My Caesar Salad Breakdown and Other Dealings in Grief

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It’s been almost a month. Yesterday was four weeks to the day… so, almost a month since we lost our baby girl. The hard part about saying that is that it still feels like she died yesterday. And that is not something I just say because it sounds good. I know it’s cliché. But it’s the most real thing I could say about everything right now. It truly feels to me—every day that I wake up—like I just lost her yesterday. That’s neither here nor there, except to say that it illustrates just how very much I am still in the thick of all this… maybe even more so than just days after she died, when I still had such an overwhelming peace and gratitude for how everything went the day we had and lost her.

So much still in the thick of it am I, that I’ve felt little desire to leave my house. Little desire to do anything, really… to eat, to sleep, to be awake not sleeping, to play with Izzy. Taking pictures and writing is something I force myself to do as an outlet and with the hope that it will prove therapeutic for me. The writing I do whenever I possibly can so as not to let the thoughts and memories I have these days slip away before I can document them. I desperately want to tell my story… even if it’s only just for my own eyes and for Izzy’s some day. I don’t want to forget the details of the six months we carried her after finding out her condition, or the details of the day she both arrived and left us, or the details of these days since as we grieve and try to heal or figure out what this new life means for us… how we’ll keep going, not ignoring the pain and the loss. How we figure out ways to acknowledge it, embrace it and fully lean into it.

It’s turning out to be a whole mess of a lot more difficult than I ever imagined, and that is taking me into territory I was not prepared for in the least.

That is not my purpose for writing tonight, though. My point was to touch on this winter we are in. Two winters, really. The physical one that shows on the calendar… December through March. And the proverbial winter season that is our loss and grief. I remember, while pregnant, thinking about how difficult I’d find losing a baby when coming home afterward to a cooped up house in the dead of winter with no means of getting out {no second car} and no means of getting away {no vacation time for Mr. B}. I expected this, knowing this is not something I deal well with even under the most normal of circumstances, and was thereby somewhat prepared that it would be extremely difficult under these. But I just wasn’t prepared enough.

Everyone has a breaking point. Tonight, I knew mine was quickly on its way if I did not get out of the house and do something “normal”… and very soon. I felt that way all day, but it hit me hardest when Mr. B. arrived home from work early today. Still, it was bitterly cold outside, it had snowed some, and the last thing I wanted to do was get out of my pajamas and get myself, Mr. B and Izzy into a public setting on this typically cold January night.

But as the homemade meals we’d been enjoying {made for us by two friends} and the few ready-made meals that my mom brought us after coming home from the hospital have just run out, I knew one of us would need to cook, and I was not in a state of mind to do it. So I suggested to Mr. B. that we use the Olive Garden gift card that a friend of mine sent us from California… she couldn’t cook for us being so far away, so she sent us the next best thing… and what a gift it was. These gifts of food have been such a blessing, and I am sure this will be one of my first methods of choice to help out people I know are suffering in the future, as I have come to realize in the midst of what we have been through just how very helpful and thoughtful it is. To have just one more thing taken off your plate {no pun intended} by not having to cook a meal one night, as you try to navigate the tricky and tiring waters of grieving, is such a blessed gift… perhaps the nicest we’ve been given yet. Flowers are wonderful and beautiful, and the bouquets we’ve been given accomplished exactly what their purpose was. But the practicality of a meal is one of the most thoughtful and beneficial things to have while you grieve. Even if it is not homemade {which to some might seem less personal, but trust me, it’s not}, it’s still so kind and generous. It’s loving, really.

Anyway, we grabbed our gift card, dressed for harsh winter conditions and headed out to the land of the living, whether we wanted to or not. Mostly, I did this for Izzy, because I think the cabin fever we’ve been under was starting to get to him. I also did this for me, because I knew I needed to remind myself that there is a whole big world out there and that I don’t have to remain cooped up in here all the time, as difficult as it seems to get out again. I thought perhaps it might put us on a tiny path to a tiny road of healing that might lead us to an even bigger one over time.

It was not going so well, though. Nothing was fluid in regards to getting out of here. With any less determination, we’d have given in and stayed in, but we forced ourselves to go anyway… not because we had a hankerin’ for Italian fare, but because we knew what this meant for our psyche and well-being.

As we sat in the restaurant’s waiting area after Mr. B. put in our name and grabbed a buzzer, I could not seem to fight back the tears. The other families {mostly couples} that were waiting up front with us must have thought I was a real weirdo. I mean, if you don’t want Olive Garden food that much, just go somewhere else, right? I wanted to stop crying. But I couldn’t. Izzy was on my lap, my tissue in hand, and the tears just kept coming. I wondered if it would ever cross any of those other customers’ minds that perhaps my tears were because I had lost a baby a month ago. I’m sure it didn’t. It’s likely that I wouldn’t have first thought of that as the reason for someone’s public crying if I were in their shoes. I might have thought that the husband of the woman crying had been mean to her, or something like that… or that they were having a fight and, as a sensitive person, it made her cry. Mr. B. and I were holding hands, so I doubt that is where their minds took them.

Thankfully, the waiting area cleared out pretty quickly after the other patrons were shown to their tables… as were we.

I was pretty certain that once we would arrive at our table where there’d be enough to distract my thoughts—like menus and a hungry toddler who had been asking for bread-sticks since we first enticed him with the thought back at home—I wouldn’t be so emotional and I would be able to hold myself together.

Boy… was I wrong.

Let me just say, I have this uncanny knack of picking out things on menus {which I have a very significant appetite for, mind you} that seem to be unavailable for one ridiculous reason or another. I’m talking about things that, once I get them in my mind to ingest, I’m not able to think of anything else. Tonight it was the chicken caesar salad. And the ridiculous reason I couldn’t have one? Well, they told me it was because the batch of romaine lettuce they had on hand was not “up to par”. No… they were not out of romaine lettuce. They merely thought the sufficient supply they did have was not up to par, so the cooks refused to use it. WHAT? I’ve never once heard an excuse a reason like this before.

Okay… so I can’t have the salad. Fine. Plan B. It’ll be okay. It’s just caesar salad, I tell myself, even though the look I gave our waitress surely had her thinking that I was in the-world-is-ending-QUICK-do-something mode. She apologizes and says she will come back when I have had more time to look at the menu. That would indicate to me that she felt I was okay with everything. But I very much was not. I just wanted to order. I didn’t want dinner to be a fuss. I wanted to get bread sticks in Izzy’s hands. I wanted silverware brought to our table so that I could spoon out some ice-cubes from my water to give to him. And I wanted my caesar salad. That’s it. Not a very tall order, if you ask me.

She gave me a minute or two to look for something else on the menu. When she came back and I told her I just wanted the salmon, she had the audacity to ask if I wanted soup instead of salad, and if so, what kind!!! Really? You want me to pick out a soup, too? Do you NOT know that I just lost a baby and I have severe brain fog that is probably a coping mechanism to keep me from thinking about her too much and keep me from being too full of despair over the fact that her health was taken from her and her life taken from me? And you want to know what kind of soup I want? You want me to have to think about and choose one?… is what my facial expression surely said.

Oh, that poor woman. She was just doing her job. And little did she know, when she clocked in that night for work, that seven little words would cause the woman in her booth to drop her head into her hands and begin to weep. What kind of soup do you want? I just wasn’t ready to answer such a complicated question when my stomach was empty, I was feeling weak, all I had a taste for was a caesar salad, Izzy {who got a pretty dirty look from me before my composure disintegrated} was nagging in my ear for an ice-cube, and my heart was too heavy to be in public at Olive Garden for dinner out just yet.

Head dejectedly bowed, tear-soaked face in hands, all I remember Mr. B. saying was,

OHHHH, boy. Let’s just go.

then… crickets… the most awkward silence…

I sit here now with my shoulders bouncing up and down in laughter as I think of it. I don’t know who had it worse… the waitress or my husband.

Other than the dirty look he had to endure, Izzy was sittin’ pretty. He had his apple juice, a promised ice-cube from my glass, and the most delicious bread-sticks in town on the way.

I, on the other hand, was a mess.

Maybe it was seeing the very-pregnant hostess as we waited for our table. Or how seeing her triggered thoughts back to a day earlier when I would learn that two bloggers, whose blogs I regularly read, announced their pregnancies on the same day, both already having a toddler son as I do, one of which announced that their second baby on the way is a girl. Ughhh. Ouch. Or maybe it was getting an email just minutes before we left the house that included a photo of my new niece who is still in the hospital and doing well {for which I am grateful, of course… but, still, how could it not affect me?}.

I don’t know what triggered my break down. Maybe it didn’t take much. I’m pretty sure that is the case. I mean, I am already weepy so much of the time at home… without triggers. And when I’m not, I’m just sort of numb, often staring off into space. I’ll finally realize that my head is not in the game when I’ve heard my son say something to me for the twentieth time… so loudly by the seventeenth or eighteenth time that he couldn’t help but finally get my attention. Sometimes, if I sit back and look at my state—my new normal—I feel like I’m watching a movie. Only it’s not me I’m watching, but rather some character in a heart-breaking story… one I don’t want to be watching and, most certainly, don’t want to be in.

If that Olive Garden caesar salad incident wasn’t like some sad, awkward scene from a movie… well, then I just don’t know what is. I wish it had only been a movie. I wish I had not been the clearly-in-need-of-help, grieving mom that lost it on a Friday night at the local Olive Garden, where all others present were just hoping to have a nice meal.

The gracious, but probably very inwardly-annoyed waitress told us it was no problem at all if we wanted to leave and come back some other time… because, clearly, not getting a caesar salad and unexpectedly having to pick out a soup was just far too taxing and hard on us me. I know I must have given her a snarky {or at the very least, disappointed-with-her} look at some point. And when she told us it was okay if we wanted to leave and would just give us space and time to think about what we wanted to do, I couldn’t even lift my head to apologize or explain… or even just say Okay, thank you.

She walked away. I got a look from Mr. B. who was already fumbling around for Izzy’s coat. And I felt awful. But as awful as I felt, I knew I couldn’t leave. Not now. I had to fight what was going on there. I just had to. Like a movie or the real-life stories of so many before me, I knew I had to just keep going… that this would just be the first of many days when I had to get out and face the new reality, as painful and heart-wrenching as it may be. And I didn’t want this movie scene to end in my defeat. I wanted to overcome. I wanted to stay.

I had to do some heavy persuading to my embarrassed and frustrated husband by that point, but he finally agreed to stay. He agreed on the condition that I find our waitress and tell her so, which I did when I tracked her down near the kitchen door. I could have told her only that we changed our minds and decided to stay. But without some sort of explanation, I think she would have thought us even more loopy than she already did. So I quietly explained that we were not displeased with her… that it was very much my fault for the way things went down. I told her that the only reason we ventured out was because we were using a bereavement meal gift card from a friend, and it was really our first time out as a family since we lost our daughter a month ago. I told her that we would really like to stay, because I felt it was important that we get through it… that it would be a step forward in our healing. I didn’t tell her all this so that she would permit us to stay. It wasn’t as bad as all that… as if they were ready to throw us out or anything like that. It was just that I felt she deserved an explanation for our out-of-the-ordinary dinner-time display.

Once again, she was gracious, as well as very understanding. She said she would be right with us, so I headed back to the table to have another go at it. I could cry now, as I type, thinking about it. I wonder how much compassion I would look on with if I had seen a family there {prior to last July when we received our devastating news} displaying that same scene but, not knowing what was actually going on in it. I wonder how I would have reacted had I been that waitress. I would hope as compassionately. Being there, being the ones—or rather, the one—breaking down, I realize there must be hurting, suffering and devastated people all around me all the time. It might not be their first meal out. It might be their second or third… or twelfth. And they might never be so fragile as to break down in tears the way I did. Surely, still, they are all around.

I’ll never be the same again… when encountering a grieving person now that I’ve gone through what I have. I hope I have the opportunity to practice compassion and grace each time I do encounter one.

As ridiculous as it sounds, I really wanted to remember tonight. So I felt the need to write it down. If nothing else, I hope to look back on this night some day and clearly remember how I felt. Yes… I want to remember this desperate ache I have. I want to remember it, because I want to look back and see how far we’ve come some day… and see just how truthful God is when he promises to turn our mourning into dancing.

I honestly don’t know when the next time will come that I’ll be okay to go out like that again. As I write, I feel it could be tomorrow if need be. But I could see not being ready for several more weeks, too. I’m strong enough to muster whatever it takes to get out there. I just don’t yet know how I will react in any given situation once out. Tonight very much proved that.

To be honest, I don’t know that I’ve ever really been truly heart-broken in my life before now. I may have had some heart cracks and bruises. But it’s never felt like it has split in two the way it does now. When I think of it that way, I don’t feel quite so weird for my salad breakdown. I think maybe I’ve got a pretty valid excuse.

I only know that I long for the day when it won’t hurt this much and my heart feels whole again.
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Before ordering my food the first time {you know… when I was told the romaine lettuce was not up to par}, I sat across from Izzy and really wished that I had my camera with me. He was looking so adorable and seemed so happy to be out and about for a change. I thought it would be a great opportunity to get some pictures of him other than the usual around-the-house shots. But alas, I did not think to bring my camera. Had I, I would not have had to search for some photos for today’s post… though I know I can write here sans-photography if I want. But without having taken any pictures tonight to use, I did think back to some recent older photos I could use. They were taken one day when I came across Izzy peering out the front window, almost as if he longed to get outside these walls for a change to see snow or whatever else he might find. So I thought they would be a good fit for what I wrote today, as well as the photos I shot when I eventually did take him out to see that snow.
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And to go with them, a verse I remind myself of often these days…
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