Zebra's Child

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

Category: Photography

Loss

After

After

It’s hard, loss. It just is. I’m still a little weepy from encountering the about-to-be-fifth-grade student in the produce section of the market on Monday. When I allow myself to think about it, tears start to form. I could just push the feelings down and ignore them, but I have learned that if I do that, it just makes things harder later. Strong feelings that are suppressed don’t just go away. They lurk in the darkness, gathering strength, so that when they do surface, it takes far more resources to deal with them than it would have originally. I spent my childhood having to bury emotional reactions, so I count myself fortunate that I now can allow myself to feel appropriate grief and mourn a loss.

But that doesn’t mean that it is easy. And I’ve learned that it doesn’t matter whether the rest of the world judges something to be a major or minor loss. Only the person experiencing it can know how much a given loss affects them.

For me the sight of this 10 year old did not just trigger the feelings of the loss of my fifth grade classroom after my immune system collapsed. It triggered the feelings of loss over my life as I knew it.  The loss of my independence to be able to go where I wanted to go and do what I wanted to do. The loss of being able to plan an outing and knowing that I had a 99% chance of actually following through on the plans. The loss of feeling that I was making a positive difference in the world each day, and the loss of the sense of pride that I was able to do a meaningful job and contribute to the financial health of the household.

After my immune system collapsed, I wasn’t sure of who I was any more because I couldn’t teach, or work in any capacity. For several years I couldn’t go to medical appointments or the grocery store without help. I couldn’t even depend on my body to do what it is hard wired to do: stay alive. Even catching a common cold could, and sometimes did, lead to an intractable infection that would take months to resolve, and even longer to fully recover from.

When that happened, I knew that the only thing I could do was to put one foot in front of the other, each hour, each day, each week. If I survived, great. If I didn’t…. well, it would be regrettable, but not unexpected. I was too sick to do, or accomplish anything. I couldn’t read the newspaper or a book. I couldn’t make any plans for the future beyond the next few minutes. I no longer knew my place in the world, and had no idea how I would put my life back together, or if that would even be possible.

This was my life after my immune system collapsed. There was a Before, and then there is an After. My health has improved markedly in the years since then, and I have slowly been inching toward a more normal life. I have now taken a wonderful trip to France, and many days I find that I can write, or I might have the energy to walk around with my camera around my neck taking photographs of beautiful things. But I never know. The past several days my body has just sort of shut down and I’ve had to clear everything off my schedule except medical appointments. I’ve had to rest a lot, and can not even be sure if I will have the energy for using the tickets my husband and I have for a play tonight. We can exchange them if necessary, but still….

There was a Before, and there is an After. And seeing the 10 year old in the produce section reminded my heart of the Before. I am deeply grateful that I so passionately loved the last years of my career, and it is good that I am able to cry over the loss. But that doesn’t mean that it is easy.

A Stab of Grief

Grief and Beauty

Grief and Beauty

Yesterday I was in the produce section of the market, and noticed a child helping her mother. She was reaching up, trying to grab ahold of a plastic produce bag from the dispenser, but she just wasn’t quite tall enough. Even on tip toes, she missed by about  2″. I smiled at both her and her mom, and commented that she needed to grow just a little more. They smiled back, and I could tell by the girl’s reaction and her height that she had just finished fourth grade and would be entering fifth grade in the fall. I felt a stab of grief. Her face so perfectly expressed the common energy of  10/11 year olds, and I realized again how much I miss a classroom full of those faces, eagerly looking at me, waiting to laugh at my jokes, learn new things, and to let their minds blossom into abstract thinking that is a whole new way for them of looking at the world. They are just beginning to see the interconnection of different ideas, facts, and applications. And when their faces light up with excitement over understanding something new, it is one of the best highs in the world. Fifth graders are the best students on the planet to teach, and I still miss it. If my collapsed immune system hadn’t forced my early retirement, I would still be teaching for a few more years. I haven’t yet hit normal retirement age. It’s not that my current life isn’t joyous. It is. And there are new experiences that are open to me now. But when you have lost something you love, through no choice of your own, it hurts. Over time, the loss gets less intense, but it is always there. Sometimes it rises up inside, surprising you with its intensity, and you find that you have some more grieving to do.

Improbable Hope

Improbable beauty

Improbable beauty

There are no flowers like this anywhere in the neighborhood. Yet somehow the winds brought seeds of beauty, revealing hope in improbable places.

A Re-Imagined Garden

Drought Tolerant Plants

Drought Tolerant Plants in Southern California

Flowers on a Vine

These flowers were so pretty that I decided to use my iPhone to try to capture closeups.

Stark Beauty

Stark Beauty

Stark Beauty

We all have images inside our head of things that we find the most beautiful: our favorite flower, a painting that makes us catch our breath and stand mesmerized, a memory of a gorgeous sunset. When I think of an ideal garden, for instance, I think of the lush gardens I saw in front of country cottages in small villages in England many years ago. Of course the gardens got that way because it rains in England. A lot. Almost all the time, in fact. Or at least sometimes it seems that way. I’d love to reproduce just such a garden in my own backyard. But I have something of a problem: Southern California is in the midst of a severe drought. So if I am going to rip up the small patch of grass in my backyard for anything, it has to be for the purpose of replacing it with drought tolerant plants. Sigh. Drought tolerant plants do not fit my definition of “beautiful backyards.” At all. But as I have been walking around the neighborhood with my camera over the last month or so, I have begun to notice just how beautiful such plants can be. They don’t fit my preconceived notion of beauty. But there is nothing like a camera lens to help you focus on things that you might otherwise pass by. And pretty soon you realize that you are noticing the unusual texture of bark, or of a rock. Or that the light is hitting an ordinary leaf at just the right angle to make the leaf translucent. And you can never look at the world in quite the same way again, because you begin to see that everything is made up of small pieces of unique beauty. One day you look at a cactus growing in the midst of rocks and realize that it is starkly beautiful. Although I’m still not sure I want to plant it in my backyard.