since he drives farther north than that on a daily basis for work. and yet we were going to spend a major holiday with them. I probably made it sound like a chore when I told my mom so she wouldn't think i wanted to go, so she would feel bad instead of jealous. I can't remember, but I think she took news of our plans well. after we ate dinner and clinked glasses and stood aside the dance floor watching the wedding party dance, we went back to the hotel to sit in bed and fall asleep before midnight approached. before turning out the light I called my parents to wish them a happy new year.

yup.  woo hoo. 2015.

a few days later it was my birthday.

weeks prior my mom had had a breakdown in my school hallway. she'd been volunteering in my classroom since September, reading with students every Monday. after i'd walked the students to lunch that day, I walked back as I always did to find my her still sitting on the chair by the table in the hallway where we'd talk a little before she'd make her way to the office to purchase SCRIP and be on her way for the afternoon. that day, she'd asked about my birthday plans. I never cared to celebrate, but it was a big deal for her. she usually wanted to cook me dinner, but this year i'd decided to go to Nakashima's where we sit around a large grill and the chef cooks our food in front of us. my kids call it "the fire restaurant" because the chef builds a volcano out of onions, fills it with oil, and sets it on fire until our faces burn for a few seconds. I think my mother-in-law asked about my birthday before that and i'd invited her along, because isn't that the polite thing to do? anyways, on this particular day in my school hallway, my mom started crying about it. she wanted to have me to herself and we never invite her and Dad to my husband's birthday dinners so why did I feel the need to invite my mother-in-law? "okay, Mom", i'd said. "she doesn't need to come. it'll just be us."

crisis averted.

at our Christmas morning brunch that I wrote about yesterday Mom spent words telling me she was really sorry about crying at school, and I told her to please not worry about it. and I really didn't want her to worry or feel bad, but I was also really exhausted by the whole thing.

fast forward.

the day before my birthday, Saturday January 3rd,  I wasn't feeling the best. my kids had been under the weather off and on that week and we'd holed up most of Christmas break, except when we took them to a waterpark for a few days with friends. (we made time for that, but I didn't make time to go over and visit with my parents at all the whole ten days I was off of school.)   so, there I was, unwell, in my classroom without heat on a Saturday, trying to rearrange the entire set up of the room and desk arrangement for my 25 students before school started Monday. I think it was all the heavy lifting and pushing and shoving and heaving that really pushed me into flu-ish territory, but even with a headache and chills I decided that that night would be the night to go to dinner, and afterward I wanted to see the third Hunger Games movie that had been out since November. My husband and I had never had time to see it and I was afraid it wouldn't be in theaters much longer.. so I was on the phone with my mom most of the time I was in my classroom, because I always talked to her several times per day, especially when I was in the school alone or driving from place to place or folding laundry, and asked what she thought. she said she'd talk my dad into babysitting at our place after dinner.

done deal.

during dinner, my mom sat at the head of the table and I sat to her right. she gave me my gift before the chef showed up, and all during dinner my head throbbed and my son had coughing fit after coughing fit.


my parents followed us to our house where we cut a packer cake and ate super fast so my husband and i would make the movie.  halfway through the movie I considered going home because my head hurt so bad I wanted to burst into tears. we made it through, but as soon as I got home I barely said goodbye to my parents before I crashed into my bed where I stayed throughout my birthday, all feverish and achy, the next day.

the roads had been icy after the movie so I made my mom promise to call when they got home. of course, I didn't feel well so I didn't get up to answer it.

that is one of the last messages I have saved on my phone from her. it's not one of the ones she said she loved me at the end of.

one that she does end her message with "i love you" is from later in january, and that's the one I played over and over and over the first few months after she died.

I don't like to cry or acknowledge she's gone,

so I don't listen to it much anymore.


two. christmas 2014

that fall i'd started a grad class. with teaching full time and mommying the rest of the time, I worked on grad work early, early in the morning and late, late at night. that didn't leave much time for anything else. Saturday mornings I studied, went to my kids' basketball games, grocery shopped, cleaned, and relaxed some.

I didn't visit my parents much.

with the holidays coming up, we decorated some, and did take the time to go with my parents to get a Christmas tree.

after thanksgiving my mom kept asking about driving to Lambeau Field in Green Bay, WI to shop for gifts for my sons. she'd desperately wanted to get my oldest a real football helmet. I kept putting it off. I hated leaving my kids on the weekend.  this is the same reason I rarely went for lunch or manicures and pedicures with my mom. working full-time left me with mommy guilt and I liked to spend every second I could with them.

I always figured i'd have time with my mom when they got older and didn't need me as much.

finally, that December, I took a few hours and went to Lambeau with my mom. we picked out gifts for ourselves that the other one bought and kept to wrap for Christmas morning. I bought a Packer purse for her and she bought Packer ear muffs for me since I have outdoor recess duty in frigid Wisconsin. i'd thought it would be nice to have lunch together, but after having been gone for a few hours already, felt that tug to get back home to my boys.

so, we didn't have lunch and we simply drove home.

as I drove across the highway overpass nearing the turnoff to her street, she said, "at least I have presents for the boys now in case I die before Christmas." I don't remember my exact response, but it was something like, "what? Mom, knock it off."  I did tell my dad about her comment a few weeks later, but he brushed it off too.

what had she known that she never told us?

Christmas eve came and we spent it at my aunt's with my mom's whole family as usual. I took selfies with my mom and also my grandma. I remember thinking that it may be the last pictures with my grandma. I don't remember thinking that about my mom.

I make picture calendars through shutterfly for myself and my parents every year. as I put them together that November, I remember feeling nostalgic about one picture in particular, one of my kids with my mom. I knew somehow that that picture would be cherished, special someday.

I didn't know how very close that someday was getting, how quickly it would be here.

the day after Christmas was the day we always went to my parents for brunch and to exchange gifts. my youngest was puking and so was my husband. I went with my other two sons and we made the best of it. we ate my mom's amazing quiche and pancakes. Mom and I exchanged the ear muffs and purse--surprise! and she was ecstatic to give Grant his helmet. my husband texted that he and Sawyer were both puking at the same time and I needed to go home to help. Sawyer had just turned three and he was still in the habit of walking from carpet spot to carpet spot to puke. we needed to chase him with a garbage can.

that was my last Christmas with my mom.

I don't think she ever used that purse, and now it's in my closet.


one. thanksgiving 2014

we'd all been worried about Grandma that week, day, and night. the august before she'd had another scare--her heart--and had been hospitalized. then, the week of thanksgiving, it had happened again. i still have the message from my mom calling me that Monday or tuesday while i'd been teaching, telling me that they were at the hospital, but not to worry. she'd said they were having a family meeting. and with that her voice broke a little bit before she'd cleared it and came back stronger to end the message. while hanging up from listening, i'd thought, as i had many times, that she was lucky to have brothers and sisters to have a meeting with, wondering what i would do in one hundred years when i needed to deal with my parents in their old age.

Grandma was bound and determined to join us all at my parents for thanksgiving dinner, even though they'd only just picked her up that very morning from the hospital. she'd had a balloon put in to open the valve, or close the valve, i can't remember now, but it was supposed to last until she'd need it replaced. it was supposed to fix the problem because she was too scared and not ready to die.

i'd visited her in the hospital one night after teaching all day and making my family dinner. mom said not to stress about it but to go if it would make me feel better. my aunt, uncle, their son and his girlfriend were there when i walked in. i sat in a chair under the television and we'd joked about when they were going to get married. grandma laughed, looked at me, and had said, "well, you've got to do what you've got to do." even though she's strong and determined, she looked smaller and thin in the hospital gown and in that big bed.

thanksgiving night she'd sat on the couch near the fireplace, though it was blasted hot in that living room. the couches and chairs and floor were covered with people who in years past had spent time downstairs. but that night more hovered around grandma in case it was her last thanksgiving. when people get up there in age it's normal to think these things.

i wish we'd remember to think them about everyone else in the room too. because sometimes it's not the oldest who is the sickest or the one who will pass first.

my mom was divvying out mary kay products she'd ordered for everyone with her discount. i liked a lipstick she'd ordered for herself, so she gave it to me. she made it seem like she didn't like it much anyway so she'd rather i took it. she stood in the bathroom and started to cry about how ugly she was. she'd never done this before. "no, Mom," i'd said. "you're not." she was still upset about how yellow she was. she hated to admit it and so nobody mentioned it anymore. mom's family, me included, had always been very good about stepping gingerly around issues. we'd tried to deal with them, but it hadn't gone over well, so mostly we'd stopped. she said she was "fine" and she got mad when we pushed that she wasn't. so we smiled and said how much better she looked.

Grandma ate too much cheese. it had too much sodium and i'd given her the plate so i'd worried i'd be the one to push her over the edge of sodium intake.

she was fine.

all my worry was misplaced.

Mom and i took our second to last picture together that night, down by the roaster and crock pots. neither of us look very good in it. i wish we'd taken a second shot, a closer up shot or from a different angle.

or something.

that was thanksgiving.

Grandma made it to the next one, but my mom didn't.