Thursday, February 27, 2014

2013: Loss

This is an incredibly late "2013" essay, but it's been a whirlwind beginning to 2014 as well. So here it is anyway.

How else could I sum up last year without using the world "loss?"

Earlier in 2013, I used to have a living mom and a boyfriend. By August, I had neither. Mama died after a fifteen month battle with cancer. The boyfriend, of almost nine months at that point, chose not to come to her funeral. Talk about adding insult to injury. (Disclaimer: the boyfriend is not the villain in my life, and since our breakup, I have realized many other things that tell me we were not built to last, but it would be dishonest to not say how much that choice did hurt me.) I went into August motherless, single and unemployed.

Also at the end of July, I had a glitch in my phone that required me to do a "hard" reset to my phone so it would function normally again. The particular cord I had to connect to my laptop had become iffy and during the reset, it became disconnected and with that, everything on my phone was erased. Most was backed up, such as contacts and photos and apps, but what wasn't were the text messages. I had had that phone for two and a half years and every text message from that time had been erased. Now that's not the biggest deal, but when your mom had only died a week and a half earlier and you no longer could read text messages from her... it was a big deal.

But I took care of the unemployment situation quickly on August 1st, and was hired on to continue with Austin Learning Academy, where I had done my second AmeriCorps year. While in AmeriCorps, I co-teached/assisted in seven different classes, but since September, I've had my own Advanced ESL Class. The last couple of days of July, I even tried to demand of the universe that it be "Good News August'" because of how much crap had happened in July. The job was certainly good news, and my grandmother's health, which had been so precarious in July as well, was improving. August passed with no major bad news, but in September my pet betta fish (who had lived for four years!) died. I cried a lot more than I thought I would.

And then came the flood.

In mid-October, our family was planning on going to the Texas State Fair, and I had chosen to spend the night in Salado the night before we were going.

But the next morning, my dad woke me up to tell me that David had called in the night and the rainstorm had been so bad in Austin that our apartment had flooded... 3 in. of standing water, coming in through the front door and the walls on the side of the apartment where my room is, reaching almost to the back wall of our apartment.

So instead of getting ready to go to the fair, I got in the car and drove back to Austin to see the full extent of the damage.

I am not the neatest person, and we had only moved in to the apartment a month before, and many things were still in cardboard boxes or stacked in piles on the floor. Even of what was in plastic bins, a couple had been turned on their sides for more space-saving storage in one of my closets, so the water seeped in them as well.

After finally seeing what was damaged, we had several hundreds of dollars of books either ruined completely or warped by the water, much of David's record collection (that had not been unpacked and were in cardboard boxes) soaked, many of my journals soaked and warped, with whole pages unreadable now, all the letters and cards I have saved, about half of which went to recycling and the rest of which I laid out on the floor to dry. My college scrapbook materials were in a cardboard box, so most of that went straight to the trash or recycling--all of my photographs from my year as a photo student--stuck together.

2013 stripped me clean. I know that I am still so fortunate, but loss was very real to me this past year.

And it has taught me in a practical way the lesson I have long heard: You can't take it with you. None of this is permanent, and there's nothing we can do to make it so.

My grandma told me she was hoping that maybe we could have a Good News 2014 like our Good News August, but it certainly hasn't been great so far. Health problems and phone problems and weather problems and car problems... Can't escape.

But it's not that there hasn't been good news. And though I've said goodbye and good riddance to 2013 two months ago, I know I can't say goodbye to all bad news. I can only keep moving forward, every moment knowing that loss is simply part of life, and that life is just as impermanent as everything else.

But I have a choice on how to live my life.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

New Year's Resolutions

Last year, I made a resolution to write in this blog once a week.

I only posted 10 entries in 2013.

In my defense, for the first half of the year, I was working an average of 50 hours a week with AmeriCorps. And my mom had cancer. And I had a boyfriend. Very little writing.

Then to start of the second half of the year, my mom died. No more AmeriCorps, no more cancer or mom, no more boyfriend, lots more grief and depression. Even less writing.

But I love writing. Even as I am in the midst of trying to finish my essays for graduate school, I am thinking about all these things I'd like to write about in this blog. So I made the same new year's resolution this year--I will try to write in here at least once a week.

Today was my first day back in class--as most of you know, I teach Advanced ESL to adults--and of course, part of our lesson was about new year's resolutions. We discussed the tradition, and I had them create a few of their own for 2014.

As for me, I have made new year's resolutions since I was a teenager. They used to be a really long list--like, 50 resolutions (I was inspired to change, but usually only managed to work toward about three of them). I love to make lists. (I also love to read lists, which is probably why I love Buzzfeed so much). I make to-do lists all the time--I have them on post-its in my classroom, varying from things I need to do this week to things I need to get done/want to do in the semester. I have separate lists for types of tasks.

I also make lists in my journal--just for funsies. Lists in my journals as a teen included gems such as "Boys I Think Are Cute But I Don't Necessarily Like" (a list of about 15 boys, one of which I didn't know his name and just called him Las Palmas boy), "The People I Knew Who Were At The Middle School Dance" (there were these for every dance and party I attended in middle school), "The 7th Grade Couples At Durham School Of The Arts In 2001-2002" (if anyone needs a copy of this, let me know), and "List Of Injuries I Have Right Now" (if you knew me as a child/teen.... or even now, you'll understand why this actually took a list). More recent lists in my journal as an adult have been "Dances I Have Choreographed" (that list was over 100 items), "Dances I Want To Choreograph" (not quite as long), "Places I Want To Visit" (ever-growing, though I am slowly getting to work on it), and "How Am I Going To Finish My AmeriCorps Hours?" (sometime we'll have to talk about all the random volunteer opportunities I did during AmeriCorps so I would make my hours). Oh, and occasionally, I'll list all the states and capitals in the U.S. just to make sure I still remember them all.

But back to new year's resolutions.

I've gotten somewhat better at picking actual concrete and attainable goals for my new year's resolutions. Starting in 2011, I've made it a resolution to read 50 books a year. That first year, I made it to 48. 2012, I only read 37. But in 2013, thanks to audiobooks on my commute, I read 51! I think it's a great challenge for me to read more, which I love to do but don't always make time for. Also in 2011, I challenged myself to lose weight. I did, I joined weight watchers and lost 15 lbs. But then I moved to LA and excuses, excuses, point is, I've gained it all back and then some since then.

In January 2012, I even led a spirituality night with my community based on The Happiness Project, one of the books I read in 2011. I focused it on resolutions to make ourselves happier that year.

For years, I made it a new year's resolution to stop biting my nails. I even got a little more creative last year by trying to say I would paint my nails every week (I am less inclined to bite them when they are pretty/nasty tasting polish on them), but nope, didn't work (well maybe it would have if I had actually painted my nails that often).

Resolutions are so full of optimism. We take the things we are most insecure about and try to change them. Or we decide that that thing we've always wanted to do--this will be that year.

As regular readers know, it's hard for me to be optimistic these days. Yet, on January 2nd this year, I went shopping and happened upon a new journal that I fell in love with. I bought it and later that day decided to start writing. But in the front of each journal I've had for the last few years--it starts with lists, of course! Lists of what I want to accomplish that year, lists of habits I'd like to change or maintain, lists of what was good about the previous year, lists of what I'm looking forward to in the year ahead.

So despite it all, I made my new year's resolutions as I do every year. There's eight, but let's be real, thats probably the fewest I've made in my entire life (even last year there were at least 20). I hope you'll send me good vibes as I embark on this journey of positive change and look forward to this coming year--and I send them along your way as well!

Saturday, December 21, 2013

No One Wants to Hang Out with the Sad Girl

I debated a while before posting this. I've decided that though to some it might seem whiny, in my quest for authenticity and honesty, I'm posting it anyway.

Near the end of my freshman year of high school, my dear friend Madeleine died after about a year fighting cancer. I was thousands of miles away. My friends in Durham never knew her. Some had heard about her, both before the cancer and during. But it seemed everyone heard about it after she died.

Because I was crying all the time.

It was April 2004. I was 14 years old. My godmother had died two years earlier (incidentally, Madeleine was present when we found out the news), which was devastating. But somehow, the death of a friend shook me deeper to the core. She died two weeks--to the day--after her fifteenth birthday.

It's strange to think about that time. I was so young. And my friends were so young too, which is why I now can understand better why things changed so irrevocably between us after Madeleine died.

There was less than a month of school left when she died. For 14/15 year olds, my friends really were incredibly supportive. They were caring and kind--helping me to talk about it if I wanted to, and helping me find space to not talk about it if that's what I needed. And I cried a lot. And as I said previously, I really hate crying in public, but most of the time, my friends were very considerate, so it wasn't always as uncomfortable.

School ended a few weeks later. That summer was spent traveling the U.S. with my grandparents as usual and spending time with our extended family in Texas and North Carolina. My grief wasn't so new, but I was beginning to learn that it wasn't something that was going to "go away" or I was going to "get past." As grief always does to a person, it changed me.

When I got back to school in August, I just wasn't as into the superficial social scene anymore. This is no condemnation on who I was friends with--as I said, they were young too, and I never could've expected them to understand what I was going through. So my friends and I grew apart. I stopped getting invited to parties. For about six months, I ate lunch alone. I got really into an online message board, and for a while there, the people on there were really my best friends.

No one wanted to hang out with the sad girl.

I felt closed off from them. These same people who had been so supportive in April/May had forgotten about it by August. But I was different. And obviously, I couldn't forget. And I was sad all the time. And I get it, I just wasn't really that fun anymore. They didn't try to help me. But you know, I really didn't reach out to them either.

By the end of sophomore year, I became closer to someone who is now still one of my best friends, and in the next three years, we always ate lunch together. The sadness wasn't as all encompassing after a while. I was still a very different person than who I had been, but being social wasn't as much of a challenge as it had been when I was still so deep in grief.

Nine years later, I'm 24 and my mom died only five months ago.

Again, I have to say, I have really great friends. But I have also seen another side to some of them. I will never, ever forget those that did everything they could to be at Mama's funeral in TX and/or memorial service in NC. And sadly, I will never forget the people that were glaringly missing.

At the first news of death, people come out of the woodwork from every part of my life. People I hadn't talked to in 10 years. People I had only met that one time. And I was grateful and overwhelmed by the support. But especially grateful for the love and support from my closest friends.

But as the months go by, everyone else goes back to their lives. I have done the best I can. But I have such a difficult time staying connected to my friends. It takes enormous effort for me to even get out of bed most days, so trying to call my friends or hang out with them seems an insurmountable task. But when I do, it has been exactly what I needed. But the ones I have been able to spend time with has given me insight of who is willing to hang out with the "sad girl." And though I try to have grace for the ones I haven't seen in a long time, it is painful.

Sometimes I try to not be sad so that I'm more interesting to hang out with. And it's not that I cry all the time--I really don't. But I'm sad. And though I enjoy taking a break on that and living and truly enjoying my life, whether it be with my friends, family, or alone, it feels dishonest to pretend that my life isn't a jumble of sadness and grief and guilt, even if there is still some joy mixed in.

I don't want to be the sad girl that no one wants to hang out with. But that's my life right now. And I know from experience (unfortunately), that I will lose some friends forever in this time--those that cannot deal with my grief--but I will also gain others and strengthen relationships with the people who can. I don't need pity, but I need a space of love and support. I need you to bear witness to the fact that this is an impossible thing I am dealing with, yet I am still dealing with it.

And I also know that in time, I won't be this sad girl anymore. I know I will carry my Mama with me every where, every day of my life, but slowly, imperceptibly, it won't be so heavy a burden to bear.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Thoughts on Grief

“If, as a culture, we don’t bear witness to grief, the burden of loss is placed entirely upon the bereaved, while the rest of us avert our eyes and wait for those in mourning to stop being sad, to let go, to move on, to cheer up. And if they don’t — if they have loved too deeply, if they do wake each morning thinking, I cannot continue to live — well, then we pathologize their pain; we call their suffering a disease. We do not help them: we tell them that they need to get help.”
--Cheryl Strayed

The loss of my mother has caused extreme upheaval to my life. It is very difficult to me to take this intensely personal and private loss and have to grieve publicly. I don't like crying. I don't like crying in private but I really hate crying in public. And this of course is such a strong reminder of my mother--who cried a lot. She was unafraid to show her emotions to anyone, from the grocery store clerk to a church member, which I honestly always found embarrassing.

I analyze my relationship with my mother too much these days. Though I absolutely was at peace with our relationship by the time of her death, I still think of how it could have been better, or wish that we'd had a stronger relationship earlier. Like many other teenagers, I didn't get along that well with my mom during middle and high school. I was fiercely independent and frustrated with rules that my parents had, and wanted nothing more than to escape. And I took that out on my mom. Mama and I are so much alike in terms of personality. And I take pride in that. But it is also why our relationship at times struggled. (We were both always right).

I hardly talk on the phone to anyone these days--partially because I have really bad service in my apartment, but also because it was my mom I talked to on the phone most--a few times a week. My relationship with some other friends and relatives are growing in response to Mama being gone--but I will never have a relationship with another person like the one I had with my mom.

I haven't been able to write much either. Not here on this blog, not on facebook, not even in my personal diary. It seems I have no words. But then, as you can see, once I actually start writing--I have so many words. I am just so wary of saying them sometimes, because I can't stand the pity--I can't stand the sympathetic faces. Grief is a fact of my life right now, and will always be, honestly, though I know things will also be less difficult than they are right now. I don't know how to speed up the process, or whether I should, though this dark night of the soul seems neverending.

One of the most difficult things about these last four months is that I have really lost my faith. I feel abandoned by God, and most days am not sure I believe in its existence. I hardly dance. It's too painful without Mama. Which I hate, because it was one of the things she has been incredibly supportive of in me my entire life. I feel lost and empty. As someone who has dealt with mood disorders in much of my teenage and adult life, it's not a new feeling. But I don't have Mama to talk to about it anymore. 

It seems impossible to imagine going forward each day, but somehow, someway, inexplicably, I do.

One of my students told me she would like to be a math teacher, and immediately my thought was, oh man, I gotta tell Mom! She'll love that! And a split second later I realized, I couldn't.

People ask "how are you?" even with the best intentions and I think how the fuck am I supposed to be? And I always say something like--"just one day at a time."

And I love teaching and every day all I want to do is share that joy with my mother and ask her advice from her vast experience teaching many different levels of learners.

Live life with no regrets? How is that possible? You can make your peace with the past and face forward in your life, but we cannot avoid making mistakes--we are human--and though it is important to learn from those mistakes and carry those lessons with us, I think it's impossible to live without some twinge of regret--maybe wishing we didn't have to make those mistakes in the first place--especially the big ones.

And though I was a teenager and though it was 6+ years before my mom would be diagnosed with terminal cancer--when I look back on some of the arguments we had and some of my strongest memories of that time of my mother was just a lot of yelling--I feel regret. I do. I couldn't have possibly known that I wouldn't have 30+ more years to fight with her but when I look back, I wish there had been less of it. I wish we'd been able to have a better relationship before I moved so far away. Before it turned to phone calls.

But then, I cherish the time when Mama moved back to Texas my junior year--and before the rest of the family followed, she and I were able to spend so much more time together. She was very lonely, and I was just so happy to have my mom nearby. We went out to eat, we went shopping, she came and watched me at dance practice, she came to my dance shows, and I loved it. And because this blessing for me was at the expense of my father and sister (it was the longest my parents spent apart in their 30 year marriage, and it was Lydia's senior year of high school), it was even more wonderful when the rest of the family moved to Texas and we were all able to spend much more time all together.

So this is what grief is like. This is what the loss of a mother is like (for me--I cannot speak to anyone else's experience). There is depression, emptiness, memories of joy, wishing for that conversation and word of advice, hoping someday it won't hurt so much, and praying that I'll never forget all the good things of my mother. Or even the bad things. It's hoping I'll have more dreams where we meet at Schlotzsky's and split a smoked turkey sandwich (that is the most vivid dream I've had of my mom in the last few months). This grief is present with me every day, and it is so difficult to grieve publicly, but I truly believe in our interconnectedness and community, so here is a glimpse as to what the last four months have been like.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Because She Existed//In Memory of My Mother

I want to write, but it's hard to find words to say. I'm a jumble of thoughts right now. I want to write eloquently of how much my mother meant to me, what the last month has been like wrapped in grief. But I don't even know where to start. I read the posts my dad has made on the caringbridge site--so profoundly beautiful, and I wish I could find those words right now.

Everly Jean Estes Broadway
October 3, 1958-July 18, 2013

On July 10, I turned 24 years old. That same day, our family had to make the decision to put my incredible mother into hospice care.

Not exactly how I imagined my birthday. In fact, we had planned a family dinner at one of my favorite restaurants and my boyfriend was going to meet my parents finally. Instead, we all sat in Mama's hospital room and cried a lot. The boyfriend came to see me and I cried in his arms for half an hour in the hospital cafeteria that I have spent too much time in for the last fifteen months.

Mama was able to spend six days at home in hospice care. We took shifts being present with her. My shifts for those six days were mostly spent singing for hours at a time--I went through the whole hymn book singing every song I knew--and folding paper cranes. It was all I could do. And every time she'd stir a little, I'd say "I love you, Mama." She couldn't respond. But I wanted her to hear those words intimately as long as she lived. Day 2 of hospice she asked me how long it was going to take for her to die. I told her it wasn't up to us, it was up to God.

When Mama was first diagnosed in April 2012, when I would talk to people about how scared and sad I was, I would also be sure to tell them I was hopeful. And that I had no doubt that she'd be dancing at my wedding.

I didn't know she'd only live 15 more months after I said those words. If I had known, maybe I'd have gotten a move on the whole marriage thing. Not really. I would've gotten a lot of long speeches about not rushing things. Which I actually got anyway, even though I was definitely not actually trying to get married so soon, despite the fact that it was breaking my heart to realize how unlikely it would be for her to be there.

My best friend is getting married next summer. She and her mom came to visit me a few days after Mama died and we talked about wedding planning and went bridesmaid dress shopping. And though we enjoyed ourselves, and I am so enjoying wedding planning with my beautiful best friend, the thought came to me that I would never do this with my mom, and I just had to walk out of the shop and cry outside in the 95 degree heat.

There will be many future days like that one. I hear a song that reminds me of her and smile or burst into tears. I don't have her to talk to about the boy problems or the work problems anymore. Mama was a giver of good advice and insight, or even just a listening ear if that's all I needed. One day, I may get married, and my mom won't be there. She won't be there to meet her future grandchildren. She won't be there for the future graduations, birthdays, Christmases, Thanksgivings, Easters...

And yet, she will be. She permeates my entire being, and she has given so much to so many. She lived such a full life, despite how short it was and I will strive to live in her example. Through genetics and the fact she raised me, I am very much like my mother and I embrace that fact. I am independent, stubborn, perseverant, organized, determined and strong. And fiesty. 

A Maya Angelou poem read at Mama's funeral and her memorial service ends this way:

And when great souls die,
after a period peace blooms,
slowly and always
irregularly. Spaces fill
with a kind of
soothing electric vibration.
Our senses, restored, never
to be the same, whisper to us.
They existed. They existed.
We can be. Be and be
better. For they existed.

I am who I am and will continue to become who I become, because she existed. I am better, and we are all better, for having had her in our lives. 

Love you, Mama.

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Update from Relay for Life

It's 2 am. We've been here seven hours, with five hours to go.

Mama, Daddy, Aunt Ruthie and David have gone back to their homes to sleep, and Emily, Lydia and I are still here representing the Donny Diggers.

It's been a wonderful night, and one that I will write more about later. We've been walking, participating in the different events and now I'm reflecting.

When I was fourteen, one of my dear friends, Madi, died of cancer. I kept a journal of letters to her in the year after and I want to share some of the things I wrote:

"My last night with you, my head was on your shoulder. I never wanted to let you go."

"I can feel you when I dance. It almost feels like your spirit is in my body."

"In the last card I sent, which I don't think you ever received, I said that I would always remember your strength. And I will, because it lives in me now."

"I hate the fact that you had to leave me here. And that I let you go. That I had to let you go. I want to be brave, bold and beautiful like you, but I feel lost without someone showing me how it's done. Because you are definitely the bravest, boldest & beautiful-est girl I ever knew."

"I still feel like time has stopped and everyone keeps moving around me and I don't know how to keep going... But with your strength and courage I will. I love you."

"I really am dreading going back to Peace Camp. Because it seems like my whole world has changed since you left. It doesn't seem right to have Peace Camp if you're not going to be there."

"I'm taking things one day at a time and it seems to be working better. I'm pretty nervous about Peace Camp and is doing a dance for you, but I think there's an underlying excitement and relief that I won't be alone anymore."

"Peace Camp was fun, but I was constantly wondering what was missing. You. No Madi in our dance... Instead a dance in honor of you. No Madi at the bottom of the pyramids, instead we all broke our backs in your honor. No more Madi Grace at Peace Camp. But you left a legacy in your short, short life. We will never forget you. Ever."

"It's so hard for me to look at a card with a shoe on it now. I start freaking out because on instinct, I feel like I have to buy it and then it hits me again."

"I don't believe in fate. I don't think anyone is destined to fail. We write our own stories, though sometimes things get in the way, and the story is short. It doesn't make it any less worthwhile."

"9 months. 3/4 of a year. A year ago, you were 3 months from dying. Did you know it then? Had you already accepted your end? Your dad told me you were content, that was the look on your face. I want to believe you knew it was coming, yet still persevered and was cheerful. Because that's you. And not even cancer could change that."

Just think, five years ago, we didn't even know each other. Isn't that weird?"

"It's so hard to believe it's been one year. The day just sort of passed. "

"I wish I could send a shoe card addressed to Madi Paterson-Watt in heaven."

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

The Broadways have Become Donny Diggers!

Relay for Life Central Austin is coming up in 10 days!

I have participated in Relay for Life before, most recently in 2011. It has been a powerful experience for me both times. One of my best friends, Madeleine, fought cancer when we were 14 and succumbed to it just after her 15th birthday. Madeleine's friendship and her unfortunate early passing were a defining part of my adolescent years.

April has been a month associated with cancer for me, for many years now. Madi was born and died in the month of April. Then, just over a year ago, April 10th, my mother was diagnosed with cancer. This period, a year ago, was the worst point in my life. Mama had reacted adversely to her first round of chemotherapy and was in the hospital for a month recovering. We honestly did not know if she would pull through.

But she did. And through this last year of the multiple different chemotherapy drugs and uncertain times, she has remained strong. Her doctors remind us always that the cancer is incurable--but we are finding ways to extend Mama's life, and cherishing every moment. Mama is currently in a clinical trial. Clinical trials are in part made possible by programs such as The American Cancer Society. Therefore, it is closer to our hearts than ever to fundraise for ACS's Relay for Life.

This year, my siblings and I have formed a team. We have called ourselves "The Donny Diggers" in honor of our mother's love for Donny Osmond. She even had a club as a teenager called the Donny Diggers. We are joined by our aunt and cousin. Aunt Ruthie is Mama's younger sister, and when Mama first moved back to Austin in 2010, she lived with her family for about eight months.

You probably know what's coming... we need your help! We are currently third place in highest fundraising for the Central Austin event, but I know we can do better! Donate here to my page, to our team page, to David's page, Lydia's page, Aunt Ruthie's page or Emily's page. You can also donate money by dedicating a luminaria in honor/in memory of someone and can attribute that money to us! (May I suggest my fabulous mother?)

Thank you for being part of our beloved community! It is because of you that the American Cancer Society is the official sponsor of more birthdays!