I've spent a lot of the last few months feeling overwhelmed. For our entire relationship, Allison has always been the detail-oriented person. We joked that she was the only grown-up in the family. Having to take on all of the financial and household responsibilities over time has been a difficult, sometimes fraught transition. I realize that when I'm feeling most overwhelmed is when I feel least in control. It's most unhelpful that my default seems to be to freeze and not do anything when faced with significant stress.
A lyric I wrote for a song I recorded forever ago said "If I made up a number, I would keep it for myself / whisper it in quiet, sharing it with no one else / I'd have a piece of all the things between infinities / a little tag of something in the mess of everything." I don't know what I was thinking about at the moment I jotted that down, but now, the idea of owning a tag of something in a swirl of infinities feels like a handhold against unstoppable tides. Thoreau's line about time being a stream that we go fishing in is similar, I guess. I don't know for certain where the water comes from or where it goes, but I've got a stretch of it now that I can think on and consider.
As a kind of coping mechanism, I've found comfort in routines (handholds) that I've been able to establish. Most of them are silly, but they provide me a sense of control in a life and trajectory that still feels wobbly. Some of the routines are daily; some are weekly.
- Every morning, I make pour-over coffee and allow myself at least a few minutes to sit and sip it. I like the process: the boiling sound on the stovetop, the bloom of the grounds under hot water, and the quiet moments on the couch at the beginning of a day. A few years ago, I was struck by the paradox of the uniqueness of each day--even when the activity was the same. I started taking a picture of the bottom of my coffee cup every morning. No two are alike, but I might mistakenly think they were. Beyond the paradox of same/different in the same activity, whatever complaints I have, I almost always have the provision of time and coffee and a few moments at the beginning of my day that I can stake claim to.
- During the first COVID lockdown, I started completing the New York Times daily crossword. Almost every day for the last two years, I've found time to solve a puzzle and escape for a bit into mental effort that exists only for its own intrinsic value.
- For the better part of 7 years, I've had a daily alarm at 12:34pm that reminds me to take a deep breath and think about something for which I'm thankful. The last 4 months have been the most difficult in this process because my thoughts often drift to bitterness at our loss and the indignity of Allison's disease. Still, my alarm goes off every day. Today, I was at a softball practice watching Lauren confidently work on her form as a pitcher on a new team. Today, I'm thankful for the leadership of my children, who intuitively look forward for the new opportunities and experiences coming rather than looking back at time that can never be retrieved.
- Every night, before the kids go to bed, I take their breakfast orders and ask them what time they need to wake up. Through this, I've been able to hone my omelet skills and help each of them figure out their own routines with which to start the days.
- Every weekend, I bake or cook breakfast for the kids. My repertoire is small, but I've reached a point where I don't need to look at recipes for different quick breads, muffins, pancakes, or biscuits. I used to be in awe of my grandma, who could provide food for us, whisking and kneading without guidance beyond her own hands and mind. I hope that I may faithfully replicate at least some component of that for my kids.
- Every Friday is "bagel day" before school. It's a small celebration of making it to the end of another week.
- Every Sunday, I try to cook dinner for the four of us and Allison's parents at our house. I find that I think of Allison almost the whole time I'm in the kitchen on those days. Today, I prepared a potato-kale soup and a salad with crusty Italian bread. It's the kind of meal Allison loved to prepare for us.
- Every Wednesday, the kids and I eat at Allison's parents' house. Amy asks the kids what they want to eat, and we eat and fellowship together. This was a tradition we started after Al and Amy moved here. I'm glad we've maintained the tradition, but there are nights after those meals when our house feels especially empty after we get home.
- I have reminders and calendar alerts set up throughout the week to water the houseplants, pay bills, take out the trash, check accounts, and many others. It's almost ridiculous how much I rely on my smart phone and digital calendars.
- Thursday and Sunday are my big laundry days. Athletic uniforms and other unexpected needs pop up, but those are days I set aside for folding and delivering while I watch TV or listen to music.
- I try to make sure I listen to at least one record from beginning to end every week. Often, it's while I make dinner or fold laundry, but I feel again like it's a little mark in time that I can make mine. This weekend, I was able to listen to multiple records because weather canceled a lot of our outdoor plans.
Thank you for continuing to share your heart and your journey. Each of these small mindful routines feels like a series of tiny gifts - to yourself, to your community, to your kids, and to Al. Such a beautiful practice of love and loving.
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