On living in grief

How’s that for a cheery title?

The other day, I was looking out the window of my kitchen and Spence said, “Your birthday is coming!” I said, “Good grief. I’m going to be 42.” I continued staring out the window, doing some math in my head and eventually said, “When my dad was this age, he had only 14 years left to live.” After a few moments, Spence said, “Well isn’t that a lighthearted note to start the morning,” which made us both laugh.

I don’t mean to be morbid with these comments. I don’t really view them as morbid…more as an awareness that we have only so much time.

We lost our cat Bailey on Friday, December 1. She had been in kidney failure since last year. Over the past six months, she had started walking around the house at night, yowling at the loudest possible volume—a sign of kitty dementia. She was skin and bones and her fur had started matting because she’d stopped grooming herself. A few days before we put her to sleep, her eyes were watering uncontrollably, she was sneezing and I noticed her face twitching a bit. She stopped eating during that time, including cheese, one of her favorite foods. She was 18 years old and wasn’t doing well. As I slept that night on the couch so I could be close to her and provide some comfort & companionship, I heard her wheezing and watched her pace and knew it was time to let her go.

The hours leading up to that final step are always the hardest and most surreal. I’m preparing to go to work and Bailey is pacing around the house and in just an hour or so, she’ll be gone. I cried and cried and cried. I held her to the very end and once the vet administered the final shot, she was gone within five or ten seconds. I continued crying as I got to work and I cried a bit more as my colleagues, who knew what I was doing that morning, comforted me. And then I got busy working. 

I did leave early that day because I was SO tired, but a friend today said she was surprised I came into work—she would have been unable to after such an event. (She told me her own terrible story about losing her beloved dog and the emotional toll it took.)

It didn’t occur to me not to go to work. I had a lot (A LOT) of work to do. But I also feel like I have practice in living in grief and living in life simultaneously, if that makes sense. Having both parents with cancer diagnoses and living with the fear and uncertainty of surgeries, treatments, and side effects; losing my father to cancer and then losing my grandmother only three weeks later; unexpectedly losing a best friend from grad school (also to cancer); losing two beloved dogs and (now) two beloved cats (three of these animals had cancer…jeezus), and living with the continued fear (anticipatory grief) of losing my mom…it all weaves together as a constant reminder that life and death are always intertwined. That the minutiae of life continues even as grief hangs like a thick fog. 

Buddhism also helps. It reminds me that nothing is permanent. What makes life so precious is the fact that it is temporary. That we eventually lose everything. The Dalai Lama says we should always remember that at some point, our body will fail us. It is a certainty. And far from being sad about this, we should rejoice in the now, aware that it won’t last forever. 

Even as I know these things, it does not make the loss any easier, any less heartbreaking. It doesn’t keep me from fearing the loss of my loved ones. My stomach turns with fear over those thoughts. But it does serve as a reminder not to be overcome by those fears today because today I can call my mom and say I love you. Today I can look at my husband and say I love you. Today we are all still together.

And the day we said goodbye to Bailey, I thanked her for the 16 years she spent with us. I hugged her and let her go because that’s all I could do. Our time together was over. And I took that heavy, grieving heart to work with me, knowing that it would occasionally be lightened by the company of my colleagues. Knowing, also, that I would cry when I needed to. 

I will always cry when I need to. I recommend it.

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Sometimes

I found this entry in a notebook I tucked away a long time ago. I have a habit of writing in different notebooks and putting them aside.

Sometimes she thought her number of pens would make her a writer. One of them would be the one that let the words easily flow from mind to paper.

Sometimes she thought if she woke up early everyday and pulled out her laptop, certainly the words would pour out. The only thing one needed was morning.

Sometimes she knew she couldn’t wait for inspiration.

Sometimes, when she felt particularly sick at heart, she didn’t measure her food or count her calories. She took comfort in the thought of rich and salty tomato sauce and four different cheeses.

Sometimes when panic started suffocating her, the idea of ordering pizza would allow the lungs to work easily again.

Sometimes she was overcome by her love of the world and the amazing people in it. Sometimes she thought people were incredibly kind and funny.

Sometimes she couldn’t believe the stupidity of humanity. Sometimes she was overcome with misanthropy and couldn’t bear to leave the house.

Sometimes she was heartbroken beyond belief.

Sometimes her heart burst with joy.

Foodie odds and ends

One of the biggest changes in my life since going vegan is my willingness to cook. And, if I must say so myself, some of the recipes have turned out great. When I was with my mom last, earlier this month, I made her tofu scramble with spinach and I bought her some nutritional yeast (aka nooch) while I was there. She really enjoyed the tofu scramble and I know she wasn’t just being nice because she texted me earlier this week to say she made it again herself, using some more veggies and more spices and the nooch. How about that? Though mom is pretty open minded about these things. And she enjoys it when her kids cook for her.

I follow several vegan cooking pages on Facebook and am easily inspired by those 1 minute cooking videos shot from above, where you see the actual ingredients going in and the finished product. I save so many of those and have now made a few of the dishes. I made Broccoli and cheese soup with the cheese sauce made from potatoes, carrots and cashews. Reader, the final product was DELICIOUS and I’ve made it twice so far. My friend who was staying with us at the time said it was really good  and Spence said it was excellent, which is a high compliment. But even if they were lying and didn’t like it, I wouldn’t care because that would leave more for me. That’s how much I like it. 

I made Spaghetti squash with homemade tomato cream sauce (this recipe came from Pinterest). I don’t know how homemade it is to use a can of already chopped tomatoes, but that’s what I did and the sauce is a dream. I may start making it whenever I have a pasta dish to make. It calls for cashews, of course. (Cashews are some magical ingredient that makes everything taste cheesy and creamy without all the bad stuff that comes with actual cheese.) I think I should have cooked the spaghetti squash a bit longer because some of the noodles were crunchier than I would have liked, but overall very tasty.

The biggest challenge: mushroom pie. Again, watching them make it on the little 1 minute video made me think, I could make that! And I did! And it’s delicious! But my first mistake was buying the wrong type of dough. It called for phylum dough and I bought straight pastry dough. I would have bought phylum but I didn’t see any and when I saw this pastry dough, I thought it was the same thing (I was at a big store that should have had phylum dough, so I just assumed this pastry dough was their version). When I unwrapped it while cooking, expecting thin sheets, I instead found one thick layer of dough. But I used it and it turned out fine. The mushrooms and onions are cooked with coconut milk, soy sauce, all spice, tomato paste and maple syrup. Then you put that concoction into the dough and bake it. It’s sweet and tangy and I would never have thought maple syrup and soy sauce could go so well together! And it was such a pain to chop so many onions that I splurged and bought a cuisineart chopper. Prepping all the ingredients is always the step I most dislike, so any tool that makes it easier is one I want. 

Even last night, as I was wondering what to eat while watching The Babadook (creepy AF, by the way), I decided to make my  own black bean dip. Such an easy thing to make, but I wouldn’t have dreamt of making my own dip for a tv snack before becoming vegan. I would have grabbed some cheese and crackers and left it at that.

I take photos of these creations but they seldom look as delicious as they taste, so I’ve left them off Instagram. But they are posted below! Today, I am planning to make vegan chocolate sugar dough cookies that I’ll cut out like gingerbread men and decorate like skeletons for Halloween. I’m taking those into work for my colleagues, along with some of my very popular chocolate chip cookies. I take in chocolate chip cookies at least once a month and everyone comments on their yummyness. That is something else I made when I was home and my step-dad, who is a total meat eater and basically anti-vegetable, loved them. Not surprising since they are all sugar and flour, but small steps!

Also, November 1 is World Vegan Day! I didn’t know such a day existed but there seems to be a day for everything! And the fact that it coincides with Dia de los Muertos isn’t an accident, I’ve learned. Maybe I’ll take in another treat to my colleagues to celebrate. And it’s an excellent opportunity to try veganism for a day! No commitments, just a day to see what it’s like. 

Broccoli soup

Mushroom pie outside

Slice of mushroom pie. Not pretty, but delicious!