Grief Work

I love my job.  There are hard parts of my job, annoying parts, parts that make you want to drive straight to the liquor store, and parts that make you want to cry.  Most mostly, it is awesome.  Being a teacher is not just a job, it is a part of what makes me ME!

First graders are a special breed.  I love their crooked, wiggly teeth.  I love the way they can’t say their ‘aw’s (you know, the letter after Q?).  I secretly love when they accidentally call me “Mom”.  Their honesty is refreshing and simple.  They can make me feel so beautiful (“You are the prettiest teacher in the whole world!”) and so heinous (“What is that big, red dot on your chin, Mrs. C.?).  Farts make them laugh (me too- ha!).  They draw rainbows and butterflies.  To them, school is still cool!  And, they give the BEST hugs.

There is no other year like first grade.  Every single day, I teach kids how to read…the most powerful skill in the whole world.  They grow so much in this one  single year, it is hard to believe that there isn’t some sort of magic learning dust mixed into the mashed potatoes in the cafeteria.  But it’s not magic- just hard work.  Very hard work.  I have been faced with so many hard decisions lately, and one of the hardest was making the choice to stay home for the remainder of this school year.  A lot of thought and tears went into making this decision.  I agonized over it.  My friends worried about me being alone during the day for so long.  I felt guilt over not working, while John gets up and goes to school each day.  I didn’t want to let the kids or their parents down.  But, ultimately, I knew that if I went back, one of two things would happen.  Either I would not be 100% all there for the kids and their school experience would stink, or (more likely) I would try so hard to be 100% for them that I would not have one ounce of anything left for myself.

Right now, my job is grief.  My therapist calls it “grief work” because it’s so hard.  It is a full time job taking care of my emotions and figuring out how to get by.  Sometimes it takes all of my energy just to get out of bed and showered for the day.  I have been working on ridding myself of the guilt I feel for staying home, and learning how to enjoy it…to take care of my soul, to learn new things, and to heal.  I’m not going to lie, sometimes I think about going back…but when I really examine that feeling, it is simply to have an escape.  A distraction.  That’s not the right reason to go back.  And the truth is, grief would sneak up on me from somewhere, ugly and worse than before if I don’t take the time now to handle it.  So that’s what I’m doing.  I am taking a graduate class, learning photography, writing this blog, and enjoying the small things in life.  Oh, and grief work.

Today, I went to visit my class for the first time since losing Callie.  They were planting flowers outside of the school, so I volunteered to come help and surprise them.  Driving up to the school, I actually had butterflies…I was nervous to see 7-year-olds.  I thought of the last time I’d seen my class the day before Callie came into this world.  It seemed so surreal that in the matter of a few hours, my life could turn upside down and crazy.  I was scared that one of the kids would ask me something about Callie that would make me cry.  The worries flooded my brain and my eyes filled with tears.  Stepping into the school, I was welcomed by so many hugs and smiles, but, it was so hard to see everyone when I felt so different.  I know my smile didn’t reach my eyes, but I tried.

As the kids came walking down the hall and saw me for the first time, I had to bite the inside of my cheek to keep from crying.  I just waved.  I think half the kids were shocked to actually see me and the other half had huge, silly grins on their faces.  As we pulled small groups to go outside to plant, the kids giggled and gave me hugs…it felt so good.  Hilariously, one boy ran right past me and complained, “Oh man!  I wanted to go to the nurse!  My head is hurting!”  I told him I was going to give him a Noogie to make it feel better.  He laughed and then proceeded to tell me all about his tooth that had just fallen out and how the tooth fairy gave him money.  Dirt was flying everywhere.  I had to laugh…even though my world has stopped, theirs has kept spinning…tooth fairy and all.  Thank God for that.

If only we could all be a little bit more like our 7-year-old selves…this world would be a pretty awesome place, wouldn’t it?  It’s all rainbows and butterflies, bandaids make everything better, and I’m pretty sure that I wouldn’t feel guilty for not working.  I’d probably be out finding cool shapes in the clouds, picking dandelions because they are kind of beautiful, and (let’s be honest- I was a hopeless nerd and still am) I would be reading a good book under a maple tree.  I miss those kiddos tremendously, but I have to do what is best for me.  Today, those little ones were my teacher.  Life is awesome, the tooth fairy is a miracle, and the world is a place of wonder.  Tomorrow, I am going to take a page from their book and I will put my hands in the dirt and giggle- for that is truly living.

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Project Micro-Makeovers

Following up with my post on my happiness project, I am currently working on focusing on the things I can control, rather than the things I cannot.  I decided to follow the author’s lead (The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin) by dividing my monthly theme into small attainable goals.  Here are my goals for control:

Control Goals:

  1. Create a visually happy environment (Project Micro-Makeovers!)
  2. Eat right & exercise (Project Un-preggify!)
  3. Focus on the “here and now” (Project No More Flashbacks and No More Flashforwards!)
  4. Spring clean (Project Declutter!)
  5. Avoid “baby bombs” (Project Stay Happy!)
  6. Maintain the right attitude (Project Pooping Butterflies! ha, can’t wait to explain this one!!!)
  7. Accept the One who really has control (Project Let God Do His Thang!)

I’ll start by talking about Control Goal #1:  Project Micro-Makeovers.  I figure that adding little things here and there around our house that will make me smile will help me feel happier.  I have a giant list of little “visually happy” projects around the house that I will be working on and reporting back to you about periodically.  The list is so long that it will definitely carry over this month, into the next, and beyond!  Creating little “micro-makeovers” within our home gives me small goals that are not too overwhelming (or expensive!) and allow me to have a bit of control over my environment and how I spend my time and energy.  Here is a glimpse into Micro-Makeover #1:  Our Bed.

Our bedroom is painted a soothing grey color with a deeper grey color on the ceiling.  I love it.  Well, except that it is boring…and grey makes me think of rain which is sometimes kind of sad.  I’ve been thinking for a long time about adding a pop of color but I wasn’t sure what color to pick.  After losing Callie though, yellow has become my favorite color and it just so happens that yellow and grey are kind of cool right now.  Last week, I went to Target for some retail therapy and found a cute duvet cover that I thought I’d fold up at the end of our bed to look like a quilt/blanket.  (Also, strategically placed where our dogs lie on the bed…dog hair catcher!)  But, mixing the patterns did NOT look good so I returned that sucker and popped into SteinMart and found this cute yellow quilt for the exact same price!  Way better find 🙂  And I couldn’t help but pick up a little yellow sunshine pillow.  Please ignore the cluttered bedside tables!  And, yes I know I need something above the bed.  I have always wanted to mount a giant birch branch on the wall…but I’m not sure exactly how to accomplish this 😉  That will have to be another micro-makeover sometime!

Sorry, no before picture! But how happy is this??

Micro-makeover #1- complete!  The yellow makes me smile and our room is so much happier…and, therefore, so am I!  My happiness project is off to a good start 🙂

Callie’s Garden

Today was the most glorious day.  Our angel baby watched over us and put in a word with the Big Man to bless us with the most beautiful weather…and the rain held out until we were completely done.  Just in time to water it!  Creating a garden for Callie was such a wonderful way to honor her.  Our friend, David, put together the most beautiful plan and we had so many wonderful friends and family come out to volunteer their time, effort, energy and most of all, SWEAT!  Halfway through our hard work, someone called out, “Look!  You have your first butterfly!”  As I looked up, I caught a glimpse of a little, yellow butterfly flitting about the new plants.  I believe that yellow butterfly was Callie’s spirit, running and playing in her new garden.  God sends the most amazing signs to prove His love for us, doesn’t He?  At the end of the day, we put the gorgeous rock we had engraved from a shop on Etsy at the bottom of the cross to mark Callie’s resting place.  It was an emotional moment, but I managed to make it through the day without breaking down into a weepy mess.

It is our hope that this garden will be a source of joy and happiness to all who come to enjoy its beauty.  The winding stone path encourages people to wander throughout the flowers and trees.  A bench rests under the shade of three beautiful crepe myrtles.  We hope with all our hearts that people feel welcome to go to this place…to play, to think, to pray.  It is too beautiful not to share.

Many thanks to all who helped today!  Enjoy the pics!

Before #1

Before #2

After!

Sunset the night before our planting...a good omen 🙂

“Normal”

I am very grateful this afternoon.  I just got a call back from the genetic team at Children’s Hospital…the results of our tests came back normal.  This means that the mutation that caused Callie to have Marfan syndrome was spontaneous and unlikely to occur again in future pregnancies.  This was obviously good news, for our future and for our own current health.  We will never understand why this occurred, but we know that Callie was meant to be our little girl.  God answered one more prayer for us today and I am so thankful for this good news.

Looking forward to a weekend of healing by planting Callie’s garden with good friends and family!  Pictures to come 🙂

Retail Happiness

So I’ve been having trouble practicing what I preach lately.  You know, the whole ‘live life to the fullest’ bit?  Yeah, not so much this week.  I’m trying…I really am.  But all of a sudden today, I woke up out of a trance and realized that I have been just going through the motions.  I mean, who can blame me really…but still.  It’s not who I want to be.  So sad, so sullen.  And it’s raining.

I hate rain right now.  It means the sun is not shining and I lost that burst of happy energy that it gives me…that warm reminder that my sunshine angel is watching over me.  When I say that I woke up out of a trance, I literally mean just that…I was being a human zombie.  And when I did wake up, the true weight of my emotions started to sink in.  I hurt so badly that I considered for a moment going back to being numb and lifeless.  But that is not really living, is it?

Sometimes, living…really living…means feeling EVERYTHING.  The good, the bad, and the ugly…yes, that ugly means I let out a scary cry today.  I even threw in a scream or two for good dramatic measure.  It was the stuff of Lifetime movie legend.

When I was done, I gathered myself together, raced for my car and drove straight to my Favorite Place on Earth #1.  People, I am talking about Chick-fil-a.  I love that they serve Diet Dr. Pepper with the good ice.  The fresh flowers on the tables.  The way they say, “My pleasure!” instead of, “You’re welcome!”  And of course, the waffle fries.  I love Chick-fil-a so much that the only thing that motivated me to cheer at the Washington Wizards/Cleveland Cavs game this past weekend was the opportunity to win a free sandwich if the Cavs missed both free throws in a row.  (Didn’t happen- how is that possible?!?)

While I enjoyed my delish grilled chicken sandwich, I got out my Kindle and picked up where I left off in The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin.  In it, the author has an epiphany one rainy day where she realizes that “time is passing, and I’m not focusing enough on the things that really matter.”  She sets herself on a mission to test out old sayings/beliefs about happiness as well as experimenting with current research on the topic.  I have just started the book, but I absolutely love her quest for living life to the fullest.  And she does so in true me fashion with checklists and goal sheets.  Each month she focuses on a different ‘resolution’ all while trying to maintain the previous months’ goals.  She read books and studies galore on this topic and found that one of the best ways to be more happy is to act happy even if you aren’t really feeling it.  Just the sheer act of trying to be happy made people feel better.

As I sat there in my favorite place, I realized that I needed a big dose of acting happy in that moment…even if it meant pretending.  On this rainy, dreary day, I needed to focus on the positive and at least give happiness a shot.  So, naturally, I headed over to my Favorite Place on Earth #2 which is Target!  I wasn’t sure what I really wanted to buy, but retail therapy always makes me feel better.  There is something about having a shiny, new purchase in a Target bag that fills me with unrivaled happiness.  Shallow, yes.  But oh well.  Inside the store, I found myself gravitating to all the cheery yellow things.  Shoes, handbags, scarfs…  I bought the happiest things I could think of.  A yellow blanket for the end of our bed, a towel ring to hold a sunny towel set that will soon be mine from World Market, and sunglasses.  You betcha, this chick bought sunglasses when it was raining…and I wore them out of the store.  Rain drops be gone!  It worked…well it didn’t stop raining…but, acting happy actually made me happy.  🙂  I smiled the whole way home.

My new shades. Trying not to be mad that the purse I am carrying just went on clearance...don't you hate that?

Retail happiness

Lifted by my experience, I have decided to make my own happiness project.  Each month I will focus on one word and try to spin that word into creating more happiness for myself…and maybe after a while, my heart will actually match my actions.  This month (and May too since I’m halfway through April already) my word is CONTROL.  Ok, weird word to pick at first, but let me explain.  When my entire world got turned upside down with Callie’s death, absolutely everything felt out of control.  I worried and fretted over the things that I couldn’t do one single thing about.  I can’t control other people (ahem, jerks that ask if I’m pregnant).  I can’t control what God gives me in this life.  I can’t control the rainy dismal weather today.  The list goes on and on of stuff I can’t control.  But there are lots of things I can control.  I can eat right and exercise.  I can organize spaces in our house that I let fall into a disorganized wreck.  I can choose to not go on Facebook if it upsets me.  I can focus on the things I have instead of the things I don’t have.  See where I’m heading?  Life has rained on me lately…actually it has been a downpour.  But I have the ability to open the umbrella and protect myself as much as I can from getting drenched.  From now on, I am going to try and do my best to only focus on the things I can control.

One thing that has been a continued source of anguish for me is what to do with Callie’s belongings.  I dwell on it and torture myself over it.  Well, I can’t control what happened to Callie, but I can take small steps to controlling the aftermath.  And that’s what we are doing.  We ordered bookshelves.  Yep, bookshelves.  How does that help anything?  Well, it gives us a place to put some of the things that reminded us of Callie.  Step one.

New bookshelves. The pretty basket holds all of the sympathy cards we received.

Callie's Shelf

Callie's Memory Box

Next step was cleaning out the blackhole that was our ‘office’.  That was a major chore, but we survived.  I am too embarrassed to show you pictures of what it looked like before, but I will show you the awesome office cabinet thing we got that now hides all of our files, etc.

Daisy sat on the directions

Pretty office in a cabinet!

Step three was taking the large items like the bouncer, the swing, the stroller, the bassinet, etc. and storing them in the space we cleared out from the office.  That’s where we are now.

The next step will be hard.  Plastic tubs for Callie’s clothes.  Ugh.  It makes me cry just thinking of it.  But approaching it this way helps me control and make sense of this maze of difficult choices.  One step at a time…like a giant connect-the-dot.  I’m not sure what the big picture is, but we are getting there one little dot at a time.  I’ll fill you in on how I’m doing with my happiness project at the end of May.  Care to join me?

32 + 1

April 16, 2007.  5 years ago today.  Our world, as Hokies, changed forever.

My life as a Hokie began long before that though.  I was born and raised not too far down the road from Virginia Tech.  Blacksburg is, therefore, a part of my childhood and a part of my soul.  There are no other flags flying, no other colors but orange and maroon in my town.  In my town, people stop and say hello.  The air feels just a little bit cleaner and in a few short months it will be sweet and heavy with the scent of honeysuckle.  A traffic jam only happens in the check-out lanes at WalMart and, in my town, the drawl of a country accent is just as slow as the pace of life.  Oh, man do I miss that.

When it came time to choose a college, I had the world open to me, yet I chose to go 20 minutes down the road to Virginia Tech.  Smartest decision I ever made.  I can still remember the speech I heard at my freshman orientation where one of the department chairs gently acknowledged the eccentricities of our school.  Like, “What is a Hokie?” and “I know you may be thinking that orange and maroon clash…”  What?  They clash?  First time I heard that in my life.  I mean, we know God is a Hokie because the leaves turn orange and maroon in the fall, right?  I loved it.  Every part of it.  I went on to make new, lasting, and deep friendships.  I got a top-notch education.  And most of all, I made memories that will never fade.

I remember April 16, 2007.  I had moved away and was wrapping up my very first year of teaching, sitting in a training seminar when my principal came in to see me.  Asking me to leave, we walked out to the quiet hallway and I immediately asked, “Is everything ok?” and he said, “No, Kristin, it’s not ok.  There has been a shooting at Virginia Tech.  32 people have died.”  He asked me to take some time and call my loved ones to make sure everyone was ok.  My closest friends and family were ok, but I did know of one of the victims (a friend of a friend) and several of the survivors.  It didn’t matter though.  Each beautiful soul lost that day was a member of our Virginia Tech family and we all felt a heavy sense of loss and grief.

Later that night, I sat with my roommate and cried as we watched the video coverage.  Huddled on our couch, my eyes couldn’t believe the footage of police officers running through the flurried air desperate to save the lives trapped inside that Hokie-stoned building.  How odd to see the drill field, West AJ Hall, and the dining hall on national television.  To hear Matt Lauer interviewing students in orange and maroon who tried to convey the feeling that is Blacksburg, the spirit that is Virginia Tech.  I remember thinking that no one could understand this but us… the Hokie Nation.

When my freshman roommate moved to NYC after college, I gave her a magnet that said, “I left my heart in Blacksburg.”  We did.  We all left our hearts in Blacksburg after graduation.  It became a part of us that will shine forever as a little bit of heaven here on Earth.  I miss the gentle mountains of my hometown.  I miss breakfast at Gillie’s.  I miss the way the wind slaps you in the face (no matter which direction you are heading) when you step onto the drill field.  I miss the awful music at the bookstore where I spent countless hours folding shirts just to earn enough money to blow downtown.  Stalking people for parking spots.  West End deliciousness.  Karaoke with friends.  I miss what it is like to actually sleep in a loft bed.  Our old apartment (affectionately known as the “J-Unit”).  Playing beer pong on a door taken off its hinges.  The taste of a late night Gumby pizza- with ranch!  That feeling that is uniquely “college”-  freedom and energy mixed with hard work and industry.  And of course, the indescribable sound of thousands of orange and maroon clad fans chanting “Let’s Go-  HOKIES!”… echoing from side to side until it dwindles to the roar of screams as our football team charges onto the field with “Enter Sandman” playing in the background.  It is electric and distinct…  a sound like no other, an unrivaled place that is forever in our hearts.

The events of April 16th brought us closer and made us reexamine our lives.  32 men and women went to Hokie Heaven that day and we are left behind to ask, “Why?”  We will never know the answer to that question, but we can say with certainty that April 16th changed us.  I hope it has changed us for the better.  That something good has come from something so, so bad.  As I re-read Nikki Giovanni’s address to the student body following the tragedy, I couldn’t help but think of my sweet Callie, 5 years later.  Her words ring in my ears and take on a new shape after losing my baby girl.  No one deserves a tragedy.  But we owe it to those whose lives were lost to make meaning of the senseless.  To look inward and take a deep look into our souls.  How are you living for the 32?  Did you make a change in your life that led to something better?  Are you enjoying the small moments?  Taking nothing for granted?

I challenge you to live.  Live boldly, live passionately, live to be a part of the celebration.  Live for 32.

I, personally, am living for 32 + 1.  For the Hokies and for my sweet angel, Callie Marie.  Baby girl, until I hold you again in heaven, I will never forget you and you will live forever in me.

NeVer forgeT.

“We are Virginia Tech.
We are sad today, and we will be sad for quite a while. We are not moving on, we are embracing our mourning.
We are Virginia Tech.
We are strong enough to stand tall tearlessly, we are brave enough to bend to cry, and we are sad enough to know that we must laugh again.
We are Virginia Tech…
…No one deserves a tragedy.
We are Virginia Tech.
The Hokie Nation embraces our own and reaches out with open heart and hands to those who offer their hearts and minds. We are strong, and brave, and innocent, and unafraid. We are better than we think and not quite what we want to be. We are alive to the imaginations and the possibilities. We will continue to invent the future through our blood and tears and through all our sadness.
We are the Hokies.
We will prevail.
We will prevail.
We will prevail.
We are Virginia Tech.”
-Nikki Giovanni, Convocation address, April 17, 2007

I Did A Bad Thing

I did a bad thing today.

I swore that the next person that asked if I was pregnant would get an earful…I would put them in their place.  I had my chance yesterday.  A random guy in Baltimore asked me if I was expecting…and I just didn’t have the heart to tell him off.  It was obvious that he had special needs and he was only trying to be nice by offering me a chair.  I just said, “No.”  And the poor guy was beside himself with guilt, asking, “Did I offend you?” in a voice loud enough for the sharks in the aquarium across the street to hear.  I cried to my friend in the restaurant, right in front of everyone.  If it wasn’t so sad, it would have been funny.

I cried some more that night on the phone with my friend, Lindsey, and then some more when John got home.  I told him that I was giving up.  Screw the gym.  No more food diary.  Make baggy sweatshirts my new uniform.  I would hide behind my clothes and try desperately not to stand out or draw any attention to myself until, one day, I would emerge all shiny and new like a butterfly from her chrysalis.  I let myself mope around about it and feel sorry for myself.  In addition to these lovely comments from random strangers I have been receiving, I had been letting an article I read recently really get me down.  Thankfully, however, today when I woke up, I felt refreshed.  I looked in the mirror and saw all the progress I have made instead of all I have left to go.  It’s only been 11 weeks for goodness sake!  I should not compare myself to her or ANYONE else.  I realized that woman has NO IDEA what it feels like to go through what I’ve been through and her black-and-white attitude was really not going to work for me (and I’m guessing many others).  She has some good points, but if she was trying to encourage women she really missed the mark.  Today, I realized I have to take care of me, and only me.  And the only voice that really matters is the one I hear within myself.  Looking in the mirror, I felt proud of myself and couldn’t wait to go to the gym to keep it up.  I look good, yeah girl!

   

11 weeks postpartum

How am I still getting this question?

After a great workout, I got to the car and checked my messages.  And there she was again…the evil robot, calling for the FOURTH time “on behalf of B.G. Cornely” to see if we need financial assistance.  What, did my hang-ups and ignored messages not get through to these people???  All those shiny good feelings I had woken up with went flying out the window and I could feel the rage and heartache coursing through my veins.

And that’s when I did the bad thing…

I called that robot back…

…and I unleashed the fury and the sorrow and the anguish that I have been storing inside for so long on a poor unsuspecting operator on the other line.  Poor girl had no idea what was going to happen when she picked up that phone, defenseless and unarmed.  I told her off for the unwanted phone calls.  For all the people who asked if I was pregnant.  For the feeling of having empty arms and a big hole in my heart.  For all the unused baby stuff sitting around our house collecting dust.  For the unfairness of life.  For everything.

I’ll leave our conversation between me, God, and the customer service agent for the Evil Robot company.  But rest assured, that they will NOT be calling again.  As good as it felt in that moment, in the end it didn’t help me at all.  It left me feeling bitter, spiteful, and then later, guilty.  I usually go out of my way to make people have a good day…not a bad one.  I am not proud of what I did, but also not ashamed.  Grief can make you a little crazy sometimes.  Moving forward, I have decided that I am going to enforce a strict one-hour wait time before calling anyone back about Callie (unless it’s our social worker from Children’s…she is awesome!).  That will give me time to cool off and handle my problems in a more respectable manner.  Also, I have developed a comeback to anyone else out there that wants to ask if I am pregnant.  I will look them in the eyes and say, “No, I am working on losing the weight I gained with my baby who went to heaven a few months ago.”  Short.  Simple.  Answers the nosy question without being a you-know-what.  Like a friend in my online support group says…it will make them uncomfortable for a few minutes, but I have to feel that pain for the rest of my life.  They can deal with a  few moments of discomfort.  Not that causing discomfort is my goal…but, I have to have a way to answer that question that will leave me feeling dignified instead of taking care of someone ELSE’S feelings.  It is not my job to protect them from the truth that is my life.  They ask.  I will answer.

Here’s hoping all my hard work in the gym will mean I won’t get that question ever again…that is until I’m actually pregnant again with our rainbow baby one day. But if it comes, I’m ready.  I pray that the Lord will give me the strength to get a tough skin and the ability to not compare myself to anyone else.  My goals are short and sweet.  Stick to my plan.  Try not to take my problems out on other people.  And above all else, be kind to myself.  I think I’m going to paint that on my bathroom mirror.  😉