protection

No More Braces

A few weeks ago I found my notebook from January 2016.

In black ink, I had listed the things I was hoping for in the empty pages of a new year.

I had just started a dream job. There were 363 days to fill with goals and books and friends and growth opportunities.

In March of that year, my optimistic self was whacked to the knees with loss.

My world contracted and my goals mixed with tears in a confusing, sloshing slurry.

I threw out my resolutions and sat and stared at walls. 

Recently, I sat in my dark basement reading my old words, my heart ached for my younger self. Ambitious. Hopeful. Unscathed by the flickering cold flames of loss.

I felt ashamed and embarrassed of my previous positive outlook. Foolish for hoping in a hurting world.

‘Silly girl, you didn’t know what was coming,’ the bad voices said. I knew it was bad out there – it just wasn’t bad for me. Not yet.

I can now see I did, in fact, fill 2016 with books and I learned about my friendships and I grew tremendously – just not in the ways I expected. Grief tore things, and stretched, and re-arranged my definitions of success.

As the sun set and rose on repeat, I’ve welcomed four more January 1sts. At the start of each year, I’ve made lists to direct my efforts, and set goals to move myself into new places. I carried forth optimism and an appreciation for aesthetics. Yet, even with my devotion to hope, I moved with clenched fists and braced myself for more.

For resolutions were my buffers and achievements were my shields. Chinks in armor. If I do enough, then this won’t happen again.


When I was a toddler, I had to wear braces so I could learn to walk. I don’t remember much of the plastic structures that covered my ankles and went up my tiny calves into Keds sized large to accommodate the extra support. I have one blurry memory of blue gymnastic mats and afternoon light as I put heel to toe, heel to toe, heel to toe across the room towards the voice of a physical therapist.

The braces gave me support, structure, and a permanent bend in my big toes.

They also, eventually, got to come off.

In my grieving, my braces – preservation and structure – have looked and sounded like many things.

… isolation

… no-thank you’s to invitations

… doubts and fears and the I couldn’ts, I shouldn’ts because walking without leaves one wobbling

… I’m not ready, yets

Some were healthy. Others I’ve outgrown. As a result of the spiritual supports, I’ve got a permanent bend in me now – a wound – a wonder – a missing.

Every new beginning comes from some other beginning’s end. – SemiSonic

I sat under bad lighting at an oak kitchen table in a cabin in the woods as December turned to January in one minutes time. A decade slipped from one to the other in a split second.  There was no Ryan Seacrest and my young cousins had never heard of Dick Clark. No confetti. Just falling snow and the flick of a switch and we arrived.

Scrolling with my thumbs, I missed the moment the ball dropped. Two minutes into the new year I turned to kiss my husband on his forehead.

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Photo by Alberto Bigoni on Unsplash

This year, I’m removing my braces of fear and of worry. I’m kicking aside the lie that accomplishment protects me from all that could be coming round the corner.

There’s a voice calling me to keep at it.

I’ll be seeking the magic and believing in the good.

I won’t be ashamed to hope. I’ve just learned to carry my humanity differently.

I’m moving heel to toe, heel to toe, tentatively in the new year, with my braces kicked to the side of the room. What a beautiful thing.

 

 

 

Isn’t Life Grand?

It was probably in the second month when we were in my clunky, blue car. I can’t remember where we were headed, but I was driving. Dylan was in the passenger seat and Mom sat in the back, folding her hunched shoulders over her knees. Her black rain coat covered her shrinking body and each time she sighed, the Gore-Tex material would crinkle along with her.

Waiting at the stop light at the intersection I glanced over my shoulder to look at her.

No tears in this moment, at least not yet.

“Claudia called today,” she mumbled.

“Oh yeah?” I responded, “What did she say?”

“Nothing much. There’s nothing to talk about with people. They keep asking me how it’s going and I just want to scream, ‘life sucks’. Nothing to talk about. Nothing to see.”

Her words were quick and full of bitterness. My muscles clenched.

“I get that,” I murmured.

The light turned green and we kept on going. Driving ourselves further into the muck of grief.

It gets worse before it gets better. And in our case, it got much, much worse.

Another three months later and she had a breakdown. In the king-sized bed with the plaid-checked comforter, where he used to lay next to her on vacation. Her tears would not stop. We brought in aunts and uncles and caring cousins and tried, half-heartedly to create a care plan.

Holistic practitioners scrawled solutions on pads of paper. Remedies of rest, tinctures and hemp oils to soothe a grieving heart. Nothing seemed to be working.

Brought in more medication. The western doctor said it best when he asked, “What helps the most?” and her answer, “red wine” got not a rebuff, but permission.

“Then drink a bit more of it” he said, “Right when you wake up.”

We hired a care-taker and continued to drive her around, always in the back seat, always in the rain coat. We’d stroke her hands and play soothing songs, tensing our aching hearts toward her when the songs prompted more tears, not less.

Sat in the dark. For months.

Watched the tears roll over and over down her cheeks. The drips of emotion puddling in worn jeans and wrinkles on her hands all the way down to her painted toes.

She knew she had to start moving those appendages. They were getting stiff.

Baby steps.

Two and a half years passed.

Some involving actual babies – a job at a daycare, a trip to Italy. Lots of therapy with said therapist.

Her black rain coat hangs in the closet now, above his hiking boots. It’s ready for the next storm, but no longer needed as a daily accessory.

She’s cooking again – real meals that taste good. Not just spaghetti with mush of tomatoes or toast with butter.  This time there’s lobster tails, and pasta with cream, and crunchy salads full of life.

Last night, we sat on the deck after dinner, and she relaxed back in her chair. Bending her torso back over the supportive seat, she ran her newly graying hair through her hands. She took a deep inhale – this one full of joy.

“Isn’t life grand?” she murmured.

The sauvignon blanc in her glass goblet glittered in the light, matching the twinkle in her eye. The one that returned.

 

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I wasn’t sure she would say such things again.

That life is grand.

Even without you.

That we are making it, and she is smiling, and we are no longer driving her around as she sits, waiting for something or someone, to move her out of the backseat.