Monday, April 6, 2015

Escape from radio silence!

Greetings All,

I’ve been silent for the past month, not out of choice, but out of survival mode for the most part.  Going back to work on March 16th was exceedingly good in many, many ways.  The structure, the kindness and goodwill of so many of my students and co-workers, as well as just a sense of purpose was very good for me.

But it’s also hard, in so many other ways.  By trade, I’m a storyteller.  I teach through stories.  I don’t understand how people teach History with worksheets, or with entirely student-driven lessons.  But at the base of my craft as a teacher is forming dynamic relationships with the students in my class based on trust, based on caring, and then telling stories on top of those relationships to connect dots between historical events and their lives.  That’s how I’ve always managed to make history come alive, and make it more than the worksheet-based nightmare that Shelley lived through in HS.

As you might imagine, there is a massive expenditure of energy that goes along with that.  Match that up with the fact that neither Shelley nor I are sleeping very well yet, and you get a very tired Jason.  Very. Tired. Add onto that fact that I don’t really know how to teach at ½ energy, or ½ anything… So, with that, I haven’t written.

Anya is doing as well as can be expected, and has really fallen into reading more than we ever would have imagined.  She’s reading an average of a book a day…and these are decent sized books.  I’d guess she’s reading 2+ hours a day, on average, right now.  When we ask her about what’s going on in the books, with a little prodding as she finds the whole thing tedious as we’re basically testing her to see if she actually read it after all, she gives us a basic plot synopsis…so she’s totally reading it.

She’s lonely, that’s for sure…and we’re doing our best to fill in those gaps wherever we can.  For example, yesterday was Easter, and Shelley got me this crazy little orange monster guy who has a foam eyeball.  If you squeeze his belly really quickly, the air compresses and the eye shoots out.  The monster comes with 4 extra eyeballs as well.

Anya spent several hours yesterday making 3 different sized monsters out of toilet paper, building a backstop, creating prizes, decorating balloons, and making other accompaniments to this game.  Then she asked us to come play.  We did….but what she really wanted was to have a best friend again who would play it over and over and over with her for hours.  We did our best,  but we do get tired after several go-throughs, as anyone would…except if you’re 4-7.

Anya and Shelley also spent several hours up at Uncle Chad's place, near Linden.  She drove a 4-wheeler, and really enjoyed it, once she got used to it (from reports...)

We start at Ele’s Place the Wednesday after Spring Break, and we’re really looking forward to that.  We toured their Saline/Ann Arbor location last week, and talked about the process of healing that they use, and it sounds like it will be great for us, as well as Anya.  We’re really looking forward to that.

Shelley is doing as well as can be too.  She’s been volunteering at Anya’s school nearly every day.  She helps them out with whatever they need, from Spelling tests, reading to kids, filing, sharpening pencils, and a ton more.  It’s helping her fill that silence, and also fill her bucket to be helping out at CSA.  She’s also been meditating, doing yoga at home, and doing a bunch of fix-up projects at home that she’d put off while Amie was sick. 

In the end, I can’t really talk about Shelley’s or Anya’s grief process.  For me, however, the process of grief is so totally, totally strange.  In nearly every conversation that I have, I feel compelled to somehow bring up Amie, but nearly never do.  I want to talk about her to everyone, all the time.  I want everyone to know that she died…..but I don’t.  The look on people’s faces, and the time I then immediately snap to making them feel better about her having died makes, me feel terrible for bringing it up. 

So I’ve been spending a lot of my time either not talking to people, which is fine, or talking about things that I can absolutely not have any way of bringing her up…..or with the people who I’m close to at work, talking about her in my normal, natural way and trusting that I won’t make them cry by doing so.  (Thank you, Tracy, Tracy, Shannon and lunch people!) 

There have been a few times when I’ve been overwhelmingly overcome with emotion, and these are always the times where I’m least expecting it.  For the most part, though, it’s just the undercurrent of things right now, and I imagine that it’s going to be that way for a very, very long time.

A few things that were exceedingly good, and hard, but good that I’d like to talk about…

Firstly, The Howell Carnegie District Library is one of the libraries that Andrew Carnegie decided to build when he realized that he’d lived most of his life as a horrible, greedy, robber baron of a corporate magnate, and decided to give his fortune away near the end of his life.  He did this as a salve to his legacy, but he did a lot of good with it nonetheless. (you might remember this from History class.  Maybe…)  Anyway, Howell got one of those libraries, and it’s this gorgeous old-school brick building that just does not get made anymore.

As I’ve talked about in the past, the girls and Shelley spent a LOT of time at the library reading books, making friends, going to library school, and generally just loving the place on a level that words do not adequately serve.  Several employees of the place have been fantastic supporters of my family and the girls, and we received a letter from one of them last week.

In that letter, we found a card and a picture.  Amie’s oft-favorite books were the Mo Willems books about Elephant and Piggie, and we would read them over and over again.  They dedicated the shelf for those books to Amie, and it just blew my mind how cool that was.  

That was one of those gut punch moments…where I wasn’t expecting it, and the sheer love and caring that that moment showed to me…how much they got it, how they understood how much those books and those memories meant to Amie, and me by proxy.

Even now, typing that out, I’m sitting in Uptown Coffee in Howell, hoping the people sitting around me aren’t noticing that I’ve got tears in my eyes, all the while I’m doing my “passionate typing” as Shelley would call it.

Because silliness is needed to raise the hilarity level, 
here are Anya and I doing our best Elephant and Piggie impersonations.

The other thing that was both good, and hard, but glad to have been able to do it.

First, a disclaimer…up until Amie got sick, I was not particularly good with accepting help.  I’d been largely raised to take care of myself, and saw others helping me as me not being able to do it for myself.  I’m a work in progress, and had long since come to peace with that.  But once Amie got sick, we had to get used to people helping out, or else we’d come apart at the seams.

Lots of people helped out who were family, and lots who weren’t.  One of the people who helped out a lot, and in lots of different ways, was the Hammack family.  Shelley had met Jennya years ago, while Jennya was employed as a stylist at Simplicity Salon in Howell (which recently closed…) When Jennya left the salon to take care of her growing brood, Shelley continued to see her professionally for her services out of her home.

As Amie’s treatments intensified, Shelley was never one to take very good care of herself, and I reached out to Jennya several times to see if we could get appointments for Shelley at strange times.  She was always more than agreeable, and pretty much said that if Shelley wanted to come over at 2am, she’s set an alarm and style her with a smile…and refused to take payment.

Jennya and Chris also own a catering/meal preparation company, Simpled, and they frequently delivered meals to our house, never asking for any payment, and often dropping off a LOT of food (Shelley ate nearly all of it.  She loved it and hinted at my harm for eating some of the meals.  Don’t trust that smiley exterior.  She’s vicious I tell you. Vicious!)  They also picked up Anya from school when we were in radiation treatments at the end of the school year last year, when I couldn’t get out of work to get her.

I tell you all this because I had the opportunity to give a little back last week, and got to help them move into their new house.  It was really, really good for me to be able to give back, and do it in a way that I felt like I could make a difference in the process.

The icing on the cake for me, however, was getting to play with her two youngest kids for a while afterwards.  Chris had ordered some food for everyone after we were done working, and while I waited for it to arrive, I got to play with Ollie and Vaeh.  They are 3ish and 5ish (if I remember correctly), and it was great getting down on the ground and playing with kids that age again. 

They rode me around like an elephant (both at the same time), played silly games in their room, Ollie showed me how to slide down the stairs on our stomachs, and both of them taught me how to properly leap off the stairs into their new foyer. (oh to have a fully functional spine again!) 

Playing with them made me feel slightly whole again, if for only a few moments, and made me realize that there is a hole there that needs to heal, and is going to take quite a while to do so….but that it will happen, and it can happen. 

Anyway, this has become a book and a 1/2 ,  so I’m going to end it here.  Hope Easter and Spring Break (for my school peeps) is treating you well, and if not that, then Tigers Opening Day! 

Enjoy the warmth!  I will.