My assignment she gave me, a grief letter with instructions what to do Write it out on paper like somehow that will help me get over you
She hears my heart and knows I’ve been drifting awhile Angrily I told her, please help me to stop obsessing so I can once again find my smile
The opener would say, no one ever fought for me, but I never stopped swinging, fighting for that love A broken little girl who just desired to be wanted and cherished simply for who I was
I know my daddy loves me, the 20 times I saw him he told me this as so You reminded me of the same, in fact the words went like this, “I said that I love you, once was enough for you to know”
All these years I’ve been working on my insides, mending what needs fixing, soothing what needs comfort, fighting for what ought to be freely given I can see it in the distance, how life is supposed to go and I am choosing the path that shows me what it’s like to be living
Coulda shoulda woulda such a tormented little game I’ll start to leave those phrases out, the ones which lay forth all the blame
Grief is like a party for us who show up to play the part But really for me, all it does is remind me of my hurting, fractured heart
The conclusion might read something along these blurred lines and such We are all a little flawed, imperfect little humans, but for me, I don’t ask for much
I can articulate my pain, sadness and struggles better than most But for you all, no no, pour another round, raise your glass high to give yourself a toast
Thank God for my journey and path where it has led I lay myself down at night, taking it all in as I curl up in my bed
I pray for the lost, the weary and weak For those who still suffer looking at life as it were bleak
Each and every one who has taken something from me I am being restored by grace and honor and even with a little more dignity
I turned my head for just a moment and you were gone. A panic washed over me as I frantically called your name. Pushing garments of ladies apparel aside, rack by rack, I could hear a faint giggle. You were only 2 and you loved to play games like that. Unbeknownst to you, the fear that arose in my chest, as you would grow accustomed to saying, “I got this mom”, and you always have. Somehow that would be your way of assuring me you would always be okay, no matter what.
I feel so lost without you now. You got this, right? Yet that all too familiar panic has risen up and taken residence in my heart. This time I blinked and tried again, but I don’t hear the giggling in the air. I can’t see your face. I can’t find you anywhere.
Before you could form sentences or even threw your binky away, I could tell there was a mystery about you. Over time it was the little things that made you cry, often inconsolably and I couldn’t figure out why, but you knew.
Years would pass. You were growing up, trying to find the place where you belong. Never feeling liked by the kids on the school ground, not knowing how much you actually were. Was it your hyper activity that kept you moving? Sports became an outlet, baseball, soccer, dirt bikes, skateboards, bikes and scooters. Anything that would occupy your energy and free your spirit, but still, you sought after anything that would grant you acceptance. You tried basketball, even wrestling and joined the school band on drums. Then one day you asked for a bass guitar. Please mom. Happy birthday sweetie. You joined brothers, forming a band, the 3 of you, so young and talented, you were more than good, you were amazing.
Sports and all “that” began to fall away. You’d found this passion deep inside playing bass. Self taught, you wouldn’t allow me to “waste money on lessons when you could teach yourself” and you did. Yet all those years I’d watch you on stage, self conscious and insecure, as if you were still searching for that place of belonging, because you were.
Your pain continued to haunt you. I couldn’t read it, put my finger on it, then he left and you were devastated. The dad you tried so hard to please, to be like and feel included by. This was a whole new level of despair while I was desperately working to be all I could for you 3, but somehow I saw it in your heart, for you this grief of loss was affecting you in some other way. It was different and deeper.
That same 2 year old resides within, still inconsolable, try as I may. “I love you” are all the words I have, with everything I know. Life was harder back then, but we were gaining everyday as we made our way through, just us 4.
We got this, right? Wrong… “We” crumbled. My turn. You’re gone. Here I sit. Motionless. Breathless. Helpless. Guilt. Hands in the air. Heart splitting in 2. Inconsolable. I’m still searching for that place of belonging, just for you.
As if grieving during the painful process of a loss isn’t enough. She thought she had dug her way down to the delusional bottom of the pile and wait, oh yes, there is another heap to dismantle. She had begun to breathe, even find a little peace now and then as she made her way through those still, sometimes agonizing days. She actually found her smile again.
The stages of grief, she can recite those off the top of her head, but more importantly, she understands them when they hit. “Oh, you again, fuck off”, but she didn’t mean it. Embrace each one. Look it square in the face little one. We are survivors, sure, but really, we are resilient fighters and most of all, important as fuck.
She took her almighty shovel out today and said, “alright crap, let’s just see what other bullshit you have for us today” and with one sturdy plunge, the hunt was on. For fuck sake, she thought she had uncovered this one, but there it was in all its glory, hiding like the coward who put it there. “I see you” she said, “and you can no longer hide from me”. As she fought deliberately to force the pile apart, she felt the all too familiar sting of tears welling up in her eyes. What the fuck now? Haven’t we shed enough of these for all we’ve been through girl? As she thought these words to herself, she remembered what she had learned (again) from her oldest, long time friend in her world, “cry till you’re dry honey”. How the fuck is there anything left?
Ah, it was beginning to make sense to her. Every layer has another story to tell and all the cover up is eroding away to tell you what you need to know love, one small piece at a time. We can’t possibly take the 9 years from the most current abuser, the 18 years from the one before and the 10 years from the original source of childhood where it all began and have it magically be healed, over and done with it. It just doesn’t work like that. We have more work to do and so it continues.
Here we stand, together but alone, digging, sifting and sorting through the debris and rubble we have been left with. Let’s call this here, “experience”. Some would rather happily shove this shit under a great big rock and never look at again. Others, like us girl, will not only take it out from the dark place of which it’s been buried, grab the microscope and start the deep internal examination. Let’s call this here, “analysis”. This part of the process will help us determine the “whys, how comes and what for’s”. All the answers to these inquiries are crucial to why the fuck we do what we do, love who we love, follow and attach to what’s familiar, accept the unacceptable and tolerate the intolerable. Let’s call this here, “lessons”. The question that often arises during this portion is, “why is this happening?” When the better, more affective one would be, “what am I getting out of this, what am I learning?” No one wants to believe that the mounds of bullshit they’re uncovering and discovering is actually useful information for their own growth, but it truly is beneficial to the sometimes excruciating, always imperative, healing path.
What we will find next is becoming like a treasure hunt to learning who she really is, on her own, with no other outside influences controlling her thoughts and emotions, her soul and her body, just her and her alone on this fabulous ride called life. Why then does our princess in the story of her newfound life keep bumping up against more wreckage that can sometimes halt her in the middle of the deserted road? She asks herself this often while she keeps pushing on.
It is in the ashes where beauty remains. Yeah, yeah, she has this expression down cold having had her spirit burned to the ground and torn down, both literally and metaphorically. Each time she has risen, more grateful than the time before, but she has grown weary of them all. Let’s call this here, “strength”. “Diamonds are created under pressure and can cut through glass. A mighty oak grows strong in contrary winds. A palm tree might bend but it won’t break.” She often relates herself to these well defined comparisons and smiles, then wonders for how long she must endure and drudge through the remaining piles. It all comes down to educating your brilliant, sweet, smart, feisty ass girl and so she digs a little deeper into the soil of her soul…
Life altering changes, unexpected losses, the painful aftermath and the process, nothing anyone can truly prepare for, ever.
It was my freshman year in high school when my bio dad called mom to let her know his Gramma passed, one of the handful of times he made contact. It seemed odd to me as I’d nearly given up on this man. I don’t recall if I felt happy to hear from him indirectly or sad over the loss of my Great Gramma. Little Gramma, as they all so affectionately referred to her as, was the sweetest tiny lady I’d ever met. Although I had very few moments or memories with her, the ones I do were quaint, brief and loving. This would be the first funeral service of my life. I was nervous, didn’t know what to expect, but we went. This is the extent of my knowledge of that experience. Life was in session before and it continued on long after.
The next sting that struck across my heart was my senior year when a close classmate was killed in a head on collision on her way to school. The somber silence that washed over the school that day was deafening as the news traveled quickly amongst our small student body. This was the first time I truly noticed people’s behavior surrounding death. Granted, we were all teens with different levels of empathy, compassion and even feelings, but to observe the bizarreness from those who were seemingly drawn to grieve over a lovely young girl whom some, just the day before, were less than polite to. How does a person muster up that sort of falsity and keep it going? Me on the other hand, felt that loss deeply. She and I had a short history as friends, 8th grade through most of that year, but a friend she definitely was. She taught me things about boys I couldn’t have heard from anyone else. She seemed genuinely sincere and experienced too. Our last encounter was indeed the day before in ceramics class. Elton John’s, “that’s why they call it the blues” came on the teacher’s radio and she boldly sang out as no one was listening. I’d admired this girl. She had confidence. She had courage. She had life in her and yet, she was gone now and I wept for her, her parents and myself. Her absence was noticed for quite some time. To this day I grin upwards when I hear “our” song.
Four years later, I would get that dreaded phone call while I was at work. The one that came from the step monster on the other end telling me my mom was killed in a terrible car accident. The one where all I could do was stand there, listening to his words and not hearing what he was saying as I began to slump to the ground, holding the corded phone as the tears began to flood my eyes. This can’t be happening, she just called me yesterday to tell me she loved me and that she was leaving for the long drive down south. It was true though and all I could repeatedly ask him was, “was mom drinking… was she?” It took 2 mind numbing weeks between the autopsy, the coroner’s report, the police investigation and transferring “her”, my mom, who was no longer my mom, from the south to the north where she would be “laid to rest”. Nothing was real. My older brother and I stood in disbelief at her closed casket for what felt like an eternity until someone had us sit down. The next thing I knew we were watching them lower this beautiful, shiny pearl box into the ground. What the fuck was happening? My life was turned upside down in an instant and no one was comforting anyone. Everyone divided after that week and went about their own lives, separately mourning and grieving and not talking about any of it. Was this normal? Are we supposed to keep our sadness a secret? Feel, but don’t share? I went along life like a zombie for a year. I couldn’t understand anything.
A year and half after mom’s death I would be getting married. I went through the motions up until the month before the wedding day when my Grampa passed away. I won’t have mom or Grampa at my wedding now? Fuck this. Grampa had been sick, but he was a trooper. He said if they tell him he needed anymore surgeries, he was going to say no. They did and he did. While I visited Grampa on what would be his last birthday, we had this beautiful exchange between us. Somehow he knew that he was saying goodbye to his little missy girl. I didn’t know it at the time, but I definitely paused before I left his side like I hadn’t before. I drank in his kindness that poured from his eyes. His love I felt bursting from his heart for me. My Grampa, my first protector and crush, my rock, my only true love of a man that loved me for me. He was gone.
I was empty…
It was homecoming night at my same high school. My sons were all in grammar school, ages 14, 11 and 9 when I got the call the next morning at 7am from a close friend. She didn’t want me to find out any other way. I had this special friendship with another parent from our kid’s elementary school. We were both going through tough times in our marriages and found comfort in talking to one another. As she spoke the words, I listened in disbelief, “…she was killed in a terrible accident late last night, I’m so sorry honey”. My heart sank. I didn’t know what to do. He lost his daughter. His light in his darkness. His precious, oldest child. I paced, do I call him, just go to him? What? I’d known tragic and sudden death, but I’d never faced someone who lost their child before. Finally, I couldn’t take it, I had to find him. I had my youngest in the car with me and as I drove around wondering where to look, it occurred to me where I would be. Down the twisting country road we went where earlier that morning I was told of the horrific accident. I saw him there, sitting on the side of the road, just off the edge a bit, picking weeds and staring at the big oak tree, the one that ultimately took her life. I parked the car and asked my son if he’d be ok to sit in the car for a bit. Of course mom. I approached him slowly and without saying a word, I just sat beside him there, in the dirt and we quietly cried.
Sometimes there’s nothing to say…
Gramma was placed in a luxurious senior care home years later after Grampa passed. It seemed premature to me, given her seemingly healthy self and the independent woman she still was, but her other daughter thought it would be best. It was the holidays and each of her 3 grandchildren took turns visiting her with their own kids that day. We went in shifts so not to overwhelm her. Gramma was thrilled to see us, all of us. Much later the brothers and I would share our experiences as we all said our goodbyes. I can recall something similar in her vacant eyes as with Grampa. She laid there on her bed, eyes closed, asking God to take her home to be with Daddy. That’s what she always called Grampa, “Daddy”. She was in a daze, but when she opened her eyes for a moment to say goodbye to the 5 of us, she looked at him and said, you take good care of our girl, won’t you? He smiled and nodded in agreement. It would be 4 weeks later that I got the call about Gramma’s passing. I cried so much it hurt. The boys, how was I going to tell the boys?! They adored their Great Gramma. I gathered my strength, held onto them and listened as they cried and asked questions. We got through it, together. I learned.
He was a young man all my sons knew from school. It hit my oldest the hardest. They were in the high school band together and he was a huge fan of my sons punk rock band. This young man was so full of life and love and he spread it all around. He had a tragic accident that took him instantly. Another dark cloud loomed over their young lives. Devastating to all who knew him. We all attended his service together, saying our final goodbyes to another young person. It hurt. We were all in shock. What a loving young man and now he was gone too.
Tragedy would strike us again the day we got that call. This time it was my brother sobbing on the other end of the line, “He’s gone sis, he’s gone.” I was in my car with my middle son and immediately pulled over bursting into tears, his oldest son, my nephew, their cousin and my oldest son’s best friend in the world. Cousins are our first best friend, if you’re blessed to have them. They were 6 months apart and inseparable since they could walk. His life cut short at 20 years old. As we entered the room where he was laid to rest for us to “visit” with him, it was the most painful time of their lives, the cousins who were missing one now, the father who tried to protect him from himself is without his first born son, the mother who carried this child and loved him more than her own, his existence was over and none of us could let him go. This beautiful child, gone. Nothing made sense. The agony.
18 months later to the day, my youngest son was frantically texting me from school one morning. He finally called after his first class and I said, “honey, just leave and come home.” We lived across the street from school and I ran down the stairs to meet him on the street. When he saw me, he started running and crying out, “he’s dead, he’s dead” as tears steamed down his face. What? Who? Fuck!! “Mom, my best friend, he’s dead!” My heart broke as he cried and couldn’t speak, only sob. I stood there and held him as he melted. Shortly after, the gang began to rally around as they always did. They knew instinctively where to go, how to comfort and soothe one another. They huddled up and cried, they told the ones that weren’t there the devastating night before the truth of the events and how it was a stupid accident… they could barely contain themselves with their sadness, anger and shock. I hugged them all, told them I loved them and cried right there with them.
What the fuck? Enough already!!
She told me don’t judge people around death. No one can possibly know what’s in their heart, just tend to yours sweet child.
I always remember her words…
I’ve watched and noticed the varied ways of which this was true. Some close the valve to that part of their heart so they can’t feel as they once had because the pain is too great. Others vow to live for today and appreciate each moment, remembering to say I love you… until time fades those well intended promises and life resumes as it once was, back to status quo.
For me, my capacity to receive and pour out seems to have increased a little more with every experience, boosting my gratitude and granting more patience and tolerance for you, but especially for me. Before, I didn’t possess the ability to separate mom’s suffering from my own. I couldn’t see how much pain my nephew was in, only that he was lost. As for the other great ones, I’ll never know why your walk was shortened, but as I reflect now, I am able to slow down and remember with less pain and more joy what each of you brought to my life and how I may have enhanced yours. I appreciate each of you. I love you all. The biggest gift I am receiving through all these losses is the ability to discern my journey from yours. I am left here to be without your physical being, to mourn and grieve for your absence and the void I feel, but I keep your spirit alive every time I think of you. I catch my breath and smile when I feel your presence brush by.
God bless the broken hearted and empty spaces that no other can fill, but I will continue to celebrate each, irreplaceable you. Let us embrace this one life.
Through tragedy, gratitude is gained Through loss, fullness is obtained Through voids, love is changed