• Jessyca Stoepker

Detachment, death, and other happenings of Michigan winters


These consistent gray skies are rough, and I constantly wonder how long it will take for me to move to a sunnier state.

Whenever someone asks me how I'm doing or how my work is going, 95% of the time my response contains the phrases "short-staffed," "busy to no end," and "forever falling behind." While true, those words are also strategic. They are universal generalizations that keep a buffer between myself and vulnerable admittance.

Admittance of what? Step inside the shoes of a chronic over-thinker with an emotionally-demanding job and you may get an inkling.

But really, what AM I feeling? This time of year I never quite know. It doesn't help that I've had a hard time putting metaphorical pen to paper for the past few months, which usually helps me sort it out. I guess for now, I can settle on the fact that I feel overdue--as in, I'm overdue to blab cheap paragraphs to a public audience.

That being said, this blog post won't be anything extraordinary. It's mostly just to say, "Hello, I am here. Quiet, tired, but here."

 

If you know me, you'll know that holidays aren't particularly special to me. But that doesn't mean I don't recognize how their presence amplifies the goodness or badness events. If someone proposes on New Year's Eve, it's extra blissful. If someone gets laid off right before Christmas, that employer is a monster. So you can imagine the sadness felt in the community when one of my organization's long-time volunteers, Bill, passed away from heart surgery complications the Sunday before Thanksgiving.

Death has yet to be a familiar topic for me. Though that's generally perceived as a good thing, I've often wondered to myself what would happen to my psyche if I ever did lose someone close. Not that I'm at all asking for tragedy, but tolerance develops with exposure. I even wrote a poem about it: "death & why I need more of it." Here are two stanzas:

"...you remember a story about one of your classmates practicing his pitch when his dog ran out in front and died instantly as the baseball cracked its skull. you wonder if that is a metaphor from god."

"it comes as a midday thought like watching an eclipse on the warm hood of your car a familiar subject but an unfamiliar experience too mysterious to be sociable, with a timetable after all. this nihilist need practice so she can respond to adamant catholics who attack her on lunch breaks for not practicing religion and so she can learn the right way to cry."

A few days after Bill died, my family and I visited my grandpa in a nursing home Thanksgiving morning. He was very weak and...well, not getting any younger. Though he was still able to recognize us and tell a joke or two, it was a teary goodbye that morning. I was told today that he has been put on oxygen and, soon, hospice.

Next day. After driving home from a Friendsgiving in Detroit, Victoria and I magically wound up on the topic of true adulthood: growing old and growing apart. We acknowledged the pain of only seeing good friends once or twice a year now; we marveled at the number of intriguing people who pop in and out of our lives, whether in series of years or just weeks, and how friendships are forced to either evolve or dissolve.

I can name the major players of my elementary school girl gang, and I remember imagining a "dream house" big enough to fit us all (and our future husbands, of course). And yet, as soon as proximities and schedules changed, the dream did, too. At one time, I planned on moving to California with my then-best friend and learning to surf. A while later, I was envisioning my wedding. At the beginning of this year I considered moving to the downstairs apartment with the quiet expectation of someone moving in with me. Now, I'm trying to focus on living for my passions as I sadly watch another special person in my life move on to live for theirs. Lifetimes revolve around our relationships, and each chapter brings a new cast of characters to the stage.

The lists of people we claim to love can be hundreds of pages long, and yet, as my friend said, "You can't keep them." They will change. They will move. They will love someone else. They will die. Ad infinitum, ad absurdum.

Some would say that I do have familiarity with death. A professor, a childhood friend, a great-grandpa, multiple dementia patients, countless pets, and now a wonderful volunteer. It's a good counterargument. Let's just say I can physically feel the walls I have constructed to distance myself from those relationships. And I was able to do that because there was already some distance between us.

Detaching from people I truly, deeply care for is probably my biggest esoteric reluctance--even when it's for the betterment of all involved. My codependent inner child has a severe wound that panics and overreacts to any hint or idea of loss, whether that's a breakup, a goodbye, or a change in emotional bond. Maybe this is why I am so apprehensive of learning death: it doesn't feel possible for me to let go. I don't think I would ever be able to mentally process it.

This is probably not what you expected to read today.

Heartbreak is normal. Missed connections are normal. These sad but necessary happenings are such an integral part of our daily lives that by writing about them I sound mostly cliche and a little naive.

So, I'll stop. And since you're probably reading this with at least a little bit of seasonal depression, too, here are a few interesting facts about this controversial season to get your mind off of what I just said.

  • Every winter, at least one septillion (that’s 1 followed by 24 zeros) snow crystals fall from the sky. Who knew there was such a number.

  • New York and Boston created the first underground subway system partly in response to the massive 1888 winter storm and the gridlock it created.

  • Many insects prepare for winter by creating their own “antifreeze.” During the fall, insects produce more glycerol, which gives their body a “super-cooling ability” by allowing bodily fluids to drop below freezing without causing ice damage. Glycerol also lowers the freezing point, which makes insects more cold tolerant and protects their tissue and cells from ice damage. Their glycerol levels drop again during the spring.


And another fact: spring always comes.


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