Saturday, May 25, 2013

Happy 38th to Me

Today is bittersweet.

In so many ways, I am blessed. I have a great boyfriend, I adore his kids, and my dad and I are closer than we’ve ever been.

Work has been understanding, friends and family have reached out, I’ve got some much-needed respite… and all of these things help me. They all help me heal.

But today is still painful.

Mama always used to call me on my birthday—usually to sing happy birthday, and just to say hello. I managed to save one of her voicemails from an old phone.

But I’ll never get another call from her.

And today, it’s even larger than life, because my sister took the old Kitchen Aid mixer after my mom died. She borrowed it to make pies at Christmas, and I’m pretty sure my dad told her to just keep it.

Thing is… my mom had bought a brand new 5 quart Kitchen Aid Deluxe mixer, complete with her favorite accessory—the glass bowl—and had never once used it.

She actually had my dad get out the old one anytime she needed to use a mixer, because for whatever reason, she didn’t want to use the brand new one.

My dad brought me the new one this week, so I could use it to make some cupcakes for my birthday celebration this weekend.

It’s beautiful and red.

And I broke it in today.

Every time I bake, I think about my mom… I think about all of the things she taught me in the kitchen—how baking is a science, and measurements are important. You can’t multi-task when baking, you need to stay in the moment so you can be aware of exactly what needs to happen next.

Follow the steps in order, stop the mixer and use the spatula to clear the sides of the bowl, add dry ingredients first on one side, then the other, add eggs one at a time, add wet ingredients slowly, add dry ingredients even more slowly—

All of these tidbits came rushing back to me as I used the red Kitchen Aid for the first time. Then it hit me—the last time I had actually used a Kitchen Aid was back in the house I grew up in, standing on the brown linoleum floor, in the olive drab kitchen with mustard yellow appliances, and the old white Kitchen Aid perched atop the big cutting board, whirring away, and Mama standing next to me, patiently giving me instructions.

I think about her every time I bake. Every time I make fudge, every time I make pie… and I suppose it’s worth noting that up until now, I’ve baked without the use of a mixer. But with my carpel tunnel getting worse, I really need it, so now I am glad to have one.

I just hate the circumstances…

And David tried to help me, too. I’d never made cupcakes from scratch before, and I’d never made ganache (that changes NOW… since I now know just how easy it is), and my stress level kept creeping up and up the scale, and he’s trying to do everything he can to help me, and I’m barking orders at him—just like Mama did to Daddy, year after year, holiday after holiday, baking occasion after baking occasion. She needed him to mix, to hold bowls while she scraped them into another dish, wash dishes, get supplies—basically, she needed him to be her extra pair of hands and her extra set of eyes.

And once I realized I was doing the exact same thing, and that I’d stumbled upon yet another thing that makes me just like my Mama… I lost it.

I realize every day how I am like my mom. How I’m stubborn and proud, how I’m incredibly anal and particular about exactly how I want things done when I’m working in the kitchen, and how I need my David, the way my mom needed her David—to help, and to never stray very far, but to only help in the way I want him to help.

The cupcakes look great.
The ganache is setting up.
David went to the gym.
The dryer is going.

The house is quiet, and I’m left with only my thoughts and my tears.

I have so much to be grateful for, and believe me—I am—but I am also deeply sad in a way that I cannot articulate and no one can truly understand, unless they’ve been through it too.

I get to live.

And I am re-evaluating what exactly that means for me, because nothing reset my priorities faster than losing two of the most important people in my entire life.

So, today, I am 38.

I get to live.

I don’t understand that yet, but I am beginning to truly understand the legacy my family has created.

And that I am part of it.

And that my part is not done.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Today is Better

Thank you for your comments and love yesterday.

Today is better.

I am walking through this as best I can. It's messy... it's hard... but I am not going to apologize for my feelings. I feel that we are too often pressured to apologize for having deep feelings, which is quite the paradox... since as humans, we are primarily emotional beings.

Ignoring feelings or trying to push them back down is a little like ignoring my inner child's needs.

Have you ever seen a child act out, just to get attention? In that moment, any attention—even negative attention—is better than none.

Feelings are a little like that.

If I ignore them… especially the big, bad, ugly feelings that are so hard to allow myself to feel, they just get more intense. They stir around, deep in my cells, doing nothing but causing trouble in my mind, heart, and physical being.

And then, I find myself acting out in ways that even I don’t expect, because my feelings want nothing more than to be recognized and brought to the surface. The harder I fight to keep them “down there,” the harder and faster they retaliate.

Acknowledging my feelings helps bring them to the surface. 

Once they're at the surface, I can choose what to do with them. I can release them, as I did yesterday in the form of a rather intense blog post, or I can nurture them, like I did last night and today by accepting love and acknowledging how full of love my life truly is.

Grief sucks. I’ve been through it before—with the loss of my grandmother, who was like a mother to me. I lost other very important things around the same time, too. And, I have been through divorce.

In truth, I would say that grief is and can be like a debilitating illness.

My aim in being so open with my grief is to dispel some of the shroud of shame, confusion, and judgments that so many of us (including myself) have about what it means to grieve.

Grief is something mysterious and hidden and terrifying because it cannot be controlled.

It’s going to be terrible and ugly and fearsome. But I can tell you by my own experience that when I have tried to ignore it, suppress the feelings, or control it—it gets worse. It festers, and it turns me into a different person.

Thus, my post from yesterday.

I acknowledged my feelings, and that they are temporary. This time is temporary. Hell, everything is temporary.

But releasing those feelings was important, because it helps me move forward. It helps me navigate the murkiness while still remaining true to myself.

It also helps me to know that my grief is witnessed.

Healing does not occur in a vacuum.

And that, my friends, is where you come in.

I am grateful for what and who I have in my life. And now, more than ever, I realize just how precious this life is, how fragile it is, and how important it is to allow myself to be human—instead of striving to be perfect.

As you know, I am a believer, and for me, that means there is only one perfect being. And to try so damned hard to be perfect is to put myself above God.

Yuck. I don’t want that.

What I do want is for you to understand that I am grateful for you. You—reading this, praying for me, thinking about me and my family, lighting a candle, or whatever it is that you do that is spiritual, sacred, pure, or loving.

Thank you for helping shepherd me on this strange journey.

Thank you for reminding me that I am not alone.

None of us are alone.

I need to be connected… we all do.

As my friend Mark Rogers says, “We are not needy. We are needing.” We need each other. We need love. We need connection and nurturing and help.

And that is why we are all here. To help each other… to love each other… to live.

We have life so that we can live it…

*I will add that this is also the real face of grief. It isn't always ugly. Sometimes, it's full of light and grace and gratefulness... if you allow it.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

The Real Face of Grief, aka Where I Am Right Now.

I wrote this after waking up from a terrible nightmare around 2:30 this morning. I sobbed in bed, the kind of breathless sobs where your whole body shakes. David woke up just enough to turn over and hold me. After a while, I calmed down enough to get up and write.  
I am posting this here, because this is what grief really looks like. It's ugly, it's terrifying, it's guttural.  
And that's okay. 
I want to take shame off the table. My family is suffering bone-deep loss, and trying to hide it, gloss over it, minimize it, or worst of all, "suck it up," doesn't help.  
The only thing that helps is release.

I cannot express how terrifying it is to wake up from a horrific dream only to realize... it’s my reality.

I can’t cry hard enough or long enough to free this pain inside of me. I wail, my eyes clamped shut and my mouth wide open, trying so hard to release the pain, to push it out from my very depths—from every single cell it wants to leave my body, but it is here… it remains…

Why am I the one living? Why wasn’t I taken? I don’t have any small children relying on me… I don’t have anyone relying on me, truthfully… how can I still be alive? How can I still be left here to feel so much when every morning I wake up, and I’m just confused as to why—why I’m even here, why my body is somehow still working, why all the systems within continue propelling me from present moment to present moment…

When I was little, I used to wake up from nightmares about being in a car accident with my grandmother and me in the back seat, Daddy driving, and Mama in the front seat. We sat in those designated seats—Mur-Mur behind Daddy, and me behind Mama—every time the four of us went anywhere. And in my nightmare, there was a car accident, and I was the only survivor.

(If my sister hadn’t moved out on her own at that point, she would have been in that nightmare, too, and then that nightmare would be even closer to my current reality.)

Life keeps going… and all around me, people go to work, they sit in traffic, they wait in line, they text their friends, they scroll through Facebook—I know… I am existing in these moments too… I am doing these things too…

But it feels like my whole world has stopped, because it’s been turned utterly upside down and inside out, and I can’t do a damned thing about it.

Grief sucks, and right now it is really running me through the ringer. I have never, ever known this kind of pain before. I have never felt it… not until now… and of course looking at me from the outside in, of course I’m “strong enough to handle it,” etc… but right now I feel on the verge of a nervous breakdown… because that would be easier. It would be easier to just go completely nuts and totally lose my shit and end up at the asylum taking unlabeled pills to keep me sedated and numb. Right now, that kind of controlled environment is more appealing than the chaos of the outside world… this world I exist in which feels like a constant waking nightmare.

As I sit here, breathing in, breathing out, tears streaming down my face (and in moments like this, I am once again thankful that Mama made me take a typing class in ninth grade, because I can sit in total darkness and type fast), I wonder at the miracle of life and of living. It is truly a miracle, every day when I can open my eyes and get out of bed and live another day.

But right now? Right now it feels like a curse. Why were my mom and sister denied the miracle of life? Why?

Ironic—I offered comfort in my sister’s eulogy. I cautioned against asking why… because it will “make you crazy.” Yep, I said it, and that’s basically what I feel, because here I am, asking why, and most definitely feeling crazy.

What can I say—I was still in shock at that point.

Not in shock anymore.

This, I would say, is the darkest side of grief. When I’m sitting here vacillating between wishing I was dead, bargaining for trading places with my sister, and actually wishing to go crazy enough to be put into an asylum. All of those things seem easier than what I’m trying to cope with, the overpowering feelings I have, and the grief I feel.

The bargaining (oh wait, isn’t that a phase of grief?)—sounds like, please take me instead… take me instead… put me out of my misery and let my sister come back and raise her toddler and be here to shepherd her older kids fully into adulthoodNo one truly needs me, but her kids and her husband need her. I need her. My dad needs her.

To be honest, I am barely functioning. I have to “check out” to a certain extent just to get through the day. When I am fully present, the feelings flood in—feelings that don’t have words or even need words.

I don’t feel like I can handle anything right now. I feel on the edge of tipping over… like one more little thing, one more little bump in the road, and there I’ll go—careening off the edge of the tiny winding highway, plunging down into the depths of rocky cliffs to my imminent death.

I am clinging to sanity by mere threads, and those threads are thin and weary and stretched to their max.

I have prayed and prayed… I have begged God to please take this from me, because I can’t handle it at all. I am totally at His mercy, and yet I am finding no comfort in that.

I find no comfort in anything…

Friday, May 3, 2013

A Eulogy for Wendy

What struck me deeply when I sat down to write this eulogy was that Wendy was always the same person. She never tried to be someone she wasn’t. She didn’t put on airs or masks. She told it like it was—always—whether you liked it or not.

That’s not to say she never changed. There was a time, after all, when I would not dare eat anything my sister cooked. It shocked me to hear that she had started taking cooking shifts at work. She was proud of what she’d learned. We were proud of her, too. Even better—I would actually eat my sister’s cooking!

She never gave herself enough credit, did she? She was—like everyone in our family, it seems… she was very, very hard on herself.

Last Christmas was the first time she made Mama’s famous chocolate pecan pie for the family. She was so nervous—she wanted to get it just right. She didn’t want to burn it, and she wanted to make Mama proud. Actually, I think she wanted to make all of us proud. I think she felt like it was the most important pie she had ever made.

Of course, she pulled it off perfectly.

When I think about my sister, a lot of adjectives spring to mind: stubborn, hard-headed, strong, curious, charming, loving, smart, outspoken, daring, fearless, optimistic, proud, hopeful… I could go on.

One word stands out above all the rest, though: fierce.

Everybody knows that she loved animals fiercely and had a way of attracting the mangiest, most pathetic, rejected, homeless cats and dogs to her door. That started long before any of you might have guessed.

The first time was when she was a little girl. The next door neighbors bred sheltie collies, and she bonded with one of them in particular. She’d lie down in the grass, stick her arm through the chain link fence, and pet the little dog.

Well, the dog wasn’t quite fit to be a show dog, and the neighbors ended up giving her to Wendy.

That’s how we got our dog Sally.

The next time it happened was with a big black tomcat who “just jumped in her car” one day. She brought him home and begged to keep him. We named him Tummy, because he constantly ate. Tummy was a really great cat. One of the best cats ever, really, and he and Wendy had a special connection. Even after she moved out, he welcomed her anytime she came to visit.

And then there was the tiny white Siamese cat she discovered on the way home from high school one day. She was just lying there in the street, and Wendy thought she was dead. She pulled over to move her over to the side of the road and when Wendy approached this little cat, she perked her head up and meowed. Wendy brought her home and begged Mama and Daddy to keep her.

And that’s how we got Cricket.

Wendy was like the patron saint of all the lost animals. Even when she first moved out on her own, she would at times move from friend’s house to friend’s house, with nothing but a suitcase and her cat, Spunky.

She constantly drew animals to her. It’s like they just… knew… that she would take care of them.

She took care of everyone in her world… animals, friends, and of course, family.

Wendy and I were so different—in fact we joked a lot about being “city sister” and “country sister.”

(I’ll let you guess which is which.)

But the love between us was also fierce. A lot of times that meant we fought—constantly. Understandable, with the 8 year difference in our age, especially when you factor in that we shared a bedroom that had been Wendy’s domain for the first 8 years of her life.

Not surprisingly, you could draw a line down the middle of our bedroom. My side was all neat and tidy, and her side looked like a tornado had hit.

(Some things don’t change.)

Not only could you draw a line down the middle of the room, but if I dared put anything of mine on the dresser, I would invariably come back into the bedroom later to find that item tossed on my bed.

Whether it was a brush, a comb, or sometimes just a hair pin—she’d somehow find it in all that mess on top of the dresser and throw it right back on my bed.

So of course—being the twirpy little sister I was—I would often put something on the dresser just to see how long it took her to notice.

We couldn’t even be in the kitchen at the same time. She washed and rinsed dishes, and I’d dry them and put them away. Or, I would wash and rinse, she would dry and put away. But we could never work together, or it boiled over into a fight—every time.

It was the same with house work. Saturday morning was cleaning day. I dusted, and Wendy vacuumed. Mama cleaned the bathrooms and mopped the kitchen and dining room floors.

The argument was the same, every week. God forbid we dust and vacuum at the same time in different rooms. Nope. Her argument was, she should vacuum first, because that stirs up dust, which is going to settle back down onto the furniture. My argument was, I should dust first, because the vacuum would suck up whatever dust was left.

Guess who always won that one!

(It wasn’t me.)

In fact, Mama told us we even argued in our sleep. She would walk by our bedroom, hear arguing, and just before she stepped in to fuss at us for still being awake—she’d realize that she couldn’t understand a word we were saying, because it was all indiscernible mumbling.

But it was angry mumbling!

And if anything is harder than sharing a bedroom with your sister when you constantly fight… it might be hardest of all to be stuck in the back seat on a long road trip between Dallas and Albuquerque. I think that’s just about the most boring drive in all of the US. It’s nothing but flat desert, and a whole lot of it.

We constantly kicked each other, sighed loudly, pouted, and grumped. And this was, of course, way before cell phones, iPads, portable DVD players, etc. We were just stuck in the car, lucky to have one Walkman between us for a road trip that never seemed to end.

The love between us was often hard to see in those years. Of course, as we got older, it got better.

There were so many times in my college years when I struggled with money. I was a typical poor college student. And Wendy was going through a rough time, too, having two small children and trying to make ends meet.

But she was proud, and she loved me fiercely. And during the countless times she needed some money to help her get through, she refused to ask our parents for help. It was more important to her that they help me and give me money. Even if our parents offered her money—she turned it down. “Give it to Linda,” she said.

She’ll never know how much that meant to me.

In truth, the love between us was fierce.

That’s the way Wendy loved everyone, though: fiercely.

I have a few words to say directly to Wendy’s kids. I think she would want you to hear these words and take them to heart.

Leigha: the legacy she leaves through you is her spirit. You are the very essence of your mother. You are proud and stubborn, just like her. You’re also resourceful and strong, just like her. You know more than she knew at your age, and you’re more grown up at 21 than she was at 21. I know you feel lost without her. I know this is a hard road ahead. I know that first hand… but when you are searching for answers and deeply needing to talk to your mom… look inside yourself. You’ll find the answer, like you always do, because it’s already there inside. Her blood is literally in you. Your mom spent a lot of time talking to your Grammy and me about you. She fiercely loved you, more than words could ever say. And I know she is proud of the mother you are, the mother you have become.

Alexis: the legacy she leaves through you is love. She loved you unconditionally, and she always regarded you as hers. It broke her heart to have to let go of you when she walked away from your dad. But she instilled in you the knowledge—deep-down, all the way to your core—that you are loved, just for being you. I can feel it emanating from you, too, and I am so glad you’re back in all of our lives. I know it made her feel validated and purposeful as a mom when you showed up by surprise that Christmas. She told us that she suddenly felt like she had truly made a difference in this world—that she had done something right—because you turned out ok, and you came back.

Aaron: the legacy she leaves through you is faith. The depth of your faith, and your love for Jesus Christ, is visible to the point of being almost tangible. Your faith is representative of where your mom’s journey led her over the last several years. I observed as she explored agnosticism, Paganism, and then slowly walked towards God. It gave me joy to watch her faith come alive, and it gave me joy to watch yours come alive, too. She also loved your stories. She loved your music and drumming ability—she was very proud and protective of you. Watching you grow and transform over the years into this young warrior has been a true joy. Not just for your mom, but for me, and for all of us. You are already a much better man than most of the men who have been in your life.

Kasey: the legacy your mom leaves through you is hope. To me, you represent the sweet, feminine, fun, and soft side of Wendy. Watching her mother you was truly a joy. She so thoroughly enjoyed you and your firsts. She loved watching you discover everything around you and take it all in. She truly appreciated your sense of wonder. I’ve never seen her so relaxed and happy to be a mom. She fell in love with being a mother because of you, and she learned to accept and respect your siblings even more than she had before, because of you. I hope you never lose the sweet, tender, curious parts of you, Kasey.

The legacy Wendy leaves for us all is one of hope. She never gave up, no matter how dire her circumstances. She held her head up and kept walking forward—one foot in front of the other.

Her sudden passing makes no sense—especially so soon after our mother’s passing. I know we’re all still in a state of shock, and asking why is natural. The tragedy of losing Wendy so suddenly, when she was so young, makes no sense to anyone, and asking why yields no answer—it just makes you feel crazy.

So instead of asking why, I want to challenge you to find a way that works for you to keep her legacy alive. Take on a piece of her hope, her optimism, or her perspective. Take on a piece of her tenacity or her perseverance. Or maybe, take on some of her love of animals, or her sense of humor, or her charm.

If you’re up for a real challenge, though, then I dare you to love the way my sister loved.

I dare you to love fiercely.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Wendy's Obituaries

This is the obituary for the Dallas Morning News:

Jill Wendilyn “Wendy” (Tritton) Troquille
Born Feb. 11, 1967, Dallas, TX, passed away Apr. 29, 2013, Van, TX. She is survived by: father, David Tritton; sister, Linda Lee Tritton; husband, Kevin Troquille; daughters, Leigha Hill, Alexis Sublett, and Kasey Troquille; son, Aaron Grigsby; grandchildren, Raelye, Eli, and Colten. Memorial service Fri., May 3, 11am, Cornerstone Baptist Church, 3710 NE Loop 7, Athens, 75751. 

This is the obituary for the Van/Van Zandt papers:

Jill Wendilyn “Wendy” (Tritton) Troquille
Wendy was born February 11, 1967, in Dallas, Texas. She passed away on Monday, April 29, 2013. She was killed instantly in a head-on collision while driving home from work (The Dinner Bell in Van). Wendy lived in the Canton, Edom, Van, and Ben Wheeler area for years, and she is known and loved in the community.

Wendy is preceded by her mother, Jill Johnson Tritton, who passed away only five months prior (November 29, 2012), and her grandmother, Paula “Teh” Freeman Johnson, who passed away on Wendy’s 30th birthday, in 1997.

Wendy is survived by many: her father, David Tritton; her sister, Linda Lee Tritton; her husband, Kevin Troquille; their daughter, Kasey Troquille; her daughter, Leigha Hill; her daughter, Alexis Sublett; and her son, Aaron Grigsby.

Wendy is also survived by three grandchildren: Raelye (3yrs), Eli (4mos), and Colten (due in July).

A memorial service will be held at Cornerstone Baptist Church, 3710 NE Loop 7, Athens, 75751. Soulman’s BBQ has generously offered to cater food after the service.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Wendy (Tritton) Troquille: Memorial Service Information

Friends and family, I thought I would make a quick blog post so everyone will have a public resource they can link to anyone.
Wendy at age 20

My sister, Jill Wendilyn "Wendy" (Tritton) Troquille, was killed in a head-on collision on Monday, April 29, 2013.

Fortunately, she did not suffer—she was killed instantly. She was 46 years old. Wendy’s passing is exactly five months after our mom’s sudden passing on Thursday, November 29, 2012.

I am in the process of writing obituaries that will appear in the Van, Van Zandt, and Dallas newspapers.

I am also writing a eulogy that I will deliver during her memorial service.

Her service will be in Athens, TX. Her son, Aaron Grigsby, is a member of a very loving and strong church community, and they have graciously offered to host the memorial service.

We gladly honored Wendy’s wish to be cremated, and the family made those arrangements yesterday.

I’ll be back with more, but for now, I wanted to keep this short to convey the important information. Any and all are welcome at the service.

Service Information

Service date: Friday, May 3rd, 2013
Time: 11am
Location: Cornerstone Baptist Church, 3710 NE Loop 7, Athens, Texas, 75751, 903-677-5407
Some GPS may read the address as 3710 NE Loop 317 S
Immediately following the service: Soulman’s BBQ has made an amazing offer to cater a meal right after the service.

To everyone who has reached out to our family with wishes, prayers, condolences, and offers, we thank you. It means so, so much. I feel the love coming from all directions.

I ask that you keep them coming. We are all still very, very much in shock, and your continued prayers and thoughts are deeply appreciated.