A couple of weeks ago, I learned that my sessions with my bereavement therapist would be coming to an end because of his upcoming move to Texas. After the initial panic, I was overwhelmed with gratitude for the sessions we’ve had together over the past six months. Wanting to do something to express my gratitude, I decided to knit him a scarf. The entire process was rife with symbolism.
When I think about how Susan would react or feel about my grief journey, I know she would be sad at how difficult it has been. She would shake her head at me, and probably also scold me at times. But with this – knitting a project to thank my therapist for his attentive ear and gentle guidance – Susan would be nothing but excited and proud. And that, to me, feels more sweet than it does bitter.
In March, I posted about our upcoming annual Donate Life 5k in Fullerton, CA. Thank you to everyone who joined our team, made a donation, and / or supported us in other ways. We raised a total of $2,418 to support the One Legacy Foundation’s mission of inspiring and advancing organ/tissue donation and transplantation.
I went in expecting it to be a very emotionally difficult day, and while it was, of course, emotional, it was still a surprisingly nice day. It was great to see old friends, and meet new friends who joined our team. Here’s our unofficial team photo:
We walked, we ran, we snacked, and we chatted in our “Handmade by Susan Yoo” t-shirts.
Susan had a spot in the Circle of Life garden:
Seeing her photo alongside the many others in the garden reminded me of how many people experience profound loss on a daily basis. It was sad, but also lovely to see so many people in the garden, remembering their loved ones, and learning about strangers who received or donated organs. The celebratory spirit of the event extended into the garden, and softened the bittersweetness of the day.
Over the past few years, as Susan’s mobility became increasingly limited, she would always encourage push me to do things as I always did; she never wanted others to change things to accommodate her. So, for many reasons, I’m glad we carried on with the tradition and participated in the 5k. I hope you’re proud of me, sis.
Oh, and that last photo made me realize – I look just like our dad!
Last Wednesday was exactly 6 months since Susan’s passing. Fidel and I spent it taking a day trip to Point Reyes. When I think back to the one month mark, when I couldn’t get out of bed, I suppose I’m making “progress.” I use quotes because I don’t like that term; it implies that grief is linear and nothing about the past six months has been linear, other than the passing of days on the calendar. ”Progress” also implies that things should be getting “easier” another term I feel uncomfortable with – “easier” suggests that somehow, sometime, it can or will be “easy” which, to me, is absolutely absurd, and just plain wrong. 6 months of bereavement therapy has helped me find a few terms that I feel more comfortable using. One is the term “softening”; at times, the grief feels softer than before. The 6 month mark was softer than the 1 month mark. Our day trip to Point Reyes was a nod to Susan’s love of the Bay Area, and in that way, brought me a dose of peace.
I wasn’t planning on taking photos, but was inspired to write a blog post about our trip because of this picture:
As soon as I saw it, I pictured Susan whipping out her iPhone to snap a picture to put onto her blog. So here are a few photos from our day:
On April 26th, 2014, we will be participating in the Donate Life 5K for the 5th consecutive year. This year, our team name has changed from “It’s What’s Inside of YOO that Counts” to team “We Love YOO Susan.”
If you want to walk/run with us in Fullerton, CA on April 26, you can sign up to join our team at this website. You can also help us meet our fundraising goal by making a donation. Thank you to everyone who has already helped us raise money to promote organ donation.
I seriously considered not participating in this year’s walk (and will still reserve the right to make that choice as a “game time” decision), but I am motivated to follow through with the event (if by nothing else) by the exasperated reaction I imagine Susan would have over my indecision.
A few months before her passing, Susan mentioned to me that she would like to design this year’s team t-shirt. To honor her plan, as well as her skill with all things hand-made, we are using one of her drawings on our new team shirt:
Susan drew this picture and had it made into a stamp by an artist she found on Etsy. Our cousin Jason put the shirt together, and Cindy is organizing the shirt orders. The shirts will be American Apparel, dark grey/black with white print. If you want to order a shirt, please email Cindy at email@example.com with your gender and size as soon as possible.
If you are able to attend the walk this year, stop by the Circle of Life Garden to see Susan’s sign. When I emailed the event’s director to update my address and inform her of Susan’s passing, she kindly offered a complimentary sign to honor Susan. The sign will have her picture as well as one of Susan’s favorite quotes that captures so much of her spirit – “Life is 10% what happens to you and 90% how you react to it.”
They say losing a loved one changes you forever. I believe it. I will never be the same again, and there’s some comfort in that truth. Of course I will never be the same again! How could I? Most days, I feel like I’m trying to get some footing in a constantly shifting world, trying to figure out how to live this new chapter of life, and how to adjust to what is now, apparently, “normal.”
One of the most surprising changes has been my perspective on Peets, my dog. I have come to a stark realization: Peets is… just a dog. He is not my soul mate, he is not extraordinary, he is not compassionate, he is not my friend, and he does not understand me; he is simply a dog. It sounds silly, but this is quite the discovery for me, considering who I was before October 2013.
I adopted Peets in September 2009. Susan had just had her 2nd transplant in June, my mom had moved in with her to be her primary caretaker, and I was looking to make my life as stable as I could (I’m not someone who likes uncertainty). So, I bought a house, adopted a dog, and “nested” as much as possible. I furnished and decorated my house in a matter of weeks, and threw myself into caring for my new dog.
Behavior training, agility class, dermatology visits, day care, professional grooming, gourmet food, Peets had it all. His pictures decorated my classroom, and he was always the subject of any grammar exercises I created for my students. I’m sure hundreds of my former students remember nothing about gerunds or participial phrases, but I’ll bet they remember my dog’s name. When Fidel and I were wedding planning, one of the main criteria was how pet-friendly the venue was, since Peets would be, without question, our ring bearer. When I would gush over Peets, in my Peets-specific (read: embarrassingly high pitched) voice, Susan would say, “Woman, get a hold of yourself!”
Peets was the only other being with me and Susan when Susan suddenly passed. In the weeks immediately following her passing, I was angry at the dog. I know it was silly of me, but I expected him to somehow share in my trauma, pain, loss. Seeing him wag his nubby at the sound of the treat jar, or stretch out in a sunny spot as if the day was just another normal one angered me. How could this dog have experienced what I experienced, and be so unaffected?
I’m not angry with him anymore. I’ve accepted that he is, and always has been, just a dog. Now, I not only intellectually know, but also actually believe, that I cannot expect him to understand me, or comfort me in the way that I wanted him to. He does still bring me nice moments – at our last Mora family reunion, he was so calm and sweet that he may have undone a long history of dog-phobia for one of my sister-in-laws. And even if I don’t ever gush over my dog the way I did before losing Susan, Peets will always have a pretty cushy life. He will always be well taken care of and treated as part of the family. A family that is smaller now than it should be, but a family nonetheless.
When I imagine telling Susan about my new perspective on Peets, and my discovery that he is just a dog, I can hear her tell me, “Um, yes.” Well, Susan, it appears I have finally gotten a hold of myself.
When Fidel and I moved in next door to Susan last June, Susan’s nightly exercise was to walk over to our apartment, knitting and blanket in hand. We would chat and watch a movie on the couch, and Peets would snuggle in somewhere. One night, he got up with a blanket draped just-so over his head. Susan snapped a photo of him on her cell phone, and I found it in the “Blog” folder on her desktop. She labeled it “Peets Jedi.”