Category Archives: death

Harry The Bee

People either like costumes or they don’t. I fall squarely in the don’t column, although that wasn’t always the case. I enjoyed dressing up for Halloween when I was a little girl. I remember a few epic costume parties in high school and college. But somewhere in the space between being a kid and having kids, the allure of Halloween costumes faded away.

It was in that middle place that I had a molar pregnancy that resulted in cancer in my uterus and a lot of time to ponder if I would ever have children at all. It was easily the scariest thing that ever happened to me, and it sent me down a deep rabbit hole of fear, anxiety, and depression. Ultimately I healed, but not without a lot of time, therapy, and Harry the Bee.

Harry was the Boston terrier my husband and I got when we couldn’t have a baby. The Bee was the Halloween costume we bought for him on a whim at a chic pet store that sold uber-expensive canine clothing and accessories to people who didn’t have to worry about preschool tuition payments.

We also bought Harry a dry clean-only argyle sweater, but in our defense, we didn’t know about the washing instructions until it was covered in dirt. The sweater was undeniably an impractical purchase, but the bumblebee costume was worth every silly penny.

It’s true that parenthood gives you fresh eyes, which make things like Disney World, Christmas morning, the ice cream truck, and Halloween fun all over again.  Eventually, we had two healthy children, but until that future arrived, Harry was our baby and dressing him in a bumblebee costume for Halloween unearthed a sensation of joy inside of me that had long been dormant.

Harry saved me when I needed to be saved and made me feel safe in a world that without warning had become insecure. For eight Halloweens and through all of the ups, downs, ins, and outs of marriage and motherhood, Harry was my anchor.  Year after year, he and his black and yellow stripes and bumblebee wings reminded me that everything would be okay.

Last year, on Harry’s ninth Halloween, he was too weak to wear his bee costume.  He had insulinoma, a cancer in his pancreas, and despite our best efforts and interventions, we couldn’t save him. October 31st was, in fact, Harry’s last day here on Earth. We whispered our goodbyes all throughout the night and held him close the next morning when he was finally released from his pain and suffering.

In the days that followed, we got rid of or donated most of our pet supplies, but not before letting the kids decorate and fill memory boxes with items, including photos, drawings, and squeaky toys, that they wanted to keep to remember their big (canine) brother. My husband also tucked away some sentimental items. A harness and a tag, I think. I kept something special, too. Harry’s bumblebee costume.

The irony isn’t lost on me that we lost our sweet Harry the Bee on Halloween.  A year later, I’m not sure I’m ready to celebrate this holiday without him, but if Harry’s life and death taught me anything, it’s that joy hides in the most unexpected places and almost always lies at the end of a deep rabbit hole.

~In loving memory of Harry the Bee~

This essay originally appeared on Mamalode.

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Feasting On Tragedy

feastingontragedy

I attended my first writing conference last weekend. It was exhilarating and exhausting. It was scary (I have a serious shy person problem) and fun. Mostly, it was exciting. I stepped out of my comfort zone. I met new people. I read my work out loud. I talked to people who I want to be when I grow up, and I didn’t say anything stupid (mostly). I learned a ton, and I even slept on a bunk bed in a dorm!

By the time Sunday morning arrived, I was beyond tired, but I was inspired and anxious to get home and do ALL the things I learned to reach my goals big and small. Everything was awesome. And then I saw the news ticker at the bottom of the television screen in the cafeteria at breakfast.

20 PEOPLE DEAD IN MASS SHOOTING AT NIGHTCLUB IN ORLANDO

I finished my breakfast, attended the last session and closing ceremony, and loaded up my car for the long drive home. At check-out, where I handed over the keys to my dorm room, I saw the news ticker at the bottom of the television screen in the office of residential services.

50 PEOPLE DEAD IN MASS SHOOTING AT NIGHTCLUB IN ORLANDO

Fifty.

I got in my car, turned on one of the news channels on the satellite radio, and listened to the horror unfold for the next four hours while I made my way home. Just like after 9/11 and Aurora and Sandy Hook (and so on), I had to take it in. I had to feel the sadness and pain and fear and anger. I had to absorb it and let it race through my veins because why were those people experiencing unimaginable terror, shock, and loss and not me? Why was I having the time of my life at a writing conference? Why was I alive? Why were my children safe?

I fed the beast.

Halfway home, I stopped for coffee at a highway rest area. I was afraid to go inside. Eventually I did, but not without wondering the whole time if I were safer near the front entrance or toward the back of the building. I thought about how when I go to see a movie with my kids, we’re not only told to silence our cell phones, but also to be on the lookout for “suspicious characters” and to know where the nearest exits are. When did this become normal? When I returned to my car, I turned the news back on.

I fed the beast, and the universe took note.

On Monday, the strap on my favorite pair of shoes broke on my walk to get the kids at school. That evening, I noticed a mark on my face under my right eye that had changed from a red spot to a pimple-like bump just like the one that turned out to be a basal cell carcinoma a few years ago. I made an appointment to see my dermatologist on Wednesday.

On Tuesday, we lost Internet access at the house all day. Ugh. That afternoon, a police officer at school pick-up gestured aggressively at me because he didn’t like the way I brought my car to a stop at the crosswalk.

By Wednesday morning, I was convinced that if the sun was shining, the earth was burning. My shoe broke because I shop too much and spend too much money. The Internet went down to distract me from doing my work because I didn’t deserve the indulgence of being a writer. The police officer singled me out because I was a bad, irresponsible mother. And obviously I had skin cancer. On my face. Again.

I was sweating the small stuff. All of it. Meanwhile, 49 innocent people were dead and another 53 were injured. All of their lives – and their family and friends’ lives – were forever changed. Forever broken.

I watched, I read, I listened. I fed the beast.

On my drive to the dermatologist, I listened to a news update about a two-year-old boy who was snatched from his father’s arms by an alligator and presumed dead at Disney World. And about an up-and-coming pop star from “The Voice” who was shot dead by a deranged fan. And about the wife of the nightclub shooter who knew of his of murderous plans but didn’t speak up.

I imagined the stitches, the bandages, and the scar I would have after another Mohs surgery on my face because I didn’t take good enough care of my skin.

I fed the beast.

After an anxious wait, the dermatologist walked into the examination room, looked at my face closely with special light, and said, “You have a pimple.”

You. have. a. pimple.

These four words ended my feast.

I didn’t have skin cancer. I didn’t shop too much (for the most part). I didn’t not deserve to be a writer. I wasn’t a bad or irresponsible mother. I convinced myself that taking on others people’s pain would alleviate their grief (and my guilt), but instead of creating light, I let darkness spread. I spiraled into an abyss of negativity. I had a bad week, but I was alive. My kids were safe.

I feasted on tragedy, and I made myself sick.

Interestingly, the last session of my writing conference was about self-care. It was about taking good physical and emotional care of ourselves – preventing pain, developing healthy sleep habits, taking breaks, communicating well, acknowledging Imposter Syndrome, and trusting that we’re good enough – in the midst of stress, chaos, work, and life in general.

I have not taken very good care of myself this week.

I’m still going to watch the news. I’m still going to feel helpless and heartbroken for the lives lost and ruined. I’m still going to imagine the unimaginable, and I’m still going to wonder why? Why? But I’m going to try to stop eating when I’m full. I’m going to remember that punishing myself won’t set anyone free and that tragedy will sadly always be there when I come back to the table.

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Filed under anxiety, death, Disney World, fear