Grief: It’s What’s For Dinner!

I’ve been having several conversations lately about grief. It’s December so that means the Holidays, and winter gloom descend with depression and reminders of loss. It seems horrible. It can be. It should be talked about, and not in the usual sad, way that allows for grief to pass through the cracks in the same, “What a shame, it’s so sad and horrible” way it usually is. Mason and I seem to specialize in loss so we tend to be the recipients of texts and phone calls from our friends. Not so much checking in on us as much as others reaching out because they know that we can relate to their circumstances. We have several friends that have lost sisters, brothers, parents, friends, and children.

I’d like to veer off and say I hate the term loss. We use it because it has become our popular, go to term for death. Our culture has glassed over death and the reality of it by using such diplomatic terms to ease the pain the word death brings us. Why? We are really bad at coping with death. The term loss doesn’t make sense to my literal brain. I haven’t lost anyone. They aren’t coming back. I know where they are located; I can visit their graves. I even talk to them, out loud. This all makes me insensitive, and not literal. Let me get back on track.

Most of our friends know that they can’t really count on us for sensitivity. They can count on us for honesty, to bring them out of a crying fit, validate them, use logic, proof read a headstone for spelling errors, or tell them what flower arrangements they need, and so on. We have a comprehensive list of funeral homes if you ever need it.

I started racking up dead friends in the fourth grade (cancer), then high school (suicide, car accidents), and it continued into my 20’s and 30’s (suicide, murder, cancer, and war). I’d lost so many friends my Nana once quipped that I was “winning” because she surmised she should have been going to more funerals than I was. I’ve since lost my Nana, other grandparents, miscarried, and lost my husband, even though I haven’t technically lost him, I know exactly where he is, Arlington National Cemetery.

Mason’s list is very similar, almost identical, but with the addition of both his parents. We could easily go into the business of funeral planning the way some do wedding planning. We joke that we should play Ouija on family game night (the kids came up with that one). We talk about death frequently because it’s our reality. Just in this house alone, the death list is so long because Mason has both his parents, his spouse, I have my spouse, and the kids each have a parent on that list, all to any number of tragic circumstances at a young age.

It’s not a competition. My point isn’t, “I am the master of dead people, I know everything about them.” If that were the case I’d have a TV show. I’m going to make a point and it’s not about how many dead people I know. My point is: Death is universal. We all experience it. Grief is normal. So normal that Shrinks have given it a term, and it’s so original it’s shocking; it’s called Normal Grief. It lasts about 2-4 months before you regain your desire to return to your normal routine, kind of like mono.

When you have people that live in your house, and they die, you get these magazines that have articles about how everyone grieves differently. They do. Everyone does things their own way; some of it is really weird. Sometimes people knock and your door and “grieve differently” and you wish they’d go “grieve differently” somewhere else. Someone came to my house once and asked for my late husband’s truck because they could really use it. Her husband was Trent’s best friend once (not that I could recall), they fell on hard times, blablabla. I really wished they would “grieve differently” elsewhere.

Let me get back on track..again…

Death is universal. The way we die is not. Not all people die tragically, or violently. Not everyone prepares for death. All of that will complicate the grieving process. What complicates it more, and unnerves me to no end, is the endless stream of writers who all say, “We all grieve differently, words words words, it’s part of the process. The End.” That helps no one! It also gives those who are grieving excuses to be an asshole. These articles will tell the story of a tragic war loss and will find anyone to quote that says, “Tell me his/her death was worth it!” with a valiant commander saying, “Yes! It was!” Or a “renowned psychologist” quoting the grief stricken as saying, “It’s been a decade and I have days on end when I can’t move. The grief has taken over. It’s unbearable.” With the psychologist saying, “It’s all part of the process.” Or maybe it’s the blogger who holds the trademark on grief and writes about how they no longer want their friends to send Christmas cards. This is not Normal Grief and not one person, not one article, not one magazine on grief, ever says it. This is Pathological, or Complicated Grief. It’s treatable. We should talk about it. No one talks about how to treat Complicated Grief!

Complicated or Pathological Grief, grief that has been compounded by trauma, is persistent and debilitating. 10-15% of the population suffer from Complicated Grief, but I never see it addressed in the tens of magazines I am mailed about grief, loss, or “coping” (please note my air quotes in actual quotes). Every article I see, even the ones from “renowned psychologists” and “doctor so and so” all quote these professionals as saying something along the lines of “everyone grieves differently,” and, “it’s all part of the process.” When the process is extended to years, I question the motive, or the process. Not one of these professionals address’ what they know and treat people for diagnostically. It pains me to see them pacifying the grief stricken with the same comments over and over again and not once saying, “Something bigger is going on here!”

I wish, for once, I would read an article in a mediocre, local newspaper that quoted someone saying, “Tell me their life was worth it.” When you say someone’s sacrifice was worth it, it has to have a measurable result for moral judgment. The anecdotal, “It was worth it” is a poor statement made by commanders with nothing else to say, or not enough time to say it. They have to believe the loss was worth it, because they never focus on a life lived. Our lives should be meaningful. Lives should carry purpose, not deaths. People need to stop asking someone to validate a death. It’s not a fair question. Stop putting that burden on other people.

As for these “renowned psychologists” that all of these magazines find, they are all hacks, I swear. They put these feel good pieces for the sake of validating feelings because we like cookies (yes, cookies!). But nobody is feeling good, or even better. They aren’t helping anyone heal!

Something magical happens when your spouse dies (or insert other person close to you here _____). You get attention, and that attention takes the place of your spouse. That black hole of grief swirls around in front of you, daring you to step into it, it beckons you, “Come in, it’s warm, cozy, we have cookies!” And I’m not shitting you, there are delicious cookies in that hole! They are brought over by the Casserole Patrol and you eat them, all of them. Everything loses its flavor when your spouse dies except cookies! It is a fact! I am going to do some research to prove it.

I have seen so many people wrap themselves in the warm comfy blanket of Normal Grief and stay there, with their cookies, because the public encourages it, and the attention you receive addictive. The public is afraid to say anything that will get them away from it because of the eventual asshole you become. No one says, “Brush the dust off, your loved one didn’t want this for you. You smell like a goat, take a shower!” I was lucky enough to have those friends, the ones that said, “You smell! Go take a shower! Think about shaving, you look like a Wookie.”

There is a certain point where we don’t need any more cookies. They are unhealthy. We need fruit. The grieving process should take a turn BUT people keep offering cookies, and cookies are good. It’s easy to fall back and say, “Have a cookie.” Because grief is profound and sad, there are tears involved. Nobody likes tears. If you get a good friend that says, “Here is a banana, no more cookies” the widow replies, “I want cookies though.” (Complete with tears, and frowny face). The friend bravely says, “Here’s a delicious salad!” Then the widow says, without fear of judgment or reprisal “Did I mention my fucking husband died!?” (All crazy, and teary eyed!) And here come the cookies. I know because I did it.

Grieving is good for the soul, like a donut. But there is a certain point when grief is unhealthy. Nobody wants to tell you grieving is unhealthy because it’s unkind, and hurtful and honestly, sometimes it’s wrong (I say sometimes because we all know someone who just hangs on because of the attention). Grieving must occur, but it also must abate. We love the phrase “Everyone grieves differently”. Sure they do! They really do! But there are factors that need to be considered. The period of grief is different for everyone. You will think about your loved one everyday, but at some point you have to stop feeding the beast, and switch gears. Your brain needs a break.

Switching off the negative and focusing on something else-the mechanics of your brain at work in another environment different from that of all consuming grief- gives the brain a chance to turn off the grief switch and take a break. It gives the brain a chance to heal. When the brain heals, we can start to get back to life, the life that your loved one would have wanted you to live.

When you have tried all of this, when you have put the cookies down, you’ve gone back to work, you have taken a shower, when you are STILL a mess, go see someone. Stop reading hack articles about how debilitating grief is normal and ask for help (not from anyone who writes for grief magazines, please).

People don’t usually like to admit that they need to see a therapist or a psychiatrist. I’ve heard people say they don’t need help. You can’t always do this yourself. If you are experiencing anything beyond Normal Grief, you need help. There is no shame in getting it. If you had a heart problem, you’d seek help. This is not much different. If you know someone that is having difficulty, don’t encourage them with cookies. Ok, maybe bring them some bananas and some phone numbers. Relate some experiences of your own, or direct them to someone who can relate to them so they can get help. People never know the right things to say to the grief stricken. Be brave. The grief-stricken have a way of alienating others with, “You don’t know what I’m going through!” Maybe that’s true; likely, it’s not. The dead are many, the living are few.

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Don’t be true to yourself, nobody will like you anyway

It’s already December and I just realized it’s been months since I’ve written anything. That’s not entirely true, I’ve written a novel, but it’s so crappy, it’ll take me eleven months to uncrappify it. I haven’t blogged about anything in months. I feel like I’m brain dead and I really hate grammar and punctuation (still).

I was having a discussion the other day about how I don’t use my Facebook page to post anything political, complain much, or really talk about anything of substance at all. People don’t even know if I’m changing my name since Mason and I got married (I am, but after he changes his name) (it’s going to be Shufflebottom) (I’m kidding). After some reflection with several friends, in several, unrelated conversations, it’s probably because I’m a just a terrible person and no one should really know about it.

Everyone says be true to yourself. If being true means being a jerk, you wouldn’t have friends! There was a great blog by Matt Walsh titled “If I can’t accept you at your worst, then maybe you should stop being so horrible” http://themattwalshblog.com/2014/01/23/if-i-cant-accept-you-at-your-worst-then-maybe-you-should-stop-being-so-horrible/ It was spot on!

I’m constantly battling my inner jerk. I’m constantly debating with myself if I’m being a dick, or standing up for myself because someone else is being horrible. I wonder how I can be more kind. I try to understand each person’s situation because lord knows I’ve been wandering around like a zombie some days, not using my manners.

During some of my debates I have a mental checklist I go through that looks something like this:

  • Irritating person has been identified.
  • Is the person really irritating based on preconceived societal notions of appro…is there wine anywhere? This person is so annoying.
  • Have I had carbs today? Maybe I’m just mad because I haven’t had carbs.
  • Nope this person is annoying.
  • Maybe I need a cigarette.
  • Smoking is so bad for you.
  • Smoking is so good for this person because I won’t hurt them.
  • Pretty sure this person is the problem.
  • I might be the problem.
  • My high expectations of others are the problem.
  • If I’m still mad after some carbs the other person is the problem.

There is always some piece of advice out floating around from Mother Teresa about how people are basically jerks and we should love them anyway. Ok, so what if I’m not a jerk? What if the issue is something else?

What if you can’t accept me at my best?

Suppose I’m a successful, kind, philanthropic, well-educated woman, and I’m trying my level best to be the best version of myself. I can’t always be myself then either. I have been in several situations where being myself meant being quiet because no wants to know about how well you’re doing. It means you’re stuck up. I know several of my friends can relate to this, we’ve talked about it. We’ve brunched about it. The population of women (and men) who are accepting of women (or other men) who do well is so small! And I’m not talking about that Pinterest bullshit either. Not the “have it all together make my kids the most amazing lunches and little Jonny speaks 17 languages and I’m a size 00, and love Pilates” Mom. She’s a freak of nature and I’d cry myself to sleep if I met her. I’m trying to teach Gwen French and all she’s managing to learn is how to say, “I farted” and giggle hysterically at her successful pronunciation. I’m quite lucky she hasn’t starved. I digress. I was talking about how freaking awesome I am. Let’s go back to that.

As a successful woman I’ve been rebuked for earning well and having nice cars. I have been working since I was twelve. Sure it was a paper route, I hated it, and I sucked at it too. Pretty sure I got fired from it because no one got a paper in the rain, snow, sun, never mind…It taught me a valuable lesson. Work smarter not harder. Also, actually work! I’ve had some really cool jobs over the years and some awesome side gigs. I’ve been able to do so much, but I won’t talk about it much anymore. I have, on occasion, told a friend or two something awesome I’ve done, and the response was, “I hate you.” So I stopped telling people of my successes. When you do tell people, and they don’t make a big deal of it, if no one else gets excited about your success like you do, there is no point in sharing it. Not because you want people to look at you and be pea green with envy, but because you are happy. You accomplished something, something you thought was unattainable, something you thought was super cool, and you’re all, “SQUEEEE!” in your head but no one else shares your joy.

You try to be a kind person. You try to be charitable, helpful, and supportive. I had another friend tell me once that I shouldn’t support homelessness on the streets as I handed money to a dirty pregnant lady in a parking lot (might I add the pinnacle of being a jerk is getting out of a nice car with a Louis Vuitton, and a Starbucks and passing starving, begging children and pretending like I don’t see them). Maybe they were scamming me. Not my problem. If I lose $5 I can certainly afford it (and that makes me sound like a douche bag too). I used to work, and volunteer with the homeless, and I still help organizations that support the homeless. I have a special place in my heart for them, for so many reasons. I can’t, in good conscience, walk past a mother asking for money with her kids in tow, scam or not. If it’s a scam, shame on her. I have to be a better person, not a worse person, if I am in a position to do something. That something doesn’t stop at $5 either, I understand it’s a Band-Aid on a gaping wound. The profundity of the situation needs more than a paragraph. I could donate to any cause and people criticize that too. I have donated to any number of causes and every single one drew criticism from others. When I donate, it’s my business. It’s my cause for a reason. It’s a personal choice and I support causes I believe in. Every. Single. Time. Someone makes a negative comment if they catch wind that I’ve made a donation. So stupid.

Let’s take a look at well-educated! I started off at community college and I loved it. It was small and unthreatening. I was a terrified teenager, and I had to test the waters. I like school. I’ve been going ever since I got out of high school, off and on, on two continents. I like challenging myself. I enrolled at Harvard and actually did well! I didn’t expect to fail, but I didn’t expect to get A’s, which I did. YAY ME! Now, if I tell anyone that, or perhaps I use verbiage that would indicate I have a command of the English language (which is actually total shit because most of the crap that comes out my mouth are crude remarks anyway) I get so many negative comments about my choice of schools, or the fact that I’ve gone at all from, “You’re a pretentious A-hole!” to my favorite, “You’re prissy!” Who even invented that word? Prissy is as bad as hoist and retort on my list of words that I hate. The point is, when someone tries to better themselves we should share in their joy, cheer them on, not try to tear them down. If someone does something better than us, why can’t we appreciate it?

I’m not even going to get into the comments I get as a woman, because those just piss me off the most and there are women out there who have it far worse than I have. I at least have Louis to cry myself to sleep in. I want to be a huge jerk when I get sexist comment from men, the ones that dismiss my worth entirely because I have a vagina. I want to turn around and make them take it back, which makes me no better. I like to think I have some real zingers. In the spirit of not being an asshole I don’t make them. I really really, really want to be an asshole in these instances though (for the record). I would also like to really, really challenge the comments and ask them to be qualified. The problem is, the people making them probably can’t qualify them. They were raised to devalue women. When these comments come from women too, or are supported by women, I can’t help but think we are the hands that hold us down, perpetuating the same sexist comments that degrade our value based on sex alone because someone, somewhere, told that person, man or woman, that a woman was only good for taking her husband’s money, making him miserable, cleaning the house, and so on and so forth. If, by any chance, they come across a woman who is none of those things, god forbid she be able to defend herself, or be defended, because it’s not the time or the place, or it won’t change anything in the eyes of people who know nothing but the degradation of women. I got into anyway. Sigh.

I just wonder, if I try as hard as I do to not be the horrible person I am deep down, and if the not so horrible “I am actually kinda respectable” me isn’t accepted either (yes, yes I know fuck it just be me blablabla) what does that leave?

I have a few friends that I can go to separately for things, but not collectively. My point is really, have we become such a community of haters that we just hate everyone? I can’t fit comfortably into any one group without being hated for things we should value.

One time, just once, I had brunch with a bunch of amazing women. I went to the brunch not knowing anyone. A few people there didn’t know anyone, and a few knew a few others. Not one woman at the table gave another a dirty look. We all talked about success, Botox, failure, philanthropy, heartbreak, triumph, how we should thrive, and not in a “toot your own horn” kind of way, but in a “what are you doing so I can see if I can help” kind of way. We made jokes about how unPinterest like some of the food looked, how amazing some of it was, I got a buzz, it was like Shangri-La. I wonder why we can’t always be more accepting of each other on a wider scale? Why can’t we accept each other at our best, or at least while we are trying to better ourselves?

I understand the motivations of jealousy, but quite the opposite where did our sense of confidence go? We are too old to be bullies; we are too busy to compete. We should be setting examples and being role models for our children so we don’t raise a bunch of future a-holes, hateful of everyone and incapable of having meaningful and true relationships. We should be more appreciative of others and accepting of our own flaws. There are so many things I suck at, and I try to celebrate those things when someone can do better than I can, like cooking, math, hair, writing, whatever it is. I turn to those people and use them for the masters of the universe they are. We are all suffering from the affliction of humanity. The only person I’m trying to outdo is myself, and laugh along the way, because we don’t get out alive, even if our name is Shufflebottom.

Sweatpants Protection Program

I’m not old, but I’m kinda old, Mason is kinda old. We have both been married to other people for a considerable amount of time. Taking both of those factors into consideration, we understand that we know what we like, what we don’t like, and we know how to compromise. We have both figured out how to maneuver with our idiosyncrasies and what I call the “je ne sais quoi”. There isn’t much we have to maneuver around, we are pretty much the same person with the exception of laundry.

Mason folds laundry. He also has OCD, so I don’t get in the way of his laundry folding tactics, mostly because he has a “t-shirt folder” that is archaic, even the clerks at the Gap would have zero appreciation for it. This thing is so draconian it looks like a torture device. Mason also numbers his socks. Numbering socks is fine, so long as he doesn’t stop numbering them so if I do attempt laundry folding I’m not cursing at socks with no numbers, half numbers, hieroglyphs, and cave drawings. With the utmost respect for his laundry, I just try to avoid touching it. He tries to blame it on Warrant Officer Candidate School and use our friend Mo with her identically anal retentive laundry folding tendencies to validate himself. I’m pretty sure I just made up a new classification term albeit not grammatically correct (or properly punctuated). No matter, it’s still a fact.

One day, during laundry folding duty, Mason approached me, the only pair of sweatpants I own (fitted, lovely, designer sweatpants, mind you) neatly folded, and calmly yet assertively stated, “I hate these!” I stared at him, waiting for the rest of the verbal onslaught against my precious comfy pants. He continued, “They don’t do you justice, you are a beautiful woman and these are horrible! They belong at the bottom of your drawer, if not in the trash entirely. I hate them!” He seemed to be finished.

I took a deep breath, raised my eyebrows as much as my Botox would allow, sighed, and had to explain that these are my period pants. These are the pants I wear when I feel like a balloon, or I have the flu, I’m gross, exhausted, and not even interested in trying. It might be ten at night, I’m tired, and Grey’s Anatomy is queued up on the DVR, I have a bag of Cheetos and I plan to fall asleep with my face in that bag. These are my comfy pants!

Guess what Dear Reader? He did not care! He did not sympathize! He inhaled ready to speak again, and he did! “These pants should ONLY be worn when you have your period, the flu, AND we need to dispose of a body, AND the clothes we are wearing!” My brain immediately went to, “We would never get away with putting our recycling in the wrong bin let alone a body!” but alas, that did not matter! Mason kept talking! “I wouldn’t DARE give you fashion advice. I am the LAST person to even call themselves fashionable…” While he was still talking I wasn’t listening, I was remembering the time I might have told him to leave a shirt here that might have found it’s way into the fire pit. In my defense, and the defense of that shirt, it was a nineteen eighty-horrendous era, acid wash, v-neck, freak show that he acquired about five years ago. It HAD to go. I gave it the most Viking like send off I could. To be honest he had two. I think the other one ran for its life over to the Goodwill shop, which explains why I saw them burning things just last month.

Back to Mason and what has become his soliloquy on my period pants. I had gone back in time one year, reminisced, destroyed offensive shirts, had a Viking funeral, and returned to present day. He was still talking, now apologizing for ending a sentence with a preposition. How I wish I were paying more attention! He is such a fine speaker, and he apologizes more than necessary because his speech was more amusing than it was objectionable. He was making his stand!

“If these ever go missing, I disavow all knowledge of it!” Harrumphing away to gently put my sweats near my dresser. What a gentleman. Such a fine man; he was careful to fold my despised sweats, and gingerly put them back, despite his abhorrence for them. Regardless, I am soon to be without comfy pants.

Or maybe not.

A few days later, Mason proudly emerged from his closet in HIS period pants. He would never call them that; he called them his ugly pants. Ugly indeed. They are Nike sweatpants that look like they were designed to be the “comfortable version of Class A dress pants”, (his words) in blue with a yellow stripe down the side leg. My mind went crazy. This was my chance to make a stand for my period pants, and win. He lovingly referred to their relaxed fit, elasticity (despite the lack of elastic for maybe five years), and all their other various virtues while I just wallowed in what I thought was my period pants victory. Then he said it was time to throw them away. “NOOOO!” came out in a slow motion scream I couldn’t even stop. He had to keep them! If he kept them, I could keep mine. He took them off, and like a nineteen eighty-horrendous era b grade action television show, I leaped over furniture, still in slow motion, my bed head hair looking like a mullet, arms stretched, rolling through the air like a member of the A-team, the theme music from Charlie’s Angels playing in my head, grabbed the pants, and ran a whole three feet to hide them, and save them. Quid pro quo, Clarice. quid pro quo.

Nothing takes the place the sweats, not even leggings! He’ll never take them alive.

Sprechen Ze Driver’s Ed?

I had no idea where this month’s post was going to take me. Then “Snookums” struck again. She is our neighbor across the street. She is in her late teens, or early twenties, no idea. She is usually unkempt, random facial piercings, a smattering of tattoos, and always in sweats. For years, she has been up to pure shenanigans, driving donuts in my perfectly manicured suburban lawn, backing into my mailbox, and my favorite, tripping balls on my front porch during my yearly Black Friday extravaganza.

There is really no effective way to organize this blog, so stick with me. It’s a little craziness with a dash of unorganized thoughts, rolled up into a pinch of pure “where is this going?” Much like my atrocious punctuation, this is going to be terrible.

Several years ago, on Black Friday, I went on my midnight madness shopping blitz (like I do every year), then manically decorate with $.99 poinsettias. After the blitz, I passed out from exhaustion. This particular year, at approximately four in the morning, our doorbell rang frantically, there was screaming coming from outside, and the dogs were barking hysterically. We woke up in a sheer panic! I loaded the gun, and braced for whatever ungodly thing was on the other side of the door. I cracked the door, gun in hand, and saw “Snookums”, screaming, wild eyed, dialing 911, and begging for help. My now late husband, Trent, said, “Don’t open the door, it’s a trap!” I passed him the gun saying, “It’s a teenager. Make some coffee.” I went outside and sat with her while she freaked out, continuously dialing 911 until the entire emergency services department arrived, bathing my poinsettias in glorious floodlights. Trent passed me a cup of coffee, locked the door, and went back to bed. I stood outside for another forty-five minutes with “Snookums” while she repeatedly dialed 911 (with all of 911 already there) and waited patiently with her. I thought, “If this were my daughter I’d want someone to be with her.” They eventually transported her to the hospital, but not before my next door neighbors woke up, ran outside, screaming, in their underwear, trying to free “Snookums” from the cop car, thinking it was someone else. Who they thought it was I’ll never know. How they didn’t wake up with all the commotion going on for nearly an hour, I’ll never know. I just know that I love suburbia. I stood there, sipping my coffee, laughing. People running in underwear always amuses me.

Fast forward to today. As I pondered what I would write about, my friend, Mo, brought me a cappuccino (no good deed goes unpunished, Dear Reader). My Wi-Fi is off for several hours while we have our upstairs painted. I’m like a caveman. All I have is a laptop with nothing but Word! I thought by the end of this post my laptop would be on fire with a set of wheels, and crude drawings etched into the cover. If this blog was going to contain anything I should fact check, I can’t. This is the perfect opportunity to make things up, and make up some back up facts, maybe throw in a statistic to make it seem legit.

We are having the bonus room turned into a room we can use. For about as long as I can remember it’s been a storage room. By storage I mean garbage. Everything that doesn’t have a proper place goes in there. Someone is coming over? Quick clean up entails throwing excess stuff into the bonus room stairwell. At some point, the excess makes it way upstairs and just sits in the middle of the floor. Did we go shopping? Buy too much? Was there something on sale I didn’t need but bought anyway? Holiday decorations that used to be organized in the crawl-space? Gwen has too many toys? Put them in the bonus room! We have a trampoline in there! It sits right next to Jimmy Hoffa. Mystery solved. 

So the bonus room is getting a makeover, and I have no internet. It’s like being unsupervised! What did I do before 1993? When was the internet invented? Right now I’m going with 1993. 83% of Americans would agree with me.

If it was 1993, I’ll be honest, I’d be pranking someone. I want to do it now! I have mentioned to my friends, and even Mason, that we should buy a burn phone, and just prank people that irritate me, like my crazy neighbors. Of all the things “Snookums” has done, I’ve just stood there, shaking my head, and walking back in the house. Why? Because you just can’t fight with stupid people. It’s like administering medicine to the dead. It does nothing. I might be less uptight and not want to prank people if I drank more, but responsible parenting has to start somewhere, lord knows it’s not with my high level of maturity. These kids always need clean clothes, food, and they seem to think coming to me for guidance is a good idea. I might prank them first! 

My best coping skill is staying in my house with the shades drawn. I’m not sure why they are outside, in the center of middle class suburbia, in the their underwear, throwing cheese in the street, but they are! I wish I made that up! I wish I got my phone out to take video before they stopped because everyone who just read that does not believe it happened. Her bra was blue. 83% of Americans will back me up on that. This happened just yesterday!

As I sat, drinking cappuccino, and cabitzing with Mo, I underestimated the power of my neighbor’s endless shenanigans. My doorbell rang. It was “Snookums”, clean, showered, clothed, and apologizing (which didn’t even happen when she turned my lawn into Krispy Kreme). “Da fuck?” I’m already confused. She backed out of the driveway and hit Mo’s car. My face dropped. 

Let me tell you about Monique. She is a beautiful person. She is kind, she is loving, she drove all the way over here to bring me cappuccino. She is magnanimous, animated, fun, and just wonderful. She will drop anything to help a friend in need, a stranger in need, she may also drop “Snookums” like a WWF smack down and my kitchen just became the Gorilla Position. Mo does not take shit.

For all the times this girl has done something goofy, and cursed people out, driving off, tires flaming, she is standing on my porch looking truly contrite. Mo is intuitive, picks up on it, and comes outside as the kind, understanding person, not “Mo the Masher”. She tells the young lady it will be OK, we’ve all done it, and begins to exchange insurance information. “Snookums” tells us she should have known better, she was nervous, on her way to take the GED test, and didn’t even think. We begin to wish her luck on her test and enter stage left, her mother. “Snookums’ Mom” is German, the kind of German from actual Germany with a German accent; not like I’m German because four generations ago my family came over on a boat and we speak perfect New Jersey.

Mama starts yelling that it’s all Mo’s fault, she shouldn’t have parked her van where she did. My thought process goes something like this: “Why is she in a mumu? Why is she in a short mumu? I’m going to start calling her Mrs. Roper. I hope Mo starts yelling in Dutch. Oh shit! Are we going to reenact WWII?” I look over at Mo and she is calm and breathing. Mama is still yelling, now at me. “Beth you better tell your friends that they can’t park there, this is all their fault! Your husband parks there too! I’m going to park there to prove how hard it is to back out with a car parked there! This is all your fault!”

Since Mason and I aren’t married yet my thought process continued on, this time down the line of, “I didn’t know Trent could drive? He’s been dead for over two years. If he could drive, I’d sure like him to run to the store for me, I’m out of milk.” 

She continued to yell and take pictures from the porch, in her mumu, while her daughter, embarrassed and apologetic, left for school. We wished her good luck, more so with her mom than her test.

Mo and I came inside to call her husband, the insurance company, and talk to the contractors for a minute. Mama moved her car to the end of her driveway in silent protest of our audacity to park in the street. She’s really teaching us a lesson there. If only I had a burn phone, I could teach her one too! Because man, if her refrigerator is running, she should go catch it!

 

The Death Blog

The anniversary of Trent’s death is tomorrow. Many of my friends know, they remember that horrible week, two years ago, when Trent died at Walter Reed from wounds he received in Afghanistan. Since you know what this month’s topic is, this is your chance to run screaming to another blog, a safe one, one that talks about fluffy bunnies, rainbows, and unicorns. I am going to talk about Death.

Several people have asked me how I was/am able to handle the death of my husband. The answer is easy, really; the process was not easy, do not mistake the two. Two things came into play with Trent’s death: 9 years of preparation and 9 years of anticipatory grief. *I am going to add a caveat here that I am not implying that the grief process is over. Let’s get that out of the way, that and I know I randomly put commas in any place I feel, like, putting them so please, I already, know that too. ,

In 2002 when we learned that Trent was going to deploy for the first time, to Iraq, I lost my emotional shit. I expected him to die the minute he hit the ground there. I was a wreck, I was also pregnant with Gwen, living overseas, and coped the only way I knew how: cry, and eat bread (and ice cream, and butter, lots and lots of butter). Trent came home with a paper to plan his funeral in the event that he died, I soaked my tears up with bread, and kept my mouth shut by chewing said bread, so I could just nod, “Yes, the wooden coffin would be fine.” None of this was fine. I was terrified. As soon he left I was on my knees, in a kitchen no bigger than my bathroom here, bawling my eyes out, convinced I’d never see him again. I was in my twenties. This was a process most people go through in their later years.

That deployment taught me so much, mostly about myself, patience, and how much bread I could eat (it’s a lot).

In 2003, Trent decided he wanted a Green Beret. He went through the selection process, and had a choice to go to school right away, or do one more deployment with his current unit, which was the best field artillery regiment ever. We were all very close, the Families, the Soldiers, it was a great unit, so we stayed one more year.

I was working at the time, one of my duties was to assist with casualty affairs. I also volunteered for the Family Readiness Group (FRG). We lost quite a few Soldiers from the get go. The deployment to Iraq didn’t bear many casualties, certainly not many “close to home” as they say. I think many of us expected this deployment to go similarly. We started losing people right away, people with Families, on post, our next-door neighbors, and our colleagues. The memorial services were frequent, and heart breaking. Early on in the deployment (let’s say month two out of twelve) one spouse changed the way I handled the way I helped Families then and in the future. 

I was working, assisting with casualties affairs when Mrs. X came in with a binder. We usually go to the Families. Her husband had been killed days earlier, and I had to meet with her to help process her paperwork to receive benefits. When a Soldier dies, one of the first things we do is process payments for the Family so they can feed their children, pay their mortgage, pay for their car, and so on. Payments happen quickly because they need to. Funeral planning also happens quickly because it needs to. The military world is different from the civilian world, the military comes to you with funeral planning. If a death occurs, you don’t have to go to your local funeral home and seek out someone to take care of the details, the military comes to the Family, and assists you with every aspect of planning. The Family member needs to have so much paperwork in order, yet they are grieving, in shock, where the hell is the marriage license? Who knows, you can’t even find a tissue! In the early years of the war, even now, Families don’t expect this. They often feel surprised, and rushed by the process.

Mrs. X came to me, to my surprise, with a binder. I was a bit shocked that she walked into my office, and had everything she needed. She walked in, beautiful, put together, hair done, eyes red. She had every piece of paperwork needed to complete her benefits, everything. Her husband had sat down with her, and not only planned his funeral, but organized all of his paperwork for the next step (ID cards, veteran’s benefits for the children, financial planning, everything else). I was in awe.

I took that binder idea to my FRG and encouraged our Families to put something similar together. When we transferred to Fort Bragg, I got a job working with Families and encouraged them to do the same. For years I had a binder, updated it, took it to meetings and trainings, taught Families about the process, educated them about the casualty process, let them know it was OK to ask the tough questions (like the money questions). I encouraged them to be familiar with timelines, plan the funeral, know where everything is. This knowledge, this familiarity allows you to grieve, not search for paperwork and panic at a time when you don’t even remember to buy toilet paper.

No one wants to think about death. This is not something you want to be prepared for. It’s negative, it’s painful, people run screaming from you like Joe Dirt, “I got the Death on me!” I can tell you all something you already know but I’ll not. I think it’s obnoxious when people do the whole, “We are all going to die” routine, because insert a big, “No shit” here and a, “How is that helpful?” over here. “Be prepared for death” is helpful.

Every time Trent left, every single time, we planned his funeral. By the ninth time we did that the thing was nine pages long, I thought I would be the one dying filling in the blanks. Once, I even tried to get the Department of the Army to simplify it and make it a DD form! Every unit has a version from two pages to thirteen (Rangers Lead the Way!) Cumbersome! Trent is already dead and I’m STILL complaining about that damn form! Here is where I want this blog to go viral and someone at DA to say, “OHHH let’s DO THIS!” I have big dreams. I also digress.

The day I was notified of Trent’s injury, it didn’t go quite as I imagined. Yes, I imagined it. Trent and I joked that my hair wouldn’t be done and the house would be a mess. When the notification team came to my house (it was clean) I opened the door for them, I noticed the welcome home wreath I had made for Trent, anticipating his arrival home. He was supposed to redeploy soon and I was excited. I passed the wreath and shook my head, “Stupid Fucking Wreath”. My sister, always my best friend and biggest supporter had made one for her home in Maine. When I told her about the “Stupid Fucking Wreath” she said, “Fuck that wreath, I tore mine down and drove over that stupid fucking thing with the car!” Everyone grieves differently. 

I was able to call my friends and have them come to the house after I was notified. I didn’t have any family in the area. They asked what they could do, and I asked one of them to get my binder. It was in my office, I had just done a training and used it. Most of my friends are in the business of helping prepare Families for this very thing too. One of them even brought Gwen a backpack for our expected trip to meet with Trent. This is just what we do.

Trent didn’t only plan his funeral, he planned all of his end stages. I am glad we had had those tough conversations because he was in a coma, he couldn’t talk, I had to talk for him. He had spoken at length about his wishes. He had been deployed so many times, on countless training missions, and quite frankly, the drivers in this town suck so badly, the chances of him getting run over were pretty high too. This was our reality. It’s all of our realities. He had said he wanted Gwen and I at his bedside to say goodbye if that were ever the case. He wanted to donate all of his organs if possible. He had a living will and did not want to be on life support. He planned every single detail, down to the letter. When the unit notified me of his injury, and told me he was not going to live, I was able to tell them what he wanted. I was able to talk to his doctors, talk to Gwen when she had questions, I was able to execute his last wishes without wondering what he wanted, and I could cry in peace, my only search being for tissues.

I cried so much in the nine years prior to his death, I was able to keep it together for all the other people I had to comfort, because that happens too. I shouldn’t have to comfort other people I was told, but it happens. Trent had friends. They were grieving. We grieved together. Friends of mine that didn’t know Trent grieved for me, for Gwen. I had to talk to Gwen about her father because she had questions, and you can’t hide things from that kid. As much as I wished I had a child that was oblivious, I was blessed with an intuitive child that seems to know everything. It’s unnerving. I leaned heavily on the tears I had already cried to try to keep it together long enough to function as I had to. I had to function. I had to make decisions for Trent, I had to talk to his doctors, I had to be able to take care of myself, and Gwen during the process. I was able to do all of that because I was prepared. It didn’t stop the grief; it allowed me to grieve. It allowed me to get up every morning, go to the hospital, talk to the organ donation team, his doctors, the paperwork people, the family, every other person that seemed to materialize, and then go back to Gwen every night and hug her and hold her. I had plenty of time to face plant and attend what we started calling “Lilith Fair” (that grieving period when you don’t shave, or shower, listen to Sarah McLachlan’s sad songs about Angels and shit, and ugly cry) after all the work was done.

Being prepared helps you grieve, plain and simple. You don’t waste time stressing over details, you don’t waste time questioning your decisions, or searching for paperwork. Does it take the sting away? Nope. Does it soften the blow any? Perhaps if you consider it an expected death it does. Many military spouses will tell you that you live each day of a deployment near your phone waiting to hear from your loved one. I would get an email every four days and reset my clock. Being prepared allows you to face plant and go to Lilith Fair, and not cry because where the hell is the marriage license? 

There are so many things that go along with the death of a spouse, that at the very least, the preparations make room for the more important things. Make that room. Spend time with that sorrow, cherish the heartbeat while you can feel it, the arms around you while you have them, because when they are gone, you will have those memories to comfort you.

I really could be more weird, if I just figured out how!

Our travels have taken us to “Alabama the Beautiful”. We are out here visiting Mason while he is in training for two, long months. Gwen and I came out here and planned a few trips around this trip, since we were in the area (are you following that confusion?). While we are out in Alabamastan, we decided to go to New Orleans for the first time and, also take a beach trip to Panama City Beach, Florida.

We left home for what seemed like “the longest drive ever” to Alabama. After the trip from Kansas to North Carolina, I really thought driving through Missouri was “the longest drive ever” but, I was wrong. It was this one. Mason said, “It’s about an eight drive so it should take you twelve hours to get here.” WHAT? Oh no! I am a firm believer in, “I’ll take my chances developing a blood clot and not drink anything and drive straight through, only stopping for gas, and speeding as much as I can get away with.” I am also a firm believer in run on sentences with terrible punctuation.

Twelve hours later and one stop for gas, we were at Fort Rucker.

Anyone who has read any of these blogs before, or follows us on the Facebook, knows that we are not unfamiliar with strange situations. Passing three naked people on the side of Route 29 in Alabama was not a shock. It wasn’t an indication of passing into the twilight zone either. I have friends from here. They have theories about fighting naked (to win), because you take your enemy by surprise! While they stare, in shock, at you, coming at them, naked, you strike and win! Seems legit. 

We made it to post and stopped for gas, almost there! I made the mistake of going the wrong direction down an aisle in the parking lot. A man hollered at me, I apologized (sincerely, mind you) but he just kept yelling. Well hell, what kind of penance do these people require? Mason told me he had been exposed to some very grouchy people here. I thought he was exaggerating. If this keeps up I won’t be able to keep my middle finger to myself or, my mouth shut. Day one and I already know it’s a matter of time before I start telling people that their mama’s should have taught them to accept a sincere apology graciously.

Day two, we went out into town (there should be air quotes around the word town, can you see them?) and there were more grumpy people. I’m starting to wonder what’s in the water here. I might want to rethink doing a blog about Assholes (capital A intentional). The place is run down. I’m saying “der-a-lee-kt” in my head like Zoolander did. I’m also surmising that people here don’t have anything, not because they are poor, but because there is nothing to have. Nothing. 

There is Booyah here (capital B intentional). I beg Mason to take me to the Indian/Greek karaoke restaurant. I’m wondering what kind black magic is in there! He swears it’s just curry and gyros but I’m thinking Tandoori Spanakopita and Bon Jovi on a Thursday night. That, dear readers, is my idea of a good time!

A few days pass by, mostly helping Mason with laundry and getting his car fixed (yawn) and he promises me vindaloo gyros next week. Since he’s not one to disappoint and, I need things to be excited about, like Disney trips, this is the next best thing. I wait. There is a Boll Weevil Monument here “from a grateful community for all the Boll Weevil has done” and I immediately picture citizens bowing down to this bronze god in the middle of town. It’s covered in pink sparkly ribbon. I am in awe. #bollweevilnation is a REAL thing! Awe. 

Gwen and I headed out to New Orleans a day before Mason could go. We were going to meet BFF Nina for a long weekend of voodoolicious adventure. Gwen and I ended up on what is NOW “the longest drive ever” thanks to traffic and downpours. All checked in, ready for booyah, we headed out to eat.

We had a reservation at Emeril’s (because we are tourists) and decided to walk. The Google said it was one mile away, it ended up being five hundred miles but that’s ok; we needed the exercise (in patience, humility, persistence, and we really could have been awarded a girl scout survival badge for even getting there because we ended up covered in mud and, Gwen almost ate bugs and drank from a fountain). It was also five thousand degrees and, so humid it was like breathing underwater. We made it to the restaurant, smelling like goats, because my deodorant gave up the minute I got out of the car. This was gearing up to the best trip ever.

Mason arrived the next day, we toured the cemetery where the “Voodoo Queen”, Marie Laveau is buried, shopped for antiques, ate more amazing food, experienced life as smelly goats again, and had our Tarot cards read by a gay, cowboy, mystic (because being seen by the “World Famous Voodoo Bone Lady” was too obvious AND she had a really long line). He told me I was basically perfect but, I should be “more weird”. Forever more, I will use that gay, cowboy, mystic to validate life choices down the path of “more weird”. I haven’t figured out how yet and, maybe I never will. Maybe that Voodoo Bone Lady had a longer line because she finished her sentences. No telling. 

Mason had to leave the next day so Gwen, Nina and, I took a Vampire walking tour. I have not seen such hokey bullshit since…well, never. “Fabio the vampire wannabe tour guide” had women’s white stretch pajama jeans on and, used an “Army buddy, Airborne” to validate a story about vampires. Ha. Hahaha. Hahahahaha. That was cute. Three trashy young ladies that had made some poor choices in tattoos and, drugstore hair dye totally fell for it and, hung all over him. Nina and I got our money’s worth watching THAT show more than the “real vampires of New Orleans” tour. OH and the muppets have been teaching us how to ward off vampires for years, so you know. The count is for real! He counts because he has OCD so make sure to keep a pocket of rice to throw for vampires to stop and count. I just saved ya’lls lives AND twenty-five bucks (twenty-three if you book in advance). You are welcome!

We are back at Fort Rucker, letting the bugs enjoy us. The gate guards are nasty, the people are grumpy, and I’m still just wondering why they are all so ruined. I ran into another grumpy person at the gym and was tempted to ask him WHY is he so grumpy. Heat makes people crazy, not grumpy. I am going to ask the next person, I’ve already warned Mason. I almost can’t wait to meet another Asshole! Stay tuned!

Gwen and I are going to continue biding our time watching shark movies and waiting for Sharknado 2 to come on. That is ALL there is to do here. On the bright side, Gwen is now a SyFy shark movie aficionado. What more could you want your ten year old to be? 

I can do anything through Motrin that heals me

This blog has become an update on what’s going on with the McDonald-Trent state of the union. I might as well keep that up since I really don’t have anything else to write about. I’m sure I could if I climbed out from under the rock I’ve been trapped under for the last three months, but I can’t lift it for SO many reasons.

We are trapped under the weight of everything we moved from Kansas and weights, literally, because I started weight lifting, actual weights, and not my fork. Yes, the kind of weights you find in a gym. The kind of gym that requires membership, drive in your car to gym…has anyone that knows me regained their composure yet? I’m moving on.

So we moved half way across the country and survived the drive. I think there were only one or two towns that looked suspiciously like, “The Hills Have Eyes” towns, or that town from the blockbuster Paris Hilton movie, “House of Wax”. There was no traffic, no incidents, got a little out of the way once, no terribly drastic weather for more than twenty minutes. It was an uneventful drive. The worse thing that happened was that we didn’t eat in any major cities (very disappointing for us). We were threatened by cannibalism only once because of it, but recovered with the help of warm, two week old snacks that we found under a seat. Pork rinds are delicious. 

Once we arrived at home number two, we got a storage unit, and dumped everything in there. Best way ever to avoid unpacking for three out of four of us. Gwen seemed to arrive in Kansas with two suitcases and back in North Carolina with three suitcases, four very large Rubbermaid bins, three large purses, a stuffed pillow case, and a hammock.

Now that we have successfully avoided unpacking and pretending like we own nothing more than what already exists in this house, the movers called to remind us we had another truckload on the way. Crap.

We had the moving company meet us at the storage unit and dump everything else in there. We brought some stuff back to the house all of this is really boring and just results in more unpacking and a lot of mess. What’s really exciting is that Mason and I managed to gain a lot of weight with some very unhealthy eating habits, and adding a margarita a day to those! Why margaritas have to have a THOUSAND calories in them I will never know!

Mason likes to work out but hadn’t since he got home from the Stan. Mason also likes to take a lot supplements and things like protein and more supplements. We like to do things together. Let’s join a gym! Terrible idea. I’m a “let’s spend 10 minutes on the track, at two miles an hour, and go get a taco” girl!

Mason lifts really heavy weights, and drinks protein but doesn’t smell like a garbage truck. I cry over three pound weights, he coddles me, let’s me give up, gives me protein, and I smell like a garbage BARGE that’s been set on FIRE. This is fantastic. Reeally bad plan. I now hate the world and think starving is my best option to get my wingspan triceps to be smaller. instead of giving up and hiding under my bed (plan A), I hire a trainer (plan Z). How did we get from A-Z? B-Y were just really good excuses but not good enough to actually work. We also tell another friend who is a supplier of supplements, and really really supportive of weight loss, that we would like help. 

We join the gym, we hire the trainer, the supplements are in the mail, but wait! There’s more! Mason has supplements, the trainer has supplements, everyone has supplements! They are everywhere! I have the first meeting with the trainer, and by meeting, I mean torture session, and the only supplement I want is motrin when I’m done. Four sessions later the only supplement I still want is motrin. I am typing this with my teeth and a pencil. Impressive huh? 

The punisher asked me what exercises I’ve done; I gave her a blank stare. I’m not lying when I tell you, dear reader, that I can’t even spell exercise. Thank you Oprah for auto correct! I didn’t even get close enough on my first try for auto correct to come close to the right suggestion. It only suggested “excursions”.

Two weeks into my fitness misadventure and all I’ve learned is that every machine looks the like the rack, feels like the rack, and my tears taste like a protein shake. I’ve not gained enough muscle or lost enough weight to be happy with any progress or lack thereof for all the pain I’m in (and yes, I’m already pretty certain I AM doing it wrong). I told my trainer I needed a safe word; it was her turn to return the blank stare, and I wasn’t the least bit surprised!

I’m pretty sure a quick study on how to avoid vanity and throwing away mirrors (along with the clothes that don’t fit) will be much more effective and much less painful!