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Burning the Candle

My dad always used to observe that I was happiest when I was going Mach 5 with my hair on fire, and then in the next sentence he’d warn me not to burn the candle at both ends.  He was right, and it was a valid warning.  Not one that I’ve ever been able to take to heart, but valid nevertheless.  Lately, I feel like I have not only been burning the candle at both ends, but that I have cut it in half so that I have access to two additional wicks.  Oddly enough, this was completely intentional.  The beginning of the year is always very hard for me.  Toward the end of my mother’s life, my father signed her DNR and the doctors gave her a week to live.  This was at the end of November.  The doctors were wrong.  She didn’t die until February 8th.  We’ve all heard stories of loved ones hanging on for one more holiday, or birthday, etc, so it didn’t seem that odd that she lasted until Christmas.  But when the new year hit, and she was still hanging on, an anxious dread descended. Every time my phone rang I expected it to be the call – “Pick up your sister and come home. Mom just died.”  But January came and went and there was no call.  I was a ball of nerves.  Always on edge, not sleeping, doing anything to occupy my mind with something, anything else.

I had plans to go home on the 8th.  That morning my dad called to ask me to pick up some dog food before heading up the mountain to get home.  I said okay, hung up and hopped in the shower.  I was picking out clothes when my phone rang again, and for the first time in over a month I didn’t jump.  It was dad, but I assumed that he needed me to pick up something else.  I was wrong.  “Pick up your sister.  Mom just died.  Oh, don’t forget the dog food.”  She died while I was in the shower.  I will remember that shower for the rest of my life.  It was in that shower that the dread and tension finally released from my body.  Whether that was because I knew that I was heading home when I got out, or if someone how my body instinctively knew that it was all over, I have no idea.  But after that shower I was relaxed for the first time all year, until that call.  Then I was just numb.

Every year since then, I spend the month of January as a ball of nerves.  My body’s yearly vigil of grief. By the time that February rolls around, I have to consciously remind myself to relax my shoulders from their permanent position up around my ears. I usually try to take it easy at the beginning of the year and do things for myself.  It never works.  I’m a ball of nerves through Valentine’s Day.  This year was different.  If I’m happiest going Mach 5 with my hair on fire, then why in the world should I slow down during my hardest time of the year? So this year I over-scheduled myself.  I not only cut the candle in half, I borrowed a couple of extra candles and burned those too.  And it sort of worked.  Did my shoulders still take up residence around my ears? Yep.  Was I still a ball of nerves? Yep.  But I actually got things done – I fell behind on stuff because of my over scheduling, my blog for one, but I got a lot done.  My dad is right.  I’m happiest when I’m getting things done.  Starting tomorrow I’ll be able to breathe again, because the anniversary of her funeral will have passed and all of those years ago it was finally at her funeral that I truly cried and grieved for my loss.  It’s my yearly gauntlet and it’s almost over.  Tonight I burn the last candle.  Until next year.


  • :Donna Marie

    Kat, while reading this I couldn’t help but wonder how long ago your mother passed. I’m glad you figured out how to handle your Januarys, but I sincerely hope there comes a time when the yearly tension will fizzle out for you.

    • Kat Michels

      Donna, she passed away 11 years ago after an 18 year battle with MS. For reference, I’m 31 now. Our relationship was complicated to say the least, and much more akin to patient/caretaker as opposed to mother/daughter. It wasn’t until she died that I realized that I had, in essence, lost something that I’d never had to begin with.

  • :Donna Marie

    You were very young. I wish you’d had more of your mother, but there are things in life we can never change 🙁 And obviously, she spent about half her life will an illness none of you wish she’d had. I’m sorry 🙁