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"We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit." ~Aristotle

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Monday, September 26, 2016

I don't consider myself particularly sentimental.

On Ian's birthday, I didn't have the sads; truth be told, I didn't think of it as any different of a day. Others did, however, and reached out. (Bless you, friends. I appreciated it very much.)

Last month I visited my grandmother. After our chat, we got up to leave, and I told her we'd be back again soon.

"Sounds good," she said. Exactly the same words, in the same cadence, that Ian said often, in response to many people and things in the last months of his life. It was his go-to, reflexive response because in the end, he wasn't capable of translating thoughts into speech. "Sounds good" rolled off the tongue as his default "see you later," or "okay."

My grandmother's innocent statement brought a white-hot flash across my face and into my chest. It was a weird, completely unexpected association. I'd prepped myself: Don't think about nursing facilities and equipment, don't look for decline and neuro deficits. Just visit with Gramma. But those words reached out and grabbed me from the depths of memory and sensory and sucked the air out of my lungs.

For just a second.

I think my sadness is about the illness itself. How it robbed him and us. I HATE the things that represent Diminished/Ailing/Failing Ian. I don't want to remember medical supplies or altered facilities or his swollen face because those things supplant memories of Well Ian. Healthy, happy, smart-ass, giggling Ian. Right now the last months' hardships cloud the previous, joyful memories. And that pisses me off.

As we sat at the dinner table on his birthday, I offered: "I thought that since today is your dad's birthday, we could go around and share a memory we have of him."



Audrey recalled he had a bowling ball cake last year.

His own life partner of 20 years was stumped to recall a single happy memory. The nothingness stung.

I think my brain is protecting my heart. If I conjure and dwell on the things I remember, or the things we'll now never get to experience, it will crush me. And so God has given me only small bits of grief on which to chew.

Sounds good.


  1. For months after my grandmother passed, I would be laying in bed and all of a sudden her moaning breathing would be in my brain....her face...that stupid tube indenting her soft skin. I would try so hard to think about other things and all I could remember were those last days. Seriously, I think it's like some kind of temporary ptsd. And when a good memory would be triggered, I would cry...or get angry. I feel like I had been ripped off. So many good memories and my brain defaults to those last bits of time. Total block. And it seemed that I couldn't control retrieval of the good ones, which felt insulting. That really bothered me for a while- would I ever think of her as the human I loved and not the old lady struggling for air?! I think you described this beautifully...and I'm picking up what you're laying down, sister. I get it. Maybe it's not temporary PTSD, but an emotionally taxed brain having a "I can't even" moment. And for what it's worth, I eventually hit a point that I felt exhausted thinking about her last days and my brain seemed to switch to "I can't even...think about this anymore" and, presently, I have a good feeling when I think of her. I enjoy the memories and most don't sting, they are comforting. You're peace will come...and I know you know that....but maybe it's encouraging to hear (well, see). Much love to you <3

  2. Hi Rachel.....I found myself reading your blog and doing the thoughts and feelings with you as you described them. I was feeling what you described you were feeling. Once, years ago, I was watching a soap opera. The lady on it had just lost her husband. She had the usual upsetting reactions......and at the end of all that, she looked at the camera and with tears on her face, said, "I am learning that you have to stand still and feel the's the only way to get through it." I never forgot that. And I think you have been doing a pretty darn good job of trying to stand still and feel the pain. And possibly, just maybe, when that part is over, God will open up the part where the good memories come, but they don't slice you in half, or cause your heart to take a plunge off the diving board. I hope this will be something that can happen for you. God bless you, you've been through so much. Over much time, you will learn how to cope and survive the copy. You will be able to say the words of Dag Hammerskold; "Thanks to those who have taught me this; thanks to the days that have taught me this...."."

  3. Hi Rachel,

    I met you in September when we served jury duty together. You mentioned this blog when we went out to lunch on that last day. (I sat catty-corner from you there and closest to the door in the jury deliberation tall with whitish-blondish hair.)

    You are a tremendous writer!!! I am deeply sorry for the unfathomable pain you and your family have endured. Am thinking of you this holiday season. Hoping that you and your kids will share some special times, and make new memories that will bring big smiles to your faces for many years to come. Merry Christmas!!!

    --Jill Smith

  4. Rachel, please know that I am praying for you and the kids during this holiday season.