“But happiness is brittle, and if men and circumstances don’t destroy it, it is threatened by ghosts.” ~ Marguerite Yourcenar, “The Man Who Loved the Nereids,” trans. Alberto Manguel

Sunset in Plymouth, Massachusetts, by kmohman (FCC)

“I feel the dead in the cold of violets
And that great vagueness of the moon.

The earth is doomed to be a ghost,
She who rocks all death in herself.” ~ Sophia de Mello Breyner Andresen, from “I Feel the Dead,” trans. by Ruth Fainlight 

Saturday evening, party cloudy and very mild, low 60’s.

Yesterday evening was the viewing for the kids’ grandfather. It was held at the same place where we had Caitlin’s funeral service. I hadn’t been in that building since 1988. It was painful crossing the threshold.

Sunset over the Indian Ocean by ((brian))

I cannot say too much about being there as I felt very removed from everything, on the periphery, as it were. There was the family, my ex and his new love, my children, the evil step-m-in-law, my s-in-law, and a bunch of people, some of whom I knew, but most of whom I did not. I felt like a crasher at an intimate party.

Afterwards, I decided against attending the funeral and graveside service today. Everyone was going over to evil step-m-in-law’s house afterwards, and I knew that I definitely did not want to do that, and I didn’t want anyone to have to make a special trip to bring me home, so I erred on the side of discretion. That, and the wife told Ann that she could not speak at her father’s service as it was “not that kind of service.” Ann had held it together really well throughout the evening, and then she asked—probably to more to be polite than anything—if she would be able to say something and was shot down.

What kind of service does it have to be exactly for a daughter to say a few words about her father? Enough. It was the final blow for me. I never have to see that woman again, and if I do, it will be too soon.

“Let me hear the wind paging through the trees
and see the stars flaring out, one by one,
like the forgotten faces of the dead.” ~ Edward Hirsch from “ Was Never able to Pray”

My f-in-law was dressed in his Navy dress uniform, and an American flag was draped over the coffin. As with most of the dead, he did not look like himself.

Pacific Colors of Dusk by W Mustafeez (FCC)

How can the dead look as they did when living? That which made them the persons they were is gone. That light is gone. That spirit is gone. That soul is gone. All that is left is the shell, and if we were a more civilized society, I think that our burial rites would be more akin to ancient funeral rites: a burning on a pyre, allowing the body to return to the earth, the spirit to places unknown.

I think that if there were no cemeteries, those of us who cannot let go might be better able to move on. If we witnessed the burning, the resultant ashes, we might be better able to close that door. I know that this is a very odd statement coming from me, the woman who loves cemeteries, but I know that those places, the graves, the monuments and memorials, the flowers and trees—they are all for the living, for those left behind.

Burning makes sense. As does floating off to sea on a wooden bier. Give back to nature what belongs to nature.

Sorry if I’m offending anyone.

“It begins, it has an end,
this is what you will
come back to, this is your hand.” ~ Margaret Atwood, from “You Begin

What defines us? In spite of what the media would have you believe, it’s not the physical. Certainly there are those who are defined and identified as their physical package, and those of us from afar make judgments as to what kind of people they might be, but what do we know, really?

Reykjavic, Iceland Sunset by borkur.net (FCC)

How do I define myself? What makes me the person that I am? Is it my heart? My brain? My thoughts? My political party? My social affiliations?

You might be wondering why I’m wandering down this path again, but the statement by the evil-step-m-in-law really, really rubbed against the grain of everything that I believe. She is all about appearances, what is acceptable, what is proper. Yes, social etiquette has its place; it keeps us from eating with our hands and cleaning ourselves with leaves. But to be so caught up in what is the right thing to do and what is the wrong thing to do, to allow that to determine the right way and the wrong way to grieve—it’s just too much.

It’s like the color black. No, listen, I’m going somewhere with this. Black used to be the only acceptable color at funerals, just as white used to be the color for weddings, and white was the only color allowed at Wimbledon. Archaic. A widow who wore a red dress to her husband’s funeral was considered a hussy. But what about the woman who chooses to celebrate the life she had with her partner? What if red was a favorite color?

What we wear to honor the dead is not nearly as important as what we say and think. And what we say to others about the dead isn’t nearly as important as what we hold in our hearts.

“It is impossible not to notice that our world is tormented by failure, hate, guilt, and fear.” ~ William Saroyan

But this is not my fight, as much as I wish that it were, it is not. So I did the best thing and stepped out of the picture.  As much as I would love to have that final confrontation with the evil-step-m-in-law, I will not. I’m not a complete barbarian. As she left the funeral home last night in her white Mercedes, I thought for a moment about how she was going home to an empty house, and for a second, I felt sorry for her, and then I thought about the old Ford that my m-in-law used to drive, and the years that she went home to an empty house, and any pity that I may have had went away.

Sunset over the Tasmin Sea, New Zealand, by multitrack (FCC)

Brett asked me last night why I never let go of anything (it was completely unrelated to anything I’ve been discussing here), and I told him that I didn’t know, that I just couldn’t.

But the fact is that I have learned to be much better about letting go of certain things. I make a real effort not to hold onto my anger with Corey, something I was never able to do with my ex. I would nurse a grudge forever, or until I felt he had made sufficient apologies. Then I learned that an apology isn’t worth anything if it is forced. It is words, mere words.

I have made myself let go of my feelings that my eldest son loves his father more than he loves me, and in doing so, I have come to really appreciate having him back here with us, and we rarely have the kind of conflict that we used to have when he was in high school. Perhaps we have both grown.

So in some very real ways, I have learned to let go, but as I said to Brett, I will never let go of Caitlin. I simply do not know how, nor do I want to.

More later. Peace.

Music by Morgan Taylor Reid, “Simply Human”

                   

I Was Never Able To Pray

Wheel me down to the shore
where the lighthouse was abandoned
and the moon tolls in the rafters.

Let me hear the wind paging through the trees
and see the stars flaring out, one by one,
like the forgotten faces of the dead.

I was never able to pray,
but let me inscribe my name
in the book of waves

and then stare into the dome
of a sky that never ends
and see my voice sail into the night.

~ Edward Hirsch

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“Upon the demon-ridden pilgrimage of human life, what next I wonder?” ~ Iris Murdoch, from The Sea

Barely There

                             

“What you thought you came for is only a shell, a husk of meaning from which the purpose breaks only when it is fulfilled . . . the purpose is beyond the end you figured and is altered in fulfillment.” ~ T.S. Eliot

Bare Branches

I finally did something that I should have done weeks ago: I went to see Jennifer, Alexis’s friend who is dying of cancer. On Sunday evening, Alexis called and asked me to drive her to urgent care the next morning because she had a sore throat that was not getting better. I drove her there and then took her home so that she could take a shower. She wanted me to drive her to the hospital so that she could spend some time with Jennifer.  

Turns out Alexis has some kind of bacterial infection, and the doctor put her on antibiotics. After I took Brett to school, I went back to Alexis’s apartment and drove her to the hospital. Jennifer was readmitted on Friday night. She was having terrible pains in her legs and could not walk. Turns out, Jennifer got blood clots in both legs, and the clots traveled to her lungs; one lung is now full of fluid.  

When I heard this, I was infuriated. Blood clots are preventable. Most of the time when a patient is going to be in bed for an extended period, the doctors will order these special hose for the patient to wear to prevent blood clots. Jennifer was sent home from the hospital without the hose, and none of the home health nurses bothered to make sure that she got them.  

Things like this make me want to go postal. I just want to find someone and scream at them, point out their stupidity, their carelessness, but it’s not my place. But I mean geez, the leg hose are pretty much common knowledge. Why didn’t Jennifer receive any?  

“Why always expect a definite stance, clear ideas, meaningful words? I feel as if I should spout fire in response to all the questions which were ever put, or not put, to me.” ~ E.M. Cioran from “On the Heights of Despair”  

Waning Sun through Trees

So I steeled myself and went inside the hospital with Alexis. I don’t think that Alexis expected me to go inside, just to drop her off.  

When we got to Jennifer’s room, she was sound asleep, that deep, heavy morphine sleep. I took one look at her and knew, knew down to the marrow in my bones that Jennifer does not have long to live. Her head is swollen and full of fluid. The shunt that was inserted in the beginning cannot keep up with the production of fluid. Her skin has a yellow tint to it, and her cheeks are puffy and turgid.  

I sat in the chair next to her for a few minutes, and then I stroked her hair and kissed her cheek, a finger kiss because I did not want to wake her. Then I went down to the first floor and into the small chapel. One of my long-standing habits is to go into the chapel at DePaul Hospital whenever I am in the building. It’s something that I have done for years, regardless of the condition of my faith.  

It’s a small, circular room with a vaulted ceiling, and it almost always brings me a sense of peace, but not on Monday. I wept hot, bitter tears, tears for Jennifer, tears for her son, tears for Alexis. And I know that the tears were also for Caitlin and my father.  

I said aloud to no one in particular, “I don’t understand.” And that, my friends, is the crux of it: I do not understand.  

I’m telling the wrong lies,
they are not even useful.

The right lies would at least
be keys, they would open the door. ~ Margaret Atwood from “Hesitations Outside the Door”

Ghost Trees (b&w) by John Morgan

Death, that I understand. We are mortal creatures, here for a limited time, dying from our first breaths. It’s a process that cannot be defied, no matter how much people try to stave off the inevitable. Sickness, to some extent I understand. People get sick. They contract diseases. They develop syndromes. They are born with genetic defects. These things, too, are a fact of life.  

What I do not understand is the lot, how the die is cast, as it were. What I do not understand is the suffering, the immense, soul-breaking suffering.  

Do not tell me that there is a plan, or that there is a reason. Do not approach me with platitudes that do nothing but sugar-coat reality. Do not attempt to comfort me with words of reassurance that Jennifer will go to a better place.  

Don’t. Please just don’t.  

I am too bitter and angry to hear anything but the resounding madness (from the Middle English madnesse: frenzy, rage, and ultimately, insanity) that hums continuously within my head. I have moved past my inherent ability to be rational and calm. Within me I recognize a feral animal that has resided here before. It is a beast that will not be tamed by reason or rationality. It will remain inside, roaring silently in its fury, until it has spent itself.  

That is the unfortunate truth.  

Beyond the edge of the world there’s a space where emptiness and substance neatly overlap, where past and future form a continuous, endless loop. And, hovering about, there are signs no one has ever read, chords no one has ever heard.” ~ Haruki Murakami from Kafka on the Shore

Black on Blue in Black and White

Beyond my own confrontation with things that have lain dormant and the collision with things that are now, there is the truth: Jennifer is dying, will most probably die much sooner than anyone expects. Her friends do not want to hear this. Her brother does not want this to be the reality. The one person who recognizes the truth for what it is—and I am hard-pressed to acknowledge this—is Jennifer’s father, a man who has been absent from her life for many years, a man who now looks on and sees only his baby girl.  

I ran into Jennifer’s father as I was leaving the hospital. The tears were fresh on my face, and I wondered whether I should say anything to him, but he saw me and began to talk. He had a dim memory from Alexis that something similar had happened in our family. That is how long Jennifer and Alexis have been friends.  

We spoke about how sweet and kind Jennifer is, and he told me that she is uncomfortable with all of the kindness she has been receiving. He reminded her that if the situation were different, she would be the first one in line to help. He spoke of the relationship between our daughters, how it has endured after all of the others have moved on, moved away.  

So I stood there under a brilliant autumn sky, and spoke with this man about his daughter’s coming death. He is the one who has been placed in the position to make the decision, the one that no parent should ever have to make. I think that he wanted reassurance that he would not be vilified for making the decision.  

I could not give him that reassurance. I told him honestly that no matter what he decided, he was going to be the villain, that most people would not understand, but I also told him that if he loved Jennifer, he would remember that she is the one who is suffering, that those who look on are suffering in their own right, but their pain should not override hers.  

“He went like one that hath been stunned,
And is of sense forlorn:
A sadder and a wiser man,
He rose the morrow morn.” ~ Samuel Taylor Coleridge, “Rime of the Ancient Mariner”

Enchanted Study in Black and White by Dmitry Budonov

                     

Having never met this man, I knew him intimately in a way that I did not want. I knew his suffering, and I knew his anguish. When we parted, he thanked me for talking to him and told me to drive carefully. I realized that the next time that I will see him will probably be at Jennifer’s funeral.  

I got in the car and allowed myself to weep once more. I looked out and saw him standing outside the entrance to the hospital, the same half-smoked, unlit cigarette in his hand, a look of anticipation on his face, as if fate itself were hurrying to meet him. And beneath that look lay another face: that of a man so wearied by life that it took everything within him to turn back and walk through the glass doors.  

I don’t remember much of the rest of the day. I did what I do whan I am most upset: I drove. And then when it was time, I picked up Brett from school. Yesterday, Alexis told me that Jennifer was feeling much better, that she ate her lunch and even complained about the food.  

We all take what we can get, even the most minute, seemingly insignificant moments, and we place our hopes on them with every ounce of will left us.  

This is what we do.  

More later. Peace.  

Music by Matthew Perryman Jones, “Save You”  

“Memory is a way of holding on to the things you love, the things you are, the things you never want to lose.” ~ Kevin Arnold

The Magpie Monet 1869 oil on canvas Musee d Orsay

“The Magpie,” by Monet (1869, oil on canvas), Musee d’Orsay

 

” . . . say it loud
panebreaking heartmadness” ~ From “Nightmare Begins Responsibility,” by Michael S. Harper

Do you know what it’s like to hold someone you love in your arms as she is dying? All of the white noise of the hospital room dissipates in those last few minutes. The only sounds that you hear are your own heartbeat in your ears and the sound of someone near you crying. Time becomes suspended, and a part of you hopes that it will remain that way forever, just so that you never have to move into that next moment, the moment when all possibilities cease to exist.

I still remember the weight of my daughter’s body in my arms, still remember the smell of her dark hair, or what was left of it. I can recall vividly the bright overhead lights of the small room, and the way that I stared at the machine that monitored her heartbeat, willing it to remain steady so that all that was left of Caitlin would not end.

I remember how it felt as if my own heart stopped in that moment when hers stopped, and how I wished that it were true so that I would never have to exist in a world in which Caitlin was no longer a part. And then how we all left the room while the nurses disconnected her from all of the machines and removed the tubes that had sustained her. How when we went back into the room, she was lying there in the middle of that big hospital bed, so small, so seemingly perfect, and how I knew that at last she was no longer in pain.

I removed the hospital gown and dressed her in soft white pajamas, and I tried to train my eyes away from the incisions on her chest and arms and legs. I felt the scar on the back of her head where the surgeons had cut into her only two months’ previous, and then I kissed her, caressed her still-warm cheeks, and left.

We walked out into the bright November afternoon, and I thought to myself that it was impossibly cruel that the world outside could still be moving on as if Caitlin had never been a life force among those moving about, completely mindless of her life and her death. After that, I don’t remember much. I don’t remember the car ride home. I don’t remember walking into the house that had been mostly empty for months. I don’t remember getting into bed that night or waking the next morning.

My next memories are of minutiae: picking out a headstone and deciding what to inscribe, taking a dress and bonnet to the funeral home, renting a carpet cleaner and cleaning the carpet and living room furniture, even though they did not need it. I remember my mother-in-law bringing Pizza Tuesday night so that we would eat, and I remember that it tasted of cardboard. I remember Ann going with me to find a dress for the funeral, and how I obsessed over finding finger-tip towels for the bathroom.

I remember the day of the funeral, passing out Valium like it was sweet tarts, standing in the tiny bathroom of the chapel with Kathleen and watching the people pulling into the parking lot, walking up to the podium and looking out at all of the faces of people who had been so much a part of our lives—nurses from the hospital, our friends from the medical school, people with whom I taught at the university, and I remember not being able to distinguish faces.

I remember the ride to the cemetery in Kathleen’s car, and looking behind us at the long line of cars that followed. I remember the late morning sun and the cool breeze. I don’t remember what was said, nor do I remember actually being there during the service, only the moments after the service concluded, when friends began to come up to me and hug me, how surprised I was. I remember looking up and seeing Johnny and collapsing into his arms, sobbing openly in my dear friend’s embrace.

Afterwards, I remember sitting in the Bentwood rocker in which I had held my daughter, drinking wine, and listening to people talk to me. I don’t remember what was said or everyone who was there. I remember that Sarah wore red. And then as people left, I remember pressing food into their hands because the idea of a house full of food made me physically ill.

Awakening Bessie Pease Butmann 1918

             “Awakening,” by Bessie Pease Gutmann (1918):            This is how Caitlin looked with her dark hair and chubby cheeks.

 

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

These are the things that I remember about those four days in November, remember still even though so much time has passed. And while I know that I have forgotten as much as I remember, it’s the memories that continue to cut so sharply, reopening wounds that have never healed completely.

I know that it is a cliché to say that a part of me died in that room that day, but that does not negate the statement’s truth. A part of my heart closed off completely the moment that Caitlin’s heart stopped beating. The part that had belonged to her grew cold and has never regained its living warmth. I can live with that. I have lived with that. I will continue to live with that.

Death is not a gentle journey for anyone, for those who die or for those who are left. Death is insidious in its ability to weave its way into the sinews of existence and memory. What those of us who remain must do is learn to take that loss and incorporate it into our daily lives. If not, it would be impossible to go on, to move through time with any kind of peace or hope.

The memories of the day that my daughter died and the hours that followed are stored away, and I dare not retrieve them too often lest they break me. But sometimes, it is necessary to open the box in which they reside, even if the doing feels like bloodletting. These memories are not the totality of my daughter, yet they are as much a part of me as the cells that give me life. I have incorporated these memories into my lifeblood, and there they will remain, along with the memories of my father and all of the other memories that make me who I am.

I have come to realize that the ability to recall such intense emotion helps to make me stronger, even if it feels like a little death each time that I do so. It may not seem to make much sense, but embracing every part of the tapestry of my life—the beauty and the pain—affords me my humanity, and given the opportunity, I would not choose to have traveled any other path.

One of my favorite songs from that time: “Cristofori’s Dream,” by David Lanz

More later. Peace.

                                                                                    

Remembrance of Monday Afternoon Past
     for Josh

How can I explain to you
what it is to hold someone you love
until she dies?
I cannot prepare you for that moment of separation—
     it is something so unspeakably personal
     that to watch it, to intrude upon it
     almost cannot be forgiven.
If I try to tell you about the silences
that enclose and isolate,
     you will not understand
     until you, too,
     have felt them.
I cannot describe for you
     the desperation
     with which you will try to pass
     life
    from your arms to hers,
    but you will come to know this as well
    as I once did.
When the moment comes,
     you will not be ready,
     but you will recognize it for what it is—
     that last instant
     in which possibilities still exist.

L. Liwag

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.

Some Wounds Never Really Heal

rebeccas-church
Old English Churchyard by Rebecca Gagnon

Time passes. Landscapes change. People come in and out of your life. This tapestry that we are constantly weaving contains many, many threads, some short, others incredibly long; they pass in and out, unbroken, made stronger by their connection to the other threads that in the end, are the portraits of our lives. But when we step back, we see the barren spots, the threadbare patches. These are the incomplete pieces of our lives, the places in which we were unable to fulfill a part of our destiny, for whatever reason, or a place in which a piece of our life was taken from us unwillingly.

These barren spots on our tapestries are the wounded pieces of our soul, and often, we do not recognize them until late in our lives when we are looking back, reflecting on our lives. But once in a while, we are forced to face these wounds much sooner than we would like, and it is in these moments, when we face our own mortality, that our lives are changed forever, and the weaving of our tapestry takes on a completely different pattern.

Mine changed on November 7, 1988 at 2:42 p.m., the day my daughter Caitlin took her last breath in my arms.

Some years, this anniversary passes me by without much pain at all. In the beginning, each year was like a fresh debridement, a new removal of my skin, and I welcomed the pain like a junkie welcomes the needle. The pain reminded me that I was alive and that she wasn’t, and the pain forced me to relive my self-imposed guilt for being the one who lived, for as any parent in this situation will tell you: the death of a child is not the natural order of things. Gradually, by around year nine or ten, the pain had lessened in its acuteness, and for that I felt a different kind of guilt. And then when I stopped going to the cemetery as much, I felt a new kind of guilt.

There are all kinds of books on the stages of grieving, but none on the stages of guilt, or at least, none on the many stages of imposed guilt: guilt when you no longer buy silk flowers every year on her birthday, guilt when you no longer think of her every single day, guilt when you no longer can recall the smell of her skin, guilt when you can no longer carry her baby blanket around with you everywhere you go . . . well, you begin to understand the idea.

What brings me to this posting? Twenty years. This morning I was sitting in a hospital outpatient waiting room awaiting my mother’s surgeon to finish a relatively simple procedure on her eye, and I felt as if the room was closing in on me. Twenty years ago on this date, I was sitting in a hospital room in pediatric intensive care, watching a machine breathe for my daughter, knowing that this was going to be the last day of her life, knowing that her organs were not going to be able to help anyone after her death because she was too far gone, knowing that I would never brush her hair again, never sing to her again, never sleep on the hospital vinyl furniture again, never, never, never . . . and all I wanted was another day, another week, a Thanksgiving, a Christmas, a birthday. Anything. Everything. And all that I had was another few hours.

They have come so far in treating what ultimately killed my sweet baby girl—ARDS—Adult Respiratory Distress Syndrome, a big name for a tiny child for a toxic syndrome that develops in the lungs from being on a respirator for too long. She was on a respirator because of the pneumonia. She got the pneumonia from the depressed immune system that she got from the chemo. She was on the chemo because of the brain tumor. No one knows why she got the brain tumor.

My sweet baby Caitlin died when she was 7 months, 12 days, and a few hours old.

Some wounds never heal. Some threads are not long enough to create their own pictures. Some holes are burned beyond repair. Some tapestries remain incomplete forever.

Continue reading “Some Wounds Never Really Heal”