Grandmother

I grew up during a time when Family Video was a thriving business filled with endless amounts of VHS tapes to enjoy on a Friday night. The checkout line displayed row after row of candy. When you reached the cashier you were greeted with signs saying, “Friday Family Fun Night Snacks!” next to large tubs of popcorn with real movie theater butter. That was the shit right there.

She’d let me pick out whatever I wanted. We rented “Selena” with a side of candy lipstick (if you’re a child of the 90’s, you know what I’m talking about), a big tub of popcorn, some skittles, and a soda. If I had asked her to buy the entire place out, I’m sure she would have. I was the only grandkid for ten years and I wore that crown like a boss. She would set me up in the guest room upstairs with the big AC unit so I could watch Jennifer Lopez reenact the career and life of Selena. I learned every word to “Como La Flor” and “Bidi Bidi Bom Bom” while dancing on the queen-sized bed, using the remote as my microphone. I remember knowing right then and there that I wanted to be a singer. The music moved me in a way I had never felt before (I mean… I was nine years old, but whatever). That movie, in that room, on that hot summer night is when my love affair with music began. As an adult working on a degree in musical theater in my 20s, I reflected on that night over and over.

I learned to swim in the pool out back. I can remember the way the pool liner felt on my feet as it dipped from the shallow end to the deep end. “Look! I can still touch here!” Flip flops off the diving board. Underwater handstands that ended with a mermaid splash. I would put my goggles and flippers on and spend hours dipping in and out of the water while getting in touch with my inner mermaid. “Count how long I can hold my breath underwater!” I would yell out as she dipped her toes on the edge, watching me try to break the Guinness World Record for youngest person in the history of time to hold my breath underwater for the longest amount of time. Or, at least that’s what it felt like. She gave me unconditional love and attention, which I’m sure was exhausting. I was kind of dramatic, if you can imagine that!

Hard to picture, right? I was an only child, the only grandchild, THE LIGHT OF EVERYONE’S LIVES until some other kids were born and blah blah blah. (Love you little cousins and siblings!). After my parents got divorced, my grandmother joined my mom and I on a trip to Disney World. It was fantastic- until we lost her. Yes, my mother and I lost her. One minute she was standing next to us, the next I started screaming about wanting my own parasol with my name written on it in cursive and I had to have it RIGHT NOW before the nighttime Disney parade started. If you’ve ever been to Disney World, you know that they close the park each night with a massive light spectacle and parade. When the parade starts you can’t really move. If you’re on one side of the street and your family is on the other, that’s just too bad, because Mickey is on his way and you better just stand back.

Did I know this at the time? Probably. But I needed that damn parasol. My parents just got divorced, woe is me, my childhood is ruined forever! The only way that I would ever have happiness in my life was if I had that parasol. The purple parasol with my name written in fancy cursive on top. She crossed the street at the last second. I think we thought she would probably stay there until the end of the parade, but as things came to a closing we realized she wasn’t there.

Imagine losing a family member in Downtown Disney and then having to go to the “Town Hall” where a man in a barbershop quartet is taking your information and putting out an announcement that there’s a lady missing: blonde hair, medium height, probably wearing a fanny pack. My mother was freaking out, and I realized that we may never ever find her- or my parasol.

Priorities.

A few hours later after an extensive search by people and Disney characters alike we realized we had done all we could do. There were no cell phones or GPS trackers yet. We hopped onto the trolly back to the “Mighty Ducks” parking lot trying to figure out what we were going to have to tell everyone back in CT.

“Lost? Disney? What happened?”

“Did she bibbity-boppity-boo herself right out of there?”

“Did she turn into a pumpkin at midnight?”

“Did you call the police?”

As we pulled up to our designated lot we saw a figure in the distance sitting on the hood of a car that looked vaguely familiar. There she was! Sitting there under the stars, waiting for us to finally show up, parasol in hand.

Every winter and summer we would head up to the homestead in Oxbow, Maine. It was a place of serenity and beauty. There were acres upon acres of forest covered in fresh snow and small woodland creatures. We would walk a bit down the road to fill old milk bottles with fresh spring water. If you came for a visit in the summer you would have a chance to see the beautiful gardens cared for by her loving hands and experience the thrill of being eaten alive by 50,000 black flies for weeks on end. My great-great Uncle, whom we called Gramps, warmed the cabin with a wood stove and cooked bran muffins every morning to eat on the screened-in back porch. We’d also do another very fun, exciting – thrilling, if you will- activity while out in the wilderness up there.

Moose watching.

We went moose watching.

Not once. Not twice. But dozens and dozens of times in my childhood.

We’d wait for it to get dark out, hop in the old fashioned mini van that looked like a cross between a station wagon and a box, drive out a bit, turn the lights off and wait.

And wait.

Until all of a sudden you saw something out of the corner of your eye.

“Shhhhh! Look…Katie… see? See over there?” “See what? I don’t…”

…and BOOM turn on your headlights and there’s a handful of large Moose ready to charge into your mini van from 1994. But, they didn’t. They just took a good look at us and we took a good look back, and we continued this tradition for most of my life.

“TEN! Ten moose this time! Can you believe it?”

I had more fun looking for moose with my grandmother as a kid than I’ve ever had playing candy crush on my iPhone. Those were some of the best times, and there was no social media to distract us from the wonder and beauty of life.

She has a green thumb that I envy. I couldn’t keep any plant or flower alive if my life depended on it. She has always taken great pride in her work outdoors. Her garden always flourished, and so did the poison ivy rash she would get countless amounts of times. Honestly, in my 34 years of life, not a single spring or summer has passed without that woman catching some rash from this and that in her own backyard. When I was in high school, I went away for the weekend once. She had come over to help my parents with their garden and ended up staying the night. She slept in my bed. A few days later I overheard her talking about her recent bout of poison ivy which just happened to be all over her body. I started itching before she could even finish the sentence. I somehow manifested phantom poison ivy itching because I was certain that the woman had infested my sheets with it. I was a teenager. I never changed my sheets. All of a sudden I imagined big pink and oozing poison ivy blisters all over my torso and how my boyfriend would never want to hold my hand ever again.

The closet upstairs is where she keeps most of her photos. If you opened the door to the damn thing, you’d be buried alive under all the albums that she’s shoved in there over the years. Books filled with photos from Memorial Day parades, birth announcements, birthday parties, piano recitals and more. She would pull them out for me all the time and say, “Hey Katie- look at this one. Remember that?” She would hand me a picture of the time we had a unicorn at my birthday party in her backyard. Of course I remember.

She’s always made me feel important.

Loved.

Cared for.

She and I have always had a special bond, but I didn’t realize how special it really was until recently. Our demons know each other well. When I was a child I found this all to be very confusing. What happened? What was going on? Was she okay? Where did she go?

She always came back. I didn’t ask questions, I just knew that she loved me and she was trying to love herself too. I had no idea how heavy her burden was. I didn’t know what it felt like to carry that burden alone. I had no idea that one day I would understand.

I do understand, but because of her, I have never had to carry that burden alone.

I woke up a few years ago and realized that I was missing out on life because I was too busy numbing myself from it. I couldn’t experience joy, pain, sadness or happiness. I did my very best to drown my feelings, good or bad. I thought it was normal, until it wasn’t.

I isolated myself from everyone I loved and who loved me. I was too terrified to try to cope with life, I just wanted life to shut up. It was too loud. I drank up everything I could, hoping to float. Instead, I just sunk deeper and deeper to the bottom. The deeper I went, the more the darkness grew.

I was scared. I was ashamed. I was broken. I was nothing.

I thought I was alone.

With trembling hands I reached for my phone, dialed her number and waited for her to say hello. I could hardly get the words out, tears were streaming down my face and I could hardly breathe. I called her because I knew that she knew what this felt like. I could hear her own voice trembling and could picture the tears on her cheeks too.

She said she was proud of me for asking for help. She said she loved me and she was sorry.

“Sorry for what?”, I asked.

All the times she wasn’t there. All the times she tried and failed. All the times I saw her at her worst.

I could feel her heartache in my own heart.

None of that matters, Gram.

Every obstacle we go through in life has the ability to either take us down or make us stronger. Even in defeat we have the opportunity to grow.

I sound like a cheesy self-help infomercial right now, but it’s the truth.

When I think about what she’s given me, I can hardly express my gratitude. She and I share the same disease. Without help, it’s fatal. If she wasn’t who she is and hadn’t gone through what she’s gone through, I’m not sure I would have been able to recognize it in myself and muster up enough courage to say, “My name is Kate and I’m an alcoholic,” if she hadn’t said it first.

Her journey helped me discover my own courage to accept and surrender.

She saved my life.

I love you a bushel and a peck Gram. To the moon and back and over again, endlessly.

Semper Fi

Every morning for the past few months I have woken up, slightly terrified, thinking to myself, ” WHAT NOW?!?“. How can it get any worse? Everything is falling apart. God must hate me. Divorce. Plumbing. Quarentining. Death. I could go on and on. My pity party has been throwing it down day after day after day.

Boo hoo. Poor me. My life is a waste. Nothing matters. Blah, blah, blah.

My head has been so far up my ass that all I see is dark. I’m sure that I’ve been a pleasure to be around. Everyone loves a selfish, dramatic, midwestern housewife.

A few weeks ago I was sitting on my balcony in the middle of the night. It was cold and I was crying over something stupid. I just kept weeping. Snot nose and all, thinking of all the wrongs done to me. My house was flooded with sewage water. It smelled like thirty people all decided to take a dump in my hallway. My relationship was officially over, and the weight of that statement sat right on my shoulders pushing me as far down as it possibly could. So many scenarios popped into my head. My kids would have a broken home. I might have to miss certian holidays with them. I have nothing of my own- house, car, job, or bank account. I have ruined my childrens life. I’m a bad mom. Only a bad mom would allow this to happen.

It’s a pretty sad day when you’re sitting in your house tearing up wedding pictures while the faint smell of poop lingers in your floorboards. I thought to myself, ” THIS IS IT. I’m done. I’m not cut out for this life stuff.” My favorite thought that came to me time and time again was, ” I’m so glad I got sober just in time for my entire life to implode right before my very eyes.” My poor, fragile mind had always used alcohol to cope with feelings that hurt. Every glass of pinot grigio numbed my heart and mind. No one can hurt a drunk like me. Go ahead. Try. But before you do- can you please open that second bottle up for me?

The news started to focus on a virus across the world that was killing people at a very fast pace. If it’s across the world, why should I care? Sucks to be those dudes.

I had no idea what was about to happen.

I had no idea.

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A few weeks later we were ordered to stay home. Stay home from work, stay home from school, stay home from restuarants, stay home from anything and everything. I get clausterphonic really fast, and I could already feel the walls coming in closer and closer. At first, it was bearable. My kids school got cancelled for a week. A week? I can handle a week. That’s cool. Maybe we can do some family shit.

Oh wait, no we can’t. We can’t leave our homes. It’s just a week though. It will pass.

One week turned into two. Two turned into a month. A month turned into the rest of the school year.

Homeschooling a six year old, four year old, and three year old can be trying at times. All times. My kids come from an amazing school district and the teachers are super helpful and care so much about our kids. A few weeks in we found our groove. I started to enjoy helping my kids grow and learn. First grade math is tough though. I have such a deeper appreciation for teachers. This shit is hard.

Just as I was able to wrap my head around this whole quarantine, I experienced something that I could never have forseen or ever imagined. I didn’t have a partner to hold my hand or comfort me. I had to hear this news alone, my mothers shaking voice on the other end of the phone.IMG_0486.JPG

My Grampie died of COVID-19.

 

 

IMG_0490.jpegLet me tell you a little bit about my Grampie. I had him wrapped around my finger from day one. One of my earliest memories was asking him to get me an icre cream sandwich at 9 pm on a random summer evening. He walked down the road to the general store. A store in which they generally sell things that you might generally need at one point or another, generally speaking. So, he got me my icre cream sandwich. This event was repeated over and over when I was a kid. Grampie never said no. As I grew older, I would call the house to check in and say hi to him and my Grammie.

” Hey Gramps! How are you?”

” Now, who’s this?”

” Your favorite grandchild!”

” Oh, hi Jill!”

 

Yeah… I’m not Jill. (although she is my bomb ass cousin who has amazing hair and equally amazing sense of humor)
” Gramps! Haha! It’s me!”

” Miss Kaitlyn, how’s it going in Chicago?”

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*Here we have on the right the so-called favorite, Jill.*

We had an on going joke for a couple of years. If there was a ever a time where my grandmother was out of town, I would call him and ask when the keg was being delivered and did he have enough singles for the strippers that would be showing up in a couple hours. He would usually say, ” Well, I ordered two kegs this time. Just to be sure.”

Once every few weeks he would check in with me when I was in college. He would always end the phone call with, ” Now you be careful, alright? I mean it. Be careful.”

His favorite TV show was Keeping Up With The Kardashians. His favorite Kardashian was Khloe. According to him she was, ” The only normal one.”

My Grampie embraced his Scottish heritage with pride. But, I still had to beg him to wear his kilt to my wedding. It had been years since he had worn it. During the family photos I walked over to him. He said, ” Now listen, don’t get too close. I’m not wearing any underwear.”

…WHAT??!

Apparently, thats a Scottish tradition.

5666CA1B-2E9B-4DD0-A73E-EBC4315AB0BF.JPGHe loved my Grammie with all of his heart. Stubborn, but full of love. He was a police officer and made a very large impact on his community with his generosity, kindness, service, and a crazy sense of humor.

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For as long as I can remember, he was battling one ailment after another during his life. Cancer, cellulitis, bad knees, heart stuff, infections and more. None of those things ever took away his joy of life. He went through most of that with a smile. Maybe not the entire time, but he dealt with things in his life with humor.

A few months ago I flew to CT. Neither of my grandparents were in good health. I was very worried about my Grammie, and not quite as worried about him. The virus had already started to infiltrate Connecticut and we were told to wear masks in the hospital visitng him. He was in the hospital getting antibiotics through an IV. His roommate walked by and let out one of the most haneous farts I have ever smelled. It just lingered. And lingered. Grampie said that he does that all the time, you just get used to it. Honestly- it’s a wonder that those deathly farts didn’t take his life first. I don’t know why, but it seemed important to make sure I took a picture with him. I didn’t know it would be the last one.

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My kids loved him a bunch too. Everynight we look out at the Grampie star in the middle of the sky that seems to get brighter and brighter. We sent balloons up into the sky with messages about how much we loved him. The grief came in waves.

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There was no chance in hell that I could go home, because Covid-19 was everywhere. I’d be putting myself and others in danger. But- grieving someone you love from 800 miles away really, really sucks.

Really sucks.

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I cried myself to sleep a lot. I’m extremely blessed to have my aunt, uncle and two cousins out here in Illinois. Being around family during this kind of stuff  is so important.Screenshot 2020-05-07 at 12.27.57 PM.jpeg

I had to watch his burial on a youtube. He would have loved it. He was given a marine burial, sending him to heaven with the gratitude of many police officers, family, and friends. I saw my mom holding it together so she could make a speech. I watched my grandmother be given the American flag that was draped on the casket.

IMG_1332.JPEGBut here’s the thing- he died. That hurts. It will always hurt, but I don’t have to drink over it. I don’t have to grieve him while black out drunk on my couch. I had to accept that I couldn’t change anything about it. Acceptance is an absolute miracle.

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All of these things could be categorized as major life events. So many changes, so many tears, so much uncertainty. A big ol’ broken heart to top it all off. These are reasons to drink that are completley validated. All that stress can be washed down with a cold Bud Light, and you know what? Things are so hard, why don’t you have another one. And another. And another.

Another until there is no more.

Drinking wouldn’t make anything better.

But I know what does- sobriety. I packed up my pity party and threw it in the trunk. Every single person has to go through this kind of stuff at one point or another. It never dawned on me that you could deal with all this sober. How would anyone be able to do that?

I did what I had to do.

I prayed. I reached out. I sat around with a bunch of other drunks who had found ways to deal with stuff sober. I learned. I grew. I’m still learning. Still growing. Every single day I can choose to either work hard on this shit and come out stronger, or I can succumb to my demons.

I’m not the only person dealing with this. Thousands of people have lost family members.  Thousands of people have lost their jobs. Thousands of people can’t pay their mortage. Thousands of people have put their own lives on the line in order to help others. Thousands of people will never be the same.

So, what right do I have to complain about this current wreckage? Nothing. I have no zero reason to complain. I’m fine. My kids are fine. I have a roof over my head. I have food to cook. I have zoom. I have friends from 6 feet away. I have people who laugh about how ridiculous our masks look. I have my dog. I have so much.

I will never see my Grampie again on this earth. But I know with great certainty that he is here with us. Always will be.

My youngest ran out of the bathroom last week screaming, ” MOMMY MOMMY MOMMY! I FOUND GREAT GRAMPIE STAR!” We all looked up and there it was.

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*hot chocolate on the balcony saying hi to Great Grampies star*

 

That star.

 

I’m 800 miles away from my parents and siblings. At first I was jealous that they could all grieve with each other while I’m out here in rural Illinois. My support system walked out the front door without ever looking back. My heart burned. I figured I didn’t have a choice. I had to be alone.

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Ok yeah- screw that. I’m not alone. I have that star. I have my sobriety. Sobriety is the gift that keeps giving. I did not think I was going to be ok a few weeks back. I really didn’t. I also was choosing to be a grump narcissist, that might have had something to do with it. Because I am sober, and ONLY because I am sober can I appreciate the life of an amazing man and the blessing it is to be his first born granddaughter. Dear cousins- if you’re reading this you should know that I was the favorite. Admit it. You know it’s true. Don’t you dare say that we were all his favorites, theres only room for one. And that one being me. Me, me, me! (still working on that narcisit thing…)

 

I love you Grampie.IMG_0609.jpeg