This Polar Vortex Has Me All Up In My Feelings, and What a Privilege That Is

If you’re lucky, the world stops in the middle of a polar vortex.  If you’re unlucky, nothing stops and there you are, working, making, doing, healing, delivering, surviving.   If you’re really unlucky, you are without a home, without proper shelter or food or gear or transportation.

I’m one of the lucky ones this go around with Mother Nature.  Our cars are gassed up, our fridge is fully stocked, the kids are in the background groaning about the iMovie app they’re trying to work on collaboratively.   Coen Brothers 2.0.  It turns out that 5 and 10 year old boys have very different artistic visions that result in noisy conflict.  Huh.

For many of us caught in this polar vortex, it is one of those precious moments that stretch into hours, sometimes days, when the world stops.  Attractions are closed.  Neighbors take the time to talk to one another as they stand in line in the grocery store or shovel out their cars on city streets.  There is a common enemy, shared experience, no blue or red, no north or south, less apparent difference.  It is us, together, against the cold, the chill, the snow.  We’re Chicagoans, strong stock, hearty, we got this.

Lake Michigan, 1.29.19. Photo courtesy of Robert McNees (@mcnees).

This weather brings out the sentimental, melancholy Irish in me.  The world is still around me, time feels suspended.  Is it Wednesday?  Saturday?  The outside falls away and the bright sun, thank goodness for the bright sun, shines on the thoughts and memories of other times the world stood still.

I made a pot of spaghetti sauce last night and I marveled that it felt like a hug from my Mom who died fourteen years ago, cliched as that may be.  The wine and the sugar in the sauce, the smell, the comfort of her embrace.  She kept me company in my kitchen last night, shared dinner with the grandsons she never met.  It was lovely.

And I can conjure my Dad in his bright red parka, bought for a steal at the Bargain Nook in Darlington, Wisconsin.  “It’s like wearing a grizzly bear,” he would say, the proudest of proud men, confident in his strength, unfazed by notions as man made as “wind chill.”  There was another day like this in Chicago, before we called it a polar vortex, when Christmas was cancelled in 1983.  I remember layer after layer after layer that he put on before going outside to start the car.  For those moments he was my very own Pa Ingalls.

But most of all, when the world stills like this, I think of Donna.  For a moment, when my daughter died, the world stopped with us, her Mom and Dad.  For a moment,  the world around us hung suspended with us in grief and disbelief and sorrow.  It is the stillness that recalls that core of grief, that moment of departure, that time my heart broke and before it started to repair itself.

Now in the stillness, Donna feels closer.

Yesterday, Block Club Chicago posted a story about a Spanish artist, Eduardo Vea Keating, transplanted to Chicago.  He makes murals out of snow.  They are ephemeral and simple and melt quickly.  I’ve been thinking about his words a lot since yesterday, in the stillness, “That’s usually how life is.  It’s full of moments.  Some are better and some are worse, but life goes on.  [The art] will melt.  Everything will pass.  Just enjoy what you have around you and try to stay positive.”

I can do that, I can find the beauty in the stillness.  Not all of us can.  Chances are, if you are reading these words, you, too, have found some stillness.  Take a moment, look around you, at the steaming Lake, at the thermostat that reads a number starting in a 6 or 7, at the gas tank on “F,” at the smiling/shouting kids wearing pajamas past noon, at the spoon covered in batter waiting to be washed.

There is a beauty and a comfort in the stillness and the cold, if you are lucky.  Can you see it?

Once Upon a Time I Had a Daughter

It’s that time of year again.  Tomorrow is my daughter’s birthday.  She would be 13.  Should be 13, except she hasn’t celebrated a birthday for nine years, since she died from a rat bastard aggressive brain tumor at four years old.  Donna has been gone for over two of her lifetimes, but here I still am, her mother.

This is my annual typing through tears birthday entry for my girl.  It’s almost 11 a.m. and I’m sitting here in my pajamas.  I mother two boys now and this time of year they tend to enjoy a disproportionate amount of screen time as their mama struggles with the reality that once upon a time they had a sister.

Once upon a time . . .

I still grapple with the reality that I used to have a daughter.  It has never not felt surreal to me, like, impossible.  Every year that passes takes Donna further away from me.  Some of my religious friends might reframe that as me getting closer to Donna with each passing year, but, well, I just don’t know.  It’s a lovely thought, that possibility, but that, too, feels surreal to me, impossible, improbable.

Mothering Donna, my happy girl. What a glorious Donna Day this was.
Mothering Donna, my happy girl.

What is real is that thirteen years ago I was in labor for the first time.  Me, the gal who never had a maternal bone in my body, would labor for 54 hours until Donna entered this world, swhooshed from between my legs.  We didn’t know, boy or girl, and there she was, a girl, our girl, Donna.  She was a gorgeous, beautiful, healing balm to us after my Mom’s death.

Donna’s birthdays have always been hard for me.  On her first, I had a migraine and by her second, she had cancer.  On her third she had just relapsed after a stem cell transplant seven months earlier and would have surgery the next day.  Her fourth birthday would be her last and we knew that all too well because the doctors told us so a few weeks before.  And yet there were always candles and cake and presents.  Donna never asked for anything, just flowers.  She was so sweet that way.

Thirteen is hitting me hard this year.  Donna would be a teenager, which means I would be the mother of a teenager.  That, too, seems surreal, impossible, improbable.  With each passing year, with this realization that Donna has been gone more than twice the short time she was with us, I sometimes feel a sense of imposter syndrome come on.  I know that once upon a time I had a daughter, I am the mother of a teenager.

My invisible daughter, my phantom girl.  I ache for her.  This grief I have gets to grow up when my daughter does not.  This grief has been with me so much longer than my girl.  How is that possible?  One of the cruelest aspects of grief is that you learn to live with it.  It seems impossible to go on without these people you love so much, and yet, we do, we keep moving forward, but always keep a part of ourselves in the past, when we were whole.

Tomorrow I will get a cake, probably, and buy something for the boys and wrap it up, probably.  A gift in honor of the sister they never knew.  A gift for them because there will be no gifts for her.  She would like that, I think.  Donna loved parties.  Happy birthday, girl.  You are so missed, so loved, so cherished.

If You’re Having a Miscarriage, Don’t Expect Walgreen’s Pharmacy to Help You

Last week I mentioned that I am angry all the time these days.  All.  The.  Time.  Today’s outrage comes after a casual perusal of the news.  I just learned that an Arizona woman, after being told by her physician that her body was in the midst of miscarrying her fetus, was given the option of having a surgical procedure, or taking a prescription to expel the no longer developing fetus from her body.  The woman opted for the medication.  Her pharmacist refused to fill the prescription for moral and ethical reasons.

Think about that, ladies.  Since I read about it, I haven’t been able to stop thinking about it.  A woman was informed that her body was rejecting her pregnancy, that her fetus had no heartbeat and had stopped developing.  She would miscarry her pregnancy.  This was what was happening, regardless of anyone’s morals or ethics.  The fetus would never grow into a baby.  It is a brutal loss.

I have had four miscarriages.  One happened very, very early into the pregnancy, before I had even been to the doctor.  The other three were after I was in a doctor’s care, but all during the first trimester.  Those last three miscarriages were discovered during routine ultrasounds, when, just like this Arizona woman, the doctor detected no heartbeat.  I went in, happy and excited, I left wrecked.  Those experiences were devastating to me.

Two of my miscarriages required a D & C, dilation and curettage, a surgical procedure, per my physician.  The last one was allowed to pass through my body naturally.  Miscarriage is something I don’t write about often, but I am often surprised by how many women have experienced one, even when we don’t talk about it.  They are a painful and unacknowledged loss for many.

A day after learning that her pregnancy was not viable, which, by the way, is how the medical folks describe it in their notes, the Arizona woman made the decision to take the medication to enable her body to fully expel the undeveloping fetus.  She went to her local Walgreen’s to pick up her prescription, her seven year old son by her side.  The pharmacist on duty, after asking her if she was pregnant, refused to fill the prescription.  He explained that he was opposed to giving her the medication on ethical grounds.  The woman tried to explain her situation, despite it being none of his damn business, but he still refused.

What in the Handmaid’s Tale is happening here, ladies?

Under Arizona law, a pharmacist can decline to fill prescriptions for moral or ethical objections, but Walgreen’s has stated that if they do so, they are supposed to refer the prescription to another pharmacist on duty.  Walgreen’s has acknowledged that the pharmacist did not follow corporate protocol, as when the Arizona woman requested another pharmacist on duty help her, the man refused, instead saying he could phone the prescription in to another Walgreen’s.


BAH!  Some days I feel like I am going mad.  I hope this makes you angry.  Please tell me this makes you angry.  Ultimately, the woman got her prescription, but at a different pharmacy and on a different day.  The least of it was that she was inconvenienced.  More significant was that her grief and trauma of miscarriage worsened when a man, under legal protection, decided that a woman using a legally prescribed medication, could not miscarry her already non-viable pregnancy using pills he deemed immoral to provide.  It is madness, this America in 2018.

Where does it end?

I don’t know the answer to that question, but I sure as hell know that every day is looking more and more like an America I no longer recognize.  Last week I was griping about the fact that my insurer was bought out by CVS Pharmacy, a corporation that no longer will allow me to have my prescriptions filled at Walgreen’s, my preferred pharmacy.  If I want coverage, I now need to get that at the corporation that owns my insurer.  Today, that bothers me a little less, reading about this man who made life harder for a woman in the midst of a miscarriage, but the truth is that all of it is wrong, and, increasingly, we are just rolling with the punches.

So, yeah.  Another day, another outrage.  I’m getting pretty used to this, and that terrifies me.


You can read more about this breaking news story HERE or watch an interview with the Arizona woman HERE.