I have always loved fall.
But never more than this year, because this summer…this summer crushed me.
The summer of loss and relentless life punches. Every time I tried to catch my breath and find my balance, I couldn’t. And every time I sat down to write, I couldn’t do that either. Empty, helpless, overwhelmed, stymied by not knowing how to say or write what I needed. I didn’t pick up a book or put hands to a keyboard for months. For a girl who usually finds solace in words, it was an agonizing void. Here’s a recap of what went down, and why I shut down.
Each could (and may) become its own blog:
Firefly—June 18th. Four day music festival my daughter and I attended (and loved) for the past 3 years. I had tickets, but she didn’t want to go. ‘With me’ are probably the words missing from that sentence. I sold the tickets, so this wasn’t a huge loss or a huge hit on the summer heart punch scale, but there’s nothing like hearing live music (outdoors) and spending time with my girl. Disappointment and FOMA reigned as I caught a glimpse of life to come.
Taylor—June 30th. I woke and read my friend’s Facebook post written to her son who died of an accidental drug overdose the previous day. How? How does any parent move on after they lose their child? How was my rockstar friend still standing, writing and sharing about her love and loss? And how are we as a community not doing a better job treating this disease? My heart heaved as I read her words, and heaved again as I thought of the addicts I know and love and the challenges they face every day.
OBX — July 13th. My kids left for a weeklong family vacation in the outer banks with their dad and his family. A tradition older than they are, and a trip I started going on sometime around 1991 and stopped a few years ago when we consciously uncoupled (Gwyneth took a lot of flak for that phrase, but I’m no hater). I don’t know if it’s harder or easier that I don’t go. Maybe that answer is different for everyone involved; maybe that answer isn’t known by anyone else involved either. Maybe that answer is both.
What I do know is it leaves me wistful for days when they and life were smaller and easier. When I am on that trip, my kids gravitate toward me (which I love), but if I’m not there they gravitate toward their dad, their Mimi, aunts, uncles and cousins. In my mind I’m strengthening those relationships, and that feels far more important than my small heart sting.
I hope I’m right.
Skin Cancer —July 18. My dog is failing fast. His legs give out when he least expects it and he hits the floor. Hard. All the carpet runners, pain meds and helping him stand are not enough anymore. In the midst of this, I have a doctor’s appointment. Dermatologist. For a spot on my back I would have happily ignored for years if not for the insistence of someone who arguably has both a healthier knowledge and a heartier fear of cancer than I do. I’m barely listening at the appointment. I’m so used to hearing ‘that’s a barnacle, a mole, a scratch, psoriasis, eczema’…I’m not prepared for “that’s definitely skin cancer” and completely preoccupied thinking about Wags and the decision I know is looming.
I can’t process anything except he’s saying it’s no big deal and asking do I want him to remove it now. Sure, is all I think; I won’t have the bandwidth to deal with this later. Also, it’s cancer and I want it gone yesterday.
It’s over quickly. They tell me not to worry, and I don’t.
Wags — July 19th. I said goodbye to my almost 15-year-old yellow lab (6 days shy of his birthday). It was the hardest, kindest, saddest, most gut-wrenchingly beautiful thing I’ve ever done and I am still not over it (guessing I never will be). I wanted to wait until my kids were home from the beach, but that was not to be. My dad’s words ringing in my ears “you have to do what’s right for the dog, when it’s right for the dog. It’s all about him now. They’ll understand and they’d want you to do that too,” I still anguished over the timing of it all. Our boy was my constant companion, the protector of our hearts and home, and pure love. I remain a wreckage of a human as I learn to live without him.
Bari—July 24th– 5 days later I answered a phone call that brought me to my knees. That’s only happened one other time in my life on 9/11 as I watched the World Trade Center collapse. This call was news that two young men I adore lost their mother to suicide. I heard the words but my brain refused to process them and all I could say was “noooo” as I sunk to the ground. As the details unfolded, my heart shattered. I wanted to rewrite it all. I was dumbfounded and angry; not at her, but at a disease powerful enough to alter the heart and mind of a mother who loved her boys and a world that doesn’t do enough to understand or treat mental illness.
I will bang that drum for the rest of my days (so will Project Semicolon).
Aunt Joan — August 4th. My dad’s older sister, and our greatest champion as kids (actually always). She was engaged, patient, enthusiastic and graced us, okay spoiled us, with her undivided attention and love. She was the GOAT gift giver, keeping detailed notes on our likes, hobbies, favorite brands and sizes; every card signed “Much Love, Aunt Joan” in her perfect script. I knew her health wasn’t good, and vowed to see her once things settled in September.
That moment didn’t come, she passed away while we were in Belize. I cried on the phone with my dad, then found a small empty Catholic church in San Pedro where I made a donation, listened to a beautiful choir song drift in through open windows and lit a candle in her honor. I hope she feels much love where she is now. I hope she always does.
Skin cancer again — August 13th…maybe I should have worried.
Basal cell (if you have to have skin cancer this is the “good” kind). Positive margins and infiltrative type (not so good). I was preoccupied the first time, but that was me being extremely focused compared to where I am now. My girl leaves for school in 8 days. Eight. Days.
None of us are ready.
STOP THE RIDE I WANT TO GET OFF.
Delaney —Aug. 17th. There’s been a lot of press about VA Tech’s accidental acceptance of far too many students. The resulting housing crisis led to two hotels being turned into dorms. And yep, that’s where she landed. At a Holiday Inn Express off campus. Way off campus. Frustratingly, isolating-ly off campus. That took some of the wind from her sails. Four days before setting off for the biggest transition of her life, she and her long time boyfriend parted ways. That shredded the sails. I know it was the right thing (so does she), but the timing…the timing was a soul punch and a delay of game we didn’t need.
Empty nest —August 24th. The long drive home from Blacksburg, VA after moving my girl in to her new “home” at the Holiday Inn Express. I cried (a little) as I hugged her goodbye, and then cried so hard I lost my voice somewhere on 81 North. Three friends called and talked me home (thank God, and you 3 girls). I walked into my house and was done in by its emptiness, the full force of losing Wags smashing me to bits. I had the good sense to text a fellow sad hokie mom and spent the night enveloped with my tribe (a few beers, a LOT of tears and thankfully some laughs were involved).
Saratoga —August 26th. My dad and I started (or restarted) an annual trip in 2014 for the last week of the horse race meet. “The Spa” is where my brothers have been working and writing a daily racing newspaper for the past 18(ish) years, and where we spent our childhood Augusts. The town is rich in everything, history, art, culture, racing and most of all memories.
It’s the last place our whole family vacationed together, and one of the few places my dad talks about my sister. This year should have been the easiest to manage. Both kids in college, no drive home at the crack of dawn Labor Day Monday to worry about. But there was a second skin cancer surgery to worry about and schedule around, and a delayed college move in that shortened my timeline. It seemed impossible to make work, so we cancelled, but now, looking at my calendar it seems like there was nothing but time.
My dad is 85 and I am swimming in regret.
Paddy — September 5th. Mindlessly scrolling Facebook and a post from a photographer friend catches my eye (his photos tend to do that). My mind registers what has happened before my eyes read the words, we’ve lost another giant. I call my dad who confirms it’s true and says, “he was the only friend I could really talk to, and the last friend I had left” and I weep as I think of the family who has lost him too soon, and my dad who has lost his only friend.
Jeter — September 14th. Text from my friend Jen “I am so gutted and shocked but wanted you to know we lost Jeter today.” My second favorite dog in the world. He was a mammoth, pure black German shepherd dubbed “biggie.” A gentle giant, who was misunderstood by some (black dog syndrome is a real thing) but loved by many and it hurts my heart to know I won’t be greeted by him bringing me a shoe (how he greeted those he loved) when I walk in their front door. Dog lives are far too short.
And this summer has been far too long.
Now you know why there has been such a gap between posts, and you missed A LOT. In addition to all of the above, I’ve now survived orientation, two college move-ins, family weekend, and 6 weeks of an empty nest. None of it was easy. Some of it was funny. All of it is part of the great mash up of life.
“When you recognize that you will thrive not in spite of your losses and sorrows, but because of them, that you would not have chosen the things that happened in your life, but you are grateful for them, that you will hold the empty bowls eternally in your hands, but you also have the capacity to fill them? The word for that is healing.” ~Cheryl Strayed, Brave Enough.
I would not have chosen any of the above losses, but I am healing.
I hope all you empty nesters and those who have experienced your own season of loss are healing too. As always, to the high school parents daunted by SAT and college prepping, you are not alone. We got you. Click here and let us help.
3 Comments Add yours
Girl, I hear you. I see you. I WAS you when my daughter left for college. I totally, completely get it.
I had NO idea it would be this hard! This empty nest stuff is not my jam. Yet.
It helps so much to know I’m not alone…thank you!
Sheila…….beautifully written and so understood. You are strong and devoted. A fabulous mom, daughter, sister, friend………..bless you