Miss Night's Marbles

Musings, mumbles, marvels, and sometimes mockery, live from kindergarten.

The last waltz should be forever

In April, my grandma turned 97. We celebrated with her favourite thing: Chinese food surrounded by her children, grandchildren, great-grandson, in the nursing home dining room. A candle on a cupcake before she asked to go back to her room, but instructed us to stay and enjoy one another.

She’s the longest-standing resident ever of the nursing home. She has lived there for 12 years, since she had the stroke that took away control of her right side. Before the stroke, she filled her days by making stuff: cookies, bread, baby quilts, afghans, watercolours, oil paintings, clothes for all of us. She sewed all of my dance costumes; I have a fully-boned, custom-made white tutu that is a goddamn work of art. If I ever have a wedding, some part of that tutu will be some part of my wedding dress. My cousins and I had the best-dressed Cabbage Patch Kids in town, with hand-sewn, hand-knitted wardrobes finished to couture standards. One afternoon spent at her house, when I tore the seat of my shorts while hopping a chain-link fence, she sewed me up a whole new outfit in what seemed like minutes. Every time I came home from university, she sent me back to the dorm with at least 3 dozen cookies. One Christmas, her three granddaughters each received a fully-jointed, handmade plush teddy bear. Grandma was a maker before making was A Thing.

After the stroke, and some rehab, she somehow started making stuff again. She asked me for the kindergarten printing workbook from my school (my first school had workbooks, but that is a different story) and at 85 years old, re-taught herself to print with her left hand. She mastered left-handed, one-handed large-point needlepoint and it does not seem like an exaggeration to say she has completed at least 100 wall hangings and cushion covers.

As I write this, Grandma is walking the tightrope between this world and the next. She is not sick, nothing is broken, her body is just worn out. She can’t swallow solid food, has refused liquid nutrition. For 4 days, her children and grandchildren have rotated through her room. Her breathing is steadily slower, her lucid moments further apart. The nursing home staff keep the lights dim, stock a cart of juice and water and cookies for us. We hold her hand, kiss her brow, wipe her face with a cool cloth.

Even when she is awake, she is often far away, withdrawn into herself, her eyes unfocused. But when she is clear, her message is the same each time: “I love you. Love you so much. I love you.” Most of her grandchildren are unmarried, and don’t have kids. She has told each of us, firmly and repeatedly:

Find love.
Get married.
Have babies.

I love you.

I can’t promise Grandma that I will get married (it could happen), or have babies (extremely unlikely), so I am choosing to believe that “find love” is the most important part of her instructions. Build a life such that, when you are 97 and one eye is already looking into heaven, and you have to muster all your energy and strength to speak, “I love you” are the most important words.

In the end, “I love you” is really the only thing that matters.
It’s the only thing that ever mattered.

 

(*Edit September 3rd: When I first drafted this 2 days ago, Grandma was having lucid moments. When I saw her yesterday, she was no longer oriented to where she was or who was with her.  She is still hanging on, but we are all at peace with her letting go whenever she is ready.)

 

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The thing that had to be written…

This is the post that has to be written, before anything else can be posted or written.

For 2 years, I have barely written anything here. I have started many posts, and they linger in my drafts folder. I visit them regularly, add a few sentences, tinker with the words. Some of those posts, I think, are very good, or will be very good, with a little more tinkering. Some of them are beautiful. Some of them are sad. But before you can read any of them, I have to write this one. Some of you have reached out, asking where I have gone, if I am writing elsewhere…

The answer is simple and infinitely complex: 2 years ago, for 2 reasons, I lost my voice, here.

This is why:

1: I wrote about That Kid, which went viral in (what I have since learned is) the purest, most genuine way of going viral. I had no promotion strategy, no plan, no intention. I wrote a thing, and millions of people read it. Millions. Many, multiple millions. If we include the translations, probably tens of millions. Amazing, yes. A thrill-ride, exciting, amazing, often terrifying. I am terribly, terribly proud of that post, and I stand behind my message. But also: it stripped away my quasi-anonymity while also opening the door to deeply disturbing comments, hate mail, threats. How do you (I) follow that? How do I go back to silly throw-away posts about my dog? How do I live up to the expectation that created?

2: Three weeks after That Kid, just as things were settling down, The Most Terrible Thing happened. For this, it is no longer the finding of these words, but rather the saying of them, that paralyzes me: My friend was murdered. That changed everything. Every. Thing. Loss changes everything. Grief changes everything. Murder changes loss and grief in ways I never wanted to know. There were times when I wrote hard and true and raw, in the deep of night, about what murder does to grief, to love, to the mind and the heart and the spirit. Those words, though, did not, do not, belong here (yet?) because they do not only belong to me, but also to people I love very much, and never, NEVER, do I want my healing to cause them pain. And my friend’s life matters so very very much more than her death.

These 2 things, coming one after the other, not equal or related, but somehow, inextricably connected, have left me so, so, different. I am still who I was, in many ways. I love my dog and my house (I have a new house! One that belongs to ME!), my family and friends, my books, my city, my work, but also…

I am more tender-hearted, more empathetic, more sensitive. I cry more easily, at my own pain and the pain of others.

I am both more and less patient, tolerant, generous.

I am more fearful and also more confident.

My view of the world is clearer and also more infinitely complicated.

I am more connected to, and grateful for, my job and school community, but also more able to put my work in context as one part of my life and world.

I am quieter and more vocal.

I am so much more grateful for the good in my life, the comforts and friends and resources and opportunities, and also so excruciatingly aware of the fragility of it all.

I am different. My voice is different. The things I want to write about are different, and so is the way I want to write. I might disappoint you. I might delight you.

I WANT to write again, but this is the post that had to be written, before anything else can be posted or written.

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You might stay, or you might leave.

I hope you’ll stay.

Happy New Year

 

 

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A seat by the window

*I wrote this post on Jan 1, and then somehow didn’t post it. So, you’re getting it now. The intention remains the same. Happy New Year, friends. I hope 2015 has been kind to you so far.

So. It’s 2015.

While I have long been ambivalent about New Year’s Eve, I do love New Year’s Day. A fresh start, a chance to begin again, to try out a new, improved version of one’s self… I like resolutions, even though I am inconsistent about keeping them. January has always seemed full of hope, just as September does.

All day, I have been trying to decide if that is still true, this year. Do I still feel hopeful? Does today feel fresh and different?

The fact is: it doesn’t. The sky is the same. The sun is the same. The snow on the ground is the same. Freddy still wants me to throw his ball. The garbage still needs to be taken out. The candlelight still flickers agains the wall.

The sameness is not a bad thing. To the contrary, there is a certain kind of comfort in it, even hope. The world already feels different enough to be terrifying. The concrete sameness of the sun going down behind the same mountains, and coming up behind the same trees, seems like a message that yes, SOME THINGS are certain.IMG_1606

And at the same time (to amend something I said to My Girl after she had a rough afternoon involving crying in a shopping mall): grief is a sneaky and fickle bitch. And as much as I am deeply comforted by the sameness of the mountains, the sun, the sky, all I have thought about for days is how much I wish I could sit at my dining room table and see out my window, at the same time. I’ve now spent the better part of 2 days rearranging furniture in my little home, so as to see outside while I drink my coffee, eat my dinner, sip my tea.

 

Every single piece of furniture in the main part of my house has been moved, with the exception of my glass-front bookcase, and I’m starting to have a vision of how it could fit next to the desk, and then I could put a bench and some hooks where the bookcase is now… Every plant, every lamp, every piece of art has had to move, too.

So: outside is the same. Inside is entirely different.

I’m sure there is a metaphor here, somewhere. Maybe a couple.

Most importantly: I have a seat by the window.

Windowseat

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On grief and toothpaste

When you lose someone you love, but who lives far away, the grief can be bloody lonely.

People say that texting, e-mail, FacebookTwitterPinterestInstagram, are not REAL ways of connecting; that when we “hide” behind screens, we are avoiding Real Connections. I live in a big city – 1.2 million people and climbing. And in this whole big beautiful busy city, I am The. Only. Person. missing Lauren. I have great people here: family, friends. They love me, and they take tremendously good care of me, but they did not know Lauren, and so at best, they loved her only in the abstract “I love Amy, and Amy loves Lauren, so I love Lauren” sort of way. This grief is bloody lonely.

So, in THIS situation,  for those of us missing Lauren, the connection through a screen, through typing, flying fingers, is what holds us together, and helps us find one another when we need to know we are not alone. I used to judge people who spent holidays with their phone glued to their hand. And then I spent this Christmas with my phone glued to my hand.

So, this post is for the people at the other end of my screen. For Sutter and Jared. For Ilana. For Becky and Craig. For Ryleigh. For Mike and Matt and Morgan. For Kalli. For MJ. For Sue and for Judy. For Mimi and Kate. For all the people, scattered all over this huge earth, who feel like a light that they relied on to see the world was blown out on December 1st, and who aren’t sure how we find our way without it…

This is how things are for me, right now, today. Things may not be quite the same for you, but maybe they are a little bit similar, and the one thing that is crystal clear to me in this very muddy mess is that Lauren would weep at the thought of any of us believing we were alone in the dark.

Some days, the idea of leaving the house sounds divine, but the process of wash-face-brush-hair-put-on-clothes-including-shoes takes upwards of an hour.

I double and triple check the locks on the doors. And the windows. I don’t walk anywhere after dark alone, and that is a challenge at times, because up here, at this time of year, it dark for 37 hours a day.

I got all proud of myself for not having any physical manifestations of anxiety. And then I realised that I had chewed my chapped lips until they bled.

I don’t really remember things that happened before December 1st.

There is a moment, every morning, not long after waking up, when I think. “Oh God. She is still gone.”

A friend sent me beautiful flowers, and my first impulse was to text Lauren a photo of them, because Lauren loved flowers…

I strongly suspect that I frequently look like hell. My mouth remembers how to smile, but I can feel that it doesn’t reach my eyes or my voice. On a related note, I didn’t know it was possible to FEEL the circles under my eyes.

Some days I feel like I am looking at the world though the wrong end of a telescope, so deep inside myself that finding my way to the surface is a monumental task. Sometimes, the sadness has a physical weight to it. Like my limbs are heavy.  And I don’t always remember to breathe.

Sometimes, I sit on my floor and cry, and I think about each one of us, sitting alone on our floors, in our showers, in our cars, and crying, and all I can think is how MONUMENTALLY FRINKING UNFAIR THIS IS.

I can SEE the moments of light, or rather, i can identify the moments that SHOULD be considered light. But I don’t always (or even often) FEEL them as light.

I have learned that, when a wave of darkness comes, if I just sit with it, if I just FEEL it, it will pass. And if I try to avoid feeling it, I’m more likely to end up crying in Target because I can’t find the right kind of toothpaste.

Speaking of toothpaste, I’ve learned that brushing my teeth always makes me feel better. Not better as in “all the way back to normal,” but better as in “an improvement over 5 minutes ago.” I brush my teeth a lot.

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In ballet class, a million years ago, I finally, FINALLY, pulled a perfect double pirouette. A classmate commented “See? It gets easier!” My tiny, beautiful, Turkish ballet teacher, in a tone both sharp and gentle, retorted: “No! Double pirouette is double pirouette. Not easier. Ballet does not get easier!  You get stronger, better. Good girl.”

I’m clinging to that idea right now. That this may not get easier, but that I may get stronger. And when you think about what we know about getting stronger: it does not happen all at once. It happens in such tiny little increments that you don’t even notice it, until, one day, you can do the thing you couldn’t do before.

And, to get stronger, you have to DO THINGS that make you stronger, even when they don’t appear to be making a difference. You have to have faith that you CAN get stronger, eventually.

So, what am I going to do?

I’m going to keep doing the things that I know SHOULD help, and try to have faith that someday soon, they actually WILL help.

I’m going to walk my dog in the sunshine, and look at the world.

I’m going to make a very hot vanilla latte every morning, and drink it while looking out the window.

I’m going to make my bed when I get up, because it is one small way of making order from chaos.

I’m going to drink lots of water, and eat lots of vegetables, and take my vitamins.

I’m going to light candles when the light grows dim in the evenings.

I’m going to keep fresh flowers in my house.

I’m going to check in with my Sutter-girl every day. (This helps most of all, every day, every time.)

I’m going to watch lots of cooking shows, and Gilmore Girls, Grey’s Anatomy, Private Practice, and Law and Order.

I’m going to accept every kindness that is offered to me, graciously and with no apologies.

I’m going to take a hot shower every day.

I’m going to brush my teeth.

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Again, the comments are open, but I’m not ready for notes about how my friend is always with me, or how God has a plan, or how He doesn’t give me things I can’t handle. I’m willing to talk about toothpaste, though…

 

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Because you asked: Ways to help THAT kid

Oh, my friends. I don’t think anything has ever been more daunting than writing a follow-up post to THAT kid. I never, ever, in a million years, dreamed of the response to that piece, and I’m still trying to figure out how I go back to writing about my dog

This is not the kind of post I would ever usually write, but I’ve had many comments and e-mails in the last few weeks, asking how you can help me, help THAT kid, help kids in general. I am speechless at your generosity and sincere desire to make a difference for children. So, folks, here are some options: the causes that are closest to my heart, and that, to me, make a real difference in children’s lives, every day.

THAT kid: How you can help

THAT kid: How you can help

Charitable Donations

Coppercreek Camp Memorial Scholarship Fund

Click the logo to visit the donation page.

Many of you know that for many years, I worked at Coppercreek Camp, a family-owned sleepaway camp in northeastern California. While it is not a camp specific to THAT kid, it is a place where THOSE kids typically do very well; many of our most “rockstar” campers and teen leaders were in fact THAT kid when they were home and at school. Camp is where I first fell in love with working with THOSE kids. Coppercreek offers a scholarship fund, designated for local children who would benefit from the camp experience.  I would be so honoured if you would consider donating to that fund. You can find more information here.

Kids Help Phone Walk So Kids Can Talk

Ever since the tragedy at Sandy Hook, I have participated in the annual  BMO Walk So Kids Can Talk: a 5km walk to raise funds for Kids Help Phone. Kids Help Phone is a 24-hour crisis phone line, available to children and youth who need help coping with everything from friendship issues to sexual abuse. It is staffed entirely by trained volunteers, and relies heavily on donations to maintain its services. My fundraising page is here. (Note that, while this is the page for last spring’s walk, you can still make donations. I will update the link as soon as the 2015 event is finalized.)

 

Amazon Affiliate Links

Some of you have also asked how you can help ME, and contribute to my ongoing professional growth and development, as well as to the continuation of THAT kid’s message. Let me first say that your generosity leaves me nearly speechless. How do I possibly respond appropriately? To that end, I have created an Amazon Affiliate account for both Canadian and US Amazon shoppers. It’s really easy: just use one of the links below (or any of the Amazon links on my site) to click through to Amazon, and a small percentage of ANY purchase you make will be added to my account. The funds I raise through Amazon Affiliates will be evenly split between donations to the two charities described above, and my own professional growth endeavours, and I will provide regular updates about the disbursement of the funds.

To shop at Amazon.com, click the banner blow:

To shop at Amazon Canada, click the banner below:

My friends, from the bottom of my overflowing heart: thank you. I am so nervous about posting this, because truly, I am not expecting ANYTHING from you. But, if one of the results of going viral is that more of you might help more kids get programs and support they need, I’m willing to take the risk of you thinking me a sell-out.

I’ll take the risk for THOSE kids, for THESE kids, for OUR kids.

So much love;

Amy

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