There has been so much loss—within my family, for my friends, and in the world. Seeing my family have to deal with grief has been difficult, especially because there really isn’t any full-proof remedy to make them feel better. We are all just forced to go through the difficult emotions.

My mom passing away has been devastating. She was such a wonderful person. I was so blessed and lucky to have her in my life and as my mom. I miss her. Dealing with my own grief of losing her has been a process. Healing is possible and I get a new chance to work on it every day. I wanted to share a few things that have helped me weed through the grief process because I think the information might be helpful for some and it will ultimately be cathartic for me to write it.

Follow me, if you will, through a small rat infestation, a reattached detached retina, and a 1988 Judge Reinhold film as they each helped me through dealing with the unavoidable, letting go of control, relearning how to enjoy things, and continuing to be thankful for my blessings.

Part 1: The Rats

Around September, we started to find signs of rats hanging around the house. The one thing I can say I’m so thankful for, and surprised of, is they never got *inside* the house. They just got under the house, found their way into the walls, nested, and had babies. We noticed a few exterminator trucks in the area around that same time, so we think the rats were being chased out of other places in droves.

We were against calling an exterminator because it would be expensive. Plus, they would most likely use poison or set glue or snap traps. Poison sucks since it causes a long and painful death for the rodents and sometimes in their panic they burrow into walls and die there, making their decomposing bodies very difficult to retrieve. Additionally, the poison can contaminate the area making it dangerous for surrounding flora, fauna, or pets. Glue traps suck because sometimes rodents chew off their own limbs to escape from them. Snap traps suck, too, and create their own type of danger for surrounding fauna and pets, but it’s the quickest and preferred method out of the choices. So if it was going to be snap traps, we would set those up ourselves. Before I continue, I want to make clear that when I say “we”, it was mostly my husband. I was there as a second set of hands and eyes, but mostly offering superfluous, curse-filled commentary.

Upon searching, we found two possible entrances into the crawl space of our house through ventilation grates that the rats could fit through. After blocking those holes, we set up our Arlo camera for several nights each at spot to see if there was any activity. Before we got some solid evidence of the neighborhood cats knocking down the camera, we got some solid evidence of rats scurrying about and being perplexed as to why they were locked out. We continued to hear activity under the house, so we suspected there was a litter living under there, but they were locked in.

I should’t have, but I named them.

Susan—the scout, possible rat mom of litter#1
Templeton—the boss, possible rat dad of litter#1
Junior—the youngster, possible rat baby of litter#1

The unfortunate situation here is it had to be the snap traps. It’s just the reality when there are multiple rats. Rodents are sweet creatures and I often draw them in my cartoons but, in a situation like this, there were just too many. So we set the traps.

We set them outside at the two newly sealed entrance points and inside under the house at the crawl space access. The bait that ended up being the most successful was a bit of peanut butter with a piece of dog kibble stuck in it.

Rats are very smart. Sometimes they avoid the snap trap if they’re suspicious of it and leave it alone for days. So for a while, they were just digging around in the walls, looking for food elsewhere, and chewing on metal throughout the night.

It took a week, but the traps finally started getting set off. The typical sight was a triggered trap, no rat, and no left over bait since the triggered trap could be licked clean. There were even instances when a rat was able to stealthily swipe the kibble without triggering the trap at all. Sometimes we didn’t put new bait on the traps that were never triggered and just left them with only the trace amount of peanut butter that remained. This may have added to the desperation of the rats. They were hungry.

Soon after, the captures started happening. The large, adult rats were first. It’s odd to look at a dead rat in a trap and feel relieved that it snapped right on its head. It made us think at least it was quick. After a while, it became a begrudgingly smooth operation. Hearing a trap go off, checking the traps, clearing them, loading and setting a new one, repeat.

Ants started to get privy to the bait and swarmed the traps under the house. We put a small box of ant poison nearby to try and handle that problem. It was a mistake. It just lured more ants down there and we think it ultimately killed one of the baby rats that may have eaten some of it. We’re not sure though, it might’ve died of starvation. All we could tell was that it wasn’t killed by a trap. We felt badly for the longer-than-necessary death process yet relieved it died right at the crawl space access entrance instead of somewhere else under the house we’d have to crawl on our bellies to or, worse, in the walls.

That was how it went for three months. In the end, it was sixteen rats in total. We think there were two litters—one litter from the original nesters, then another litter that occurred after the first litter was locked under the house.

The last trap was set off at the end of December. This one unfortunately was not quick. With a shovel, my husband had to finalize what the snap trap had not under the light of the full moon. Poetic, yet not really. It was really just being forced to deal with an unavoidable situation during a very difficult time.

We have kept a couple of set traps under the house without any bait. My husband checks them periodically and so far they appear untouched. So hopefully it’s the end of it.

Tangent Tip: we keep our dog’s kibble in a plastic container that got attacked by ants. A tip online said to put a line of petroleum jelly around the bottom of the container because ants don’t cross it. We applied it about two inches up from the base of the plastic container and it has worked!

Part 2: My Retina

Due to my severe nearsightedness, astigmatism, and familial history with retina issues, I’ve never been shy about getting my retinas checked in the event I notice some vision symptoms and am thankful that ophthalmology is covered on my health insurance. Several years ago, I got a referral because I had some blindspots and refracted light visions that usually came along with a migraine, but I didn’t have a headache. I was relieved when the ophthalmologist said my retinas were fine and surprised when he said it was just a “painless migraine”. I didn’t know there was such a thing, especially because my migraines usually pack a wallop.

This past October, I started to notice a few new things in my left eye: a cobweb looking halo around things I focused on, and a smudge of light in the inner corner of my eye that would swoosh by like a slug, even when I was in darkness or had my eye closed. I was hopeful it was just another painless migraine, but still decided to request a referral to have my retinas checked. Upon examination, the ophthalmologist thought it would be best to get examined by a retina specialist and connected me with the office for an appointment the next morning.

I had a lot of other stuff on my mind so I was able to not think about it until I arrived at the appointment. As some drops dilated my eyes, an uneasy feeling settled in while I was left alone with my thoughts. After enough time passed for the drops to kick in, the retina specialist arrived and gave my eyes a thorough examination. He kindly explained to me that my left retina was indeed partially detached and there would need to be procedures done to attempt to reattach it, preferably immediately, which they could accommodate. I asked him if I could get it done at a later date and he explained that I could wait until the next day, but to not wait longer than that.

I know it’s silly but even with the possibility of losing vision in my left eye, I was mostly scared of getting a needle stuck in it. The thought crossed my mind that if I left that doctor’s office at that moment, I might have found some sort of excuse to not go back the next day! So, even without prior notice, they made time and space for me to get the procedures done right then and there. The procedures were: laser, cryopexy, and pneumatic retniopexy.

I’m okay with my eyeball being touched and examined, it’s the thought of a needle being poked in there that makes me squeamish. As I laid on the exam chair that was now angled flat, I shoved my hands in my pockets so I wouldn’t involuntarily swipe at the needle coming near my eye. The first needle was something I ended up being very thankful for: the lidocaine! There were several injections of it in the entire eyeball and the upcoming procedures made me appreciate each and every one of them.

After getting all numbed up, we went to another room for the laser procedure. I sat upright in a chair on the other side of the laser machine and was able to rest my face on a chin rest. The doctor held my eyelid open and used a magnifying peak loupe looking thing to shoot the lasers through. They came in multiple quick blasts. With each blast I saw an extremely bright green light. Then everything momentarily had a magenta hue over it. There wasn’t any pain because of the lidocaine, only the discomfort of the bright light and trying to fight the overwhelming reflex to shut my eye, which I did a few times. To my understanding, the laser burns create scar tissue to tack and reinforce the areas around tears and holes in the retina.

The next procedure was the cryopexy. We went back in the original room where I laid down in the chair. My eye was propped open with a metal thing and the doctor used a foot pedal to control a probe that would instantly freeze the areas he applied it to. The goal for this was also to create scar tissue to act as a glue as the retina heals. This procedure was unpleasant. It was like an extreme brain freeze all centered on one spot. I don’t know how long it lasted, but it wasn’t quick. At one point, I was welcomingly distracted by the coolest visual reaction to the freezing of my retina. My right eye saw my nearsighted and fuzzy view of the exam room ceiling while my left eye saw a crisp and clear view of what looked like a black panel with a grid of pinhole lights, kind of like a really spaced out Light Bright. The colors of the lights had no discernible sequence but were lined up in neat rows. I remember seeing one row as yellow, yellow, green, magenta, maybe blue. I think I may have seen orange. It was awesome.

I told the doctor, “I see stars.” As he dutifully continued to press down on the freezing pedal, he calmly replied, “Yes, some patients say they see stars.”

I tried to look more closely at the visual marvel, but my brain merged the images from my right eye and left eye. That’s when my vision in my left eye went out completely until it came back about an hour later.

The last procedure was the injection of a gas bubble that would hopefully push all of the healing scar tissue effectively to make the retina stick. The chair angled me back into a sitting position so I could rest my face on a chin rest. The doctor used the peak loupe and slit lamp to look into my eye as he injected the gas bubble. At this point, I couldn’t see the needle, which was probably a good thing.

The healing by the gas bubble is done through gravity, so on whichever location the detachment is on, you tilt your head in the opposite direction so the gas bubble floats up to push on the affected area. You have to tilt your head for seven days straight. So if a person’s detachment is from the bottom of the retina, this isn’t really an option since the person would have to stand on their head and they would instead have to get surgery. Luckily for me, it was an option, and I would be tilting my head to the right at an approximate forty-five degree angle for the next seven days.

For a little while, I couldn’t see anything out of my left eye, so they kept me in the exam chair and told me to bend forward and look down towards my feet. I think it was to equalize the pressure after all the procedures and the gas bubble. The doctor ended up using a needle one more time to remove some fluid from my eye. After that, it was back to tilting my head.

Surprisingly accurate portrayal of me as visualized by Heffer

I’m thankful and happy to say the procedures worked! It has been about six months and my retina has remained reattached. After all the hubbub, I got more detail. It turns out I had a rhegmatogenous retina detachment, tears, and holes in my left eye. “Rhegmatogenous” just means that the retina detachment was caused by a posterior vitreous detachment (PVD). PVD is the vitreous gel detaching from the inside of the eye as it shrinks due to age. It’s common, especially in people over age 60. Without retina issues, it’s nothing to worry about. But if the vitreous is extra gel-like, it can sometimes tug and tear a weak retina. So if you have any PVD symptoms, it is a good idea to get your retinas checked out just in case.

Even though my left retina is thankfully reattached, I still have PVD in that eye and the symptoms are distracting enough that I don’t feel comfortable driving. My vision is otherwise okay, but I have visual obstruction from floaters and sometimes cloudiness. The best I can describe it as is like black ink swirling around in water with pepper speckled in. Depending on how my brain is visually interpreting it at the time, the “ink” color ranges from dark grey to clear. I still see that little light worm that swooshes across my periphery, especially at night. So now I’ve created a mental baseline of the floaters and the light swooshes that I currently have from the PVD and will only seek help outside of my regular checkups if any of those things increase in number or intensity.

In addition, there are some other things I need to follow up on. My right retina has some “lattice degeneration” on it and is at risk of developing holes or tears. I don’t currently have PVD in my right eye, but the retina specialist suggests some laser treatment to reinforce the affected area of my retina within the year. I’ll be getting a checkup with him next month, so I’ll see how things look and make my decision then.

The ophthalmologist let me know I now have a partially tonic left pupil, so it is not responding correctly to light. This might’ve been caused by the cryopexy procedure or it might be unrelated and instead an early Adie’s pupil. I will have a checkup in a few months for that. Since I’ve been getting pretty gnarly headaches and eye aches, I just got some huge sunglasses to put on over my prescription glasses and I love them!

I know that others are going through more challenging things, but during the whole eye thing, I found myself experiencing entire ranges of emotions. There was a time shortly after the retina procedures where I had a moment of clarity in the midst of frustration. It was still within the seven days of the gas bubble injection, so I was trying to sleep with my head tilted at the correct angle which meant I couldn’t lay flat, even on my side. I was sitting up a little with my back against the wall and my head leaning on a pillow on my shoulder. Right behind me were the incessant sounds of the rats digging in the walls and chewing on metal. I was dealing with a lot at the time and everything compounded on each other. It was overwhelming. I realized at that moment I really had to let go of any control I thought I had over situations I clearly couldn’t have control over. I mean, what was I going to do? Go shimmy around on the ground under the house and try to grab those rats, with my head tilted the whole time? Stick my finger in my eye to force my retina to reattach? It was clear, I just had to let things flow at the pace and order that they would on their own. I had to come to terms with not being in control.

Before this, I hadn’t realized how much I expressed through my eyes and eyebrows during conversation. Hopefully I’ll be back to my buggy-eyed self soon and will just go with the flow until I get there.

Part 3: Relearning to Enjoy Things

A lot of us are going through different stages of grief for a plethora of reasons and at times may feel confusion about joy. My mom is such a huge part of my life and since she has been physically gone I’ve had to relearn who I am in many ways, including relearning how to enjoy things.

I’ve always enjoyed movies, tv, and music. I wouldn’t consider myself an expert in the subjects but I enjoy a broad spectrum of genres and styles. With so much more access to media and streaming, it really is a gift how much is available at all times.

Through my depressed states it has been easy to set stuff to play in the background that I adore and have seen many times: The Simpsons, Futurama, The Great British Bake Off. But I’ve found it almost impossible to sit and concentrate on something new. That was hard for me to accept. Watching movies and tv was usually a bountiful source of inspiration and welcomed relief from hardship.

For a while after my mom passed away, I just didn’t watch anything other than having something on in the background that I’ve seen hundreds of times. It wasn’t until my friend posted a picture of an adorable puppy that looked like a curmudgeonly old man.

Old Man Puppy! Photo Credit: Katie Benn

For some reason, it reminded me of Fred Savage in the 1988 film Vice Versa. In the film, the son (Fred Savage) and the dad (Judge Reinhold) change bodies in a sort of Freaky Friday type story. There’s a scene where Fred Savage’s character (already having swapped minds with Judge Reinhold’s character) takes a test in his son’s middle school class and finishes it quickly. The teacher is surprised he’s done early and asks if he needs anything. Fred Savage asks, “Do you have a newspaper or something?” with his hands out, all exasperated and expectant that there would be a newspaper available to pass the time. The puppy reminded me of that scene.

(Quite possibly the best) Vice Versa movie poster

I searched to see if the movie was streaming, but it was $14 for a digital copy. My husband searched the Netflix disc library (yes, we still get discs), but it wasn’t there. He found a DVD pack for sale for $9, and it came as a double feature with another similar body/mind-switching movie starring Kirk Cameron and Dudley Moore. The package only took a few days to ship. When it arrived, I sat down and watched Vice Versa. I still haven’t seen the Dudley Moore movie, haha!

Random question: In Vice Versa, why does Judge Reinhold’s character eat Grey Poupon with his spaghetti? Was that purely product placement, or is mustard with spaghetti a thing?

I don’t know why, but watching Vice Versa opened me up to watching more stuff. It might’ve been because I had already seen it in the past, but hadn’t seen it in a long time. It kept my attention because I didn’t remember each detail, but I wasn’t required to take it all in as new information. Since then, I have watched some new and old things and have been able to mentally engage. I’m still not watching as much as I’d like but it’s a start to enjoying stories again.

A similar thing happened with music. Music had been my savior on my hours-long work commutes. Funk music always made me feel the best. When I stopped commuting, music kept me company as I worked. For a while, I didn’t want to listen to anything. It was an odd feeling to prefer silence over something that used to pick me up.

I was randomly scrolling through the Instagram explore tab recently and saw a picture of Mariya Takeuchi. It was a post from Pitchfork that referenced an article about Japanese City Pop which included a section about Mariya Takeuchi’s 1984 song “Plastic Love”. I think somebody I follow interacted with the post and that’s why I saw it, but I won’t pretend to know how the IG algorithm works! Regardless, I’m thankful I saw it. I looked up the song and heard it for the first time. With a funk/disco sound, she sings a story about getting through heartbreak and finding solace in feeling the music beats. I loved it. It’s something that would have gotten my mom and the rest of my family out on the dance floor and maybe gotten the Electric Slide started.

In one of the last conversations I had with my mom, I mentioned I wanted to connect the family on FaceTime and do the Electric Slide dance together remotely for my birthday. She laughed and was encouraging as always. We never got to do the family FaceTime dance session, but being blessed with so many good memories of my family dancing and hearing this song enabled me to envision how sweet it would have been.

My mom was a great dancer and she could sing, too. Her singing voice was like Karen Carpenter and Nancy Sinatra. I imagine she would sing Mariya Takeuchi’s Plastic Love on karaoke, minus 1 or 2 key (Karaoke-heads, if you know you know). Japanese was one of the four languages my mom could speak and write in fluently and I know she would’ve smashed this song on the karaoke machine.

Since hearing this song, I have been able to casually listen to some music as I take a shower or do some chores. It’s a step in the right direction.

Another special thing about this song is the YouTube video has reinvigorated the love for it. At this point, it has been played over 50 million times. There is a comment that the video poster pinned at the top that brought me to tears.

Comment from YouTube user “JK” also transcribed below.

Comment from JK: “I remember growing up in Japan when I was 10. I had just stepped out of a book store, and a pretty girl the same age shyly held out her hand to me and asked me if I wanted to walk around with her. This song was playing on the radio where we stopped to have ramen together. She never gave me her name, but told me a day to always meet her to hold hands and walk or picnic. I finally got her name a few months later – Mitsuki. We became close friends, but my parents took a job to America when we were 13, so I had to leave her, both of us in tears and snot. I would send her letters, and she would send letters back. At 22, she suddenly stopped mailing me. I thought she was gone. 5 months later, she was at my door in America, with her hand out to me when I opened the door. We’re married in our 40’s now, and we’ve taken walks through multiple cities together across the world and we always stop someplace that has noodles and play this song on our phone. Thank you Mariya. Your love may be plastic, but mine is beautiful thanks to this song. If you see a middle-aged couple with or without their kids with them, holding hands and acting like teenagers or even young kids in Tokyo browsing the shops, its us.”

My mom lived her early teenage years in Japan. This sweet story from the video comment made me think of when she told me about how she remembered cherry blossom season. She said, “My friends and I would meet up to walk and hold hands under the cherry blossom trees as the flowers floated around us.”

It’s cherry blossom season now. I’m not in Japan, but I feel lucky that I can see some plum trees nearby decorating the ground beneath them with their pink blossoms. What a visual treat to behold. Joy sometimes navigates itself around the universe and it’s nice to notice when it is passing through.

To everybody dealing with grief or hardship: I wish you all the peace you can hold and I hope that when joy finds you, you’ll be able to say hello.

Rats, Retinas, and Judge Reinhold: some things I learned while dealing with grief

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