Heartbreak

::TOO SOON::

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GRIEF

Even in the face of death, “life goes on.” It’ll break your heart, it’ll piss you off. But it does. It goes on.

When we suffer a heart shattering loss, one that comes suddenly and too soon, it’s enough to make us scream … at the sky, at the mirror, at God … at the birds, so arrogantly singing in the trees, as if nothing has happened. What are they doing? Don’t they know?

Part of the heartbreak is that we’re still alive. And there’s a part of us that wishes we weren’t.

But time passes. We cope, as we must. And Faith … which is a comfort most days … becomes a sharp-edged action word. A word we’ll grip in our hands with the tears streaming. With our teeth gritted. Holding onto it, almost in spite of ourselves. Letting it cut us till we bleed. Wishing it would.

Because how else will we hold onto it at all?

When someone is suddenly taken from us, it’s so confusing. In an instant, life itself explodes to the surface. It’s impossible to know which step to take. It’s everything, all at once. And it’s nothing at all.

We try to think how to move from this day to the next. But thinking is impossible. So we just try to find our feet.

When, after many months, we’re starting to have snippets of time when we feel okay, we’re quickly plunged into guilt and grief, because what right do we have to feel “okay?” We don’t even want to! This all needs to stop!

But the world keeps turning. And we keep moving forward. It’s not easy. One day, far into the future, we will have beautiful memories to look back on. Memories that will warm our hearts, and make us smile.

But today we are in the wreckage, not wanting to leave it if it means leaving her, but trying to find our way out because nothing is the same. And it never will be.

The reality is that you will grieve forever. You will not “get over” the loss of a loved one. You will learn to live with it. You will heal and you will rebuild yourself around what you have suffered. You will be whole again, but you will never be the same. Nor should you be the same nor would you want to.” – Elisabeth Kübler-Ross

::The Way Out::

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Lonely Bed

Sometimes it’s hard to know how to help someone. Or to know if what you’re doing is helping, and you should do more … or should you do less? Maybe a little bit quieter … or louder. Maybe do it from way over here. Or not at all. Then again, maybe just shut up and get to it.

My brother’s wife died in January. She was mid sixties, a vivacious woman who finally collapsed into the Parkinsons that took over her body, and her mind. Bob was at work when the call came from Kathy, Lyn’s caretaker:

“You need to get home. Now.” He hung up the phone and rushed to the house.

I don’t know the particulars; I do know the doctor was there. And that it was, sadly, time. Lyn could not have weighed a hundred pounds. She deserved to finally be at peace. So, that January day, she let go.

My brother texted me: “Lyn’s gone.” When I saw the text, I called. He was his typical stoic self, but I thought I could hear past Bob’s weary “take care of business” voice. He was drifting, and putting together what needed to be done now, and next, and next, and then … it was a sort of roadmap that kept him tethered to the ground, kept him from collapsing in an exhausted, heartbroken heap.

I’m his big sister. He’s my little brother. We grew up in the family foxhole together. We dodged many of the same alcohol-fueled, rage-filled bullets. We are the only two of the six of us kids who share that childhood. Our parents changed as parents do, with successive children. But we were the first: Thing one and Thing two.

So I felt a sort of desperate need to help hold his pieces together. I went to him in Memphis.

Through the past six years, when Lyn was dealing with, then coping with, then had no clue about, what was happening to her, Bob had enlisted my help a few times. I was glad to give it. We designed his outdated, barely functioning kitchen, cleaned out closets, dealt with piles that grow when the only thing attended to is your desperately ill life mate.

When I got to Memphis after Lyn’s death, I walked into the house. I was a bit startled; by the looks of things. The house itself was heartbroken.

Lyn didn’t want a funeral, and she’d asked to be cremated. Bob honored her wishes, and instead threw a party in April, on her Birthday. By now we’d chosen paint colors and freshened up all the public areas of the house. The party was a great success, and a weight was lifted from my bother’s shoulders.

Now, he’s learning how to live a life where he can go, and do, whatever he wants. It’s both a blessing and a curse; full of stops, starts, and those moments when the ache of missing her takes his breath. But he’s got this. And I’m here for him, always, ready to help in whatever way he needs.

::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

 

::JUMP::

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Jumping Off a Cliff

The other day, I was thinking about how love works. There are, some say, many different kinds of love. Parental or ‘paternal’ love is one. Romantic love is another. The love between friends, the love between siblings … all real, all serve to soften the edges and warm the heart as we traverse the predictably rocky path of life.

I like the way M. Scott Peck talks about it:

Love is the will to extend one’s self for the purpose of nurturing one’s own or another’s spiritual growth… Love is as love does. Love is an act of will — namely, both an intention and an action. Will also implies choice. We do not have to love. We choose to love.” 

There’s a kind of love that keeps us going … in pursuit of a dream, pursuit of justice, pursuit of a passion. Sometimes even pursuit of a relationship. There’s the warmth of camaraderie between people who share interests — in music, theology, writing, art.

C.S. Lewis describes the recognition between kindred spirits:

“Friendship … is born at the moment when one man says to another “What! You too? I thought that no one but myself . . .” 

The backside of love is the broken heart. Love and heartbreak are two sides of the same coin. We jump off the “love cliff” and fly for awhile – months, years, decades – but eventually experience the crash of loss at the end. Sometimes it’s the soft landing of age and knowing that it’s time. Other landings are sudden, unexpected, hard. Unforseen crashes leave our heart in pieces.

Somebody said it, though I can’t remember who … one of my favorite philosophers, I’m sure. He said the beautiful heart has been softened by being broken over and over again; it has been turned to grains of sand.

I love that analogy. For a heart to be in that state, the person has chosen love every time, knowing the crash always comes.

Those who jump off that cliff again and again are valiant. And yet, what are the other options? What would life look and feel like if we stayed away from that jagged edge, safe and secure, never jumping at all?

According to C.S. Lewis, we have that choice:

Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. To love is to be vulnerable.” 

So yes, to love is a choice. And yes, it is a brave choice; we step into our own vulnerability when we open ourselves to it. But, given what Lewis describes as the alternative, it’s really the only choice to make, isn’t it?

Here’s what it comes down to: it’s love that keeps us glued together inside our own skin. It’s the connective spark that pulses through us, the flame that puts the light in our eyes.  it’s the sweetness that makes everything else worth breathing for. It’s what we’re made of. And it’s the stuff of Who made us. Love and dust. So, really, what do we have to lose?

Let’s jump.

::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.”