i would tell you how
all the petals
look like pink butterflies
and i would despise myself
for stating something
so obviously trite,
but you would not despise me.
i would tell you how
all the petals
look like pink butterflies
and i would despise myself
for stating something
so obviously trite,
but you would not despise me.
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.
If you’ve been following along over the past months, you may have noticed my once plucky mommy blog has been devoted almost entirely to the death of one of my best friends.
E. died in October. She died suddenly, or at least it seemed sudden to me. Had my eyes been open, I might have seen it really was not so sudden. She’d been ill. I’d been in denial. Part of my grief’s rawness these past months is in acknowledging that, had I not been in denial about her age and health, I might have had prioritized more opportunities to see her, to love her, to speak and share with her.
Sometimes I don’t make the time I should. While juggling the responsibilities of my life as a working mom and wife, I forget to make the call or send the card. I’m not assertive enough about making plans with people. It’s a crappy excuse, and an even crappier feeling to realize you missed a chance because you were stupidly blinded by the day to day.
I take comfort in knowing my last interaction with her was loving, sweet, and happy. And about a week before she died, I left a voice mail for her which ended, as it always ended, in “I love you.”
I’ve also taken comfort in writing about her.
E. was my first major loss. It doesn’t matter that I’m a therapist with training in grief and trauma. When you experience this stuff for the first time, it’s like any other new, uncomfortable experience. I’m bumbling through the dark tunnel, and channeling my frustration, and sorrow into posts and poems.
Grieving as a mom has also been challenging.
When E. first died, a friend said she hoped I could find space to grieve because it’s hard to do when you are a working mom, already stretched translucently thin. I’ve thought a lot about this over the past couple months- how as moms it is so hard to find the space we need to integrate all of our parts into one cohesive package. We can’t sit around and cry in bed when kids need to be brought to school, karate, and dance; need to be fed, washed, and snuggled. We still have to rise and go to work to keep heat on and food stocked.
In some ways, I wonder if my grief is taking me twice as long to “go through” because I pigeon hole it into these tiny chunks. As moms, we keep bits of ourselves in little boxes, high up on shelves. It seems we rarely have time to take them down, open them up and spread the contents all over, let alone pack it all back up in the proper compartments. I tell myself things like, “If I just hold it together for the next seven hours, I can cry in the car on my commute home.”
It’s exhausting, but it is what it is.
Despite the lack of time and energy, I’ve tried staying emotionally open to lessons this time has to teach me. I’ll share what I came up with so far:
1. It sounds like a cliche, but if I learned one thing about bereavement, it is that talking and sharing about the lost loved one helps. A selection of special people have been ready, willing, and able to bear witness to my memories and stories about E., and this blessing has not escaped me as it heals the heart.
2. Part of me knows I will look back on this time and see it as something precious, painful though it has been. E.’s final gift to me was the realization, that in leaving of this earthly plane, love remains stronger and truer than ever. There are ways we still connect and touch one another. It is a time rich in wonder and affection.
The intensity of the emotion paints layers of it’s own complex beauty onto my existence.
I haven’t written much about my kids, family, or life as a working mom. I’m still doing and feeling all the stuff that goes along with being a mother, but in my writing all of that has taken a back seat to my need to process my friend’s death. Anyway, there isn’t really anything new or different I can say about all of that right now. I’ve had mixed feelings about this shift in content, but it has needed to be, so I let it. Which leads me to my next lesson of sorts. . .
3. It is more helpful to hold our pain, sit with it, cradle it and explore its bizarre face than it would be to cover it up and hide it away. In my professional training, I learned, years ago, that trying to suppress trauma is like trying to hold a beach ball under water. It is slippery, unwieldy, and untenable. When I sit with client’s in the crisis of grief, I often share this analogy with them. I’ve been granted an opportunity to practice what I preach.
These lessons seem to be gifts from beyond.
Even as I embrace these things, I feel uncertain. Someone remarked that dealing with grief is almost like having another child to care for. It’s an apt analogy. And as though I am holding a newborn child, I am wondering if I am doing it right, if it will like and respond to my touch, if I will be able to handle it.
My uncertainty lies in the fear people won’t like or understand my current poems; that people will get bored with me and stop reading; that people won’t appreciate how fully my blog has shifted from life of a working mother to dealing with death. I worry people won’t see the connection.
But there’s always a connection, tenuous though it may be.
Being a mom is my most important role in life. I mean, two living and breathing organisms kind of count on me to keep them alive. But other parts of me sometimes do not get the time and attention they truly need. My blog gives me space to process and complete my emotional self so I can tackle the other stuff I need to do. It helps me integrate and consolidate the contents of all the little boxes into the whole me.
I have faith in myself and in the process. Being a mom may have prepared me to patiently nurture and understand grief, even as it has complicated my grieving process. We are always stronger and more flexible than we think or dream. Sooner or later, I’ll get back to writing about all of the other stuff. In the mean time, thank you for bearing with me and for bearing witness. Every like, comment, and share has meant more to me than I can properly explain.
“If there ever comes a day when we can’t be together, keep me in your heart. I’ll stay there forever.” –Winnie the Pooh
E. was one of the loves of my life.
I say that without any sense of histrionic hyperbole whatsoever.
I was infatuated with her, but not in the typical sense of the word. There was never anything sexual about my attraction to her, although in a weird way that probably only I can understand, there was a romance to our kinship.
My adoration of her was purely psycho spiritual. She was my hero.
And she loved me back.
I have tangible proof of her love in almost every room of my home, in my office, in my yard, things I can touch and see and smell. I have photos of us together and anyone can see in our smiles how happy we are to be together. Physical artifacts and evidence of a well worn relationship.
It was a love and a friendship beyond reason. Unconditional and rare. At least it was to me.
She was 32 years my senior, but our simpatico had an ageless quality. We spoke the same language. When she came into work singing “I feel pithy, oh so pithy!” I totally got the joke. And when I shared with her about the tiny and sweet moments of my life as a mom, she understood.
That’s it, you know? She loved me and she understood me.
And now she’s dead.
In the weeks since her passing, I’ve found myself asking that refrain from the infamous Tegan and Sara song, “where does the good go?”
Where is E.’s love in the wake of her death? Where is her unwavering belief in me? Where is her laughter at my jokes, along with her zany retorts? Where is her tenderness?
You’re probably asking yourself where my mommy blog went. . . It seems my space has become a darkened cemetery of posts. But it is what it needs to be for the moment.
I want to tell you about her. I want to talk about her. I want to repeat all of our conversations and replay all of our banter. I want to show you the cards she wrote me. I want to tell you how I stretched out over her grave, nuzzled my face into the grass and cried huge, fat tears and found it muddy on my skin when I came up for air. I want you to know I’m not crazy; I’m just grieving and I miss her.
I want to tell you how she changed my life.
I want to get all of this out of my system, and then I want to do it all over again.
I want you to sit and listen, with rapt attention that never wavers, even when I’ve told you everything for the hundredth time.
Because that’s what E. would do.
Maybe that’s why I go to her grave so often. Maybe that’s why I talk to her incessantly about my days. Maybe that’s why I play “Younger than Springtime” into the grass above her, wondering if the sound waves make it through the earth to the cherry wood of her casket.
Maybe that’s why I weep and look for signs everywhere that I can weave into the story of her and me so it doesn’t have to be over just yet.
Maybe that’s why I need you to hear me, to believe me.
Maybe that is why I need to believe that E. can still hear me.
Because in hearing me, she made me feel real.
She never seemed to care that I was desperately insecure, anxious, and mercurial as a Siamese cat.
She held all the parts of me I could not tolerate. She stroked them, smoothed them down until they were almost charming. She made me love myself just by sitting there with open ears. She allowed me to look at myself through her eyes until I saw myself the way she saw me. And gosh, I was pretty.
She was a captive audience. And so it seems she is now, even more than ever but it is in such a strange and intangible fashion. It makes me doubt.
The days pass. Most of the time I’m really okay. Most of the time I’m happy and doing what I need to do.
Other days, grief snags me with its sharp and mocking edge. I fall inward and knock around inside myself, searching for answers.
Who am I without you, E.? What would you tell me? How am I supposed to do this without you? When will I learn how to love after death, and will I keep feeling your love for me?
I know the answers, even though I don’t really like them.
There was a time I sat crying with a friend in recent days. I was frustrated and overwhelmed with life and had twisted it all up into an existential tornado. I was blessed by my friend’s empathy and patience with me in that moment. She helped to hold and accept the mess of me, and the nature of that compassion allowed me to connect, not just with her, but with a sense of universal constancy. Trusting her gave me the courage to trust myself, to listen.
E.’s voice came to me, clear as a bell.
We do not find you lacking.
It was what she would say to me to shine a light into my neuroses and set me at ease. Those were the words that answered every question.
They still do. It’s just that now I have to say them for myself, chant them until they are tattooed in my marrow, until my body resonates at their frequency. Then, I can laugh through the tears and know her with my heart, like I always did.
Over the past week, I have been walking down a shadowy hall. It is dark and tight. The walls press on me. It makes me want to scream in claustrophobic panic. I believe it is called grief and loss.
Every once in a while lights flash, startle me, and make me nauseous. My heart races. I think that’s trauma.
There are doors that open into little waiting rooms with chairs. Films of memory play on vast, white walls. But it hurts to go in and watch, so I keep walking down the narrow corridor.
I walk at a really slow pace. My husband might call it moving at the speed of cheese.
How I’d love to call her up and talk about cheese. She loved food.
See how that works? I start to have a thought and then circle back around to her. My head is so full. Overloaded. People are left staring and waiting around me, because my brain can’t move any faster. It’s a slow computer. God, that woman could not use a computer to save herself. . . There. I did it again.
As a clinical social worker (which by the way my friend also was), I know all about the stages of grief: Denial, bargaining, anger, depression, acceptance. It sounds so tidy, laid out like that, and yet it is more of a mangled wreck than anyone could imagine. On one level, I understand that the so-called stages are more circuitous than linear.
I know it was normal after I kissed her cold forehead to feel a surge of anger well up inside me as I left the funeral parlor.
Anger at her. Anger at myself. Anger at the universe.
Why couldn’t she have taken better care of herself? Why did she have to go and deprive the world of herself? Why did I not know sooner how truly ill and tired she was?
In addition to knowing it is normal, friends have assured me it is normal. So a part of me can accept this anger for what it is.
But there is another part of me that is just her friend, a mere mortal who is still alive, and doesn’t know what to do with the thread of anger in this tapestry of pain I clutch at my throat as I walk down this hall.
Her head was so hard under my lips. Like marble.
I know it is totally understandable to feel rational and accepting one moment, and then to circle back to denial and depression the next.
Bargaining is another “stage,” but it doesn’t seem necessary to bargain. Dead is dead. But oh god (who by the way I don’t believe in), if I could just get one more minute. . .
And what would I do with that minute?
I’d ask her what to think. I’d ask her what she would say to me upon learning of her death. I’d ask her if she loved me as much as I loved her.
I’d ask her if she had given up, if the taste of death she’d had a month ago had made her want the real thing. I would ask her why she didn’t call me back when I called her a week before she died. Was it because I had been so adamant about her following the doctor’s instructions, and she didn’t want to? Did she not want me to harp? Had she accepted a fate that she knew would be too difficult for me to support?
Was I a bad friend for nagging her, for not being ready to be in the world without her?
At some point, I recognize, my heart will probably tell me the answers to these questions. That after I get through the dark passageway and back to the land of the living, I’ll be able to see more clearly.
I’d spent so many hours sitting and chatting with that woman. She listened endlessly to the minutia of my existence. Birds in my yard. The fox. My children.
She looked at my pictures.
She kept my secrets.
She always took my side. Always.
Her patience and wisdom were never ending. I’m sure at some point during those many times, she gave me all I needed to know, but until it is clear, I am left waiting, scowling, tapping my toe impatiently, for answers.
One more minute couldn’t scratch the surface. . . but I’d give some teeth for it anyway. One more minute to thank her for championing me when I felt like I had no one else. One more minute to tell her I love her. One more minute to ask her if she is ready, if she feels okay about this transition, if there is anything she wants me to do for her widow.
My friend had dozens of friends to whom she was close. She was amazing that way. She didn’t have casual acquaintances. If you made it into her circle, you were under her wing of family.
I am sure they would all wish for another minute or three, not to mention her beloved of over 30 years, or her BFF of 54 years. . . what makes me so special that I should feel hypothetically entitled to be granted one more imaginary minute?
Was I special?
What is it about death that makes me doubt my special-ness. Does it die with the one who was loved? Does it disappear behind the veil with their persistence and laughter?
Or is it, perhaps, if I believe I wasn’t special, then it won’t hurt as much because it didn’t mean so much?
I believe in love, and I think I believe that love is a bond that cannot die. I think I have to believe this about love, because if it is not portable to the great beyond, then I don’t think I could really get out of bed again.
Enduring love is the only “afterlife” in which I believe.
My friend was elderly, and yet, there must have been a rather foolish part of me that thought she would live forever, that believed I’d never have to face a world without her zany humor.
Somehow, her voice continues to fill my head. I hear her make those noises she’d make when she was amazed or delighted by something, the oooohhhs, and gasps of wonder. Despite seeing over 75 years of the world, she never ceased to be amazed by the smallest gestures of tenderness, by the beauty of nature, by the majesty of animals.
I did the stuff you’re supposed to do.
I cried. I brought food to her wife. I went to the services. I cried more. I got piss drunk and fell down. I collected all the cards and little treasures she had ever given me and looked at her sloppy handwriting and laughed.
I walked in the woods. I sat at her grave and talked to her. I patted the freshly rolled out sod, crumpled into a ball, and cried again.
I started to feel better, as though the hallway were lit with skylights.
Then I felt like shit again, and it was dark and I was bumping into stuff.
At the burial, one of the funereal directors plucked roses off of the arrangement on the casket and passed them around. She said we could place the rose with a prayer on the top of the casket to go down with my friend, or we could keep it in memory of her. I clutched at mine while everyone else kissed theirs and placed them on the casket.
I thought of the red rose corsage I wore a year ago at her wedding, how I’ve kept it tucked into my mirror in my bedroom.
How could it be? How could all of this be real?
It’s confusing how my brain is trying to fold around this information and digest it like a carnivorous plant. I suppose the good news is that I don’t have to completely get over my grief for her today. It’ll take time. One minute at a time; one breath at a time.
I’ve never cried such fat, wet tears.
If I were sitting with her, she wouldn’t hug me. I know that sounds weird and kind of cold, but it isn’t at all. It’s perfect.
She listens to me with her hands on her thighs, fingers curled in towards her thumbs. She breathes and nods slightly while I cry. She gives my space and lets me have my feeling, my dignity, my rage.
Then she pushes a box of tissues toward me. She tells me with a wry grin that she has examined the woman before her, and she does not find her lacking. She hands me a candle.
I dry my face, and plod forward.
I loved her.
She was dear to me.
She was a good friend.
To know her was so love her.
She was an amazing person.
I caught myself doing this and was kind of like, WTF?
Of course I still LOVE her. Present tense. And of course she IS still dear to me. Present tense. She will always be a great friend and an amazing person. Those are just facts that go on and on ad infinitum.
FUCK THE PAST TENSE.
I’m trying hard to remember a specific memory about Patty. Truth is, after I left that job, we didn’t spend a ton of time together. But that didn’t matter much. We had a bond and a very deep mutual affection. Like family you don’t see for many years because they live far off.
See, I did it again.
We still HAVE a bond and deep mutual affection. Death does not get to put that in the past tense.
Death, that fucking fucker.
Anyway, the last time I saw Patty was when I was on maternity leave with Emily. We went out to lunch. I was still struggling with nursing Em and I sat there, scrunched up in this booth, trying to get Emily to pay attention to my boob and latch. But Em was fussy. Patty held her patiently while I ate and the two of them made a love connection. Patty loved babies. She never had any, but she sure loved them and never was bitter or begrudging that other people had babies and she didn’t.
I guess it was her calm energy and sweet spirit Emily responded to that day.
We stayed in touch on Facebook and email, me and Patty. Then we fell out of touch for about a year. Then she died.
I didn’t know she was sick. Turns out a lot of people didn’t know she was sick. I think she tried to keep it private, and tried to protect people from the ravages of her illness. She wasn’t one to make a fuss or draw attention to herself.
She was one of the best of the best.
Um yeah. Fuck you death. She still IS one of the best of the best. Present fucking tense.
I may not believe in God as such, but I very much believe in Love. And I believe Love doesn’t die.
So, I’ve got to focus really hard on not letting that black hole suck up my present tense and turn it into the past. Because that would be the real loss.