grief

::Starry Night::

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Starry Night Sky

 

The depth and breadth of the things in this building suck the oxygen out of the room.

  • First exhibit, childhood. Promises to hold,     support, love … to encourage and protect. They   lie in pieces on the ground, dusty and forgotten.   Forgotten to everyone but me. Check check   check. Check check.
  • Up the escalator to the mezzanine, is high school, and teenage years. Potential recognized and undermined. The remnants of hope’s fire, a burnt offering of the dreams held there. A young girl with no one to reflect back to her the truth of who she was, gifts she brought, or the light she shined.
  • Shattered glass on the second floor, shards of a dark and betrayed relationship. Two beams glow bright, the children born, and a third, the tender flame of one who left too soon.
  • Top floor, on golden shelves sit baskets, overflowed with bit and pieces, half-made Golden Giftspromises of friends and family. Those whose only real crime was that they failed themselves before they ever could fail me.
  • The ceiling above is open to the sky, dark and starry.  Constellations weave a spiderweb, a language all their own. They tell of secrets yet revealed, and assure me that … no matter how it seems, I am not alone.

Heart Stars

 

::GONE BEFORE::

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Those Gone Before Us

There’s been a lot of loss lately. Death. People much younger than I am, going home. “Home.” And yet, here I sit, typing on my laptop. Wondering, “Why them, and not me? I’ve pretty much done all I came here to do, right?” And the answer is, apparently not. If it were true, you’d be home too, Cece. Breathe.

Sometimes I feel a fleeting pang of jealousy. They’ve reached their final reward. I grieve the loss of their presence, but I’m very clear about the fact that God’s timing is perfect. Who am I to question that? And who am I to think I’m done here … I’m the boss of me, alright, but not to that extent.

There’s much to learn from these people who have gone before. How did they live their lives? Whose lives did they touch? And when the final moment came, were they ready? I pray so. And I wonder if I’m as ready as I think I am …”All the days ordained for me were written in Your book before one of them came to be.”

I’ve seen the accounts of people who were pronounced ‘legally dead‘ but who ended up coming back. They’re still with us. What they said, every one of them, is that they had to be told, “It’s not your time. You must go back.” In other words, they were happy to be where they were: home.

The world is a chaotic place. So many people of divergent opinions are positively convinced that they are correct. Protocol is gone, respect for self and others seems dwindling. I remember the saying, “Discretion is the better part of valor.” I doubt many people even know what than means today. For the uninitiated, it means it is better to be prudent than merely courageous. Mind your mouth, and your choices. In other words: thoughtful. Be thoughtful.

I asked my attorney one day, in the midst of my divorce, “What should I do?” She said, “Go home. Plant flowers.” That was almost thirty years ago, and the weight of that advice has never left me. It’s saying, plant flowers to show your hope for tomorrow. Even if your time is up, you’ve made the world a more beautiful place.

Since then, I’ve given that same advice to others in counseling sessions; I think of it when I plant flowers today.

No one lives forever. But blessed are we who are still here and bear witness to the gifts left by those who are gone; the music, art, kindness, architecture, love, heart-stopping light – each individual “Magnum Opus,” are the flowers planted for us all.

Let’s live our lives, big and bright, as thankful celebration in their honor.

::Two Way Mirror::

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cece-and-tim-hog-posterized

These days we’re like a two way mirror.

Or through a glass, darkly.

At the grade school on Grandparents’ Day, if he shows up he is brittle and distant. He wears a starched smile, the kind that never reaches the eyes. When he looks at me, he doesn’t. Perhaps he can’t bear the reflection of himself that he sees there. Or perhaps I’m making too much of it, and he’s forgotten who I am. Like that time at the Film Festival when I saw him and called out to him. He looked at me, quizzically, then moved toward me, head shaking slowly, hand extended, with the words,

“I’m sorry, you’re going to have to help me.”

I did not take his hand. I looked at him in disbelief, and said,

“Cece.” He was embarrassed that he didn’t know who I was that day. But I realize now that he never really did.

Looking back at the years we were together, I recognize the holes he crawled through to go from our life together into his other life. I couldn’t see it at the time. The camouflage of home and family clouded my vision. But distance brings clarity. And friends who were there then have come to me from time to time since; as an act of confession? To clear their conscience as accomplices? I can’t honestly say.

While I don’t know every detail about what was going on then, I know more than I ever wanted to. Sometimes information serves no good purpose. Except, you know … it helps me realize that I was in a completely different relationship than he was. And it’s confirmed for me that he had no clue of the goodness that was present and waiting for him there. Loving him there. Knowing this is a different kind of heartbreak all by itself.

When someone becomes addicted to dancing with the dark, the light is just an irritation.

::MYSTERIES OF MAMA::

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Mama, Close Up

This picture was taken when we lived on South Madison. In it Mama is her beautiful, comical, musical self. Back then she would strike a pose, then collapse in laughter. She had flair, a free spirit,  she was my personal movie star, even before I knew what movie stars were.

I’ve gone back and looked through as many events as I can remember, trying to piece things together.

I’m searching for the turning point. To find when things changed. When the sun stopped shining, and the world went from bright colors to shades of grey.

I remember we had moved to the little house on North Marion. The one with the crayon blue linoleum floor. I remember a pivotal darkness, but nothing will speak to me from there. I try to go inside that space, but it’s always …. like the memories in it are right on the tip of my brain. I can almost see them. But not enough to grab hold, and to understand.

The things I know are that they had friends back then. At night they would get dressed up and go out together, and leave me with Ma Welp. But what else was happening?
I remember kitchen cabinets, with the doors open. Mama’s friend was rearranging. I remember Mama crying, and putting things back in the right places after the friend left. It was during that time that she stopped laughing.

I remember the priest coming. I remember feeling confused, and then it fades to black.
After whatever happened, that friend who was changing Mama’s kitchen never came over anymore.

Years later, when she was into her cups and in the mood to offer sage advice, she would say that you should never let anyone into your life because they’ll just walk in like they own the place and take over everything. Never get too close to anyone, she said. That’s the only way you can be safe, she said.

I’ve always wondered if that was the philosophy she used through the years to stay so far away from me. We’re closer now than ever before because, at 92, she has no clue who I am. It is a brokenhearted comfort that she always says she’d “love to get to know you.” I’d like to get to know you too, Mama. Or at least to understand what happened that kept us separate. But whatever it was, I loved you so; I choose to know that you loved me.I’m reminded of Birdie’s mother saying,

“All mothers love their daughters, even if they show it poorly.”

::The Dance::

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DANCING SHADOW

He had no choice but to betray me. Did he? Did he have a choice? No. I don’t see how he could have avoided it. I was too much. I was every single thing he both loved and hated.

I am a dreamer. I was born singing, and madly in love with life. My arms are flung wide, embracing all of it.

I’ve never stopped being that person. Detours? Yes, of course. I’ve gone off on a fool’s errand more times than I can count. But I’m always guided back by the lighthouse of my heart, and the musical joy that lives there.

The perspective at my center is maddening to someone who can’t see it. Generally that’s a cynic; someone who finds their own center unloveable. They define everyone else by their  lack of personal acceptance. Cynicism runs deep, denial is creed, because if they lose a handle on the lie they’re living, if the mask slips the slightest bit, who they claim to be falls apart. It’s come to me gradually over the years that yes, he was one of those. I take no pleasure in knowing it. But it explains a lot.

Okay, so the die was cast; we were young, beautiful, and almost immediately became caught up in the dangerous dance dreamers and cynics love. Maybe that’s it.  We each fell in love with the dance itself. I’ve never really seen it that way before. It must be time.

After a few years it started to dawn on me that about half the time I was dancing alone. He partnered with me when he needed an injection of the mad love, the joy, the dream I brought to bear. Once he was filled, I depleted, he was off again, climbing his ‘success ladder’ on the energy I gave. This act of transfusion happened repeatedly, and became central to the dance itself.

Some started saying I was too open, too forgiving. Too willing to glue the shards of us back together again and again.  There were those who called me stupid; co-dependent. I was neither. I knew what I was doing. I was holding in place a life that represented everything I was born loving so madly. I did it for my children. I did it for myself. Hell, I did it for him. And no, he still doesn’t have a clue.

Three pregnancies – one miscarriage and two healthy children – were born of that union. If nothing else came of it, that is a gracious plenty. My children are beautiful, and they have at least a portion of my madness flowing through them; my eager love, my spiritual center, my excited fascination with life. The music, which always came through me, pulses in them. They are music makers because, well, I’m their Mama.

Eventually his betrayals of ‘us’ became a routine part of his dance. But my dance steps had started changing too. I was no longer able – or even willing – to hold together the shattered pieces of who we’d become. I would like to say, simply, “I walked out.” But it was more like, “My life exploded, his final betrayal was so outrageous; there was nothing left that could be saved. He made it his mission to destroy everything.”

So. There’s that. But the interesting thing is, I’ll never regret the dance. And through the years I found my way back where I started; a dreamer, madly in love with life, arms outstretched. The lighthouse of my heart guided me home. My faith, and my music, and my beautiful children keep me here.

::My Lonesome Dove::

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Lonesome Dove

I got the news back today, and it was good. Bloodwork was off so they needed more tests. The liver. I’ve had issues in the past with my liver. Not of an alcoholic nature; I’m not a drinker. But other things that can plague such an organ, they were plaguing mine. So, bloodwork.

And the result is that — while things need watching — all is well.

I shared the good report with a dear friend and said “That’s a load off.” She said she was relieved because she knew I was concerned. But the funny thing is, I never was really concerned. It just weighed heavy. It occurs to me that not many people have that experience. And even fewer people are aware of the difference.

The weight of things can bear down on the joyfilled. And I am one of those.

Through the years there were life experiences that had my spirit bent nearly double. Moments when I found it difficult to breathe; moments when my joyful self wanted to forget how. When I ached to be done with it; climb out the window of this life and in the window of the next. To be honest, there’ve been times when, due to health or surgery, I faced a decision: stay, or go; I chose, each time, to stay.

The redemption that lives in the small moments is what saved me, restored me, brought me back. That is always what keeps me here.

So the blood test, in the grand scheme of things, is what it is. Nothing more, nothing less. A little window into one aspect of what’s going on with me. The rest finds its place somewhere in the personal, panoramic pages of my own ‘Lonesome Dove’ story.

I’ll live my life, in all its chaotic splendor, across my own prairie … until I don’t. But life, its own self, will go on. And that’s a weight I’m glad to carry.

::THE BOY IN THE BAND::

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Broken Heart Guitar Pic

I was a child of the sixties, and grew up in a household centered around the Holy Catholic Church and Pabst Blue Ribbon beer. My parents were children of the Great Depression; they learned that life means do without, stretch a dollar, work hard, drink harder, and show up at Mass every Sunday. I was their first child, born to them when they were young, tragically beautiful, and very much in love.

When I was a little girl I would study my mother’s face … her hazel eyes, long eyelashes, full red lips. She was clearly a movie star. I wondered what she was doing in that two bedroom house on North Marion Street, with its linoleum kitchen floor and parched sapling in the front yard. Even at four-and-a-half, I knew she’d been miscast. Through the years, five more babies, and alcoholic chaos, it became an undeniable fact: my mother belonged in a different movie.

As the oldest daughter, my job was laugh inducing peacemaker. Lots of oldest daughters have that role. My brother, two years younger, was mother’s tenderhearted caretaker. We spent our childhood together in the family foxhole. Nothing will bond siblings like friendly fire. It’s a sort of hellish, heartbreaking love that no one else knows. But at the time, it was our family’s brand of ‘normal;’ imagine my surprise when, years later, I learned that some families had no foxhole at all.

I grew up and, with what I’d learned of how life works, and my place in it, I went out into the world. Within short order, I said “I do” to the boy in the band.

The boy and I were a textbook example of symbiotic dysfunction. Our fractured parts fit together perfectly. Through twenty five years and two children, we cut ourselves and each other on those jagged edges. Part of his brokenness included repeated indiscretions. Part of my brokenness included denying they were happening, while blaming myself that they were.

It was his final, spectacular betrayal with my sister that made me sit up and say, “No. There is no amount of glue that can put us back together this time.” I gathered up the pieces of my heart; I left the boy in the band.

The next eighteen months were like a slow motion train wreck. All I could do was hang on, and wait for it to stop.

I remember the date. May 10, 1991. That morning the phone woke me up. My attorney, calling to tell me the divorce was final. She’d used the word, “Congratulations.” I think I said, “Thank you,” but I wasn’t grateful for any of it. I hung up, and laid in bed, waiting. I didn’t know what to expect, but I thought I would surely feel … relief? Excitement, maybe? No. Just silence.

I threw off the covers, walked into the bathroom, and stared at the face in the mirror. Who will I be now? I whispered at her. A sincere question. I’d lurched through the decades, constantly reinventing myself, determined to be whoever those claiming to love me told me I was. Now I had no one to tell me. I was at a loss.

The next months and years were like being born, over and over again. I was the mother giving birth;  I was the baby shooting out of the canal into what I prayed would be a gymnast landing. I wanted a 10 from the judges.

But it wasn’t working anymore, as if it ever really had. I finally raised the white flag of surrender. I’d run out of things to try, people to be. I was exhausted. All I had left was me. When I finally gave into myself, it felt like declaring bankruptcy.

For months, going out in public unvarnished was really frightening; but there was also an undercurrent of excitement. And eventually, slowly, what I’d feared most became easier, partly because it was natural. And I’d have to say the surprise for me was that while life is always full of challenges, showing up in it doesn’t have to be hard. Sometimes there are still glitches, but every day I’m moving closer to the center of someone I’ve always known; the person God put here and breathed life into. There’s a peace in connecting with what’s true in me; authentic perspective gives a clarity like nothing else.

During those years, I was living in Toluca Lake. On my walk one morning I glanced at a flower growing up through a crack in the asphalt. I went past it, then stopped, backed up, and studied it. That little flower was blooming and reaching for the sun, in spite of the considerable efforts made to stop it. “Wow,” I thought. “That’s me.”

Ever since I was a tiny girl, I’ve felt a check in my spirit … like a tiny thread of light, deep inside. Piled over with years of Catholic school, alcoholic parents, sweet babies, abusive marriage, broken dreams … you’d think that thread would have snapped, or caught fire, or disintegrated. It never did. And that’s what I’m back in touch with now.

These days, I know where home is. I’ve discovered that I was right here all the time.

And I have to smile because the truth is, I’ll always love the boy in the band.