About Me

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In this blog I have created a haven, a place I allow my deepest emotions to go and sit. I can write easily about what I’ve accomplished. This biography I can recite in my sleep. But I’ve always written poetry and in diaries since I was a teenager. I continued to write poetry in my journals, and not until 2006 did I show them to anyone. I generally write every day, at the present in memoir form. I haven’t written poetry since my mother died in January, 2007. I didn’t write at all between her death and the death of my father three years later in January, 2010. On my father’s birthday in March, 2010, I began this blog, to honor my father and to help me grieve. But I also desperately needed to write, and this stream of conscious style emerged. I needed to find my organic voice.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

It is Thanksgiving. GAH

I am grateful. Grateful. I gave in to Karl's need to celebrate holidays this year. It was very difficult for me to capitulate. In fact, that's all I did. Annnnnnd, I said I'd try. In that spirit, I shuffled around Target and TJ Maxx mostly, trying to find small things to whisper in the holidays. A nice, red felt snowflake with bells on the end is on my front door. No wreath, no outside lights. That is too much like it used to be.  For the first time in six years, I was looking for things to make our house "Christmas-y." We made a compromise--no big tree. So, instead I found lots of small trees, made of different fabrics, sequins, wire, glass, ceramic, and then a few fake-but-real-looking trees. I bought what looks like a broken down little shack and a tiny yard with snow. It lights up inside. Cute. To remind me of what my spirit needs, I put both my little Buddha and little Ganesh just outside the front door, to welcome me into this season. One of the trees is decorated with things in threes--my dad, my mom, and Karl's dad--three important people who have passed on. That we love. Three birds, three stars, three snowflakes. And teardrop ornaments. A propos. It's very simple and it's in a place I see it every day.

One of the little real-but-fake trees is decorated with nature things, mostly things near the sea. Birds, seashells, leaves, etc. A starfish is at the top. This is the only lighted tree, about 13 inches tall. What used to be my vacation tree, the one I decorated as we flew off to various family gatherings out east, is a fanciful thing; funny little angels, butterflies, handmade ornaments I've purchased here and there, starfish. My favorite ornament is a blue crescent moon with a small star at its southern tip, but the whole thing sits on my grandmother's buffet, new to my house this year. It has now become the largest tree in our house at about 24 inches high.

Candles. This year, all in jars, they are all white of various scents. Eclectic and comforting sitting on top of the bookcase, grouped together like a makeshift fireplace. Each scent mingles together in a harmony of freshness.

Pretty sure I"m done with the decorating. Let's talk turkey.

Karl and I can't even remember what we did or with whom we were last Thanksgiving. I am guessing I was partially comatose, hiding under my then constant companion the red down blanket. It's sitting next to me as a write. Earlier in the week I decided we'd have some kind of Thanksgiving here at the house.  A deux.

I spent most of the morning in the kitchen in my favorite flannel shirt and jeans, and made a glaze for the turkey breast we bought, made stuffing, mashed potatoes, salad, and also some italiano---tagliatelle pasta with artichokes and lemon. I am telling you that I cooked and I ate.  This is a Herculean effort towards a new normal.  I called my Ro-Ro, and of course we talked about my father; his last Thanksgiving, the last Christmas, the hospital. We both try to find the sweetness in it rather than the bone-searing pain we still experience. One thing she said will stick with me whenever I grieve: "Your father taught us how to live until he died."  You may know someone like that. He is the only one I know.  Working full time, spending weekends at my sister's to see his grandchildren, calling me at least once a day to say hello, talking with me on Sunday mornings (my favorite), and watching his favorite tv. And even near the end, he was going out to happy hour with his brothers. One time, they had to bring happy hour to him, which they did gladly. My father was embarrassed, but I know he was grateful. He never wanted anyone to see how sick he was. Ro Ro and I knew, but he knew more intimately than he even shared with us. His sister, his daughter.  My aunt says one of his gifts to us is that we were told not to focus or even really talk about his cancer with him. We all  honored that. Sometimes he called me to talk about it, and I was glad to listen. Of course, even though he never asked, he did really like the company when he went to chemo, or for a PET scan. But he wouldn't have asked us to come. He drove. I rode shotgun. And so for many months--almost two years--he created this bubble for everyone that it wasn't so bad; he was handling it (and he was), it was a fact, and we were all to go about our business, including his own. So for two years, none of us really talked about it--any of it.  When he gave in just after Christmas, and we all knew it was time, we had nothing to say. We'd finished watching a movie; he'd taken a shower (so he'd be his usual dignified, snappy self at the hospital). On the way to the hospital, what was there to say? The cost of his gift to us began to sting. I began to realize how costly it would be, not at that moment in the car, but after. I didn't know that I'd be paying for years after. None of us chose to let it in because he asked us not to; it helped him stay strong. I cannot tell you how damaging it has been, but we did it to honor his wishes, and his wishes were paramount. I don't regret it, even while it hurts.

My aunt talked about the cost of gifts, and I reminded her they are never free. "Well," she said, "This one was a whopper." Indeed.  So yes, we helped him stay strong during those two years, and fought for him in the hospital when he couldn't do it himself. And in a moment, the walls came down between my father and the world. And we talked openly. He talked openly with everyone of us there. It was freeing but terrifying. He told me, among other things that will live in my heart until my own death, that I will be fine. I'm strong. And smart. "You're a warrior, like me," he whispered as he grabbed my hand.  Gift.

Today, two years later, I am beginning to realize he was right. It's not that I didn't believe him. I could not feel an ounce of resilience left in me. First my mother, then my father. Imagine the very worst thing that could ever happen to you--the thing you'd never recover from.  The fear that coils in the deepest places.  And then it happens to you, not once, but twice. I lived through it, and I am beginning to be grateful. I mean, yes, I'm glad to be alive, (there were days I wasn't), but I say am I grateful to have been the person who received gifts beyond worth, paid for them with facing my greatest fear, and lived to tell you about it.  I am grateful and thankful. I have a different kind of strength than I had before. It's not resilience, I don't think. I don't know what it is. WILL, maybe. GRATITUDE, maybe.

I do a little more living these days, but my new normal is becoming clearer. I have different friends now than I did before.  I know things about myself I would never have learned. Resilience is not a renewable resource. There is a finite amount of it, and mine took a huge hit. I'm running on a small amount of resilience. Maybe what happens is that it's not renewable, but with experience we can live with the resilience we have left.  I cannot say I've bounced back; I have crawled back, and rested. And limped along, and rested. And conked out for two weeks and shut myself away. And today we had Thanksgiving.

So I carefully decorated. Not too much to overwhelm me--my father's furniture being here carries a lot of memory; to decorate like we used to would not be good for me. It's gentle decorating. After last year denying Christmas, this year, we'll celebrate gently. We'll see. Birthday's up next. I will probably look in the mailbox for a card from my dad, just like picking up the phone to call him.

So live gently my friends who are grieving. Honor any traditions in the way you can handle, and feel free to cry. The reality of our loss is settling in for good. That's worth a good cry. And when the sun comes up tomorrow, it will be beautiful. And bring you a gentle joy.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

The holidays are approaching ...

....like the oncoming enemy. I used to love Christmas; my favorite holiday for most of my life. Thanksgiving, too, and the New Year. These holidays had certainties associated with them: my family. Times to look forward to, traditions to uphold and introduce to the little ones. Food and stockings, the big garbage bag and the particular fashion of disposing of w rapping paper. Kisses and hugs, thank yous, some pizza frite--either sauce or sugar--good strong coffee, and sneaky peeks toward the piles of gifts. The smell of garlic, frying in olive oil; coffee brewing, tomato sauce *with oregano* simmering. Oh, and grated romano cheese.

Both of my parents died just after Christmas, the New Year, three years apart. My mother died January 4th; my father January 13. These cast a pall over my holiday season, because the past was ready to sneak up on me and overtake the present. But what present? I am still trying to find joy in the holidays. I have none. They are the harbingers of the greatest pain I have ever felt.  Last year I ignored Christmas, and I asked my husband to ignore it with me. We escaped to Key West, FL. Had a neutral time. I was sedate but not the mess I thought I'd be.

Halloween is the first of the holidays that gets me. My father loved trick or treating with his grandkids, and I spent his last Halloween with him and them. He was pretty slow, but in it with pictures, smiles, and hugs. Even for his grown up daughters. Strong and long as always. ...the kind that made us feel supported, beloved, and special.  He gave mini versions of these to my tiny niece and nephew, grateful recipients.  My father was known for his hugs. I miss them greatly. The strength of his arms around me, kisses on my cheek. He was never the first to pull away. Ever. Although toward the end, it was we who tried to hang on to him the longest.

So here we are creeping up on Thanksgiving and my birthday.  Last year I tried to focus on what made me feel grateful, but it paled in comparison to what I'd lost. I said to my husband recently, that I didn't want to celebrate the holidays anymore, at least not now. Last year he was willing, this year he is not. The best I could tell him is that I would do my best to get excited for the holidays. Originally we'd decided to fly to Maryland with my aunt and uncle, but my husband's (stupid) job has him back to work on Dec 26th. No way out of it. So I am family-less once again. Only this time  I wanted family. To help reinvent a holiday for which I have only horrifying memories of bringing my dad to the hospital --the final trip.

I don't know if I can come through with the promise to my husband about Christmas. Not yet. It still seems too raw. The look on my dad's face when he decided it was time. His need to take a shower and shave before going in. Putting on his "good jeans" and a red turtleneck sweater. ...I can't go any further without breaking down in painful sobs. No, I am not ready for the holidays. Should I be? Doesn't matter. I am not. No gifts will be good enough, no food that I cook will suffice. No tv specials will get me into the Christmas spirit. Any tree will remind me of my dad going out into our property in the woods, cutting down a tree and bringing it into the house to decorate. Or that last Christmas when he was so weak, that Karl and I took down a fake tree from the attic and set it up, lights and all. He'd tell us to put ornaments in certain places, the ones we'd made earlier in the day. The ones I"d found that were symbols of us: the beach, hiking, birds,   and more ornaments I'd bought at a store's going out of business sale.  (Christmas ornaments that my mother used to hang were not asked to be on this tree). This was a very specific tree with ornaments decorated just for this tree. The last tree.

What to buy my dad for Christmas? It seemed a sick and morbid and sad thing to do. We went to Target and bought him copies of movies he loved that were now on DVD. He didn't give us presents that year. He wrote us each checks and said Merry Christmas on the envelopes. And then he wrote us each notes. I have the envelope with his handwriting on it. I have the cards and notes he wrote.

This is what I think about when the holidays start to roll around. It was the beginning of the end of my life with parents. How does this fade into a rekindled excitement of the time of year when both parents were dying?  I need more time, I guess. More time than a few years. My sister 'fakes' Christmas for the kids. I'm sure they know something's off, but my brother in law isn't the soulful person my sister is, so he's pretty much normal, and the kids love it.  They worry about their mother; I worry about my sister; I worry about my niece and nephew; I worry about myself.  I worry that I won't be able to recreate Christmas for my beautiful husband, whom I love so dearly.  I just don't know.

Like every person in mourning, I try to think what my father would want us to do in his absence: have fun, enjoy, love each other, spend time together. Did he really think we'd be able to do that with broken hearts?

I will try this year. I will dutifully send out Christmas cards, names only. No letters. I will buy gifts for my godchildren and surely have a moment or two of joy. Fleeting it may be, but I hope to god I recognize it for a tiny respite from the deep, deep sadness that the world is not the place in which I grew up; the world in which I grew up was as a child with my parents.  I hope someday, someday that I will figure out this new world and find moments to celebrate.