Friday, November 22, 2013

Catastrophe, comfort, and everything in between

Two things. First, tornadoes are bitches. 

Second, I wasn’t sure if I should write about them and the devastation they caused – you know, the ones that slammed into the communities of Washington, Pekin and East Peoria last Sunday around 11 am?
Yeah, I figured you’d heard about them. 

My house wasn’t hit. My kids and I and our dog were safe and sound. I had a coworker who lost his home, and friends of friends who lost theirs or had damage. So why do I feel so affected? Why do I feel this overwhelming sense of – I don’t even know what to call it – sadness or guilt or helplessness – knowing that just a few miles away there are thousands of people literally with nothing but the clothes on their backs?

Just a few miles away. I think that’s it. 

We are glued to the television, radio and internet when any major tragedy occurs. A plane crash. A school shooting. A tsunami.  Doesn’t matter what it is. If it’s sudden, unexpected, and tragic, it catches our attention and makes us pause – for a few hours, a few days, even a few weeks. 

But this time, it hit home – even if it’s “across the river” – in places I rarely go because I don’t know my way around to save my life. I saw people LIKE ME with families LIKE MINE who I probably have crossed paths with in the grocery store, or the mall, or the movie theater. Yet I’m the same, and they are changed forever. 

I just saw a video of the F4 tornado that hit Washington taken by a man from the window of his living room. As it approaches, you can hear his daughter screaming in the background. The video goes black as he retreats to the basement just in time. Not 20 seconds later, he reappears to utter devastation. No walls. Just pieces of house and home piled everywhere, blowing in a gentle breeze. 

In a matter of seconds, those families’ lives were changed forever. FOREVER. In this case, that family will always be known as “Survivors of the 11/17/13 Washington, IL Tornadoes.” When that daughter grows up and is asked about defining moments in her life, she will say, “I was smack in the middle of a tornado that destroyed my house and my community.” What do you say to that? 

For those of us who were close but untouched, it’s a sense that’s hard to describe. It’s this uneasy, helpless, guilty, almost desperate feeling. It’s difficult to focus on work when you’re inundated with news feeds and conversations and reports of the latest devastation information and who needs help and where to go to give it, but since you weren’t “directly impacted” you know you have a responsibility to move forward and help cover those who can’t right now. You want to run to the site and help find every single lost pet and important memento before the rains and excavators wash and haul it all away, but you know you’d only be in the way and besides, you have your own kids to take care of.

You want to give SOMETHING but you don’t have much – which is why so many gave clothes. They’ll never disperse them all – they don’t need them all – in fact they’ve asked for people to STOP donating them. But I understand. For some, it’s all they can do. 

You want to donate money so you give what you can, knowing it’s just a drop in the bucket. You’re desperate to help in some way. Some offer their houses or rental properties. Some welcome displaced pets into their homes. Businesses offer free products or services or discounts – I truly believe – out of the goodness of their hearts and because they can. Photographers offer free portrait sessions to families who have lost all photos. Restaurants donate portions of their proceeds or offer food to victims and workers. Me? I tried to help raise money. I made a couple of blankets for a displaced coworker’s children. I tried to share information as it came in. Doesn’t seem like much. 

And at the end of the day, I pull into my garage and enter my nice, cozy house and eat a hot meal in the coziness of my kitchen and feel just horrible for doing so. Because others so close to me can’t. And they may not for a very long time. 

The news feed on Springfield SHG's webpage
All I can say is maybe, just maybe, when tragedies like this happen in our community, it makes us more compassionate people overall. I see the folks at Sacred Heart-Griffin High School in Springfield reach out to the Washington Panthers team and fans when they could have just cancelled the game and gone on with their lives. I see the people of Joplin, Missouri – yeah, everyone knows Joplin now just like they’ll know Washington – giving advice and sending aid when they themselves are still rebuilding two years later.

Not that I think God had a hand in this, but maybe – just maybe – this is His way of saying, “Love one another – and don’t forget.” 

The feelings will ebb. The stories will stop. The coverage will diminish. But I hope we don’t completely lose sight of what happened here.  I hope we continue to support these communities even after the dust settles – and I hope that it makes us more empathetic when it happens somewhere else. 

“He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak.  Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall; but those who hope in the LORD will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.” Isaiah 40: 29-31

Here are ways you CAN help (as of 11/22/13): Washington, IL Relief Information Guide


Thursday, November 14, 2013

As far as it takes

How far would you go for your child? 

How far? 

It’s amazing the things you consider as perfectly logical in times of complete chaos. Especially when it’s your child. Like moving out of state. Or changing your name.

You quit holding your breath in anticipation – hoping he’ll bring home that good grade. You stop assuming that the words that are coming out of his mouth are the truth. You cease to care what others think about you and your child because their judgment comes from a place of ignorance and misunderstanding.  You assume that those who you reach out to in desperation may give you a few minutes, or a few days, or a few phone calls, but you know from history that they eventually will cease to become interested and involved – just like all the others. They have their own problems. 

You’ve exhausted your resources. All the “help” you thought was out there … isn’t there. It’s that awful day you realize … it’s just you. 

And that’s not said in a pitiful, self-serving way. Believe me, I’ve been called that, but I pay no mind. Those people have no idea. They have no idea the mountains I have climbed for this child. They have no idea the options I have had to consider and the decisions I have had to make. The conversations I never thought I’d have with people I never thought I’d have to talk to. The stones I have overturned in the search for answers. 

Second to the death of a child, watching a child suffer and deteriorate before your eyes is a parent’s greatest pain. It suffocates your every waking moment like a deadly, odorless gas no matter how hard you try to gasp for real air.  It ages you physically when you look in the mirror and see the bags under your eyes, the gray hairs you haven’t bothered to cover, and the body you haven’t had the will to exercise in months. 

This is the part of parenting they don’t prepare you for. "You'll have some rough times," the books say. "They turn the corner eventually," they predict. You don't see that corner coming, though. You’re that small percentage they don't cover in the books, because it was assumed you had it under control. You were a good mom, they thought. You raised them right, they thought. You seemed like you had it all together, they thought. 

So did you. Until you see your child in a place that you’ve only read about. And when you do read about it, and realize it’s your kid, you thought, “Wow. I must have been working off of the wrong damn manual. Because I’ve somehow really screwed up here.” 

Again I ask, how far would you go for your child? My answer? As far as it takes. Unfortunately, “as far as it takes” has consequences for your own life. Your own job. Your own livelihood, your own relationships and potentially your own future. Your own happiness. And that of your entire family.

It’s the most helpless of all feelings. It’s the loneliest of all feelings. It’s wracking your brain and reading the books and surfing the Internet for one more place to call; one more thing to try – and finding you’re out of ideas. 

Hope and prayer only go so far. This world is an evil place, and for a kid like mine, a virtual landmine of bombs just waiting to be stepped on – by someone with very unsure footing.  

The only saving grace I have is in my dreams, on the day where he finally gets it. The day he realizes he’s killing his own future. The day he realizes his real worth and has the confidence to go out and grab the world by the balls and show it what it’s made of.

The day he realizes that it’s OK to be different – it’s the different people who do the great things in this world. The day he looks in the mirror and likes what he sees, and sees my reflection staring back at him, a proud Mom who would go as far as it takes for a child she loves more than life itself.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

What it's like to be AK47

Yep. I'm 47 today. And right now, struggling with this cold that my 12-year old gave me, I feel like a jammed assault rifle. But as I do every year, I like to look back on the past 365 days of being 46 and wax nostalgic about what I feel thankful for.

Except this year, it's hard. I'll venture to guess this has been one of the hardest years of  my life. It's funny; people say they're "stressed." Or they "have stress." Usually, if I say I'm stressed, I know in the back of my head that I'm being a whiny bitch, because there are individuals in this world who have "real" problems. Like no food. Or no shelter. Or no family. Or are victims of horrific crimes. THOSE people can wear the label of "being stressed." I get that. But in my tiny corner of the world, even though I try to put it into perspective, this year has been kind of a bitch. However, amongst every single obstacle and every single "I can't believe this is happening" situation, there IS always something to be thankful for.

So here goes.

1. First and foremost, I'm thankful for my dad. He above anyone else has had a year that no one deserves, especially someone like him. He has seen his wife recover from major surgery, only to watch her struggle with chemotherapy, then sit helplessly by as a brain aneurysm f*%ked with her like the school bully on steroids. In that time, he has been the most loyal husband and father that I've ever seen. He has stood by her every single day, and done more than I think any man on this earth has done for another person. Through that, he has let my sister and me in, communicating with us and letting us in to his world, which is something that doesn't come naturally to him. If he wasn't able to do that, this time in our lives would be much more difficult.

2. Did I mention my 82-year old dad now texts? I can't begin to tell you how thankful I am for that.

3. I'm thankful for the staff at Liberty Village at Manor Care. You hear horror stories about how some residents are cared for at facilities like this, and I have to say I was dreading what my mom's life would be like once she entered the place she never wanted to be. That aside, from what I see of the staff, and I'm there nearly every day, they are exemplary. They are compassionate, caring, and joke with the residents there like they are family. They call my mom "Trouble", because of course, she is. They decorate for the holidays, have daily activities, offer to paint my mom's nails, and make sure she's not mixing navy blue with black when they help her get dressed in the morning. The administration there has listened to us when we've had issues, and has had a number of "family meetings" with us to discuss my mom's care, and what they can do to help her even more. I don't think  my family and I could ask for anything more.

4. I'm thankful for the friends who haven't given up on me during this past year. I've taken a step back from many of them. I don't go out like I used to; I don't stay in touch. I feel as if I'm a bit of a downer, and the few times I try to go out and "let my hair down," I find after about an hour that I just don't have it in me. A few of my friends have stood by me, listening to me on the phone, or checking in - bringing food when they know I have no time to cook, offering to walk my dog or just being there in Instant Messenger to check in on me. I know it gets old. It's getting old for me, too. But without these friends, I truly would not have made it through this year. You guys know who you are.

5. I'm thankful for the few (and I mean FEW) people who have helped me out with my son this year, who is going through probably the darkest of the darkest times in his life - and mine. I'm thankful for the people who "got it" when I said "this is serious" and didn't think I was overreacting. If you have amazing kids who only leave their clothes on the floor and maybe occasionally get a bad grade, you can't relate. Or you think you have the answers. Or you look at me like I'm doing something wrong. But you don't know. Ironically, these people I'm thanking aren't necessarily "friends." They are professionals in the community who have taken a vested interest in my son and his issues, see the seriousness in them, yet also see the potential he has regardless of his bad choices. If it weren't for you guys, I would be at a complete loss. Thank you for being there and doing what you can to help me save him from himself.

6. Though I'm thankful for both of my kids, because I love them both to the moon and back, I have to give a shoutout to my youngest kid. Because of his inherent compassionate nature, he is the one who gives me the smile I need when times are tough. At 12 years old, he still hugs me out of nowhere. He asks if I'm OK. He ask how Grandma is and is concerned that she won't be home for the holidays (she won't). I know I haven't been the best parent to him this past year. I know he's gotten left in the wings. And I hope in the next few years that I have the pleasure to have him under my roof I can be the parent he needs me to be. I am truly so proud of him and who he is.

7. That said, I'm thankful for my oldest. There's not a night that isn't sleepless for me now; there's not a day when I don't get or send a text or an email about him. I worry about him incessantly, and I feel as if I've gone to the ends of the earth to try to help him. But, at the end of the day, I know he's still here. Every once in awhile, he opens up. Every once in awhile, he lets me in. Because of that, I know there is still a chance. I know I haven't lost him yet. And I hope to God he knows I will never stop fighting for him, and trying to help him realize the incredibly awesome, talented, funny, intelligent kid he is.

8. I am thankful for my job. When I lost my old job back in May of this year, I was devastated. I loved that job and the people I worked with. I thought I respected and admired my boss. It was a tough blow. But my new place of work has blown that away. I love what I do, and the opportunities I am given to do more. I love the people I work with and the talents each one brings to the table. It is truly a melting pot of amazeness (yep I made that up) that just WORKS.

9. In that same vein, I'm thankful for my boss. He brought me in to this place when he didn't have to. He saw  my potential when I didn't even see it myself. He challenges me to do great work when I think I can only do OK work. He understands (well maybe not understands but allows) me the flexibility I need due to all the crap I have going on outside of work, because I truly believe he has faith in me that I will still get the job done - and done well. Because of him, I am able to juggle this crazy life of mine. Because of him, I truly love getting up and going to work every day (and even reading, sorta kinda.)

10. Ok, I feel as if I need to stop at 10, so I'll make this one about my dog. Right? My dog? I'm not even a dog person. But all the cliches about your dog being the one that loves you unconditionally no matter what? Yeah, it's true. I come home exhausted, or I've just had another run in with the kid, or I'm depressed about my mom, or just mad at the world, and there he sits - waiting. He just sits there. Waiting for me to acknowledge him. As soon as I do, he's all over me, showing me how ecstatic he is that I'm home. I don't give him enough credit to what he does for my day. Thanks, Domino. God put you in my life and I'm truly thankful for your canine camaraderie.

That's it for AK47. Another year  - one that I couldn't have predicted if I had tried. My wish for the year ahead? Two things. Two huge things that I pray to God for every day. That my mom's condition will improve and she will at some point be able to return home to her husband and family. That my son will have that "aha moment" that I so desperately want him to have and come back to me like the kid I know he is. Tall order, maybe. But there's always hope. And thanks.