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Filtering by Tag: grief

NO DOGS WERE HARMED IN THE MAKING OF THIS MOVIE

Cindy Maddera

When I got home from work on Friday, Josephine was still not better. She’d had diarrhea all over my bed. Michael said that she drank a bunch of water and the puked it back up on the rug. She was still lethargic. So I called the veterinarian’s office and they told me to bring her back in. I explained to the vet how Josephine seemed to get worse after her visit on Thursday. She stopped drinking water and she would bury herself in leaves next to the fence outside. She behaved like a dog that was holing up to die. Even Michael was worried. As I talked to the vet, I had to pause and say “I’m sorry, but I’m barely keeping my shit together right now.” Then I started crying. The veterinarian and the technician did their best to comfort me, but they were concerned too. The medicine they gave Josephine on Thursday was supposed to last twenty four hours and was known to be the best anti-nausea medication on the market. The next step was X-rays and blood work and fluids.

The veterinarian went over Josephine’s X-rays with me. I got to see Josephine’s insides, which looked good except for the empty stomach and her tiny irritated colon. Blood work came back with flying colors. My puppy was really dehydrated and tired from not getting any rest from all the up and down to the backyard to use the bathroom. They gave her fluids and medication for her colon and sent us home. Michael and I forced her meds down and then I made her some chicken and rice. She still was not interested in it, but she did drink some water. At around three the next morning, she woke me up to go outside and walked right over to her food bowl. It was the moment I knew she was going to be okay. We had one more incident of upchucked water all over my bed (I have done so much laundry since Thursday) and that was it. She’s still not 100%, but she’s definitely feeling better and Michael and I have sighed with relief.

Part of me wants to say that I was slightly over reacting to Josephine’s illness, like maybe I was panicking. The more rational side of myself knows that I behaved appropriately in the given situation. Trust me when I say that if you could have seen Josephine, you might have panicked too. The last dog I took to the vet who was behaving as sickly as Josephine, was Hooper. Hooper ended up being full of tumors and had to be put to forever sleep. That was the icing on the shit cake of that year. 2012 was the year I became a true country western song. I lost my husband and my dog. I did my fair share of crying and drowning sorrows in wine. I guess I’m just lucky I didn’t lose my house. That’s usually how those songs go. This scene with Josephine was just way to familiar to a tragic scene I’ve been a part of before. It was stressful and scary and all of that has to leave the body in some shape or form. This time around those wonder twins took on the form of ugly crying in the veterinarian’s office.

We’re starting this week on the upswing. And as long as I can ignore this patch of poison ivy on my wrist, we plan to end the week on a high note. Go Monday!

ALWAYS SOMETHING THERE

Cindy Maddera

It’s happened twice now. Michael and I will be in bed, either starting or in the middle of sex and a song will start playing that reminds me of Chris. It was that Mumford and Son’s song that hit first, the one that Chris used to sing like a muppet. I closed my eyes and willed the memory of his ridiculous muppet impression to go away. Not forever. Just for that moment. The next one was the Flaming Lips’ Do You Realize, which is one of the songs we played at Chris’s service. It was a little more difficult to will those memories away. In both instances, I feel like I deserve a God Damn Oscar for my performance. Also, crying while having sex is never a reassuring thing for your partner. I don’t tell any of this to Michael or talk about it or mention it. The man already refers to himself as second Darin, even though he’s nothing like the first Darin. Besides, Michael has his own demons to fight with. I try to be respectful of this and not add to his discomfort. I am not so much bothered by Chris’s presence in the bedroom as Michael would be. Michael is just more conservative when it comes to sex. I figure Chris is enjoying the peep show.

Sometimes it feels like I am in two relationships. One with Michael and one with a dead guy.

I made it through the first ten days of February without having a complete meltdown. I told Dr. Mary on Tuesday that I feel like I am working really hard at tuning out the memories of the bad part of Chris’s final days. I’m choosing to send that focus to the good memories. I told her about teaching my yoga class to one student last week, on what would have been Chris’s 48th birthday. It would have been so easy for me to cancel my class that evening and spend my night sulking on the couch. Instead, I pulled myself together and went to teach one of the best classes and I continued to keep myself busy and moving. I subbed a yoga class on Saturday. I went grocery shopping and managed to get those groceries into the house. Our front yard has been a literal ice rink since Thursday. On a slope. Every morning, getting to our vehicles looks like every YouTube video you have seen of people slipping and sliding on ice. I parked my car last night at the top of the drive, put it in park and set the emergency brake. My car slid backwards down the drive six inches. Michael was in the process of parking his truck behind me. I did not hit him. This time.

These nudges or hauntings from Chris sometimes make me wonder if he thinks I’m forgetting him. As if he’s still a conscious being or trapped in a closet somewhere. It would kind of be great, but also super complicated, if he ended up just being trapped in a closet somewhere. Chris and I were married for fourteen years. He has now been gone for seven years. Half the amount of time we were married. I am not forgetting him. I still talk to the jerk every single day and he still says nothing in return. I am just finding better, healthier ways of coping with the fact that he’s never going to say anything in return. Last night, I got in my car to head home. I started the engine and the first sound to greet me was the opening theme to Star Wars blaring from the radio. Starting right from the beginning note. The Bridge let the song play for a good two minutes before the DJ broke in to announce their Oscars Episode. I almost muttered “leave me alone” but then I shook my head.

At least I was in my car and not naked in bed with another man.

MAKING SPACE

Cindy Maddera

I know that many of you have been watching Tidying Up with Marie Kondo. I’ve seen the Facebook posts and the tweets. Marie Kondo, with her infectious smile, is getting us all to tidy up our spaces. Monday, when I had nothing better to do (or I probably did), I decided to watch the first episode just to see what I could gain from Marie Kondo’s ninja cleaning skills. As it turns out, I am not us untidy as I think I am. I know I’ve talked about all the stuff in the basement and the cleaning out of junk and how it feels like I’ll never get any of that accomplished. But the rest of the house is a different story. Also…I had help collecting the trash and junk in the basement. Cleaning out a dead man’s collection is hard work. Of course all of that is gone now, thanks to flooding.

I have a vague memory from childhood of my mother standing in the doorway of my playroom with an angry face and a trash bag. She just started grabbing up whatever and shoving it into the bag. There were no moments of pausing to ask if the item sparked joy. It just went into the trash bag. I don’t know if the moment traumatized me or trained me for the future. Probably a little of both. Every season, I go through my closet and get rid of clothes. Twice a year, I go through the kitchen and remove utensils and kitchen tools that rarely, if ever, get used. I frequently sort books for donation and I frequently throw things in the trash. I accidentally threw our spare set of car keys for the Malibu into a clothing donation bin. I threw away the power cord for my external hard drive. The first day I was left completely alone in the house after Chris died, I pulled out all of his clothes and bagged them up for donation. That was really more of a rip-the-bandaid-off situation and I didn’t know what else to do with myself. But I do not have a problem with throwing things away.

Emotions, on the other hand, are things that I hold on to. I store them deep down and tucked into the spaces between my internal organs. Eventually those spaces fill up and those feelings come bubbling to the surface. A confrontation from fifteen years ago with some random person will float up just as I’ve settled down in my bed. Then I’ll lay there for twenty minutes re-hashing the conversation and how I could have said things better. Finally I’ll say “ENOUGH!” and shove it back down into some already crowded space. The spaces between my guts are like any number of ridiculous TV closet scenes where when you open the door all of the things comically fall out in an avalanche, burying the person who dared to open the door. I can’t just say “ENOUGH!” to that fifteen year-old confrontation and let it go. I’ve got to put it away to chew on some other day. I gained two bits of useful knowledge from Marie Kondo’s show: her clothes folding technique and ‘does this spark joy?’ I neatly fold and put away my clothes every week, but her folding method gave the ability to organize by color and gave me more space with only getting rid of three t-shirts.

The question of does this spark joy is one that I’ve started applying to all of that emotional junk. For example, the other day a Mumford and Sons song triggered a memory of Chris singing like a muppet. The memory came at an inconvenient time, but I took a moment to recognize the equal parts joy and sadness that this memory invoked. I tucked that one away for a later day. It is a good memory. I want to hang on to that one. That memory that boils up of that one time Chris and I argued over his purchase of yet another metal desk? Not a good memory. It doesn’t spark any joy. Also it’s stupid to re-hash that one because at the end of it all, he knew I was right and told me so. So, I’m going to hold that particular memory in my hands and say ‘thank you’. I’m going to thank thank that memory for the lessons it taught both of us and then I’m going to let it go.

Grief is unavoidable. I started to finish that sentence with ‘this time of year’ but it is all times of the year. This year, I’m making space for that grief. I’m holding memories in my hands and sorting between those that spark joy and those that make me feel ashamed or angry, those memories that do not serve me. I’d rather have those closet spaces between my guts filled to capacity with good stuff. What a trip that would be to open that door and have all that joy avalanche out and bury me in it.

FOLLOW UP

Cindy Maddera

I wrote yesterday’s post without realizing that it was a meaningful date. My nephew, Donnie, the second child born to my brother and sister-in-law died from complications at birth. It was 1983, which would make me seven. J was three. You’d ask him what he was hoping for while Katrina was pregnant; a baby brother or a baby sister? He’d answer every time with “a baby monkey”. Katrina and I were talking about this yesterday. I told her that I remember getting in trouble for playing Jingle Bells on the piano. It was after the funeral and everyone had left the house. I started playing and Mom yelled at me to stop, said it was inappropriate. Katrina said she didn’t know that had happened. I explained that she hadn’t been there. Mom didn’t mean anything by it, she just didn’t know how to talk to a little kid about death.

Katrina responded with something I had never considered. She said “Yeah, I don’t think any of us did. You, J and Janell were the actual casualties of Donnie’s death.” It was a really weird time. I can’t speak for Janell or J, but I know that I was so confused. But here’s the thing. I wasn’t confused about the death part. Maybe that was one thing about being raised in a Baptist church. There was a lot of talk of people dying in the bible. I was confused by how I was supposed to feel. It was Christmas time. I knew I was supposed to be sad but I was also happy about Christmas, except now I wasn’t supposed to be. A generally happy child was being told to be appropriately sad. My feelings were being dictated to me. No wonder I was confused, but now I realize how often we are told how to feel. Be happy. Be calm. Don’t be sad. Don’t be angry. Okay, be sad right now, but don’t be sad three days from now. There is a limit to how long you should feel a certain way.

When we remember things, we remember them with a mix of feelings. Is it too far fetched to believe that we experience things with a mix of feelings? The line for what is or is not appropriate became completely erased when Chris got sick and died. We joked often about death and we laughed even when our throats were tight with emotion. This did not change after he died. We are irreverent and inappropriate in our jokes around Chris’s death. Because death is not just sad. At times, it can even be a relief. It is the knowing that person is not going to be around any more to hear those jokes and respond to those jokes that makes death sad. I know that whenever one of my tribe makes a hilarious commentary on the death of Chris, that Chris is somewhere laughing with us.

The authentic part of living this life is allowing ourselves to feel all the emotions with out limiting ourselves to who ever is dictating what is or is not appropriate. The Cabbage has asked me about my Dad. She’s asked me about the man in the picture on the bookcase. I told her that Dad and Chris are dead. I told her that yes, it is sad and I miss them, but I have buckets of joyful memories that make me happy. I want her to understand that it’s okay to be happy and sad at the same time. I want her to understand that no one is allowed to dictate how she feels about something; that it is her choice. You don’t need any one’s permission for your feelings.

This is a lesson I wish I learned a long time ago.

CHRISTMAS MEMORIES

Cindy Maddera

The best Christmas I can remember as a child was the year I got Odie. Odie was the most perfect beagle. In 2015, a beagle named Miss P won the Westminster Dog Show. Odie was almost identical in color to Miss P. His head might have been a little bit smaller and he did not have Miss P’s expression of bored indifference, but he could have run circles around her in the judges ring. For months leading up to that Christmas, the only thing I asked for was a beagle puppy. “What do you want for Christmas, Cindy?” someone would ask. My answer every time was “A beagle puppy.” I don’t remember what year this was or how old I was. It was sometime between broken arms and my sister was still young enough to get excited about the surprises we would find under the tree. The two of us, like most children, tiptoed carefully down the stairs at two o’clock in the morning to take a peek at what may have been left for us under the tree.

The two of us were about half way down the staircase when I heard a whimper. I forgot all about being stealthy and quiet, instead I ran down the stairs with the heavy un-lady like footsteps of a troll. An open box sat under the tree with the tiniest saddest little puppy, begging for company and love. I scooped him into my arms and took him back to my room. When we cleaned out the family house and started sorting through the multiple containers of pictures, we found hundreds of pictures of Odie as a puppy sleeping on someone’s lap, curled up on a boot, tucked into a cushion at someone’s feet. He was impossible to potty train and ended up leaving a big stain on my mom’s hardwood floors. But his worse offense was chewing up the rungs of Mom’s dining room table. That banished him to the outside for good. He was still the best dog, to me anyway and he lived a really long and happy life. Odie set the bar for any future dog that would come into my life.

That was the best Christmas not just because of Odie, but because I think that’s the last Christmas I can remember where I still felt that spark and excitement of Christmas. Maybe I knew that Santa was not real, but I believed in him any way. In fact, I still believed in all things magical and mystical, but it was an age where I still got excited over the whole gift thing. Not just the surprise of what I was going to get, but seeing the faces of joy as others opened their surprises. It is the last Christmas I can remember that didn’t include a layer of sadness or an awareness of the sadness of others. That is not to say that Christmases since then have been bad. It’s just that Christmases have an underlying layer of sadness in general. It is a time when memories, good and bad, swirl around our heads and we can’t help but miss the ones no longer with us to share in those memories.

Do you know how many times my Mom told us all the story about the time my sister woke up before everyone on Christmas morning and then opened ALL of the presents? It is a story of legend. My Dad would laugh every time. One year we all decided to change the Christmas tradition of ham or turkey for our Christmas meal and instead have what we all loved to eat, fried oysters. We would all end up in the kitchen at some point. Dad was always our unofficially designated food taster. J would make the cocktail sauce, stirring in horseradish to a bowl of ketchup like a science experiment. Remember that year Randy caught a shark? Katrina brought a fondue set and we all stood around it dunking bits of shark and then everything into hot oil. Fondue became known as fundue. There was the Christmas when Chris surprised me with a pair of earrings that I had been coveting. It wasn’t the earrings that made the surprise so special. It was how he had to sneak over to Eureka Springs with out me knowing it to get the earrings. Which he managed to do in glorious Chris fashion.

Whenever those memories get too overwhelming, I grab Josephine and cradle her like a baby while scratch her belly. I put my face to her face and tell her what a sweet puppy she is and how much I love her. She’ll lick my cheek and then every thing’s alright. Because just like at that Christmas when I got Odie, puppies make everything better.









THANKFUL FRIDAY

Cindy Maddera

One night this week, I dreamed that I was being attacked by a swarm of mosquitoes. I was walking on a beach that was dirty and littered with drift wood. There was a man walking a few paces behind me and we both started running when the swarm hit us. I ran while hitting my arms and legs and waving my hands around my head. The mosquitoes were thick and everywhere. I could hear them inside my ears. I heard the man behind my yell out “here! take my towel!” and he draped the towel over my shoulders as we both ran. I could see my car up ahead and knew that I just had to make it to the car. I woke up suddenly, gasping and scratching at imaginary mosquito bites. I talked about this dream with Dr. Mary. We discussed the meaning of it all, how the mosquitos represented little annoyances I had had and the comfort of the towel and knowing that I was close to safety. Then I told Dr. Mary that I didn’t think I needed her every week.

I was surprised to hear myself say it. I hadn’t planned it. I had been thinking about it recently, but I didn’t realize that I was ready to do more than just think about it. Dr. Mary was not bothered by this, but did ask what prompted this decision. I told her that for the first time in a really long time, I was entering this holiday season without feeling the need to constantly breathe into a paper bag. I told her that I feel like I’ve taken bags and bags of guilt to the garbage dump. I’ve been holding onto guilt about Chris. I say out loud all the time how Chris would be okay with how I’m living my life, but I never really truly believed the words I was saying. Instead I felt guilty about this life I’ve forged without Chris, but my guilt wasn’t all Chris related. There was guilt about Dad. There was guilt over not being all the things I could be for all people. There was guilt for my grief, for being sad, for missing Chris even though I’m with Micheal. At times my guilt over everything was crippling.

I don’t feel that guilt any more.

I have discovered that it’s one thing to treat others the way you wish to be treated and quite another to treat yourself the way you wish to be treated. Actually, it seems to be more difficult to treat myself with patience, kindness and respect. It’s work, but I’m doing it. A year ago, there was no way I would have allowed myself to book a holiday trip that did not include my family. A year ago, I would not consider making a trip to Oklahoma at Christmas time that did not include driving all over the state in attempt to see every single person. I would already be berating myself over not being or doing enough. I’m not saying I’m cured or that I still don’t need to spill my guts to Dr. Mary. I just don’t need to spill them every week. It has been almost two years since I thought about jumping out of a moving car into busy traffic. Progress.

I am thankful for progress.

VERSIONS OF US

Cindy Maddera

Michael and I choose a new ornament for the tree every year. The ornament is supposed to reflect something about us and the year. Our first year ornament makes absolutely no sense. Santa is riding a giant trout and there’s a fishing pole dangling out of Santa’s hand. It’s ridiculous and confusing. And completely appropriate for the time. This was probably six months after we first met; four months after he had officially moved in. We were ridiculous and confusing. The second year we bought a record player ornament. It was the year Michael had set up his record player and I bought a bunch of Doris Day albums. Later ornaments would be a camper (of course) and something Star Wars. Then we stumbled upon two ornaments that carried an odd resemblance to us. The guy had a curled mustache and wore an orange sweater. The girl sported a stocking cap on her cropped brown hair. They were ornament versions of us.

This would become a recurring thing. We now have two small doll like ornaments. One doll is wearing a plaid shirt with hiking boots. He’s sporting a medium length beard and holding a small Christmas tree. The girl version is bundled up in a coat and scarf. She’s holding ski poles even though there are no skis on her feet. The resemblance is uncanny. The two ornaments look so much like us that we even considered using them in our Christmas card. Maybe I did. I vaguely remember taking a crappy picture of the Cabbage holding the two dolls. Michael and I were looking around Target on Saturday for this year’s ornament and I heard him say “Hey look! It’s us!” I turned around to see him holding up a gnome with a long beard and girl doll wearing a cap and scarf. I guess a cap and scarf are my go to winter looks, but I busted out laughing at the idea of these two being the ornament versions of us. They are by far the most hilarious versions we’ve come across. We bought them along with a seal ornament because this year we saw a lot of seals.

Earlier in the day we had been talking about Christmas cards and pictures for the cards. I always start out with an intention to take or have someone take a nice festive picture of the three of us, but it is so hard to coordinate. It doesn’t help that the Cabbage is in that poser stage where it is more reasonable to believe that one can collect marshmallow poop from unicorns then it is to get a genuine smile from her. For this year’s card, I didn’t even try. I just used some random pictures I’ve taken this year and I’m perfectly happy with this. As we talked about the cards, Michael mentioned the idea of us wearing ugly Christmas sweaters. I winced slightly and replied that Chris and I had already done that. Chris and I used to plan out elaborate Christmas cards. We took joy in the whole process. It was like preparing for our very own Christmas pageant and we would start making our plans for the photo shoot in October, gathering costume materials and backdrops. People looked forward to what we’d do for the next year. I’m not going to lie. That first Christmas after Chris died and I had to put Hooper down, I considered photographing their coffee cans of ashes wearing Christmas hats for my card. I didn’t because I figured there was less than a handful of people who would see the dark humor in this. Everyone else would just see it as the the sad country song that it really was.

I don’t even attempt the elaborate Christmas card with Michael and the Cabbage for a number of reasons, but mostly because I’m not trying to recreate a life I had. The things that made sense for me to do in my relationship with Chris doesn’t make sense to do in my relationship with Michael. Because it is not the same relationship. Chris and I had our own thing. We made silly Christmas cards. Michael and I have our own thing. We find versions of ourselves in Christmas ornaments.

AUGUST FIRST

Cindy Maddera

It's one of those days where I spend my time holding my breath in anticipation of horrible news. I keep thinking that I'm going to wake up on some August first later on in the future and feel normal. I'm not going to have flashbacks of being in pigeon pose on my yellow yoga mat and Chris walking in holding the phone and saying "Your mom is on the line and something's wrong." I won't remember the sound of my mom's hysterics or how she was incoherent. I won't remember calling Katrina's number and talking to our friend Cindy, listening to her explain to me what had happened with J. I feel like it is a trick of my brain that I can remember all the details of that moment. I can even tell you that I was on my left side in pigeon pose. 

My yoga mat is now a gray/blue color. I will probably never again buy a yellow one. 

As I scrolled through my Facebook feed, I noticed several 'friends' posting memories for loved ones lost today. Sentiments of "I can't believe it's been three years" or "we miss you." lined the page. Time doesn't matter. Three years or thirteen years. Any amount is unbelievable. You will always miss them. Often the traumatic memories are the first to surface. In this case I image what it was like when J died. I've seen too many movies and too much TV, so you know that those imaginings are brutally graphic and horrific. It's one of the many ugly side effects of grief, seeing the one you lost in the worst way. Sometimes I see, in my head, Chris's face the day before he died. His face is slack and his eyes are unfocused. He can't form words. That part is the oddest part to me. Chris was a word smith and in the end he couldn't form a coherent thread of words. These are the memories and images from the blunt force trauma of death. I have to close my eyes and shake my head to rid myself of the thoughts. 

As I was cleaning out the herb garden this spring, I decided to plant a few sunflower seeds. I'd come across a packet of them in the garage while gathering my gardening tools. Only one of those seeds sprouted. Each day it has grown taller and taller. It is about waist high now, still no flower. One day a few weeks ago, I went out to feed the chickens and noticed that the top half of the sunflower had been snapped almost completely off. It was still attached, hanging there like a broken bone. I frowned at it and thought about pulling the plant completely out of the garden. But I left it. When we got back from Portland, the top portion that had been dangling was now lifted up. A branch from a lower portion had grown up to support the broken portion. The plant had grown new tissue around the broken part. You can still see that the sunflower was broken. The plant dips obviously to one side before stretching up. There's a scar left from the break, but other than that, the plant looks healthy. It's thriving. You can watch it follow the sun every day. 

Broken yet thriving. 

We are all a little bit broken yet thriving. 

 

 

NUMBNESS

Cindy Maddera

I didn't stand. I was high and a little tipsy and not really sure if I had heard the speaker right. Earlier in the evening I had used the quarter teaspoon to scoop out some pot-laced honey. I am still guessing at dosage for this little jar that was gifted to me by a friend. There is no label. No dosage recommendations. The whole jar is 250 mgs. The first time I ate some, I ate too much and had one of those panic moments where I thought I was overdosing on marijuana. Which is not a thing. This time I got the dosage just about right. By the time we were settled in on Terry's blanket in front of Union Station, I was pleasantly numb. By the time the Memorial Program got to the memorial part, I was one gin and tonic and two glasses of wine in and buzzy.

So whatever the man on stage said was unclear. It was only when I saw some people standing that it started to sink in. These are people who had someone who died while in service to this country. Then it registered somewhere deep inside my brain. I am a person who had someone who died while in service to this country. I reached for the nearest body, which happened to be Luke. Michael was somewhere standing in a line for the bathroom. I grabbed ahold of Luke just in time for them to start the gun salute. Luke was drunk enough to not really know what was happening other than we were just being lovey dovey. That's normal enough for us. I clung to him as I felt each fucking bullet and didn't let go until after the last note played from the trumpet in Taps. I let go and then settled down into my guilt. I was Peter waiting for the rooster to crow. 

The kind of attention that comes from losing someone to something like a car bomb has never really fit me comfortably. It's like wearing a wet wool sweater that is too small. It's smelly and itches. It is a different kind of grief and experience then what I go through with Chris. I have never been able to hear "thank you for your sacrifice" without visibly wincing or clenching my fists and imaging putting that fist into the face of the person thanking me. 

Sacrifice: an act of slaughtering an animal or person or surrendering a possession as an offering to God or to a divine or supernatural figure.

That's the definition I think of when I hear the word 'sacrifice' and I have to repress the urge to respond with "I didn't sacrifice anything." I never willingly surrendered J as an offering to any God. I want to scream that. None of us willing surrendered. 

I had a sinus infection and took too much cold medicine before J's funeral and maybe even one of Chris's pain pills left over from a surgery he had had. Numbing myself seems to be the way I handle this kind of grief. Military deaths are too bright and loud with colored flags and booming guns. Harsh. It prickles the skin with it's sharpness. I can wallow in my grief over losing Chris for days like a pig wallowing in the mud, but the grief over J is like rolling in glass. I have to remind myself of the very good lessons I learned from his death and how it prepared me for the next. I have to do my best to ignore the total destruction J's death caused our family and how each one of us had to learn in our own way how to behave in way that best honors J.

I recently read a book where one of the characters suffers a severe stroke in her thirties and she has to learn how to do everything all over again. Talking. Walking. Basic functions like buttoning a shirt or tying shoe laces. She's a cartoonist and has to learn how to hold a pencil and make sketches. She has to learn how to be the closest thing she can be to the person she was before the stroke. That's what grief is like. It's a stroke. After J, we all had to learn how to be the closest thing we could be to the people we were before. Some days, Hell...even most days, I feel like I came back from that stroke a better version of the person I was before. 

Just not every day. 

 

SLEUTHING

Cindy Maddera

That Son of a Bitch knew. This is what I am thinking as I gaze out the kitchen window while washing the skillet I'd used to make scrambled eggs. It hits me so sudden and so out of no where, but the thought is insistent and consuming. He knew he was sick before we moved. Oh, I know I've had this thought before and I've listened to each and every one of you tell me "oh no, Cindy he would never keep something like that from you." I heard you and I let it console me, but come on. Did anyone see him in Twilight of the Golds? He was good. Like real good. That man could act and the more I think about it the more I am convinced of this. And I. AM. FURIOUS. He found out he was sick right around the time I got the job offer that would have us moving to Missouri. This, of course is speculation, but just hear me out. 

Think about what things were like for us back then. Both of us were in jobs that we didn't really love. We lived with his mom. Sometimes we had to go get a hotel room just so we could have uninterrupted time for each other. We squeezed out joy from whatever source we could and put on a brave face because we were together, but we both wanted something more. Then suddenly we had an opportunity for something more. Except right at the same time, Chris finds out he has incurable cancer. But. BUT! Chris decides to keep it a secret. He has this plan. Get me to KCMO. Get me settled into a new city and a new job. Spend as much time as possible enjoying all the newness of this place, driving all over the city and exploring. Get me settled into a house. Get all of those things taken care of until he can no longer hide the increasing symptoms and pain associated with his cancer. Then he feigns shock and surprise at the knowledge of a giant tumor on his liver. 

See?!?!? It's so fucking plausible, that now you even believe it.

He duped us.

I know on some plane of reality that this is not true because Chris and I were always perfectly and very frankly honest with each other, but all that honesty aside, I cannot be certain. I have even skimmed over his blog archives looking for hints or evidence of something suspicious. I know you're shaking your head and thinking "Not possible. Let it go." You are probably also thinking how is it possible that I am still bringing this up after six years. All I can tell you is: I DON'T FUCKING KNOW! Just like I don't know why whenever Chris shows up in one of my dreams he's usually a total jerk. It's almost like he's doing it on purpose. It's his way of saying "forget all of the good things about me and our times together and only remember the times we were cruel to each other." Which is dumb because I can count on one hand the number of times we really argued. 

Any way. The whole did he or didn't he is my obsession of the moment. It is a scab on my brain and because I can't leave shit well enough alone, I have picked enough at it that it is open, raw and sore. Maybe even slightly infected. When do the statue of limitations run out on this particular question for the dead? I'm thinking never. 

 

IN THE KEY OF D

Cindy Maddera

Saturday morning, I got up and headed out for my usual Saturday morning routine. Michael and I have agreed that on the weekends we have the Cabbage with us that I should do the grocery shopping on my own. It's just easier and I get it all done before the two of them make any kind of peep of getting out of bed. On this particularly cold Saturday morning, I walk into Trader Joe's and I'm half way through the produce when they start playing China Girl. I can't help singing along as I marked things off the grocery list. 

"And when I get excited, my little China girl says 'Oh Baby, just you shut your mouth."

I get home and put all of the groceries away. The house is still quiet with the exception of Josephine who follows me around while dragging the toy Mom bought her for Christmas. There's a squeaker on the end and Josephine holds that end in her mouth, repeatedly biting down making a clacking squeak sound. "Play with me." So I do. We play tug of war for a bit until I look at the clock and wonder if I should nudge the sleeping bears. We have to drop the Cabbage off at birthday party across town at noon. 

Before I can make a decision about waking the others, Michael comes into the kitchen and drinks a full glass of water. He nudges the Cabbage and then gets in the shower. At some point Michael asks me how my mental health is doing today. I shrug and say that I think I'm doing okay and I believe it when the words come out of my mouth. Really. Then we're in the car, teeth chattering from the cold, backing out of the driveway and heading out. Ask Me Another is playing on the radio and Michael turns up the volume so we can hear the interview of Chris Hadfield. The host asks Chris to play Ground Control to Major Tom, the song he sang in a YouTube video while on the space station. Chris starts singing and there is something so perfect about his performance. I don't know what happens or why, but suddenly tears are streaming down my face. It's the second time today that I am hearing David Bowie and I start to wonder if Chris (my Chris) is trying to send me a message. 

We drop the Cabbage off at the ice-skating rink for the birthday party and then head over to a Chinese place for lunch. Michael and I are the youngest people in the place and no one is Asian. We should have turned around and left but we stay and eat the blandest Chinese food. My vegetables are basically raw, which I don't mind. I'm not a fan of over cooked, soggy veggies, but all the chewing was exhausting. Maybe Chris had been trying to warn me about our lunch choice and I totally missed it. Disappointed with lunch and with an hour left to kill before we pick the Cabbage up, we head over to the Duluth Trading Company so I can get a pair of fleece lined leggings. I grab the last pair of XS from the shelf and try them on. The last time I bought leggings from there, I bought the mediums and they were too big. I exchanged them for a small and even those constantly need to be tugged back up onto my hips through out the day. I but the XS small and was shook my head at sizing. I've never been an XS small anything. Ever. I'm still not, but I'll let Duluth think that I am. 

We go back to the skate rink to collect the Cabbage and watch her walk around on ice skates on the ice. It's too late for me to get skates because the free skate time is about to end. So we help the Cabbage get her skates off and then head home. Michael wants to make a stop at Vintage Stock. The Cabbage has recently discovered Minecraft and he wants to get a copy for her to play on the X-Box in the basement. I wander around the toy and collectible section and try not to think about which toys Chris would have bought here today. I pick up a Princess Leia from the Force Awakens and for a moment consider buying it. I put it back because I know that money would be better spent elsewhere. Game purchased, we finally head home. I distract myself with laundry and reading a book while the Olympics play in the background. I'm going to make it through this day without shattering into a million pieces. Which I do. No thanks to David Bowie. 

I leave for New York early Wednesday morning. Michael will join me Friday night. We have not traveled together before to a vacation destination where we have to fly. We have not done this kind of sightseeing together where we try to cram as much as possible into two days. New York City is a lot. I'm glad I'm leaving before him so that I have two days to acclimate to the city. Maybe I'll just hermit it up in our apartment, only leaving to walk a dog and get food. My bag is packed. I'm mostly ready to go. It seems odd to imagine being still in a city like New York, but I'm looking forward to being still.

I believe with my whole heart (or what's left of my heart) that I will come back with better stories, the kind of story that I'd want to read. 

 

I DON'T EVEN PLAY ONE ON TV

Cindy Maddera

I had this actual conversation with my brother over the weekend:

Randy: "Do you have access to liquid nitrogen where you work?"

Me: "Yeah, but I'm not sure I have a liquid nitrogen container. Why do you need it?"

Randy: "I have this mole on my face I need to burn off. Maybe I could just come up there the next time we visit and you can burn it off for me."

Me: "or you could go see someone who knows what they're doing...like...I don't know...A DOCTOR!"

Here I was thinking that my brother wanted some liquid nitrogen for some cool project he was working on. When I found out he wanted it for self mutilation purposes, I started laughing. It was so completely a Dad thing for him to say. Our Dad was constantly asking me for medical advice. He'd say something like "Hey Cindy, I've got this thing on my elbow. What do you think it is?" I would look at it and say "a dangerous mole you should have the doctor look at." Then Dad would say "oh...no...maybe there's something you have at work that you could put on it." To which I would respond "Dad, I'm not a doctor." My Masters in Microbiology and Molecular Genetics was the equivalent to Medical Doctor according to my Dad. It was one of those things Dad did that made me simultaneously laugh and roll my eyes. 

I was walking down the hallway recently when Grief walked up and punched me hard in the gut. The air rushed out of me as I crumpled to the floor, gasping for air and trying not to throw up. I thought "Grief, you fucking asshole bully, when are you going to leave me alone?!" Then I remembered that Grief is not a bully, but a chronic illness. The holidays are not easy. Chris and I hosted our first Thanksgiving in the first house we'd just signed papers on. The next day he turned yellow and it was all down hill from there. Oklahoma Thanksgivings after that are scarred by the memories of the times when driving to Oklahoma became an all weekend affair. The car ride did not end once I had made it to my parents' home. That was just a pit stop before heading even further south only to spend half an hour or so with Dad before turning around and heading back. The Thanksgiving before Dad died was the last time I visited him where he was still Dad. He still had his sense of humor. He still knew who I was. I didn't have to remind him that Chris was gone. I didn't have to remind myself that Chris was gone. It's like Thanksgiving has become that last barely decent holiday before everything falls to shit. 

I remember how Dad would call just about every thirty minutes whenever Chris and I were driving from OKC to Tulsa and ask us "Where are you? How much longer until you get here?" It would drive us crazy. He was our phone version of the kid in the back seat saying "are we there yet?" every five minutes, but then we'd reach a point where we'd just start laughing about it. Dad could just be so ridiculous. My brother has started to resemble our Dad more and more. Not so much physically as in behaviorally. I noticed it the last time we were all together at their cabin near Branson. We were all sitting around outside, reading or playing games on our phones, except Randy. He was up and futzing around the camp trailer adjusting this or that. It was something our Dad would do. Whenever we were camping, Dad was always futzing with the camper or messing with the grill or making trout lines. I guess I do this too at times. Our lack of stillness is genetic.

Randy thinks we're teasing him when we call him Bud (my Dad's nickname), but what he doesn't know is that when we say that he's being so much like Dad, we mean it in a good way. Or at least I do. He's taken on those things that Dad would do that makes me laugh and roll my eyes all at the same time. It keeps Dad's memory alive. When Randy does a typical Dad thing, it makes me smile and laugh more at the memory than at Randy. I need those memories. I need to be reminded of Dad's goofball sense of humor and of the things he'd say and do that would make me roll my eyes.

IF WORDS WERE ARROWS

Cindy Maddera

I started it. I pushed and needled. I can never tell if he's just in a mood or he's in a mood because of something I did or said. My tendency to be bluntly honest doesn't work in this relationship and I do a lot of back peddling of "I don't mean to...." and "it wasn't my intention to.." It just means that I don't say a whole lot any more. Better to say nothing at all. As a result annoyances and frustrations go unsaid and they sit and fester. He is the opposite. He says so much that he can't even remember what he's said. He is not careful with his words, at least...not the way I am. Then he said it. "I am never going to make you as happy as Chris made you." He didn't say it in spite or malice. He just told the truth and the truth of those words hit me like a million arrows, piercing every inch of my skin. 

It was like losing Chris all over again and I crumpled. It's not that I had been lying to myself all this time, but... 'never' is such a finite word. I will admit to missing a relationship that I had, wishing at times that this one could be more like that one. I missed the confidence I had in myself. I was more relaxed then, less afraid of stepping on toes. Less worried about keeping Chris entertained, interested, and happy. There was an equality to our support of each other's endeavors. There was an ease to that relationship that I don't think Chris and I truly understood. Other couples would look at us and ask if marriage ever got any easier. Chis and I would look at them like they were crazy. It had never been hard for us. We didn't have to work on our relationship the way other couples tend to. I just expected that was how all relationships were supposed to be and at times I get frustrated and annoyed that I have to work at this one. So yeah, I miss the relationship I had. But that wasn't the worst part about the truth of his statement. The worst was the shame I felt for dragging him into this and how unfair it is for him. Why would he even want to be here if he knows he's never going to make me as happy? What a totally crappy position to be in, knowing that, believing that. I hope it's two sided, that we were both happier with other people and we are now forced to make do. Though, there's something sad about making do with being just happy enough and something selfish about asking for more. 

I remind myself that in the grand scheme of things, this relationship is still new. We're still learning how to navigate. In this case, the path isn't as clear and smooth as normal. There are more rocks, boulders even. We still have the usual growing pains of a new relationship. We are still learning how to share the same space even though we've been working on it for four years. I don't think we're slow learners as much as we are both stubborn and set in a particular way. I've started not trying so hard to make this relationship resemble the one I had. I'm working on being less careful with my words and falling back into my old skin. For someone who doesn't really care what the general public thinks of her, I see the irony in caring too much about what he thinks of me and it's time to put a stop to it. It's time for me to relax into this relationship and stop tiptoeing around. Easier said then done, I know, but just because I miss something I had once doesn't mean I can't be happy in what I have now. 

I've got a list of things forming in my head for the new year. I feel the crunch and rush of the shift from this year to the next more keenly this year then in previous years. Maybe it's because I feel like I haven't been my best self this year, particularly the last few months. If I had to sum up this year in one word that word would be 'struggle'. It's been a struggle for me to look around with a mindful eye, which is something I had always thought just came easily to me. I don't know why this year has been one of such internal fights for me. I would like an extra month between November and December just to get myself organized for the next year. Myself. Not the house or our schedules or the finances. We've actually been working on the finances together once a week, which has made a world of difference. I want that extra month to get ME organized, scrubbing my skin with salt and clearing away the negative goop that has started building up in my joints. 

I want to be more settled and care less in the next year. I want to be selfish and take more rather than just make do. 

TRAJECTORY

Cindy Maddera

I opened my daily news email and right at the top is read "Today is the 16th Anniversary of 9/11." I was struck by this sentence, like falling into an icy river. Was that really today? I remember Chris and Todd picking me up before lunch at work. We went to Galileo's and sat with a beer, unable to stop staring at the TV. Chris and I looked at each other at one point and we both said "Talaura" at the same time. He went to his phone then and sent her a message. She was fine. The country went into shock. We went through all the stages of grief. We went to war. 

Chris and I would later joke about how politicians would use the phrase "9-11 changed everything" as a scare tactic for votes. We shifted into a country easily ruled by fear. Too easily. The date 9-11 became the Boogie Man. You said the words with a hushed tone while looking over your shoulder as if someone might hear you. And then what? Something bad would happen. Might happen. You never know. The date became cursed. The reality was that the changing of everything would end up being a delayed reaction for me. It would take four, no..actually three years for that wave to hit. J would go to war. We would spend Saturdays building care packages. We'd send him our Girl Scout cookies. I'd buy an extra box of tampons so I could send them in his care package. You know...for bullet wounds. Chris would spend late nights on his computer and occasionally he would be able to catch J online for chats. Chris would come wake me up and say "J's online now. You want to talk to him?" I'd crawl out of bed and sit at Chris's computer and chat about nothing with J. The last time we talked, I told him about Dad's haircut. We laughed. Later on, I would find out that out private messages where all being recorded and read by my government and I would be filled with rage over the injustice of it. 

When the tsunami wave of 9-11 finally did hit, it destroyed everything in it's path. Dad stopped sleeping. Mom grew hateful and bitter. Katrina went a little crazy, but can you blame her? Randy pulled further inside his personal shell. It was all sad all the time, but eventually we started to rebuild. We found a way to absorb it all, some of us better than others. That's how it works. Shit gets destroyed, you clean up the mess and rebuild. Prepare for the next disaster. Today though, I started playing the What If game. What if J hadn't died? What if he'd come home to us all? Would Dad not have gotten Alzheimer's? Would Chris still be alive? The What If game never goes well. Michael and I watch a show called "You're the Worst" and most of the characters on the show really are the worst. One guy though is really sweet. He's an Iraq Veteran and he suffers from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). We watched an episode recently where he was really struggling. He was struggling to keep it together. Struggling for help. Struggling to stay alive. What if J had come back to us in one piece? Would he be struggling with PTSD? It's naive to think he wouldn't come back from that changed in some way. Would we know how to help him? I mean...we didn't know how to help ourselves for a while there. 

Sometimes I am still amazed at the chain reactions. Life is just one giant Rube Goldberg device. Some of it resulting in disaster and heartache, but some of it also resulting in great joy. I hate that 9-11 changed everything. 

IDEAS AND STORIES AND GRATITUDE

Cindy Maddera

I read something recently that inspired me to start writing a story about a girl and a horse. It is a story about things that I don't know. Write what you know. Except I'm writing about the opposite. I mean, I know what it is like to be a girl who wants a horse, but I don't really know anything about horses or horse farms or history. But I am writing it. I am writing this story just like I have started writing all of the others. I will wright until I reach a spot where I stop and then it will get set aside and never finished, but the intention to go back and work on it is there. This story, like all of the others, is a story that I want to finish. Of course, I want to finish them all, but right now, in this moment, I want to finish this story about a girl and a horse. 

I find myself in a spot where I want to do a lot of things. Cleaning out all the garbage in the house. Making a yoga video series. Writing writing writing. Taking some pictures. Making some money for Christmas presents by selling those pictures. Setting up a shop or something. Something. Take a nap and hang out in the hammock. Harvest more purple hulled peas. There is a lot on my list. I want to move forward with all of it, yet there's something keeping me rooted in one spot. I have become Chris. In so many ways. I have lists. I have unfinished bits of writing. I threw a fit about the trailer for the New Justice League movie and how the industry has just ruined so many of the comics I read as a kid. I am this close to putting unopened mail into manilla envelopes and labelling them with the days of the week. 

I made an appointment to meet with a therapist and immediately regretted it. She used the words 'psycho analysis' and that's what caused me to pause. I don't need to be psycho analyzed. I'm not crazy crazy. I just feel a little bit numb on the insides. Insignificant. Hollow. Full of doubt. Maybe even lonely? Lacking in vocal communication skills. I am not a danger to myself or others (not intentionally). The words 'psycho analysis' suggests to me that there is something seriously wrong with me. Like my brain is really truly cracked. I don't need to be analyzed. I just need to talk to someone who's feelings are not going to hurt by what I have to say. I just need to talk to a person who will listen without interruptions and who will listen with some empathy. Then maybe that person could give me some advice on how to communicate effectively with words.

I wanted to cancel the appointment or maybe just not show up; though just not showing up is not my style. I told Dr. M. all of this when I sat down in her office. She told me that I was the boss here and that this could be my first and last session if that is what I wanted. I told her some of my story and how I feel like I have lost the ability to verbally communicate effectively. There were tears, something that hasn't happened in a while and an act that usually makes me feel shameful or pathetic. I let them come easily this time and I didn't get mad at myself for it. She had me read a passage from The Year of Magical Thinking, by Joan Didion. The passage discussed a section of one of Dr. Freud's papers on grief in which he says that grief is an illness. It when on to mention another prominent psychologist who felt that grief required treatment just like any other mental illness. My pride has not allowed me to think of myself as being sick. The idea that grief is an illness was not an easy concept for me to accept. It did give me some things to think about. I scheduled another appointment with her for next week. 

Lately, I find myself waking up periodically in the middle of the night. I sleep pretty well from about 9:30 to 11:30. Then I wake up because the dog has made a noise or the cat. I have to get up and use the bathroom. On average, I'd say I get up out of bed at least two times a night. Last night I slept straight through until my alarm went off. For the first time in a long time, I pulled myself out of bed this morning without the urge to flop right back down into it. I remember how I had such a hard time navigating in Portland because of their two norths, a true North and a magnetic North. During my second visit to the city, I got it all figured out. I just had to learn a new way to navigate. That is what I am doing now. My north has shifted and I am just starting to learn how to navigate it all after realizing that I can't do it in the same way as before. 

So...this week, I am thankful for moments of vulnerability. I am thankful to be learning new ways to navigate. I am thankful for a good nights sleep. I am super for grateful for that moment at work when ABBA's Dancing Queen started playing in my playlist. 

I am thankful for you. 

 

THOUGHTS

Cindy Maddera

I have some thoughts on some things from lately, but I don't really feel like writing about them. Some of those thoughts have to do with Okja, the new Joon-ho Bong movie on Netflix. This is not for kids. I love and hate this movie all at the same time. It is an important commentary on corporate food production and it is at times exciting and sweet and bitterly heartbreaking. It does have a happy ending, but dear lord, the things you have to see before the happy ending. There's a scene with Jake Gyllenhaal that makes me truly hate him. Not just his character, but him as an actor for playing that character. Joon-ho Bong has a talent for creating beautiful stories full of bittersweetness. Michael has been seriously questioning his pork eating habits. He's been reading and has discovered that pigs are smarter than dogs. This movie may have closed the deal for him. 

I've also been thinking about all the negative comments left on Patton Oswalt's engagement announcement. People talking about how fifteen months is just too soon for a widower to move on with their lives. These are the kind of people who have no idea. They are the type to say "I just can't image." in response to your tragedy. Every time someone would say that to me, it would take all of my willpower to not snap back with "I hope you never have to imagine." I mean really. Who sits around and imagines what life would be like if the person you thought you were going to spend the rest of your life with just up and dies? The people leaving those comments are just thoughtless. Michael moved in eighteen months after Chris died. I love Michael but there is not a single day where I don't think about Chris or remember something about our life together. I could go into a long, drawn out tirade over the whole thing if I didn't think I was preaching to the choir. 

The other night, Michael and I decided to buy an Amazon Echo. I've been thinking about this for some time. There really is no need for an Echo. It would just be fun and I have plans for the Echo. I think I can tell the Echo where I've put important things, like pictures and documents and teeth. The Cabbage lost a tooth at our house not too long ago. We had to play tooth fairy and Michael wanted to keep her tooth. We put it in an elephant creamer in the china cabinet. I really like the idea of saying "Hey, Alexa? Where did I put that human tooth?" and then hearing Alexa respond with something like "You placed the human tooth in the elephant creamer." Most likely I will just be asking Alexa to play that funky music all the time. Michael is slightly concerned that we are willingly setting up a spy in our home. I rolled my eyes at this and said the spies are already in our home because of our phones. 

The scale at work says that I've lost ten pounds. The scale at home has me holding steady at 174, meaning I've only lost six pounds. I like the scale at work a whole lot more than the home scale. I have not tracked my calories in two months. I'm moving faster in my workouts. I'm eating cottage cheese for breakfast and Greek yogurt for a mid-afternoon snack. I am trying to care less. This post has gone from tragic to comic. You can thank Nora Roberts. She was on Wait Wait Don't Tell Me on Saturday. When asked about writer's block she said "I don't believe in it." She said that you just kept writing even if what you were writing was total crap because as soon as you stopped writing, you broke the habit. Then you're screwed. I'm paraphrasing but not by much. 

Any way this is why you're getting a weird post about depressing movies and where I hide human remains. 

THANKFUL FRIDAY

Cindy Maddera

I've been sick. Really, I'm still sick. Michael is sick. The Cabbage missed two days of school this week because she was sick. She's the only one that's feeling better. I'm trying not to harbor ill will over it. I stayed home two days this week with a fever. By the second day, I was running out of crap to watch on TV and bored with inactivity. I decided to wash all of the comforters, Lysol the pillows and the rest of the house and change the sheets on the beds. It's a challenge to change the sheets on my bed on a good day. The mattress sits down into the bed frame and the bed is pressed up against one wall. I always feel like I'm roping and tying up a calf while I am wrangling the fitted sheet onto the bed. On a bad day, the act of putting that fitted sheet onto the bed feels like the last thing you'll ever do. But I did it! We all slept on clean sheets that night. 

Some times at the end of a week I find that I am truly thankful for the simplest of things. Particularly when that week has been emotionally and physically difficult. I have been quick to anger and easily brought to tears. My patience is thin and my give a shit level is low (or high depending on how you look at it). I communicate in the least amount of words I can get by with just to be on the safe side of not snapping a head off or hurting feelings. I've taken very few pictures and written very few words. I've shoved ugly memories away and wondered why after five years it doesn't get easier. It just gets more complicated. I am happy with the direction my life has taken, yet sad about. Guilty not guilty. Not lonely but lonely. Missing without missing.

These are weeks when gratitude takes effort. I am thankful for Kleenex and ibuprofen. I am thankful for those clean sheets I put on the bed even though the act of doing so almost made me pass out. I am thankful for the Spring like temperatures we have here today. I am thankful that I am no longer running a fever. I am thankful for lemons and honey and echinacea. I am thankful for kind notes from friends. I am thankful for you.

Here's to a weekend of healing and a beautiful Thankful Friday. 

PRONOUNS

Cindy Maddera

Michael and I spent pretty much the whole day on Saturday at the RV dealership in camp trailer boot camp. We learned all the things about our camper. We helped winterize it and fold it up. They gave us a $50 gift card and shopping cart with our names on it so we could buy camper things like those wedges you put behind the tires to keep your trailer from rolling away and decorative camper lights. Then we signed a bunch of papers, hooked the truck to the trailer and ever so slowely creeped our way out onto the open road. We headed straight over to the closest Thai restaurant because we had skipped lunch. I ordered shrimp Pad Thai and Michael ordered a mushroom stir-fry. While we waited, he leaned across the table with a wide grin and stage whispered "We got a camper! Somebody up there must like us." 

I grinned back, but the somebody up there part of his words kind of punched me in the chest. We talked more about the camper and I said "we need to name it!" Michael said we should name it something Chris related. Our waitress set our steaming plates of Thai food down in front us and I shoveled in a fork full of noodles. Michael asked if he could steal a bite while I slowely chewed and I nodded my head as the lump of noodles in my mouth seemed to grow. I put my head in my hands as I concentrated on swallowing the lump of growing noodles and then I started crying. Of course this left Michael stammering and asking what was going on. "Can you talk to me?" He asked and I just shook my head 'no' while my throat closed up around Pad Thai noodles and tears streamed down my face. I finally had to excuse myself to the restroom and clean myself up. When I came back to the table, I said "It was something about the somebody up there statement and the fact that this Pad Thai tastes just like Chris's Mom's that set me off." Which is all true.

The idea of naming the camp trailer something Chris related makes me want to stomp my foot and yell "NO!" In fact, right now I can imagine the satisfaction of throwing something in a rage at a wall and watching it shatter, something heavy and made of glass. I can see myself shoving all of the things off a counter top or tossing a table, Hulk style. The whole thing makes me mad and want to wail. I miss him without wanting to miss him. I am frustrated that my identity was so much Chris and Cindy and so very little just Cindy and that more than half the stories I tell Micheal start with "One time, Chris and I..." I've finally gotten a grasp on my own identity and I've maintained that individuality even in my relationship with Michael. We have our own separate things, though we've been moving closer to a merging. There is Cindy. There is Michael and there is Cindy and Michael. I don't want to name the camper after Chris. The camper is our thing, Michael's and mine. Chris and I never talked about getting a camper. I talked about it. Chris was all high tech tent gadget camping. This camper is OURS! Fuck Chris. Fuck all of this. I can hear the words in the back of my brain, but I will never say them out loud. "It's not fair." It isn't, you know, not to any of us, but I don't say it out loud because the response to every child's whine of 'it's not fair' is always 'life isn't fair.' Buck up, Buttercup. 

I haven't figured out yet if Michael thinks that buying this camper is part of making me happy sort of like when he built the chicken coop. As if building a chicken coop and buying a camper will exorcise the ghost. I feel guilty about it, the way he goes above and beyond to take out that sadness that has settled in. I'm not sure I am entirely worthy of all of that effort. Michael just wants to make me happy, which at times I really don't understand. I admit to being emotionally numb for the last few weeks. Things that I should be happy about just make me shrug my shoulders with meh. I've plastered a smile on in hopes that no one really notices, but I'm no actress. When we left the dealership with our camper on Saturday, I felt a flutter of joy that I haven't felt in a bit. It had nothing and everything to do with buying the camper. I could imagine the future of riding along back roads with the dog in my lap and Michael singing along to some country song on the radio as we headed off to sights unseen. 

I could imagine a future.

THE STORY OF THIS PICTURE

Cindy Maddera

There was a break for lunch during the conference and Sarah and I walked up to Chinatown. Along the way, we stopped for a berry ice cream crepe from a food truck that was in a line of food trucks that made us regret our lunch choice. We made it to the Chinatown Gate where we stopped to take pictures and to check the time. After checking the time, Sarah and I decided to continue up the street. The street running up through the Chinatown Gate is the touristy side of Chinatown. This street is lined with tourist trap trinket shops and stores filled with elaborately gaudy crystal/glass chandeliers and sculptures. 

I didn't mind this walk. I knew that I would be back and that this was just a toe dip into Chinatown. We passed by shops with their wares spilling out onto the sidewalk. Racks of postcards. Tables of plastic snow globes. Racks of cards with names written in Chinese. I spotted Chris's name in passing and snapped a quick picture. It was later, while I was sitting in on talks about cell migration, when I looked back at the pictures I'd taken during that walk to edit them and maybe post some of them that I noticed it. That quick snap of Chris's name written in Chinese included me. There it was. Chris and Cindy, sitting right next to each other on the card rack. I whispered "fuck you, Chinatown" under my breath. 

Later, Heather and I were driving around California in the rain. Our plan was to some how sneak some of Chris's ashes onto Skywalker Ranch. As we buckled up, Heather asked "is Chris with us?" I paused with an eyebrow raised and then remembered that she meant Chris's ashes and replied with a chuckle and a "yes". I thought for a minute that she was asking if Chris was present on a spiritual level, hovering somewhere in the car. The image of it and the idea of Chris as a ghost made me laugh. You know Chris would be the most silly, ridiculous ghost. He'd be the kind of ghost that would make a slurping sound every time you went to drink something. Because that's the kind of thing he did when he was living. I'm pretty sure I heard is Dr. Zoidberg impersonation as I hopped out of the car to hastily dump his ashes at the gate of Skywalker Ranch. Heather pretended to read a map because we knew there had to be hidden cameras watching our shenanigans. It's the worst leaving of Chris picture I've taken. 

Is Chris with us? Fortunately and unfortunately. Even when I'm not thinking about it or expecting it, Chris shows up some how in some tiny way. It is equal parts lovely and hateful. The true definition of bittersweet. Mostly, at least lately, things seem more sweet than bitter. 

IN RESPONSE

Cindy Maddera

A few days ago, Patton Oswalt posted a letter to grief on his facebook page. Those of us who have experienced the sudden (or almost sudden) loss of a spouse who read through his letter all nodded our heads with knowing and agreement. Many people have written to offer words of advice and encouragement. Yet, I hesitate. I don't have time to compile my own thoughts on this topic. Work is crazy busy right now and I leave for a conference in Boston at five AM tomorrow. I am tired of compiling my own thoughts on this topic. I write about grief too often and when I do, people start asking me about my mental health. Writing about grief is therapeutic as long as you're not letting the whole world wide web read it. Some of the time. 

The real reason I haven't thrown my words in for Mr Oswalt is that I am slightly annoyed that I have some words of wisdom or advice, even if unsolicited. Grief is not something anyone wants to be knowledgable about. It is not something you put on your resume. It's not something anyone wants to read on your dating profile on Match. It is knowledge that makes other people uncomfortable. Except, grief is something I know and I'm sitting over here biting my tongue trying not to add my two cents. For one thing, Patton Oswalt doesn't even read this blog and another thing, it puts me back into that genre of being a grief writer. Like that's my niche. I'm really good at writing about something really sad. Again...not something I would want to put on my resume. Despite all of that it looks like I am about to throw my two cents in here anyway. 

Dear Patton Oswalt,

Grief is going to be with you now for probably forever. I know some people have told you that it gets better or that you will find a way to move on. Those are very nice words with well meaning intentions. I wouldn't actually say they are lies, but they are more like half truths because even when you've gotten out of the crawling stage and back into walking and being a "normal" member of society, grief is still going to be with you. It will be laying just under your skin waiting for the most ridiculous moment to fester up and out, hitting you with an intense shock of pain and loss. I'm sorry. I'd love to sugar coat it for you and tell you that this is not the case, and maybe it won't be for you, but in my experience, it happens all the time. It usually waits until you're having a really good day as a reminder that your life totally went to shit at some point. You do not move on either. This is not a bad breakup or divorce. This is not a sudden job loss. You lost the person you chose to spend the rest of your life with. You do not simply move on from that. Of course, you are going to crave human interaction at some point. Sex is great! You're going to miss that and want to find a person to do that with, but it will not be "moving on". It will just be something different from what you had.

That part about those half truths that is the truth is that you get better. You get better at handling the grief. You get better at living with the grief. You find a way to cope with always having that layer of grief hiding just under the surface. Sometimes I think of it as something almost symbiotic. Some days that symbiotic relationship with grief is going to feel like a parasite and some days you're hardly going to know it's there. It just becomes part of your life. It doesn't mean that you can no longer experience joy or happiness. It just means that those moments of joy and happiness now have become really really important. You are now part of the club whose members know that every moment matters, every day is important. Life will be a bit more bitter sweet for you and at times those bitter sweet moments will cause a great rage to ignite in your belly. Rage. Let yourself be really stupid mad for about five minutes, then take a deep breath and enjoy the moment. Learn to make friends with grief or at least get along with it, because it's going to be with you for a long time.

And as far as moving on? Well, I want you to get the notion of moving on completely out of your head. You will not move on, but you will move forward. You're life will continue. Days and weeks and years will pass. All along the way you will hold onto the knowledge that you had someone really special in your life and how lucky you are for that. As you continue to watch your child grow and maybe even find new love, Michelle will never leave you. She too just becomes part of who you are now. I'm not going to lie. It sucks. Even now, when I'm happy and have someone in my life I love, it sucks. It's always going to suck just a little bit. Remember the whole bitter sweet thing. 

I wish you the best of luck in finding your way through all of it.

Sincerely,

Cindy Maddera