A few days in the life

I decided to pause my hiatus from this blog during NaNoWriMo to make a post. I have a lot of reasons to post right now.
First, the superficial good news: my novel writing is going great. I have over 30,000 words with 16 days to go to get to 50,000. My pace doesn’t seem to be slowing much, and my idea is going strong. It’s reshaped itself a little bit over the month, but I think for the better, and the story seems to excite those that I share it with.

My job is keeping me busy, and last night I had my first night out without Eric. My coworker (also named Sam) had her birthday on Monday, and I joined her and a few others last night to fete her. It is nice to have coworkers that I like on a personal level, with whom I feel comfortable. Despite the cold creeping up on us, I feel like Michigan could be home in a way that I haven’t felt in a long time.

But a few states away, things are not so great.

Last week, Eric and I flew down to Georgia to celebrate my mom’s birthday and upcoming holidays with my family. We’d been looking forward to the visit for a while; I even negotiated for it in my interviews for BBY. Tuesday morning, after voting, we drove to Grand Rapids to catch a flight to Atlanta. We arrived at my parents’ house around 5:30, beating my mom and dad both. We had to sneak in the back way because the door was locked, and we had a few minutes of down time to decompress before dad got home. It would turn out to be a preview of our visit.

Tuesday night my brother started getting sick. By Wednesday night, he was still sick, and as a child with a host of medical conditions and syndromes, my parents decided it would be prudent to take him to the hospital. The local hospital sent him to the specialists in Atlanta early in the morning of my mom’s birthday. Eric and I drove down to Atlanta to visit them in the hospital Thursday, and we spent that night and the next day cleaning my parents’ house, so they would have a nice, clean home to come back to.

We said our goodbyes to mom, dad, and Joe on Saturday night in the hospital. We had to sneak back into the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit (Joey’s been in all of the ICU’s, I think) to say goodbye to him after visiting hours were over. He was sedated. I don’t know that he even knew we were there.

We flew back home on Sunday, more exhausted than we had been when we arrived. My husband is the best; he was nothing but helpful and supportive the whole time we were there.

As of today, Joey is still in the ICU. He is stable, but not stable in a place that promotes stability. He is still on a ventilator; he is still connected to IVs, and they are still monitoring his heart beat, O2 levels, and other vitals. He has one nurse assigned to him because he has so many needs. He has crossed the line into “medically fragile,” so that at school, he will require one-on-one care at all times.

I’ve said, and others, too, that Joey makes some people uncomfortable because they remind them of their own mortality. I have been thinking about mortality today; it’s a dark cloud that’s been hovering over everything I do. My novel’s main characters don’t help (one is a mercenary, one an assassin, and one medically fragile herself). I was thinking, strangely, about actors and singers – people well-known and beloved who have died. It is such a strange thing to think that one day someone exists and then the next they don’t.

It’s made me think about the afterlife. What happens when we/you/I stop existing? People retain memories of lost loved ones, but what happens to them, their essence? Are they reborn? Is there a heaven? Are we only composed of neurological signals and predispositions that we acquire genetically? Do we just cease to be anything but memory? What about ghosts and spirits? Are they just memories manifested and fed by belief?

If I’m being honest with myself, death scares me. It is the typical fear of the unknown, and I understand how every culture has tried to answer that doubt. No one wants to disappear. Isn’t that why we struggle to be the best, to see our names in print, or even to create pictures of ourselves?

I recently deactivated my Facebook account (again), but today I’ve been thinking about how it’s become a sort of poster child for our fear of being forgotten. Perhaps if we post enough pictures of ourselves online, our memory will be imprinted forever in the ether, a sort of twisted deus ex machina. How much of our everyday lives are fueled by this fear?

One thing I can say for sure is that Joey brings out the best and the darkest in me. Being his big sister is a daily struggle in and of itself. I feel simultaneously connected and disconnected from him and his life, partially because of the distance between us (chronologically and geographically) and partially because he is such an enigma. I feel like, since he was born, since I was sent away because my parents feared the worst, I have kept him close but always detached, always knowing that there will come a day when I will lose him. The simple fact is that the chances are great that I will outlive my brother who is 14 years my junior.

Joey makes people uncomfortable because they are forced to face their own mortality. Joey makes me uncomfortable because I am forced to face his.

But not yet.