Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Pick Me Up

Sometimes, on some days, you need something to make you smile. Today is one of those days.

I didn't get or find any of these flowers today, but they're a nice reminder that beauty can be found in a handheld bouquet or growing right outside your window.

From husband.

From Aunt Mary.

From the ground outside our front door.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Boy Intro #1

My world revolves around my three boys – none of whom are “boy” aged and none of whom quite appreciate their “boy” status. I tend not to care too much about this. When you’re the lone female in the nuclear family, you get special permission to refer to all other members as boys, which of course implies they require looking after. To be clear: I truly believe that any of my three boys would be fine without me. There are no notions of grandeur that go along with playing mother hen to them. But I do believe that boys (ok, men) sometimes need a little looking-after by a responsible woman. I also believe that many responsible women prefer to rely on a man for certain things when possible. (In my case, that would be things related to cars, a few animals I’m irrationally scared of, and cleaning the bathrooms in our house.)

My husband, TJ, is a studly gentleman who I’ve been with for more than seven years. We met during our first year of college and began dating our second year. After more than three years of dating, he proposed over dinner; two years after that, we were married. Though I’ve loved him for quite awhile, our love really went untested until my mom’s diagnosis. It’s easy to be in love when everything around you is easy, too.

My mom was diagnosed less than three months before our wedding. In the course of one week, I went from “Should I wear heels or flats?” to “Should we move the wedding up or push it back?” It was not a comfortable decision to make. At the time of her diagnosis, we were told that if chemotherapy wasn’t effective almost immediately, she could be gone within 3 months. By moving up the wedding, we would forfeit all our idealized planning for the sake of having my mom present – something she didn’t want us to do. Then there was the idea to push the wedding back a few months. If chemo was working, she might be able to Cupid Shuffle at the wedding like we’d talked about for the last year or so… but we also ran the risk that she might be taken too soon and not see us marry at all.

Many men might try to dictate the best thing to do. Others might shut their mouths and leave the decision completely up to the woman. For me, the right response was to help me weigh the pros and cons, and to serve as a voice of reason and level-headedness when my mind was too clouded with despair to make a rational decision. And that’s exactly what TJ did. While supporting me through whatever emotion I was feeling, he was also crunching numbers, figuring out how much money we could lose by changing the date. He was coming up with solutions to get my mom in and out of a church or reception hall in whatever state of mobility she was in. He was telling our family and friends to stand-by for possible last-minute wedding changes.

We eventually decided to leave the wedding right where it was and take our chances. We were taking our chances no matter which option we went with, so we kept to our middle-ground and left things as they were. And then just three days before the wedding, we received a miracle – the news that my mom’s chemo was not only working, but that she was coming home from the hospital. Though she wasn’t strong enough to walk down the long aisle at St. Teresa, she could be pushed down it in a wheelchair.

Cancer continued to test the bonds of our relationship after the wedding. As my mom swung back-and-forth between “the cancer is stable” and “the cancer is spreading” I spent varying amounts of time with my family in my childhood home. I spent days, nights, weekends there. And in truth, it maybe wasn’t fair to TJ. For the first year of his marriage, I wasn’t necessarily all there. It may have been selfish of me not to give it all up for marriage, but it’s incredible how consuming cancer can be. Nearly every decision we made had to take the cancer into account: “Should we go away for the weekend when her condition could worsen?” “Do I have time to stop for a visit with my mom before we go to your game?” “Can we stop at the grocery and pick up more food for her?” And through it all, he was exactly what I needed, and what my family needed. He cared very deeply for my family as a unit and my mom individually. He cared enough to empathize with us and feel with us, but was able to remain practical and rational when the rest of us were crashing.

When she passed away, he gently led me through day-to-day life until I was ready to push myself through it on my own. He tolerated my hours in bed crying, soothed and consoled family members at her funeral services and wrote thank you notes to people who sent condolences when my hand and mind were too exhausted and overwhelmed to do anything.

We had a life together before my mom had cancer; we had a life together while she had cancer; and we have a life together now that she’s gone. He has managed to adapt gracefully – consistently being just what I need even when I can’t articulate it. Everyone deals with “baggage” in a relationship. For some it’s past relationships or children; for others it’s the way they were raised or a situation they’ve endured. My baggage is that I’m grieving, even now. It’s a hard baggage for a spouse to deal with, because it’s not always obviously present. Little things, like the sight of her photo, the scent of fresh laundry, seeing her favorite shade of blue, can set me off. It takes a very strong man to not just deal with that, but to embrace it and let me feel the things I need to feel. That Teej has got it goin’ on.

On our wedding day. Happy.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Breathe In, Breathe Out

The last week has been absolute chaos. Although I never wrote about it, I did in fact pick up my MBA last Saturday.

My fantastic father, wearing Xavier U blue at my graduation.

The husband is grinning. I think it's because now that I'm done with school,
there's a better chance I'll cook dinner more than once a week.

TJ took me to dinner the night before with one of my best friends and her husband. It was very sweet and we had a great time over dinner and drinks. I (briefly) felt excited to be graduating. By the next morning though, my excitement was replaced with general bummy-ness. The combination of graduating without my mom + Mother’s Day weekend was just a little too much. It was a struggle to get in the car and drive to campus for graduation… but I guess I won’t ever regret having done it.

As soon as the graduation “festivities” ended, I turned my attention to another project that consumed every unscheduled minute for the next week. This project was executed yesterday, and I should have final results to write about in the next few days.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Celebrate We Will

Tomorrow, I will graduate with an MBA. This degree is more than three years in the making, and while I’m thrilled to be finished with school (forever!) it’s bittersweet, too.

When I finished undergrad in 2007, I decided I was DONE with school. I had a job waiting for me that I was already qualified for. In fact, I work for a company where, once you’re in the door, it doesn’t really matter much if you go back for additional schooling. It might help you understand the business better or improve your skills, but there’s no immediate impact in the form of say a promotion or pay raise. The company does, however, pay for some of your schooling if you choose to return. Nice, but not for me. I thought.

A year later, one of my best friends (who works for the same company) returned to Xavier University to get her MBA. She was motivated, seemed to enjoy school, and became quite persistent in “recruiting” me. I resisted for awhile. Then I made the mistake of telling my mom about my friend’s efforts and she immediately jumped on the bandwagon.

“You’ll never regret getting it, but you might regret it if you don’t.”
“Once you start a family, it will only get harder to go back.”
“You’re smart, Kate – it won’t be that hard!”

And sure enough, in January 2009, I found myself sitting in a classroom, wishing I was at home or at work or at dance or anywhere else. If I’m completely honest, I never really did get into the groove of school. I did what I needed to do to get by with a 3.5 GPA, no more and no less. But in spite of my ambivalent attitude, my mom remained my biggest cheerleader. She asked about my classes and teachers, if I was making friends, how were my grades. She believed in the power of education, and was so proud of her kids for continuing theirs beyond high school. My younger brother is wrapping up his fourth year at another college, preparing to start on his fourth major next year, and likely has two years to go – but he keeps at it because it’s what she wanted. And so did I. We keep at these things because we know it’s what she wanted. And like any goody-two-shoes kids, still under their mother’s spell, we continue in education.

Tomorrow will not be easy. My husband and father will be there to celebrate with me while my brother works. Celebrations feel different without her though. And the notion that the person who ultimately convinced me to go back won’t get to see me graduate in person is a little heart-wrenching. But celebrate we will.

Graduating with my B.S. in Business Administration
with Mom, Zach & Pops

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Is Someone Getting the Best of You?

How come some girls/women let men who aren’t worthy get the best of them?

In a conversation today (I’m providing no details on the off-chance someone I know someday finds out about this blog), I learned that someone’s boyfriend is up to some shady business. Evidently, it’s apparent to everyone around except her. This girl is fantastic. She’s smart, sweet, good at her job, well-respected, pretty, etc. And yet she puts up with crap from a guy who doesn’t deserve her.

I dated the same guy through most of high school. He was nearly three years older than me – a nightmare to some parents, but given that mine were 17 years apart in age, they didn’t have much to say about it. A lot of that was because this guy was good, though. He was very smart, very responsible, totally had his life together. He treated me well, and I’m grateful for the time we spent together. We decided together to end our relationship for good after about three years, when I was a freshman in college

After him, I began dating a guy attending the same school as me, and things were great for awhile. This guy was beyond charming. In retrospect, that was the biggest thing he had going for him. I was smitten. He was the opposite of my high school boyfriend – outgoing, into concerts and parties and going out – and he showered me with attention. For awhile. Without going into a ton of detail, I eventually learned that there were other girls spending time with him, that he was experimenting with drugs and that he’d been fired from his job due to some questionable behavior. I agreed to give him a month to get his shiz together, which was not the right decision. I had to get out. Being alone was better than being loved (loved?) by someone not worthy.

When I ended it for good, I decided to leave the dorms and spend the night back at my parents’ house. I walked in the door after 11 on a Saturday night. My mom met me in the hallway and I told her I’d ended the relationship with the boyfriend. She hugged me tightly and then gave me space – she was there, ready to talk, but not pushing the issue. Eventually I spilled the details of the relationship and how it had turned south. And she told me to never settle for less than I deserve. “You have so much to offer, Kate – don’t give it to someone who won’t be grateful.” My next choice was my best choice. I began dating my husband a few months later.

One of the best things parents can do is help their children understand their value. I don’t think I’m the best at anything: I’m smart, but was never a 4.0 student; I’m strong and active, but never played on a select sports team; I’m a talented dancer, but never the star of the show. But I do know that I am valuable because I’m good and I have something to offer. A good mother instills this in her children, and so I say “thank you, Mom,” wherever you are up in heaven now.

Me with the man who was worthy.
He's also cute.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Nonsense Title

I spent a fair amount of time dreaming up a title for this blog… which is surprising since it ended up just being a combination of words that have meaning to me.  Seems like hours of thought should’ve resulted in something catchy or witty, but in the end a “word salad” title felt best. And it’s really quite simple.

Blue: my mom’s favorite color, a word that sounds lovely when you say it… and an accurate description of my state-of-mind after losing her

Love: a word frequently used in my house growing up, a word signed at the end of every birthday card my parents ever gave me, a word that eventually became the only signature needed at the end of our emails, a word I had tattooed on my right forearm in her handwriting one year after she passed

Notebook: no special meaning here, just like the word better than journal or blog

I didn’t want to choose a title that would pigeon-hole this blog into something. If you title your blog “Unending Posts Questioning the Fairness of Losing a Parent at a Young Age” or “I Have a Wardrobe to Rival a Famous Person and Here’s How Cute I Look In It” people (and by people, I mean me since I’ve told no one about this blog) will expect something specific. And right now, I have many thoughts that span a variety of topics, and I want the freedom to put them all in print here. 

Sunday, May 6, 2012

A Year in the Making

I’ve always liked documenting my life in words. Most nights of my childhood are saved in a pink and white diary. My high school years are saved in various notebooks and AOL Instant Messenger printouts. As I went off to college, my need to document my life faded away. I no longer felt like I needed to see my life in print in order to make sense of it. I did, however, begin sharing more and more with my mother.

My mom and I were close my entire life, save for about two weeks my sixth grade year, when I was briefly embarrassed to have a mother. My mom quickly reminded me that everyone has a mother, and I realized it was silly to blush if my mom said hi to me when she was volunteering at my school. Our relationship only grew stronger, and by the time I started college, I referred to her as my best friend. She had the ability to walk the line between parent and friend, remaining completely effective and exemplary at both somehow.

I told her about boys I dated, good, bad and ugly. She listened patiently as I debated changing my major from accounting to communication studies, accounting to english, accounting to journalism, and she never questioned me when I chickened out of doing all three. We joined Weight Watchers together, and enjoyed stopping at Servatii’s Bakery immediately after weighing in. She tried to make me watch The Notebook, and when I refused, she put a copy in my Easter basket, knowing I couldn’t refuse. And she was kind enough not to say “I told you so” when I admitted it was fantastic and I sobbed for an hour after. When I fell in love – for real, this time – she did what all good mothers do: she was happy for me, embraced my husband-to-be, and subtly dug for information to make sure this man was good enough for her daughter. And there was so much more. She was a parent when I needed her to be, and a friend when I needed her to be.

On December 31, 2009, my mom was diagnosed with stage IV stomach cancer. My family’s world turned upside-down in ways I’m not ready to put into print. In spite of everything my mom was going through – unending rounds of chemotherapy, multiple surgeries and stents placed, radiation when it spread – she comforted me. She comforted all of us as we struggled with the idea that our normal was different now. She still emailed me when she could, called to ask about my day, made me strawberry shortcake on my birthday even though it exhausted her for 48 hours after. I still went home on Monday nights to watch The Big Bang Theory, but now I fed her or changed the linens on the hospital bed in our family room while I was there. We talked about our days, we continued to obsess over mindless celebrity gossip, and we talked about bigger things – faith, God, death. Cancer couldn’t break our connection.

Sixteen months later, on April 20, 2011, my mom passed away, quietly, in the middle of the night, in a hospice room with only my dad by her side. The person who was best at collecting my thoughts and questions, the person who had served as my living-breathing-human-journal was gone.  I was simultaneously empty and overflowing with things to say.

Over the next year, I slowly began putting my thoughts into words. I saved them in draft emails, random Word documents on various computers and on scraps of paper tucked into books and drawers in my home. Over the same year, I did a fair amount of living too. My husband and I gave up our apartment, lived with my dad and brother, then bought a house and rescued a dog. I got my first tattoo with my dad and brother. I went back to dance class and decided to take up running for awhile. I invested in some new friendships, tended to the existing ones, and eliminated some not worth keeping. I found a career I loved and am willing to put my heart and soul in to. I decided I do want to be a mother someday and made a commitment to take care of my mother’s mother. Through all of this, I missed being able to tell my mom about everything.

And so, here I am, about a year after her passing, desperately typing thoughts into a blog as if they’ll somehow reach my mom this way. (Do they use the internet in heaven? I don’t know.) I talk to her all the time in my head, but there’s no release because the thoughts remain there. Talking out loud to her makes me feel like a lunatic. So this is the solution, at least for now.

My beautiful mom, May 2007