A Measure of Time

Sigh.

I don’t know what’s happened to me lately, Dear Readers. As always, I’ve really meant to post sooner but to be honest, I just haven’t known what to say.

Last year I wrote a post with my New Year’s resolutions, and I had every intention of doing that again. But the problem was, I just couldn’t think of any.

A year is a perfect measure of time to reflect on the changes in life. It’s long enough for so many things to happen, and yet it’s so short as to be bewildering when we realize that another one has gone by. Throughout my life, the difference of one year was always staggering to me. Every single year, I would look back on the person I was at the same time a year previous and marvel at how far I’d come, how much I’d changed and (hopefully) improved. Every single year of college I came SO far, and after college was such a period of upheaval in my life that I almost couldn’t recognize the person I’d been when I graduated.

I accomplished every single resolution I made last year, and they were BIG ones. I found a job after a year and a half of desperate unemployment; I got a tattoo; I moved out; I went on dates (MULTIPLE dates, may I add); I published my book. For me, 2014 was a year of checking off some of the biggest changes you can make in your life, and I expected to enter 2015 even wiser, and feeling–FINALLY–like an adult. 2014 was the year where I grew up, for all intents and purposes. I mean, I PAY BILLS now.

But 2015 rolled around, and you know, I realized the weirdest thing. For the first time in I don’t know how long, I didn’t feel like I had changed all that much. I suppose if I really do look back on myself a year ago, in January of 2014, I was very different. I was unemployed, depressed, and I was still a couple months from taking the first steps to getting help and medication for my anxiety and panic. I was also still a month away from even finishing the first draft of my novel, much less the editing and the self-publishing.

One thing I did in 2014 that I never really ACTUALLY dreamed I’d do was dating. If you’d asked me in January 2014, the thought of going on a date would probably send me into a slight panic attack. But last year I went on multiple dates with multiples guys (okay, only three guys, but still THAT’S THREE TIMES AS MANY AS I HAD) and I handled them pretty much without problem. This was strange to me, and it took me a while to figure out what was suddenly different.

But then it hit me–I was finally comfortable in my own skin. I was actually HAPPY with myself and my life. I liked who I was, and it gave me the confidence to believe that plenty of guys would feel lucky to get to know who I was, too. It’s such a simple thing, but I have struggled with self-esteem issues my whole life. It was so bizarre to suddenly find that, with the exception of the people I respect and love, I didn’t really care what someone thought of me, or if they liked me. I mean, of course I prefer for people to like me, but it was totally fine with me if they didn’t. I had finally, through all the turmoil and darkness and stress and upset in my life, found self-acceptance.

So when I really look at myself in the measure of time from one year ago to now, I have made some of the most drastic changes I will probably ever make. I have learned to love myself and I feel like it has liberated me–that is has opened up life to me in all its glory.

I think the reason that it doesn’t feel like I’ve changed since a year ago, is that the person I was one year ago–sad, lonely, lost, and struggling–is so far away that it seems impossible that it’s who I was a year ago. In some ways, I’ve come farther in the last year than in any year before.

So I decided that I wasn’t going into this year with a list of specific things I wanted to accomplish. I thought about resolving to get my second tattoo; to at least finish the first draft of my second novel; to submit my first novel to more publishers. There’s always some other goal you can set for yourself, some other elusive thing to strive constantly towards. But the thing is, once you find happiness with yourself, all those other things just come as they’re meant to. I don’t feel a need to resolve to do any specific list of activities or accomplishments. Instead, the only thing I feel resolved to do is to keep loving myself, to try to become a better person every day, and to do things that make me happy, whatever they may be.

One year from now, in January 2016, I have no idea what the previous year will have brought, and I’m fine with that. Life for me now feels full of possibilities, and I’m ready to find them out–and the best part is I get to make it up as I go.

So instead of a resolution, I’m going to make a New Year’s wish. I hope that every single person that reads this finds the same acceptance and happiness with themselves that I have found with myself. I hope you accomplish all your resolutions, and a couple more beyond that. I hope you fall in love; get that dream job; learn a new language; make a new friend; travel somewhere you’ve always wanted; win that championship; and maybe, just maybe, even make it to the gym.

But above all, I hope you really fall in love with yourself, even if you don’t accomplish a single resolution. Because I truly believe that happiness is the most important resolution of all.

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Poem: Couch Potato

I haven’t posted any poetry on here in ages, so I decided to share one of my more recent efforts. In case you were wondering, this comes from the miserable experience of being an unemployed post-grad living with her parents. The job market sucks, you guys.

 

Couch Potato

I am organic
made of the earth
a tender young thing
still a little green on the vine

But like a budding bloom
plucked in spring
or a just ripening fruit
before true succulence

I have been cut off
pulled from the richness
of my nurturing soil
picked from strong, sheltering limbs

My growth suddenly arrested
on the verge of blossoming
clipped from my garden plot
and arranged in isolation

I am a brown root vegetable
dug from the ground
packaged with my fellows
and sent off with little ceremony

Now I sit at home
trying to recover from the shock
putting out tentative little shoots
but lacking the food for proper growth

Always stationary
a lump resting in the same spot
all wild eyes and dreams
but growing nowhere

I cannot shake the fear that
I am slowly decomposing into my couch

A Stroke of Miraculous Luck

(Warning: slight bad language ahead, as well as a serious topic)

Oh, Readers.
Why does it always seem that just when I think I’ve got things figured out, life throws something completely unexpected my way?
I apologize that it’s been so long since I posted, but I’ve had a lot going on. I recently finished my first novel, did some subbing, and then went out of town for spring break. I was working on two different blog posts, one over the experience of finishing my first book, and one that was just a humorous experience that I went through with running a blog.
But, like I said, life made a mess of all my plans.

Last Saturday I had an indoor soccer game at 6:20. My dad and I headed off, and at some point while I was playing I got a phone call from an unknown number (which I didn’t hear). After the game, my dad and I sat around chatting for awhile with some of my teammates, before we finally got in the car to head out. A couple minutes later, my dad noticed that he had a missed call from my uncle Mike, my mom’s brother. This was very unusual, because my uncle very rarely calls us. Curious, I checked the missed call I’d gotten during the game–and I realized that it was also from my uncle. It was an unknown number because I forgot to put him in my contacts when I last got a new phone.
My uncle lives with my nana. She’s in pretty great health for 76, but she’s had strokes in the past that resulted in her having a lot of short term memory loss. She gets around wonderfully on her own power, but living alone for her is a little dangerous, because she might put something on the stove to cook and forget about it, or things like that.
As soon as I realized we both had missed calls from my uncle, I got a bad feeling in my stomach. Immediately I called him back, only to have my fears confirmed– my uncle suspected that my nana was having a stroke, and he was getting her ready to take to the hospital with my mom, who had stayed home from my game. Thankfully we live next door to my nana, so my mom–who deals with all of her insurance and medical history–was able to get right over to her and figure out the best place to take her.
Meanwhile, my dad and I had the long, thirty minute drive home from the indoor arena. We had no real idea what was going on, or what state she would be in. It was one of the most endless car rides of my life. My mind was blank and I felt numb, except for the sick panic in my stomach.
When we finally got home, they had gotten everything together and were getting my nana into the car. As I found out, we were incredibly lucky because my uncle and nana were having dinner when her stroke started. They were sitting at the table, and my uncle noticed my nana had begun to garble her words, and wasn’t making sense. He was able to recognize what was happening immediately and to give her an aspirin right away. We got her in the back seat of our car, and I slid in next to her so I could sit with her on the ride to the hospital.
When I got there, we think she was still in the process of having her stroke. I cannot explain to you how terrifying it is to see one of the people you love more than anything in that state. That being said, I was at least somewhat reassured by the fact that none of her motor skills seemed to be impaired. She could walk relatively well, and she wasn’t having any paralysis on either sides of her body. The only real symptoms she was having was the slurring of her words and the inability to make sense when she was talking.
I got a firsthand view of this on the way over. I sat hugging her to me the twenty minute drive over there. She kept trying to ask me why she was so confused and not making sense, but she was mixing up letters and words and not being able to get out her thoughts.
It was so upsetting to watch, because I could tell she knew that she wasn’t making sense, but she couldn’t figure out why and kept forgetting what we were telling her.
My nana has always been one of the most important people in my life. She has been a source of unconditional love to me since I was born, and if there is one thing I have never doubted in my life, it’s that my sister and I meant everything to her. We are her only grandkids, and she has enough love to spoil thirty grandkids–but she just lavished it all on us.  Rachel and I were the prettiest, funniest, smartest, nicest, most talented and wonderful kids in the world, and nothing anyone said or did would ever change her mind.
I tell you this for two reasons, so you can get some sense of just how important she is to me and so you’ll see just how much of her character is made up of the loving nana, which was obvious during this entire ordeal.
If you have ever been around someone experiencing a stroke, you’ll know what I mean when I say their words just don’t make sense. Here and there they’ll be able to speak a few clear words, or maybe get out a mostly understandable sentence, but a lot of what they try and say is just a mix of garbled sounds or words that don’t have anything to do with the words around them. I cannot stress how terrifying this is, and how helpless it makes you. My nana was getting more and more frustrated, and I was getting more upset in direct proportion.
But my nana has always been one of the most amazing women I have ever met, and do you know what she did? She actually managed to make us all laugh. That’s right. In the midst of experiencing a stroke, while rushing her to the hospital, my nana still found her sense of humor and helped ease a little of the tension. In the midst of one the most tortured attempts I’d yet seen of her trying to talk, my nana just threw up her hands and goes, “Oh, shit,”–her favorite curse word. Then she grinned at us so big, that there was just nothing for it. We had to laugh.
Like I said, she wasn’t making sense when she tried to talk, and she could occasionally get a few clear words here and there out, but she couldn’t manage even short sentences–except for one thing. The one sentence that my nana could say, clearly and without trouble, over and over was, “I love you.” She must have told me that twenty times on the ride over there. She would be agonizing over her words, and I would squeeze her hand or try to reassure her in some way, and she would say, perfectly intelligible, “I love you, I love you, I love you!”
A curse word and her love. Those are the things she could get out with no trouble. That’s my nana for you.
As I mentioned, my nana has had strokes in the past, and it resulted in her having memory problems. She forgets things very easily, and will ask you the same questions over and over again. She also tells the same stories over again, often within the same conversation. This has never really bothered me, because many of the stories she likes to tell repeatedly are stories about things we did in our childhood. I think that says something about my nana, that the things her brain always holds on to revolve around her love for us. How could I be frustrated or impatient with my nana when the things she remembers and that makes her happy to tell us about are about how precious my presence in her life has been?
When we arrived at the hospital, things happened very quickly. They immediately got my nana back into the emergency room and began running tests on her. The good news was that she wasn’t having paralysis or any of the other common side effects of a stroke, other than the impaired speech and confusion. I stood next to her in her hospital bed, answering her questions as she kept asking them over again. The doctors were talking to my family, but I wasn’t really listening. A nurse kept doing tests with her to try and see if her speech began improving, but it didn’t seem like it was. They have a stroke test that they do where they have you read sentences and describe pictures and identify objects. She couldn’t do them.
After we’d been there for about thirty minutes, my dad finally caught my attention and asked me what I thought we should do. Wait, what? Do about what? I had no idea what he was talking about. Shortly I discovered just what I had been missing when I was focused on my nana. When someone has a stroke, you have the option of giving them a drug that can possibly reverse the effects of the stroke, whatever they are. Strokes are often the result of a blood clot in the brain that cuts off the oxygen flow to certain areas, and that is what can result in permanent damage–like my nana’s short term memory loss. So they can give you a type of blood thinner that hopefully dissolves the clot and allows blood flow to resume before the damage is permanent.
But there is a catch, of course. This drug has to be administered within three hours of the stroke to work. There is also no guarantee that it will work–it might or it might not. And, worst of all, it carries with it a minor risk of death. You see, they inject the blood thinner into your veins, and so it doesn’t just dissolve clots in your brain–it can dissolve any clots anywhere in your body.  This can result in internal bleeding and, in some cases, your brain hemorrhaging, which generally results in death. There’s also the chance that if you don’t give her the medicine, she’ll get better on her own.
So when someone you love has a stroke, you are suddenly thrust into this extremely agonizing decision with only a very limited amount of time to make it. By the time we got to the hospital, got checked in, had initial tests run, and had everything explained to us, we estimated that about an hour and a half of our three hour window was already gone.
I’m sure you can imagine what kind of thoughts might run through your head when faced with this decision. What if we don’t give her the medicine and she can never speak properly again? What if we do give it to her and she has a brain hemorrhage? If we don’t take that risk, she might even get better on her own. If we give it to her, it might not even work. You just have no way to know–a stroke is an incredibly individualized event, and there’s a million variables that might affect each case. You’re just taking a shot in the dark on the risks, and the life of someone you love is the stake.
The doctors gave us our space and our time to try and make a decision. I went back to standing by my nana and just trying to talk to her as much as possible, to see if she was possibly beginning to improve on her own. When I first thought that she might be starting to speak a little more clearly, I was afraid that I was just wanting to believe that she was so we wouldn’t have to take the risk.
You might be wondering just how much of a risk there was, and it was admittedly pretty low– the doctors estimated about 6% for the worst case scenario of brain hemorrhage. That might not seem like very much, but let me assure you that when you don’t know anything for sure, and you realize the medicine might not even help, that a six percent chance seems like an enormous risk to take with your grandmother’s life.
We were especially scared because we know all too well that even with something that has minimal risks, the worst can happen. In 2012, my papa, my nana’s husband of 50+ years and my mother’s dad, went into the hospital to complete a simple, outpatient procedure to look at his heart. There was supposed to be minuscule risk, and not a single one of us thought that anything serious might happen. During the procedure, however, my papa suffered a massive heart attack, went into a coma, and died two days later. After something like that, it’s hard to take even a six percent risk with your nana’s life.
So as time is ticking down, no one is making a decision. I am desperately listening to every word my nana says to try and see if she is improving. At first, maybe one sentence in fifteen was making sense. It wasn’t looking good at that point. But after a little while, she would be saying maybe a couple sentences in a row, before things would get muddled again. Then, as our window began to draw to a close, I started counting how many sentences in a row she was getting out clearly. It was four, then five, then nine out of ten sentences she was saying were making sense. Finally, we were within the last ten minutes of our window, and still no one had made a decision.  I said I didn’t think we should give her the medicine. I felt that she was beginning to get better on her own, and I was truthfully just terrified of the risk.
You might wonder what my nana thought of all this, and why we didn’t let her make the decision. But I promise we tried to discuss it with her, but even though her sentences were making sense her brain was still confused. Her short term memory was also worsened, and she couldn’t seem to remember what we had told her every five minutes. All she could tell us was that she wanted to go home–my nana has always been a very terrible patient. She hates people fussing over her.
In the midst of our last minute attempt to make a decision, the neurologist came in and told us that our window had passed and the time factor had made the decision for us. That was almost as scary to hear as thinking about trying to take the risk. What if we were just being selfish and we’d forced our nana into being frustrated for the rest of her life every time she couldn’t get her words out?

But, as you’ll notice, this post is called “A Stroke of Miraculous Luck” and it’s for a reason. We didn’t have too much time to worry that we’d made the wrong decision. After my nana’s initial test results came back and all of them looked actually really good, she was admitted into the hospital and moved into her own room.I knew she was going to be okay when, after the doctor told her she had to be admitted, she pulled her covers up in front of her face, leaned over to me, and whispered, “This is bullshit.” By that point, she was already pretty much back to normal. When we were getting her settled into her own hospital room, the nurse gave her the stroke test again. She did them all without fail, only forgetting a word one time out of three tests. My mom and I were tearing up. Only a couple of hours before she couldn’t have read a single thing on them.
Somehow, by some miracle, the stroke did not seem to have had any permanent effect on her. Maybe it’s because my uncle reacted so quickly and gave her the aspirin immediately, maybe it’s because my nana just has an unusually resilient brain. Whatever the reason, she was speaking normally and already throwing a fit about having to be admitted into the hospital barely five hours after the stroke. The doctors told us that she would have to stay to be monitored because sometimes a minor stroke proceeds a massive one, but if that didn’t happen and  if all her test results came back clear she would probably be able to go home on Monday morning. Nana was NOT pleased by this news. She was even more displeased when she failed the gag test they gave her. This is when they test you by sticking a tongue depressor really far back on your tongue, which makes most people gag. My nana didn’t, and they were afraid that the stroke could have possibly affected the muscles in her throat, which meant that if she tried to eat or drink they might not function right, and she could suffocate. That meant that she couldn’t eat or drink until a speech therapist could check her out–and one wouldn’t be there until Monday. So only an IV for an entire day for her.
The next day and a half was a struggle to keep her from breaking out of the hospital. She was in as fine a form as I had seen her in ages, sassing us left and right and making us and the nurses and her doctors laugh. She complained about everything and asked if she could go home every ten minutes, insisting she felt just fine now and they’d kept her long enough. Sunday was a looong day, I can tell you. She kept trying to make us lay down on the bed with her or calling for another chair for my dad.

The Queen of Ornery.

The Queen of Ornery.

But Monday was even longer. Luckily, someone came in early to do her gag assessment, and they decided that she just had a really high gag tolerance, so she was able to eat. But as often happens in a hospital, things take a lot longer than they often are predicted to. Instead of leaving early on Monday morning, we didn’t leave until really late that afternoon. Of course, my sister and mom had gone to the cafeteria not five minutes before the doctor came in to tell us that all her test results looked great, she was being released, and he was starting the paperwork, and I thought I was going to have to sit on her to keep her from running out the door. She kept trying to make me let her put her clothes on, even though she was covered in wires and still had an IV in. She kept bustling around the room trying to get all our things together, and to be honest, I was exhausted just watching her. The hospital apparently really agreed with Nana.
Finally the doctor had signed the papers, and eventually our nurse was able to make his way back to us and get her all unhooked. He brought a wheelchair to take her down to the car, and she looked at him like he was crazy. “Is that for me?” she asked him. No, Nana, it’s for Rachel. Definitely not for you, the lady who just had a stroke. Then she told him, “I can walk out of here– I can RUN out of here!”
Thankfully we were able to convince her that was not the best idea, and we talked her into taking the wheelchair, albeit reluctantly. It just so happens that months in advance of this, my mom had scheduled my nana a dermatologist appointment for that Monday to check some worrying spots on her cheeks that we were afraid might be skin cancer. And as it turns out, she was feeling so well that we ended up able to make the dermatologist appointment–though she was less than pleased about going to another doctor instead of getting to go home. I just had this horrible fear that she was going to somehow avoid disaster with the stroke only to find out she had skin cancer. And yet, wonder of wonders, both spots turned out not to be anything. She really was fine.
The whole thing seemed to happen so quickly, and we went from such a low to such a high so fast, with an enormous barrage of emotions in between. Only two days before she had her stroke, we had taken her with us for the day out to the Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge, and drove her all through it and up on Mt. Scott and taken her to lunch at a little restaurant we love down there. In those first terrifying moments when I didn’t know what might happen, all I could think was how grateful I was that we’d been able to do that before this happened.

On Mount Scott

On Mount Scott

And so yet again, I was reminded of this lesson– you never know what life will bring you, so you have to make the most of every day. It’s one of the most cliche sayings there is, I know, but in the course of my life it has been reinforced to me time and time again. So I just want to encourage you to take a minute to really appreciate the things you love in your life, whatever they are. Hug a family member, go to dinner with a friend, cuddle your favorite pet– because those are the really precious things in life that make it worthwhile. And if there is one thing I’ve learned, it’s that just when you think you’ve got a handle on life, you can almost bet it’s going to throw something crazy your way.
Miraculously for me, things worked out pretty dang well this time.

Poem: I Fall Short

I apologize, Readers, for my extended absence. I have been working on a special project that I am very much looking forward to sharing with you all, and it’s taken up much of my attention. I also have been endlessly, soul-crushingly job hunting. I believe I have now applied at thirteen or fourteen places, and only two have even bothered to respond in order to reject me. One of them was something of a dream job for me, and for once I was completely qualified for it, and they did not even take two full days to tell me they had no interest in me as a candidate. That job listing is still up, which almost seems worse, because it’s like even not knowing what kind of applicant they might end up getting is better than giving me an interview. It has been an incredibly disheartening effort.
So today, I am going to share with you an old poem that rather sums up my feelings lately. It’s so strange to me sometimes, to re-read some of my old poetry and remember what inspired me to write it, but then to realize how well it has come to apply to different things at a different time in my life. Apparently I was an insightful little punk haha.

I Fall Short

I stretch my hand
my fingers feel a phantom brush
a butterfly kiss on my skin
that isn’t quite there
again

I hear the wind sigh around me
just a little farther
and it tries to lift me up
granting me half-formed wings
but I always fall short
it seems

The wise trees nod their heads
wisely
their gnarled countenances unsurprised
their green leaves tsking in agreement
the whole copse swaying disappointed
a picture of bereavement

The river runs swiftly by
sighing rippling sighs
babbling and laughing over rocks
at me
playfully teasing my failure
with fluid hilarity

The emerald blades below
ripple with disapproval
tickling my feet of clay
so I will leave the ground
and finally
be on my way

They keep misunderstanding
like if I reached a little farther
jumped a little higher
worked a little harder
it would be easily in my grasp
nature is demanding
don’t quit

Yet the earth just doesn’t get
I can see the blue of the sky
but I will never feel it
my visions always exceed my range
I am tired of always leaping
for something that will never change

So I fall short
back to the earth
a hostile, unwilling host
to gaze up at the sky
a stunningly blue, eternal almost

Just a quick PS, I have created a tumblr page to post my writing on, so if you are on tumblr please go and follow my tumblr page!

The Best Advice

Snippet Four

Be kind.
I think that is the best advice you can give yourself or any other person. Two words– it is as simple as that.
People will try to argue this, to tell you that the world doesn’t allow for kindness; that you cannot be kind without getting hurt. So it follows in these people’s minds that they cannot be kind because the world isn’t kind, and will not be kind to them if they are kind.
This is circular reasoning– it is an excuse. Perhaps in the course of being kind, yes, someone will destroy me. But if I can inspire even one other person to be kind, it is worth it. For all I know, they may be more successful than I, and inspire one hundred people, or a thousand, to be kind. Or possibly, just like me, they will change only one or two others.
However– when you plant seeds, if even one plant blooms we count it as a success. And within that one plant is the potential of countless seeds, dispersed over a lifetime, and each one containing within themselves the possibility of growth and new life.
Patience is the key here. Changing the world, this world that people claim is too unkind to allow kindness, is not the work of a day, or a year. It is a slow process. But we must have infinite patience, for what more worthy task exists than tending to our own existence?
So be kind– no excuses, and with a brave, open heart. And commit yourself to being patient with a world that is just waiting to bloom.

Credit: Michelle Marshall Photography

Snippet Three: Not In Vain

I have been trying to write a book since I was twelve years old. But somehow, in the ten years since, I have never been able to. And while I have been unsuccessful in this long endeavor of mine, I think I at least have finally managed to discern what the problem is.
I have started a vast amount of stories; lack of ideas has never been the impediment. Instead, I have struggled with an overabundance of ideas. I will start and work on one story, but suddenly I will be struck with a new, brilliant idea, and I cannot seem to stop myself from veering off on it. But before I get too far, another plot comes to me and it is imperative that I work on it, and so on and so forth. For ten years.
I have never been able to figure out this flaw in myself. I have pondered a million reasons why—perhaps I was just afraid of commitment? Or maybe I was just too lazy. Or it might even be that I am a poor, delusional imbecile who was only fooling myself to think that I was actually a writer.
I think this is the inevitable fear of every writer, at least in the beginning, and the only way to truly overcome it is to simply decide that you are going to believe in yourself and your talent. So what was the problem, once I chose to think that I do have some ability? Why did I write something that seemed dynamic and poignant as I put it down, but when I went back and reread it seemed clumsy and juvenile? Why did a plot that seemed to spring to life in my head and develop rapidly and with a rich array of details suddenly go stagnant, and lose all interest for me?
Here is what I have come to believe the problem is—I keep changing.
Now, of course this is not some revolutionary, brilliant idea. The whole point of life is growth and change (at least I think that is what it is supposed to be). I mean, change is always inevitable, even if in no other way than the aging of your body. But somehow, in the course of ten years, it never dawned upon me that as I changed, so too would the stories inside of myself. And let me tell you, the ten years between twelve and twenty-two were rather crowded with life changes.
In the past three months, I have experienced the loss of two beloved pets, one whom I had for sixteen years and was my best friend, and the other a precious, lively spirit whom I did not get nearly long enough with. On top of the loss of my grandfather and grandmother within the last seven years, I have been slowly, and then quite suddenly, being forced to come to terms with death. And I think I have finally reached a change that alters you irreparably. As tired and cliché as it sounds, death makes you achingly aware of the fragility of life. I look around now, and the world seems so delicate, so unsteady. My time has now been shown to me to be undeniably finite, with no assurance of fairness or joy or longevity. With no assurance that everyone I love or care about will not be taken suddenly.
Perhaps this all seems very obvious to you, because you yourself have already experienced the irreparable change. You can never unknow the reality of death once you know it. Of course, I have been aware vaguely of these tried-and-true truths since I was very small—but I did not really understand them until now. If you let it, death can loom on your horizon at all times, larger even in your view than the rising and the setting of the sun each day. That has been my paradigm for the past few months, certainly.
However—I do not want the deaths of my loved ones to be in vain. For some reason, it always seems to help when you say, yes, they have died, but it was not in vain! Of course, this often only works for heroes in stories and the like, when someone dies so that someone else can live. How do you make the death of a cat or a dog to be not in vain?
This question is why I am trying desperately to effect a paradigm shift. Instead of anxiously fixating on that looming specter on the horizon, sickened and afraid of my newly cemented knowledge, I want to turn my eyes to the infinitely precious life around me. I want to grasp every moment with open hands and take charge of it, instead of letting them flow around me, always flinching in fear of each one because I know now, fully, what might be waiting within. Yes, death will always be there, undeniable, but I would like to keep only him in the corner of my eye, instead of dominating the view.
This is how I hope to make the death of those I love not in vain. Their loss has taught me an ugly but inescapable fact, that is true. It has taught me the wildness and vagaries of grief, the searing burn of injustice, the nauseating weight of terror, the clawing grip of anxiety. It has taught me sorrow, those fathomless dark depths.
But. It has also taught me about myself. I have come to know myself better, and I have gained an understanding of a fundamental characteristic of myself that has eluded me for years. Ever since I have started writing, I have been plagued by the doubt of an essential thread of my very self. Now I can say, even if you never write a book, you are a writer. Yet this new appreciation of life has kindled in me the fervent desire to boldly go forth and achieve my dreams, instead of just hoping that somehow, someday in a vague, dreamy future they will make themselves come true.
Yes, my loved ones have forced me to confront the bald-faced, ugly reality of dying. But, more than that, more importantly than that—they have taught me about living. They have died, but in doing so, they have allowed me to live.
And so I say, they have not died in vain.

Snippet Two: Two Months

He’d been sick for a few weeks, but finally her cat no longer seemed bothered by the illness that had been plaguing him. He watched her now through half-opened eyes, and she ran a hand lovingly over his fur.
After a few moments of soothing, she gently lifted and held him in her arms, still mindful of his recent frailty. She lost track of time as she cuddled him close, memorizing the smooth, soft feel of his fur against her fingers and feeling love in her heart. Eventually she tenderly nestled him into his box, covered him with a soft, brown blanket, and left him to rest peacefully.
The next day it rained. She stood outside and watched as the water washed away muddy clumps from the fresh mound of soft, brown dirt under the window, and the rain was her grief all around her, an inescapable storm.

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(Just a note, November 8 marked two months since I lost the love of my life, my precious cat of 16 years, Boo. It was truthfully a rough day for me, especially since someone I know lost their cat of many years that same day. All of the grief and anger and heartbreak of losing my boy came back to me, and then I was doubly upset because someone else I knew was going through what had happened to me. As I was curled up crying late that night, I ended up writing this, and somehow it helped.)