Sunday, October 2, 2016

When September Ends 2016

Six years ago I wrote a post with the same title, so I added 2016 to set the two posts apart.  The reason this title is significant enough to reuse is because it is the name of the song that was playing on the radio the night I got in my car to go see my Granny, after being told she had just passed away. The date was September 28th.  The coincidence that would be the song playing on the radio at that exact moment was not lost on me.  What the song meant to me then and what it means to me now have recently undergone a big change and if you keep reading, you'll understand why.

The first thing I need to mention is that in addition to being the month of my birth, September is also a month of loss for me.  In 1996, in the wee hours of September 6th, my first love died.  He was swept away by Hurricane Fran and his body was later found in the Intracoastal Waterway in North Carolina.  Nine years and 22 days later, my Granny passed away after a short-but-brutal battle with Alzheimer's.  August is also full of loss, having lost my Grandma Coyote on the 1st, my Mother-in-Law Judy on the 4th, and my Grandma Wilson on the 26th...all in different years, of course.  The end of September in the last couple of decades has been the time of grief more often than not.

I bring all of this up because the months of August and September of this year brought with them 2 more losses.  This time they were both people from my past, and the impact of their loss has left me disoriented, but also resolved to learn the lesson from it all.  Hang on tight because this is where it will start to get wordy.

On my birthday this year, my brother Mikey stopped by unexpectedly to wish me a happy birthday and deliver a card and flowers.  Having barely had a relationship with him for a great many years, I was taken aback, but glad for the gesture.  We chatted for some time, and that's when he told me that someone I once considered a surrogate aunt, Nancy, had passed away.  To say I was shocked would be an understatement.  At one time Nan was my Mom's best friend.  Nan's family and ours did everything together.  From camping to weekend sojourns to the lake, to a thing the grown ups referred to as "Friday Fucker-Up Night".  Though the combination of alcohol and drugs occasionally meant these gatherings ended in flashing blue lights, usually because of my step-dad, there was a lot about them that I enjoyed.  They were one of the things I looked most forward to as a child, and later as a tweeny-bopper.

What I remember most about Nan was that she was a sassafrass through and through, she always said what she meant, she was rarely to never sad or angry, and she was an amazing cook.  There was never an empty belly when she was around.  My favorite of her dishes was something called Chicken Adobo.  It was this amazingly delicious rice and chicken concoction that could illicit squeals of delight when I saw her bring out the holey spice filter she used to make it.  Seeing that meant something amazing was about to hit my taste buds.

I also recall many instances where she would hold my face in her hands and tell me how much she loved me and what an incredible person I was.  This was not something I heard very often, and at the time I always thought it was because she was drunk and took it as the equivalent of an "I love you, man" moment.  As an adult, I can look back and remember her sincerity and almost urgency in making sure I knew someone loved me. Did she know I didn't hear it enough from my parents?  Did she realize how unloved I felt most of the time?  Was she planting the tiniest seed of self-love and appreciation within me so that it would grow and bloom one day?  I can't answer those questions.  Whether it was just the byproduct of too much Coors Light, or a genuine display of affection, I appreciated it and I really wish I would have made it a priority to see her again before it was too late.

Just 3 short days after attending the memorial for Nan, my youngest brother's Mom passed away.  This was a loss that I didn't expect to feel much emotion over, but a huge wave hit me when I heard the news.  Before I knew what was happening, I was leaving my brother a teary voicemail telling him how much I love him.  I didn't expect to feel such a sadness because there were quite a few years I absolutely hated her.  I had spent some time living with Teri and my Dad when I was a teenager and it ended badly.  So badly, in fact, that I didn't speak a word to her from the time I was 13 until I was 22.  At that point, I was pregnant with Trinity and had just recently started building a relationship with my Dad.  With the perspective of semi-adulthood and precious time, Teri and I were able to get along really well.  One memory I have was from an evening when Dad and Teri were in town for a visit.  They invited myself and my then-husband out for dinner at Shoji's.  Teri was at least 2 hari kari's in by the time we ate dinner, and was pulling the pineapple wedge off her drink while singing the SpongeBob Squarepants theme song.  When my step-brother mentioned going to Lava Lanes for more drinks after dinner, she kept calling it Babalanes.  I think I found her more amusing than anyone else in our party that night, so her and I laughed more than we had ever laughed together.  She was a riot.  A few months later, Teri and my Dad split up and I didn't bother keeping in touch with her.  We saw each other again when my Dad had his cancer surgery, but that was the last interaction we had.

These two women were not people I felt compelled to keep close contact with, for very different reasons.  My sadness at the news of Nan's passing definitely stemmed a lot from regret that I hadn't kept in closer contact with her, as well as the knowledge that she is the same age as my own Mother.  (That brings up a whole slew of unresolved feelings and conflicting emotions that I can't even begin to delve into or I'll be typing all night.)  This was a person who embodied the word "Mom" and even had a hand in raising me, to some degree.  This was someone I never got a chance to thank for her care because I let life get in the way.

With Teri, the sadness was much more centered around my brother and having a sense of how difficult losing her is going to be on him.  I have had a front row seat to the devastation of my husband losing his Mom, and the thought of my babiest brother dealing with anything of that magnitude is like a knife in my heart.  The last year or so of his life has been a struggle, but his daughter was born and it seemed things were on the upswing.  It just feels like he needs a break already and this is just one more thing piled onto his shoulders when he has been doing so well.

I don't know if it's because I'm growing older, if it's some sort of personal evolution, a reaction to these two most recent losses, or a combination of all of these factors.  But I can feel myself changing and though it seems to be for the better, I also worry that I will change too much and it will cause a disconnect with key people in my life.  In particular, I'm feeling an intense need to forgive and forget, to exhibit compassion and acceptance where I once held resentment and anger, and to try to fix things that have long been broken.

It wasn't long ago that I made a grand proclamation about practicing more compassion and learning to let go of things.  At first I struggled, but eventually found that it was pretty easy to let go of some things that used to cause me an immense amount of anxiety.  That resolution walks closely hand-in-hand with this latest shift within.  Where geographical fault lines are massive fractures in the Earth, I feel like my internal fault lines are shifting into place, and even the spots that are still jagged and askew aren't insurmountable or dangerous anymore.  Rather, they're like gorgeous little reminders that I've been shaken down to my core, but I'm still standing.  Just as I'm learning to appreciate my flaws as just another facet of who I am and what I've experienced, I'm finding that same appreciation for others and their flaws.  I have become a much more accepting person, and feel an urgency to reach out to people I had once pushed away because of their personal flaws and ask them for an opportunity to know them again.  Obviously this newfound need to reconnect doesn't extend to some people in my life who are simply toxic, but there are a select few who I feel a strong need to make amends with. And even those I've deemed toxic, I have let go of the resentment and hatred that used to eat at me when they came to mind.  Instead, there is just an acceptance of how things have to be and an indifference to their existence.

I never imagined I'd be the kind of person who would one day see my flaws as anything but failures.  The list of things I loathed about myself were once so abundant that it was often hard to think of much that I truly liked.   Consider a dandelion, if you will.  There are people who see them as weeds and people who see them as wishes.  Where I once saw myself as a hideous weed, I now see a wildflower.  Where I once saw loss as just a loss, I now see the potential to gain something even more profound.  That doesn't stop me from missing people I have loved and lost, but saying goodbye to them has shown me the importance of seizing the moment and making memories with the people who are still here.

This year when September ended, my eyes and heart were more open.  Like the song says, "twenty years has gone so fast".  Time passes too quickly.  Our kids grow up faster than we'd like and our parents grow older and leave us before we feel ready.  Friends come and go, families fall apart, and we all have the potential to get bitter from the challenges we face.  But at the end of our lives, when everything else falls away, all that will be left are the memories we made with the people who mattered most.  Either that, or a pile of regrets a mile high.  I know how what kind of ending I would prefer and I won't waste another moment making it a reality.

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