Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Letter for a Friend

April 26, 2011

Dear Tatum, Emma and Ericka,

You don't know me, but I am a second-year graduate student in the CDS program. Your mother has been a wonderful professor, supervisor, and mentor to me. I think very highly of her, and feel as though I know some about each of you because she speaks so lovingly of her daughters. I am so terribly sorry to hear about your family tragedy. I can't imagine how you must be feeling at this time.

This letter might not mean anything to you right now, but maybe in time my words can offer even a grain of comfort. You are likely in the throes of shock, confusion, anger, and denial. I am hoping you have many loved ones surrounding you and supporting you at this time. And moreover, I hope that you continue to have your close family and dear friends nearby as time goes on.

Although I cannot even begin to compare my loss to yours, a part of me can imagine what all three of you must be going through. It will be 10 years this July since my mom dies. I was 19 the summer she died from breast cancer. I made a rash decision to move from Portland to the East Coast the summer after my freshman year of college. I was living near my brother, waitressing on a resort island, and partying the nights awat. I got a call from my dad telling me they were not going to be able to visit the following week as planned, and he asked my brother and me to rush back to Oregon to say our goodbyes. The time had come much, much sooner than we had planned. My mom was in a coma when we arrived home, and she passed away about two hours after our family gathered around her.

My journey through grief and sorrow has been a long one. You will find that everyone has opinions and advice on what you should or should not be doing, feelings, saying, experiencing. And I guess I'm not different, as here I am writing to you. Some people may say that you'll never "get over it," and others will tell you that all will be fine "in time." I find both of these sentiments to be partly true and partly false. When I heard the news that your father had unexpectedly died, I couldn't help but immediately think about your three girls, and the road that lay in front of you. If I had it to do all over again, I would have done it much differently. I made the process particularly hard on myself by trying to avoid and deny the sorrow that threatened to engulf me. I was so fearful of the unfamiliar and overwhelming feelings of anger, depression, and sadness, that I did everything in my power to ignore them. Instead, I threw myself into pretending everything was a-okay. This fueled sorrow's fire. Everyone has to forge their own path through the grief process, but I would never recommend this route to anyone. My wish for you is that you listen to your bodies instead of your brains - cry when you feel like crying, sleep when you are tired, exercise when the spirit moves you - and that you find a healthy road out of this darkness that is the loss of a loved one.

I wish I could offer you one single pearl of wisdom and comfort. Unfortunately, no such magic exists. Instead, my advice - take it or leave it, as it best suits your individual needs:
- Cherish the sincere sympathies, and ignore the stupid peaople. Anyone who says "they're in a better place" or "everything will be okay" doesn't know what they are talking about.
- Read. I found solace in researching all about grief and in reading others' experiences with death and dying.
- Write things down. My greatest heartache is that I can't remember much about my mother. Start journaling now. Talk to each other. Record your favorite memories about your dad. His outfits, his mannerisms, the way he smelled, talked, laughed, drove. Ask other people questions about him. Do what you can to preserve those memories. Go through photos, home videos - and write it all down.
- Keep a community of good friends and family just a phone call away. People who love you will always be willing to be there for you. Everyone will offer their support early on - but it's the ones who stick around, after time has passed and the chaos has ebbed, that really count.
- Be patient with yourself. Things will change. It might be hard to concentrate. You might feel like crying all the time. You might not feel anything. You might just be tired. But know that, however slowly, a tincture of time will slowly begin to heal parts of your broken hearts. I can't say you'll never stop mounring the loss of your father, and your family as you knew it - but in time you will find some comfort.
- Most of all, stay close with each other. You girls are so lucky to have one another, and to have an incredible woman like your mother as your matriarch. be especially kind to her. She is having her own unique experience, and meanwhile trying to be strong for each of you. Support each other, cry with each other, laugh with each other. Whatever you do, keep talking about your dad - the good, the bad, and the ugly - it is my belief this is how me keep the memory of people alive.

I am sending a book, Never the Same, about teens and grieving. Some of it might seem basic or juvenile, but I think it offers a lot of wisdom. It is authored by Donna Schurmann, who started the Dougy Center in Portland. I used to volunteer with the Dougy Center as a group facilitator, and then worked with Courageous Kids ins Eugene. I would highly recommend both of these organizations as a wonderful outlet and support for grieving families.

I understand that you don't know me, and that my words might very well mean nothing to you. At least for now. Or maybe you're in a fog of chaos. But please know that this letter comes from my heart. My wish for each of you is that slowly light begins to break through your darkness and that you are able to help each other begin to repair your broken hearts and aching souls.

My sincerest sympathies for your family. My thoughts and prayers will be with you today, and for weeks and months to come.

Warm regards,
Joanna Close

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Birthday Fun

Friends and family at our new place preparing for the debut of the epic video, courtesy of Close Quarters, tracking the past three decades celebrating my love, Mr. Alex Close.

Close Family across Union Station footbridge on our way to dinner and drinks at Bridgeport in the Pearl.

So grateful for wonderful family, both mine and Alex's.

Swollen, then achey, hearts

Babies on the brain. The good, the bad, the aching uterus, and the aching heart. I took my first pregnancy test - ever - on Friday. Alex's parents were in town to celebrate his 30th birthday, and it just felt like a great time to be pregnant. Something about the company of family makes me want to keep the biological vibes going. Despite some serious history of neurotic tendencies, I am not one of those who tracks my periods. When it comes, it comes. And because I've made a habit of practicing safe sex, it's never a monthly countdown to make sure that one drunken night doesn't have a lifetime impact. But Alex makes fun of me, because it's as though Aunt Flo is a surprise to me each month, even after 15 years of monthly visits. It goes something like this.

Me: Ugh. I don't feel good.
Alex: Like what?
Me: I just feel tired. And gross. And I have a headache. And my tummy hurts a bit.
Alex: I'm sorry. Why don't you take a nap?
Me: I can't. I'm too fat. None of my clothes fit. I eat too much. It's your fault. My face is ugly. It's your fault. Why should I have to nap? You nap.
Alex: Are you about to start your period?
Me: What?!?! (exasperated). Noooo. Why would you say something like that?
(time passes)
Me: Hey, I started my period by the way.
Him: Hmm. Interesting.

And because I don't track these periods, the ones that seem to surprise me each month, I don't actually know when the last one was. What I do know, is that Alex and I have been having our fair share of unprotected sex these days. And it's fun. Feels risky, but not so risky as to not do it, probably because we really do want to get pregnant sometime soon. Results from Friday's test were very clearly "Not Pregnant." Which isn't really much of a surpise. Especially because I don't think I've missed a period or anything yet. But it was still a bit of a letdown.

So the unprotected sex and hope for new life is the good. And the negative test is the bad. The aching womb is all about Logan, my favorite little man. I love being his auntie, even if we have no biological relation. I mean, I like staring at other people's babies in public, creepy I know, but there's something just so special about a best friend's baby. I love him and his furrowed brow as though we were indeed related.

And then there's the aching heart.

We received horrible news this weekend about a dear friend. She and her husband were more than 6 1/2 months along. They were the couple who got pregnant the first month they quit using birth control. She's been sick the whole time, but is a super trooper, and still works more than 40 hours per week and always puts everyone else's needs before her own. A classic sweetheart, really. And today her heart is broken. She and her husband were not able to find their baby boy's heart beat. And she wasn't feeling him move. Their worst fears proved true, and sometime today she had the tragic experience of delivering her dead child. I can't imagine the size of the hole in their heart, since even mine hurts and I haven't spent the past 28 weeks growing and nurturing that new little life. They are in my thoughts and prayers. And not just today, but for many days, weeks, months - even years - to come. Grief has not timeline, I'm afraid.

Babies. They seem like bundles of joy, but bringing them into this world has been a whole series of trials, tribulations, and tragedies for those close to me. One friend's son had an anoxic brain injury perinatally, another took more than 2 years and thousands in fertility treatments to get pregnant, another had difficulty both getting and staying pregnant. And then this. I am so appreciative of the women in my life, and feel so, so grateful that I have a community of fabulous friends, and I'm brought down to earth when their's are shaken so completely. I can't say anything to change anything for them, but I hope they know how much I love and support them.

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