::TOO SOON::

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::

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.

::SAFE HARBOR::

SAND AND SEA

I got back from the beach last night. On my morning walks by the shore I harvested a few beautiful shells. Now I stand at the kitchen sink with my coffee, lower them into the basin of water.
And my mind drifts …

“Come out of your shell.” Or, “She needs to come out of her shell.” I’ve heard it said about others, I’ve heard it said about me−both sincerely and sarcastically, as in , “Umm, girlie, you need to climb back into your shell; you’re a little ‘too far out’.”

But the shell thing−like sea urchins or snails−what a Divine idea. To carry your protection on your back; to be able at a moment’s notice to dodge any bullet simply by “climbing in.”

If I could have, I would have. Especially in the nineties. Those were ‘the paranoid years’. The time when my hair fell out in clumps. I knew people were whispering about me through the soup cans at the grocery store. One of the things Tim did was he copied my journal, rewrote it, then showed it to everyone he could think of. Hell yes, I wanted a shell. One that could hold a woman in her forties, protect her from the man who’d claimed to love her; one where she could cry every tear until they made an ocean she could float away on.

I run the water till it’s a little warm, and begin massaging each of the small, ridged shapes with my fingertips until their pearly surfaces become visible.

Some say time heals wounds. But it never says anything about what you’re supposed to do while the healing happens. Sit on the floor, back corner of the closet? That was a favorite spot. Fall asleep on the couch, with the TV on? That happened more times than I can count. Get home from your therapist, pace for twenty four hours, watching the clock til it’s time to get in the car and head back to her office? For months I did that. She saved my life.

Those experiences−the closet floor, the couch, Dr. High’s office−they never felt like healing at all. They felt like one big gyroscopic attempt to hang on. I thought the spinning would never level out, that I would never find solid ground. But the truth is, I did. And healing happened.

When I think about the woman I was then, I am moved by her pain; by her need to hide away. I want to reach back and hold her. I want to tell her it will be okay. Tell her that, believe it or not, she’ll survive. And she’ll be glad she did.

I swish the water gently and choose a shell, think of the moment I picked it from the sand. I turn this delicate vessel over in my hand. It is a profound reminder of protection and release.

Where have the creatures gone? Perhaps they found other shells for safe harbor. Perhaps their time came to transition, becoming one with the flotsam and jetsam. Or perhaps they are braving this world like I am−out of my shell, ready to move forward into whatever this day and this life will bring.

::THE WE OF ME::

INNER CHILD AT SUNSET

Lately I’ve been wondering how much of me is left. I mean, when I think back, it seems like there have been at least a couple of incarnations in this one lifetime. I was someone’s kid in the first lifetime, and a sister. In the second lifetime I was someone’s wife, and mother. How much of me did that use up? By the time I became a wife, did I remember who that girl was? Was I still that person? Today I’m someone’s mother, someone’s mother in law, and someone’s grandmother. What about that kid? Is she still here? Does she know how old we are? Is she observing the relationship challenges, the unreached horizons that float in the mist, just ahead of wherever it is I am? Or is she the one driving me forward?

It’s funny. These days there’s a familiar authenticity inside my skin; is this what she felt then? Or is that dementia? Is that old age? I don’t know. But I can tell you this: I feel more on purpose than I’ve felt since I was five. Since I was the kid on that swing in the back yard at 1563 North Marion, crying because I couldn’t write a song like the ones on the radio. I don’t cry about that now. Today I’m grown up, and I write songs for a living. Does she know?

When I work on the various projects that keep my passions fired, I feel her here. She sits across the table, smiling at me, her chin resting on one dimpled hand.

I also feel her tears. When my Daddy — OUR Daddy — died earlier this year, she is the one who cried into my pillow. She’s also the one who took my sister’s face in her hands at the funeral home and told her everything was okay. In many ways I felt like I was watching her do that. I was the observer. Looking back at that weekend, I realize the girl of me led us through it with her broken heart wide open, loving everybody as big as she could.

Since then, she and I have hit a rough patch. One where healing and grief keep getting locked in hand to hand combat. It leaves me bone weary, and she’s trying to make sense of it all.

When I lie down and rest my head in the dark, I feel her there. She keeps watch through the night. Sometimes in that space between awake and asleep, I hear her whisper, “Daddy always believed in us.” The adult of we never thought so. The girl of we always knew.

There are those who would call me daft for seeing us as two separate people. Shrinks might tell me to “integrate.” I reject that clinical diagnosis. The adult mind lives on the surface where life appears steady, things are kept in tidy lines, and all rules apply. But the child mind is boundless; it explores below the surface. There are times I need to get hopelessly lost in her world of unseen wonder, secret caverns, mighty whirlwinds, and fragments of dreams unlived. This is where the thrill of excitement rides in on a sunbeam, where fragile hearts dive deep, shatter and heal, only to dive deep again.

Not breaking through the surface with her would pose a far greater risk to my Spirit. I cannot bear the thought of skimming the top, and never living the we of me at all.

If Daddy can see us, we know he’s proud.

::THESE LINES::

Hands with Tea

I’m sitting at my kitchen table, studying the palm of my hand, and waiting for snow.
The house is warm, but my nose is cold. The wintry chill around the edges of the house drives me to the center so I’m here, at this table. And thinking of building a fire.

But these lines. They’ve been on my palms since I grew hands while in my mother’s belly. Had I known them to reveal things, had I known there was a map, I might have done life differently. I might have checked the highway that starts at my wrist and curves up to the center-point between my thumb and forefinger.
I would have read the road signs held in the two that cross from left and right.

Years ago I went to a palm reader in New Orleans. I was newly divorced and trying to figure out how to navigate in the world as nobody’s anything. The palm reader looked at my hands, traced the lines she saw, and nodded.
“Three children.” I shook my head.
“No. Only two. Two children.”
“Oh well,” she said, still looking at my hand, “You will have a third. There are three children here.” She looked up and smiled.

I paid, left as quickly as I could, got outside, leaned against the wall, folded into myself, and tried to breathe. Apparently my palms didn’t show the complete hysterectomy I’d had the week of my twenty seventh birthday. There would be no more children. But I could still feel her fingernail tracing that line. I looked at my palm. How could she see that? How did she see the one I lost? How is that written there? I choked back sobs, slouched against a building in the French Quarter. I’m teary now, just writing the words. So be it. The question I had, and still have, is this: is my story really written here? Right here? And how I could never read it, never even know it was here to be read?

I had wanted a house filled with children, but looking back – even through the grief of loss – I can see it all came together exactly as it should have.

Life is a fascinating tapestry of love and its heartbreak, growth and its pain, choices and their consequences … and the freedom to know that all things work for good in the hearts of those who believe.

So I sit here, check the weather forecast, watch The King’s Speech, and … realize that I’m idly running my finger across the line. The one that told her there were three. And I remember: whatever any of us might think we know about anything, we don’t know everything … we simply cannot. We’re inside it, looking out. There’s a certain relief in that, really. And how exciting it is to be aware that there’s always more to learn, reasons to wake each day, eager to wrap our arms around this miracle of life.

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