Mary ama dormire (Modern Mary loves to sleep)

Anyone who knows me well knows how much I love to sleep.

Whether waking or sleeping, Modern Mary makes sleep a priority. Postcard image by Trish Grantham

It might be in my genes. My father has always been a notorious sleeper. Give him 5 minutes in a comfortable chair, regardless of the hour, and he will give you a nap.

I’m not so much the napping type as I am the sleep-for-10-hours-at-a-time type. I often tell Mr. Bailey, “You know what I’d like to do? Sleep for two weeks.”

In times of stress, I like to head to bed around 9:30 and sleep, preferably, until 8 or 9 a.m.

If you’re a sleeper like me, you know dreams sometimes play a role in the experience.

Since my mom died, my dreams have become rich, offbeat and resonant parts of my nighttime routine.

It seems every suggestion or fear is immediately processed into my subconscious and put into the dream queue.

I’ve had a hard time adjusting to the absence of constant conversations with my siblings, the important conferring, the unity of our family as we fought cancer collectively. I am in the midst of deciphering what our family will be like now that my mother, the spoke, the emotional home of our unit, is gone.

In my midnight dreams, my three brothers and I are in my grandmother’s old house, together, sharing memories, looking around the dining room, theFloridaroom, laughing, when suddenly we hear the new owners arriving home. We all run into the yard, dashing like mad from our nostalgic breaking and entry.

I keep forgetting to put my hair up in rag curls at night!

I’m running blindly, trying to keep track of my brothers, desperate. Where have they gone? I catch flashes of their clothes as I dash down a set of stairs somewhere. We need to stay together, I insist.

Awake, I have fretted about the coming holidays, with their ties to home and family, memories like glittering lights on a twinkle string. They seem to illuminate only sadness without my mom.

At night, my third eye takes me to a future peculiarly reversed. It’s a future in which my father died instead of my mom. There we are in the midst of the holidays without him, all of us gathered where we always do – in my parent’s kitchen, surrounded by friends, family, trying to make sense of the first holiday without him.

In our daylight conversations, Mr. Bailey suggests we do something completely different and take a trip toNew Yorkright before Christmas.

As I lay sleeping, I dream we are stepping out of the airport into aNew York Citydecorated to the hilt with festive lights, swaying in a brisk winter wind. I feel the straps from the luggage I carry (with two kids we always have lots of luggage) dig into my shoulder as we cross a busy street to our hotel. Then we’re walking through a warm hotel, a corridor decorated with trees and ornaments and people milling, all sorts of people, here, and not home, for the holidays. It feels strange, exciting.

When I wake, I tell Mr. Bailey about myNew York dream.

“You are so impressionable,” he says, his eyes twinkling.

The dreams sometimes detract from the restfulness of my sleep, and sometimes enhance it. I wake with a sinking feeling so often it’s become a part of my morning routine. I imagine actually sinking into my bed, being swallowed by it. It’s not unpleasant.

Eventually, when all of the fantasies of slumber have been dislodged by the slanting soft light of morning, I get up. I RSVP for tonight to my sheets, my pillow, my comforter, my dreams.

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Wrestling with Hope

You know what hope is?
Hope is a bastard
Hope is a liar, a cheat
and a tease. 

Hope comes near you?
Kick its backside,
got no place in days like these.
–Picture Window, lyric by Nick Hornby, music by Ben Folds

I have been hearing the lyrics to this song by Ben Folds and Nick Hornby over and over in my mind over the last week. It’s a brilliant lyric I wish I had written.

Not sure how thoughts and emotions bounce around inside of you, but sometimes my brain cannot think anymore along linear pathways. It’s not capable of rational thoughts that further my growth. When that happens, music tends to take over.

I hear the music of poems I’ve read, snippets of stuff I’ve written and then – as though filing through an old-school rotating round Rolodex, I hear my brain flipping through 34 years of music and lyrics for that One.

Sometimes I hear a foggy, faded version for days until I can consciously recall the words and the tune, solidly.

When it does finally jam into gear, the song usually flattens me. Literally. The best way to channel this music and tune it into my emotional center, to let it express that which I am unable to access rationally, is to lay flat on the ground next to a speaker and play the song. Loudly. And repeatedly, if necessary.

Ryan Russell Design

It sounds crazy, surely. Maybe it is. But it works for me. When I’m sung out, wrung out, cried out, a mellowness comes over me and the wave of song has disintegrated, is being pulled back out to sea.

This song came to me out of nowhere, driven by two things happening: 1) letting myself venture into the anger stage of grief, allowing the fury I feel at the whole bullshit cancer saga my Mom and my family went through and 2) suddenly remembering Mr. Bailey, at least a year ago, singing part of this lyric as he listened to it for the first time. I did not recall what it said entirely. Something about hope was all I recalled. But suddenly, I had to track it down.

After my ritual, I realized “Picture Window” should be handed out *preferably at the precise moment a cancer patient/caregiver gets completely sick of hope* as a cathartic listening device. I’ve come to appreciate the song’s power too late.

Eventually, I recalled trying to listen to it when Mr. Bailey first presented it to me. But I wanted none of its bluntness or pessimism then. Hope was my only friend, my only consolation and I didn’t feel able to disrespect the notion of it then.

Now, I’m fine with it all. Why? Because hope isa bastard. (Or as my Mom used to tell me, “Sometimes, life’s a bitch!”)

Hope by George Frederick Watts

Sometimes, hope just flat out lets you down.

And still we hope. This song expresses what I didn’t want to express then – the desperate position one is in when they turn to such a fickle (yet powerful) notion like hope and proceed to make it the center of their perseverance.

Hope made my Mom take that last chemo treatment that made her last months a hellish physical battleground. Hope brought her down to 100 pounds. Hope stole her hair, her beautiful eyelashes and eyebrows. Hope kept her injecting herself with insulin, bloating herself with IVs, swallowing pills, forcing down food she couldn’t taste. Hope influenced so much of how we approached life during those two years.

And we got a cruel result.

Perhaps years from now, I’ll have a better grasp on Hope. I’ll be able to find some cockeyed and optimistic way to tell you, dear readers, that the Hope we had and used to

our own advantage made everything – or even something – better. Or maybe not.

In the meantime, I’ll have this song.

(Click here to hear “Picture Window” in full.)

I can see clearly now and your underwear is way too small

When someone you love is fighting for their life, a lot of stuff goes by the wayside.

A more basic version of you emerges. You develop a predator-like focus on the beasts you’re fending off. For our family, those beasts were cancer and death. We were on the side of many more years and love overcoming illness.

Our eyes were opened, and focused on beating cancer -- and not on so many other things.

Once the battle was over, my focus seemed to shatter into a thousand pieces of distracted attention.

Lately I’ve been working with my SuperGlue, in tongue-over-lip concentration, trying to fit at least a good portion of the pieces back together again.

The pieces are interesting! And shocking.

Take, for example, my daughter Prima’s bedroom closet. It was bursting at the seams with too-small clothes, socks and shoes. While I was the cancer predator, I just shoved new stuff in there, making small pliant promises I would go through it all later.

Later came the other evening. My younger daughter out with her dad, we dove in and began culling through the mess. I tackled her underwear drawer first. I found my 8-year-old daughter had been squeezing herself into size 4, 5, and 6 panties.

“Don’t worry, Mom,” she told me bluntly, when I apologetically pointed out the size discrepancy. “They stretched out.”

Oodles of guilt and shame were followed by a profound love of my Prima, who tends to find the silver lining, especially when she can spare someone’s feelings.

Another interesting piece was our desk. Sheesh! Outdated bills had started mating under the piles of unrequited junk mail, coupons that shouted, “FREE!” birthday cards never sent and school notices that never notified us. (Me: Did you know Prima has a half day today? Mr. B: No, did you?)

The Bailey's desk was about 1000 times worse than this, and remains a work in chaotic progress.

A carefully placed stack of colorful woven baskets yielded bills from the early cancer predator days, shoved away and now outdated, thankfully, and easy to shred.

I’ve woken up! And the living room needs painting and the floor needs changing and our lives need a fresh coat of paint.

The cancer predator was cruel, but it’s over now. And as much as I miss my Mom (with every thought and every breath, every single day), I am glad it’s gone – even if I have to start with tight underwear.

Broken hearts: then and now

Unlike the real Mrs. Bailey, I was a romantically dramatic teenager. There were loser boyfriends and break-ups and get-back-togethers and heartbreaks upon heartbreaks. I grieved in my room for days sometimes. I made mix tapes and wept to girlfriends about the loss on the black rotary phone in my bedroom. In college, there was a heart-wrenching break-up that nearly took me over the edge.

Is there ever a time in life when heartbreak is behind you?

When I met Mr. Bailey, I thought to myself, I won’t ever have a broken heart again! Hurray! Adios, sad sack mix tapes!

Life makes such fools of us, doesn’t it?

Two years ago, my mother, the rock of my life, was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.

My Mom is very sick now. Late one night about a week ago, after being up for nearly 24 hours, I was driving home from my parent’s house. Trying to stay awake, I had the windows down, the music playing. Up from within me, a deep hollow pain started to rise. The warm evening breeze blew through my open window and wisped through my chest, curling around an abscess of aching beginning to spread.

It seemed a discomfort that was familiar. In my sleep-deprived stupor I could not at first place it. Tears came, a reaction to the pain. A song playing hit an empathetic tone and I reached to increase the volume. I wanted to feel the vibration of the song in my chest, curve my body to it so it would fill the space now opening wider.

That’s when I recognized the pain – it was heartbreak. It was a heart shattered with loss, dislocated due to a discombobulated reality that was utterly unwanted and impossible.

Only then did the foolishness of my newlywed glee become so completely ridiculous to me.

There are many different heart breaks in life, I thought, and no one comes through unscathed.

What was losing my mother going to feel like? I had wondered during these last 700 days. It was going to feel like the worst broken heart I had ever had. And it wasn’t going to go away. Ever.

The heartbreak would be total, I knew, and irrevocable. Unlike the delivery of the shoebox of mementos ceremoniously returned to a ninth-grade boyfriend designed to facilitate a visit, a short talk, maybe a last kiss, any one-last-talks with my Mom would be out of the question. And contrary to what that guy in 12th grade told me as I cried, never speaking to my mom again was not going to make it any easier.

I knew, then, this whole heartbreak would have to be endured. Like I had done anytime I had bid farewell to treasured parts of myself in the form of boyfriends, outdated friendships or un-nurtured creative passions or the independence of single, childless life. Just get it done¸ I would tell myself.

The endurance is what gets you through heartbreak. You just outlast the most bitter parts and, at some indefinable nick in time, it ceases to sting so much. Your mindful memories remain and guide a new you, sewn together at surprising junctures. The wind moves around your chest warmly, but then doesn’t penetrate, because the heartbreak has made you stronger at the broken places.