I Have Covid-19, Don’t Panic

I have COVID-19. I cannot prove it, I am not eligible for a test, but I am certain beyond a reasonable doubt. I am one of the approximately eighty percent recovering at home with no test. So grateful that this is so.

This is the story. I felt it best to share this, as I want to help others not to panic, since I am coming through. Please do not panic, you need your strength.

A week ago, Sunday, March 22, I woke up with a good deal of nasal congestion. Naturally, I went right to the internet to make sure I did not have COVID-19. The symptoms, as everyone knows, are dry cough, fever and shortness of breath. Did not have those. I decided to stay inside and forgo walking around the park or walking my dog, in case I had pollen allergies (which I don’t think I have, but anyway, maybe that was it). I felt stuffy, and when I would bend over my head felt full. Classic sinus infection. I put a warm washcloth over my face. That felt lovely.

In the evening, I decided to take a nice hot shower to relieve the stuffiness. I brought my bottle of scripture inscribed Dr. Bronner’s lavender soap, as well as a bottle of eucalyptus oil, into the shower and loaded up a washcloth to put on my throat. I could not smell anything. Later, I stuck many more bottles of oils up to my nose, as well as a jar of minced garlic, a big jug of vinegar, a bottle of Pine Sol. Nothing. Not even my dog’s bed, face right in it, nothing.

As the day had gone on, eventually I started taking my temperature. It hovered above 99, a couple of times passed 100. Officially, this is not a fever, but as I slept, humidifier bubbling with a scented stick of rosemary/eucalyptus/smelled like nothing tucked inside, I felt my system fervently fighting something off. I dreamt of healing entities in some type of astral doctor’s office and awoke with someone telling me I was healed. From something. I was being called “Ms. A.”  I do not know what this means.

By the next day, I was searching for info about “anosmia”, the term I had just learned. The term for not being able to smell anything. The first search turned up some concerning articles about the connection to COVID-19, but the symptom was not yet widely accepted. I decided I would rather have a sinus infection, another possible cause. I did not want to have the Coronavirus. Who would? Everyone on Facebook was seeming to be maintaining a permanent fortress of disinfection and fear, not to be entered. I felt like if I caved and accepted the dawning truth, I would become a receptacle for the world’s enemy.

I distracted myself in the foray of “remote teaching” for a couple of days, which I likened to rowing a leaking vessel which has been put into the air to keep it from sinking. My weak little fever never came back from that point, but I felt a bit breathless, a bit not right. Finally, on Thursday night, I consulted with a doctor. I have been between doctors lately, and not needed one for a while, a blessing of good health. I called one offered by my insurance company’s “telemedicine” option. The doctor was a soothing and competent person, calling me from California though licensed, as required, in New York. He told me the following things, to paraphrase: The data used for the usual symptoms list was taken from people who had presented at hospitals for treatment. People whose illness was mild enough to stay home were calling him with other symptoms, such as nasal congestion and loss of taste and smell. I was told to assume I had it, isolate at home and avoid my family. My son, who is healthy and twelve, is not much of a concern. My partner is healthy but sixty-seven. (I know he has no symptoms of anything wrong because I ask him at least every hour, still, and a couple of times during the middle of the night. He understands.) My instructions were to stay home, treat my symptoms, and go to the emergency room if I were to get a high fever or have trouble breathing. Beyond that, I can not have a test or see a doctor now. I can not have access to anyone who can listen to my chest with a stethoscope, who can give me an appointment, or a bed for a couple of days. We are all our own doctors currently.

I spoke to this doctor on day four of my illness. He cautioned that between days seven and nine or ten, some people were becoming sicker. Hence, the instruction for going to the emergency room. From this point, my fears of knowing I had the virus were supplanted by my terror that I would suddenly stop breathing. I was aware of what is currently happening here in New York. The steady drone of sirens, the lack of equipment, the death tolls, the makeshift morgues. A few days later now, these things are worsening, and the peak is supposed to be two weeks away. I thought about needing to go to the hospital, breathless, and dying in the doorway because there would be no one to help me. I thought about how there is no one who can adequately take care of my son. I thought about all the people who face health diagnoses every day, which include prognoses and percentages of survival. I cried for them. I have had bad things happen in my life but had not felt these fears.

Today is day ten, and these things have not come to pass. I am not feeling completely well, but I am closer. I have been somewhat able to function normally, with extra rest and remedies. Lots of steam, hot teas with ginger, honey and cayenne. Some Flonase and Robitussin. This virus, though I have a mild version, does not feel like a cold. I have had a persistent sort of burning “cloud” of illness that I can feel in my throat and head, like I have been invaded by something malicious. Sometimes it feels like nausea, sometimes like car sickness. I do not believe I have shortness of breath officially, I can breathe, but sometimes I need to rest and slow my breathing because my chest feels too full. This is lessening now. I remembered how the pediatrician showed me how to gently pummel my kids’ backs with a cupped hand when they had chest congestion. I’m doing that to myself because no one can touch me or come close to me yet. I sometimes feel like I inhaled poison, like the assault to the lungs a young person feels when smoking a cigarette for the first time, except it stays. I have gone back in memory to find the feeling, I vaguely remember respiratory infections as a child, maybe a bad bronchitis. It might feel like when I had mono in high school, but that was a long time ago. When I have been going to sleep at night, I breathe deeply and purse my lips to exhale. I need to choose to sleep, to breathe well. Each night I have slept peacefully, trying to remember to visualize healing through my body, once I get past the fear. The congestion is leaving now, as is the intermittent panic.

 

I was exposed to COVID-19 at my workplace, my school. After school had closed, the first weekend, we were instructed to come to the building for three days so we could learn how to move school on to the internet, for our student population who have severe and multiple disabilities, and families often without devices. In hindsight, we all should have stayed home. I should have listened to the wisdom of my son, who said early in March that he did not want to go to school and catch the Coronavirus. He is almost always right, and I should listen to him more.

Each day, I cling to seeing the names of my coworkers on the chat screen of the team meetings, and sometimes hearing their voices before someone starts saying “mute your mike!”. I miss them, and the students. I miss people and the world. Today, we were told that a coworker has died from this virus. Someone who seemed young and healthy, who I have known for years and will miss very much. This is not my story to tell at this time, it is his story, but I have felt devastated all day that this rampant disease is killing people close to all of us. It is nowhere near the end.

Six years ago, my daughter Susanna died in a Brooklyn hospital, after a ruptured brain aneurysm we had no idea was there. I knew, as the pandemic approached, that I would think about all that happened when we lost her. I know what the people who are working in the hospitals now are like. The are made of steel and golden light. They save people and send them home, and they are there with families whose loved ones are dying. They need to tell people that there is nothing they can do. They are heroes in the biggest way. I have been remembering talking to the pediatric emergency physician, on that worst night of my life. He asked me what I needed him to know, and I said this: “No matter what is going on, I don’t want to give up on my daughter.” In hindsight, I think that everyone, including me, knew that Susanna was too far gone and would not be coming back. He said this to me: “Now listen to me. I am a pediatric physician. I will never, ever give up on anyone’s child. I will do everything in my power for you and your daughter”. I know he did.

While Susanna rested in a coma, I felt I needed to show her picture to the nurses. I needed them to know that the very sick little body they were caring for belonged to my daughter’s beautiful soul. One of them said, “Oh, I can see her beauty”. Another nurse played the music from Frozen for Susanna on her phone. “I know it is my daughter’s favorite,” she said. And when Susanna died, as I watched through a glass partition, doctors and nurses had come running to help. They worked together, pumping and counting until they had to stop. And they came to me and hugged me, and they cried. They cried with me.  It is such a horrific world sometimes, but we are not alone in the presence of all that people do for each other.

Please stay home, please care for each other, please hang in. Peace.

Two Weeks Past Imbolc

When meditating yesterday, during this coldish winter break, I received some late winter advice. “It is not time to gather a bunch of flowers yet, but still time to gather a bundle of firewood”. I have stretched this message into urban life, no fireplace here but I continue to ride out some winter. Winter has almost skipped us in Brooklyn this year, barely any snow and frequent warm temperatures, but I still feel dry and sniffly. I have needed the introspection and lived in some shadowy respite just the same.

My mother passed this winter, four days after Susanna’s birthday. I have made it through this so far without finding many words. It is not a matter of avoiding things but of access.  I have been grieving through dreams because there is dream language where words fail me.

Last night there was a recurring theme. I was traveling alone with my son and tending to his fever (he did not have one in waking life, just the dream). Susanna had never died but was resting safely somewhere, well cared for. This is the part that repeats lately in my dream life. I do not write about my son much, he needs his own private life, but I will say only that I am disappointed by what life is giving him often. This is not a secret. My beautiful Susanna, she does not need me in the same way. I wish this were not true, but it is.

By day I walk in nature even when it is cold, this saves me as it has for nearly six years now. The crocuses and daffodils are emerging. I worry briefly about snow coming to freeze them, but I believe they are resilient. After I leave the park or pass the allotted bits of soil near the sidewalks, I also catch some fledgling Easter displays in storefronts. Some sparkly yellow marshmallow Peeps or a white bunny eared head on a pole, to stick into a front yard. I still panic at the sight of this. I need to think myself through the scenarios. Easter will come, the day after Easter, too. April 22nd will come. The Tuesday after Easter and April 22nd will not be the same day as they were in 2014, complicating and elongating things. All these days will come and go but that does not mean I will have to live through losing her again. In my mind, I will live through it as I often do. But chances are the people I love will remain alive throughout the holiday. For now.

I am appreciative of the healing that has happened. I am appreciative that I lived through Susanna’s abrupt and shocking death. Lately, though, I see a paradox. I survive, but one day when I cross over, at whatever age I am, I will still be aching for my daughter. No matter what the situation is, there will be a part of me waiting for the pain to stop. There is a part of me that died with her. There is a part of me that dies a little more each day.

My mother, who lived to be nearly 92, lost one of her own children. He would have been my older brother, Michael, who passed before he was born. My mother carried him to full term and knew by the day of his induction that he was not alive anymore. I knew about this from as long ago as I remember. To me, Michael was a relative on the other side, like an ancestor. To my mother, he was her child. At some point I saw a TV movie about stillbirth, in which Minnie Driver’s character and her husband awaited the birth of their son who had died. The doctor asked them if they wanted a deck of cards to pass the time. This made me think of what I had heard my father say about what happened. “I don’t know how she went through with that. It was awful. I give her a lot of credit.”

I can not say when I had the last conversation with my Mom before her dementia set in. But she was here with me, to see Susanna’s life and play with her, to watch Susanna put on performances for her in the living room. To write letters to her and send them in the mail. To give my son Matchbox cars she had collected over the years. To spend the day with us, all day, on the last day of Susanna’s life. It was later than that, the day that I spoke to her on the phone and she confessed to me that she did not remember my son’s name. “Say hello to the little guy, and the big guy. I don’t remember their name; I know it is the same.” The names and the words were less important than the well wishes. When I close my eyes to find her now, like I do when I want to see Susanna, it is the creaky but calm voice of her as Grandma that I hear. It is love. Mostly she says, “There is nothing to worry about, it is all going to be alright.”

I have a different scope since Susanna died, however you want to interpret that. I do not believe in death and time the same way; I think love supersedes them. I think love lasts. It is like finding oceans when inland, green grass when the ground has browned and frozen. Love is not what makes you any different than someone else, it is what makes you the same.

 

Wendy

My son has a red lump on his left arm. It rose a bit at the site of a flu vaccine he received yesterday, when we visited the pediatrician for a benign ailment which has now disappeared. We waited for the doctor and I read the poster with charts: “Quantifying Morbidity and Mortality for Influenza”. (I know too much about morbidity and mortality, so I said yes when the vaccine was offered). A short time after, as we left, he sneezed. I asked if he was reacting to the vaccine (he was not), and, forgive me, my mind raced to the possibility of him having a rare deadly reaction and dying right there on the tiled floor. I imagine frequently that those I love will suddenly die. I see this partly as a feature of PTSD, and partly as direct knowledge which some people can avoid. This was a milder episode of panic than I sometimes experience, especially since I was already in the presence and consult of a doctor. This is a doctor who has been to the edge of hell together with me, so she understood.

When I was growing up, I always had knowledge of my first cousin, Wendy, who died long before I was born. This happened before the discovery of a vaccine for measles. She had the measles, with complications, and she died. She was five, just like Susanna.

Shortly after Susanna died, I sent a Facebook friend request to Wendy’s sister, who I had met once and knew little about, other than the appearance of her smiling young face in a couple of family photos. She accepted, herself ill and near the end of her life, and expressed her sorrow to learn that “once again tragedy had been experienced by the Freer family” in this way. Death itself is not a tragedy. We all die. The death of a child is a tragedy because of the unending pain it causes. I do not know that Susanna, in her location on the other side, laments not having lived longer. I tend to doubt that. I never will live a day without considering her absence a tragedy. My life is not a tragedy overall, but there will never be a resolution which does not include a missing piece, one which has left a hole with a painful jagged edge.

Many people think of Susanna, and feel heart- broken knowing what happened to us. Her death rippled and reached many, even those who did not know her. My family and friends grieve for her still, in their own ways. There will be times that they think about her, and times that they wish things had happened differently. For me, time moves on, but Susanna’s death is always there. It will greet me every morning, and color every event. In some ways, it will make me love a bit deeper and even seize moments I may have missed. It will make me less likely to attach importance to things which are not important. It will not remove me from life or the truth, it will make me reflect them more honestly.

This is something I wrote a few years ago.

When I go to heaven, I hope I can do the following things:

  • Make a box of macaroni and cheese for Susanna and watch her eat the whole thing. We will have come home before her father and brother from the playground (Susanna will not be crying like she used to if she had fallen or become tired, and I will not feel confused and bored, nor will I be missing her in despair like now. This is heaven, after all). We will watch an episode of “Peppa Pig” with that song in those beautiful English accents. “Peace and harmony, around the world…….”
  • Open a cassette from one of those long plastic boxes from Caldor, put it into a boom box and play it over and over again because the whole thing, every note, is perfect and all I can think of is “Again!” It may be Bruce Springsteen, or New Order. It doesn’t really matter.
  • Have many massages with hot towels and aromatherapy. Or the equivalent of that for someone without a body.
  • Talk to all of my students who cannot speak now. I want them to have the opportunity to comment on whatever we did in class, at least once.
  • Talk to my uncle and aunt who I never met, and tell them I am so sorry they lost their five- year-old daughter to the measles because I know how they felt (though they are dead, and I am hoping the dead have healed from losses. I want to do it anyway). Then jump over to thank whoever invented the measles vaccine.
  • Perhaps float in clouds made of vanilla ice cream, like I used to imagine when I was Susanna’s age. I digress.

 

 

 

 

 

Home

This morning I watched a video on TED Talks. Pico Iyer is an author who writes about travel, in a contemplative way. In the talk he discusses how people of multiple nations and cultures define “home”.  I am someone living a state border away from where all my relatives and I were born. I am not a traveler or a well-travelled person, but this spoke to me. There is indeed a difference between the structure and soil I occupy and what my soul calls home.

I have been considering my relationship with my own physical house lately. As usual, I have been using some of my summer break to dig through clutter and eradicate dust bunnies. I have noticed, within myself, some missing boundaries, some nondescript holes in how I occupy my life here. There are layers to uncover, sections and coats of many colors.

My first memories of being in this house are of a day when my Significant Other, my son and I spent a few hours patching some holes, the first in a series of repairs leading to a complete restoration. S.O. brought wood and spackle. I, grateful that my toddler had fallen asleep on a blanket and pillows, and about halfway pregnant with Susanna, started cleaning some closets and floors. I could describe page upon page what was damaged here. We focused instead on what was possible, and what S.O. (an exceptionally talented individual) knew he could create. I was more of a witness to what I knew could unfold, and it did.

There are no perceptible holes here now. There are clean walls and restored floors, all systems functional. The house occupies the same shape and shell, but is made of our own history. There are stories to tell. There is the shocking memory of when the ocean swelled into the house during Superstorm Sandy, and the aftermath of cleaning wet mud as FEMA dropped off boxes of self-heating lasagna. Heartbreaking, to know that today as I write this people in Texas are experiencing a storm and flood entering their homes. Sometimes, we learn how what we think we have made solid is fragile, like we are.

These memories are the easier ones, because they are followed by memories of two smiling kids running around. I have photos of them playing on the underfloor S. O. exposed on his own after the storm, just before he repaired beams and installed a rich, dark wood in time for Christmas. We had reached even further into the underbelly of the house. Their smiles were wide enough to span to South America, love emanating through the pixels.

This big world, with its beautiful people of all kinds, is a scene of incomprehensible healing. I will never stop believing that we all have a purpose here, despite what we live through. I have not healed from the memory of Susanna in the living room, on that worst night of my life, when I saw that she was not going to wake up. Much healing has occurred, as I live each day and do my best, but the universal forces which can heal those memories, still stuck in places inside of the walls of the house as well as the walls I have around myself, will have to come from beyond the scope of this earthly home.

My family, as I describe it, lives in multiple nations and dimensions. I do not think in terms of walls and borders. S.O. carries with him the memories of a distant place. I carry within myself many homes, not as far away on the map but gone over time. My son will remember being here as a brother to Susanna. He always will be, though no one can see them together. Susanna still lives with us, though she does not occupy physical space.  Someday, as I have learned so deeply through my daughter and her destiny, there will be another home on the other side. I cannot picture it, but I know who will be there.

TED Talks

 

Losing My Religion

My year of graduate school is almost over, the end in sight and the glorious weeks of steamy weather and solitude coming into view. I have rediscovered television again, already. Except for I Love Lucy or Roseanne when I am drinking my coffee in the morning, I have not had the time or patience to watch anything. I have settled into The Handmaid’s Tale on this long weekend and sucked the last drops out of the six episodes available so far, getting lost inside and looking up details about the cast, production and soundtrack on my phone during the commercials. No wonder I do not watch TV like I used to, this is how involved I get.

I read Margaret Atwood’s novel during a television- free time in my life, when I read books and went places and spent more time with people in cafes (pre-internet). I checked it out of the Brooklyn Public Library in Grand Army Plaza, where I used to hang around when I had no money but time to spare. This was before I met my S.O. and had a family, and before I knew firsthand about life ending in death. I did know about the dark side of human nature but I had a narrower perspective on it.

So much to become irate and disgusted about in the story. But this is a story of the world. Fiction, but with real correlations. I do not watch this and feel grateful to be free as much as I feel revolted about how humans full of greed and evil damage each other. Freedom from this is not a privilege, abusing and exploiting others is crime. The world is a hotbed of corruption and unspeakable abuse, and this seems to have always been true. Sometimes I feel done.

When the scenes turn, in the first few episodes, to times “before” and “after”, I follow the emotional shift. I too have had my little girl taken from me, and console myself in reverie of carnivals and making pancakes. I want to hate the government, or someone, for this, but my enemy is none other than death and destiny. They are here and now and not dystopian. Death and loss are everyone’s fate. But eventually I do feel grateful that I have experienced this loss in the world I live in, where I have a job and home and a good deal of personal power.

I live with my beautiful, healthy surviving child and a partner who loves me from across cultures. He has seen things which I cannot understand, and never will, about human nature and injustice. These are his stories to tell, and sometimes he tells them to me. None, though, are as heartbreaking as what we have survived together. The cruelest part of the universe is the part which gives you a child to love and then that child is taken away. We found each other and had a son and a daughter. Susanna’s life was very short, and we remain.

Is life worth fighting for? I know it is. Whatever falls in my path I do believe I have a purpose, and I am equipped to follow it through until the last day. During these last years of my life, during which I have been bruised and broken, I have lived the most real days. Life is temporary and difficult and painful, and no one here gets out alive. Still, there are things to be done and justices to be served. And, in the bigger picture, there is a plan which cannot be seen from this plane.

Last night I was involved in my Hulu marathon, and S.O. uncharacteristically came upstairs and offered me one earbud attached to his phone. “Listen to this. This is beautiful. Maybe you know it”. It was REM’s Losing my Religion, and that is beautiful. My man has discovered the same band I discovered I high school, on this night so many years later, in a language and country which are not his first. I can only say to him that they are from Georgia and do not play together anymore. I want to explain how Michael Stipe’s voice makes me feel when I hear it, but words escape me.  He does not need words, he hears it himself. Because of these moments I am hopeful. Sometimes I know we will survive.

Susanna and Mii

(Reposting from February 21, 2015)

 

Yesterday I had been driven inside by the cold and resorted to Wii Fit U, Free Run, in lieu of my walk in the park. The simulated run was icy in appearance, snow falling in seasonal nature graphics. Somehow it was dark in my running world though it was only 3 PM, but I did not mind following the full yellow moon and the huge lighthouse.

I bought our first gaming console last winter as a battle tool, having gained a bit of weight. My biggest complaint about the fitness program has been the way I am judged by a four star system after each activity, which I see as part of an achievement driven and heartless culture. Susanna used to run up to the television and pound a couple of extra stars on for me with her hand if I acted disappointed by my score (my sweet angel). At some point glittery star stickers began to appear around the sides of the screen.

Since the day of Susanna’s aneurysm and sudden death, nothing of the physical universe has the same weight or feel. I cannot say I am living apart from reality because it feels like the opposite. All that used to seem solid (though I never knew it seemed solid) has been set adrift and I am hovering, sort of on a magic carpet ride which will never end. I am not alone, nor delusional. We are all here in a physical state for a limited span of time. To live as if your life and body and your set of intellectual understandings are everything will only take you so far. We all know this but we all struggle with remembering.

During the first days, before the calling hours and the completion of the autopsy, my son and I turned on our Wii and saw ourselves in the Miiverse (a universe populated by avatars, some created by my kids) with our Susanna. She was and is still there, wearing the same bun in her hair with tendrils as I am, the same pink dress and heavy blue eye shadow of her choosing. I can tell the two of us apart from a distance by size. We watched ourselves huddle a bit in the center of the “plaza” and suddenly he said, “Look! Susanna’s dead!” Her Mii character was lying down, but promptly got up. In some planes we do not need to be without her forever.

So yesterday I set out on my run to look for her as I always do. I passed the Mii people we made to represent so many friends and family members, and she showed up in front of me. My own avatar was shadowy, like a ghost, but Susanna was solid and her feet pounded on and on with great strength. I ran to keep up but not pass her, I did not want her to see me and get scared or go away. My heart and lungs pumped in good health, I am alive. I thought about my son and how sometimes lately I love to watch him run ahead of me. When I am able to believe he is on his own eternal path apart from me, I can let go, a little. Run on, Susanna. I need to keep going and only you are ahead to lead the way. At one point she dropped off to the side but came back and passed me, flashing me a crinkly eyed smile. I followed her near to the end of my run, short by four minutes and she veered off. I yelled good bye to her and crossed the virtual finish line. For now.

Herbs

Maybe in heaven there are fragrances. If I have a choice, I want to be able to smell the cilantro my Significant Other chops while I am falling asleep sometimes. A lover of toppings and condiments, he likes to eat late at night and meticulously cleans and separates the leaves, then gently taps the knife against the bamboo board as he chops before ladling the chicken soup I have left on the stove for him. I turn back to sleep consoled by his presence. I would miss that about earth.

This summer I planted my first herb garden (in containers, my tiny yard is cramped and paved with cement). I bought some plants and set them on Susanna’s bench. The bench was decrepit like driftwood last summer when I spray painted it pink and white. It sits beneath the window where I hang some of her angels on suction hooks. Bees have perhaps nested beneath the ground beside it. Since we have set up the Angel Tree each Christmas, the same corner of the house seems to attract flying creatures. I believe they feel the angels, the other winged beings.

The cilantro died. Firstly, we ate it down to the stems and roots. There was a driving rain one night, right after I did the initial planting, which flooded the boxes. I tipped the long window box backward to drain it and the plants tumbled out. I repaired the damage, but after that the cilantro never came back.

My prior gardening exploits were limited to mostly houseplants. I mastered the knowledge that plants will sometimes wither and sometimes thrive. This summer I experienced watching my herbs live in the elements. I started each day by looking at them and touching them. This grounded me a bit throughout a long, strange trip of a season. The chives and parsley stayed rooted as if made of bronze. The basil proliferated and made me proud. The oregano, which seemed to be going the way of the cilantro, remained green in tiny spots long enough to grow back again. I absorbed this concept of nature: things will heal and root when given time. We live and die, like they do, and given time we can grow back.

Two years ago, last April or May. Susanna has just left us and we are, all three, sleeping on the sectional sofa in the living room. We are afraid to sleep upstairs. We have little trust in this world which has robbed us. I fall asleep briefly, and I wake up choking and coughing. I change positions. I know that I am choking with fear and grief.

This feeling comes back in gradient forms.A year or so ago, I went through weeks of feeling faint and breathless which resulted in ruling out heart problems. My heart is broken, but functional. Now, as I begin to drift off at night or for a nap, there is an initial gasp for air. I never truly relax.

I believe I will always miss my daughter, all day long. Just as having children changes you forever, losing a child changes you forever again. But rather than changing you into someone who further understands life, loss changes you into someone who further understands death. My head is whirling, I experienced both in a short span of years.

Summer is over, and I will miss the solitude. I will walk further steps into the things I must attend to, and I will tend to things which help me to heal. I am healing. I believe that the loving powers of the universe want better for me than choking breathlessness. I take in enough air, enough love to know I am alive. There is more.

 

Birth, Death, Menopause and Things Like That

So, today I discussed menopause with my doctor. I discuss menopause frequently lately, whilst dripping with sweat and forgetting the names of people I know. There was something simpler and better about speaking directly to a doctor about it rather than repeating what I have learned by swimming alone or online upon a sea of mythology. Menopause is real, but by this point in life I have been through harder and achier and worse.

I left feeling quite sad. I have changed so much. I was aware of this as I meandered the winding little streets of Downtown Manhattan. It is as if I were looking for something from my past there, just to rule out the fact that the past is over. This is the neighborhood where I went to graduate school. There was the five- week cram of pre-teacher training, part of a recruiting program, followed by a couple of years of night classes. This was before motherhood, but by the time I was almost finished I was big and round with my firstborn and waddling in, putting my swollen feet upon a chair during class. Across the street was the hospital where my kids were born and where I frequented that OBGYN office. I left feeling sad but my heart is full of gratitude for this body, this life which provided the finest two things I have ever done.

I remember so many of my dozens of trips here, and the exciting and frightening things they entailed. The drinking of the sweet glucose drink to check my blood sugar. The blood pressure cuff, the urine tests, the ultrasounds. I remember what seems like every detail of both births. I could write volumes, yet still it seems like a flash. The crux of it, the two children emerging. My son by surgery, the kind anesthesiologist holding my hand while the drugs made me feel like I was drifting away from the earth. The primal scream that finally sprung from my psyche to push Susanna out. No matter what tragedies or indignities life has and can ever again send my way, I would accept this mission a million times over to be here and give birth to them.

I am not usually prone to drifting into “what if”, but I did. I imagined sitting with the doctor in front of an ultrasound machine, one which could have shown the brain aneurysm. What if there were such a thing, and a surgeon could reach right in and repair it, erase it, rather than leaving it to slowly bleed. She might have been at camp with her brother today, instead of in the other realm, reaching for me with her ghostly hand.

I remembered having the IUD inserted, a few months after Susanna was born, on the suggested second day of my first post-Susanna menstrual cycle. And I remembered, two summers ago, crying with my doctor and her assistant when I told them what had happened. I spoke and then my sorrow became our sorrow. I spoke of how I wished I could still have another baby, and heard the tiny plunk when they removed the IUD and dropped it into a bowl.

I wished, today, when leaving, that instead of menopause we could have talked about Susanna. Maybe I wanted to hug the doctor and cry again, maybe I wanted thank her for being there for the best events of my life. What I really wanted was to be there to talk about a life first starting, not the beginning of an ending. I dreamed of a cheerful greeting from behind the curtain, a matchstick with two red lines. Apparently, this is never to be again. I wanted to be free to move through time, maybe. I can taste the eternal continuum and sometimes I feel frozen, limited by the directions in which  I can move. Yet I made it quickly home to see my two guys, who do not say much, but who I know understand this line I straddle, living in two worlds.

Holding Space

cottage

My son was sitting on the bench with me at the playground, like Susanna used to do. He did not see anyone suitable to play with. Then, the little girl arrived, followed by the rest of her family. Curly dark hair in a ponytail, fluffy tutu with flats, spring in her step, about five or six. She entered in a cloud of Susannaness.
My Significant Other arrived to play with our grateful son. He struck up a conversation in Spanish with the father and tried to illicit a soccer game with the girl, who declined for more girly pursuits. But we did catch her name. It was not Susanna, did not start with S, or sound alike. This disappointed me. I wanted more illusion. I wanted to be another step closer to what used to be, even though it would not be that.
The life of the bereaved is full of paradox. My child is so clearly with me, whispering in my ear, yet her absence is deafening. My life has become a stopover for a broader journey, yet I am stuck here with years of longing ahead. Nothing is the same, but my precious son is still growing and thriving under my care. The sunny green and blue of May still fill my eyes and heart, yet part of me cowers from the magnitude of sadness which will always be there. Like life, death a mystery bigger than I can understand.
I can try to understand, and day by day I understand some things more. I think I understand the concept of “holding space”, which I never thought much about until yesterday. It is something like “saving a seat” for someone by putting your coat over a chair, but you do it while they are sitting with you. You acknowledge the space they need by covering them with acceptance and tolerance and deference to what they need to go through. This is the greatest gift to give another. This is real love, and it spans beyond time and dimension.
In my mind and heart, I build small palaces for Susanna and myself. We arrange cut flowers and spread golden tapestries and pastries stuffed with sweet pink cream. We set up lounge chairs where we will bask in eternal sunshine. The world I live in is real, but so is the goddess temple of my dreams. There is a kinder place, to hold some space. Save a spot for me, Susanna, and I will always set a place for you wherever I go.

The Wheat from the Chaff

There is no goodbye. Not in terms of Susanna. Two years ago yesterday was the day my daughter was buried during a day-long driving rain. I was hoping she would like the chapel with stained glass, and the winding pathways in the picturesque historical cemetery. We invited a clergy person who asked my son to pray for his sister and spoke some words to everyone which I do not remember. I believe he waved a censer with fragrant fumes. I hope it was frankincense, a scent which has since come to me while sleeping and become my favorite healing incense. I remember him chanting and speaking of returning to Jerusalem. I imagined a puzzled look on Susanna’s face, my daughter who lived her whole life in Brooklyn.
When it was time to leave that chapel we were asked to drop roses onto the white box. I knew no one wanted to be first, so I went up and placed mine immediately so I could go home. I rode in a limousine with family and friends as we left, but my soul had bailed and run away already. Cemeteries are for ancestors, dead people. My daughter is not there.
Everyone’s life is unique, and so is everyone’s grief. To me the ground is a place to plant seeds and sit on at the park in May. When I smell soil I feel a reverence and a deep sense of mystery. Somewhere in my consciousness I know we come from the earth, our original mother, but I can only handle scratching the surface. When I want to be with my daughter I am more likely to find her by opening her dresser drawers. This is where I have washed and folded all of the clothes I bought her. This is where I am still her Mom.
Do you know what I can say good bye to? Things I no longer want or need. Petty concerns over societal achievements. Activities I have pretended to like because I think I am supposed to. False security. Self-criticism and messages of self-doubt. The sun is slowly creeping back into my life again, and I am here to greet it however it appears as someone who is free. I am forever changed and even forever sad, but also terminally dedicated to what is real and important. “Separate the wheat from the chaff”. That line comes from the bible but I remember it from the David Lynch film, “The Straight Story”. It is a fact based story about a man, too old and blind to drive a car, who rides his tractor to see his dying brother. It takes kahunas, this life, no time to waste. But all that is worthwhile does not die.