Thursday, December 3, 2015

Rocks, Knives, Cars, and Other Lies the Gun Lobby Tells

Well here we are again. Pray for San Bernardino. What's that? Still on your knees from Colorado Springs? Too bad. This is your new reality, America. 300+ mass shootings (defined as 4 or more victims) since the beginning of 2015. More mass shootings than days. 600+ child shootings. This is the legacy of America's gun culture. Make no mistake - we own this. This is American exceptionalism at its finest. We're #1! 

So let's address, again, a few of the talking points of the No New Laws extremists.

Knives and Rocks
Argument: bad guys will just find another way. If you ban guns, they'll use knives and rocks. One, not talking about a ban. And two, of course they will! Are knives and rocks as effective at killing? Can you kill 15 people in 2 minutes with a rock? If so, you are total badass. There have been several high-profile knife attacks in Asia. Fatalities were pretty low. I sure wish the killers in Newtown, or at Virginia Tech, or NIU, or San Bernardino had only had knives or rocks. If your child accidentally finds your rock, how likely is it that they will kill a sibling or themselves with your rock?

More people die in car accident than are killed by firearms each year. Should we just ban cars then?! Again, not talking about a ban. 
Cars are used to get to work, see family, socialize, run errands. Lots of important stuff. Guns are used for hunting, entertainment, and self-protection, rather a more limited set of uses than cars. Yet we regulate the hell out of driving. Mandatory insurance. Licensing, registration, and safety training for new drivers. Seatbelts. We regulate the cars as well, to make them as safe as possible. These measures make sense for guns. Licensing, training, insurance, safety locks. 

"I'd rather have a gun and not need it than need a gun and not have one!" Unfortunately, those aren't the only options. It is not a given that your gun-for-protection-only will never be used. It's far more likely that the gun you bought for self-protection will be used against you or family member, either intentionally or accidentally, than it is that you will ever use it to ward off an attack. An alarm system at home, mace or pepper spray, even a taser, provide a lot of protection without the same level of devastating possible consequences.

If your depressed teenage son in a fit of angst over some girl attempts suicide, would he try a rope or pills if you have no gun? Could be. But there is a reason that most attempted suicides aren't by gun: they are just too effective. There isn't even the possibility of failure or a second chance.

If your grandchild who is visiting finds your Mace, that you mistakenly left in the nightstand, you might have a visit to the ER for an eye flush, and your daughter-in-law is going to be hugely pissed at you, but your grandchild is going to be alive. 

There aren't many home invasion attackers who will continue when a loud, police-summoning alarm is blaring. That also gives me you time to grab that Mace or taser or bat, or other lower-risk option. 

It's a Mental Illness Problem, not a Gun Problem
It's both, folks. We don't have any higher rate than of mental illness than other developed country. We do need better access to mental health care. So where is the legislation from the right wing addressing that, since the Republican line is that it's a mental health issue? Words without action are meaningless. 

"Switzerland has super high gun ownership and low crime, so we need MORE guns." Please research this further on your own. Simply put, they have EXTENSIVE training and REQUIRED military service by civilians. No military, no gun. Same with Israel. Regular mental health screenings, training, registration - all of it. Ammunition is tightly controlled at local storage sites. 

"Hey Chicago has really strict gun laws and they have the worst gun crime in the country!" Know what Chicago doesn't have? Good neighbors. The guns used in Chicago crime come almost exclusively from OUTSIDE CHICAGO. If you'd like an example of a place with strict gun laws that has seen a corresponding drop in gun crime, look to Hawaii. Why are the laws there working? Because Hawaii is made up of islands and the people who should not be able to get guns can't just drive an hour or so to get one. This is a key reason we need national gun reform. Local and state changes are inadequate when we have open borders between cities and states. 

An Armed Society is a Polite Society
Oddly, we aren't known as "Those Polite Americans." An armed society is one in which teenagers are gunned down for listening to loud music. Where a woman shoots at a shoplifter. Where a carjacking victim is shot in the head by someone trying to be a hero and firing at the vehicle. Where road rage escalates into executions. Where throwing popcorn at someone in a movie theater is grounds for shooting. Where drunken bar fights end in death. And on and on and on. In short, it's a society where every man or woman who feels a little taller or stronger with his gun at his side might feel brave enough to start something he wouldn't have if he wasn't armed.  

Listen, I'm not a Constitutional scholar, but  let's get real: the 2nd Amendment has been abused. It was written when we had no standing army, and that pesky little "well-regulated militia" line is all but forgotten by those who stand screaming, "SHALL NOT BE INFRINGED!!!" 

If I hear one more time, "what part of 'shall not be infringed' don't you get?" I might scream. Rights have limits, as the Supreme Court has affirmed more than once. 

Allow me to be absurd in talking about why I think we do need to regulate the types of weapons that should be in civilian hands. You like to shoot stuff? It's fun? It keeps your home safe? Okay. Well I like to blow stuff up. It's freaking awesome. Who are you to say that I can't have a grenade?! Shall not be infringed! Why are you so afraid of my inanimate object? Why can't people have grenades? I have the right to arm myself as I see fit. I also like small tactical nuclear weapons. Shall not be infringed! 

There is simply no rational reason to have an AR-15 or similar weapon. Large-capacity magazines need to go; reducing the number of shots that can fired quickly gives people a window of time in which to escape or fight back. Ten kids in Newtown ran when Adam Lanza stopped to reload. Ten kids who lived. Maybe it would have been more if he had needed to reload earlier. (If you're a Sandy Hook hoaxer, go away. You are dead to me.) These kinds of weapons were completely unheard of when the 2A was written. They have no practical use, other than showing off and feeling tough and they are incredibly deadly - as deadly as a grenade, for example. 

Doing nothing is no longer an option. People say, "there's nothing we can do" and that's bullshit. It's way past time to pass some laws.  Can we prevent every accidental death, every mass shooting, every domestic violence case where a seemingly great guy turns a gun on his wife or family? Of course not, but that doesn't mean we can't take steps to reduce the carnage. People still die in car accidents, hell my mother died in a car accident, but it doesn't mean I stopped wearing my seatbelt or threw up my hands and decided airbags are worthless. People will always break laws, but can't we find a way to minimize this epidemic?

Contact your Senators. Contact your Representatives. Contact your Governors. DEMAND that meaningful change start. Let's begin by funding the blocked research by the CDC again, because, make no mistake, this is a public health CRISIS. Think of what makes sense for you and take action to MAKE THAT HAPPEN. And if you're one of those who own guns for protection, please think about it long and hard. No one thinks they're going to be that family that has the accident, or the suicide, or the violent snap. But the evidence is clear: in almost every case, you are running a higher risk with that gun in the house than you are of being a victim. Obviously if you have a violent ex or situation where you are in danger, your evaluation may be different, which is one of the reasons why I wouldn't support a full-on ban on firearms.

For me, the ideal changes are pretty comprehensive. Background checks on every sale or transfer between owners. Mandatory jail time for those breaking these laws (empty the prisons of low level drug offenders to make room). Required safety training. Mandatory insurance on every gun. Mandated reporting of gun theft. Free and mandatory safety lock provided with every gun purchase. Charges whenever a minor accesses and brandishes or uses an adult's gun. Limits on magazine capacity. Renewing the Assault Weapons Ban of 1994 that expired in 2004. 

We can do better. We have to do better. And if you are one of the people who still believe that the current climate is the best we have to offer, you are part of problem. 

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

High School, Hot Flashes, and Sobriety

My oldest baby started high school this morning. HIGH SCHOOL! Yes, I just shouted that. It's completely ridiculous. Clearly, kids are not ready for high school until about 20. Voting, driving, drinking - 25 at a bare minimum. He good-naturedly (sort of) held up an index card with the number "9" on it - that's a thing now and I usually try to do a little bit of what are "things" at the moment. He's forbidden me to post the photo of him holding up his "9" next to a photo of him with his "I'm a Brand-New Kindergartner!" sign from (of course) - nine years ago. 

My youngest baby starts middle school today, in about 90 minutes. All those nice older people who told me that it all goes by so fast and to appreciate every moment? Well screw it all - they were right.  It might have been better received were the message not regularly delivered by complete strangers in the grocery store or Target when kids were screaming, pooping their pants, breaking things, etc., but damn if it isn't true. 

It seems especially cruel to have all these emotional milestones occurring while, apparently, my biological purpose on Earth is beginning its last hurrah. HOT FLASHES. Yes, I just shouted that too. I apologize for ever laughing about them. Sometimes I laugh too, because they are so weird. Other times I get really angry, so the family has learned to sit in silence, waiting to see which reaction this particular event is going to elicit. Really fun times, probably 20 per day. And woe to the child or husband who questions my need to tell them every. single. time. that I am HAVING A HOT FLASH. Oversharing? Maybe. Or up yours. I don't care. If all this heat and sweating were an effective form of weight loss, I'd be enjoying my coffee in my prom dress, size 2 people! It's in my closet, waiting patiently.

The miraculous thing is that I'm walking through all this mess, this life, this crazy, completely sober. Four years in August. Given my genetic propensity, my background, my sincere LOVE of alcohol, this is quite honestly miraculous. It's still hard. Not every day, not even every week, but in the moments when it IS hard, oh my God, it's so hard. Right now, I have been showing up for my family, more often than not - WAY more - for the better part of sixteen years. Having been not shown up for by one of my parents due to the ravages of alcoholism, I know this is a gift - not necessarily as much for THEM as I'm highly imperfect, but a gift for me. I get to be here and watch these people grow, and often do a decently okay job of mothering. World's Most Okay Mom!!! And I'm married to A WONDERFUL PERSON. Both of my parents were married several times. I have been married once, for SIXTEEN YEARS! (Yes, I know, say it again, anyone who knows it; I'll lead the chorus: "David is wonderful, he is a great guy, you are so lucky." It would be annoying were it not about 98% true. 

Of course, I cannot get through a full post without mentioning my mom, because, since she died, that's what I do. I still say her name aloud. Often. If that's weird, well, look at the source. I'm weird. And I miss, miss, miss my mom. I want to talk to her about high school boys, and teenage girls (she's pretty much an expert on that particular brand of scary), about hot flashes, and about sobriety. She broke the rules about letting me hit my own bottom sometimes, and told me she had no regrets about it. She believed, and may well have been right, that she probably kept me alive, or at least from suffering something very terrible, more than once. She'd be so excited to see that I'm sober, because when she died, I was only 7 months sober, and it had been very rocky, a very tough 18-month stretch. I HOPE HOPE HOPE that those who are gone get to see what we're doing, or at least get a newsletter or something.

Endings are always hard for me, so today, I'll just say "bye" and hope whatever struggle you're facing, you emerge smiling. 

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Three Years Gone

I haven't written anything in a long time. Tomorrow marks the 3rd anniversary of my mom's death in Houston and I've been dreaming of her, and crying, and having heart palpitations, and bursts of anger and memory overload, among other things.

Sometimes I hesitate to talk about it too much anymore to most people. Everyone wants to be happy, to focus on the positive, and it's just not a happy story. Then I feel bad for feeling bad, which then makes me mad.  It is acceptable for me to feel bad, and it's okay for me to say so. It's okay for you to not want to hear about it, as I'm sure you've got your own things you feel bad about, so feel free to pass.  As a society, we are so uncomfortable with feeling bad. Here's what I'm going to say about my need to feel bad on March 3rd:

I do celebrate my mom's life. We tell happy stories on her birthday. We share memories at Christmas. I think of her multiple times, every single day of my life, laughing, talking, just being. I have beautiful photos of her in my house. But deeply mourning someone's death doesn't mean you don't appreciate the life they had and there is a time for everything. March 3rd is the day when I fully allow myself to feel all the hurt, and anger, and disbelief that simmer below the surface on most days over her horrible, sudden, unnecessary, and utterly preventable death. It's the day I will write to my friend Officer Cooper of the Houston Police Department, to tell him thank you again and that I'll never forget his patience and help. It's the day I will let myself really cry while the kids are at school, sometimes so hard I literally get sick. Or scream myself hoarse into pillows so I don't scare the dog.  It's the day when I look at her things, open the ziploc bags where clothing still holds her scent, touch her lock of hair from the funeral home, and feel the loss completely.

A few years ago, I read Missing Mom, by Joyce Carol Oates. I recently picked it up again, to see if anything resonated differently, now that I am actually an adult woman missing a mom myself. The mom in the book was murdered and my mom died in an accident. So while my mom wasn't taken by an overtly hostile violent act, there is a lot of similarity. So much regret. I'm haunted by all that will forever go unsaid. I will never be able to ask certain questions of her, and as she was the only one with the answer to some of them, that door is closed. Now that I have a teenage daughter of my own, I want so much to call her for advice, or commiseration, and most importantly, to apologize again for being such a complete nightmare when I was a teenager (and again during much of twenties, and several awful months in 2009-2010).

I want to tell her that I'm still sober and that I appreciate all her heavy handedness and "meddling" that maybe saved my life more than once. I want to tell her that her grandsons' voices have changed and they are both taller than their moms. I want to tell her that her granddaughters are all lovely and smart and hilarious and that the 5 cousins are best friends. I want her to know about Kelsey's beautiful wedding, and that I've finally been to Europe and that I love it too, and I wish I'd gotten to travel there with her. I want her to know that her parents are healthy and happy together and doing their thing at the Lake and being there for all of us and that we wanted another 30 years with her too.

I want to tell her that Barack Obama was reelected and Osama bin Laden is dead and that Clay Aiken is going to run for Congress and that marriage equality is a rolling tide. I want to tell her that I am in touch with her best friend Steve's brother and mom and that we share memories about them and that Steve's great-nephew is a huge Hollywood star. I want her to know that she was right that Jennifer Lopez and Marc Anthony wouldn't last and that Brad Pitt is still married to Angelina Jolie, even though that wouldn't make her happy at all. I want to tell her that her sister has been wonderful to us in her absence, and that I love talking to Auntie Syd on the phone about some of the same things I used to talk to her about. I want to tell her that though she prepared us for life and all its unpredictability, that the hole where she is supposed to be in our lives is bottomless and permanent. That we are doing well, that we have love, and friendship, and family and beauty and joy in our loves and that because we love her so very much, it hurts forever that she doesn't get to be a part of it anymore.

So I can say it all, but I don't get to hear her answers, which is what I really want the most. Truly, I don't know if she hears it, though I hope so with all my heart.

From Missing Mom:
"Something ruptured and began bleeding in my chest when I bent over my mother, when I saw my mother in that way. It will happen to you, in a way special to you. You will not anticipate it, you cannot prepare for it and you cannot escape it. The bleeding will not cease for a long time."

My rupture came with the words, "your mom died in a car accident this morning." And I am still bleeding inside.

I miss you horribly mom, and on March 3rd, I refuse to pull my punches about it.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Dear Senator,

Good morning and Happy Valentine's Day to you all!

I finally decided to get politically involved.  Yesterday I emailed my state representative, state senator, and Congressman with my hopes that they support two of the recommended changes in gun laws.  Specifically, I hoped for support for strengthened background checks and limiting magazine clips.  The texts of all the emails were pretty much the same.

Last night I got a few messages from Minnesota state senator Dave Osmek that left me startled.  I'm going to include the full exchange below to see what you all think; my Facebook friends were pretty flabbergasted and I'm glad to see that I'm not alone in thinking this is a little off the rails.  For your viewing pleasure:

Shannon Heupel 2/13/2013 12:30 PM >>>
“Certain forms of ammunition have no legitimate sporting, recreational, or self-defense use and thus should be prohibited.” - Ronald Reagan

Dear Senator Osmek,

I strongly support efforts to prevent gun violence by innovating and updating Minnesota's background check system to make sure all gun sales require a background check. 

Please consider support for limiting magazine capacity as well.  My best friend lives in Newtown.  I know the pain these families are enduring.  Six little boys survived that day when the gunman stopped shooting briefly, presumably to reload.  There is no legitimate civilian need for large capacity magazines and lives can be saved.  Not all lives, but some lives.  

Please show strong and brave leadership for those of us sick of living under the constant threat of gun violence and help stop this epidemic.

Shannon Heupel

Ms Heupel,

I strongly support improving the background check system with the BCA, to make the checks faster and have more impact.  Keeping guns out of the hands of criminals and the mentally ill is important.

As to banning magazine capacities, your comments really tell you why I would not support this legislation.  Limiting the capacity to 10 only means the criminal just needs a second to pop the clip and reload.  The bans have no real-world impact.  I refuse to support legislation that uses a tragedy in this way, so we must agree to disagree on this.
I do not fear law abiding citizens and if they are armed.  Years ago, anti-gun zealots claimed Minnesota would become the "Wild Wild West" with improved conceal-carry laws.  Nothing could be further from the truth...and reality.

Shannon Heupel 02/13/13 3:50 PM 

I would also like to point out that the majority of the public supports banning the larger capacity clips.  And if you ask the parents of the six kids who survived in the Sandy Hook shooting because they had a split second to run, I think they would disagree with you that it's not worth it.  Everything about those guns and that ammunition was legal - right up until the morning of 12/14.  

  I'm disappointed to hear your views on this and will bear that in mind at election time.  
Thank you though, for taking the time to respond to my email.

Ms Heupel,

That you believe the "majority of the public" supports your position is rather illustrative of your inability to understand the subject.  Based on the eMails and phone calls to my office, you are in the severe minority on this subject.

Also, perhaps you should listen to the father of one of the dead children, who completely agrees and supports my position.  But, I completely understand why you don't want to let a good tragedy go to waste. 

Ms Hempel:

By the way, I noticed you are a blogger.

I particularly enjoy the comments about being a "fully recovered Republican", and the blogs you have read.
 Sen.David Osmek 02/13/13 7:54 PM

Okay.  So what do you think?

My takeaway here...

We've gotten to a very ugly place when an elected official decides I'm fair game for insults and bullying because of my political affiliations.  Like it or not, Dave, you work for ALL of us.  My taxes help pay you.

If we don't tell our legislators what we think/want, they have no idea.  Dave seems to think that phone calls and emails to his office are a better scientific gauge as to public opinion than polls, so if you carry a different opinion, you should let him know.  Despite my "inability to understand the situation," I am most assuredly not in a "severe minority."  Republican friends, especially, please let him know where you stand, as Democrats' opinions don't count with his office.

I know that many of my Republican friends, including those in law enforcement, like and support both of these proposals.  PLEASE let your representatives know if you feel this way.

And if you, like one of my favorite Republican friends, think that, "obviously, Osmek is an ass," then feel free to share that with him too.

As far as politicizing a tragedy... I don't even know how to respond to that.  We are human beings, and we react when we see something wrong happening.  Sandy Hook parents are making appearances and pleas for change, not for political or financial gain, but because they want to stop this madness.  We make laws as needed to protect our citizens.  This is NOT politicizing something or taking advantage of a "good tragedy" (what a despicable phrase); this is our responsibility to one another.  I wanted to "do something" after my mom was killed and realized that what I was up against was insurmountable.  Truly.  This time, that's not the case.  We can make a difference.

I did see the testimony from James Mattioli's father, who does say that more gun laws aren't the answer, but rather, enforcement of our current laws should be where to start.  Most of the Newtown parents, however, are making statements supporting multi-faceted changes, including stricter laws on guns.  So while Dave tells me I should listen to this father, and I did, I would ask that he then listen to the other 19 kids' parents too.

Please, please, please - if you have an opinion on this, make it known. Wherever you live, please take a moment to get involved in your own district- whatever your beliefs.

Blessings and Peace.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Stepping Up or Standing Down

There are a few things I wanted to share from the jumble of thoughts and emotions I've had since the Newtown tragedy last Friday.

The first is something my dear friend, Brandy Burt Jacobs, put so eloquently on Facebook.  She's given me permission to share it:

I can't possibly begin to imagine what the Sandy Hook families who lost their children are going through. None of us can. However, 12 years ago our infant daughter Emily passed away after being born with genetic disorder. Though our circumstances are worlds apart, I am sadly in the most unfortunate group of parents who have buried their child. The difficult weeks and months following are now a blur in many ways, but there are vivid memories that still stand out to me years down the road.

I remember the friends who didn't wait for me to "let them know" what they could do to help, they just showed up at my door and we figured it out.

I remember those who didn't assume that comfort could only come from those in my inner circle and reached out regardless, though it may have been years since we spoke.

I remember those who bravely stumbled on their words when there were none to say, rather than avoid me at the grocery.

I remember those that didn't avoid bringing up her name in an effort to not make me sad, rather brought her name up often, got a few tears out of the way, and moved on to happier topics.

I remember those who acknowledged the difficult anniversaries to come, not just the first year but in years following.

I remember those who recognize that even though we went on to have 4 amazing, healthy children, that everything we do is with an Emily-sized hole.

I do not know what each family individually needs on the road ahead, but I do know what stands out on my own journey through grief. I know that every act of reaching out is an act of kindness, regardless how awkward. I know that the smallest action far exceeds the mountain of good intentions. 

God Bless these families.

I have little to add to her beautiful words.  I'm so glad she said it!  Waiting for the moment when the "right" thing to do becomes evident often means letting the chance go by to do anything at all.  

When mom died in the accident, the people who just "showed up" are the ones I remember most vividly.  And the truth is, the people I thought would show up and didn't stand out as well.  

If not now, then when?  If not you, then who?  

One other thing started to take shape as I've read stories of the victims and the responses of the public to these stories.  This morning, I read Noah Pozner's eulogy, delivered by his mom.  It is beautiful.  90% of the comments to this were wonderful, positive, and supportive.  Then there are those who feel the need to question a mother's releasing this to the public - and that's putting it nicely.  The lioness in me wants to hunt those people down and claw them in the face, seriously.  When I read Veronique Pozner's words, I smiled and teared up.  I want to thank her for sharing her son with the world, because that's what this public eulogy does.  Noah will not get the chance to introduce himself to the world; he will be forever six years old.  It seems his mother's wish is that the world know and love him as his family did; that his life make an impression.  It has on me.  A child who wants to be a manager of a taco factory or a doctor couldn't possibly be anything less than a delight to have around!

I suspect anyone questioning how the families might (or might not) behave in public has, like the Grinch, a heart that is two sizes too small.

I am like Mrs. Pozner.  I choose to share my story and sorrow publicly, which some seem to think makes a person fair game.  I've read comments such as, "I highly doubt any family members are bothering to read comments.. blah, blah blah."  I read comments after the accident.  I needed to know, I just did, and sometimes the news sites had information I hadn't heard from the police.  I remember the person who wrote, "I guarantee you Mr. Jaguar was zipping in and out of traffic..." and said basically haha, they won't be driving like a jerk anymore.  (Mom was stopped on the shoulder and hit from behind).  It's not even the falsehood of the statement; it's the coldness of a total stranger making the most devastating event of my life into a punchline.  I once shared on a board my trying to forgive the truck driver and while most responses were beautiful and kind, one person accused me of dishonoring my mother with my "psychotic love for her killer."  I know that person is probably disturbed themselves, but it sticks.  It's another wound, and clearly one that I remember verbatim.  

I do hope that Mrs. Pozner is kept in the dark about these types of comments, because it does hurt terribly, when you reach out to share and are slapped in the face, even by just a few bad apples.  I don't think anyone of my single-digit followers would do such a thing, of course.  But it's always worth a reminder that we don't always understand the motivations and needs of others and to think before we speak or post.  

I have family members who would sooner walk naked down the street before sharing their stories.  I know other people who share even more than I do.  There will be people who never want to lay eyes on Sandy Hook again, and there will be people who will want to stand on the spot where their child last drew breath and close their eyes and walk into that day themselves, absorbing every bit of information they can.  None of these responses are right or wrong, or anyone else's to judge as such.  The best we can do is hug where possible, offer a kind word if it's in us, and shut the hell up when can't do either of the former and let these people do what they need to do to find meaning in life again.

Love and blessing to all out there.  And may the hateful ones experience something beautiful that makes their hearts grow three sizes in one day too.  Merry Christmas.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Blaming the Firefighters

Minneapolis mayor's line at the DNC this week, "pyromaniacs shouldn't blame the firefighter" does a pretty good job of conveying my feelings on the Republicans' blame of our President for the economic troubles of our country.

Seriously?!  The attitude: we messed it up something fierce, but let us fix it.  We'll ignore the fact that the recovery is real, albeit very slow.  Not only did we start the house fire, but when the American people fairly elected you firefighter, at every step of the way, we locked the doors and kicked you in the face when you tried to come in and put the fire out.  In fact, we flat out said that our priority was to make sure you lost your job as firefighter.  Not to help you clean up the mess and get the house rebuilt, but to make sure you didn't keep your job.  You'd think we would have cared more about the place that was on fire.  Once we stymied most of your efforts, we blamed you for the fact that only part of the fire had been controlled and now we think people will believe we're well qualified to put out the rest of the fire that we started.

I do think the Chief will be re-elected.  I only hope he gets some good backup in Congress so we can make some real progress this time around.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Absence is my new least favorite word - 18 months

Today marks 18 months without my mother.  I think that's the number where months stop counting.   Just like sobriety, they are all big in the beginning.  24 hours.  30 days.  60 days.  90 days.  Six months.  Nine months.  One year.  Then 18-months seems like the last stop before it's just years.  

I talked to my mom all the time so at first, it was shocking to me when I went a whole week without hearing her voice.  I thought I couldn't bear it.  But I did.  Since she lived far away, it was not unusual to go a few months without seeing each other. But after four months, five, six... I survived that too.  Sometimes it's stunningly painful to me that not only does the world go on so simply after her death, but I seem to as well.  

Numbers have always had a hold on me.  When on vacation, I like to think how many hours we still have left and usually know the halfway point exactly.  I'm revealing what a complete weirdo I am here, but that's okay.  After mom died, I found a website that calculated how many days she was alive.  So dates are kind of a big deal to me.

But back to absence.  I'm reading Joan Didion's "The Year of Magical Thinking" this week.  It's about the sudden loss of her husband and the year following that.  Sometimes I feel like the world's biggest baby; after all, everyone loses their parents.  Why did this rock me so deeply?  It's not my husband, or a child.  It's the natural order of events.  I don't know why.  Maybe because she was really the only parent I had.  Maybe because of how she died, in an entirely preventable accident.  Or maybe just because she was my mom and I loved her and relied on her and feel so lonely and scared.  Because I know how pissed off she would be that she's not here to manage things and watch us all and play and laugh and.... live a while longer.

Joan Didion though... I get distracted so easily.  It's a very good read and her words on grief and the confusion and craziness it brings are far superior to my own.  There was a passage that struck me on absence.  Elizabeth Edwards also talked about absence in her book "Resilience" while writing about her son Wade.  Mourning is one thing, navigating the absence is worse.  

I have the sense that we've all suffered her absence enough and it's time to have her back.  Is this really the price she has to pay forever? That we have to pay?  Please don't tell me it was her time.  I really hate that.  That sort of thinking is crippling to me.  I read once that in an airplane crash, at least three things must go wrong for it to happen.  I have a mental list of at least six things that went wrong that morning and they are all so trivial.  This is the worst kind of non-acceptance, but it is where I sit, still.  Her permanent absence in my life is like a yawning, dark chasm that is always just to the side of what I'm doing.  Kind of like that scary drop-off in Grand Cayman when we were down in the submarine.   Absence is the emptiness that is never filled.   Though I know my mom would be proud of my sobriety, for example, or happy about my sister's wedding, that's just not enough.  "Would Be" doesn't help a whole lot when you're staring at an empty chair.  Just ask Clint Eastwood... but I digress.

Mom, I miss you.  All the time.   Tomorrow is the second back-to-school day she won't see.  As the kids start to remember less, and other people start to feel better, I'm a little more alone in the sad place.  

If you know the sad place well, I hope it helps you to know some people wander there longer than others too.  It's time to turn back to the room with the ones who aren't absent and love them while they're here.   I mean that literally - they're in the room watching "Sponge Bob" and we need to pick out first day outfits, load the backpacks, find the bus passes, and all the other exciting things that make up Day One of the new school year.  But it's not a bad way to go, figuratively speaking either.