My plane descends into Detroit on a Thursday morning. One moment it’s sunshine and blue skies miles above the earth, and the next we slip under a thick blanket of clouds, into the dreary morning of a Michigan winter.
The airplane hums around me as I stare out the tiny window at the dismal Detroit River. It arches back and forth, with wild disregard for the miles and miles of neat, conforming squares of city blocks.
As the plane jolts onto the runway, the contradiction lingers with me: An inflexible grid of rules and systems interrupted by the unpredictable, defiant flow of nature.
I was wrong. I sat down at my computer and wrote a blog post about being in the trenches, telling the world about the year that had felt chaotic. A year where I could barely catch my breath. A year where I believed I was in survival mode.
It wasn’t an unfounded belief. A lot happened. I screamed a baby into the world, I emptied my bank account into a new house, I coaxed my anxiety-ridden first grader into a new school, and I nursed a baby into healing after a host of afflictions ranging from a fractured skull to oxygen-starved lungs and buckets of snot and vomit. All that along with the usual craziness of balancing full time jobs with housework, cooking, family and friends, playtime with the boys, and much-needed sleep.
It felt like survival, but I had been prepared for that.
I park the car at the monastery’s tree farm, haul the baby into his stroller while Nicholas dances around excitedly, and hand the saw to Mike as we prepare to trek through the muddy fields for the perfect tree.
I make the mistake almost immediately.
It is a year ago, and the stomach flu has hit our household. Except, it only hits Mike. He can’t eat. Everything makes him nauseous. His doctor said sometimes it can last a week. I coax him into eating soup and bananas, drinking coconut water in tiny sips. I am being the good wife. The one who vowed to be there both in sickness and in health.
Incredibly, neither Nicholas or I catch it. That’s quite the miracle, really, as we all know how eager the stomach flu is to spread from hand to hand, mouth to mouth.
After two weeks, Mike is still sick. Somewhere in the back of my mind, my empathy starts to break down. I wonder if he is exaggerating, getting carried away by hypochondria. Buried by work, by kindergarten homework, by 4-month pregnancy hormones, I rebel – just a little. I make my sick husband carry the laundry from the basement to the second floor. He is out of breath half way up, doubled over in exhaustion. I frown. I force more bananas on him.
After three weeks, the most I can do is keep Nicholas out of his way and beg him to go back to the doctor. It is a Monday morning, and, instead of the doctor’s office, he drives himself 45 minutes to work, where he almost passes out just sitting down at his desk. He goes to the doctor. And the doctor tells him to go the ER.
Almost everything about Isaac has been unexpected.
Six and a half years ago, I gave birth to my first baby, Nicholas. I was young, unsure, and overwhelmed, but he was a gift to me. I struggled, but I loved. I was challenged, but I grew.
He was the first baby, but when his daddy left this earth, I realized with a heavy heart that he would be the only one I ever had. The vision I had of my future family was permanently walled off the day the police uttered the words, “he didn’t make it,” right there in my kitchen with Nicholas on my hip. No more husband. No more babies.
More than three years later, Mike was the one who made me smile again, saying, “I do,” as the December sun went down outside the chapel windows. And with those words, another chance.
And so, there was the second pink line. There was the swelling of my belly. There were the kicks and rolling and shifting in my insides. All at once expected and unexpected.
I’ve shared a lot of my story here on this blog. My story about grief, anxiety, letting go of control, and living with gratitude and compassion.
But there’s a central part of my story I haven’t told because I always believed most people wouldn’t want to hear it. But omitting it feels dishonest. And so here it is.
Nine months after Chris died, I found myself somewhere I never expected to be.
“Motherhood is a carnival mirror in that you see, at times, the absolute worst version of yourself, and at other times, the absolute best,” writes blogger Erin Loechner.
And she’s exactly right. Because being a mom is HARD. And sometimes we don’t want to do it, don’t enjoy it, don’t feel we are cut out for it… and feel immensely guilty for feeling all those things. We yell a little too much, check the time a little too often, breathe soul-heavy sighs of relief when they finally go to sleep. And that’s when we look in the mirror and see the ugly. The pinched, stretched, bloated, twisted parts of ourselves.
The women I know are spread out across lands and oceans, mountain ranges and prairies. I haven’t yet figured out how to make up for the hugs that cannot be sent three thousand miles. But there are words and photos, tears and laughter.
The women I know are stronger than they realize. They embody love to an extent that will carry them through the valleys. Their laughter fills gaps they don’t know exist, and their soft edges are the home they long for.
The women I know have faith so strong it knocks me over. They pick me up over and over again. They sacrifice and serve and shine. Until they hit walls. And then we pick them up in return. We share coffee and words, we pray and we laugh and we curse.
It’s my 30th birthday, and I’m not sure that I’m any closer to figuring how to be a person in this world.
That said, there are a few things I believe I’ve learned from three decades of life. I guess this isn’t a real blog post. It’s just a collection of learnings I’ve picked up along the way, which I’d like to share. Here goes.
There are some things it’s almost impossible to write about. These are things I can only live. Things that no number of photos or blog posts can do justice.
Virginia Woolf writes, “One can’t write directly about the soul. Looked at, it vanishes.”
What is true of the soul is true of other things. One of which is this: This weekend would have been my 6th wedding anniversary with Chris. Instead, it is a marker of having spent as much time as a widow as I did as a wife. The first three years flew by; these second three years have seemed an eternity.