“I think it’s just as likely that someone could say that this place, right here, is heaven, hell and earth all at the same time. And we still wouldn’t know what to do differently. Everyone just muddles through, trying not to make too many mistakes.” ~ David Wroblewski, The Story of Edgar Sawtelle

Lantern Festival by paul+photos=moody (FCC)

                   

“We are as forlorn as children lost in the woods. When you stand in front of me and look at me, what do you know of the griefs that are in me and what do I know of yours?” ~ Franz Kafka, letter to Oskar Pollak

Friday afternoon. Sunny, hot, and humid.

Thai Lantern Festival (Google Images)

It is beginning to hit me—the insidious thing called grief—waves of sorrow and sadness and regret and loss, pouring over me. I hear it in the strains of the music playing in the background. I see it in the brilliance of the late summer day. I feel it in the silence of the walls surrounding me.

I do not like this.

I wish that there were a lantern festival somewhere in the area. You know, the festivals to honor the dead in which participants float paper lanterns, sometimes with personal messages, sometimes not. I’ve always thought that these festivals are beautiful homages to the spirits.

Speaking of homages, yesterday, I spent hours and hours working on the family pictures for the college. Perfectionist that I am, I could not simply place the pictures onto an 11×14 rectangle. I had to despeckle, fix the contrast, touch up the color. I added a border around each picture, something that should have been quite simple but was not because I have forgotten how to place pictures into frames, and the copy of Photoshop that is on this particular computer is not my full version from Adobe, but rather a temporary version which Brett downloaded.

It’s better than nothing, but aggravating in its limits nonetheless.

I finished the collage around 10 last night. It’s a huge jpeg file. Corey is going to take the disk to have the enlargement and prints made for me because, of course, I could not upload the file onto the Costco site. I acquiesced rather than spend another hour trying to figure out why I could not upload. Then I went and threw up. In the past few days, I have been living on anti-nausea medication and muscle relaxers. Neither are working.

“A life is such a strange object, at one moment translucent, at another utterly opaque, an object I make with my own hands, an object imposed on me, an object for which the world provides the raw material and then steals it from me again, pulverized by events, scattered, broken, scored yet retaining its unity; how heavy it is and how inconsistent . . .” ~ Simone de Beauvoir

Forest Hills Lantern Festival, by liza31337 (FCC)

To say that I slept fitfully when I actually slept is, alas, understatement. I turned off the television around 2 a.m. The last time I allowed myself to look at the clock it was 4:30. The dogs sensed my restlessness and acted accordingly: they got up and down all night, and I got up and down with them, walking to the back door to let them out, only for them to sit down at the door and look at me expectantly. My patience was sorely tried.

I had to get up early to take Brett and Em to ODU, and I’m afraid I drove while unconscious, or at least it seemed that way. I only remember one part of the drive, the part at which I had to pass police and rescue cars surrounding a pedestrian who had been hit by a car. The universe is fucking with me.

I came home and rubbed Blue Emu into as much of my back and neck that I could reach, took muscle relaxers and ibuprofen, and went back to sleep for a couple of hours.

All of the knots that were released by the trigger shots on Tuesday are back, probably thanks to the floor cleaning and then sitting at the computer for half a day. I am my own worst enemy. I could go back to the pain doctor today and probably need another 18 trigger shots. My wrist is marginally okay, as long as I don’t turn it certain ways, the same with the neck—limited range of motion. I realized last night that I was walking through the house with my shoulders hunched.

Did I mention that I’m losing my voice as well? Perfect, absolutely perfect.

“After the bones—those flowers—this was found in the urn:
The lost river, ashes from the ghat, even the rain.” ~ Agha Shahid Ali, from “Even the Rain” in Call Me Ishmael Tonight: A Book of Ghazals

Honolulu Lantern Festival (2009)

Last night (this morning?) I had a Dillard’s dream, which is usually what I dream when I am intensely stressed. I had been accused of saying something that I hadn’t said, lots of drama. Blah, blah, blah.

In the midst of trying to steel myself to take another look at the eulogy that I wrote a few weeks ago, I’ve been going around with my health insurance people who told my neurologist that they couldn’t find me in the system to approve my Botox injections for migraines. However, when I called the health insurance people, they found me just fine. Forget the Botox and just give me a hammer.

I need to make changes to the eulogy, but since I’ve already had one meltdown this afternoon, I dread opening the file. But I’m out of time. Tomorrow is the service. I need to iron dress shirts and pants for Corey, Eamonn, and Brett. Eamonn cannot find his dress shoes, of course. What other crap can happen? Please, let it rain down on me now so that I can just get this over with, seriously.

Apparently, there is a dead sea turtle floating near where Corey is working today. I’m glad that he did not send me a picture of it as I happen to love sea turtles, think they are beautiful creatures. He called the local marine institute, and they are coming out to retrieve the body. Encounters with dead things. Perfect.

Do I believe in omens? You bet I do.

“Pale Death with impartial tread beats at the poor man’s cottage door and at the palaces of Kings.” ~ Horace

Toro Nagashi during Japanese Obon (Celebration of the Dead)

I think that I’m running out of steam. The other sections of this post wrote themselves. Then I got up to check the dryer, folded some clothes, came back, and now I find myself staring at the screen, which, without my glasses, looks like a mass of white with black blurry lines and a few blocks of color here and there.

I don’t wear my glasses when I write as I have no need to seen either the screen or the keyboard. I look when I’m inserting the images and deciding on a color for the headers. Other than that, I just let my fingers serve as a direct conduit to my brain, my thoughts. Looking just means that I focus, and when I focus, I lose the thread of what I was saying.

I have my blues playlist running in the background—Tom Waits, Melody Gardot, B. B. King. Anything else would grate on my nerves. The songs come in and out of my consciousness, sometimes hearing, sometimes not. But right now, Waits’s scratchy voice has entered into my consciousness, and I am close to tears again. That’s the kind of voice that he has, full of sadness and melancholy. Corey asks me why I do this, torture myself. He doesn’t understand that these sad, melancholy songs are sometimes the only thing that serve me well.

It’s hard to explain, but my playlists are the soundtrack for my life, sometimes full of catchy melodies, sometimes heavy with nostalgia, and sometimes, just pure gut-wrenching.

Today is a gut-wrenching kind of day. Having said that, I suppose I should just go ahead and open the wound a little more and take a look at my eulogy. If I put if off any longer, it’s going to be night, people will be in the house, I won’t be able to concentrate.

More later. Peace.

Music by Kate Rusby, “Who Will Sing Me Lullabies?”

                   

Try to Praise the Mutilated World

Remember June’s long days,
and wild strawberries, drops of wine, the dew.
The nettles that methodically overgrow
the abandoned homesteads of exiles.
You must praise the mutilated world.
You watched the stylish yachts and ships;
one of them had a long trip ahead of it,
while salty oblivion awaited others.
You’ve seen the refugees heading nowhere,
you’ve heard the executioners sing joyfully.
You should praise the mutilated world.
Remember the moments when we were together
in a white room and the curtain fluttered.
Return in thought to the concert where music flared.
You gathered acorns in the park in autumn
and leaves eddied over the earth’s scars.
Praise the mutilated world
and the gray feather a thrush lost,
and the gentle light that strays and vanishes
and returns.

~ Adam Zagajewski
(Translated, from the Polish, by Clare Cavanagh

 

“Creativity is the marriage humanity makes with eternity.” ~ Eric Maisel, Affirmations for Artists

Back Lane in Woodford, UK (Wikimedia Commons)

                   

“All you need now is to stand at the window and let your rhythmical sense open and shut, open and shut, boldly and freely, until one thing melts in another, until the taxis are dancing with the daffodils, until a whole has been made from all these separate fragments.” ~ Virginia Woolf, from  Letter To A Young Poet

Sunday, late afternoon. Sunny and warm.

White Wooden Garden Gate (Wikimedia Commons)

I slept very soundly last night. Now that I think of it, I’m sleeping better lately, not so much up and down every two to three hours. I am still sleeping about eleven hours, but I still feel like I need it, which is so strange.

I had more vivid dreams last night. Once again, I dreamed that I was back with my ex, but I didn’t want to be. I wanted to be with Corey. I really hate dreams like that because I wake up all discombobulated, and it takes me a few minutes to regain my footing.

Corey had to work the late shift last night, so I watched television until I couldn’t keep my eyes open. I have a vague memory of Corey getting home this morning and untangling me from the covers. I was probably wound up in them in my usual fight with the dogs for my portion of bed space. Of course, all of this is done without me being aware of it.

When I finally got out of bed today, I tackled all of the dishes. I don’t mind washing the dishes; what I do mind is washing the dishes while sweat pours down my face and into my eyes. Our kitchen is beastly hot at all times, and it has always been this way. But my tolerance for the heat is nil so that by the time I finish washing the dishes and wiping down the counter and stove, I’m a sopping mess. It’s quite sexy, I must say.

Not.

Anyway, I thought that I’d start a post early enough today so that I might be able to finish it without dragging it out throughout the week.

“The sky is no longer out there, but it is right on the edge of the space you are in. The sense of colour is generated inside you. If you then go outside you will see a different coloured sky. You colour the sky.” ~ James Turrell

Planet Earth Vol. 10 by geograpcics (DeviantArt)

I had a good session with my therapist on Wednesday. She asked what I wanted to talk about, and I told her that there were two possibilities: my daughter and my inability to deal with not going back to work; however, since I still hadn’t talked to Alexis, there really wasn’t much point in discussing that issue as it was at a standstill. So work it was.

One of the reasons that I like my therapist so much, aside from the fact that we have known each other for over 20 years, is that she has this innate ability to get to the heart of matters. I can tell you after seeing several different therapists, not everyone in the profession can do this.

I told her that I dream about going back to work at least three times a week and that the dreams never end well. We pondered that and a few other aspects for a bit, but ultimately she said that my loss of identity, the identity that I have always tied to having a career—making money, being successful on my own terms—my inability to deal with the loss of those things was grief, and I hadn’t dealt with that grief.

Geez. Grief? Again? No, we all know that I don’t do grief well, not at all.

What it boils down to is that as long as I keep thinking that I might be able to go back to work, then I’m never going to deal with the fact that I can’t go back to work, certainly not full time and not in the kind of careers that I have had in the past. I mean, the reality is that if I had been working in the past two weeks, out of those ten days, I would have been out of commission for four; no one is going to want someone on staff who is that unreliable, and I cannot predict when my body will decide to take a time out.

“Honest criticism means nothing: what one wants is unrestrained passion, fire for fire.” ~ Henry Miller

The Open Gate by Victor Peryakin

I had never thought of the loss of my career as something over which to grieve, but I have been working steadily since I was 15, full time since I was 18. That’s a long time. A long time in which to build confidence, a sense of identity, a sense of accomplishment. Dr. K likened it to what happens to people who retire and are totally unprepared for the major life change.

It makes complete sense when I think of it in that way, but my inability to move forward emotionally is also keeping me from enjoying something I have longed to have the leisure to do: write.

I used to dream about quitting work and writing full time. Now, I have the time, and I don’t always write. Dr. K suggested that perhaps in my goal-oriented way of thinking about things, I’ve put too many expectations on my writing, as in writing to finish my book, writing to publish, and because of this, I’m not taking the time to just enjoy the practice of writing.

I have worked on deadline with clearly-defined goals all of my life: proposals to garner funds for this or that, deadlines to go to print, presentations to recruit students, sales goals, whatever. And during all of that time, I longed, ached really, to just be able to write. For three years now, I have been about the practice of writing, but always with some goal in my mind, and my inability to pursue that goal clearly and steadfastly has made me feel that I’m not making any forward progress.

But this is the reality:

  • I wrote my first post on February 26, 2008, but I did not begin to post regularly until July 2008.
  • I’ve published 652 posts, and about 95 percent of those were written, not just videos.
  • I average 1500 words a post, words that are mine, not quotes or poems.
  • Based on about 618 real posts, that’s 927,000 words, give or take a few thousand.

Nine hundred twenty-seven thousand words . . .

  • There are roughly one million words in the English language, but does that include scientific terms, acronyms, numbers, etc.?
  • It is impossible to calculate accurately how many words are in the English language because there are so many mitigating factors: slang, regional dialect, words that come from other languages that are used in English (e.g., cliché, Yentl, sherpa, pierogie), parts of speech, derivations, compounds, etc.
  • Unabridged dictionaries contain between 200,000 to 600,000 entries

Have I written a dictionary’s worth of words?

“Stand high long enough and your lightning will come.” ~ William Gibson

Garden Gate

Of course not. But I’ve written a lot of words, and before today, I never calculated just how many words I’ve pounded out on various keyboards and computers at my disposal.

I’ve certainly written enough words to fill a book, but obviously that does not mean that I’ve written a book. But that’s not the point; the point is that all of this time, I have never really given myself credit for writing, just writing. I’ve always kept the presence of this elusive goal in the periphery, which makes me feel guilty for not doing more with my writing.

Perhaps if I can let go of the idea of returning to work, returning to a full-time career, and perhaps if I can allow myself to feel a sense of accomplishment for the writing that I am doing, then I will be able to move on, or at least to move beyond this standstill in which I have felt myself mired for the past few years.

I know myself too well to believe for a second that I will be able to assuage all of the guilt; I still have that strong Puritanical sensibility: hard work brings success; although to be truthful, I don’t know where it comes from. No wait. I do. It comes from my father, from both my parents, who instilled in me early that I had to work hard to succeed.

But aside from that, if I can start to let go, perhaps I’ll be able to move forward.

“I had forgotten that time wasn’t fixed like concrete but in fact was fluid as sand, or water. I had forgotten that even misery can end.” ~ Joyce Carol Oats, I Am No One You Know: Stories

Rustic Garden Gate on Riverside at Eynsford, UK (Wikimedia Commons)

I don’t know, just as I don’t know with any certainty what tomorrow will bring. I just know that I must try. I am so tired of my life being the way that it is.

I’ve been having an ongoing conversation with mosaicmoods regarding the Robbins quote that I posted a few days ago about self destiny and piloting “your own ship.” What I take from the quote is that Robbins is saying that if we sit idly by and wait for things to happen to us, then we deserve what we get, but if we pilot our own ships, if we carpe diem, then we have a chance to make our dreams a reality.

Of course, the opportunities that present themselves to us are not always obvious. We are not always self-aware enough to realize that this moment in time is an open door, so we do not go through it. Or, we may sense that the open door is there, but for whatever reason, we do not go through the door. Perhaps we are afraid of what is on the other side of the door. Perhaps we are just to tired to make the journey, however small.

I only know that I have been hanging about waiting for god knows what for too long. My decision to write just to write is not an earth-shattering decision. I see it more as taking a step or two through the garden gate and down the path. Whether or not that path arrives at a cottage by the sea doesn’t really matter at this point.

To be perfectly honest, I’m just glad to be on the path.

More later. Peace.

Music by Thirteen Senses, “Gone”

                    

Untitled by Halina Poswiatowska

these words have always existed
in the open smile of a sunflower
in
the dark wing of a crow
and also
in the frame of a door left ajar

even when there was no door
they existed
in the branches of a
simple tree

and you want me
to have them to myself
to be
the
crow’s wing the birch and the summer
you want me to buzz
as beehives do
when open to sunshine

fool
i do not own these words
i borrow
them
from the wind from the bees and from the sun

(Translated by Marek Lugowski)

                   

*Just an aside. It’s now 9 p.m. I began this post at 5 p.m. It has taken everything in me not to get up and walk away from trying to publish this damned thing. The computer began to act up as soon as I started to insert my images. Argh . . .

“What matters in life is not what happens to you but what you remember and how you remember it.” ~ Gabriel Garcia Marquez

From the Infinity Series by L. Liwag©

“Memory is a part of the present. It builds us up inside; it knits our bones to our muscles and keeps our hearts pumping. It is memory that reminds our bodies to work, and memory that reminds our spirits to work too: it keeps us who we are.” ~ Gregory Maguire

In the Gloaming II (pointillated) by L. Liwag

I no longer weep on Caitlin’s birthday. That fact does not make me sad. No. That’s not the truth. That fact does make me sad, for does it mean that I have forgotten? In truth, I have not forgotten anything, but I suppose the memory has become so much a part of me that it no longer sits alone by itself, waiting to be taken from its perch, brought to the front, so that it can hold sway over my entire existence. 

That is the fact, the truth, the reality.

We are all collections of our memories—both painful and lovely, luminous and cutting. We file our memories in the small repositories within our brain, move them around over time so that some can be recalled instantaneously, while others are relegated to forgotten corners where they collect dust, withdraw into almost nothingness, only to resurface at inappropriate times. 

“Memory is a tenuous thing, like a rainbow’s end or a camera with a failing lens.”  ~ Ellen Hopkins

Lynnhaven Pier at Twilight (pointillated) by L. Liwag

Some years, the memories of my baby girl breach my consciousness in horrible ways, unrelenting waves that pull me under and leave me gasping for air. But most years, the memories are just there. I can delve into them if I choose, or I can just look at them from afar, keep my distance, choose not to touch them. 

That I have arrived at this point in my life is a good thing, I think. That I can meet March 26 without the fear of complete emotional paralysis means that I no longer feel Caitlin’s presence, her life, her death, so keenly. She is no longer the fresh wound that I bore for so many years, one that I continually tore the scab from so that I could watch it bleed. Rather, she and all that she was has become one of those fine lines on my body, one of the silvery scars that make me who I am. 

I do not believe for a moment that there will not still be days in my life on which I suddenly find myself overcome with grief, but I know that those days will happen with less and less frequency because that is the way of life. We live, we collect, we sift, we hold, we discard. All of the pieces that are precious never fade entirely. That is why we are allowed the gift of memory. Some of the pieces will not go away. That is why we are burdened with the pain of memory. 

“Some things don’t last forever, but some things do. Like a good song, or a good book, or a good memory you can take out and unfold in your darkest times, pressing down on the corners and peering in close, hoping you still recognize the person you see there.” ~ Sarah Dessen

Caitlin and Me

For me, the pain of those days in November has melded with the joy of those days in March and April so that it has all become one. If I pick too much at the threads, it will fray and unravel, but if I just touch it gently, it will remain whole, with all of its swirls and hues. The Pointillists knew that if they created enough colored dots, the eyes would see a whole image. Such is memory: thousands and thousands of disparate dots, a second here, an afternoon there—all coming together to create the one image. 

In my mind’s eye, I see Caitlin with her dark hair and almond eyes, her chubby arms and legs. I see her without the wires, without the machines. I can still hear the machines, but I no longer see them. In truth, I do not remember very much about the day on which she was born. I remember the doctor, and I remember that it was afternoon. I remember taking a shower. Other than those few things, I do not remember.  Unfortunately, too much of what I remember came later. 

Today, though, I remember her arms and her hands. I am not weeping, nor am I overwhelmed with sadness, and that is a good thing. For now. 

“You are lucky to be one of those people who wishes to build sand castles with words, who is willing to create a place where your imagination can wander. We build this place with the sand of memories; these castles are our memories and inventiveness made tangible. So part of us believes that when the tide starts coming in, we won’t really have lost anything, because actually only a symbol of it was there in the sand. Another part of us thinks we’ll figure out a way to divert the ocean. This is what separates artists from ordinary people: the belief, deep in our hearts, that if we build our castles well enough, somehow the ocean won’t wash them away. I think this is a wonderful kind of person to be.” 

 ~ Anne Lamott from Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life 

                                                                                                           

Rain Light 

All day the stars watch from long ago
my mother said I am going now
when you are alone you will be all right
whether or not you know you will know
look at the old house in the dawn rain
all the flowers are forms of water
the sun reminds them through a white cloud
touches the patchwork spread on the hill
the washed colors of the afterlife
that lived there long before you were born
see how they wake without a question
even though the whole world is burning 
 

~ W. S. Merwin 

Ray LaMontagne’s “Empty” 

“I’ve never tried to block out the memories of the past, even though some are painful. I don’t understand people who hide from their past. Everything you live through helps to make you the person you are now.” ~ Sophia Loren

JS Sargent Repose_Nonchaloire

John Singer Sargent’s “Repose” (Nonchaloir), oil on canvas, 1911: This is how I felt yesterday 

“Sadness is always the legacy of the past; regrets are pains of the memory.” ~ Author Unknown

“Memory is a way of holding onto the things you love, the things you are, the things you never want to lose. ” ~ The Wonder Years

Well, yesterday was an eventful day, so to speak. We found out that one of the avenues of employment that Corey was pursuing is unavailable. Big disappointment there. I really thought that that part of the plan was going to work. Perhaps that’s why I shouldn’t be optimistic: It always ends up smacking me in the head.

Speaking of being smacked in the head, have to say that so far, the massive doses of magnesium are not helping with the usual morning headache. Each morning when I awaken, I have a headache, not a migraine, just a tightness. I don’t know if I am grinding my teeth, but I don’t think so. Corey would have told me by now if I am grinding. So each morning I get up and take 800 mg of ibuprofen and two Sudafed. This usually helps somewhat as I think that part of the reason is my fall allergies kicking in and causing sinus pressure. Oh well.

Another interesting not good thing that happened yesterday is that I had a minor breakdown. Let me explain.

hampelmann

Hand-painted Bear Hampelmann from Germany

I was looking for something for Alexis that I had been keeping for her. I had thought that it was in the small lockbox in which we keep our passports, birth certificates, etc., but it wasn’t there. Then I thought that I might have put it with her stuff from when she was a baby. I pulled down everything in the top left of my closet as that is where I store the things from the kids’ earlier days.

For example, I have a huge Raggedy Ann that Alexis’s Aunt Ann made Alexis for Christmas one year. The handwork on this doll is amazing. I kind of feel sorry for all of the grandkids, nieces and nephews who came along after Alexis. Everyone was tired of making handmade presents by then. I mean, for the first five years of her life, Alexis was it in the family, so she received handmade Christmas ornaments, dolls, cross-stitched pictures, you name it.

Anyway, Raggedy Ann and a much smaller Raggedy Andy are stored in that part of the closet, waiting for the day if/when Alexis has her own children. I also have a bag of puppets from Germany. They are called hampelmann, which are hand-painted puppets of sorts. Alexis had about seven in all, and they used to hang over her changing table. I would use them to entertain her, and then later, her siblings.

(Aside: Today when I got home from picking Brett up from school, the Pluto hampelmann had been eviscerated, torn limb from limb. I’m pretty sure that Tillie did it as she was the only dog that was hiding from me.)

“Some memories are realities, and are better than anything that can ever happen to one again.” ~ Willa Cather

Sock Doll

Example of a handmade sock doll

Back to the closet. I have kept just a few pieces of clothes from each child, favorite shirts, etc., and I have a bag for each one. There is also a plastic cubed storage container in which I have put several things that belonged to Caitlin. Well, in pulling everything down from the closet, this container also came down.

I made the mistake of opening the container and opening the box that was on top inside of the container. This box holds several things from that hospital, including a sock doll that slept with Caitlin the entire time she was in the hospital.

Let me back up. I’m not a craftsperson. Never have been. But while I was teaching at ODU during that semester in which Caitlin was in the hospital, several of my students brought in things for her. My most cherished gift is a sock doll that one of my student’s mothers made especially for Caitlin. These sock dolls have been around for centuries. They have been called hush-a-bye dolls because mothers used to give them to their babies to keep them quiet in church.

Anyway, I took the doll in my hands, and that was pretty much as far as I got for the next hour. Corey walked in, took a look at the things spread on the bed, and immediately knew what had happened.

“Love lost is still love. It takes a different form, that’s all. You can’t see their smile or bring them food our tousle their hair . . .But when those senses weaken, another heightens. Memory. Memory becomes your partner. You nurture it. You hold it. You dance with it. Life has to end. Love doesn’t.” ~ Mitch Albon

I came across an article about two weeks ago on a syndrome that some psychiatrists and mental health care researchers are trying to have approved for insertion into the DSM (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, published by the American Psychiatric Association). The disorder is called prolonged grief disorder, or something like that. PGD is a disorder in which the individual simply cannot get over the loss of a loved one within the “normal” time periods.

PGD is different from depressive disorder, and currently grief is not included in the DSM. In one article, researchers contend “that PGD meets DSM criteria for inclusion as a distinct mental disorder on the grounds that it is a clinically significant form of psychological distress associated with substantial disability.”

Apparently, PGD occurs when grief following lingers and become a serious health problem.

I wish someone would have asked me. I could have told them that years ago. I know that my grief is not normal. I have known that forever. It manifests itself unexpectedly, sometimes mildly, sometimes to the point at which I am completely paralyzed. Granted, I do not have these hour-long crying jags everyday or even every month. But I can count on having at least one Caitlin/Dad related episode in a year.

I really don’t need a psychoanalyst to tell me that my bereavement periods are longer than most people. I do not need confirmation that the pain should not be as acute as it still it. And I will freely admit that even I am astounded by just how severely I am affected when it happens.

I also know that a lot of the reason that my grief has hung around for so long is directly attributable to my feelings of guilt over both of their deaths. I had to make the decision on whether or not it was time for Caitlin, and I don’t know that I will ever be able to view that as not being questionable: Was it time? Should I have waited? With my dad, the guilt arises over the fact that I wasn’t with him when he died, even though I had promised him that I would be there.

“Memory is the treasury and guardian of all things.” ~ Cicero

Logically, you don’t have to tell me that I should have let go a long time ago, or point out my inability to let go. I know all of this. But holding that small, soft doll I could swear that it still smelled of her essence. I know that that is not possible, but grief and despair do funny things to a psyche.

I did look a little more in the storage case: I found the blue smocked dress that I have talked about, which was a real surprise as I have believed for many years that that particular dress is with Kathleen, along with the other dresses that I sent her. I also found the dress that Caitlin was wearing when she had her one and only portrait taken.

Black Patent Leather Mary Janes

Black Patent Leather Mary Janes

Eventually, I was able to put everything away, and Corey put the box back in the top left of the closet. The rest of the things that I pulled down are still in a pile in front of the closet. My accidental encounter with the past left me depleted, bereft, numb.

Too much at once. I’ll get to the rest soon. I think that I am saving it until I can actually enjoy the contents of these bags and boxes. After all, they are filled with items that recall good memories—like Alexis’s tiny Virginia Tech t-shirt. That made me smile.

So I’ll go through the rest, probably tomorrow, refold, repack, and replace on the shelf. I’ll take the time to bring to mind some of the good memories that are associated with these things: Brett’s baby blankets, the various humpelmann, Eamonn’s little cap from the National Zoo, Alexis’s Mary Janes. I find myself smiling inwardly even now as I type about these things. And that’s a good thing.

At times, I can balance with unbearable with the wonderful, the heart-wrenching with the endearing, which only proves that I am human after all. And even if it’s a lie, I will try to believe that it will be all right.

 

More later. Peace.

 

Touching Home Base

Chugach State Park AK by JJ

Fall Colors Chugach State Park, Alaska, by Janson Jones*

“And you would accept the seasons of your heart just as you have always accepted that seasons pass over your fields and you would watch with serenity through the winters of your grief.” ~ Kahlil Gibran

“Autumn is a second spring where every leaf is a flower.” ~ Albert Camus

It’s been rainy and cloudy here for days, which is all right considering that my spirits have been rainy and cloudy for days as well. But a few days ago, something subtle changed: It is beginning to smell like fall.

Looking Skyward by Janson Jones

Looking to the Sky by Janson Jones

I remember when I was a child, fall lasted longer. And before they were such harbingers of air pollution, the smells of neighbors’ fireplaces infused the night with the comforting aromas of woodsmoke.

The falls that I spent with my family in Great Bridge were especially wonderful. With the longer days, my cousins and I would stay outside as long as possible playing hide-n-seek well past dark, the big Sycamore tree in the front yard serving as home base. The sounds of tennis shoes crashed through the thick carpet of fallen leaves as we all raced home so that we wouldn’t be tagged “it.”

Leaves and sticker balls everywhere. Ignoring calls to come in now. Irreplaceable memories of our innocent days.

On Sunday afternoons, smells of burning piles of leaves permeated the neighborhood. This was before Great Bridge was overdeveloped to the point that trees are almost non-existent. The big trees in my aunt and uncle’s yard were enormous. Someone tied a tire swing to one of the trees in the backyard, and we would push each other so high, high enough to get flutters in our bellies.

My cousins Butch and Sheryl tried to get me to climb the tree with the tire and then jump off a branch while in the tire. If any of our parents knew an iota of the things that we did. Good times.

“Autumn to winter, winter into spring, Spring into summer, summer into fall—So rolls the changing year, and so we change; Motion so swift, we know not that we move. ” ~ Dinah Maria Mulock

Fireweed Chucagh St Park

Fireweed, Chucagh State Park, Alaska by Janson Jones

Sundays at Great Bridge were such a large part of my life for so long. Being an only child, those times spent playing with my cousins are some of the best memories of my life. We were a motley group. No one wore designer clothes or expensive tennis shoes. We were made equal by our extreme ordinariness.

Of course, I was different—no blonde hair, no ordinary name, the ony one with no siblings—but after their initial mistrust faded of anyone who didn’t know what iced tea was, I was never treated any differently.

In actuality, the younger ones, the ones who were my age, were my second cousins; my first cousins were closer to my mother’s age, daughter’s of my Aunt Ronnie and Uncle Ros. We were all close, until the first divorce, the first move out of the area, the first pregnancy. Time and circumstance, as they always have a way of doing, stepped in and ended our idyllic lives.

I couldn’t tell you the last time I saw one of them, but I’ll be seeing all of them soon. My Aunt Ronnie died yesterday. She had suffered from Alzheimer’s for a number of years. That most unkind of diseases that takes over the brain, erases memories, makes even the most familiar face into the face of a stranger.

The last time she saw me, she did remember me, fleetingly. But it was so long ago

“A few days ago I walked along the edge of the lake and was treated to the crunch and rustle of leaves with each step I made.  The acoustics of this season are different and all sounds, no matter how hushed, are as crisp as autumn air.”
Eric Sloane 

Eastern Tiger Swallotail by Janson Jones

Eastern Tiger Swallowtail by Janson Jones

For me, Aunt Ronnie was the closest thing to a grandmother that I had. When my cousins called her grandma, I was always so envious. A part of me wished that I could call her grandma as well.

I used to buy my Aunt Ronnie butterfly pins for Christmas. She loved butterflies.

I never knew my mother’s mother. She died when mom was only eight years old. The youngest of 12 children, my mother was raised by her older brothers and sisters. My Aunt Ronnie was almost the oldest of the 12, so my mother’s relationship with her oldest sister was very close, more like mother and daughter than sisters at times.

I wasn’t as close to Uncle Ros. I don’t really know why, but the first time I met my Aunt Ronnie was when Mom and I were visiting the States while Dad was stationed in London. I remember that my cousin Jeanette and her husband at the time had been in a horrible car accident, and everyone was recuperating.

I was overwhelmed by all of the people and completely unused to so many children in my own age range. It was great. I never wanted to leave. 

“Winter is an etching, spring a watercolor, summer an oil painting and autumn a mosaic of them all.” ~ Stanley Horowitz

December Snow Anchorage by JJ

December Snow, Anchorage, Alaska by Janson Jones

Once my dad retired from the Navy and we moved back to the area, visits to Great Bridge became almost weekly events. 

Christmas at Great Bridge was such an occasion. We would open presents on Christmas Eve. So many presents everywhere. But Christmas Day we would all get together for Christmas dinner.

I know that I’ve written about Sunday dinners at Great Bridge before, but Christmas dinner was the ultimate Sunday dinner: turkey, stuffing, country-style green beans, mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, greens, country ham, homemade biscuits (usually two batches), sweet tea. Homemade banana pudding, fudge and pies for dessert.

And the most amazing aspect of this feast was that until she was in her 70’s, my Aunt Ronnie made almost all of the food by herself. If someone were going to contribute something to the dinner, it was usually dessert.

We would eat in the early afternoon, and then the parents would watch football and nap on the couch, Uncle Ros in his recliner, while all of the cousins would go outside and get into whatever we could, depending upon the weather. If there was snow, so much the better. There was no keeping us inside.

Then later in the early evening, people would snack on ham biscuits, turkey sandwiches, cakes and pie. Sleepy, satisfied and totally at ease in each other’s company

“Change is a measure of time and, in the autumn, time seems speeded up. What was is not and never again will be; what is is change.”~ Edwin Way Teale

I remember their long driveway would be packed, two-wide with cars, the overflow going onto the street. Leaving was always strategic, depending upon who was parked where and whether or not the car was small enough to turn around in the front yard.

Anchorage Dawn by JJ

Anchorage Dawn by Janson Jones

Eventually, we stopped going to Great Bridge for Christmases, long after I had gotten married (the first time), and Alexis was born. Of all of my children, only Alexis really remembers Aunt Ronnie. My mom would take Alexis with her when she would go to Great Bridge to visit. Alexis would play with my cousin Theresa’s daughter who was a few years older.

Christmas celebrations had moved from my Aunt Ronnie’s house to one of her daughter’s houses. It just wasn’t the same.

And of course, we had all grown up, gotten married, moved away, changed jobs, had children. My second cousins still went, but I kind of dropped out of the fold.

I saw many of them at my Uncle Ros’s funeral several years ago. It was an event that I had to attend and then return to work, so I didn’t have time to visit with anyone. Sunday will be different. I have the time now. I have the memories. I have the regret. I have the loss, the second in less than a month.

“Once more I am the silent one
who came out of the distance
wrapped in cold rain and bells:
I owe to earth’s pure death
the will to sprout.” ~ Pablo Neruda

My mother says that she isn’t going to go to Great Bridge for Aunt Ronnie’s funeral, that she’s never going to another funeral again, that she doesn’t want to see Aunt Ronnie in her coffin; it will give her nightmares.

Turnagain Arm Sunset Anchorage AK by JJ

Turnagain Arm Sunset, Anchorage, Alaska by Janson Jones

I don’t agree with her method of coping, but it really doesn’t matter if I agree or not. Does it? Her unwillingness to visit the family bothers me tremendously, just as her unwillingness to go to Uncle Melchor’s funeral bothered me.

We are so different, my mother and I. While I love to keep hand me downs from family members, appreciate antiques and the memories that go with them, my mother calls it clutter and sees no point in it. I see a tea service that she bought on Portobello Road in London as something to be cherished, a reminder of our time in London and that wonderful section of booths and shops. My mother has no use for it.

Who knows, when I get to be her age, maybe I’ll feel the same way, but I doubt it.

My memories make me who I am. All of the little nooks and crannies in my mind are filled to overflowing with the sweet and the bittersweet. To me, that is life. Little pieces of jewelry, a china cup and saucer, a silver sugar bowl—each is part of a story, my story.

It makes me sad for my mother who only wants to think about happy things, who won’t watch anything deep or sad, who loves sitcoms and talk shows. Don’t misunderstand. It’s not what she does but what she doesn’t do that makes me sad. What saddens me is that she closed a part of herself off a long time ago, and it has been so long since she went through that door that I don’t think she remembers how.

 “There is no answer to any of these questions. It’s a matter of time and timing, of seas and seasons, of breathing in and breathing out. It’s a matter of balance.” ~ Peter McWilliams

Yes, funerals are for the living. My mother wants to be cremated, as do I, as does Corey, all for different reasons. What happens to our bodies after we die is not really the important thing. But memorial services allow a chance for those left behind to say goodbye, to talk about the person who has been lost with fond words, to forget petty arguments, to remember Sunday dinners and sticker ball fights, new bicycles at Christmas and melt-on-your tongue homemade biscuits.

Dawn in Deland Florida by JJ

Aurelia's Dawn, Deland, Florida by Janson Jones

My Aunt Ronnie’s death is like the closing of yet another chapter in my life, a very good chapter, one filled with so much loving and giving. The woman in the casket is not the woman I loved. The woman I loved is already gone; unfortunately, she has been gone for quite a while, ravaged by an unrelenting disease that rips apart everyone touched by it.

But in my mind’s eye, I still see her smile quite clearly. I remember her dining room table, filled to overflowing, and the conversations around it. That was my Aunt Ronnie. The woman who said come and see me sometime. The woman who liked “The Old Rugged Cross” but did not like “Amazing Grace.” The woman who accepted butterfly pins from a young girl with as much relish as if they were rare gems.

These are my memories, the pictures inside the permanent locket of my heart, the ties that bind and make us who we are. The sweet tea of the soul. Piles of fallen leaves. Running as fast as possible when the coast was clear. Touching home base. Being safe. Knowing unconditional love.

 

More later. Peace.

*Many thanks to Janson Jones for giving me the perfect images for this post. Your photographs help me so much to form the words that I need to say.

“Friendship is a sheltering tree” ~ Samuel Coleridge

dawn-by-janson-jones1

“Dawn” by Janson Jones (Floridana Alaskiana)*

“A friend is one to whom one can pour out all the contents of one’s heart, chaff and grain together, knowing that the gentlest of hands will take and sift it, keeping what is worth keeping . . .”

“. . . and, with the breath of kindness, blow the rest away.” ~ Arabian Proverb

gulf-fritilary-by-janson-jones

Gulf Fritilary by Janson Jones

My second semester of teaching at ODU was one of the hardest. Caitlin had died the previous November, and I had managed to finish the Fall semester with my two classes. But going into Spring semester was an endurance test.

I was just trying to survive the fact that my entire life had been turned upside down. I frequently burst into tears, and was more depressed than I ever had been or have been since. The one good thing about that semester was the entrance of a new person into my life: Mari LoNano.

Mari’s (pronounced like Mary) office was right next to mine. We had talked briefly during the Fall term, and then more after Caitlin died, but our friendship really bloomed during the Spring (no pun intended). We began to eat lunch together and to have long conversations about life, death, and survival. By that summer, we had become inseparable, and by the fall semester, when Marty, Mari’s former office mate, moved up in the hierarchy and was given an office to herself, Mari and I became office mates.

It had been a long time since I had had friendship with another woman on a daily basis, and it was something that I really cherished. In fact, I’m not sure that I would have survived that first year after Caitlin if not for Mari.

“Sometimes our light goes out but is blown into flame by another human being. Each of us owes deepest thanks to those who have rekindled this light.” ~ Albert Schweitzer

key-west-sunset

Key West Sunset by Janson Jones

I realized in those first painful months that I was but a shell of my former self. I wasn’t sure about anything, least of all life and my own existence. Mari offered me comfort in so many ways, but probably the most meaningful way in which she became an important part in my life was through our long conversations. Mari told me about the death of her mother years before. It was obviously still very painful for her.

Like me, Mari carried around an immense amount of survivor’s guilt. After caring for her mother during her illness, Mari had not been with her when she died. I could tell that this fact bothered her tremendously. It colored all of her relationships.

We were two lost souls, and we found each other. I have no doubts that fate brought us together.

“Treat people as if they were what they ought to be and you help them to become what they are capable of being.” ~ Goethe

great-blue-heron

Great Blue Heron by Janson Jones

Another important aspect of our friendship was that we were both aspiring poets. Mari had more experience in the craft than I did. At the time, I was still writing mostly from my gut, paying little attention to the actual craft of poetry. We shared our poems, and from her I learned more about line breaks and rhythm than I had ever learned in my undergraduate workshops.

She was also responsible for broadening my horizons into contemporary poets. From her I learned about Bruce Weigl, Christopher Buckley, Molly Peacock, Kate Daniels, and countless other wonderful poets. It was the opening of an important door for me: Writers become better by reading the works of those they admire.

Most of my poetry dealt with grief, while Mari wrote about a wide range of topics: her sister’s horse, her mother, her grandfather, her dogs, nature. I was amazed by her ability to bring to life images and to capture feelings.

We tried to inspire each other into writing more, and we talked about going to poetry retreats some day—something that unfortunately, we never managed to do.

“No love, no friendship, can cross the path of our destiny without leaving some mark on it forever.” ~ Francois Mocuriac

bahia-honda-state-park

Bahia Honda State Park by Janson Jones

We found that another thing that we had in common was that both of our husbands had attended Virginia Tech in the forestry and wildlife program. Ironically, neither of our husbands were working in their fields.

Mari’s husband was working for UPS, and mine was working for the medical school as a radiation safety officer. Luckily for us, Buddy and Paul hit it off, and we started to do things together as couples; going to dinner along with Marty and Jack was always a nice evening out. And the four of us would try new restaurants in the area. Those dinners were great fun.

But mostly, it was Mari and me together. One of our favorite things to do was to eat at the cafeteria near the mall where they had those great rolls and then go shopping. Boy did we shop. For about four straight years, we went shopping at least once a week. Unfortunately, my shopping addiction was my way of dealing with my grief, not a very healthy coping mechanism, especially because of the debt that I incurred.

Mari shopped for a lot of reasons: she loved fashion; she had the money to buy pretty much what she wanted, and I believe that shopping also filled a void for her as well. Regardless, we had some great times finding bargains at T.J. Maxx and Marshalls, two of our favorite stores.

“The worst solitude is to be destitute of sincere friendship.” ~ Sir Francis Bacon

snowy-egret

Snowy Egret by Janson Jones

I ended up at The Chrysler Museum after doing some freelance work, and Mari got a job at a very prominent private school. I have to admit that even though I loved my job at the museum, I was envious of her new teaching position. Our new jobs caused us to see each other less frequently, and then, suddenly, abruptly, our friendship ended.

Mari was going through a very turbulent time in her life, and I was trying to be supportive, but it seems that something came between us. I spent months trying to get Mari to explain to me what had gone wrong, but I never really got an explanation. Finally, hurt and frustrated, I stopped trying.

One of the last times that I saw her before she moved out of the area was purely by accident. We ran into each other at the post office. By that time, she had divorced Buddy, and I was separated from Paul. Our lives were still moving on parallel paths, but they were not intersecting as they once had.

I truly grieved the loss of my friendship with Mari. At first I didn’t realize that I was grieving. It took my therapist pointing it out to me before I acknowledged the obvious. Mari’s exit from my life was a significant loss, so important and integral had she been for years.

“Hold a true friend with both your hands.” ~ Nigerian Proverb

Great Eggfly by Janson Jones

Great Eggfly by Janson Jones

I thought about Mari a great deal over the years. Finally, in 2005 when I was working for the realty company, I did a Google search to try to locate Mari. I found out where she was working, and I e-mailed her and included a poem that I had written about her. It was called “Your Mother’s Pink Sweater.” I had written it in response to a poem that she had written about her mother that I never forgot, “Flying Into the Sun.” The poem was about her mother, and it mentioned a pink sweater that her mother asked for when she was dying.

I was surprised but incredibly happy when Mari wrote back to me. It was as if the years and distance between us had never happened. We started writing and calling each other, and we are still in touch today. We’ve never had the long talk about what went wrong. We’ve been saving it for the day when we live near each other again and can float around in the pool, sipping iced tea together. I’m content with that.

“For believe me, in this world which is ever slipping from under our feet, it is the prerogative of friendship to grow old with one’s friends.” ~ Arthur S. Hardy  

adirondack-chairs-by-lita-liwag

Adirondack Chairs (detail) by L. Liwag

I’m glad that I finally decided to find her. I had been talking about it for years, and Corey kept urging me to do something about it. I suppose I waited because I was terribly afraid of being rejected again, and I just wasn’t sure that I could handle that. Luckily, that is not how things turned out, and I got my best friend back.

When Mari and I were writing together, we used to talk about growing old together, how we would get a house by the sea and two Adirondack chairs. And then we would spend our days growing flowers, watching birds, and reading. It was a wonderful fantasy. I don’t know that our plans will ever come to fruition, but if I had to choose one friend to grow old with together, it would be Mari.

More later. Peace.

*Most of the images in this post are from Janson Jones’s blog, Floridana Alaskiana. I know that Mari loves beautiful photography and nature and would appreciate the beauty of these pictures. To see more of this incredible photography, please visit http://floridana.typepad.com/weblog/.

                                                                                                                         
 

 

Your Mother’s Pink Sweater

 

I have it, you know,

your mother’s pink sweater,

the one she wore

when she ran headlong

into the ocean. I claim it.

 

I stole it from you

when you were distracted

by the boy’s brown skin.

I placed it in a box, beneath unsent words

and misdirected sorrow.

No longer the color of spring peonies.

you would be much pressed

to avouch its heritage.

Stained by too many tears,

(yours, mine),

It little resembles the soft, pink yarn

of youthful memory. Nor do we.

 

Who holds your hands now

when you step into the night?

Do your thoughts fly south

even momentarily?

 

I have your mother’s pink sweater.

Do not ask me to return it.

I have woven its threads into my tapestry.

It cannot be separated without unmaking.

Did you think that I would leave it

untouched for eight years?

 

January 28, 2005

 

 

“You do not see the river of mourning because it lacks one tear of your own.” ~ Antonio Porchia

521px-hammarby_angel_statue

Hammarby Angel, Sweden

“Mourning is not forgetting . . . It is an undoing. Every minute tie has to be untied and something permanent and valuable recovered and assimilated from the dust.” ~ Margery Allingham

“Death lies on her like an untimely frost upon the sweetest flower of the field.” ~ William Shakespeare

yellow-minaiture-roses

Yellow Rose: Memory

I had an interesting conversation a few weeks ago that has stayed on my mind. A professional woman whose opinion I greatly respect told me that I am still grieving. Her comment momentarily took me aback for two reasons: I had not been talking about the loss of Caitlin. And secondly, it’s such an integral part of my life that I never stop to think about my grief.

But the truth of the matter is that yes, I am still grieving for Caitlin as well as for my father. I lost my baby girl many years ago. She was the second child that I carried, after Alexis, and the reality is that if we had not lost Caitlin, we may never have had the boys. But we did lose Caitlin. She was seven months and 16 days old when she died in my arms. Her death was a result of many things, the first being the malignant brain tumor. Everything else that came after only hastened her death.

The operation to remove the brain tumor was successful in that they were able to remove the entire tumor. I was told that it was the size of an orange. Imagine that girth in the skull of a seven-month-old baby . . . After the operation, Caitlin contracted a staff infection. After she had recovered from that, she began her chemotherapy. Essentially, I would have to say that the chemo probably was the real killer: it depressed her immune system so much that she ended up with pneumocystis, a particularly pernicious strain of pneumonia, the type that people suffering from AIDS can contract. The pneumonia led to her being put on a respirator. The respirator led to first one chest tube and then many chest tubes.

Ultimately, this string of events was too much for her small body. She died as she had spent most of her life: in my arms on a Monday afternoon at 2:42 on November 7.

To say that this day changed my life so completely does not even begin to describe the repercussions of losing my child. To say that I have grieved every day since may sound like hyperbole, but I do not think that it is.

“Give sorrow words; the grief that does not speak whispers the o’er-fraught heart and bids it break.”  ~ William Shakespeare

grieving-angel-statue

Grieving Angel

For the first few years after her death, I visited the cemetery almost every day. Some days, I would sit there at her graveside and just keen until it felt as if my heart were completely empty. Other days, I would just sit and listen to the birds and enjoy the quiet communion. At times, I would imagine how I must appear to a casual observer, but then I realized that anyone who was in the cemetery with me, aside from the workers, was there for their own communions and cared little at all how I appeared.

Eventually, the grief became such an intrinsic part of my life that I believed that it no longer consumed me. Sometimes, the realization of her loss would come upon me unexpectedly, and I had no choice but to give in to the tidal wave of mourning. If these moments happened at home, I would take a shower to mask my tears and the ensuing moans that would escape my body so that Alexis and the boys, who were too young to really comprehend what was wrong, would not see or hear these unasked for echoes of my soul’s despair.

These moments assailed me less and less the more that time passed, but the truth is that they still have not completely disappeared. And now, if they come, they are sometimes a mixture of the loss of both my child and my father, and how completely helpless I felt at both of their deaths.

“When our children die, we drop them into the unknown, shuddering with fear. We know that they go out from us, and we stand, and pity, and wonder.” ~ Henry Ward Beecher

After Caitlin died, I went into therapy. It was that or be completely consumed by my grief. I learned a morbid fact in therapy: The loss of a child ranks as second or third on the list of the worst things that can happen to a person. Being a concentration camp survivor tops the list, followed by being a prisoner of war. Sometimes the first two are considered equal in how badly the effect of these events can crush the human psyche.

angel-in-irish-cemetery

Angel in Irish Cemetery

The usual platitude, of course, is that losing a child is unnatural in life’s grand scheme. One is not supposed to outlive a child. But I came to realize that life’s grand scheme was a sham, at least for me. My reasoning was thus: What grand scheme could possibly insert the loss of a child into the fabric of being? I’m not talking about religion or a loving deity here, just fate.

Fate truly is fickle. For how many of us actually have exactly the life that we imagined we would have? How many of us have suffered incredible losses that we could never anticipate? And then I had an epiphany: Fate will never be what you expect it to be. The ancient Greeks knew that, which is probably why they referred to fate in the plural: the Fates.

Fate, for me, was my enemy. It insinuated itself into my existence and wrapped itself around my heart like a tightly-fitting glove. And as a result, I found that my capacity for love was forever changed. Or at least that is how it felt for a while. Let me give you an example: After Caitlin died, I realized that I was holding back in my feelings for her surviving older sister—just at the time that she needed me the most.

It was not a deliberate act. Rather, it was an act of self-preservation; i.e., if I do not allow myself to love completely, then if I lose her, it won’t be as devastating.

This is how insidious the loss of a child can be. One begins to view life myopically. Everything is tinged by the loss, even the love that you still bear for those dearest to you.

“Memory is a way of holding onto the things you love, the things you are, the things you never want to lose.” ~ From The Wonder Years

caitlin-and-me

Together With Caitlin In Normal Times

Fortunately, I was able to overcome my fear of loving my daughter. I realized that I could not let loss control my heart, no matter how much it tried to still my affection. I allowed myself to love completely again, and as a result, I had two more children, two boys. And in allowing myself to love again, I began to live again.

In the years that followed, I attempted to focus more on the time that we had with Caitlin, rather than the agonizing period in which we lost her. But again, as with most things, even this approach was faulty. The reverberations of a loss of such magnitude are farther reaching than most people realize, and to deny my memory the loss was to deny Caitlin’s entire life.

“By the waters of Babylon we sat down and wept, Remembering thee.” ~ Algernon Charles Swinburne

angel_statueI have found that people who have never suffered the loss of a child cannot possibly understand just how permanently it shapes your life. I once had someone ask me, in total seriousness, if it wasn’t time that I stopped grieving and moved on. What this person could not possibly comprehend was that I had moved on, but that the process of mourning is a never-ending process.

Like an ocean, mourning ebbs and flows, but it cannot be controlled completely. Time does heal, but simultaneously, time stamps forever in memory the life that was lost.

In the end, I suppose that how we grieve is a reflection of how we live. This was one of the things that ultimately drove an unmoving wedge between my former husband and me. There are those stages of grief that every grief counselor and therapist will tell the mourner about, and then they always add that individuals move through these stages differently. This is what happened to us; we moved through our grief differently, and eventually, separately, and few relationships can withstand such vast differences in functioning.

Which brings me full circle. The truth is that I still carry my grief with me. It is compartmentalized and for the most part governable. But it is omnipresent, and to deny that would be to deny my very existence. I fear forgetting, even though to do so is well nigh impossible because Caitlin will always be a part of who I am, of the face that I present to the rest of the world. And losing her does not negate my love for her.

I buried my beautiful, dark-haired daughter on a brisk November morning, but I did not bury myself with her, as much as I wanted to, tried to. I persisted and endured, and I am stronger for it, but my weakness will always be the loss of my baby girl. This is the pattern of life itself. This is a part of my tapestry, the one that I am still weaving. Perhaps, in some ways, it is the largest part, and it took an insightful remark to remind me of that. But while Caitlin colors every part of my life, she does not overshadow it. And this, more than anything, is probably the reason that I have survived.

There will be more later. Peace.