It’s not what I wanted, but I’m okay.

“I’m in the self-injection group,” I texted to some of my family and friends. “But I’m okay with it.” I received most of the expected sympathy in return for the news.

They know me… but do they know that for sixty two plus years I never watched a needle pierce my skin? And I’ve been injected many times, especially between 1960 and 1972, when my family traveled back and forth to Spain.

What’s more, I never watched a needle pierce my children’s flesh. I may have seen one needle pierce my dog’s hide, but it was an accident. The vet caught me by surprise.

Yet yesterday, I not only watched, I held the needle, aimed, and pierced my own belly fat.

Before you feel sorry for me, I should point out I’m not sick. I volunteered for a study at the Pennington Biomedical Research Center. I should also qualify the needle: 4MM in BIG letters on the box of needles, and the needles are very short, used in an epi-pen type dispenser. They are not the thick, long vaccine needles I suffered as an adolescent before each jump across the Atlantic on a TWA or PanAm jet.

I pinched my fat, held the tiny, thin needle, aimed, and pierce-click. Done.

And I’m okay.

Not okay moments

At some point in life, we’re all bound to face something we’d rather not.

  • needles
  • a difficult conversation
  • injury and illness
  • heartache
  • death
  • so many iterations of loss

Our time between birth (which isn’t that easy, by the way) and death is littered with not-so easy moments. Some we walk into knowingly, some we sign up for, some catch us off guard.

I listened to Krista Tippet’s On Being interview with Kate DiCamillo last Saturday. I reached for it because I needed a break from my thoughts after the first three hours of mowing the lawns around the three houses on my parents’ property.

Mowing was mom’s job. She loves her orange Kubota and, between March and October of the last couple of decades, spent four to five days a week mowing the yards. She broke up the task over several days (as one should), wore the gear (ear protection, long sleeves, brimmed hat), and cut through the grass and weeds with skilled focus.

I was not okay.

Maybe if I’d followed mom’s model instead of mowing sleeveless, sans ear protection and hat, pushing through the whole task in one sitting (I’m also the person who carries ALL the grocery bags from the car in one trip), maybe if I had channeled her prudence, my thoughts wouldn’t have gone dark blue.

Mom will not spend another moment on this mower.

She’ll never mow this property again.

Never again will she jump off to collect the limbs that fell from the trees.

She’ll never run the back left tire too close to the barbed wired.

Mom won’t straddle another ditch by the highway and call “John!” to pull her out.

She’ll never dull another Kubota blade.

I couldn’t stand my puddle of thoughts any more so I jumped off to collect my earphones and cue the On Being interview as I finished mowing.

Kate DiCamillo tells the truth and she’s okay.

I didn’t know of Kate DiCamillo before, but since Saturday, I’ve already checked out one of her books and put three more on hold.

DiCamillo writes for children and she doesn’t shelter her readers from hard truths.

She relates a response she wrote to Matt de la Peña when he asked, “How honest should we be with our readers? Is it the job of the writer for the very young to tell the truth or preserve their innocence?”

DiCamillo’s letter is eloquent and brilliant. In it she brings up Charlotte’s Web and E.B. White’s gift for telling truth in a way that makes it bearable.

“E.B. White loved the world. And in loving the world, he told the truth about it — its sorrow, its heartbreak, its devastating beauty. He trusted his readers enough to tell them the truth, and with that truth came comfort and a feeling that we were not alone.”

The message (you’ll be okay) pierced through my dark blue puddle of thoughts as I mowed.

Really, I’ll be okay.

When asked how are you, I invariably answer, “I’m okay.” It’s true and it’s not. It’s slippery.

“You did it!” the nurse who needle-trained me exclaimed. “If you don’t make a big deal of it, it’s not so bad.”

That’s true and it’s not.

I won’t make a small deal out of losing mom because it’s not. It’s big. I won’t pretend it’s not bad. It’s unbearable, but… it’s bearable. Not because it’s bearable, but because we must bear it.

I will breathe through the big, bad, unbearable deal and trust that on the other side of the dark blue Atlantic pool of sorrow, I’ll reach the okay shore. That Dad will, too.

In the meantime, it’s okay if I flinch and squirm in dread as I pinch the fat of this loss.

Sharing our not-okay truths

Another DiCamillo message that resonated: she tells about an event where she spoke to 900 children, explaining to them, as she does, that she had been a very sick child, that her father left the family when she was young. She spoke to them about persisting. Outside the auditorium, she stood to talk to children as they left. One young boy grabbed her hand. DiCamillo explains:

“[He] said, ‘I’m here in South Dakota and my dad is in California.’ He flung his free hand out in the direction of California. He said, ‘He’s there and I’m here with my mom. And I thought I might not be okay. But you said today that you’re okay. And so I think that I will be okay, too.’”

I’ll be okay, too. And I hope that others who experience heartbreak moments are reassured by the words and stories I share about our journey with mom. I hope you know you’re not alone, that you’ll be okay.

Thanks, Kate DiCamillo! I truly look forward to diving into your books.

©Pennie Nichols. All Rights Reserved. 2022