Last weekend, with the approach of Irene we once again went through the oh-so-familiar drill of preparations for the coming storm. Hurricanes seem to find our little state a magnet, and here in North Carolina we are seasoned pro’s at prepping for these events. All over town, items once commonplace and in abundance like tarps, batteries and water are snapped up and suddenly become precious commodities, hoarded like gold. Storm radios and flashlights are freshened with new batteries, and candles and lighters are ready to burn. Here at the Ranch, we have our own special little drill of readiness activities; dog tranqs are replenished and propane tanks are topped off ready for the possibility of cooking an entire freezer o’ food on the grill in the coming days, extra long drain tubes are added to our gutters to carry inches of water farther away from the house, and basement furniture is put up on blocks. Lastly, and before all is said and done, my oh-so-cute lemon and lime covered rain boots are spiffied up and placed next to my bed, on alert for my tootsies to slip into in the dark, and provisions aka junk foods are stockpiled in profuse quantities. In the end, despite the flurry of readiness, really all I can do is I pull my wee ones close to keep them safe in the storm and hope for the best. We know hurricanes here at the Ranch.
And we know that the best part, is the pulling close part.
Hurricanes are indeed scary business, but the worst part of it all for me is not the uncertainty of the storm and how long it will last, but the certainty of the coming flood. Not of water of course, but of the overuse of the words “hunker” and “batten down.” Tis’ a little pet peeve of mine, hearing words used 624 times in a two-day span. Piled on top of my already brittle, Will My House Still Be Standing in Two Days Nerves, the word “hunker” just puts me over the top. It usually is paired with, “battening down the hatches” and last time I looked, I have no hatches. But the icing on my hurricake is something particular to my lil’ state as well; the mispronunciation of the word “hurricane” by state officials. For the record, it is pronounced her i cane (short i, accent on the “her” and that’s why they are named for girls, duh) not hur uh kun, (accent on the “kun”). This little slice of political cutsieness drives me bananas, as it not only perpetuates faulty myths of ignorance about our grand state, but also because no Bev, despite what you may think, it is not charming or quaint or even a gentile southernism in my book, it is just poor language skills. And I, user of words like dunno, icky and stinko, am kinda sorta a language aficionado.
Meanwhile back at the Ranch, it follows that hunkering, battening down hatches and kvetching about word use are a way of life for me in the fall. Hunkering for me is both a physical and mental game. While the physical preps are accomplished pretty quickly, I find that as I hunker and anticipate the storm, many mental gymnastics also occur; predominantly wishing. Wishing I had bought that flood insurance after all, wishing that outlier spaghetti noodle Track X turning the storm away from us will come to pass, and wishing I had that dead tree, the one close enough to hit the house if it goes down, removed before huruhkun season. Add to that wishing I had voted for someone else, and just wishing the sumps don’t fail, you find me hunkered, wishing wishing wishing….
In my work interviewing little kids, I see people often use words little ones just don’t understand. So I started wondering if the average bear knew what to do when told by the media to hunker down and batten the hatches. I mean, other than in Lauren’s world where it translated into ‘a position held in your basement as you stand in lemon lime rain boots pumping water,’ or ‘the act of sealing off every hole you can find with Drylock,’ or ‘the act of cowering with your children and three-legged dog in a small place in your house where you have calculated that the dead tree won’t reach if it goes over.’
1) To crouch or squat; to sit on one’s haunches. to settle in at a location for an extended period; – also (figuratively) to maintain a position and resist yielding to some pressure, as of public opinion. hold stubbornly to a position; “The wife hunkered down and the husband’s resistance began to break down” hold firm, stand fast, stand pat, stand firm- refuse to abandon one’s opinion or belief.
2) A word annoyingly overused in huruhkuns, like the word battle is in cancer (Lauren’s dictionary)
1) Nautical; to cover (a hatch) so as to make watertight (usually followed by down ).
2) A word typically and annoyingly paired with the word hunker in huruhkuns, like the word grueling is with the word battle in cancer. (again surprise, Lauren’s dictionary)
Hmmm….given that definition, it makes me kinda wish I had hunkered down more in my marriage, and battened down my bank accounts…but I digress.
During the huruhkun, as bands of the storm swirled above, it appears that based on the above definitions, I appropriately hunkered down with my hatches all battened. The Gods of Storm granted my wishes for Track X after all, and thus I had the good fortune of both electrical power and time on my hands, so natch, I spent the weekend Facebooking and scheduling college visits online. I noted a direct correlation between the tasks at hand, as a posting trend emerged late Saturday afternoon. Pictures of fresh, neatly put-together-by-mom dorm rooms were seen in status updates as my peers from high school were dropping their kids off at their freshman year of college. The trail of social networking tears and virtual ((hugs)) created a flood in its own right, and the warnings of the coming Cat 5 storm in my life were dire. “Get tissues,” they said, “Stock up on Kleenex and be ready for an echo-y house and eternal emptinestyness ’cause Lauren, a natural disaster worse than the earthquake and huruhkun is a comin’ your way.”
I deduced that perhaps I would need to continue to hunker down long after Irene was gone. Truth is, I already saw it coming and had started to do some mental preparation in this last year as the tears had arrived with the realization that this would be our last fall break trip to Disney, the last first day of school, well really, the last everything for my little now big guy. Changes were a comin’ for sure, and I needed to prepare, both physically and mentally. (Although as I mentioned before with birthdays, for people with cancer there is sweetness in getting the kids this far, getting them off to college, something you wondered if you’d ever see, if you’d ever get to make up a dorm room for them… woo-hoo I made it!)
My momma used to say that every so often you have a really bad year. I’ve lived long enough to figure out that actually, my circadian rhythm of good and bad occurs in five-year cycles. In a five-year stretch my mom died, several miscarriages occurred along with several other nasty we won’t go there events. This was followed by five years of good which held in their wake, two healthy babies, a new home, and lots of fun. Then, a really bad surprise! divorce, financial ruin and cancer encapsulated the next and worst yet five-year stretch. But alas, this last five years of good since cancer has been the absolute best stretch of my life. Winner winner chicken dinner indeed. Health for all, a new successful business, financially afloat, travel with the kiddos, a new blog and everyone in my house is happy happy happy in great schools. Life is good at the Ranch.
Is the storm now a coming? Shall I put on my rain boots? Let’s do the math.
Having a graduate degree and all, I have surmised that dogs don’t live forever and that Scout the Wonderdog, at 11 is rounding third. People don’t live forever either and with Frances, my surrogate mother across the street nearing 90 and my Pop nearing 80, well, you know. Additionally, with no unforeseen shenanigans emerging, my son will leave for college next fall, and my daughter will fly away in another 4 years. All of these solid facts of life leave me highly suspicious that the next five for me are gonna require some serious hunkering down; there is no Track X in lifespan and chronology.
When my mom got sick, really when we knew she was going to die from cancer, anticipatory grief set in bringing with it months of crying and sleeplessness and anxiety and fear. When she passed, I know it sounds odd or off, but there was this sense of peacefulness and relief that came over me. I mean of course I didn’t want her to die, but I knew she was finally out of pain and knew in my heart she was happy where she was now. The cascade of relief in the days after she died made me realize just how much grieving I had done in the weeks before, how much grief work I had completed ahead of time. During those months as she died slowly, there was such grief, such anxiety over when it would happen, how it would happen, how would be for her; the news of her cancer, bad cancer, was like being told she had died, months before she did.
I lost her in many ways long before I lost her. And grieved her loss before she was lost.
Anticipatory grief is a time of hunkering, where we prepare for what will or may come and must settle in on our haunches and ride it out. It is a time of anxiety and waiting, of grieving the ambiguous and wishing.
So yes, I will spend this year mindful of the anticipatory grief that swirls above like an uncertain storm and prepare for the life changes sure to come, both recognizing and working the tasks of grief involved. I have gauged their strength already, having been a tad weepy as we tour colleges and I envision him there next year, as I see Scout the Wonderdog unable to jump into the car on his own anymore and as I witness startling forgetfulness emerging in those elders I love. I weep as I see both my kids form (as they should) their bubbles and drift away, no longer wanting to hang out and watch TV, and as I realize that I won’t be able to live in our cozy home forever. And while it is all sweet and good that I have lived to witness this all come to pass, and that I have indeed outlived it, I see the “partly cloudy” element of the forecast for sure, just as sure as I see the silver lining.
Hunkering is not unlike what I did in cancer and really have done since cancer. When we are first diagnosed with cancer, all we really can do is batten our hatches and hunker down. For it is a long haul ahead of us, a swirling mess of fury around us no matter what the course of treatment, no matter what the track of the storm. We must stand pat and stand firm, for it is indeed a storm of epic proportions and we don’t know how long it will linger over us. Cancer treatment is like running a race that you have no idea how long it is; all you can do is keep running, stockpile water and nutrition and keep on. It is a series of battles in a long war, and you must hunker down and hold your position and do what you can to prepare for the next battle. The anticipatory grief is an exhausting task as we hunker, as we grieve what may be potentially lost in our lives.
In remission we hunker as well. Mental gymnastics occur as we wish, wish for a long life, wish to seeing our kids off to college. Preparing for another possible storm, we shore up on life experiences; hoarding them tightly, stocking up on provisions that bring us comfort like school plays and first dances and trips with the kiddos. We hoard the sweet and wonderful smells of the small stuff in life; the precious commodities now suddenly gold, that we failed to save and collect before as they seemed so commonplace and in abundance everywhere. Stockpiling life experiences and things to keep us safe and dry and warm, to sustain us just in case the storm tracks our way again.
Being an optimist, I try to reframe the next year in a way that is good and upbeat, rather than of just a long, anxious, dismal wait for the coming storm. I realize that all we can ever do is try to mentally prepare for whatever is to come, but that really, life and forces of nature are both unpredictable and natural. And that as had been said, life is indeed what happens when we are busy making plans, even plans for loss or cancer coming back. If I spend my time focusing on what’s ahead, calculating what I might lose, I will surely miss enjoying what I have now, and that, I refuse to do.
In the end, all we can do is pull our loved ones close and keep them safe, live life in a way that our stockpile is greater than we know, and buy rain boots with lemons and limes on them.
Because after all, the pulling our sweet ones close is the best part, huruhkun or no huruhkun. And stockpiling hugs, the licks of three-legged dogs and the scent of freshly shampooed little heads is infinitely more sustaining than stockpiles of Kleenex. And walking in the rain in oh so cute boots, is the only way to go.
“You can’t run away from trouble. There ain’t no place that far.” ~Uncle Remus