grief

Carriage Ride

This morning, as I sat down to write, The Chief handed me my morning lemon water in a different vessel. This one:


I picked it up without recognizing it and was about to take a sip when I noticed the dust. Dust it held from hanging, waiting, undisturbed for a year. My grandmother Gam’s cup. I had avoided the cup since her death, memorialized it, for if I was drinking from it, certainly she was not and if that was the case, she truly was gone. She is gone. That simple action of handing me her cup brought that reality forward.

Sometimes, it takes someone shaking you up to see what’s right in front of you. That seems to be the theme lately. So, as I sip from my Grandmother’s now clean cup, I’ll tell you another tale of a shakeup.

A few weeks ago, I went to Town to see my new niece.

As you might remember, I had gone in last October to get my girlfriend settled and cozy in anticipation of my niece’s birth. I told you all the sweet details of preparing for the baby, the moments we shared together, the honor I felt to get to be there. What I didn’t tell you was this:

I too was pregnant.

After our lovely long weekend together, The Chief swooped me up and we switched gears towards the reason he had driven in: our first prenatal appointment. We had found out we were pregnant the day after our first wedding anniversary. This was a gift no money could buy, the best we had ever received (no offense, paper) and we were excitedly jumping into our new roles of Mom and Dad. It was finally happening.

Soon after we found out. Even my bun looks nauseous.

We were going to be parents. On the way to the hospital, you could feel the excitement. Even Leto was charged by it. We arrived and bid him adieu, telling him we were off to meet his baby (I’ve never met a dog more into kids than him so, from the get go, the baby was “Leto’s Baby”. Even our friends call their kids “Leto’s baby. It’s amazing). The excitement continued as we entered the OB’s office. Everyone was smiling, congratulating us, laughing with us as I answered their questions.

“Nausea?”
“Constant”
“Tender milk jugs (OK, they called them “breasts”, obviously, but milk jugs is far funnier)?”
“Like balloons ready to pop!”
“Any other changes?”
“Well, I pee 4 times a night and can’t sleep in between. ‘Mom-somnia’ I’ve dubbed it. The other night I woke up at 3 am and organized our medical supplies then ate 7 packets of fruit snacks, which I’ve never liked and I can’t suck in my belly to save my life. So, no, nothing’s changed.”

Organization in progress…

We all laughed. Pregnancy had turned my world upside down. The day I found out I was pregnant, I laughed when I saw the test. Pregnant?! Couldn’t be. It took me 7 more tests (What if they had frozen last winter? What if they were faulty? What if I was hallucinating?) to be convinced and one walk by myself to know for sure. As I strolled along the river we were married next to that bright Fall morning, I suddenly felt as if my belly had sun rays coming straight out of it. There was a glow inside of me, a little light to let me know that I was finally a mother. My whole heart smiled. It was a tranquility I’d never known.

That first walk

Every night after that, I slept my with my hand on my belly, feeling the warmth of that little light and the deep peace I felt for the first time in my life. Now, almost 10 weeks into our pregnancy, after months of bonding with our little beam, we were set to meet them.

The nurse began the not-so-fun-but-who-cares-we-are-having-a-baby-so-poke-and-prod-as-you-will process, all of our excitement building. We had all talked so much that The Chief was about to be late for a dental appointment so we did the ultrasound first. The whooshs and whirs whisked about until finally, the image became clear. The Chief excitedly said “Is that it?! Is that our baby?”. The nurse and I were silent. I squeezed his hand and hoped I was wrong. I prayed I was wrong. When next the nurse spoke, she confirmed I wasn’t. There was no heartbeat, just a sweet little being floating within me. Tears erupted but I kept my pain quiet, turning only to The Chief to tell him I needed him to skip his appointment. “Of course, baby.”

Baby.

I’ve read about miscarriage, heard stories and lore. None of it prepares you for your own or for the added insult to injury you’ll endure.

“I’m sorry but I need to take some measurements now, if that’s OK?” the nurse said, the ultrasound probe still inside of me. “OK” I whispered. And so I lay there, The Chief and I squeezing one another’s hands, holding one another’s gaze, tears steadily streaming, until she was done and we could be alone for a moment. The door latched behind her and I broke. The Chief went into savior mode, a role we’ve traded countless times in the last three years. He told me it would be OK, we would have a baby, just not this time. I was numb. I cleaned myself up and dressed, my actions mechanical. The nurse returned, telling us she thought our babe had been 8 weeks but wanted to verify. I’d need another ultrasound. Could I go right now? I agreed, not knowing I’d agreed to spending another hour looking at our babe with its perfect arms and legs and fingers so tiny. Our dead child, embryo to be exact, if that matters to you. It doesn’t to me.

On our way out, I handed the nurse the New Mom Gift Bag they’d given me as I’d walked in. So much happened in that small gesture. Motherhood, stripped away.

We spent the rest of the day in appointments amongst pregnant mothers, pregnant phlebotomists (she was on her 3rd but her husband wants 5), everyone, pregnant. At the second ultrasound, they confirmed the baby had been dead for almost two weeks. My body, once a place of light and love, a growing garden, had become a graveyard.

The first frost

At the second OB appointment that day, they explained I’d experienced a Missed Miscarriage. This is where the growing babe is no longer alive but your body fails to miscarry. Fails. I felt my body had failed me. That I had failed me. That I had failed our baby. Without me saying a word to hint of my feelings, they immediately assured me there was nothing I could have done differently, that this happens, that it’s very common for first pregnancies. That it happens to a lot of women. None of that matters. It truly doesn’t. Not to me at least. I don’t want anyone to feel what I felt and to know so many do only broke my heart more.

I felt as if I’d been playing a brutal game of Chutes and Ladders and suddenly, I found myself back at the start. All I had focused on was making it through the first trimester, making it safe, getting to home base and here we were, struck out. The worst part?

I knew.

A few weeks before our appointment, the day of the baby shower we threw for my girlfriend, in fact, I started spotting.

In the middle of all of this goodness.


I panicked. I rushed inside and asked my girlfriends if they had experienced that. I’ll never forget the look on their faces. It was gone in a flash: fear. It was probably the same look on my face. They immediately assured me it was probably fine but something to keep an eye on. The next morning, I awoke, hand on belly, ready to greet my babe and I felt…nothing. The light had gone out. I rolled over to The Chief and told him and thus the mindfuck began.

Excuse my language, but pregnancy is a mindfuck. I have seriously good intuition, like intuition so good that I’ve been called a witch (thank you) on many occasions. Premonitions, gut instincts, call it what you will, I knew the light had gone out. Yet pregnancy, even the getting pregnant part of pregnancy is all about positive thought. Even the straightest arrow, least woo woo type of woman will tell you that. You have to just move forward, assuming things are fine. It never stops, or so I’ve heard. Not when you pass the first trimester, not when your baby is born, not when you baby becomes a toddler, teen or adult. I once heard someone say that having children is like having your heart living outside of your body. So, despite knowing that something was wrong, and after a day long uphill attempt to get medical care to check if I was right, I finally gave in and gave myself up to positive thought. I’d wait for the appointment and hope I was wrong, despite what I deep down knew to be true. See, pregnancy is a mindfuck.

Next on the list of Terrible Things To Do was to decide how we would have our miscarriage. Oh joy! Would we like to take a little pill? Go under the knife? Wait it out? The third option was mentioned and then immediately taken away, given our proximity to medical care were we to go home. So, two options. The pill which causes cramping so severe that you expel the baby, or surgery.

As with most choices, it wasn’t that cut and dry. The pill cost somewhere around $5. It promised pain and a 48-hour long window in which the miscarriage would occur, who knows exactly when, like a sniper laying in wait. I’d be up close and personal with the blood and byproducts of our child. The surgery was the polar opposite. So sterile, so…surgical. I’d go to sleep as a walking grave for our babe and wake up hollow. Both sounded terrible but when the quote came in for the surgery at over $2,000 (this is with insurance, mind you), the choice for me was made. Plus, I think I wanted to feel pain.

The Chief kept asking about the surgery, in fact, he was the only one asking questions. I was in a haze, a daze of disbelief. The nurse suggested ice cream. OK. Ice cream, for being such a good girl. We got ice cream and went to the dog park, two surefire fixes for a bad mood (for me). I cried the whole time.

The wildest scoops


I went home with the pill that night and took the dose. The bottle warned of horror stories, of the slight chance of irreparable damage. I swallowed bitterly.

The cramps started 15 minutes later. I put on my game face and prepared for the worst and all through the night, I writhed in pain but still, nothing. 20 hours later, I realized they had never given me pain meds for the true pain that was set to arrive any minute. 5 hours later, after countless phone calls, The Chief was finally able to pick them up. I waited at home, a shadow of myself. Unable to read or write or watch TV, fielding phone calls like a secretary for my body. I just stared into nothingness. The following day, back at the doctor again to discuss next steps, I decided I wanted the surgery. My body was holding onto this baby and I knew it would never let go unless it was ripped from its grasp. We scheduled my COVID test and pre-op appointment and put down the down payment of $1000 with the warning that our quoted price of $2000 didn’t include anesthesia and they had no ballpark figure to give us. “It just depends on the person.”

That night, after two days of cramping and anticipation and fear for what was to transpire, I prayed for my body to wait until the surgery. I was beaten down and exhausted from lack of sleep, from building myself up to handle the pain each time I thought the time had come. I couldn’t summon the strength to miscarry. I slept for the first time in a long time, through the night. The next day, as I signed the forms stating I knew the risks and to whom to distribute my assets should the risks become reality, I held back tears. The staff were all so kind, so gentle. They wrapped me in a blanket that pumped warm air and slowly I counted back from 10. It felt like I had just been on 7 when I woke up again.

The tears I had held back before came pouring out as the nurse asked me how I was. Her next question was a saving grace. “Would you like a hug?” Despite COVID, despite what might be considered appropriate, that woman saw my pain and offered all she could to help me. I’ll always be grateful for her. She told me later, after The Chief had arrived that the first thing I had said after coming out of surgery had been that “At least the place we are staying has a bed on the ground floor so our dog can cuddle with us. He really loves that. So that’s good.”

Leto, his hedgehog and Dad

So, that’s good.

The next day, in pain and exhausted again, I had my post-op appointment. We had scheduled it in person the day before at our pre-op but the computers had been down and it got lost in the technological swap between the handwritten analog and the digital brain. We waited. Finally, a nurse came up to me and asked if I really wanted a vaginal ultrasound because she didn’t think it necessary, in front of the entire room, full again with happy couples ready to burst and babes newly born into this world. Want? Hell no. I’m here because I have to be. It only got worse from there as she escorted us into the farthest room in the office, the room I dubbed The Crying Room because it seemed to be the room bad new was dealt. Safely within the privacy of The Crying Room she told me point blank she was “Sorry that our appointment had gotten confused. You see, the appointment was marked as a prenatal appointment, but you aren’t pregnant anymore, so we canceled it.” I broke again the moment she left the room. Our doctor came in soon after and we wrapped up the story of our short time together. She promised me again it was nothing I did that caused this and that, contrary to what I’d always heard, we “could start trying again as soon as I felt ready”. Those words have floated around my head ever since. So have these.

Ruin.
Failure.
Breakdown.
Miscarriage.

Mis-carriage. I was the carriage for my baby, the safe vessel. Adding mis-, meaning “mistakenly, wrongly or badly” to this word, how do we not somehow, even subconsciously assign blame? I think it’s time to call it something different.

The day of and after surgery, we shopped like mad, gathering supplies for months on end, since we would no longer be coming in for monthly doctor’s visits as we had planned. In between aisles I would rest on the cart, faint, bleeding into a pad the size of an adult diaper, cramping and dizzy. Despite my need for rest, I didn’t want to be alone and so I slowly followed The Chief through our chores.

Thousands of pounds, ready to roll

Since we’d been gone for a week longer than planned, our friends had to keep our house from freezing in the deepening cold of October. The drive home was lonely and solemn, minus the time where somehow Leto’s window started to open, nearly catapulting him out of the car into oncoming traffic as we careened down a deep decline.

Riding high


The Chief pulled over and I wailed. Everything felt so precarious, like all things I loved were in danger. I felt I was losing my grasp on sanity and a part of me felt like just letting go, surrendering.

We returned to a house in disarray, quiet and austere. The Chief had installed flooring and painted the living room while I was away, since we hadn’t wanted me around the fumes (something we didn’t have to worry about now) and thus, the house was in boxes. My plants, a pure luxury in Winter and now over a year old, were holding on by a thread, despite a neighbor’s attempt to rescue them.

The next day, the plant shriveled to nearly nothing.


Everything felt dead. Nothing on the walls, no books, television for distraction, no comfy setup and all of the reminders of what was. Prenatals. The foods I had been craving. The pregnancy test I kept in my underwear drawer to pull out and smile at from time to time. The names we had brainstormed, the plans we had made. Everywhere, everything reminded me of what wasn’t.

Granola for days, a cravings leftover


And so, we set to distract. From the moment we landed, it was work. Work to put the home back together, work to unload and assemble and organize all the newness we had brought home. Work to ignore what had just happened.

Let’s just rip a new hole in the house, shall we (in Winter, mind you)? That will distract us!

And that was that.

After all we’d already been through, losing our Cinda, The Chief’s Mother, Grandmother and Father, my Godmother, and Grandmother and our friend, Jason (less than a week after our wedding), I wasn’t going to let this take me down. I wouldn’t be “that” woman who couldn’t get past it. Oh the disdain we have for her. So, after all the housework was done, fully unrested, back to work I went. Case closed. Start again.

“You can start trying as soon as you feel ready.”

We started right away. I was fine. We were fine. Everything was fine. I ran through the stages of grief, collecting badges along the way. Denial? Check! Anger? Check! Acceptance? Fuck yes! I gave myself an A+ in grief and a gold star to boot. Done. After two weeks of prescribed abstinence due to the risk of infection, we were back in the game. Square one. Home base and up to bat.

So far, our stats are 0 for 4. We aren’t exactly getting called up to the Big Leagues and for once in my life, at least in retrospect, I’m glad to have failed because a few weeks ago, I broke. For real this time. Like I said in the beginning of this entry, sometimes, it takes someone shaking you up to see what’s right in front of you. That clarity came by way of a trip to meet my new niece.

Views along the way…

Leona is her name, born exactly one month to the day after my surgery (we’ve had a lot of painful parallels like that) and she’s perfect.

Told ya 🙂

The last night I visited her, we held a ceremony for my girlfriend to honor the journey she’d been through.

Good job, sweet mama.


After describing the massage we’d give her to recalibrate her body my friends turned to me and offered to do the same. Honor what my body had been through and help to recalibrate. Me? I said, as if we didn’t all know why they were offering. I accepted, hoping this would be the saving grace to make the creeping up sadness vanish. The moment they started, I let out a wail I could no longer contain. I wanted so badly to just fall apart. I promptly stopped myself.

The reality is, rather than put me back together again, that massage, that sitting in the house we both had been pregnant in together, holding my sweet neice who was to be my babe’s buddy, that focus on my body, my womb that never came to be, broke me instead of mended me. I needed that.

Two preggy ladies

I couldn’t be put back together until I had fully fallen apart and finally, I fell the hell apart. Fully. Awkwardly. It was messy and bitter and angry and it’s not over but I am so grateful for it. That visit made me realize I was not OK and the only way to get closer to OK again was to go through it. The girlfriend I had traveled to Town with saw right through my veneer and before we knew it, we were both sobbing over Pop Rocks Jell-o shots (because we are amazing like that). “I see your pain. It’s right there, Julia. Ready to bubble over. You have to let it out.”

For the first time in months, I could breathe. I didn’t have to pretend I was OK.
I wasn’t.
I’m not.
I will be.

That night we purchased an armload each of candles and went home, lit them and laid on the floor melting along with them to music. The next day, we both bought flowers on our way out of Town. Homeward bound. When we reached home, after driving 300 miles and braving road glaciers, we parted ways with a promise.

Road glaciers. Still always a surprise to me. Isolation increased tenfold.


A release, we would help me find a release. As I walked in the house, The Chief could tell all was not right and I confessed it was true. I couldn’t pretend I was alright anymore. I spent the next few days comatose, unable to make the simplest decisions. Tea or coffee? I don’t know. I don’t care. Grief makes you numb, dumb to your needs.

A week ago today, as I write this, my girlfriend and I had the release. A ceremony. In preparation, I had reached out to all the women (plus my Pops) in my life who knew about the miscarriage and asked them to light a candle between during our ceremony and then, to blow it out afterwards, a letting go. As the clock struck two we packed up our witchy goodness, candles, sage, crystals, the flowers we had purchased, into a sled and made our way down to The River. The river that has held so much happiness and so much pain for me here. I wore a flower crown my girlfriend had made me and a flower jumpsuit under my winter bibs. She wore a flowered dress over her warm clothes. We were bringing rebirth to the darkness.

You. I love your eyeballs.

For the first time ever, Leto didn’t follow his Dad when he left that day on the snowmachine. He instead stayed right with us. He knew where he was needed.

We found the perfect spot, out in the middle of The River and set to it, our brains working in tandem without words, laying the flower petals in a huge circle, facing the West.

My sweet Leto, watching over me.


As the sun set that night, we bid farewell to the little being. The babe who had kept me up all night partying in the womb, who had surprised the hell out of us by arriving just when we had decided to stop trying so hard for a baby, who had been such a bright light and then, so dark.


“Goodbye, sweet soul.” I whispered and then, as we looked up, the sky broke into light. Beams shone through in a dance only the Earth knows how to perform. Leto snuggled into both of us as a single bird flew overhead and chirped a goodbye.

Goodbye.


That night, we made a necklace and looked at beautiful pictures friends from all over had sent of their candles, their love. When my friend was preparing to give birth, she had asked everyone to bring a bead and from it, she had strung her birth necklace. This was my miscarriage necklace, to honor the journey. It was built of healing stones. Quartz for the heart, a piece she had tried to use many times before and always felt that the person who needed it hadn’t yet come into her life. Serpentine to ground me and Tiger’s Eye to release fear and anxiety. The moment I put it on, I felt a warmth in the coolness of the stones. A comfort.

Thank you, loves.


Since that day, I hear that sweet soul in the whispers of the trees, the songs of the birds and the dances in the skies.

A prism to the left of the sunset saying “Hello”


As I write this, one week later, I’m fully healed. Call it a wrap.

No. Not this time. One week later, I am moving through grief, a grief nearing four months old that I’ve only just admitted to myself exists, that I’ve only just now let myself feel. I tell you this story, not so you’ll feel pity or sadness for me. I tell you this not as a rulebook to follow, some universal truth explaining what all women feel. No, it is my own, individual experience. Instead, I tell you this in case you need to hear it, in case someone in your life needs you to hear it. I tell you this to bring to light a bit of the secrecy, guilt and shame around miscarriage and to help us, together, recognize that they are not helpful.

I should be over this by now.
It was only two months.
Maybe it was my fault.
Don’t be hysteric.
Don’t be jealous.
Don’t be an asshole.
Will I ever be a mother?

Champagne cheers and tears on our second month of not conceiving


We have all heard about miscarriage. I had steeled myself against it, hoping we’d skip past its grasp. I didn’t make it and so many before me didn’t either. So many more will follow. That doesn’t mean it’s not hard
every
single
time.

We know about miscarriage, but we don’t know the depths and the shallows of it, not until we’ve swum its waters. We don’t think of the small injustices that pull you back to your grief when you’re fighting so hard to stay ahead of it.

We don’t talk about how you’ll need to update your pregnancy app to say “No longer pregnant” and how because of that, you’ll be bombarded with miscarriage articles, despite your letters to the app developer.

Or how your next shipment of prenatals will arrive a few days after you get home, reminding you that you don’t need them in the same way anymore.

We don’t talk about how you’ll have to explain over and over and over again, phone call, after phone call to medical providers you don’t know, what happened and still, despite your grief, summon the strength to advocate for yourself to get the doctor on the line to get the help you need.

We don’t talk about how your social media will still be all baby ads, all the time or that your body will still think you are pregnant for weeks afterwards. How your boobs will still be swollen but now, without reason. That you’ll have the weight gain, the symptoms and none of the reward. How you’ll still be nauseous. How you’ll feel hollow and full, all at once, like a coffin.

We don’t talk about how unbelievably expensive a miscarriage can be. How the bills will roll in for months, coming in on just the days you were starting to feel solid. All said and done, our miscarriage cost $4000 and we have insurance. How is it that one must have privilege, be it on one’s own or with the generous offer of a parent as in our situation, in order to be able to have surgery when the other options don’t work?

Bills on bills on bills


We don’t talk about how convoluted sex becomes, from something that brought life to something that could again bring death.

We don’t talk about how, suddenly, you’re able to eat anything, drink anything and if you’re anything like me, you drank because you could, and you got drunk because you didn’t want this paltry consolation prize in the first place.

We don’t talk about how some days, all you want to do is talk about what you went through and other days, you can’t even admit it happened.

We don’t talk about how being around children, no matter how much you love them, can make you feel like you’re dying inside, falling behind and how at the same time, you want to prove to everyone that you’re OK with kids for fear of being outcast or avoided. How you’re simultaneously so genuinely happy for them and so sad for yourself and how that’s hard to manage at times.

We don’t always talk about these things, and like I said, not everyone experiences these things the way I have, but I did and I think we should talk about them.

I hope as you read this it’s your first time being so close to miscarriage but chances are, it’s not. I hope that wherever you are in life, you can take a moment to pause and realize that we never truly know where someone is in life which is why we should do our damndest to be kind. I hope you never have to go through something like this but that if you do, you know that I see you and I’m here for you, always, whoever you are. And I promise you, you will smile again.

The first time I really smiled (and laughed), post-miscarriage


To everyone who has been there for me, reminding me it’s OK to not be OK, thank you. Thank you from the deepest part of me. I will always be grateful. To my husband, my moon, thank you. It has not been easy, I have not been easy. Thank you for your steadfast love and support. I love you.

For those of you who are reading this, learning of it for the first time, know that I didn’t hold it from you because I don’t trust or need you, rather that for the time we talked, I got to just be me. The old me.

Just me and you


Not Julia who has had a miscarriage. Just me. Thank you for that, always.

And so, after all that, I leave you with this: be kind to one another. You never know where someone is in life, what they are struggling against. Hell, as in my case, they may not even know. Sometimes that kindness will break someone open, sometimes it will help them heal their wounded heart. Either way, we are all a part of one another’s process. May you have peace in yours.

With love,

from Alaska

The snow-covered ceremony the day after.

P.S. If you want to share your thoughts, experiences, anything, please do so. Leave a comment or send me an email (beneaththeborealis@gmail.com). I’m an open door, an open book. That being said, please be gentle. If reading this was hard or uncomfortable, I get it. Writing it was hard. I hope that in doing so, in sharing this, I can help shed a little light on this historically hidden, uncomfortable subject. Like her. And her. And I’m sure countless others I’ve yet to stumble upon. I’d love suggestions.

P.P.S I’ve written this post dozens of times in my head before taking pen to paper, fingers to keyboard. There are things I’ve missed, resources I haven’t used, groups I’ve not yet joined. I’m at the beginning. I’m sure there are things I’ll come back and add but if you take away one thing, take this: your pain is your own. You don’t have to justify it, rush through it, bury it. It’s incomparable to someone else’s. Be gentle with yourself in your pain, be gentle with others in theirs. I’m learning this, slowly. I think we’d all be better for it.

You are not alone.

P.P.P.S Here’s a playlist I made on Spotify, same title, Carriage Ride, because this miscarriage has been just that. A ride. It’s filled with everything from serious to silly, all the songs that have helped me through, held me down and brought me back up again. Enjoy.

Everything Changes (Even Your Face)

After the last two loss-filled years we’ve experienced, one lesson has climbed above the rest: everything changes.

Everything.

However, despite its claim to #1 spot fame for me in the Top 100 Lessons of Grief, I have tried to ignore it, despite its shouts.

 

Beneath the Borealis 07-22-19 Everything Changes (Even Your Face) Intuition

Shout it loud, but we ain’t listenin’.

 

Everything changes.

The impermanence of it all has not left me in some zen-like state of acceptance. Quite the opposite. Rather, the worry that the potential for change has brought for me has left me in a sort of Henny Penny “The Sky is Falling” frantic permanence. Towards The Chief, towards our family, our friends, our little Leto. I considered all of the potentials for loss and tried to make every interaction left on good terms. Live each moment like it’s your last, etc., etc. you know the drill. I thought that perhaps my worry would safeguard us from more loss. Yet this had always been measured outwards, away from myself.

And so in all my worry, I had forgotten to fret about one thing: me, specifically, my face.

Don’t get me wrong, I’ve done a great deal of worrying about my face, I did, after all, attend middle school and high school in which I’d say more often than not, that people were unfortunately judged first on the constructs of their face rather than the content of their character. I did my best to dodge the disses and watched as beauty unfairly bargained the way for those she bestowed herself upon to the front of the line. Yet, as the years went on, I felt a flip of the switch.

In my 20’s, the first thing one of my boyfriend’s mother said about me when she met me was “She’s so smart.” It made me cry. I realized the tables had turned and I was in a phase of my life where the content of one’s character actually did come into play. It made me want to be a better person, smarter and kinder.

After moving to Alaska and Falling in Love Naked with Cauliflower Armpits I found a further reprieve from the standards of beauty I still (despite smarts or kindness) felt confined by. Although I enjoyed the routine of putting on makeup, I no longer felt required to do it. The choice became mine.

And so, these last few years I’ve worried less about my face. I’ve aimed to embrace my “sparkle lines” as my girlfriend calls my smile lines that ring my eyes and watch the changes that take place as marks of memories rather than the marring of time.

 

Beneath the Borealis 07-22-19 Everything Changes (Even Your Face) Alaskan Couples

Smiles lines, for good reason.

 

I guess I didn’t worry quite enough.

Early this Summer, after a lovely night planning our wedding menu with friends over probably a little too much champagne, I decided to impress my husband-to-be with a little acrobatics. We were headed home and after crossing The River, we approached The Gate.

 

Beneath the Borealis 07-22-19 Everything Changes (Even Kennicott River

My last picture of the night. On The Bridge, leading to The Gate.

 

The Gate.

This gate is one I’ve opened and closed countless times. We all have. Early in the morning, late at night, multiple times a day. It was high time I spiced it up. “Riding The Gate” is a term my fellow friends are quite familiar with. It refers to when one is opening The Gate and jumps on for a ride. The arm swings open and once it hits its full extension, the gate post sends you back as the car drives through.

Yet I had something different in mind. Something reminiscent of elementary school and flips on the parallel bars.

I took a running start at The Gate and by the time I hit The Gate’s full extension, my speed was such that I didn’t do a flip as planned but rather catapulted myself forward…

Straight down some feet below into a boulder below.

My body went limp and I came to as I felt the reactionary force dragging me and my open mouth backwards through the gravel. I stood up long enough to feel my mouth fill with a metallic taste and the sides of my face grow warm and then cool and decided that I should probably lay down.

I said out loud, to no one in particular: “I’ll just lay down for a moment.”

Needless to say, I hadn’t stuck the landing.

The Chief rushed to my side as I tried to comfort him.

“It’s fine” I promised. “I just needed to lay down for a moment.”

He went into full WFR (Wilderness First Responder) mode, checking my vitals and my comprehension. I went into full bravado.

“It’s no big deal. I just need to spit these rocks out and I’ll be fine” I said as I started to get up.

“Julia, stay where you are. You are not OK. There is blood everywhere.”

At that moment, looking at him looking down at me, eyes wide with fear, I started sobbing. The bravado melted away. It was bad. I knew it was bad.

Other friends and acquaintances crossing the bridge pulled up behind us and ran in shock to our side. From the stifled gasps I could hear as they approached the scene I knew it wasn’t good. The Chief called the head Ranger of our park for backup and once he cleared me for a spine injury we decided to go back to our house to reassess. The entire group followed, all helping, all concerned, all planning our next steps.

We got home and I was determined to clean the wounds to see how bad it really was. The head bleeds a lot and I was still certain that a few bandaids later, I’d be on my way to bed. Our friends helped me warm water for rags. I wetted them and started to try to clear the embedded gravel from my face. The pain was excruciating. I kept trying but within seconds I started to feel like I was going to pass out. I was sick to my stomach from the pain. The Ranger offered to try as well and I sat on my hands on our couch so as not to bat him away in automated self-defense. He kept apologizing as silent tears rolled down my face. It was all we could do. We had reached the limit. We were done for the night.

Or so I thought.

“I’m calling the 24-hour hospital, I’ll let them know you’re on your way.”

The Chief nodded.

Huh?

Before I knew it, someone was making tea for me, another making coffee for The Chief as he fired up the truck and off we headed for a 5 hour trip into the wee hours of the night. Off to the hospital.

Well, this was certainly unexpected.

I waded in and out of sleep, the pain increasing with each opening of my eyes.

We arrived around 5 am to a team readied for our arrival. After trying for over an hour to numb the area (I am apparently one of those people who doesn’t respond to topical pain medication) I submitted to feeling more than planned for. Again, I planted my hands firmly under me as the doctor picked and scrubbed and irrigated everything from rocks all the way down to the glacial silt out of my face. Tears streamed, my stomach seized but a few hours later it was done.

The Chief took a 30-minute catnap as the doc finished the liquid stitches, leaning over me to spread the “good word” as he held the two halves of my face together while the glue dried.

5 more hours later, we were home. The Chief helped me into the shower and gently washed the blood and rock from my matted hair. He tucked me into bed and when I awoke, I thought for just a moment that perhaps none of it had actually happened.

My reflection proved otherwise.

 

Beneath the Borealis 07-22-19 Everything Changes (Even Your Face) Facial scarring

Good morning, sunshine! The morning we got home. Pre-shower.

 

A split second had changed everything. The face I had come to know and embrace would forever be changed though how it would be changed, I didn’t know.

Everything changes, even your face.

 

Beneath the Borealis 07-22-19 Everything Changes (Even Your Face) Facial scars in Alaska.jpg

The next morning. Swelling ensued.

 

About five weeks after the accident, the final stitches melted away, the final scab fell and I stood face to face with my new reflection.

Well, hello new me.

 

Beneath the Borealis 07-22-19 Everything Changes (Even Your Face) Injuries

My first look. Not so worried about those sparkles now, eh?

 

When I first saw the scars I thought “That’s pretty badass” and that has been the overwhelming response from the crowd as well (another is that I look like the ultimate Harry Potter/David Bowie fan). It looks pretty tough and while Alaska isn’t a bad place to look like you can handle yourself, it’s not always the me I want to present. What if I want to look gentle or kind? My blank slate had been slashed. Or has it?

I’ll be honest, my road to acceptance has taken some turns and I don’t think I’ve arrived yet. In truth, it’s been a lot like the road of grief. Apparently, the universe wasn’t fond of my Henny Penny self and felt I still hadn’t learned the Everything Changes lesson, the lesson of impermanence and gratefulness and grace. I’m trying. Some days I love my scars. Some days I forget that they’re there. Others, I’m bombarded with Yikes! What Happened to You’s and it makes me remember.

Sometimes, they fill me with regret, with frustration and self-punishment. Sometimes, I wish I could just wake up and I would be the same old me. Sometimes.

Mostly, the scars make me remember to be gentle with myself. To remember how fast everything can change in an instant. To be grateful that more damage wasn’t done, that my eyes and nose and teeth are safe, that my brain wasn’t too terribly shaken. Mostly, appreciate my scars for what they remind, what they warn, what they promise. Mostly.

Always, my scars remind me that this too will change, as does everything.

The other day, my first Icelandic Poppy bloomed. It was brilliantly, joyously red. It unfurled, beaming with brightness, hope, youth. By the next morning, the colors of the petals had ever so slightly faded. A few days later, the last petal, still beautiful but more muted in her brilliance, fell.

 

Beneath the Borealis 07-22-19 Everything Changes (Even Your Face) Gardening Poppies in Alaska

 

All good and bad come to an end. What is to follow, we won’t know until we get there but chances are, you will be better off for it. And, if you don’t listen and learn the first time, the lesson won’t fade but will instead find new ways to tell you:

Everything changes (even your face).

 

With love,

 

from Alaska

 

Beneath the Borealis 07-22-19 Everything Changes (Even Your Face) Families in Alaska II Malamute

 

// May you be gentle with yourself and not require too extreme of reminders. May you be gentle with those you love and those you encounter. May your last words to those you lose be words bred in kindness because it all can change and it will, in a moment. Let us aim not to let the fear of the future freeze our present. //

Six Funerals and a Wedding

Two years ago, although occasionally mired by a rainstorm or two, our life was pretty much rainbows and puppies, sunshine and ice cream. I’m not going to lie, we had it good.

 

Beneath the Borealis 7-8-19, Six Funerals and a Wedding, Couple photo

A Sunday kind of love.

 

I had somehow happened upon the life of my life, despite being tucked in the woods as he was, and we fit together seamlessly. I felt like the knight who had rescued Rapunzel (or however that went) and off we had ridden into the sunset.

 

Beneath the Borealis 7-8-19, Six Funerals and a Wedding, Christopher's Kingdom Sunset

Olive grove sunset

 

And then the sun didn’t come up.

Two years ago in August, we lost our dog Cinda Lou in a terrible, and preventable accident.

 

Beneath the Borealis 7-8-19, Six Funerals and a Wedding, Cinda Lou's Kingdom

Cinda’s Kingdom

 

Eight months later, the Chief’s mother died suddenly in a car accident the day before his 40th birthday.

 

 

Beneath the Borealis 7-8-19, Six Funerals and a Wedding, Family portrait

Donna, Chris, The Chief & Mychal

 

Less than two weeks later, his grandmother Jane passed.

 

Beneath the Borealis 7-8-19, Six Funerals and a Wedding, Grandma Jane

Sweet Jane.

 

A few months later on a cold morning this Winter, I received a call that my godmother Ellen had passed away suddenly. She had gone in for routine surgery and never come out. She was a beautiful jeweler and we were designing the wedding rings she was going to make for us. Suddenly, she was gone. The news hit me so hard it took my breath away. I sat there catatonic as a meeting for work started. I just stared forward, numb.

Times were dark. It felt as if the world had closed itself off to us, as if we’d hit our limit on happiness. We had been so lucky. Maybe too lucky.

We waded through the pain and stumbled as we reached its new depths. We tried to hold one another close but felt alone. We fought endlessly, our anger at the world had nowhere to go in a tiny wintry cabin and so it found its way towards one another. Still, we remembered how it once was.

And then, a ray of sunlight.

 

Beneath the Borealis 7-8-19, Six Funerals and a Wedding, The sun will come out

Sunshine morning on the olive ranch

 

Somehow, almost suddenly, The Chief and I came together again. The anger lifted. We softened. I hadn’t realized how far we’d gotten from one another, how cold our new normal was. Grief has a way of sneaking you away from yourself, away from your loves without your even realizing. It leaves you alone.

Yet we could finally see we weren’t alone. Our sun was back. We cuddled again, sat entwined on the couch again, lingered in one another’s embrace again. The sadness was still there but for the first time it wasn’t blinding, we could see past it. We could find the beauty in what remained and the excitement for what was coming.

 

 

 

 

 

The Chief’s dad, Christopher was part of that beauty. We grew very close in the month and a half we spent together in California after Donna and Jane’s passing. His consistency made me feel so safe in a time where it felt like our world was collapsing and again he was there when Ellen died and it felt ready to collapse again. Despite the immense pain he felt in the losses, he always found a way to be kind. When issues would arise or plans would change he would simply, softly say “Ok, dear” in a way that made my hardening heart melt ever so slightly. He was a steady port in the storm and I clung to him.

 

Beneath the Borealis 7-8-19, Six Funerals and a Wedding, Christopher's Kingdom

Christopher’s Kingdom

 

Two months ago, he died of a heart attack.

The anniversaries of Donna and Jane’s passing had hit us hard in the week leading up to his death. One year gone already. Gently, we navigated through the reminders, trying to remember the good instead of fall deeply into the pit of sadness. Two days after Jane’s passing anniversary (which also happened to be her birthday and Cinda’s birthday) the call came.

The man who had become a beacon of hope for our newly blossoming family, who had tied us all together when the seams started to fray was gone.

He was a man full of surprises. As an ex-military man, full of discipline and prestige, I was intimidated by him at first. I would set alarms just to make sure I woke up “early enough” because I feared he’d think me lazy if I slept in. When I did manage to get up, the payoff was wonderful as I’d get to accompany him on his walks. Every day he walked the property to check on his thousands of olive trees and despite his love of solitude, he welcomed my presence to become part of his norm too.

 

Beneath the Borealis 7-8-19, Six Funerals and a Wedding, Take a walk

One of many family walks in the orchards.

 

He was methodical and principled and repetitious to a T but just when I’d think I had him pegged, he would surprise me again. He would send me random texts to say “Hi” or “What’s your weather like today?” with a picture of a bluebird morning at the farm. I once received a text from him with a picture of himself, sweaty as can be, in front of a hot yoga business. Since it was pouring rain, he couldn’t be outside and get his exercise and so, he tried something new. I loved that about him. He didn’t care what anyone thought, he didn’t have to stay put in any idea others had about him. He was his own person, through and through and I will forever wish he were with us still.

Despite his ashes in our living room, his death still feels unreal. I still expect a text from him to remind me not to worry, that he will do all the cooking at the wedding and to offer other help I didn’t know I needed. I still wait for a call to randomly check in and tell us he loves us.

 

Beneath the Borealis 7-8-19, Six Funerals and a Wedding, Christopher

C.E.K.

 

These days, the simple ringing of a telephone strikes fear in my heart. I feel fear constantly and picture death and destruction in even the safest situation. I fear for the family and friends I have, for our Leto, for The Chief, for myself. I fear for the worst for I know it’s face, I’ve stared right into it’s eyes and still it doesn’t back down.

Yesterday, the phone rang again, this time to tell me that my grandmother Gam had died.

I had just worked up the nerve to tell of the loss of my father-in-law, to write about him here, to tell his story and what he meant to me. I was not prepared to write two obituaries. It feels odd and unseemly to group two of the most important people in my life into one post, yet they are interwoven, all of our losses are.

My Gam is the reason I feel comfortable calling myself a writer at all, and only because she called me one first. She was the person I was most afraid to tell I was moving to Alaska because I was afraid she’d think I failed her. I was so wrong. She beamed at my choice, prized my passion and applauded my leap of faith. She once told me that if I loved The Chief, I had to love all of him. I hadn’t realized that this was how she had loved me, all along. She was smart as a whip, did the crosswords every day and could hold a conversation with anyone. She was an avid reader, a teacher, a lover of art and nature and jazz and a constant help to those in need. She stood up for herself in a time when women were expected to be quiet and continued that strength until she passed. When she had had enough of you, she would tell you “I’m ready for you to go”. She adored The Chief. He was the only man I ever brought to meet her about which she said “I like him”, with a special emphasis only she could put on “like”. I can hear her say it now. That was a very high regard. She gave us her blessing and when she found out The Chief was planning to propose, she immediately offered him her wedding ring. I wear it now and forever.

 

Beneath the Borealis 7-8-19, Six Funerals and a Wedding, Grandma Jeanne and us

Giving her blessing. Don’t mind the black eye, apparently it runs in the family.

 

I adored her. She was a force to be reckoned with and I will deeply miss her.

I hope, ever so much that these are the last obituaries I write for a very long time and that instead this place holds happiness in its tales of the Last Frontier. I hope with all my might that a phone ringing won’t always make my heartbeat quicken and that in every way I won’t always fear for the worst. I hope The Chief and I can continue in kindness and gentleness and hold tightly to the even keel we once had and that our wedding in September can move us forward, together in love and lightness. I hope our ancestors gather around us to celebrate in spirit. We love you.

I wish for you that you and yours are safe and sound.

 

Beneath the Borealis 7-8-19, Six Funerals and a Wedding, Giant Dandelion Wish

A giant wish.

 

With love,

 

from Alaska and a couple of hand holding, “don’t embarrass me, Mom” pups to make you smile.

 

Beneath the Borealis 7-8-19, Six Funerals and a Wedding, Husky and Malamute holding hands

Best friends caught in action.

 

Beneath the Borealis Back in the Saddle Bulb Blooms

Back in the Saddle

Growing up, I was lucky enough to be surrounded by horses. I spent hours in the stables chatting away with my beloved friends, sharing stories and carrots and sometimes just a wee bite of their oat mix. They were my world and to answer the burning question I know must be on your mind, yes, my birthday parties were pony themed and I’m so sorry we didn’t know one another then so that I could have invited you.

Riding horses was my life. However, as any lady or gent of the pony parade knows, riding horses isn’t always about riding. Sometimes, it’s about falling.

From the first time I set foot in the arena to the last, emphasis was always placed on preparing to fall. We practiced finding a safe landing to the inevitable via what my instructor called Flying Dismounts, a special surprise situation we would find ourselves in at least once a lesson. There I’d be, focusing on doing a flying change (where the horse, in mid-air, like the magical beasts they are, switches which foot goes forward first in a canter. Try it, I dare you. I’ve never tripped myself harder) when all of a sudden, my teacher would crack a whip while simultaneously yelling “flying dismount”. The whip would hit the horse in just the right way to break his concentration and buck he would and, ideally, off I would fly, totally in control, landing gently and effortlessly on the ground in one, unharmed, piece.

Ideally.

More often than not, the Flying Dismount looked less like a flight and more like I’d been shot from a catapult aimed straight at the ground. I’d flail through the air and meet the arena soil before I even knew what had happened. Dazed, I’d stand up, find my horse, listen to my instructor’s critiques and pop back into the saddle. I was like those clown faced blow up therapy punching bags that just pop right back up at you after you give them your hardest hit. Pop! There I was.

 

 

Beneath the Borealis Back in the Saddle Julia Sings the Blues (Leggings)

The closest picture I can find of me on horseback, at present. Back in the studio saddle.

 

 

Now, this may seem like a rough lesson for a kiddo but the thing is, riding really can be just as much about falling as it is riding because if you ride enough, you’re bound to fall and when you fall, a little grace never hurt. And so, fall I did, gaining a small bit of grace as the years went on. Back then, the ruling was that in order to be a great rider you had to have 7 non-instructor induced falls and I was quickly making my way towards that magic number.

Once, in a moment lacking, perhaps, my best judgement, I decided to ride a horse in a nearby field whose owner I neither knew, nor consulted. Obviously, the room for disaster was minimal. What could go wrong? A nearby bee heard my confidence and decided to sting said unknown pony in the rear. Ah, I forgot to mention too that it wasn’t just myself I entered into this surefire sob induced drama. I was also “babysitting” a neighbor who was a few years my 8-year old self’s junior. She rode in front of me and for the few minutes we trotted about, it apparently didn’t occur to me to mention the old Flying Dismount maneuver.

Bee in play, horse in panic and us bouncing around uncontrollably like a bunch of pre-teens in their first mosh pit, the outlook wasn’t good. The horse was at deadspeed (as fast as it can go), which for a moment was thrilling since I’d never before reached that elusive speed, until I realized I was not exactly in control of the situation. It was time. “Jump!” I yelled.

It didn’t go well. We both ended in rocky thistle patches and walked the mile home with bloodied knees, elbows and faces, crying at the top of our lungs. Truth be told, I was crying mainly out of fear as the repercussions of my not-so-bright idea came to full clarity and the screams of the kiddo that was my responsibility got louder. I competed with her cries, dead-set on not getting in trouble.

It did not work.

Yet, even that fall, I think perhaps it was number 5 or so, didn’t bother me. It was all part of the game. I was racing towards number 7, hell-bent on getting that badge of honor and fearless in my endeavor.

 

 

43dVH40PQtuXBgURRh5SVg

Pop up, poppy Page

 

 

Until…

the next fall.

The next fall was unintentional, non-teacher induced. It counted and I was closer to my 7 but I didn’t jump for joy because this time, I was unconscious. I had been riding one of the bigger horses, a departure from my favorite white pony named “Killy”. My Thumbelina stature made me feel look like a mouse on an elephant but the power of the horse made me feel powerful too. I went for it, full-bore.

And so did he.

Spooked by something only he could see, he reared up as we rounded one of the four corners of the arena. Feeling very brave, I aimed to stay on. He, aimed for me to dismount.

He won.

Bucking his hardest, I finally lost my grip and went flying into the air, landing headfirst into one of the 16-inch by 16 foot logs that created a barrier in the arena. The last thing I remember was my helmet cracking and the visor snapping off and then?

Darkness.

When I finally came to, the first thing I did was laugh and the first thing I heard was “Time to get back in the saddle. Every good rider has to get back on”.

“Pop on up, buttercup”, I thought to myself as I nervously laughed my way through the pain, but a therapy doll I was no longer. My body wouldn’t let me.

I was terrified.

Thankfully, Mama to the rescue, the lesson ended early. I promised to get back on as soon as I felt better. I just needed rest, I reasoned. But the aching in my head was not what was holding me back. I’d been stepped on and bounced into the ground more times than I could count from lessons and unintentional lessons of falling but I’d never felt that fear. And I’d never failed to get immediately back in the saddle.

Eventually, shortly after, I made my way back in. I rode the horse that had bucked me and made my peace with the fear, but it didn’t leave. It sat beside me, monitoring my movements and dealing me visions of doom. I was back in the saddle, but I had seen the other side and I was changed.

 

Beneath the Borealis Back in the Saddle Goldenrod

 

 

The past few months have dealt The Chief and I more bucks than I thought possible. Every time something else would happen, we’d say “Well, it can’t get any worse than this” and then, it would. Don’t try that tactic, it doesn’t work. And so, we stopped saying it and as thing after thing after thing piled on, we eventually had to laugh our ways back into the saddle. We laughed, not because of the humor in the situations, of which there was none, but because of the sheer shock.

 

 

Beneath the Borealis Back in the Saddle Anchorage Art Museum

The exhibit I unintentionally went to during the ups and downs. Well, that pretty much pins the tail on the donkey, Anchorage Art Museum.

 

 

The Chief and I lost two family members back to back, so fast that we found ourselves in the same funereal attire before it could make it back into the closet. After that, we were continuously kicked while we were down, financially, physically and emotionally. The small things didn’t matter compared to the loss but they made it feel like we would never come up for air. If that horse had trampled me while I had been on the ground, that might have been a close second to how we have felt these past few months that I haven’t written. It’s been a haunting hiatus but also one filled with immense love.

Our little neighborhood has been hit hard this year. A surge of sadness abounds in such a small area and our love for one another links us so that our pain, is theirs and theirs, ours. Yet, we’ve been able to lift one another. While we were gone to California in the familial tailspin, our neighborhood came together to hold us from afar. They tended to our seedlings, watering them and keeping a daily fire in our house to protect them from frost.

 

 

Beneath the Borealis Back in the Saddle Bell Pepper Seedlings

Bell pepper from Ali. When a friend brings you a pepper gift, why not try to make her one too?

 

 

They kept our freezer frozen by running our generator. They kept our hearts from splitting from our chests when the struggle to keep them in felt far too great to bear. Those whom we love, from here, from near and from far have found us when floundering and steadied our stride. To our friends and family everywhere, we are forever grateful.

Like that fall off the horse, these blows too tried to force fear and for a while, it worked and sometimes, it still does. Every time the phone would ring, I would panic. Every moment felt like an opportunity for disaster because disaster was all I saw. Yet, that fall wasn’t meant to teach me fear and neither was this, it was to teach me respect. Respect for that which is greater than me, that which I cannot control and perspective on that which I can. Respect for the relationships I value and the beautiful story we all lead.

Respect for life.

 

 

Beneath the Borealis Back in the Saddle Double Yellow Squash

What hides behind? A double yellow squash from the saved seedlings.

 

 

To feel pain is to know we are alive and I don’t want to live at half-mast. I was blinded to the beauty all around me while under the spell of pain but I have awoken. Let’s move through, shall we?

Thank you for your patience in this time off and thank you for joining me again, back in the Beneath the Borealis saddle. Here’s to entries of joy.

 

To you and yours,

to life,

with love,

Julia

 

//This post is in honor of the three females who raised The Chief. To Donna, Jane and Cinda, I am eternally grateful. We miss you dearly and feel you with us daily. Your touch on this world lives on.//

 

Beneath the Borealis Back in the Saddle Bulb Blooms

Grandma’s beauty still blooms.

 

And thank you, M for the push to start again and for the fabulous snow pants I will wear with pride. I appreciate you.