Tag Archives: grief

Forever Gold. . . in memory of a memory

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“Do not look sad. We shall meet soon again.” “Please, Aslan”, said Lucy,”what do you call soon?”
“I call all times soon” said Aslan; and instantly he was vanished away.”
― C.S. Lewis, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader

For the first four months of the pandemic, I could not read.

I mean, I could technically read. But I could not sit and enjoy a book. This was somewhat concerning to me, but I took it to be symptomatic of my anxiety, overwhelm, and general distraction. It wasn’t terribly concerning and anyway, I had other things to which to attend.

Recently, I happened to pick up Villette, Charlotte Bronte’s last and often most acclaimed novel. To my delight, I’ve been not only able to read, but to enjoy the lush and complex Victorian prose.

I’ve read Jane Eyre over 20 times. It’s my favorite novel of all time. Each time I’ve poured over her pages, I’ve found new meaning, new truth, and deeper love for the gothic romance. I still have the copy I used my senior year in college, when I was taking a class called “Justice in Literature.” I’d taken the class because the professor teaching it had grown quite beloved to me. It was because of her I developed a passion for Victorian literature.

Dr. Gold (not her real name), was a diminutive woman in her 50s who had a voice like a tittering fairy. She had a shock of red hair and sparkling eyes. Her face was blessed with the loveliest laugh lines. It was like her entire body would crinkle with delight when she giggled about something. Despite her enchanting outward appearance, there was a fire in her for truth, mercy, and compassion. She adored children’s literature, especially the Chronicle’s of Narnia which she quoted often and from which she drew great comfort.

She walked with a lopsided gait from a number of incredibly severe health issues, an autoimmune disorder among them. But her thrill for life and her ability to love entirely whatever she was doing at that particular moment, would never have given away her disabilities.

When I think of the humans who have shown me truest compassion in my life, Professor Gold is at the top of the list.

To say I fawned over her a bit is not far from the truth. In fact, it is probably more truthful to say I absolutely idolized her. I spent as much time around her as humanly possible, learning not only about literature, but about her life and her gift for love.

When I tried to end my life in my early 20s, it was June Gold I called from the emergency room. It was a horrible thing for me to do, an imposition, a boundary violation, but I needed her support and she was there for me. The memory of that time fills me with deep shame to this day. June was stern with me and she made it clear she could not be my therapist, that she would continue to support me as long as I got proper help, which I did and which she did.

Several years later, after I graduated college and was floundering in the “real world,” I sheepishly called June and asked if she’d write me a letter of recommendation to get into grad school for my MSW.

“Let’s talk about this,” she said. “Tell me more.” Instant terror flooded me at the thought she’d think I was too damaged and wild to ever make a good social worker.

I explained I’d been working with kids with autism and I wanted to go back and become more professionalized so I could make a life for myself. She not only wrote a letter to the graduate program, but also sent me a copy.

When I read the letter, I wept. She told my graduate program-to-be that their greatest regret in admitting me to their program would be that they could not have me as a student forever, and that they would long to have me in every class for my enthusiasm and a bunch of other nice stuff.

I remember reading her letter and feeling deep disbelief anyone could feel that way about me, knowing what they knew about how tragic and flawed I could be.

Turns out understanding flaws and tragedy make me a decent therapist.

I think that was my last interaction with June. I might have sent her a thank you card, but we are going back about 20 years now, and I don’t really remember.

Over the years I’ve certainly thought of her from time to time. I’ve attempted to channel her belief in me, and as I’ve grown out of a bunch of my 20 year old dysfunctions, I’ve wondered if she’d be proud of the little pod of humans I’ve managed to assemble and call a family of my own.

Picking up Villette brought June back to the front of my mind with a sudden and visceral reality. It occurred to me I might write her a letter or send her a card and let her know how she’s shaped my life. It seemed like good timing, being the pandemic has us all connecting or reconnecting with friends, family, and significant people from our past.

Google churned up her obituary front and center, dead first in my search results.

June Gold died a year and a half ago after developing a rare cancer on top of her other dire health concerns.

After an hour and a half diving through dusty boxes in the 90 degree summer heat of my attic, I could not find the letter she wrote me for grad school.

I did find my senior thesis for her on which I’d gotten an A. In her tiny, delicate script, she’d written “This is very fine!. . .” The topic of the paper was Themes of Injustice Toward Women in Jane Eyre and the Tenant of Wildfell Hall. In her comments, she went on to praise an oral presentation I’d done as “splendid!” although in all fairness I have zero recollection of that.

No matter.

It’s a weird thing, discovering someone you loved so deeply once upon a time has slipped beyond the veil and you didn’t even know about it.

Why do we grow so far from people? I think part of me was still ashamed of my younger self and didn’t know how to go back and face June, was scared that after so many years maybe she’d see me differently or with colder eyes. It’s entirely doubtful that would have been true, and yet it kept me from connecting with someone who meant a great deal to me, who shaped a huge part of my life.

Part of me wants to cry. But another part of me hears June’s favorite literary character, the lion Aslan from the Chronicles of Narnia, roaring, “Courage, Dear Heart!”

It’s a weird thing, discovering you know exactly what someone you loved dearly would say to comfort you 20 years after your last interaction with them.

The Riots Are Worth It… because BLACK LIVES MATTER

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Tonight I told my kids they had to play in the yard and stay close to home. There were riots and looting in my city last night, and more are forecast for tonight. I explained to the kids, who are 12 and eight, that a white cop murdered a black man and people are angry.

They were confused. I think they were a little scared.

Our state’s national guard has been mobilized and our city’s mayor has enacted a curfew.

So we wait.

I am infinitely blessed to have been raised, and to still live, in one of the most liberal, tolerant states in the nation. We pride ourselves on freedom of religion, thought, and sexuality. We are an artistic, eclectic community of randoms who love the ocean and grassroots advocacy.

Over the weekend, while the rest of the country blazed in flames of violent reactivity to the murder of George Floyd at the hands of a white cop, my state had a peaceful protest. It felt good to be able to say we were peaceful, even through intense anger and grief at racial injustice and terrorism.

I did not expect that 24 hours later, hundreds of people would descend on our capital city and set it aflame, smash it up. The cars that transport our state’s neediest foster children were smashed and burned to ashes.

All of this news dominated the cycle all day. Many of these characters involved had nothing to do with the essential Black Lives Matter movement, and had everything to do with inciting violence, fear, and terror on our state.

Watching it unfold, I felt fear and sorrow. I felt things I’d never felt before.

I read theories about rage people are feeling in the midst of the pandemic, economic strife, and racial disparities of death from Covid 19.

Fuck my heart was so heavy.

I was frightened for my children. I didn’t want my boy to go biking with his buddy, and I did not want my daughter to leave our yard, not even to walk the dog.

As I cleaned dinner dishes, I watched a bunch of bunnies hop around in our yard. I found it hard to believe our bucolic landscape could soon be dominated by flashing lights and sirens.

It struck me.

This isn’t even a fraction of what black mothers have felt for decades. Centuries even.

This does not even touch on the fear and uncertainty regarding safety, and it my privilege reeks that this is the first time I’ve ever had to be scared like this.

Let me be clear, I don’t condone any violence ever. I don’t ever want to see anyone hurt or harmed. I do not want to see anyone’s business suffer.

But if somehow we can understand even a shred of what our black friends and brothers and sisters have experienced all of their lives, and all of their ancestors’ lives. . . then it is worth it. The looting and rioting is worth it, because we need to know.

We need to understand what it means to have had black bodies looted for all these years by white people in power.

We need to know and we need to make amends.

Please consider donating to one of the charities that support the legal funds of people arrested in the recent protests. The following link has a series of resources for where you can either amplify your voice to assist in the movement, or to help those in need.

https://www.timeout.com/things-to-do/how-to-support-black-lives-matter

What Are You Grieving?

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92423AB4-92CD-46BA-BC35-F29338DB7AC7In the midst of the general death and destruction wrought by Covid-19, a grown woman took the time to complain on social media that she would not have a birthday party this year. She was devastated there would be no restaurant, no margaritas, no tapas, no cake, no friends to make her feel special and celebrated.

My first thought? What a selfish brat! 

This is a grown up we are talking about, not an eight year old who already picked out unicorn party favors. Has she not read the posts written by traumatized, sweaty ICU staff who are actually risking life and limb to care for victims of this pandemic?

I was angry, but not just with Birthday Girl. I was angry with our country and all the interlocking systems that have failed in keeping us safe, in working cooperatively, and in providing resources to treat us humanely. The more I thought about it, the more depressed I felt. Then, like many have already observed, I realized I was bouncing around in the cycle of grief.

We are all grieving different things right now.

Some of us are grieving celebrations in which we cannot partake. Others are grieving loss of employment, or income needed to stay afloat. Some bear the palpable loss of a loved one to this pernicious disease, while others suffer isolation, and the grief of loneliness.

It made me stop and realize what a judgey twat I was being.

It also made me question what I was grieving.

I’m certainly wandering around in a haze of sad uncertainty that feels a lot like grief. I miss simple structure, routine, consistency. I’ve lost all the ways I typically “do” life. I’ve lost being able to see and embrace my friends and family. I bear witness to my children’s pain at separation from their grandparents (who they typically see daily), their friends, and routines of school and activities.

I definitely miss leaving the house and listening to music really loud in the car on my way to work. Who’d have thunk it? And I miss sitting with my clients, face to face. I miss the things you see on people’s face that you can’t experience in their disembodied voices, or in pics, or in ticktoc vids.

So, maybe it’s a bunch of things? Maybe I really just miss being able to race out to the market to fetch that one thing I’ve forgotten without it being a big HAZMAT issue that puts all our lives at risk?

Maybe I miss when life wasn’t such a hyperbole and I could use hyperboles in fun and actual hyperbolic ways?

Yeah, I guess, I’m not grieving anything greater than a birthday party either. We all know the horrors that are right outside our doors (or at least the ones of us choosing to stay in and socially distance do).

I’d like to tell you that the nice thing about this grief is that it will be impermanent. A vaccine will be developed, treatment will come, and we will be free to roam about the world again. Things will get better. Those are all facts.

But will we go back to normal?

If I’ve learned one thing about grief, it is that grief, when traumatic enough, has the potential to change us, to alter us right down at our DNA level. Don’t believe me? Google the epigenetics of trauma. I swear to you it is an actual thing.

So, the good news is if we stay kind, supportive, and connected, we have a far better chance of surviving and getting back to our baselines. If this situation has taught us anything, it is how much we need one another, how essential the embrace of humanity is to our health and existence.

I’m so sorry I forgot that, even for a moment.

What are you grieving? Please feel free to share in the comments below. I try to respond to any and all who take the time to share their time and thoughts with me. Thank you for being here. 

Adrift In The Space of The Hardest Year

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The thought occurs to me I’m broken.

It’s still a little dusky light out, and I’m lying in bed with my daughter, who’s already asleep.  Tears slide down my cheeks as they usually do at this time of day.  It’s become somewhat of a ritual. My crepuscular cry. 

It pisses me the fuck off.

I’ve never cried so much in my life.  It’s dumb.  It feels shitty.  Crying is supposed to make you feel better.  It’s science. It releases good chemicals in your brain. I tell my clients all the time about the beautiful and sacred purpose of tears. All. The. Freaking. Time. But it never fails to make me feel like a failure and a fraud and just so fatigued.

It’s been a hard year.  Probably the hardest.

I feel I have some sort of obligation to buy space in a newspaper and print a public apology to anyone who has known me over the past year.  I’ve been a horrible train wreck of a human.  I’ve been messy and loud and weird.

If you all could have known me a couple years ago, I want to say.  If you had known me then.  Those were the good days.  Those were the times I bore some semblance to normal, when I could contain my Self better.

That was when I was at my old job.  With E. just two doors down from me every day for years and years.

Those were the days when E. would leave me random clippings from the New York Times Sunday paper on my desk at work.  She’d cut out stuff she thought I’d find interesting.  I remember one about the healing power of fairy tales.  

The memory of these flimsy papers brings a fresh wave of grief crashing down over my head.  I’d read them and think of something pithy to say in return, then travel the five paces to her door to chat with her.

Those were the days when I was witty and reformed.  If you had only known me then. Sure, I had my rough times, plenty of them.  But I wasn’t broken.  Not like I am now.

Changing jobs was really difficult in ways I never could have predicted, but I think I could have adapted a hell of a lot better if I hadn’t had the sudden trauma of E. up and dying on me last October.

It’s not just work and death. It’s motherhood and marriage and financial instability. It’s never having enough time or energy to brush my children’s hair and feed them breakfast. It’s all the piles of things that make me want to curl up in bed and daydream for three hours. 

All the things. They have broken me. 

The thought occurs to me that I might not ever get fixed again.

I blame a lot on E. and maybe that’s not fair. But seriously…  

E.’s death changed me.  I kept thinking I would trudge through the grief and get to the other side and things would “get back to normal” and I would “feel like myself again.”  That doesn’t seem to be the case.  I think E.’s death altered me at a molecular level, shifted my DNA in ways I won’t be able to figure out how to switch back.

The light is fading and I’m so tired.  I consider falling asleep next to my daughter, but there is still a lot of laundry to do, coffee to set up for the morning, and messages to return to friends.  

I think about going to work this week and my heart starts to race.  I think about the stack of bills lying in wait on my desk and my stomach lurches. I’m no longer sleepy.

I try to think about how my five year old daughter rode her bike with no training wheels for the first time this weekend, and how my nine year old has his first band concert this week in which he will play the trumpet.  What brilliant triumphs!  

You see, I’m not a total Debbie Downer.  I still get blissed out by these every day miracles.  Life still has color and flavor and lots of sound.  I take every opportunity I can to indulge in rampant laughter.

But mostly I’m adrift inside myself, lost in the space within me.  I’m like an astronaut, untethered from her rocket and running low on oxygen, uncertain what will happen next. 

It’s a scary image.  I think of calling someone up and telling someone about it, but I can’t reach out because that is even scarier.

I’d like to go and sit in the grass with E. and talk to her. It is one of the only places where I feel at peace these days, and sometimes I feel frustrated when I can’t get there, but the thought occurs to me that you can’t live your life in a cemetery.

I roll onto my back and look up into the darkness of my daughter’s room.

I’ve stopped crying.

I know I’ll wake up in the middle of the night and panic at the brackish taste in my mouth. My mind will race back over all the things I said throughout the previous day and will try to remember if I said anything gravely wrong or damning to anyone. 

I’ll get up and brush my teeth. I’ll look at my reflection and think it’s so weird to be up brushing my teeth at three in the morning, but it’ll ground me enough to go back to bed for a couple more hours. 

I’m sorry I’m such a mess. I’m sorry I’m so much. I’m sorry I’m so disorganized and self absorbed. I’m sorry. 

I think that’s why I tend to drift away. I get big and crazy and too intense and then feel the need to take myself somewhere else. 

It’s been a hard year and I’m broken and I might not be fixable as I drift farther and farther away from things I thought I knew. 

—–

https://dailypost.wordpress.com/2017/05/22/adrift/

Pleased

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The pearls of goat cheese in my salad
pleased me,
as did the chilled progression
of wine, glass after glass sliding
past the back of my throat.
Wandering the galleries pleased me.
I spoke with no one,
that pleased me too.

I touched a sculpture
(no one saw me tweak a nipple, then
twirl my finger in a navel)
and this made me feel
most myself, smiling sly with pleasure.
Degas hissed misogyny,
and Matisse blathered on
about the female form being
reduced to a few lines
and a bowl of fish.

I found you nowhere,
stumbled over my skirt
into illustrations
and lost my breath,
the heat of which was potentially
damaging to a collection
of rare photography.
A docent raised an awkward eyebrow,
asked if he could help
and I sobbed I needed to find
space in wich my heart
might break.

That last part didn’t happen.

This is what happened:

I thought I felt your shadow
in a hall of human degredation,
and tried to chase after you,
but instead I found Buddha
sitting in his lotus.
He looked so damn pleased
with himself I wanted to slap him
because I realized I was so alone
and I would not find you
and this displeased me.

https://dailypost.wordpress.com/2017/04/12/pleased/

Unraveled

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I still tell you
all my secrets
sitting in the grass
at your feet
like a child.
I tell you other things
as well; how the birds
are popping in and out
of the house you gave us.

I want to see the softness
in your eyes
as I whisper I’m unravelling.
Please do not tell a soul.
My heart hurts so bad,
don’t you know?

No.
Your eyes closed to me
and to the birds
and I am just a pile of stuff,
thread and twine with which
they might make their nest.
Not even a ribbon,
or anything silk
or fancy.

Someone suggested I ask
you to come to me
in a dream,
before I go to sleep.
But didn’t I do that?
Haven’t I pleaded
for dead not to be
just dead?

I think now, the most
for which I might hope
is that I be plucked up
in a beak and carried off
to be woven into
someone else’s secret.

Written as part of the WordPress daily prompt. 

https://dailypost.wordpress.com/2017/04/11/unravel/

i find myself fierce

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stained by rain
i find myself fierce.
night sky
was all i had left of you
and if the moon and stars
hide from me
i am perfectly untethered,
feral, snarling in grief
at occluded sky.
it does not feel like freedom.
certainly, i could dance
or run or find the velvet lining
of a dream in which
i might learn to fly–
how might that feel to rub my skin
against the nap of night?
i do not care enough
to wonder or move,
but find my response is to
freeze, tilt my face up,
bare my teeth to the rain
and then fall back, stained
darker with wet in darkness.
tame, i whimper,
a star, a star.
please,
my heart.

——-

Posted as part of the WordPress daily prompt. https://dailypost.wordpress.com/2017/04/06/denial/

Breath By Breath

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I’ve put my daughter Emily to bed.  I’ve laid in bed with her until she’s drifted off and her breath is slow and steady and almost hypnotic.

All of a sudden I’m bawling my eyes out, shuddering silently next to her.  I don’t want to wake her, but it feels like I will never stop as my body shakes and tears gush down my cheeks.  I feel like someone is punching me in my face, in my gut.  I feel like someone is wrapping their hand around my throat.

My five year old purrs in her dreams, and the noise tethers me to this reality.

I take out my phone and text my best friend.  I beg her to never die.  She says something warm and then tells me a joke and next thing I know I’m shaking again, but this time in laughter.

That’s how life is these days.

My mood shifts as though I’m dancing on the edge of a blade.  One moment, I’ve got my shit together and the next I’m dissolving.

It’s been four months since E. died.  Almost five.  It seems an eternity and it seems no time at all.  I still just want to talk about her all the time.  Her voice is still right beneath the follicles of my hair.  And yet, despite the immediacy of her presence, she is farther away than ever.

Death is a fucking fucker and that is about as eloquent as I can get about it at the moment. Grief is an even fucking-er fucker.

Someone said to me last week that grief is love that has nowhere to go.  That’s a more graceful way of putting what I feel I guess.  This pent up surge of love and emotion that has no channel.

I go to E.’s grave every week and I talk to her.  I catch my voice rise and fall in the same cadence it would when she was alive with me.  We had this silly, journalistic way of talking to one another, reporting all of the mundane.

She remembered everything I told her, even the dumbest, most minor details like it was something super important.  She relished stories about my husband and kids.  You know, as a working mom, it does not take much to make me happy.  I’d tell her stuff like how touched I was that my husband stayed home with a sick kiddo or remembered to buy toilet paper on his way home from work, and she’d bring it up months later.  Like if I was annoyed with my husband, she would say something like, “But he’s really a thoughtful guy.  Remember the time he brought home the toilet paper and took Jack to the doctor?”

She made me feel so important.  So special.  So loved.  Who on earth is every going to give a tiny rat’s ass about my membership to the big box store and the lifetime supply of granola I acquired?

So I go to her grave and I talk to her.  I tell her everything.  I tell her what I’m wearing.  I tell her what I had for lunch.  I tell her about the unicorn Emily drew, and I tell her that Jack learned how to play the Star Wars theme on his trumpet.  I read her poems.  I play songs for her.

There’s a part of me that knows I’m just talking to myself, and it breaks my heart.

It makes me cry from so deep within myself, from a place that is still little and frightened, from a place that wants to stamp my foot and pound my fist against my thighs and demand that she come back her right this instant or else!

I keep thinking that any day now I’m going to feel better.

Sometimes I do feel better.  I’m not miserable.  I still find pleasure in life.

But lately everything feels so hard.  Work.  Motherhood.  Grief.  Marriage.

You may have noticed I haven’t written much lately, and when I have, it has been these morose little poems.  Ugh.  Yeah.  I’m sorry about that.

It’s like I just don’t have anything else in me.  I feel terrible for not writing more about my kids or all of the other random myriad of great stuff that goes on, but I sort of feel so drained that to sit down and write anything cohesive and thought out like I wrote two or three years ago would just be impossible.

It seems like all around me people are doing amazing stuff.  Friends are going to political events and getting involved in volunteer work.  Colleagues are reading up on the latest in clinical research and going to conferences to stay current.  People on Facebook are exercising and drinking protein shakes and hanging out in clubs.

I’m just over here like, “How the fuck do you all feel like it?”

I just want to go climb into my bed.

I want to lie still and daydream about being  a mermaid, about swimming far far away under the water and not hearing anything but the swishy splash of my own tail.

I’m so freaking tired.  It feels a monumental effort to breathe.  Everyone else is engaging in their cool hobbies and I can basically say, “Well, I managed to keep breathing all week.  It was hard and kind of painful, but I did it.  So, I’ve got that going for me.”

It’s sort of ironic that I want to duck under the water and swim away when I spend so much of my energy just trying to keep my head above water, but then I’ve always been a portrait in contradictions.

That right there would have given E. a good chuckle.

I miss E. so much, and I wish I could talk to her about this.  I wish I could tell her how tired I am and how sad, how desperately sad, every single breath feels.

But then there is the squishy pillow of my daughter’s cheek under my lips as I get up from her bed to leave her room.  I draw breath enough to whisper that I love her into her sleeping ear.  I draw another breath.  Then another.  And I know I’ll keep breathing, breath by breath, until maybe it doesn’t hurt quite as much.