While Thanksgiving was easier….. December has been harder.
I will get through it,
and it will be different,
Each season will leave a different blueprint image behind,
Like a monoprint
On the same piece of glass
All in shades of blue.
The holidays have really never been my thing, over the years. Most of my adult memories of them are associated with either steeling myself to going home and battling it out with my parents, or figuring out a way not to go home, and feeling guilty about it. I remember one year, an impending snowstorm made the decision for me, and genuinely crying on the phone to my parents about having to spend Christmas alone, but secretly, inside and under the fountain of tears, I was relieved. My return visits home made me the centerpiece of attention, something I normally enjoy, I’ll admit, but this was never in a charmed or charming way.
I shan’t relive those visits here, of course, moments from over the years still rise up and remind me of their sting. It’s taken a long, long time to feel at peace with my history, the family traditions that so many of us have. Then, my father’s death became a new albatross this time of year, in part because it echoed his own history around the holidays: his mother’s own death before Christmas turned him into a very depressed, withdrawn person as that holiday approached. The family compromise was to decorate every-other year, as he hated everything about the holiday, arguing the ritual was idiotic, given our lack of religious faith. But really, inside, he was just trying to keep afloat in the Pit. The Pit of sadness and despair, where our grief and our pain pools and resides, ebbing and flowing, sometimes threatening to drown us completely. In the years following his death, I barely recall those gatherings myself, apart from the ones we hosted. In some ways, I replicated his own behavior; survival in the grips of absolute despair.
I’m not sure why this year feels different. Not quite as blue, not quite as shiny, either, just another day with fewer stores open, no mail. A day spent with a good friend watching Harry Potter on the big screen, in a theater not nearly as crowded as Christmas is, where I have sought company among my Jewish friends in the past. Traditions are hard to shake, especially the feeling that you are missing out somehow, that a piece of you is off-kilter, adrift, not in sync as Facebook status after Facebook status rolls by with reports of over-indulgence, new recipes, scrubbed shiny faces of children. Odd, how social media can unite and isolate all at the same time. But that history is not my history, your recipe for stuffing is far different than my own.
They say when you leave home, that you can never go home again. My father said those words to me after they moved me into the dorms to begin my freshman year of college. Stung, I felt like I had been set adrift somehow, the proverbial thump of landing after being kicked out of the nest. He then explained that while it was always my home, it would never be the same. My struggle to define myself, to grow up, to be independent, would all prevent my childhood home from feeling the same to me, and that I would have to find and establish a new home for myself. At that time, all of 17 years old, I thought I understood. But I can tell you now, from the wisdom of 25 more years, that I had no idea what home was or needed to be at that point in my life.
Tonight, I will enjoy some pasta with mushrooms and asparagus. Asparagus my husband bought me because he knows how much I love it. Asparagus he bought when he went to the grocery store for me, taking the list I’d written for myself, taking one thing off my list in a week that’s been so busy for being so short. In so many ways, he is my refuge, my comfort and strength. But I finally see that my home is within me. It is not defined by a day or a meal. And for this wisdom and perspective, I’m thankful, indeed.
Sorrow drips into your heart through a pinhole
Just like a faucet that leaks and there is comfort in the sound
But while you debate half empty or half full
It slowly rises, your love is gonna drown
– from the song “Marching Bands of Manhattan” by Death Cab for Cutie
Last Thursday, June 10th, I hit the four-year mark. I anticipated it, I eyeballed the date for days leading up to it. I felt the fluttering fingers of dread rise up in my stomach. Four years since I watched my father take his last breaths, four years that have seen changes and sorrow and laughter and joy and struggles and anger. Oh the mighty anger. In the beginning of those four years, it felt like being in a blender. Nothing would ever return to how it was, the very essence of who I was had been forever changed, and even intellectually you grasp that, of course not, there is a dividing line between Before and After. But you want Before like never before. And you fear After and that it will erase Before and you also find out who your true friends are. People will tell you you’ve changed (and not for the better) and they won’t understand that the faucet of grief doesn’t shut off in three months. That priorities shift and change. In fact, it seems to just be getting started, the grief, because everyone else has moved on and you are rooted in the new reality, confused. And you feel your love and your life will all drown. Your head goes under. Sometimes you think about staying under, too. Nights in the bathroom, on the back steps, crying. Sobbing in the shower, weeping in the car, how can so much sorrow live and thrive in one human’s space?
I miss my dad. Now, though, when I dream about him, it is a comfort. A friendly visit, even if the dream is crazy. His face, his voice, his laugh and the memory of his hugs are etched into my soul. That, I must say, is the thing for which I am most grateful. As I’ve aged, details and names and memories get muddied, blurred, fall away. I feared so badly my father’s memory would follow suit. My grief was my hair shirt, one coping mechanism of keeping him alive, assuaging any guilt I felt about having a laugh or a moment that resembled normal. Eventually I realized my grief became less paralyzing. And in the middle of the afternoon on June 10, last week, I was busy working, as I had been all day. I looked at my calendar on my desktop and frowned. I said the date out loud and then it hit me. It was June 10th. Here and Now. That Day. I felt an instant stab of guilt that I had spent half my day without realizing That Day Was Here Again. Then I thought, wow. All of you people who have walked this road before me were right.
It really does get better.
Whenever I get an email or message on Facebook about a friend’s father dying, I have a millisecond moment where the air leaves my lungs and I feel that moment all over again, so visceral, so tangible, I can see the color of the sky and feel my husband’s hand on my shoulder in that moment, a moment I now share with another person. Fortunately, it’s immediately followed by a rush of sadness and empathy for my friend, and the knowledge and vision of what time can do, what time does. How I wish I could impart that knowledge as comfort, while knowing it must simply be lived and endured, marched through, sat within, processed. So I just say what wiser people told me, that it does get better, but not in that chirpingly “time heals!” sort of way, just that from the vantage point of another human being with a shared experience, yes, it does, it does get better. You don’t cry as often or as long, and eventually, you don’t cry every day. It’s not magic nor does it disappear – I realized this week I’ve been weepy at odd points in time, and I remembered that this is the time of year when we found out about my father’s cancer. How life itself changed in that springtime evening, as you turn a corner and you don’t even know what direction you’re going, because once again, only time gives you that vision. How four years ago, I still had hope, I railed against the very notion of death, and put every ounce of my determination into seeing my father live. While I would prefer to have him alive, surviving, ranting on the phone with me about politics or giving me advice, I must say, the greatest relief is that he never left my heart, it was my biggest fear that somehow he would fade or pieces would disappear, but I am so grateful that I can see him as vividly as if we’d just visited, I can hear his voice, his laugh, see his smirk.
I looked into the nighttime sky last week, noting that Orion was barely visible, just a glimpse of his belt over the treeline to the West. Disappearing as the seasons change, off to hunt in another hemisphere. I thought of all the nights, in the first winter months after Dad died, after the rest of the world was done grieving him and wanted me to return to my old self, a person I could never reclaim. I would stand outside and weep, remembering all the nights I’d spent staring at the stars in Iowa, these same stars pointed out to me by my dad, how Regina Spektor sings about the stars as ‘just old light’, how the bowl above marks the same trek across the expanse, no matter what our pain or hardships. As Orion slips away, Scorpius claims the summer sky, the scorpion that felled the great hunter, put into the sky for time eternal, and the same battles and journeys begin anew for someone here on earth.
I finished Cormac McCarthy’s book “The Road” last night.
I’m still sorting out how I feel. It was incredibly …….oh so many adjectives. Moving. Depressing. Illustrative. Gorgeously written. Imaginative. Solid. Thinking book.
This quote – I read it over and over when I arrived at it in the book.
“He thought each memory recalled must do some violence to its origins. As in a party game. Say the words and pass it on. So be sparing. What you alter in the remembering has yet a reality, known or not.”
— Cormac McCarthy (The Road)
It gives you an idea of the thought-provoking prose that gracefully flows from nearly every page; my little book-reading gnomes in my brain are still sitting by the fireplace, feet up, pondering and ruminating on all the facets in this book. What I suppose I find so haunting is that the whole book, in my memory of reading it, feels so parallel to my over-arching grief process. There is sadness. There is inevitability. But through all of the darkness, there is an unbreakable strand of pure shining silvery light, the love between a parent and a child, and it isn’t the darkness that makes me cry, but the joy of still being able to see the light.
Today, my dad would have been 66 years old. By some measures, still young. I’ve dreamed of him a lot lately, but then last night’s dream also included my mother and Katie Horner, so I’m not spending a lot of time interpreting things…
I miss him. I think of him every day, and now, with this gift of time, I have more perspective, a better understanding of how you do continue to live when you lose someone you love. The first months, I was convinced that without grief, he would be gone. Somehow, losing the daily sobbing would make him fade, disappear. Then in the next wave of months, it felt like I’d been sentenced to a lifetime of wearing fractured glasses. Impossible to see anything the way it used to be, frustrated that others were blithely continuing their own existences, angry that nobody understood and everyone wanted me to be Over It. Guess what? You don’t ever get Over It. You get Through It. And it ain’t easy.
Last night, as I waited for sleep to come (and bring me both my parents plus a local meteorologist), I thought of how the gaping chasm of grief has become a fissure of melancholy. Bittersweet and deep, but it is something to be acknowledged, even appreciated, not fallen into. Today, even now, as I give voice to these things, I will weep, because the sorrow never goes. But those days are not everyday anymore. Instead, on the ‘regular’ days, I’ll smile, a melancholy or secret smile to myself, when I say something he would have said, or laughed at, or been angry about, or railed at the idiocy of, and we share this. Inside me. When he was alive, he was outside of me, and now in death, he is in my head and my heart. Instead of always mourning, I get to celebrate what we shared, what he taught me, the gifts he gave me. I’m grateful for those who’ve walked this path before me, who shared their perspective and wisdom, because even though I didn’t necessarily absorb it at the time, I put it in my pockets, tucked it away, because I’m a gatherer and a collector, and I knew it would be good to have down the road. Time. How greatly we want it to stand still, to not have anything change, to stave off death, loss, sadness. Yet time is what gives us relief, peace, perspective and appreciation.
Instead of just mourning his memory today, I celebrate the man who gave me so much, and even in death, still laughs when I do.
PensiveGirl tweeted this earlier today. I’ve watched it several times, and it is just one of those fantastic visual-audio combos that makes your brain hum, your toes tap, and your soul soar. They took embedding down, so you can see the video on YouTube here.
The song is called “This Too Shall Pass.” When the words were sung – “Let it go… this too shall pass,” I felt tears in my eyes, because it’s so simple. We burrow and fret and worry and panic and stress and rail at the day and the day..passes. And it felt like advice I got a few years ago, advice I couldn’t believe or accept at the time, from my dying father trying to reassure me that in the end, it would all be ok. I love him every bit today as I did when he was alive. I marvel at that in part because I didn’t think it possible.
And I still marvel at the power in sound and words that can evoke such feeling. With a marching band to boot.
I know, like many other people, that I will be very glad to see the door close on 2009 tonight. Can’t say that I feel that way about the entire decade, of course, because countless wonderful things have happened in my life over the past ten years. I just see 2009 as a year that brought more challenges and strife than I cared to have. I shut the door on people (some shut the door on me!), I lost my job (but gained another!), and had lots of job stress and a couple really scary health scares (bronchitis, my eyes).
All of that said, though, and some of my negative thoughts about the year, I will say that this has been the year of contradictions. My job (that I lost) depressed me beyond belief – but then I got a new one that renews and energizes me. Unemployment depressed me, but I reconnected and made new connections and feel more ensconced with fantastic, smart, creative people than any year before. And the mack-daddy depression of them all, the grief that never leaves me, my father’s death, that got better. I no longer feel like I am the lone ox, pulling the yurt with a tribe of nomads trampling it as I strain to put one foot in front of the other. There are days with great sadness, melancholy, and some tears, but there isn’t the sense of toppling over the edge into an abyss. Time truly works wonders.
I know that in time, some of the anger and frustration I absorbed and carried this year will also fade. But now, in the moment? I’ve got a special Fuck You to a few people, and while I don’t think they read my blog, but if they do? They should be bright enough to know it’s meant just for them. Enjoy, motherfuckers. Karma’s a bitch.
As for the rest of you twatweasels I know, love and look forward to laughing with next year? Happy New Year, and I love ya. Thanks for reading and all the comments. 2010 is gonna rock.
…and I am very grateful to the person who invented air conditioning! Gah! We’re under an extreme heat warning now through Wednesday, as our mid-to-upper 90’s are combining with our excessive humidity and making it feel like, I don’t know, EXPLOSIVE, in both Celsius and Farenheit.
The heat also makes tempers a little shorter, I think. I just fired off an email to some feller over in Roeland Park KS who has used some service that keeps autodialing me with a recorded message pushing his city council campaign. First of all? I am at work and it’s not legal to telemarket or call people at their place of business. Two? I’m in freakin’ MISSOURI, so I can’t even vote for you. STOP IT.
Got through Father’s Day… we watched The Curious Case of Benjamin Button on Saturday night, and that made me teary, as did numerous other things all weekend long. Heightened sensitivities, to be expected, I guess. I’m irritated with social media turning into one giant playground, with people friending and unfriending and blocking and behaving like it’s high school. Oddly enough, they end up being the ones looking foolish, so there’s hope the universe isn’t devolving as quickly as it feels, sometimes. I’m irritated that my insurance company kicked back a bill for a mammogram because it had the layer of diagnostics attached to it. I see. Yes, Yes, I should have to pay out-of-pocket for more expensive x-rays and a sonogram, since we were checking a lump – if everything’s a-ok, then it’s covered. If you THINK you might have cancer, we don’t want to cover that, we’ll just pay for tests when you’re healthy. Logic. The insurance industry Does Not Have It. Actually, after a call to them this morning, and being put on hold a few times, resulted in a ‘re-evaluation’ and the conclusion that it was processed incorrectly. Ya think?
What’s to be cheerful about? Well, vacation is approaching, and the new pool is up, full, and not leaking. Thank heavens. And I’ll be turning the page on the ol’ Calendar of Life in a couple weeks – I do still enjoy the b’day celebrations. All the plants are bursting along in the garden – hubs started a gardening blog, you’ll have to check it out: http://kctomatotimes.wordpress.com/ The man knows a lot about gardening, that’s for sure!
We have an abundance of basil, so I made pesto yesterday, and then contemplated the abundance of Thai basil that we have. It all got whacked, so it will continue to thrive and grow and not put effort into creating seed, so everything got a healthy trim. There is one basil variety that has a strong licorice taste to it, so I got creative and boiled the leaves and stems with about three cups of sugar and three cups of water. Let it cool, strained it into a mason jar, and popped it in the fridge. Made a cocktail combining about 3 parts Basil Syrup to 2 parts Gin, and a squeeze of lime. Shake on ice, strain into a martini glass. It was sweet, but with enough tang and flavor to not be syrupy. I’m thinking about trying it in some pineapple juice next!
I need to decide what knitting project is going along to Mexico with me, and what the pattern should be. I want to do something lacey, maybe with some of the Handmaiden Sea Silk I have in my stash, and I want a pattern that’s visually entertaining but not mentally taxing, but not feather-and-fan, either. Hrmph. Suggestions?
Alrighty, that’s the report for today. Hope you’re staying cool, wherever you are, and your positives are greater than your irks!
…and in others, it’s a bit like Prometheus, chained to a rock and waiting every day for the birds to rip his liver from his chest. Only these birds are ripping out my heart.
Tomorrow will be three years since my dad died. Six weeks ago, I started feeling this huge amount of dread. Three weeks ago, it went away. I basked in the departure of those emotions. Wahoo! Pesky grief. Even upon hearing about my good friend’s dad dying, a co-worker buddy of mine who has had his share of woes thrown upon him this year. Even today, talking to him, hearing about the funeral, hearing about his father’s last moments, I felt distance. Three years of distance.
Then, five minutes ago, I realized it was three years ago, exactly, almost to the hour, that I got the call to come home. He was dying. The unavoidable loomed large and dark and high and impassible. Those moments and hours that allowed the tiniest light of hope to flicker, still, no matter how daunting it seemed. To no avail.
Like a thunderclap, a summer microburst, fucking grief. It will pass as quickly, but the drenching is thorough.