Monday, August 29, 2011

Just Me and My Memories

I always remember dates. I'm not sure why. I can tell you important dates, like family birthdays and wedding anniversaries and the day I first went to the temple. I can also tell you other dates that I don't have any real reason to remember. I know the date I started beauty school, the date I started working almost every job I've had, the date I bought my houseplant, the date I graduated from high school. I remember the birthday of my childhood best friend. I remember dozens of random dates, and every time they roll around again, I'll think, it's been X years since this happened. I don't know if anyone else does this, but I do. Let's call it part of the magic that is me.

So, today is August 29th. For another few minutes, anyway, and by the time anyone reads this it will be the 30th, but work with me here, okay? It's the 29th, and it's been the 29th all day, and all day, I've been thinking, it's the 29th.

Two years ago I started this blog. I don't know whether I chose the date intentionally or not. In retrospect it feels sort of symbolic for me to have started blogging on August 29th because my blog marked the beginning of the end - the end of my time as Roo's mother, the end of the life I'd grown to love. Three years ago on August 29th, it was the beginning of the end of something else - my father's life.

My mother said today that she can never remember, but that she knows it was the end of August. I thought, how can you not remember? August 29th is practically part of my genetics at this point. August 29th was the date that my mother came into my bedroom and told me that she couldn't wake up my father.

I tried to wake him up, too. I don't know why I thought I could when she couldn't, but I tried just the same. He was breathing, so I guess I thought he'd come around. I remember my mother looking a little lost, and asking if she should call an ambulance. I said she should, and she called. We followed the instructions of the 911 dispatcher and moved my dad so he was lying down. I went outside to wait for the ambulance. It was one of the blue ones. They had the lights and sirens on. Some part of my brain registered that they'd made good time, and I reminded myself that it was an ambulance, and that making good time was kind of a thing with them.

I led the paramedics into the living room. Four of them started working on my dad, and a fifth sat down with a clipboard and started asking my mom questions. She couldn't answer them; I think she was in shock. But I could. I explained about the brain cancer, the surgeries. I gave him dates (I always remember those) and brought over bottles of prescription pills so they'd know what my dad had been taking - an antibiotic, a steroid for the post-surgery swelling, and Temodar for the cancer.

In the midst of this I heard someone call out my dad's blood pressure, and when I heard the numbers, I knew he wasn't ever going to wake up. I was right. He died eleven days later and I was the one to call my brother and sister to tell them.

It is the curse of this memory of mine that although I cannot remember math from a class I took four times or any of the French verbs I learned last semester, or the names of people I have met more than once, or what comes after the part about the country folk being "up and to arm" in that poem about Paul Revere, I can remember in excruciating detail August 29th of 2008. I remember to the minute what time things happened. When my father said he had a headache. When the ambulance was called. When my mom and brother and I got to the emergency room at Gilbert Mercy.

I've been looking at the clock all day, thinking: this is when this happened, or that. Three years ago this is where I was, and this is what was happening. Three years ago right now, for instance, I was on my way to St. Joe's in Phoenix, where my father had been transfered. I remember thinking how quiet the freeways are at night, and how peaceful the city seemed. It felt wrong for things to be so tranquil when the future was so scary and uncertain. It seemed unfair that people were sleeping soundly in their homes while my home was never going to be the same again. I envied them their peace, their sleep.

My dad died on September 9th, but I don't grieve much for him that day. In my mind he was gone on the 29th. I grieved today. Oh, how I grieved!

I spent much of the day at my mother's house, which might have been a mistake. I love my mother, but the house is so full of reminders - here is where the EMT with the clipboard sat. Here is where my father's prescriptions were. Here is where the couch was, the couch on which my father fell asleep for the last time. Although it's my couch now, and I'm sitting on it as I type this (sometimes I hate my couch). It's not just the memories, though. It's my mom's new husband.

It was hard today to think so much of my father, and to see my mother happy with someone else. I'm glad that she's happy, of course, but it was still hard. It was hard for my mother to ask me, when I drifted off for a moment or two, what I was thinking of, and to tell her how I was reliving that day - That Day - knowing that her husband was in the next room, and that he could probably hear. I didn't want him to hear. I didn't want him to know these details that are etched so deeply in my memory. It felt wrong. I don't know why.

I digress.

I wonder if, two years ago, I picked the 29th on purpose. I know that I knew what anniversary it was, what significance the day had. I'm not sure. But I'm glad that I picked it. Because this day, this sad day, has other memories attached to it. It's not just the day I lost my dad. It's the day I sat at my computer and tried to think of a name for this new blog I wanted to start for Roo. It's the day when I watched my baby sleep and thought, this really is the happiest sad. It's the day when I started something new that would prove to be more therapeutic than almost anything else has ever been in my life.

I like the contrasting memories. I think this is part of why I chose to place Roo on the 9th. I wanted to blend the memories of these two very different September 9ths, as I'd done with the 29th of August. Although I find that, in retrospect, the roles of peace and pain are swapped from the 29th. My father was the pain and adoption was my peace. My father's death on the 9th was a surprisingly peaceful thing. Placement was pain.

I would never be foolish enough to claim that time heals all wounds. I don't believe that. But I do believe that time changes them. I think sometimes it changes them enough that we can live with them. Maybe some people mistake that for healing. I don't know.

I'm certainly not going to say I've healed. Look at it this way: I had a c-section to deliver Roo. I was cut open, and sewed back together. That wound has healed. I know it has healed, because it no longer bleeds or hurts and I forget I've even got a scar there most of the time. I know that it once hurt, but I find that I can't remember what the pain felt like.

It will never be like that with my dad, or with placement. I may not be bleeding as I did initially, but it's a wound that still hurts from time to time. It happens much, much less frequently with the placement pain, because I took the time to grieve properly. I put off grieving for my dad. It hurts. Sometimes it bleeds. I know the scars are there. I remember the pain. The trick is to keep the pain in the past. Some days are easier than others.

But here's what else I know - there's a difference between being scarred, and being broken. And I am not broken. These dates that are written on my heart, they're not the days that I was broken. They're the days when I got knocked down.

But I got back up.


A. B. said...

Thanks for sharing this. My dad died about a year after yours (I am in my 20s) and now my mom is getting ready to get married again. And those things you wrote about being glad she is happy but not really loving the situation really spoke to me. I am glad that you shared this. I also loved your perspective on how some wounds don't heal, but they change so we can live with them. What a beautiful way to put it. Thank you again.

GSmith said...

What a wonderful post... I just love your blog, and I miss your blogging!

Monika said...

You have an absolutely beautiful way of writing. I love your blog title too: "The Happiest Sad" fits placing my own daughter so perfectly. Thank you for being so transparent and thank you for sharing some very painful memories with us. *hugs* I love the getting back up part too. That's what I try to do every single day. <3

Audra Owens said...

What an amazing post. My Dad is turning 79 this year and tests have just discovered he has lost the majority of his kidney function. We are hoping it's medications, but it has forced me to think that this could be the beginning of the end. I thought how unfair that would be and how I'm too young to lose my dad. Then I thought of you and remembered that I've had at least 5 years more with my dad than you were blessed with, and that I shouldn't complain but just try to be grateful. Jill thank you for sharing and helping those around you, including me.

Mother of the Wild Boys said...

This is a beautifully moving post. Thank you so much for sharing it.