Zebra's Child

Living With Common Variable Immune Deficiency and It's Autoimmune Friends

Category: Loss

In Honor of Mothers

Here in the States it is Mother’s Day. But I want to expand the definition of what it is to be a mother. You fulfill a mothering role if

  • You are the beloved Aunt or Grandmother helping to raise a child
  • You are that favorite teacher to whom a child turns when their home life is in chaos
  • You are a foster mother, adoptive, or step mother

I want to especially wish a Happy Mother’s Day to those whose

  • Children are far flung and none of them are able to spend time with you today or call
  • Children have predeceased you, and people are afraid to wish you a happy Mother’s Day because they don’t want to bring up painful memories

I want also to acknowledge mothers whose children are critically ill.

And I want to add to this list perhaps the most forgotten category

  • Mothers whose child was born still, died shortly after birth, or was born too early to survive. To you, especially, I want to acknowledge that you, also, are mothers.

I want to honor each of you, wish you the best, and offer a collage of virtual bouquets.

 

All Images were taken at our wonderful local flower shop on Grand Avenue in Oakland, California. It is an oasis of calm, and has the comforting feel of a French flower shop.

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All above images: Zebras Child 2019

You’d Think It Was Fall

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Fallen Flowers                                                      Image: Zebras Child 2019

But these are only fallen flowers and buds in the Spring. Some flowers fall before they’re completely withered, and some buds fall before they’ve even had a chance to open.

I’m Looking For Some Hope Today

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View of a rainbow from my living room                       Image: Zebras Child 2019

I’m still devastated by the shooting on Saturday at the Chabad Poway Synagogue in Southern California. This quote, copied from the New York Times, says it better than I can.

And yes, I have put this post under the category of Civil Rights because the first Amendment of the Constitution of the United States guarantees the free exercise of religion.

“This shooting is a reminder of the enduring virulence of anti-Semitism. It must serve as a call to action for us as a society to deal once and for all with this hate. People of all faiths should not have to live in fear of going to their house of worship. From Charleston to Pittsburgh to Oak Creek and from Christchurch to Sri Lanka, and now Poway, we need to say ‘enough is enough.'” —Jonathan A. Greenblatt, CEO of the Anti-Defamation League, in a statement.

I Don’t Understand Hate

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Shadows                                                                     Image: Zebras Child 2019

Once again an attack of hatred has occurred in a house of worship. This time at the Poway Synagogue near San Diego, California. This shooting occurred exactly six months after a gunman killed 11 people at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburg, Pennsylvania.

I don’t understand hatred. Especially hatred based on faith. Over the last few weeks the world has seen hate crimes perpetrated against people of all three of the Abrahamic faiths: Muslims, Christians and Jews. But it seems that antisemitism especially is once again rearing its monstrous head. I had not thought to see this level of hatred against Jews in my lifetime.

I was born not long after my father returned from helping to liberate France in WWII. I was raised as a child of a military officer, and growing up, almost every man I knew had served in the war. It wasn’t talked about much; most of those who served in the combat zones of WW II wanted to forget the trauma of their experiences.  But as a result, I paid more attention than most children my age when the war was occasionally mentioned or when I studied WW II in school.

I first learned about the Holocaust in 8th grade American History. I couldn’t emotionally understand why anybody would try and annihilate 6 million people based solely on their religion. But I did understand that my father, and anyone else who had fought in Europe, had helped to put a stop to the Third Reich’s unfathomable mass killing machine.

This hatred and rage still does not make sense to me, many decades later. But having grown up in the shadow of WW II and knowing about the atrocities committed in both theaters of the war, I honestly thought that we, at least the countries who had participated in the war, had learned a lesson. I truly thought that “Never Again” had been inscribed on our souls.

I was, and am, apparently naive. Where has this burning hatred emerged form? I have some complicated philosophical theories that I won’t go into here. But I’m still heartsick and confused. Why do we hate at all? Why do we continue to terrorize and kill because of differences of faith? How has it once again come to this, that people need to fear when they walk into their houses of worship?

Caught In a Web

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Aloe Vera Plant and a Web                                             Image: Zebras Child 2019

The past week has been exhausting. In a mostly good way, but exhausting none the less. Observing Holy Week, celebrating Passover with my Jewish older daughter, her husband and my grandkids, and sadly, going through both holidays for the first time after my husband’s death. I still can’t get used to the singular pronoun of “my” grandkids for instance, rather than “our” grandkids. Each time I find myself erasing the word our and replacing it with the word my it is an additional reminder of loss.

I need to rest, and I have decided for the next week at least, to focus just on my photography rather than both my writing and my photography. I find both activities healing, but in trying to post five times a week, I find that I have time and energy for little else. I have loved getting immersed again in both and trying to re hone my skills in both. But the apartment needs to be cleaned, I rather desperately need to shop to replace my glacially slow 6 year old laptop, and above all, I need sleep. Massive amounts of it, actually. Perhaps as I put up a photo some words might occur to me, but I make no promises. So I hope you enjoy the process as I experiment more with my camera and start to retrain my eye.

The Return of Grief

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Unexpectedly, this week has been an especially hard one in terms of the death of my husband. It has hit me hard, because, well, as I mentioned, it was unexpected. I don’t think that it is necessarily this hard because it is Holy Week, although I’m sure that doesn’t help. Rather it seems to have been a series of seemingly small things that have hit me like small blows, one after another, each one adding to the impact.

It started on Monday night with a concert. We have concerts in our building every Monday evening, and since my husband’s death, I have been choosing to sit off to the side and in the back, rather than our normal place close to the front, so that I could leave discretely if I felt too tired or too overwhelmed with memories. But this past Monday night, there was an empty seat right next to a good friend and I chose to sit there. It was in the third row, a place where my husband and I often managed to sit by arriving as soon as the doors into the performance space were opened. Our favorite cellist was playing this past Monday, and in the past, I have always wanted to sit as close as I can to her so I could watch her fingering and bowing. So I didn’t give it a second thought as I sat down four nights ago, simply glad that I had found a seat so close when most of the seats were already occupied. But then the cellist and the double bass player bowed the first note, and within five measures I found myself weeping, partly because the music was so beautiful, but mostly because it was impossible not to remember all of the string concerts here that my husband and I had enjoyed together.

After that, the week just seemed to pile up one assault of memory after another. Tuesday I was taking the dog out for her last walk before bed because our friends who normally do the last walk of the day are away. As I turned around to walk back home, I saw the lights on our skilled nursing floor and remembered looking up every night a year ago to find the room that my husband was in. In April of last year, he was still alive and awaiting the surgery to remove his gallbladder. It was before the fall that proved fatal, and at this time last year, we had every reason to believe that after the surgery, he would recover well and return to our apartment on the 10th floor.

Everything about this time of year reminds me of the hope that I had for his full recovery: the fact that it is still light after dinner, the temperature that’s running in the high 70s, and the way the light hits newly blooming flowers. I have been crying hard every day this week, and I haven’t done that in months. Certainly I have moments and days now when his death hits me hard, but I thought I was done with this constant grief that presses down on me and makes it difficult to find joy in anything. Each night I go to bed hoping that I will wake up in the morning without this stone weighing down my heart, but for now, at least, it seems to have settled in.

My Heart Is With the People of France

 

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Un immeuble à Paris                                                      Image: Zebras Child 2015

 

Almost four years ago my husband and I got on a plane and flew to France. This was a trip of a lifetime for us, and one that we both knew might be the only long distance trip we both could take, given our health conditions. After hearing for over 4 decades about his two years living outside of Paris as a boy, he finally got to show me his beloved city and I, too, fell in love.

We spent the first week in Paris, and then joined a tour of Normandy for the second week. I wished we could stay in France an entire month, rather than a scant two weeks. I arrived feeling like I had the French of a two year old, and came home to California answering every simple question in French, because I had trouble moving the switch in my brain back to English.

I wish I were in Paris now. Just to stand in solidarity with the French as they mourn the damage to Paris’ heart. La cathédrale de Notre Dame is the symbol of constancy, of reliability, of soul, to the French. It is something that holds fast through plague, war and famine. Construction started in 1163. 1163! We Americans cannot conceive of a building that old unless we have traveled outside the United States. It took 200 years to build. Stone upon stone, upward toward the heavens, the walls so heavy they had to be supported from the outside in order to stand up. Everything else in life may come and go in France: kings, governments, invading armies. But Notre Dame stands constant, the heart of the city. That heart has been damaged, and France mourns.

Mon coeur est avec toi, mes amis.

In Memoriam

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                                                                        Image: Zebras Child 2019

Yesterday was Palm Sunday, the beginning of Holy Week for churches that follow a liturgical calendar. It is the most holy week of the Christian year and leads up to Easter Sunday. I have posted about Holy Week before, but each year the internal experience is a little different because our experiences of the past year have necessarily been different.

This is the first Holy Week since my husband’s death so this Holy Week is fundamentally different to start with. But adding to the already high emotion of the week, we lost two members of our retirement community over the weekend. In a retirement community that provides care for the rest of your life, it is natural for deaths to occur. But there are 250 people in our community and the grief of a death is not felt equally by all. The deaths this week, however, both hit hard. One person lived with his wife just two apartments down in our short hallway, and the other death was of a dear friend of both my husband and I. Both were 15 years older than my husband, so they had had a full life. But that doesn’t really soften the emotional blow of their passing. I feel the loss, and I grieve. But I also feel an additional lack, for normally I would be remembering these lives with my husband beside me and we would be able to tell the stories of our friends and grieve together.

Fuzzy Focus

The photo below is extremely fuzzy. I only had my phone with me, when what I really needed was my good camera with the telephoto lens attached. The photo that I was able to take showed this egret as a mere speck in the picture. By the time I had enlarged it enough to actually be able to see the bird and its reflection in the water, everything was terribly out of focus. But I love the photo, and decided to use it anyway because two things occurred to me.

1. I am a perfectionist. I have to constantly remind myself that rarely do we achieve perfection in what we do. “Good enough” is also beautiful.

2. During intense grief, everything inside and outside your head feels out of focus except the grief. Your brain can barely process what you see and hear from the outside world. Even the thoughts inside your head are totally jumbled and you feel incapable of rational thought. (Which you more or less are,  actually.) Thankfully, after my husband’s death, both the hospice workers and friends who had been through this themselves told me that all this was normal. Even though that period of constant intense grieving is mostly gone, there are still moments, or days, or sometimes several days when missing him overwhelms me, and everything else in the world feels off kilter and fuzzy.

I decided that this picture, imperfectly capturing beauty, could be a touchstone for me. A reminder to not judge myself too harshly. And a reminder especially to have some compassion for that part of me that still grieves.

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Schubert Bliss

Almost 7 months to the day since my husband died, I am finding  that a sense of peace often settles over me. I’m not saying that there is not still grief, or that I don’t still miss him. There is, and I still do. But I am finding that as time goes by, I am remembering more and more often our many decades together when he was not sick, and remembering less the awfulness of the illnesses that preceded his dying.

Last night I went with two friends to a small concert venue to hear an evening of music written by Schubert. As an Austrian composer of the late 18th and early 19th century, he was unusual in that he not only composed music for small and large orchestra, but also wrote transcendently beautiful art songs for voice. Saturday was an evening of both.

I am fortunate. Much of music speaks directly to my soul. It bypasses my analytical brain and goes straight to my heart and fills me with a sense of peace and beauty. Sometimes it feels as if the music inhabits me and I sense little boundary between me and it.

Such was last night, and I realized, not for the first time, that the intense grief of my husband’s death has continued to lessen, giving me space to exist in the world. Such is the grace of time, I think, and love. As I sat there fully present in the music, I realized that this is exactly what he would want for me. He would not want me to stop living after his death, but rather fully embrace life for the both of us.