Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Everyone Keeps Asking….

From the Little Cuter. 

Everyone keeps asking how I’m doing. How we’re doing. There is absolutely no correct way to respond.

Do you really want to know? Are you interested in the glossed over version? The version we’ve concocted that is shiny, protective… the Teflon version that we’ve created so that we can keep breathing? Because that version I’ve got down pat.

We are doing great! Mom is incredible, a superhero, she is recovering at a rate that I can’t even keep track of. Emotionally, physically, spiritually… she is surpassing every expectation given to us from people who are properly educated in gauging their own opinions. 16 weeks of physical recovery? No way, she’ll be back walking in 10. Emotions? Yeah, this is unspeakable, but she’s got 24-hour access to therapists who are trained in walking you through these kinds of things…

..... These kinds of things … those are the kinds of phrases that keep coming out of my mouth, the kinds of phrases that, the second they enter the air in front of me, I feel like cringing, like hitting the quick rewind button on my “life DVR” because they feel so trite. There’s no way I said something that slight, something that glossed over.

But I did, I’ve had plenty of practice, I’ve gotten really good at it.

Do you really want to know how I am doing? They haven’t invented a word for it yet.

How do you describe a time in your life that has been simultaneously the most horrific, most unimaginable, and the most inspiring, the most encouraging, the most incredible that you’ve ever seen?

In one week I saw my mother, my totem pole for existence, my pillar of strength, my role model, my MODEL, my template, my third ear, my second brain, my MOM, riddled with BULLET WOUNDS.

Think about that for a second. BULLET WOUNDS. HOLES in her person. Passages in
her body that did not exist before someone inflicted them upon her.

That same week I hugged the president. Twice.

How would you describe that? How would you answer, in a sound bite, when someone asked you how you were?

I use the Teflon version of my reaction because I can’t begin to expect people to understand. They want to know if I am, if we are, surviving. Yes. If that is what we are doing right now then, YES, we are surviving.

But I also feel something that I’ve only recently been able to put my finger on. Stay with me for a second… Do you remember the first time someone described outer space to you? The first time you were able to conceive the fact that you, your body, your entire existence, live on Planet Earth. And Earth is part of a solar system, which is part of a galaxy, which is part of a universe, which is always expanding. Then you realize, WAIT, the universe, which contains ALL of existence, is expanding? WHAT is it expanding into?

Do you remember how it feels to try to wrap your head around the space that our universe is expanding into? That, that brain ache, that inconceivability… That is how I’m feeling.

I am trying to convince my brain that what I’m going through isn’t just an elaborate dream. I am trying to rationalize evil. I am trying to come to terms with that fact that I CAN’T. I am furious with people telling me to “try and find a new normal”, and realizing that they are absolutely right. I am the kind of woman who relishes the mundane. Ask me before how I would describe my ideal day, and I would say it was “blissfully dull”. I finally learned to love my reality, to accept what brought me peace, and be proud that I could find it, maintain it, and be proud of it.

And then someone SHOT my mother.

Shot her. Shot her. Shot her. Three times. SHOT my mother. How do you say that? How do I write it? How do I conceive of a nauseating “new normal” that consists of my mother as a “victim”? Suzi Hileman, my template, my role model, my MOTHER, is not a victim. I now know that I hate that word. Victim. Victim implies weakness, that someone is capable of DOING something to you.

I can’t think of her, of us, of the Hilemans that way. We are not victims. We survived that week: That first week of restoring my mom’s body so that her mind, her incredible, incalculable, incomparable mind could come back to us. I’ve never been one for spirituality, never done much praying of any kind. But if there is a higher being to thank for bringing that mind back to me, to us, I thank it. Good gravy do I thank it.

I thank the people from my past. People whom I have loved from every different point in my life, for reaching out to me and reminding me that the love is still there. I thank compassion and empathy. I think back on those nights in the hospital, reading notes from them and knowing that I could call on any one of them for strength.

I understand now, and thank Shock: An emotion I’ve feigned in the past when something unnatural has happened. I give Shock credit for the strength I was able to maintain in the hospital. I thank it for allowing me brief moments of terror, but then reminding me that there was a job to be done, a woman to remind to STAY THE HELL WITH US, and I got back to the task at hand.

I thank my Brian. SIR. I know no other human in this world that could have been with me at that time, and helped me to hold it together like I did. Whatever “it” was that got me through that week, has gotten me through the weeks since, he was one of the main reasons I was able to maintain it.


So how am I doing? The Teflon version reads the same. The other version, the one I, we, have now to learn to live with every day, the nauseatingly necessary and “healthy” new normal, the most honest example of an “ugly truth” that I’ve ever lived through, is far more complicated.


  1. Complicated or not, you all are strong and are surviving. Praying for you.

  2. Little Cuter, my heart goes out to you. I really hate that term new normal. As if anything you or your family has gone through is "normal". It isn't and you shouldn't have to accept it as normal. When horrible things like this happen, we often forget that there are other people suffering too--not only the person injured, but also family, friends etc...

    IMPO, don't accept any of it as "normal". It's not and you should be able to get to a place where you accept it, but it doesn't have to be your normal.

    Megan xxx

  3. My heart goes out to you all as well. My prayers will continue.

  4. For Little Cutter: It's hard for me to know what to say. I would like to understand your pain. I don't want to, but I can imagine it in a small way. I am hopeful that your mom will improve a little each day and that the family will too. I can imagine every loud pop outside will make your family cringe with fright. It will be a long process and I am so sorry for that. I wish you all strength...debbie

  5. For Little Cutter and A/B (again I'm coming from the Time Goes By Blog), I so relate to this post. Although certainly not to your degree, I lost my closest friend to gun violence in 1992. I wrote about it in a blog post if you are interested at all to read it at some later time to realize the feelings you are feeling are "normal": http://possumlady.blogspot.com/2007/07/oh-god-please-give-him-back-i-shall.html

    But also, I wanted to leave you with this thought: Many years ago, someone interviewed Anne Morrow Lindbergh and asked her if her strength came from the various losses she had suffered. “Oh my dear,” Mrs. Lindbergh replied, “the loss of those we love only break us down. What builds us up, what strengthens, is the love and caring we receive while we are broken.”

  6. Can't say much more than how proud I am... the words won't come...just the tears. A tremendous bear hug Sweetie, Artess1

  7. You write with such amazing emotion and eloquence! You are your mother's daughter. Be well,all of you.

  8. Someone once asked me how I survived tragic times inmylife and the answer was given by a dear friend of mine who said Denise hasn't just survived, she has surthrived!

    If I may, the word surthrive best describes the entire Hileman family. Each of you will find some good in the tragic event that disrupted your mundane life and in someway inspire those that are asking how you are because not only do they truly care, but they want to continue to witness your strength, courage and how a loving family surthrives together. Love to all of you!

  9. I think whatever you want to say is the right thing. It's not necessary to make others feel better. It's important to let out what is there as that is reality. Your mother was a victim that day but she doesn't have to stay one and she is not staying one. We can't control all that happens to us but it's up to us what we make of it. And don't rush your recovery to please others. It's okay to grieve and feel the pain. The whole country has felt that for once again what has happened here. But the fact that it had good and bad parts, well that's how life is.

  10. Boy, am I grateful for this post, LC! I knew that "mind blowing" was mild compared to what your family has gone through. And, as if the shooting and the losses and the anger and the sorrow and the fear and the _______ weren't enough, there's the onslaught of media attention and The First Lady talking broccoli with Suzi, the POTUS giving you hugs, and Brian Williams hanging out in your living room. And G'ma calling to say she's seen her daughter on television in a pretty blouse. Surreal.

    With Rain, I say it isn't necessary to make us feel better. Our needs are so small in this story, they can be boiled down to one and only one: We need to feel helpful in any small way, even if it is only to feel with you from afar, even if we read and don't comment.

    Ashleigh Burroughs shows us her most burnished facet here and we polish it with her, because the loveliness of that facet is what we all mean when we talk about the best in human beings. And because it is the radiant essence of the woman. But we, the denizens, all pause somewhere in each post and think, "If even half of this had happened to me, there'd be so many sides of myself that I couldn't even find yet, much less write about." And we know that Suzi Hileman and her good daughter are only humans, just like us. They just write better.

  11. Thank you all, from the grateful mother of a wonderful child, for the love, the support, the encouragement and the compliments.

    I agree, Roomie.... we are surthriving, blossoming into new roles as we cry ourselves to sleep. There is no easy answer, but there is certainly a lot of love to cushion the ride.

    I love you all, denizens.

  12. One thing: "normal" seems like it would be a step down for y'all. True before, true now.

    Just about every lovely, loving, resilient family has to deal with trauma and tragedy at some point. Few of them have to carry the burden of publicity -- outright fame -- on top of it: all the same just-this-side-of-too-personal questions asked in the same ways, over and over; and wanting to deal with the questions, over and over, without diminishing the importance of the answers... What a great family.

    The Teflon answer works, btw. The reality may be more like Corningware -- I think that's what that white porcelain-like stuff is, right? the stuff that you don't have to grease before baking in it? Looks horrendous after the food is first gone. Amazing what some soap and hot water and maybe one of those scrubbie-type things can accomplish after a few minutes, though.

    I don't care much about normal. I do look forward, on your behalf, to happy. Even now, so relatively soon, we can see glints of light (reflected and from within).

  13. glad that you are putting it on paper and sharing this unbelievable and unexpected journey. with you. kp

  14. Little C, please worry about yourself first and don't feel like you need to respond or give "satisfactory" answers to anyone. Give them the Teflon answer to get rid of them, and then go back to what you need to do for yourself. We/they care and that is why the questions get asked, but you don't have to be happy about getting or answering them. Laura xo

  15. Dear Little Cuter,
    What a strong, smart, gifted, get-on-with-it woman your mom raised. The universe pulled the living room rug out from under you. You all stood back up. Now, you straighten out your rug and get on with the living. It is what strong, smart, gifted get-on-with-it people do when they hit their bottoms. Brava.
    Survive, thrive, refine.
    Blessings to you all~

  16. Little Cuter,
    What you put into words rings crystal clear to me. I was amazed at watching you and Sir take care of your mom, feeling that you felt her life was in your hands and the enormous impact and sheer terror of it all.
    I know you were in shock, as we all were, not even knowing what that word meant and in this case it will carry a new and distinct definition for the rest of your life.
    Thank goodness for time. It allows you to have some introspection on events and be able to give a voice to the myriad of feelings. You have to say or write them over and over to create some kind of reality. At least that is how it has gone for me. Please know that those of us who love you and have checked in often knew we couldn't change how you were feeling but never wanted you to feel alone, even though that is how you feel no matter what anyone says. We wanted to have an invisible net that we were prepared to surround you with in case you couldn't move or needed help to overcome. This new norm has become an exclusive club, which most of our family and friends have no way to relate to. Those of us who were close will be there forever and when we ask how you are... we really want to know.


  17. What a beautiful post. You are just as thoughtful and insightful as your Mom, the resilient a/b! The Hileman family might never be the same, but they will be stronger than ever.

  18. And, once again, to those who were there with us and those who know us and those who only read us: THANK YOU for the warmth with which you are surrounding my girl.

    She's playing with SIR and my Grand-Dog on her first ever in her life Snow Day and walking down the middle of Lake Shore Drive with a smile on her face and not a car in sight. It's images like those, and reading the love that you are sending her way, that will help us heal the most.

    I agree with you all -- she is really something special.

  19. This could not have painted a clearer picture in my head of what life is like for you now. Very well written, I just wish that you had not experienced any of this and that I did not read the horror of your emotions. Thank you for taking all of us who love you on this journey with you. I believe I speak for everyone who has ever known you when I say that we wish we could help in a more profound way than just telling you that we love you. But I don't know how, so I will say it again, I love you. I believe that you are only faced with things you can handle, even though you never should have been faced with this. You can handle it, and if you can't for a moment, just cry your eyes out. Keep writing as I assume there is some therapy in that. No words can change what happened, but I really wish they could. Love you!!!
    Tara, James, Conner, and Baby Kinley


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