Saturday, June 25, 2011

Sweet Strawberry Summers

This time of year unleashes a lot of memories for me, particularly of the period of time in which we lived in Mount Airy, MD, in my dream house. (That house was sold in 2003, after Paul and I were both laid off work and had to take pay cuts in order to stay employed.) It was a big, open home with a wrap-around porch (complete with porch swing), an expansive corner lot, and a lot of love.

One of my fondest memories of those days is of going to local farmer's markets or buying local produce at the supermarket down the road. I'd bring home all these wonderful foods and spend the afternoon at the island in the kitchen, washing, peeling, chopping, and munching on the fresh delights. I'd pop strawberries into Sean's mouth or Stephanie's, nudging our Samoyed, Nikki, out of the way so that I could block her from snatching a green bean or a piece of watermelon. Usually we had been out working in the yard and were sun-bronzed and a little sleepy. We were enjoying our break from work and school. It was a happy time, though Stephanie was living with her struggles of bipolar disorder, hallucinations, and cutting. When we were in that kitchen, we were a family, just like any other family. We were laughing, joking, happy, and well-fed.

When I recently bought some fresh strawberries and cherries--far too many for one--I stood in my modest kitchen, washing, slicing, and remembering. The only thing that could take my memories away from me now would be Alzheimer's. I don't live in the past, but you know how it is. Sometimes a sight, a smell, a taste, will take you back to another time. It's a beautiful thing.

Tonight I popped slices of cucumbers into my own mouth and thought of my children. I wondered if Sean buys himself fresh fruit and veggies or if he is living on the bachelor staple of little single-serve, frozen veggies with his burgers, chicken strips, or soups. He's still trying to learn to budget his money for the month--a challenge for any 23-year-old but especially for one who gets a single paycheck a month. Hell, I still have trouble with that sometimes.

I still forget sometimes when I'm shopping that I am only buying for me. I will still buy large containers of strawberries (which I love), but I eat them pretty quickly so they don't go bad. Blueberries I freeze in reasonable portions so that I can thaw them and use them as I need to. I bought a bag of chips and some salsa but remembered, when I got home, that I don't eat those anymore -- especially alone. I have loaves of bread in the freezer. I don't really eat that either. It was on sale, though, so I'll take those down to Sean when I go visit him next weekend. I will eventually get used to shopping for one and will have less that risks going to waste.

The memories and the life I have today are good. But sometimes something reminds me of the pain.

The other day I was going through my garage, trying to pull together some things for a yard sale, and my hand landed on a slick, pasteboard envelope stamped "Important Papers". I stopped what I was doing. I opened it and slid out the contents. It was a sheaf of copies of Stephanie's death certificate; it was the first time I'd seen it. The edges of my vision started to swim. My heart raced. My stomach lurched. It is one thing to look at such a thing when you are prepared. It is quite another when you are humming and occupying yourself with pleasant busywork. The document looked so much like her birth certificate. Two different states; two very similar documents.

The line containing the findings said, "Oxycodone and Zolpidem intoxication," but the cause of death said, "Undetermined." This should have reassured me, again, that it was an accident, but I needed to talk to her dad. I called him and asked if he had been protecting me, if this meant she did it on purpose. He talked me down, reassuring me that nothing had changed. There were still many, many pills in the bottles at her bedside. There was just a little too much in her bloodstream. I think if she had wanted to end her life, she would have made sure to take a larger amount, and I think she would have left a note. The only thing that changed, then, is that whereas Paul had told me it was OxyContin and Ambien, it was actually Percocet and Ambien. I wonder how many people take these together and never have a problem. I wonder how many die in their sleep. I met a woman in Compassionate Friends whose 30-something son died after his doctor prescribed Vicodin for his back pain right after he'd been put on Ambien for insomnia. One of each and he died in his sleep--the very first time he took them together. He left a wife and child behind.

One site says:
Zolpidem combined with alcohol, opiates, or other CNS depressants may be even more likely to lead to fatal overdoses.

Because two drugs overwhelmed my daughter's system and stopped her breathing, I will never again be able to pop a sweet strawberry into her mouth, slice cucumbers for her to munch on during a hot summer day, or laugh with her in a lively kitchen. Because of this terrible accident, my family has been reduced. Now it is reduced even more. My son lives five hours away and I'm alone here. I do alright most days, but a bit of the melancholy sets in when I think of the good old days when we were all a family.

Eating alone is very utilitarian for me. Often I just eat because I need to, not because I particularly want to. Eating alone isn't nearly as much fun as sharing a meal with my son. And yet I've put on some weight. It isn't from overconsumption. I haven't lost control. In 2007, I started this blog after a weight loss of 60 lbs. Now I have 20 I need to lose, so I may go back to the very stringent diet I was on then. Exercise hasn't helped. Medication is the culprit. It has slowed my BMR, so I have to jar it a bit to get it back on track. I don't like gaining weight, but I'm not sure anyone does, really. You may think it's silly of me to worry about such things, but maybe it's a good sign. If I'm worrying about the silly things, then life must be getting somewhat back to normal, I dare say.

Next weekend, when I visit my son, I'll be sure to enjoy a little culinary delight, weight or no weight. I don't often get to enjoy his company during a meal anymore. It isn't like the old days in that kitchen, with two boisterous kids, a sneaky dog, and a big, beautiful home. But I will always have those memories. They sustain me.

Peace - D


Moannie said...

My dear Doris. This is poignant and truly a sign that you are following a path away from grief and towards respite. You were humming, coping, enjoying the moment until you found those papers. Those moments of a brief contentment will increase, they will join up to form long chains of normality and the pain WILL lessen, I promise you. And the beautiful memories will be stronger than the sad ones, nor should you feel any guilt when that happens.

You owe it to yourself and the memories of the happy Stephanie, to make a life for yourself that is joyous and fulfilled.

Daryl said...

Moannie is right, you know, you owe it to yourself and the happy memories of Stephanie (and Sean) to regain your life and make it even better!

RiverPoet said...

You are two of the most wonderful, kind women on the planet and I would so love to meet you both in person. You've been completely supportive and loving, every step of the way.