“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

“The hour with its face in its hands . . .” ~ Edward Hirsch

Heart Petals by L

Heart Petals by L. Liwag 

 

“You are the watcher; the mind is the watched. It is a beautiful mechanism, one of the most beautiful mechanisms that nature has given to you . . . Even while you are sleeping, it is sitting on your chest torturing you, giving you nightmares. All kind of relevant and irrelevant thoughts go on and on.” ~ Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh 

Very, very strange dreams last night: sharks, guns, school, cooked apples, and a house with many, many short levels and stairs. To top it off, I kept thinking that it was Monday.

Beneath the Surface by L Liwag
Beneath the Surface, by L. Liwag (2009)

Okay. The shark dream: I was swimming in a small inlet behind the neighborhood (doesn’t exist) with my two sons, who are younger in this dream. Something touches my leg. At first, I convince myself that it is probably just a fish. Then I realize that it is too long to be a fish. Then I realize that it is a shark. I yell to the boys to get to the ladders. The shark begins to swim after me, but not too aggressively. I begin to climb the short ladder, and the shark throws his front half on the dock, kind of like the great white in Jaws. I get out of the water, run to the adjacent ladder, and pull Brett up the rest of the way. Eamonn is dawdling because he doesn’t believe that it’s a shark, but he comes up the ladder.

Soon, I notice that there are four sharks in the water, and a female shark giving birth (very odd, that part). The neighborhood teenagers decide that it would be cool to go back in the water on floats and try to dodge the sharks. I yell at them and forbid Eamonn to get back in the water. I watch the sharks moving through the water and wonder where they came from . . .

Segue into dream about house. We are living in a new house. It has many unexplored rooms. I wake up and go downstairs because I hear voices. There is a group of people in the living room having a meeting. I ask them what they are doing there. They say that Ann (my s-i-l) said that they could hold their meeting there. I tell them that it’s Sunday morning and that they cannot have their meeting in my living room.

They leave, but other people appear, neighbors at first. House changes into open interior with many short levels, short staircases to different rooms. One female neighbor says, “We just have so much money. We really don’t know how to spend all of it.” Another woman whispers to me to ignore the woman talking. I have already decided that this is a neighbor that I can do without.

Then house begins to fill with people from my high school reunion. I recognize most of them but don’t remember their names. One guy starts to sing like Elvis. There are the usual cliques. I try to make my way through all of the people to say hello since this is my house, and I must be the host. I hear a lot of people commenting about how strange the house is. I declare that I like it, although I don’t know where the bathroom is.

“The eye sees a thing more cleary in dreams than the imagination awake” ~ Leonardo da Vinci

The eyes see in dreams

Dream Visions by L. Liwag

Segue into later dream: NCIS dream, and I am carrying a gun. I think to myself in the dream that I wish that it were a semi-automatic Glock (I’m not a big gun lover, so this is strange). When I finally get into a confrontation with the bad guy (who looks like Tele Savalas from Kojak), my gun jams, then it is out of ammunition. I think to myself that I must not be a very good agent because I let my gun run out of ammunition. I hide behind the car and press the alarm button . . .

Segue into school dream: My worst nightmare—I am teaching sixth grade again in a public school. But I tell myself that this time it will be okay because I have a plan. I see some of my former students. I ask about one of their sister’s. The girl tells me that her sister has 18 children . . .

Segue into my mother and Corey being in the kitchen of our current home. Corey has cooked apples to put in the toilet to help with the drainage. I don’t remember ever hearing about apples being good for pipes. I ask if they need to be peeled. Woke up with a song on my brain, but cannot for the life of me remember what it was now.

Boy, it was a busy night. I’m really exhausted from doing so much.

In between my last dreams, Corey took Brett over to his friend Gordon’s house. On his way home, the gas tank read 0 dte (destination to empty). I’m not sure how he made it home, but he did. Not sure what we are going to do for gas . . . little thing called money. Oh, I also dreamed that gas went up to $6.01 a gallon.

“Nightmare Begins Responsibility” ~ Michael S. Harper 

This is my life: nightmare to reality . . . reality as waking bad dream. I force myself to get out of bed, to try to do something, anything. Write. Remember words from Michael Harper’s “Nightmare Begins Responsibility”:

“………..
say nightmare, say it loud
panebreaking heartmadness:
nightmare begins responsibility.”

I’ll bet that you weren’t expecting that. The phrase “panebreaking heartmadness” has stayed with me ever since I first read this poem. I found it after Caitlin died and I was reading a lot of poets I had never read before. That’s the kind of phrase a poet would kill to create. It reverberates. It conjures. It chills to the bone. And it stays with the reader.

I realize that this post is all over the place, that it began as more of my crazy dreams, but what I didn’t mention was that at some point in one of the dreams, I thought that I would really like to live in this new house because it would be a great place to raise small children. It’s odd how the conscious mind intrudes upon dreams, insinuates itself into what is not real, or rather, not represented as real.

The other day, when I mentioned that my biggest personal regret was that I never got my doctorate in English, I failed to mention what I consider to be my biggest emotional regret: not having another child. So this thought creeps into my dreams quite frequently, and when I wake up, it is still there, haunting me, and no matter how much I try to move past it, the result is that it stays with me for days.

I know. I should be grateful for the children that I have, that they are healthy, safe, relatively happy. Believe me. I am. More than I can express. But I have always wanted to have one more child, and I know that for me personally, it has become a permanent hole in my heart. I think that most women who want a child have that hole. I know that I am more fortunate than most women who want a child because I have children, but that doesn’t make the desire any less tangible for me.

“Fate has led you through it. You do what you have to do.” ~ Sarah Maclachlan, “You Do What You Have To Do”

Blue Dreams by L Liwag 10-4-2009
Blue Dreams by L. Liwag (2009)

I’m writing these words, and I am wondering if I am going to publish them. I wonder if I am going to lay bare more of my soul. I sometimes think that I put too much of myself into this blog, too many hopes and dreams and failures. Allow myself to be seen by virtual strangers. I wonder about the wisdom of such an act. In so doing, do I ravage my spirit more, cause myself more harm?

I really have no answers to my own questions. Perhaps it is just one of those days in which my psyche feels fractured. Perhaps I should not blog on days such as these. But then, there would be no release, and without this release, I wonder if I might not go mad, or at least, a little more insane.

If only there were a pause button to life, one that you could press, put things on hold for just a bit, fast forward through the bad parts that you don’t have the stomach to confront. Kind of like the mute button that I always wish would work when someone is talking but I don’t want to hear what they have to say.  Oh well.

Today would be a good day to be on a sailboat, sun on my face, wind in my hair—a cleansing, if you will. Sail around to nowhere, just be in the moment grace has given you. I really should have bought that Tartan 27′ years ago.

“In the creeping moments before wakefulness” ~ L. Liwag

Maybe for now, I’ll just put it away, like the song that I woke up to:

“put it away and wait till tomorrow
put it away and take care of your heart
of your  heart” ~ from Earlimart, “It’s Okay to Think About Ending” (music from House)

More later. Peace.