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This is one of those posts… I hesitate, I pause, I take a breath.
What should I say?
What can I possibly say?
Why should I say it?
Two years have passed since my mother died from cancer. Two years that I looked at her bedroom and bathroom daily, knowing she would never walk those floors again. Two years since I started sifting through her belongings, deciding what to keep and what to toss and what to give away. Two years filled with new adventures and broken hearts and losses and finds and blogs and poems and learning to feel and learning to pause and learning… two years of learning. And still… here I am, lost in the depths of my own thoughts. Numb. Disengaged. Trying to breathe.
Last year, I seemed to be able to write exactly what I wanted to write about the anniversary. This year, I’m not sure about my words.
There is no time limit for grief, that’s a well established fact.
I sat down to write about my grandmother and how she talked with tears in her eyes about her father until she passed away at the age of 87, seems she grieved his death until her death made it impossible to grieve any longer.
I sat down to write about how my best friend and I can reminisce about our friend who died 23 years ago and we still get tears in our eyes thinking of her laugh and how she sang so off-key it hurt.
I sat down to write about the three dogs I have loved at various points in my life and who have died and how the absence of each leaves me wishing to hear their bark one more time.
I sat down to write about my father and how he was this gentle and kind man whose illness and death left us all drained and has surely still affected those of us who loved him.
I sat down to write about my mother whose battle with cancer was swift and fierce and untimely — her death was too soon.
There is no time limit for grief.
I sat down to write about how I’ve been left in an emotional well — digging and clawing my way, with my hand stretched out as far as I can manage, always reaching for the light that seems to be trickling in over the sides of the darkness.
But I don’t know what to write.
I have no words to describe loss.
I have no words to describe cancer.
I have no words to describe empty.
How do you describe empty?
How do you describe numb?
I have no words to describe a feeling that I’m not sure even exists — do I liken it to a color? If so, what color describes messy? What adjective describes vacant?
Two years since my mother passed away.
Two years of reaching out and pulling back and being stuck and moving on and begging and hating and loving and forgiving and wishing and mending… two years of learning to put all the pieces together. Two years of hoping I had all the pieces I need.
It’s been two years since my mother died. Three years since my father died. Fourteen years since my grandmother died. Six months since I acted completely irrationally…
One minute since I hugged my youngest daughter. Ten minutes since I laughed with my son. Five minutes since my oldest daughter asked me for fashion advice. One day since I read an amazing book. A few hours since I contemplated booking the vacation I’ve dreamt of for years. Two days since I emailed my best friend — one second since I smiled.
Maybe I am learning. Maybe I do have all the pieces. Maybe sadness and mourning and grief are just pieces to this puzzle. Maybe they are just a part of what makes me whole. Maybe denying their existence is like denying a piece of the puzzle that is me. Maybe.
It’s been a while since I gave you a visual — I love visuals.
My son walked into my room and put one of his ear buds in my ear and had one in his ear, he said “mom, you have to listen to this song.” I think sharing ear buds is a perfect way to be present in a moment with someone. Let’s pretend we’re sharing ear buds… you have to listen to this song.
I am not afraid of storms for I am learning to sail my ship. ~~ Louisa May Alcott
I love that quote.
I have a t-shirt with that quote on it that I’m wearing right now as I begin to type these thoughts. I bought it at a shop when I ran my first 5k in September. September was this really weird month that is foggy, I don’t remember some of the things that took place… some of the things that were said or not said. I just remember I was glad when it left.
October rolled in and I put my t-shirt on and I smiled and I went through the motions of a person who was solid and secure. I decorated some pumpkins and I handed out candy and I took my youngest daughter trick-or-treating. I wrote some things and I met some new people and I tried to wipe the haze out of my eyes so I could see everything properly. I remember being glad when October left as well.
I put my t-shirt back on and sat waiting for November to take over. I thought maybe this would be the month… this would be the time I would remember without wincing. I sold my house and I bought a house and I packed up all my things and I moved. I took care of my house and it welcomed me and my kids and it sheltered us from the storms that were rising up outside. I cooked a Thanksgiving feast and I celebrated with family and I wrote some more things so I could remember. November went so fast, I was glad to see it go.
It was getting cold outside by the time December crashed in. I put my t-shirt back on to remind me that “I am learning…”, because I am. I started to decorate my new home and I hauled a Christmas tree inside and I put up lights and hung the stockings and made cocoa and watched “It’s A Wonderful Life”. I smiled until my cheeks hurt on Christmas morning as I watched my children unwrap boxes and boxes of happy. I wrote a few more things to help me remember and I was a little sad when December had to go.
January brought the new year filled with new hopes and new newness. I put my t-shirt on and marveled at the quote, I laughed because I knew I was still afraid. I knew I was still learning. I started piecing together my house; new paint, new carpet, new furniture, some art, some memories… a delicate balance of the new and the nostalgic. Piecing together my house lead to piecing together my life. I continued to write in the hopes that I would continue to learn. I wanted January to stay a little longer, but it was time to go.
So there I was… watching February end. Patiently learning to sail my ship. Patiently learning… wearing my t-shirt as a reminder that learning is never easy and never quick and sometimes comes with a few tears and a few laughs and a few hearts broken wide open to reveal all the places that somehow mended — somehow, defied all odds and mended. February ended — but I kept going.
March. Just beginning and reeking a bit of havoc on me already. So… on goes my t-shirt. On goes the process of living and learning and sailing my ship. On goes the attempt to understand the quote that I have been wearing and so earnestly trying to live.
I am not afraid of storms for I am learning to sail my ship. ~~ Louisa May Alcott
I am afraid of storms. I always have been. The thunder and the lightning and the possibility of darkness taking over the house and the street and the town. The pounding of rain on the windows so hard they might break any minute. The howling of the wind that rattles the roof with such ferocity I fear it will pop off the house with each new gush. I am afraid of storms.
I can’t control a storm. I just have to let it toss me around, hurdle objects at me, pound its thundering fists against my head. I try to steady myself and gather matches and candles and a cell phone nearby just in case, I ready myself for battle. But in the end, I’m always at its mercy — a position I don’t like.
I’ve been sleeping. Figuratively at first… walking through my life as if I were a robot programmed to perform a set task, never to veer, never to complain, never to long to break free from the cord that held it in place all this time. Then, without warning, I began to sleep physically. Only, it wasn’t sleep. It was a constant battle of awake and restless and groggy and periods of troubled quietness. I found it hard to move. I found it hard to take a step away from the comfort of my sheltered home… my sheltered bed. I couldn’t remember the journey I embarked on a year ago… it seemed so far away.
I don’t understand the concept of needing others. I never understood the concept of co-dependency. I always felt like I was better alone — sorting through my own mess, sailing my own ship. But when a storm came, I found myself reaching out — and now, I’m having a hard time pulling my hand back in. I guess I’m the opposite of co-dependent — I need to force myself to open up to people and be vulnerable around people and let them know I care and I’m better with them around — and I think I would do that… if it didn’t hurt so much when it all goes terrible wrong.
When I was around 12 years-old, I went canoeing with my sister and my father and my grandfather. My grandfather was an avid canoer — he had the most remarkable Old Town canoe that he tied down to the top of his station wagon, he never went anywhere without it. That canoe was so remarkable it is currently on display at the Boy Scout Museum — but that’s another story for another day. We decided to go canoeing in one of the lakes near my home. We packed a picnic basket, we gathered towels and swimsuits, we packed the canoe with all the necessities and we pushed off from shore.
I, being who I was, insisted on steering the canoe — my grandfather reluctantly gave up his seat and there I was, steering the four of us around the lake. We had been paddling for a while — looking at all the birds and creatures on the shore as we lazily floated around. It was a beautiful day — blue skies, a soft warm breeze, bees buzzing in the distance, a fish splashing out of the water to get a peek at us. We found a small island and headed towards it so we could eat our picnic and swim. It was one of those days that you judge all forthcoming days by — the smell of the wind, the taste of the peanut butter sandwich, the sound of the birds, the brightness of the sun and the blueness of the sky. Very few days have measured up to the complete sensory experience of that day.
After lunch my sister and I meandered along the shore, collecting shells and examining driftwood. We talked about sending a message in a bottle, I remember thinking “why?” We weren’t lost, we weren’t in trouble, we didn’t need anything — just the way I liked it. No need to be rescued. Independent. I reluctantly agreed to join her in this quest to send the message filled bottles. I wrote a few… things like, “Hi I’m Becky. I’m 12. I like softball and basketball and football. I like poems.”
We tightened the lids on several bottles and cast them out — watching them as they drifted away. I wondered… ever so briefly, what if? What if someone actually found my bottle? What if someone found my thoughts drifting around in the vast lake (which I assumed would eventually reach the ocean) and cared? What if they felt a spark of connection and for a moment, maybe just a brief moment in time, someone out there was thinking of me? I remember being self-conscious, even at 12. I would worry if I said the right thing or scored enough points in basketball or hit the ball far enough over the fence — I remember the feeling of being under a microscope. Still, even now, the urge to not push publish, the urge to not put a stamp on that card, the urge to not make a phone call or send a text or wave hello. The grip of self-consciousness is never easy to loosen and rarely lets go all together.
Soon I became bored with talk of messages in bottles and insisted that my sister and I be allowed to take the canoe out by ourselves, just up and down the shore, to hone our skills. Guiding that canoe was so empowering — even at 12 I had this feeling of being in control that filled my senses with pride and lust for more. Then it happened. As beautiful as the day had been to that point, a storm rolled in directly on top of us — no warning. Thunder and lightning — the smallness of the canoe became very clear as I used all my newfound abilities to guide my sister and I back to shore to my awaiting father and grandfather.
They wasted no time in throwing all our supplies into the bottom of the canoe and quickly instructed my sister and I to put on life vests. They then shoved the two of us into the bottom of the boat and told us to stay as still as possible so as not to tip the canoe. This did not sit well with me. I knew how to guide the canoe — I didn’t want to be tucked under the seat, helpless. I wanted to be in control.
The rain hurt. It was pouring from the dark sky with such force that it left red welts all over our exposed skin. The lightning seemed to be chasing us. The thunder was laughing hysterically as my father and grandfather used all their muscles to keep us moving toward the shore. The beautiful 90 degree weather was completely gone and we were left in the bottom of this canoe, shivering. I wanted to move so bad, I wanted to help row the canoe, I wanted to not be helpless. There were people on the shore watching us struggle, there was nothing they could do. The determination and expertise of my grandfather, who was well into his 70’s at that point, was unparalleled.
We made it to the shore that day — tired, scared, wet. I was exhausted from sitting still. Not moving can weigh you down. It can secure you in a choke hold so tight that the thought of any movement is immediately squelched. Stillness can sometimes be an impossible concept. Everything turned out okay even though I wasn’t in control. I stilled my thoughts and my body for that brief moment in time and let the storm toss me around as I gazed up from the bottom of that canoe at the steely arms of my father and grandfather. I trusted. I let them battle the storm for me. I waited, patiently, for the storm to pass. I held out my hand and allowed it to be grabbed hold of — I don’t always need to pull it back.
So I’ll think back on that day when I need to be reminded that it’s good to have people around you — they can help you reach the shore. They can shake you awake when you’re sleeping, or pretending to sleep, and show you what you’ve been missing. I am somewhat of a new convert to the theory that people are connected, that people need each other, that it’s okay to have a friend in your corner.
I’m still having trouble pulling my hand back in… I guess it knows that eventually the right person will grab hold. I guess my hand knows that there’s other people with their hands outstretched as well — not afraid to hold on.
I have someone shaking me awake right now — someone reminding me why I should be alive and alert and awake. Someone reminding me to put plenty of messages in those bottles — they will be read eventually.
On goes my shirt… and I smile as I read the quote. I’m learning to sail my ship… I just steer it a little differently then I’m supposed to. Or maybe not. I’m hoping there isn’t a right way to learn about yourself and your place in the world — as long as you learn. And as always, I’m holding on to hope… and leaving a few messages in bottles — hoping…
This, possibly, has nothing to do with anything…
I’ve been glued to all my sources of information lately… TV, newspapers, magazines, Facebook, twitter. I’ve been reading and listening and looking and watching — from the outside, because I don’t like to just jump right into heated conversations — especially ones that I don’t know all the specifics to. But, some of you do.
I watched Rachel Maddow last night.
I watched her after a few days of being inundated with screaming insulting arguments from people who think they are right. She, as usual, was a wonderful refreshing breath of fresh air.
I read an insult on twitter by someone I think is actually a nice person, unfortunately, this person used a term that rattled my senses and left me sad and mad and worried that we, as a people, really don’t have much patience or understanding for each other. The term was “libtard”.
The term didn’t bother me because I’m a liberal-minded woman, it bothered me on an entirely different level. I don’t like the term “retard”, it’s insulting… horrific. It’s used on people who have an inability to be clearly heard in our world and it’s used by people who think the only way they can be heard is to speak louder and use more insulting phrases than the person standing next to them. I spend a large majority of my professional life making sure that the people who have been insulted by such terms as “retard” have a voice. And then… like most horrific catch phrases, a term like “libtard” is born.
Terms like “libtard” are used in an attempt to shame someone out of expressing their views, to quiet them, to push them back so they can not be heard. I’m sure we aren’t going to, as a society, change the way we talk to one another or discuss gun control or rationalize a political figure who uses gun sights and loud words to confuse people. But… I’d say we should all be sad today — I’d say we should all start by using intelligent words in intelligent conversations. Calling me a “libtard” doesn’t quiet me… it just quiets me to you.
So, I guess I’m a “libtard”… but I’m the same “libtard” who made you cry when you read that poem and made you think when you read that post. And I’m the same person who will be here to do it all over again — and I think, you’ll be back here too.
Recently, I realized I’ve turned into my father. Yes, I know this is odd. I’ve also turned into my mother and possibly my grandmother… there’s that uncle too. Anyway, I discovered my transformation into my father while I was at the grocery store. It’s Christmas you see. This means that everyone completely loses all ability to think and create lists and remember the simple things that are needed for cooking and gifting and all that comes along with Christmas. I travel to the store quite capably every other day of the year — but today, the eve of Christmas Eve, well… I turned into my father and made four trips to secure sour cream, butter, milk, and cheese.
Now, my father made these eve of Christmas Eve trips alone so I can only speculate that my behavior once I was in the store resembled his.
It started by securing the best parking spot in the lot, the coveted spot right next to the cart return area — a stroke of sheer luck no doubt.
The store was packed more on this fourth trip than it was earlier in the day — also, the looks on the faces of the shoppers had changed from a cherub-like “happy holidays” smile to an affect as flat as an elephant’s foot. The workers were also showing signs of the eve of Christmas Eve shopping stress — there seemed to be a lot of shelf stocking going on as opposed to employees eager to locate “those-weird-food-items-you-can’t-locate-on-your-own”.
I have shopped at the same store for several years now but for some inexplicable reason, this night I had to stop at the end of each aisle and look up unknowingly at the sign to tell me what items were located on each aisle — I stood under each sign at the beginning of each aisle. The eve of Christmas Eve short-term memory loss had clearly kicked in — I’m sure my father suffered from this, I’m sure of it.
Once I decided I needed to venture down an aisle, I would pause in the middle, my cart spread across as if I was parking a Lincoln Town car there — no way around me, completely unaware of the back-up I was creating.
I looked down at the ground, hoping to spark my memory of all the ingredients needed for all the special dishes — my mannerisms reeked of dementia.
I talked to myself — going through the items I knew I had in the cupboard and the refrigerator. I answered myself, “You just bought unsalted butter on the last trip”, I’d say aloud for all to hear. “Oh yeah, that’s right, I forgot”, I answered back even louder with a smile on my face — I oozed with the eve of Christmas Eve psychosis. People turned their carts away so as not to startle me. The always helpful produce man retreated behind the bananas.
“I am not an ANIMAL!”, I screamed in my head. Which of course made me laugh aloud — the women were protecting their children.
I decided on my fourth visit to the store that I desperately needed margarita mix, for obvious reasons (I was clearly having an eve of Christmas Eve psychotic episode and what better way to welcome a psychotic episode AND your relatives then with tequila?)
My cart was filled with the necessities for a happy get together, once again, and I felt certain I could leave this place — this vortex of confused people — hoping never to return (until at least the day after Christmas which is, of course, when I will realize that I’m out of chocolate milk). I decided to park my Buick of a cart along an end cap this time while I did another mental review of my cart, matched it to my mental review of what was in my cupboards and refrigerator, checked it against my mental review of the needed ingredients for all the dishes I was preparing, and then… did it all again. Unfortunately, I once again did my mental review aloud for the whole of the store to witness… “squash casserole — this, this, and this… done, good. Pumpkin black bean soup — that, that, that, and this… yay, I’m doing great.” I looked up to see that produce man hunkered down deep in the grapes this time — one eye on me, one eye searching for the nearest exit.
I headed for the checkout, with a rather large, possibly scary smile on my face — I was feeling so smug at this point.
I made small talk with the girl at the checkout… “So, are you all open tomorrow?”
“Yes”, she replied without looking up.
“Oh good”, I smiled. “Gives me plenty of opportunity to come back again when I get home and realize I have forgotten something.”, I laughed one of those weird laughs that you laugh when you realize that you’re sounding a wee bit off and the fact that you’re now laughing that weird laugh doesn’t really help your cause in the eve before Christmas Eve psychosis defense. This is when I realized that I had, in fact, turned into my father. The supreme disher-outer of droll jokes and one liners that no one laughed at more than he did.
She continued to look down, not wanting our eyes to meet. Clearly, we were through exchanging pleasantries.
I was back to talking to myself with the occasional fit of laughter — thinking about that tequila.
No one asked if I needed help to my car with my bags — the baggers were mysteriously absent from the front of the store.
I’m home now. With my loot. The eve of Christmas Eve is here. My fourth trip to the store was hopefully my last.
So I say to you all, “Merry Christmas to all and to all a… what’s that my precious daughter? We’re out of toilet paper?”
I’ll be right back…
When my father died, he was buried in a double grave. The grave would be the final resting spot for he and my mother. Being that it was a double grave, the marker would be a double marker as well. When my father died, we really didn’t need to think too many things through, except what would be inscribed on the marker. It takes several weeks for grave markers to be engraved so in the interim, they put up a nice picture of your loved one with their name displayed — that’s it, just a picture with their name on it. When you go there to visit you have a smiling picture to remind you that someone is missing — the person who is looking at you through that photograph is buried in the grave you’re standing on.
It took a little longer than usual for my fathers marker to be engraved because, being that it was for my mother as well — who was still alive, we had to come up with the words to mark her final resting spot too. The words for my father’s side of the marker were easy enough — father, husband, son, kind. To be honest, I don’t know what it says… I’ve never been able to look at it long enough to read it and when my mother and I were deliberating what it should say I remember giving many “uh-huhs” desperately trying not to hear the actual words she was saying. If I heard the words it meant I had to succumb to the realization that my father was dead.
Our angst at finding the perfect words for his marker was magnified by the fact that we also had to find the perfect words for my mothers marker, who, as I said, was still alive at this time. When we first began contemplating the marker, we were unaware of the cancer that was coursing through my mother’s blood stream. It was the cancer that was making it impossible for her to walk and eat and sleep and get dressed and care for herself. We thought she was overly tired from taking care of my father as he battled lung cancer. A short six weeks after my fathers funeral, my mothers diagnosis was complete — Multiple Myeloma. The saying on the marker became too much for us to contemplate once we learned that cancer was again infiltrating our world, a little too real, so my mother finally choose a saying without too much fanfare — mother, daughter, wonder woman. Again, I really have no idea what it says, I “uh-huh’d” when I thought she sounded sure of whatever she decided to put there.
I’ve never been able to look at it long enough to read it — ever. Three years after my father’s death and a year and a half after my mother’s death… I’ve never let my eyes rest on that marker long enough to read the words.
I can remember when I was young. I had a cousin who died — hit by a car. She was older than me, beautiful, smart, funny… my own superhero. A tragedy that has possibly affected and shaped my interactions to this day but that is another post for another day. I was 9 or 10. I went to her funeral. I saw her in the casket. She and I had played together a few days earlier. I cried. I shook. I couldn’t stop. A harsh reality that I was unable to avoid — as long as I was at my grandparents house anyway. When the summer ended, I went back home as I did every summer and I continued. My cousin and I lived in different states, we only saw each other during the summer so when I was at my home it was so easy to pretend everything was completely the same because at my house, it was. I didn’t have to face the reality until the next summer when I visited my grandparents and I would be repeatedly punched in the gut with her absence on a daily basis. But, then, at my home — I was free from the pain of loss. I didn’t have to see it.
It’s the same premise of not looking at that damn marker. If I never look at it, if I never read their names on it, I can pretend a little longer. I can pretend they’re at their house waiting for me to arrive with my kids. I can pretend we are all going to go on a hayride or to the movies or to the mountains. But once I look at that marker, it’s over. The fantasy ends. The reality begins. One look at that marker and I have to finally concede that they’re gone.
A concession I’ve been unwilling to make… until now. Seems my life has led me down a path of letting go, of making new connections, of relying on a community of friends and strangers to guide me in the lessons of this life. Seems an easy task, really. Holding your gaze on a few words. Reading the letters that form the words that signify the time to move is now. Reality is an awesome place. We can shape it and bend it and coddle it because we are the reason it is real. The reality is, it’s time for me to open my eyes and see where I’m going. The reality is, it’s time for me to see what that marker says. The reality is, it’s time for me to embrace reality. What about you? Any realities you need help to see?
The reverb10 prompt today was community… this post is just where I ended up.