Why Honor Sad Days?

You know that feeling you get in the pit of your stomach on a Sunday night? The one that reminds you tomorrow is not like today and it might be a little hard to handle? January 28th is like that for me every year. But I’m not staring down a Monday, I’m anticipating the anniversary of the day my mother died. This day is hard for me and, admittedly, sad. So, if it’s hard and sad, why would I choose to honor it every year? Why do some of us choose to take a day and let the sadness and the history wash over us? I think the answer for me, at least in part, is not just to honor the loved one, but also to remember the path taken back from grief.1931411_675265510349_2181_n

On January 29th, 2009, I was sitting in a statistics class not really paying attention. I was day-dreaming (even though it was a night class). My parents were heading to California to see my brother and sister-in-law and I was jealous. I wanted to go (insert childish foot stomp here). So, when my phone rang and I saw that it was my brother, I had two immediate emotions; embarrassment because my phone rang in the middle of class and annoyance because my brother was going to tell me how much fun they were having. I turned the phone off and let it go to voicemail. At our break, I called back, ready to hear about how they were preparing to go to dinner, have fun and enjoy a glass of wine.  Assholes. Instead, my brother’s somewhat panicked voice answered- “Have you talked to Mom?” No, I replied. I hadn’t since the previous night. Which, as my wheels started to turn, was odd. She would normally have called from the airport in the morning and then again during her layover in Chicago. Why hadn’t she called? Why hadn’t I thought to call her? These two questions would become some of the basis of my guilt and frustration.

Over the next few hours, communicating back and forth across the country, calling friends and neighbors, trying hospitals, cab companies, and airline operators, I finally got a call from my dad.  “Mom’s dead.” What. The. Fuck. How could that possibly be fucking true? I cried. I fell on the floor. I lost control. My then boyfriend, called my boss- “Sarah won’t be at work tomorrow.” He called the airlines- “We need tickets as early in the morning as you have them.” I called my friend- “Halbe? It’s Sarah. My mom died. What should I pack? What do I take home when my mom died?”

Somehow I got home. I threw up a few times on the trip home. I cried every few minutes. And then, I stopped. And I started to methodically make the calls that would take up 3 hours of my time on January 30th. “Uncle Ted? Uncle Keath? Uncle Jeff? Ann? Sean? Mrinal? etc etc…Mom died.” I started to forget how hard it was to say. I felt like you do when you eat too many sour patch kids…my tongue was numb from repeating this awful phrase. Then came the family, the friends, the calls, the flowers, the casseroles and the hugs. None of them helped. I just wanted my mom.

The next three weeks flew by like a blur- memorials, pictures, plane flights, car trips, dinners out staring at each other, tears, anger and more fucking hugs. I wanted to scream. I wanted to throw a tantrum. I wanted to punch something. I wanted to stay in bed with the blanket over my head.  But, instead, I put on my big girl pants and marched right into the sea of well wishers to receive the love they brought. I hugged back but it was robotic. I was on autopilot.

It wasn’t until everyone had gone home and the flowers started to die, that things started to get really bad. I stopped showering. I stopped eating properly. I called in sick for work. I didn’t call anyone and rarely returned calls when people called me. I watched TV and cried. My, now husband, saved me. He gave me time and then gently pushed me back towards the world of the living. “You don’t have to stop being sad, but you have to be healthy. Let’s go on a walk.” I love him with every breath in my body.

And little by little I got healthy again. I stopped being sad every day. I saw a therapist who validated my grief and helped me push through it. I started living my life and loving it. I got engaged to this amazing man who used my mother’s ring to ask me to marry him. I got married. I changed jobs and changed houses. I had babies. And here I am, a whole person, missing a huge chunk of myself. As I heal, a scar remains where my mom left me. I cry sometimes, but not a lot. I tell stories about this amazing woman who gave me wings and I laugh. I remember the good…and the bad.  But every now and then, I need to give myself more completely to this healing process, which is still ongoing.

I honor this day because I need to. I reflect on what I have, what I miss and what I cherish. I choose to sit and drink my coffee in the morning while thinking about all the mornings I did that with her. I choose to tell my kids stories about their Grandma Nina. I choose to cry if I feel sad, laugh if I feel happy and be upset when I, inevitably, get mad about the fact that she died.  Do I limit myself to January 29th every year for those emotions and actions? No. But it is a good release for me. I choose to honor the day she left me for the same reason I choose to honor the day she was born- those moments have meaning for me.IMG_5360

The real happiest place on earth

We all have places, foods, or activities that remind us of our childhood.  These nostalgic feelings hit in waves as we enjoy our throwbacks and we feel good- safe, loved, comforted.  I know this may sound silly, but a grocery store fulfills all three of the above categories for me.168s

As a child, my mother would take my brother and me to Wegman’s in Pittsford, NY every weekend to go grocery shopping.  If you’ve been reading, it wasn’t often like the Trader Joe’s experience I recently had, though I’m sure one or both of us threw a tantrum at some point over a sugary cereal we were told to put back.  When we were little, my mom would get us each a cookie and we would chatter along through produce and dairy items.  When we got older, she would give us each an item from her list to go get.  We would race off, running back to the cart with the item in hand, ready for the next challenge.

The place, the food, the atmosphere; it all became a part of my childhood.  I looked forward to visiting Wegman’s when I was home from college.  I told people about the store when they visited us in Rochester: “you have to visit!”  166350_10100163932469819_464579_nWhen my (then) fiancé and I were looking for a less expensive alternative to the crazy wedding cakes, I called upon Wegman’s to provide 200 cupcakes for our guests.  They also created a “wedding cake” out of a cupcake that we cut- everyone raved about our cake.  And when our babies were born, we made special pilgrimages to Wegman’s to introduce the next generation to the “real” happiest place on earth.10247505_10102782631451069_546923500_n

So, it should come as no surprise that when we were planning our son’s first birthday and a cake was needed, I called upon the Wegman’s near us.  Now, when I say “near,” I mean 45 minutes away…but I was happy to drive it.  The thing is, when I walk into Wegman’s, I have a feeling of being home.  We all crave that feeling from time to time.  Some of us grow up, grow a family and live in the same place; some of us move far away, but no matter where we are, we want to feel the comfort and love of being home every now and then.  Say what you will, but I love the place. It is a little piece of home even when I’m far away.

The night I bit my husband

I write letters to my children.  I was inspired by my father who wrote us letters on our birthdays every year and then gifted us these letters in beautiful wood boxes years later.  In honor of my son’s first birthday, I share the first letter I wrote him.  Each of my babies have this letter- an accounting of their birth day.  As I re-read it this morning, I laughed, and cried, and remembered the pain and joy; but mostly, I remembered my intense love for this tiny human.  Happy birthday, Ryan.  Mama loves you

My sweet little Ryan-

You came into this world fast and furious on March 10, 2014…but that isn’t where the story begins.  This story really begins in July 2013.  Your father and I had your sister 11.5 months before we found out we were pregnant with you.  We were shocked, we were overwhelmed, we were (and are) overjoyed.  From the moment we knew of you, we loved you.  From the moment we thought about you, we felt like you were a part of our family.  You have made our circle complete.

Everything about my pregnancy with you was more mellow than it was with your sister.  I had less nausea, less heartburn, less insomnia, fewer headaches.  You were a mellow resident in my body.  Until March 9th.  And here is where the story gets good…

The morning of March 9th, I felt big.  I felt fat, and tired, and cranky.  I was anxious about your arrival.  I wanted to make sure everything was taken care of.  Something you’ll learn about me in the coming years, is that I like to pretend I am in control of everything.  I know, deep down, that I’m not.  But, a girl can hope.  So…there I was with your father checking last minute items off my to-do list.  I had gotten my hair cut, packed my bag, picked out your outfit for the hospital, called those who needed to be called to say “nope…no baby yet!”  And, I was anxious because I couldn’t control what was coming or when it was coming…but I had a good plan.

March 9: Your sister needed tending to.  PK was on his way.  Your father had his last shift to work for a few days.  March 10: My doctor (a woman I like and admire- who had delivered your sister) was on call- perfect!  PK would be here, Daddy would be home.  So, I just needed you to wait to be born until late in the day on Monday.  It would be perfect.  You had other plans.

On Sunday, I met a friend for a manicure and pedicure.  We got our nails done and chatted.  I innocently told her that I had been having contractions since that morning.  But, not to worry, I told her.  With Nina, I had contractions for almost 36 hours before the main event.  She warned me not to get cocky.  I was so sure.

After my nail appointment, I came home to wait for PK to show up.  He was coming to help and was due to land at the airport around 4pm.  Nina and I played outside in the backyard.  You rolled around in my tummy.  Daddy went to work- he kissed us goodbye and told me to keep him updated.  I think he was nervous to leave us, but he had a shift to work- he had to go.  I promised to call if anything changed.  I would keep him updated.

PK arrived at the house just in time for dinner and we got Nina fed, bathed and in bed.  As PK and I sat down for our dinner, you got a little more insistent that I pay attention to you.  The contractions were getting harder but they weren’t evenly spaced or easily tracked.  I gritted my teeth and pushed through them- at this point, I knew you would be a March 10th baby, so I made my list of things to get done that night before heading to the hospital the next day.  As it turns out….I was right…sort of.

As the night progressed, I did a load of laundry, submitted a writing sample for a teaching job I applied for (I subsequently got that job), went to Dunkin Doughnuts to get PK doughnuts, built a chair for Nina, got Nina’s food and clothes squared away for the next day and made sure my bag was packed.  PK went to bed around 10- he asked me if I was ok.  That’s when things started to go sideways, little boy.

I started to feel pretty intense pain.  It wasn’t “bad” pain- in that I wasn’t afraid anything was wrong.  But it was INTENSE.  I started pacing the floor.  I thought I was going crazy.  I called your Aunt Jaci, who woke up from what sounded like a dead sleep, to talk to me for a while.  I let her go back to bed and decided to take a shower and shave my legs.  Now, Ryan, years from now, this may gross you out.  But, I’m telling you, should you ever have a wife who is having a baby and she tells you while she’s in labor that she wants to shave her legs…you support that decision.  It’s an important one.  No one was around for me to worry about, so I got in the shower and shaved my legs.  I washed my hair.  At this point, it was almost 11:30pm and I had had it.  These contractions were still uneven but they HURT.  “Justin, you have to come home.  Now.”  Your dad asked if I could wait for him to sign out.  No.  Get home.  Now.

I woke up your PK.  “Um, Dad [PK]? I’m going to go have a baby.”  I was wearing yoga pants and a tank top.  I had my shoes on.  PK helped me get my bag to the door.  We waited for Daddy to come home and get me to drive me right back to the hospital he was coming from.  The contractions were so strong, I considered having you on the living room floor.  You were coming and you were coming fast.  PK started to worry that I would be cold outside- it was afterall, almost midnight in the middle of March.  He got my sweatshirt and, instead of throwing it in his face, I put it on.  He’s my daddy and he wanted to take care of me.

I’m going to skip all the expletives I was thinking and shouting.  I was in some pain.  Your father pulled up to the house with a squeal.  He was definitely moving.  If I could have run to the car, I would have, but I got in and off we went.  I rolled the window down because, despite the coolness of the evening, I was so hot.  You may not remember as we have likely moved from the house we lived in when you were born, but we lived less than a mile from the hospital.  It was across the street.  Literally.  And I didn’t think I would make it.  Your father pulled up to the hospital and I got out before he put the car in park.

I walked passed the triage nurses without speaking…I couldn’t really.  I was making weird noises, I was worried, pissed off, hurting, and somewhere, in the back of my brain, excited.  So, I just walked into the triage area.  The nurse who chased me in told me that I would need to put on a gown and, as I paced the room she showed me into, making that weird, low animal noise, I started taking my clothes off and throwing them on the ground.  “I’m going to have this baby now!” I told the nurse.  She was less than impressed.  And then she checked me.  “Don’t. Push.”  And your father and I were whisked to the elevator.  The nurse was calling the labor and delivery team in transit.  The doctor met us at the elevator and started talking to me.  Your father was holding the gurney, telling me I would be fine, and, as another wave of contraction hit me…I bit your father’s hand.  That was my low moment.

We got into the birthing room and, while a lot happened and not a lot happened, the low down is I pushed twice and you were out. 10013970_10102799440096409_8881248540233038845_n You, my sweet little boy, were so excited to meet us that from the time we pulled up at the hospital to the time you were born was 13 minutes.  You were 6 pounds and 14 ounces, 21 inches long and you were perfect.  I was dazzled.  The pain of the past few hours was erased from my mind and I was focused on your sweet face.  I love you so very much and I am so lucky to be your mama.  I love you more every day that I get to spend with you.  I’m ready for this wild ride, little one.  I hope you are.

All my love, now and forever,

Mama

A love note…to my nephew

Dear Hudson,

Today you are 5 years old. That’s a momentous birthday- you are a whole hand.  I remember, vividly, when I held you for the first time in the hospital.  You were this little tiny baby, tiny button nose, and the sweetest fingers there ever were.  You held my heart with those tiny fingers and I have watched with awe as you have grown through stages and years.  Now, you are a little boy who knows not only how to run and jump and play, but you know how to be kind and curious. You are smart and, let’s face it, just a little bit devious…but that’s ok…maybe you got it from me.

You, Hudson, were the first grandchild born into our family.  You were the first truly awesome thing to happen after a slew of not-so-awesome moments.  I have watched you grow and I have loved you as only an aunt could- with wild abandon, in an ice cream at 8am kind of way.  Being an aunt, you see, is so very amazing.  Unlike being a mother, it allows for a little more wiggle room.  I love the wiggle room.  And I do so love ice cream at 8am (don’t tell your cousins!).

I was standing in the backyard of our house in North Carolina when your father told me I would be an aunt very soon.  Then, I was working out at the gym, when your mother called to tell me… “he’s coming!”  When I got off the plane, got to the hospital and held you in my arms, I knew, without a doubt, that being an aunt to your sweet face was for me.  I have since had children of my own, and they are amazing in ways I struggle to fully explain, but you, my sweet boy, hold a special place in my heart.

You were with me when I married your uncle.  You reminded me of how special The Polar Express can be.  You sang You Are My Sunshine to my first baby when she was only weeks old and rocked her in her stroller.  You have been along for my ride as I have been along for yours.  I’m looking forward to all the twists and turns that are to come.  I’m looking forward to ordinary days splashing in puddles and family vacations and momentous birthdays.  And I’m so looking forward to a belated birthday hug the next time I see you.

I love you, Hudson.  Happy Birthday.

Aunt Sarah

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