I began this blog because I wanted to be an "It gets better" voice. I've come so many years since Leslie's murder and it really did get better. My voice wasn't lying. But the part that I hadn't gotten to yet, and that you'll get to, too...it happens again.
That's why it's crazy important that we do this work. That's why we HAVE to grieve and be completely in it and come through it. Because we're never going to live a life without loss. The universe doesn't decide that we've had our fair share because we had a particularly violent and ugly loss. It still takes shit away from us.
The last time I wrote here I'd just lost my friend Stuart. And I hadn't even been able yet to write that a few months before that, about 18 months ago from today, one of my most best friends...my spiritual mentor, really...had lost her sweet nephew, Travis, to an ugly suicide at only 14 years old. We lost Travis.
I thought that those losses, while painful and aching, were maybe a good and healing thing. And you know how I feel about saying that the loss of a human being is a good thing. It's not. Ever. But they ARE lost. We can't change that. So I mean that the way that I handled those things...the opportunities I had to handle them were good and healing. I had this really amazing opportunity to be the guiding hand of love for my friends. I was able to be the very person for them that so many had been for me when I was in the darkest place I'd ever been in the days after Leslie's murder.
Probably within ten minutes of hearing about Travis's suicide, I'd fully transitioned into savior mode. I was on the phone buying plane tickets for my friend, Marianne, and her kids to get to Denver to be with Travis's mom. I contacted a clean-up company to come in and take care of the clean up of the house so that his mama would never have to go into that home again and see that. I was talking people I loved off of emotional ledges. I was getting things done that I knew they couldn't do...things that HAD to be done.
When Stuart died, I was at the house right away...as soon as I could. I helped with funeral plans and sat with friends and family. I mixed drinks. I shared my experiences. I knew they had been heard, and I knew that they helped.
Both times I remember thinking "This is what I have to offer now. This new me with a Leslie shaped hole in my heart has a new mission and a new purpose." I thought it felt good. It DID feel good.
I began volunteering with a grief counseling center after experiencing the loss of Travis with Marianne and feeling so empowered by my ability to help her and her family. It was an amazing place. (Solace House Grief Center in the greater Kansas City area, if you are a local...please donate your time and/or your resources, if you are able.) For a few beautiful months, I thought things were okay. I thought my purpose was found, and I was on a path. I had an amazing job in a school where I was permitted to love my students and show them grace. I had a remarkable boyfriend who understood my path with grief...or at least understood that I needed to walk it.
And then... Right?
Over time, days began feeling longer. Falling asleep and getting out my house took longer and longer. I couldn't face the grief center anymore. Sadness and confusion and the old questions of "Why?" started to linger in my brain regularly. Every part of my logical self knew that there is not now and never will be an answer as to WHY this crazy awful terrible SHIT happens to people. I had been in counseling for almost three years. Bi-weekly Mimi would remind me that why was irrelevant and what is the only thing that mattered. What next...what next...what next? Feel then move, feel then move. But logic stopped being the biggest part of me for the first time in a long time. It was scary. And that fear helped nothing.
I started to think about Leslie more. Even the seriously wonderful joy (and in the midst of all of this, I did feel this particular joy) of falling madly in love with and becoming engaged to my boyfriend, Zac, started to ache because I couldn't share it with her. I'd lie in bed at night next to this beautiful man and cry because I was imagining her sitting at a table drinking a cosmopolitan with him and me while we talked and Zac sat smiling in silence. In my imaginings he'd say very little except every now and then he'd say the PERFECT thing, and she'd look at me with the look I knew was approval. And it would make me cry. And then I'd cry some more because there was a time not long before that when these kinds of imaginings made me smile...not weep. I didn't know it then, but I was falling backwards on the grief scale.
Last fall, a serious medical issue I'd been fighting since I was 14 finally decided that it would kill me if I didn't take out all my lady parts. I was about to turn 40. Part of me knew that I would never bear a child. Part of me didn't really want to bear a child. ALL of me, though, hated the idea of not being able to decide that for myself. I tried to convince myself and everyone else that I had made the decision to have the surgery and that it wasn't fear of dying that prompted it. I still try to convince people of this. (If you're reading this and you're one of those people...surprise!) I talked about it all the time to a select few...not because I wanted the sympathy or to have them focus on me...but because the more I talked about it as positive thing, the less I had to face my fear. So in December 2013, I had a bi-lateral salpingo oophorectomy and hysterectomy. That means they took it all...ovaries, fallopian tubes, and uterus. A week before the surgery, Zac and I got engaged. Again, thank God that I was truly able to enjoy that love. And I will always be grateful to him that we made that decision when he knew that we would not have biological children of our own together.
After the surgery, physically, I felt better....as far as my illness went. Hot flashes, memory loss, emotions changing on dime....that happened and still happens. I'm hormone replacement free. Menopause SUCKS without hormone replacement therapy. And contrary to what you read on the internet, it doesn't last just a few weeks after radical surgery. I'm well past six months. And I started to have dreams. About little tiny people with my dark hair and Zac's full lips. I dreamed we'd name her Leslie...or him Leslie. Never in my life had I ever had those dreams. I would read feminist articles in my favorite feminist magazines and want to punch every single person writing in them because, all of a sudden, I was noticing this horrible (in my eyes) trend in feminism of motherhood equaling femininity. Grief? What was I grieving? Babies whom I'd never had or even dreamed of before the surgery? My uterus and ovaries? Why? They were trying to ruin me. Choices? I was grieving could have beens. And don't we all grieve those? Even when what we lose isn't human beings whom we love...the thought that maybe in the future, life without loss would have been much different.
In February this year, my 12 year old sheepdog, Truman, began the last stages of what had been a slow decline in his health. Truman is the dog in my profile photo, kissing on Leslie. He's been with me since he was just 3 months old. Truman and I were bonded in the strongest possible way that dog and human can be bonded. He came into my life when I needed to learn about love. And he taught it to me.
12 is pretty old for a sheepdog. I knew it was coming. But it didn't hurt any less to choose to end my boy's life. On February 24th, I took him to our sweet vet and held him. And I didn't bring him home. Losing a pet is hard when you're anyone. As you know, I'm big on one loss not being "worse" for someone because of circumstance or closeness or even species. Losing a pet is hard in a special way when you're single and lived alone with your pet for most of his life. It was difficult for some (some were truly understanding) people at work to understand the magnitude of this loss. There are no bereavement days for the loss of your child when your child is a dog. I took one anyway. My boss was less than understanding.
This is the tribute video I made for Truman. It's long...probably unnecessarily so. Feel free to look only to see what he looked like and then stop. Or not at all. Or watch the whole thing and bawl. :)
In April, my boss let me go. I lost my job.
I believe, to date, this may be the most profound loss of my life. And yes, that includes losing my best friend to a murderer. By profound, I do not mean that it was "more important." If given the choice of getting my job back or Leslie back, I think it's rather obvious that there would be no hesitation. I would choose Leslie. I do not compare the value of human life to the value of my job and call it equal. What I mean is that it has affected my daily life in a negative way more than any other loss that I have experienced. Losing my job left me truly heart broken. I don't believe I understood the meaning of broken until that day.
It's important (to me) to note that I still have no idea what I did wrong or why I lost this job. I was told why. None of the things that I was told were true. For the record, I wasn't accused of anything gross or criminal. I was told that I made mistakes that I could actually prove were not my mistakes. They happened, yes, but it hadn't been me who had made them. My bosses were completely uninterested in hearing this. When I said I had actual proof on paper that I hadn't been the person to make the mistakes, I was asked to stop being so dramatic. I wasn't actually fired. Being fired is bad news for a teacher. I was just not renewed. My position was dissolved. This was (and is, I guess) supposedly good because I would be able to find another teaching job without that ugly mark.
Because I lost this job as a result of things I didn't do and was not respected or believed, or even given the opportunity to defend myself, my logic went immediately to the only other possible reason: they didn't like me. They didn't like me so much that they wanted me to go away. And I loved that job. I should capitalize that to show my emphasis. I LOVED THAT JOB. I had actually worked there before (under completely different leadership) I went to graduate school and had been scratching and clawing my way to get back there ever since. I had been working there when Leslie died. That place was my family...my home. I truly believed it made me part of who I am. I worked for a private Catholic organization. It could have been (probably was) politics. Maybe someone's mother didn't like me. Maybe I wasn't Catholic enough. Maybe I wasn't God knows what. Whatever it was that I was supposed to be, I wasn't. And all that I ever identified with in a truly 100% positive light had been my career. And I "wasn't." I have never in my life found breath so difficult to take.
I was "not renewed" on April 3rd. On a Thursday. At lunch time. Because I was "not renewed" and not fired, I still had to finish out the school year. I had to finish out that school day...that school week. 36 school days. I didn't go on Friday. I took a sick day. But going back there every day knowing that I was not wanted...in a place that I had loved so completely...working with girls whom I loved with truth, even when they were teenagers and couldn't see it....God...going back there knowing, believing, that I was hated... It hurt in ways that I cannot adequately describe in words. And I can usually find words. It felt like I was sitting in that room being told by my boss that I was not wanted every single day. It was the same breath stealing pain.
And I couldn't tell anyone. First of all, I was TOLD not to tell anyone. I was told that THEY were going to tell everyone. Of course, they kept saying they would tell everyone and then never did. They'd give me exact dates, and I would gear up for the pain, and they wouldn't do it. And I didn't WANT to tell anyone. Like I said, teachers lose jobs for really shitty things, usually. I had no idea what people were going to think. And the self hatred had settled in. The last thing I needed was paranoia that everyone else hated me, too.
This grief was different than any grief I had ever experienced because with it came guilt. I knew I hadn't done anything wrong. Well, I knew I hadn't done the particular things they quoted wrong. But every single day...still today, even...I wondered if maybe I DID suck and I deserved it. That's part of the grief wheel that I can't stop spinning on this one.
Summer did finally come. I finally got to stop walking into the same cycle of loss at work every day. I also had to say goodbye to this place that I loved forever.
I don't have another job yet. But I do have a husband. And Zac's wonderful. He's everything that I need, but he also has these wonderful pockets of need within himself that I get to fill, too. I got married on a beautiful day in the street by my parents house with a gorgeous summer party in the yard afterward. The day was everything I wanted. Any kind of wedding would have been that because I married Zac, but the loveliness of this one was particularly nice. We were married in June, because, duh. :) June is wedding month! Afterward we went to a remote cabin up in the mountains in Colorado and watched falling stars.
|Our wedding day|
When I came home, I had still lost my job. I wasn't a teacher. I had to face the beginning of a school year...the sharpening of pencils, the back to school sales, the school busses reappearing...for the first time since I was five years old when I wasn't a part of it. I was a person for whom a year was August to August, not January to January, for 35 years. And now I was not.
And I still "wasn't." So I couldn't face finding another teaching job. I was terrified that I would be "wasn't" there, too. I applied for job after job for which I either completely wasn't qualified was completely over qualified. Sometimes I got rejection notices. They burn a bit, but they helped spur me on to apply for more. Mostly I was just ignored. What is UP with that, by the way? In what world is it okay for people to just pretend like they forgot you exist, ESPECIALLY when you had an interview? But, I guess it's okay in some world, because lots of places do it. But, it's my blog, so I feel justified in saying lots of places also SUCK for doing it.
In July, I heard from Leslie's brother, Dwight, one of my close friends now, that his son, Nicky, Leslie's sweet nephew, had fallen from a cliff while hiking in Rocky Mountain National Park and died. Yes, you read that right. It seems so crazy tragic that even writing it sounds like part of a poorly written novel. But it happened. I thought immediately of this line in a Barr Brothers song..."if one of us had to leave this place, would the other come along?" I was terrified that we would lose Dwight, too. Amazingly, he's been strong beyond anything I could have imagined. He's given strength to me by simply continuing to breathe and walk. I found myself in the strangest place...with Leslie's family again...grieving. It was oddly familiar and safe.
In between all of these things...Boston was bombed by a teenager who lay frightened in a boat. After he'd murdered people he didn't even know. A Jewish community center less than two miles from my home was the site of a terrible shooting that killed a boy who was in the same debate club as Leslie at the high school we attended. Misguided misogyny (isn't it all misguided?) caused a college kid to shoot his fellow students. A policeman on the other side of my state shot a teenaged boy because he was big, apparently. And black. But no one admits that. And war. War. War.
Why am I telling you this? Well, first, I'm telling you this because I work that way. Telling heals me. Some people think it's over sharing. Some people think it's attention seeking. I say fuck some people. We do what heals us. If we don't, we end up the one someone else loses. Second, I'm telling you this because it gets better. Then it gets worse. And then it gets better again. I know that it does. What I know right now is that I've been in a cycle of loss for 18 months. I got on the grief wheel, and I started to do my work, and a new loss would find me long before I'd gotten far enough around the wheel to be ready for it. And I didn't even realize that was what was happening to me until recently.
But I know that now. And I know that the work will be hard because, well, it's always hard, but also because I've done it before. And I know that, someday, I will have to do it again. And we move forward. And we do what heals us, even when other people don't approve of the way we do it. And in front of us are great joys mixed in with more losses. Because that is our life. That is ALL of life.
I'm going to stop now. I made up for lost time, didn't I? Geeeeez...this is quite a post. Thank you for reading it, if you did. There is more to come, but not this long, I promise. I have some good things for me and for you up my sleeve and I plan to share them.
Don't ever stop trying to heal. You will not ever heal the scar, the hole, that is in the shape of your loss...but you will become a really incredible person who bears a scar. You will if you keep trying. I will if you will.