My original working title for the book was Blue October until someone told me I have been living under a rock and Blue October is a band (they’re good!).
We went to the zoo this past Saturday under that gorgeous blue October sky. G’s softball tournament bracket blocked out the entire day and I had prepared myself that we might not get away. Jack asked her if she wanted to stay to play or head on to the zoo. She picked the zoo. On "LJ Day," the answer is YES. No matter what. We would have reworked our plan if she wanted to stay and play. But selfishly, I'm so grateful she didn't.
I hope they always want to go to the zoo, even when they’re grown.
(It all works out. The tournament continued without her and they won the whole thing, and she got to see her teammates the next day at the party. She was presented with the “Softball Fashionista” award – they love her crazy socks and quirky style.)
As anticipated, the simultaneous zoo and hospital reconstruction projects made it so that we can’t see the NICU anymore. I freaked out about it last year when construction began, and it was sad this year too. We know it’s there, and that’s enough. It has to be enough now, anyway.
I went back to the NICU one time, on the 5 year anniversary. It was hard… traumatic, actually. I really thought I was ready to take gifts to the staff and the families. I did what I came to do and held it together until I left. But the smells (tunnels, hand sanitizer, general smell of the wing) and sounds (elevators, monitors, reception phone) and visuals (aquarium, lighting, big double doors I can’t enter any longer) were too much to take in.
I haven’t been back since.
So now that I can’t even see that precious space from the outside anymore, it was painful to mark yet another passing season in this whole grief journey. Things change. And those changes can be just as hard as grief itself.
I get a little paranoid sometimes that people must be just absolutely sick of hearing me talk about this stuff. Like if I were listening to me, I’d be sick of it too.
That is the crappiest part of this whole process. Feeling bad about feeling bad about feeling bad. And then feeling bad because you don’t feel bad anymore. (What even is this cheap shot?!)
Yet I have never once felt frustrated with someone “in the thick of it,” maybe because I know what it’s like to be there. And ultimately, if people do feel frustrated with me, they’ve never let on, or they’ve just left me alone, or they quietly “unfollowed” me on social media. I see you, Instagram.
We’ve had dreary days this week and I’m honestly grateful. Sunshine in a slump is almost insult to injury. G loves Halloween. I hate it, all the creepy decorations and our weird cultural fascination with possessed clowns and demon children and the undead. But because Halloween is important to her, it’s important to me, so we compromise on decorations. I stalled as long as I could this year and finally took her shopping yesterday. We decided on giant spider webs; I can handle that. She asked if she could paint her pumpkin creepy and that’s fine too.
She asked me in the car if I was tired. She is so perceptive. I just answered simply, yes. Thank you for noticing, and thank you for asking. She said, I can tell, Mommy. I wanted to cry. It felt good to just be honest with her, as much as was necessary with a 9 year old. That moment was a good reminder for me that I do not have to be Super Sunshiny Sparkly Mom all the time. Normal Mom or Tired Mom or even Sad Mom is still a good mom.
99.9% of the time I can find the bright side, the spiritual lesson, the glass-half-full approach. 100% of the time I do choose hope – the knowledge that today can be better than yesterday, that God is working all things together for my good, and that we (all people) are capable of change and growth beyond our human strength.
I’m self-caring this week, more than normal, and for me that looks like sleeping enough, cooking yummy food, lighting cozy candles, keeping my space clean, steering clear of social media, reading/listening to good edifying material, refusing to play the mind-bending “what if” game, choosing not to make any big knee-jerk decisions, staying faithful to writing and community, and not losing my patience with my people. Some of those things are harder than others.
Ironically, writing is usually my first go-to strategy to sort out the mess in my mind and heart. I know I’m in a really rough patch when I want to run away even from that. So this is me checking in today, with myself, and with everyone else who isn’t sick of hearing about it yet.
Share love with people today, wherever you go. Life, faith, relationships, they are hard and we are all just stumbling around down here trying to do it right. Give grace. Show compassion. Grant patience. Breathe peace. Go out of your way to make something convenient for someone else. Let someone go first in line. Write a kind note. Leave a thoughtful voicemail. Add an extra mindful greeting in an email. BE NICE. Even to people who you feel don’t deserve it.
I guess what I’m hearing myself say here (ughhh writing works, dammit!) is that at my most vulnerable, I can still tolerate creepy Halloween, I can muscle through triggery memories, I can breathe and pray through the grief journey, but what I can’t stomach is unkindness. Not even necessarily sent in my direction. Unkindness in general. I guess it’s because I know how desperately I crave that gentleness of spirit, especially in my weakest and most tender moments.
I’m sure there’s a way to wrap this all in a nice moral-of-the-story bow, but I’m too tired for that today, and I am giving myself permission to enjoy the gifts of imperfection.
Wherever you are on this cloudy day, be gentle, seek out kindness, and stay close to people who feel like sunlight. They need us as much as we need them.
BOOK UPDATE: I can't thank you enough for your thoughtful and generous outpouring of support for my book! Joy Comes in the Mourning is edited, formatted, copyrighted, licensed, covered, and heading to print! We'll be launching the whole thing the first week of December. If you'd like to be part of the launch team, which includes easy things like reading the book ahead of time and writing an online review, getting the inside scoop, attending a launch party, and who doesn't love a tshirt?!, subscribe to Happy Mail Club and/or drop me a note at firstname.lastname@example.org.