Flexibility–Issued by the Navy

Nothing is ever set in stone with the Navy.  Especially return dates.

I got a call from husband yesterday saying, “Guess what!  I’m coming home a whole day early!” 

“Hurray!” says I–and then I look around the house which is cluttered and in need of just a couple of ‘deep cleaning’ items, think of the somewhat spontaneously planned trip to meet up with some relatives that will require a 2.5-3 hour trip both ways the same day and panic a little bit.  “Oh well!” says I (what’s the deal with the ‘says I’ thing?  I don’t know either…)  So I devised a plan to get as much housework done before leaving to not be mortified if husband got back before our return, with the hopes that I would have an hour or so after our relative trip, to tidy a bit before needing to go pick him up.

Get an email from the ombudsman this morning, “Your sailor will be here in the mid afternoon of return day!”  “Yippee!” says I.  Then I consider calling relatives to cancel the trip to do that deep cleaning and to ensure that I Will be here to do the sappy welcome-home thing (even if this was only a short one).  I complete the rest of my morning computer tasks and suddenly the phone rings. 

I rush to get the phone as Little Miss is still sleeping.  Smile to see that it is DH calling, and answer happily knowing that he is about to tell me that he’s on the first flight and will be in by mid afternoon.

“Well….”  He does not sound happy.  “The flights got all messed up…  I won’t be leaving until late, late, late return day night…  so I probably won’t come home until early, early, early the next morning.  Don’t worry I already have a ride.” 

“*sigh*” says I.

Before my husband joined the Navy I never used the word, “flexible” to describe myself.  Generally it was more along the lines of, “uptight.”  “Planner.”  Etc.

After only 2.5 years I have thrown out the notion of planning, and especially the notion of knowing anything concretely.

This is just one example.

We’ll have the light on and the welcome home sign up…  whenever he gets here.

Hey Look, Mom! I Have a Tongue!

Little Miss discovered her tongue today.  Or rather, she discovered my tongue first and then realized that she, too, had the same sort of appendage. 

We sat playing for a while, sticking out our tongues in turn, and I found myself thinking, “Oh my goodness…  She has got the cutest little Tongue!  Look at it!  It’s so little and pink and cute!  It’s just like a grown-up tongue, only it’s miniature!” 

And then I thought, “Only a mother could use the words ‘cute’ and ‘tongue’ in one same cohesive thought. 

And people say this job is boring!

The Pearls Girls

This morning, I got myself all spiffied up, put on a strand of pearls, and took off for an official meeting of “The Pearls Girls.”

Somehow, through the quirkiness of life, the three of us found one another and came together as a funny little sisterhood.  We are all three very different.  We have different origins, different interests, different approaches to life.  Jamie and I are young’uns according to Jennie, but it doesn’t seem to matter.  What matters is that we have chosen to care about one another.

All of us are part of the involuntary fellowship joined when you watch a person who has been one of your anchor-points in life–who inhabits a large part of your heart, and helped to forge your soul–suffer, and succomb to a disease called cancer. 

We can all be pretty random and silly.  One of the first times I went to Jennie’s house (Jamie was along too, of course), Jenn looked at us and in her perfect hostess voice said, “Would you care for some play-dough?”  Jamie and I gratefully accepted and had a lovely visit while making snakes and balls and play-dough dogs.

Nearly the same time I met Jamie, faeries mysteriously began leaving little things on my doorstep:  flowers some days, brownies, others….  A book by an author that I’d mentioned liking.  Neither of us are strangers to the phone call that follows, “This just showed up on my doorstep–do you know anything about that?”  And generally a full confession follows.

The day I met Jennie and she found out I was pregnant, she loaded me down with fresh tomatoes and offered soup anytime I needed it.  And when Little Miss was born she was emphatic that “Auntie” be put in front of her name from that point on.

We fix one another chicken-soup when one of us is ill, we bring casseroles for major life changes and events and we can’t go too long without a phone call to say, “Are you still there?  How is your world?”

Yes we are the pearls girls, and I don’t know how I would have made it through the last two years without being part of this sisterhood.

Just Keep Swimming, Swimming, Swimming…

So of course–since I started to “come out” about the whole M.Div/Seminary thing, now there are some major snags in the line.

I spoke to our Associate Pastor today when I asked him for a letter of reference.  Turns out that the United Methodist denomination can be a bit sticklerish about Ordination.  A wise idea, I’m quite sure.  They have a list of ‘approved’ schools that one may go to if one wants to be ordained in their denomination.  And…  My choice isn’t there. 

However, I now have a list of schools that are approved, so now it’s a matter of just researching those and finding out which programs might work for me given my location/stage in life/husband in the Navy constraints.

As Dory says, I’ll “Just Keep Swimming, Swimming, Swimming.”  (Speaking of–writing “Swimming” that many times with all of those WIMMIs is enough to make one’s head do some swimming.)

Starting the Ball Rolling

So I know I keep speaking cryptically about a new direction, and I know it’s probably very tiresome.

Let the mystery be solved:

I just submitted an application to begin taking classes at the Earlham School of Religion.

I want to eventually get my M. Div. 

And–I am doing these things to hopefully one day become a hospital or hospice chaplain.

So…  we’ll see what happens.

Ice Cream Man Terror Be Gone!

We have two ice cream men that drive by in their respective vehicles throughout the summer months.  The first guy is exactly what you’d expect from an Ice Cream man.  He is a jovial looking man driving around in a big boxy truck, with colorful stickers on it.  And his music is also what you would expect–cheerful happy little kiddy ditties.  But he…  He doesn’t come around here very often.

The other guy is not your run of the mill ice cream man.  He drives a maroon mini-van.  His ice cream menu is peeling off.  There aren’t very many cheerful colors. 

And the music…  Oh… 

For a few months he played one song and one song only:  Beethoven’s “Fur Elise.”  Now, I am a fan of Beethoven, and I like the song “Fur Elise” just fine, but the computerized bell tones of the ice cream truck speakers just distort the song into something truly disturbing.

In fact, most days when he would come by I would picture a scene from a horror movie:

It’s a stifingly sunny day on Toesin’s street.  Things are still.  Too still.  (The strains of creepy ice cream man music begin to filter through the trees)  Children are bouncing balls to a drone like rhythym and then suddenly…  THE ICE CREAM TRUCK COMES.  *Duhn duhn duhn.*

The worst part about it all was, invariably the truck would come creeping down the street at the very point of the day that was the pinacle of stress.  I’d be cooking dinner, DH would be getting home and changing, and grumbling about his day, Little Miss would be screaming, and the ice cream man would come.  Now I’m the kind of gal that in a high-stress situation I WELCOME the sight of ice cream.

But not this Ice Cream…  No…  For this Ice Cream brought with it the terrifyingly slow, dark melody of Ice Cream Man “Fur Elise.”

In the last three days something truly miraculous has happened:  The scary Ice Cream man has changed his song.  Yesterday, he played Brahm’s lullaby (ok–there was still a slight creepy-factor, but overall it was a dramatic improvement).  Today, it was a happy little ditty which I didn’t recognize.

Ahhh…  Once again the appearance of the Ice Cream Man can be heralded as the happy event that it was always meant to be.

The world became a little righter today.

I’ll Take the Gremlins!

It is a well-known fact in military families, that when the husband (or in some cases wife) leave to do their job away from home, be it for a short time or a long time, inevitably there will be ‘gremlins.’

By this I mean, the family vehicle will take that opportunity to get a flat tire, or the transmission will go out.  The kitchen sink will suddenly become clogged, or the toilet will refuse to flush.  The dishwasher will break, or the refrigerator will suddenly break down.  And we, the spouse left-behind, will be left alone to fix it.  Incidentally, it is almost always the case that the gremlins will involve part of the household duties that the remaining spouse generally doesn’t handle.  It’s just part of the rules of military life and separations.  We learn early to expect it.

To be honest, we’ve had a relatively small amount of gremlins during DH’s many short and long times away.  Anything that has happened has been minor enough that I could sort through it on my own.  For the detachments and deployments of last year, I was home with my folks’ most of the time so I guess maybe the male-presence of Dad helped ward off the gremlins.

However: instead of gremlins, it seems we get major family medical emergencies or other major crises. 

It’s been a pretty crappy 2 years or so.  It really, really has, though we don’t forget how blessed we are anyway. 

But almost every time husband has been “out” or even just his group was “out” and he was on “stay-back crew” terrible things have happened in immediate and extended family.

His first Detachment, his Uncle’s diabetes spun out of control, his blood pressure sky-rocketed, and he went into a coma that they were not sure he would awake from.  He did pull through ok.

The next one, Husband was on stay-back crew because I was 39 weeks pregnant, and my grandmother died. 

The next one, we found out that my mother’s tumors were progressing rapidly.

The next one, my Mom died.

Then it was time for deployment.  Things seemed to be perking along ok until Christmas, when husband’s grandfather became very ill, and passed away.  Shortly after his grandmother had some health problems as well.

And that brings us to this latest little one…   Husband’s brother lost a good portion of his belongings to a house-fire earlier this week, and our littlest nephew took a nasty, nasty fall and had to be rushed to the ER.  He should be released from the hospital tomorrow, but what a terrible thing for such a tiny little guy, and his family, to go through.

I know it is likely a spurious correlation.  We’ve had other terrible things happen in the last two years that have occurred when he was home.  The problem is probably just that our family has had a run of lousy luck lately.  But sometimes you just gotta question the universe or God or whatever.

Makes me wish we could tell the Navy that husband has to get out for the safety of our family members.  (If only!)

Anyway–to the universal powers that be and that think that there must be such difficulties every time he is away from home, I say simply this: 

Bring on the gremlins!!!!!  And leave our family ALONE!!!!

He’s So Gone for Not So Long

Husband is out sailing the deep blue sea for a couple of weeks.  He would prefer it, I’m sure, if I didn’t put it in such romantic terms.  In fact, he would probably tell you that he is out riding around on a foul-smelling, gray hunk of metal, with cramped living conditions and really long work days.

And I…  I’m here at home.  I dreaded this detachment because I dread all of them–long or short.  But I especially dreaded him being gone yesterday.  Yesterday was just *not* a good day to be sans husband–regardless of the relatively short length of projected goneness.

This is our first detachment that I’m staying put and not travelling an insane amount of miles to deal with a family crisis.  It feels strange, a little scary, a little boring, and in some ways (shhh…) a little exciting.

I would much rather have my husband here, don’t get me wrong, but being able to stay put signifies something kind of big:  Life is not in full out crisis mode. 

It’s amazing to me how easily I sink into the groove of him being gone, now.  I’m far from being a really seasoned Navy wife.  But I’ve seen him go out enough times–for short or long time periods, that it feels suprisingly normal.  In some ways, I think that’s a little sad.  It shouldn’t feel normal to have your husband gone…  To “do it all” alone and to be the Mommy and Daddy all at once.  It does though.  The “normal” sensation is also a bit comforting.  I am far more adaptable than I ever gave myself credit for before embarking on the journey of being a Navy wife.  I can do this.  I can not only survive him being away from us, but I can actually contentedly live. 

While he’s gone we’re planning on going to two free folk-music concerts at our favorite state park.  We might hit the local children’s museum, and I’m planning on some beach time.  I have two novels to read, and Grey’s Anatomy Season I to lull me to sleep in the evenings. 

I would *much* rather have him here beside me.  I do miss him terribly.  I hate the moments he misses with Little Miss because he has already missed so many, but…  We still keep going.  We can keep some semblance of “normal life” regardless of Daddy’s whereabouts.

Nevertheless, it’s funny to me how cheerful civilian-folks are about these short-times out….  “Oh only a couple of weeks?  That’s no big deal!”  Sometimes I feel like they think I should throw a party because “It’ll go so fast!”  Gone is gone.  No matter how long he’s out.  6 days or 6 months–it’s still time we spend apart.  It’s still time lost.  And when you add up several “Only two weeks!” or “Only a month!” or “Only 2 months!” in a short period of time it still equals a heckuvalotta goneness.

But it’s doable.  It’s livable.  It’s even somewhat thrivable (a new Val-word of the day). 

Now I better go take out the trash.  It’s *my* job for now.

One Year

Today (July 19–despite the timestamp) marks the end of one year without my Mom.

I can’t believe that it’s been one year. It is inconceivable to me that she has missed one full year of Little Miss’s life. When she died, LM was a little blob of baby–not crawling–just rolling over. She gave winning smiles, and had quite a personality, but she was so far away from the little person that she is now. Mom missed her crawling, her walking, her first words. She missed hearing about her saying, “Butt Boost,” barking at every dog she sees, and all of her adorable dancing.

She has missed a year in my life as well. I survived my first deployment. I moved into a new house that she has never seen. I traveled 7000 miles or so. And I made a decision to begin moving in a new ‘vocational direction.’

I miss her. How can it have been a full year already? The most painful thing about today is that it makes her feel so far away. All year long I’ve known that at least her life was just last year. Now I don’t have that. Now all I have is distance. A year is a long time…. 365 days. One whole trip around the sun.

The thing is, a good part of me doesn’t think that the world should have travelled around the sun again… A part of me wishes that the world had stopped… Because I want the world to take notice that an AMAZING woman ISN’T HERE anymore.

I said elsewhere that this day doesn’t make her any more gone than she was yesterday or she will be tomorrow, but this day makes the finality hit home. Mom is not on deployment like Andy was. She is not coming back. The missing doesn’t stop.

I have decided, for the record, that I hate the word “acceptance.” That is supposed to be the phase of grief that you aspire to. I am an overachiever, you know, so logically I should want to get to that stage. I refuse. I will not contentedly accept the fact that my Mom died a horrible death due to a horrible disease.

I will however allow for integration. That is what I want my ‘final stage of grief’ to look like. I want to allow the grief and the missing and the hurt to be as big as it is. As big as it needs to be. And that is very, very big. But I want to be able to coexist with that. I think I am moving into “integration.” I still hurt. I still miss her every day. But my every waking thought isn’t tied up with Mom and missing her. I will never be one of those people who can look back at this experience and say, “I’m really thankful that this happened because I learned so much and gained all of these new insights.” If I could have traded the lessons and still had my Mom–healthy and free of pain, I would in a heartbeat. But… The grief and the missing are only a part of Val now. They are no longer the black hole-like vortex sucking all of me in and leaving me no light.

My Mom was one hell of a woman. She would have understood my meltdown today. She would have understood my tears. Days like today were hard for her too. But she would have wanted me to smile today, and to celebrate her and the life that she led instead of just focusing on her death, and so I did.

Mom was tough, and strong, and no-nonsense, but she was also incredibly compassionate. She loved nurturing people, giving to folks in small ways. So today, I wanted to honor her by doing the same. I wanted to allow her to continue giving. So… I brought Yellow Roses and buttons that said, “Cancer Sucks” to a nearby cancer center. I left them at the front desk of the infusion center with instructions to give them to anyone who came in for a treatment today. And I hope in some small way, they will be tangible tokens of encouragement to the folks who recieved them.

Mom would have loved the sentiment “Cancer Sucks.” She didn’t mince words. If she felt like hammered dog shit, she told you that she felt like hammered dog shit. I think she’d get a kick out of the buttons.

So it’s been a year… And I miss my Mom. I will always miss my Mom. I wish she had never had to hear the word, “cancer” and I wish she was still here to drive me nuts with unsolicited advice regarding my raising of Little Miss. I wish she was here to teach Little Miss to flip people off, and to say the words, “Male Dominant Stupid Gene.” I wish she was here to personally infuse her grand daughter (and any other grandkids who may come) with her grit and her love of life. And I wish she was here so I could hug her, call her to process through the craziness of people and to remind me that the democrats are always right.

I miss her. And that will always be part of me. And that is as it should be.

Simply Mom, Simply Girl

“Every time your dad looks at you or your kids, or every time he goes to bed, he thinks about cancer. He thinks about what he may or may not miss. You cannot even begin to imagine how that feels.”

I read that today over at LCSC (Lung Cancer Support Community) and it resonated with me.  It was spoken to a member whose Dad is battling lung cancer.  I wasn’t the one with cancer.  My Mom was.  But six months into my pregnancy with Little Miss her birth and life was suddenly about my Mom and her cancer.  It always seemed like a huge burden for a little girl to carry.  It was hard not to think, “Come on out little one–Gramma needs to see you in case…..”  It was joy-sucking to look down at my round belly, to think about her birth, and instead of being giddy with joy, to cry because I didn’t know if my Mom would see her, and if she did see her, I didn’t know how long she would have with her.  We agonized and agonized about when I should go back to be with my folks.  Before the baby came?  After?  My husband’s impending deployment made it that much more difficult.  HE needed time with her too.  Military members carry with them their own inherent “what ifs.”

We moved to be with Mom when Little Miss was 8 weeks old.  She and Mom had two wonderful months together.  It was excruciating to see how sad it made Mom to not be able to hold her granddaughter from her weakness, but her presence seemed to buoy Mom nonetheless.  In some of Mom’s last days she would still light up when we brought Little Miss to see her and Mom fell into her normal, “Hi, Sugar Plum!”  My daughter’s identity and being was still tied up with cancer.  With impending loss.

And then Mom died.  At times grief and missing–of Mom and Husband–were all I could see. Little Miss was now about cancer, grief, and missing.  She was my “light.”  She gave me joy.  She gave me a reason to keep going.  She made me see past myself and my pain.  She gave me these incredible gifts… But again, what a lot of burden to put on a little baby. 

It wasn’t just me who put this burden and signifcance on Little Miss.  Person, after person, as an ‘answer’ to my grief would tell me, “You just hug that little girl.”  “Just hold that baby close.  She will bring you through this.”  No one wanted to think of the dimensions of grief that came BECAUSE Little Miss was now missing out on the incredible person that her Gramma was.  No one remembered that when I looked at Little Miss often what I saw was the void in all the events of all the rest of her life that my Mom would never see or know about.  I could look at her, hold her and take comfort from her warm little body, and at the same time be thinking, “When she starts to walk, Mom won’t know.  When she starts Kindergarten, I won’t call Mom and tell her what she wore, or how excited she was.”  She was assigned to be the antidote to my pain, and at the same time, I grieved for her loss, and the dimensions of my own that involved her even as I took comfort from her.

Recently I’ve had moments–beautiful, shining moments, where I sit with Little Miss and it’s just about HER.  We play and we giggle, and I’m with HER and not also in the land of loss and missing.  It is a hallmark in the acclimation to “New Normal.”  I hesitate to say that, because I fear when many read it they will think, “Aha!  Things are back to normal with Val.  She’s done with this crazy grief stuff that she has drug out for so long.”  Fact is, I’m not, but I am able to coexist with it.  I know that the truth is, I will never be done with it.  But finally, the fog of living in the difficulty of this year is lifting enough so that I can see my beautiful daughter, and let her be just who she is.  I can love her, and hold her, and enjoy snuggling with her without needing to take comfort from that because it is the one thing in my life that is joyful. 

In some ways, believe it or not, that makes me sad.  The lifting of the pain, feels like distance from my Mom.  Any sort of distance–physical, chronological, emotional is just one more loss. 

But mostly I am grateful that my daughter can be my daughter again, and I now finally have brief glimpses of what it feels like to simply be her Mom.