Monday, August 11, 2008

The Weekend

Let's see..the last time I posted, we were going to a college event in Seattle. I meant to take a photo that night, because we were dressed nicely, but the time ran away from me, so you'll have to use your imagination. I wore one of the dresses that had belonged to Alex's mom, and it made me feel wonderful.

In case you missed this part: Alex is a friend of mine from NYC; she is my dear friend Angela's sister-in-law. Alex's mother, Zena, was a beautiful, open-hearted and compassionate woman who, though she never met us, knew us through Alex, and used to pray for Katie while Katie was sick. After we came home from the hospital, I sent a glassybaby candle to Zena to thank her for her prayers. (I also gave them to hospital staff, friends and family who had been of enormous support to us; you can read about this in the glassybaby blog posting from April 2007, if you are interested.) Later, Zena became ill, and subsequently, she passed away, before I ever got to meet her. Alex generously shared some of her mother's clothes with family and friends who could wear and enjoy them. I am the recipient of some of those beautiful clothes. I know what it means to hold the clothes of a loved one who has passed away; I wear some of Katie's shirts, and they comfort me. So Zena's clothes also have a lot of meaning for me, because I honor Zena's memory, and I love Alex.

Fashion details: the dress I wore on Thursday is ivory silk, fully lined, and cut to perfection. It's designed by Armani; I have never owned such an elegant dress before, and it was so comfortable that it felt kind of like wearing a nightgown (only more appropriate). There was a brief bra-emergency, since I'm very petite, but that was worked out, and I added an Hermes scarf that had belonged to my Nana. It was a pretty, elegant, fun outfit. I wish Alex had been able to see it!

We learned quite a bit about this college, and were able to enjoy the event and its setting (the Fairmont Hotel, which has history in Seattle and in my family) with Grandma, Kappa and their friends, Fred & Charlotte. We like to visit with Fred and Charlotte when we are all in the desert, and if it's possible, when we are all up here; David has had fun golfing with Kappa's and Fred's men's group up here. It was nice to be together in a lovely place, and listen to interesting ideas. We also shared some good laughs.

The next day, Gregg went to work and David and I packed for a weekend in Winthrop with the Cunningham family. The Cunninghams are a wonderful family from Bainbridge; we met Mike Sr. & Katy through our next-door neighbor, Kim, around the time that we first built our house here. They are a wonderful couple, very sweet and kind, who have 7 grown children and a lot of grandchildren. Their second-youngest son, Mike, married our niece, Andrea, last summer, with Katie and David as attendants (along with Caroline, Megan & Brian Cunningham and Joey Gerstenberger). Now you are seeing the connection, I'm sure...

Here is a family photo of the Cunninghams from last August (minus Danny and his family, and Brian & Ilana's new baby, Cael):

We drove to pick up Gregg from work on Friday, and then headed over the North Cascades Highway to the tiny town of Winthrop. The highway is closed in the winter, so you have to take a really long drive by another route at that time of year. Winthrop is the town where Andrea and Mike had their "big" wedding, in February (the one that David and I missed because he was ill; Gregg attended without us). It's a five-hour trip from our house on the shorter route!

We had a good trip, with David at the wheel. It started as a sunny drive, through the small towns at the foot of the North Cascades. There are two dams and some hydroelectric plants to see, along with beautiful lakes and huge rock formations. At one of the mountain passes, there was a hailstorm, with lightning, heavy rain and hailstones as big as quarters. Amazing to see, and a good experience for a young driver. A little nerve-wracking for a backseat mother, though. The road went from dry to drenched, very rapidly. The only problem for me is that I dislike taking a family trip by car without Katie; there should be four of us in the car, two girls and two guys. Now, it's two guys and me. Her absence is seen and felt as if we were a car with three wheels. It's uneven. It hurts.

Winthrop has a western-town feeling, with pretty pastureland, surrounded by rolling hills and mountains. When we arrived at the cabins, we got cleaned up and headed over to Jamie's house for a wonderful dinner with the family (and extended family). It was great to be with them. This is a group that is warm, genuine, welcoming and loving. Every person is fun to talk to. The kids are cute and nice; the dogs are friendly. It was a treat to be included. Later, we were all assigned to bring something for a potluck dinner Saturday night.

We learned at dinner that there was going to be a first-annual family triathlon the next morning! David and Gregg were drafted to teams, and I offered to help with staging (moving tennis shoes from one side of the lake to the other) and photography. Sounds like fun, doesn't it? It would have been, except that the antibiotics I'm taking had messed with my stomach, and when it was time to leave for the lake to prepare for the swim, I had to bail out and stay at our cabin. Gregg and David went without me, and participated in the running portion. There were different teams, with some folks doing all three parts of the triathlon and some doing it as a tag-team. I don't have photos, but I hear that there are some.

After the triathlon, a huge meal was prepared for everyone by Mike Sr. He was cooking bacon and making something called deep-fried pancakes. That would have sounded good, normally, but I was still having stomach trouble, so Gregg and I went to town for lunch (I ordered the blandest thing I could find). David chose to stay at the lodge and go cycling & swimming with the others. After lunch, things started to improve for me, and I had a little energy. Gregg & I went to the store to buy food for the potluck dinner.

We spent part of the afternoon sitting by the pool and chatting, holding baby Cael and enjoying the dry, sunny weather. There was a birthday party for one of the younger cousins, so we celebrated with him. Dinner was barbecued outside, next to a shelter that included a firepit and pool table. Everyone joined in, and some made s'mores for dessert, visited, took photos and just laughed and talked. There were kids everywhere, ranging in age from baby to college freshman. After dinner, some of them (including David) played hide and seek -- in the dark, with flashlights --until midnight. It was like the old days (when we were kids), when you could just be free and hang out with your siblings, cousins, friends, in total safety, out in the country. It brought back good memories for me, and I loved it all.

HOWEVER, when Gregg and I went back to our cabin and got into bed, as we were waiting for David to come in from playing tag, I just fell apart. I cried and cried as I haven't in months. I have not cried like this in front of Gregg since the day after Katie passed away...I haven't wanted to make his grief worse, to dump my sadness on him, and ask him to carry it...but I could not stop this. It was like the hailstorm that we drove through on the way through the pass: violent, harsh and drenching. With him holding me in his arms, I wasn't so fearful of not being able to breathe. I could shake with sobs, take the tissues as he handed them to me, and burrow into his chest. I cried for nearly a half hour; I said many things. I felt sorry for myself, and I felt terrible for Katie; I said she should be there with us at this family gathering. She would have loved it; she would have fit right in, she was loved, and would have loved all of the kids, younger and older. She should have been here to be part of this family, and it felt ALL WRONG to be without her.

I have not spent a lot of time feeling sorry for myself this year; I have tried to be brave, realistic, and to focus on all the blessings that I still have, but I felt very deprived that night. I also grieved for Katie; for her paralysis, which had come upon her exactly a year ago that day. That was one of the things that I carried with me as we made the trip over the mountains: that this weekend, last year, was the real beginning of the end for her, though at the time, we didn't know it. She lost the use of her legs the week before she passed, and it made her really angry. She wasn't nasty about it; she was more disgusted and frustrated. I felt awful for her, but my task at the time was to mitigate the effects of the paralysis, and take up where she was unable to help herself -- without pity -- while still preserving her dignity. I did not have time to grieve that loss as it happened; I was too busy working to help her through it. Well, I grieved it on Saturday night.
I cried so hard that night that my eyes swelled up and were irritated. I looked so bad the next morning that there was no hiding it, so I didn't try. Gregg and I went for a walk while David went mountain biking, and we talked about it some more. I feel better for having shared it with him, and for finding out that he can take it. It didn't harm Gregg; he was able to hold it, and it didn't weigh him down. So now I feel safer about sharing my deepest hurt, and I feel a little lighter for having let it out...but I am pretty tired from all of the emotions.
We visited with family before heading to town for lunch, and the drive back over the mountains. I wish I had been able to stop the car and take photos of two signs that we saw, but I wasn't quick enough: one said "Cunningham Crushing," and since we were with the Cunninghams all weekend, I wish we could have captured that image for them; the other said "__ Veterinary Clinic, Home of the $25 Cat Neuter." That just struck me as funny, for some reason.
I am not jealous of those of you whose families are intact. I am happy for you; that is the way life should be. I love children. I just miss my own, only girl.

Now we are at home, and I have washed 3 loads of dirty clothes, vacuumed and washed the floors, and had a massage. I am going to sit on the deck with Gregg and enjoy a glass of red wine. God bless you.


Contemplative Photographer said...

I'm glad you felt safe enough to cry, and that Gregg was able to hold your grief and you; he is such a wonderful blessing for you. Thank you for trusting us with the story of your grief as well -- and I love the $25 cat neuter!

Nan said...

xxxxxxoooooo ~Nan

Sheri said...

This may sound strange to say but I am glad you are letting yourself feel it and letting it out. These are hard, important days and there is not a moment I have not been thinking of you. I find the violence of my grief frightening at times too. I am glad you trusted Gregg and that he was a rock and security for you. The outing you described sounded EXACTLY like the kind my family had frequently when I was young. I have a huge huge family. We all live so far away now. You made me yearn for a reunion.

My heart is with you as you remember. Your grief is sacred, your sorrow your own. Thank you for sharing it with us.

Smileygirl said...

What an amazing weekend filled with family, memories and some very healthy emotional sharing with Gregg. I hope you feel a little lighter with each tear and breath. You and Gregg are such a wonderful balance for each other. This is a deeply moving post, thank you for sharing with us.

suz said...

Oh Karen, what a long and filling post.
First of all, I would love to see the dress, it sounds beautiful and I am positive that you radiated beauty in it. So nice of the family to share with you.
The drive over to your destination sounds so beautiful and scary w/ the young one driving. :)
The Cunninghams sound so great. I LOVE the wedding is the best. They are all so happy, as a wedding day should be.
I really feel for you and missing Katie.I have to tell you that I do think of you and what you must be going through and what you have been through. I complain about my girls sometimes, but deep down and so thankful and appreciative to have them and you have only made this feeling more so with your stories of your beautiful girl.
Gregg is there for you to share the burden with. That is what he signed on for...if it makes you feel better, share and share. He can handle it I am sure.
Take care,
Oh yeah...that cat neuter...crazy right?

Amy said...

As I drive over the mountain pass to your side today, you will be thought of...although we've never met, you've been in my prayers this past week. I am still praying for you, especially as this week proceeds!

It's good to get out a cry...your emotions are so real and true...What great memories you hold from this past weekend.

Jennifer said...

I am so sorry for the well of grief, the burden that you bear.
I reached your site through Tom Kline's website, where we were all commenting on Alison's death and the aftermath. I don't normally do this, but I clicked on your name and got to your blog ... and that picture of you and Katie (with her eyes closed and hand on your face) drew me in instantly. I started to read, and the way that you write drew me in further -- your transparency and authenticity about your unimaginable pain, your words about your hopes and joys and about navigating through this valley of anguish. It is achingly beautiful. Rather like a diamond -- brilliant and hard and shining.
I have not suffered a death, but have been struggling with infertility for four years. Although my struggle is a whisper compared to yours, I keep hearing echoes of my pain in your words. I have read a number of blogs and many books ... none have brought me the peace and very gentle encouragement that your words have. It is a daily struggle to not give myself over to bitterness, anger, fear -- and the whole passel of dark emotions. But you have helped to point me to light and have encouraged me to choose grace and love, as far as I am able. Your post from last November 10, in particular, was a deep blessing, full of wisdom. I will continue to mull over it for weeks and months to come.
May you continue to find places to be heard (like with your husband and your friends -- and on this blog!) and to find peace "dropping slow," as Yeats wrote. I cannot thank you enough for having the courage to share all that you have here. I will continue to visit and also continue to hold you in prayer. Big love to your heart!


HappyWifeHappyLife said...

Lots of hugs to you, my friend. I've been thinking about you so much this week.

Love and prayers coming to you, David and Gregg.

The Engine of the Family said...

I'm glad you were able to lean on Gregg and let yourself go. Sometimes a little (or big!) release just makes us feel a tiny bit better. I've been thinking of you and how you must be re-living so much lately. Your family is in my thoughts and prayers and hope that you find your way through.
Big hugs and smiles :)

Jennifer Stumpf said...

oh, my, what a dear soul you are, to feel such pain and move through it. my heart goes out to you and aches with you. no one expects you to be brave all the time... big hug xxoo

Kay said...

What a weekend. It seems to have covered just about every possible emotion! I'm glad you were able to grieve some and feel safe and comforted in the midst of it.

Hugs to you!

Dreamer girl said...

The scenery is so amazing and I am glad that you had some nice moments. I'm glad that your feelings had an outlet and that your husband was there to assist. You had so many reminders of what you have lost and that must have been extremely difficult.
Some days we just need to cry. I hold it in so long that by the time it comes out, it's "cry me a river" for sure.

I want to see a picture of your Armani dress-I haven't even touched an Armani-wouldn't know what to do. I bet you looked lovely.

heather b said...

In these very hard several days ahead, please please know I am thinking about you and asking God to comfort you and be your rock. I am also praying for Gregg and David. I will pray you will continue to just let it out and that God will bring more of "him in the flesh" kinds of people to help carry your burden. Sometimes type-written words have trouble translating touch, hugs, holds, and presence. I wish I could be there to just do all of those things even though I don't really know you. I picture heaven like that. All of us together just able to connect. I watched an interview with Christian recording artist Steven Curtis Chapman this week. I'll post the link below. As you know they lost their 5 year old adopted daughter...she was run over by a car in their driveway driven by their teenage son. Anyway, the GMA interview was so moving. Their grown daughter said something about grief that really stuck. That it is a journey of winding roads and mountains and valleys and some days you feel like you're coasting. There is a straight away. Others feel like horrible horrible travel. Hard, painful, exhausting, devastating terrain. Looks like the weekend held some of those. I am thinking of you a lot in the coming days that you can find relief from the weary road of grief. Thinking of you all the time...praying....

heather b said...

here is the link: