“Give sorrow words; the grief that does not speak knits up the o-er wrought heart and bids it break.” ~ William Shakespeare, from Macbeth
Alexis’s friend Jennifer died today. Jennifer, who had so many reprieves, who lived to share another Christmas and another Christmas with her young son, and even, almost a third Christmas.
When I first wrote about Jennifer it was in September of 2010, and everyone was so certain that she would die before the end of the year. I include myself in that everyone. But Jennifer fooled each of us. She left the hospital, went home, and lived. She lived through two more (three?) of her son Reilly’s birthdays; she lived long enough to come to Alexis’s baby showers and to take a bus to the hospital when Alexis was in labor.
She lived, and then, she didn’t.
As if I needed yet another reason to hate November.
“Given the choice between the experience of pain and nothing, I would choose pain.” ~ William Faulkner, from The Wild Palms
You see, I feel nothing but guilt about Jennifer. I was not a good friend to her, and even when Corey mentioned that I might want to call her because she was sick again, I chose not to. I just couldn’t do it, couldn’t put aside my own feelings of dread at facing another young person’s death, couldn’t find a way around my own discomfort to call this sweet, sweet girl. God, she could talk your ear off, and the drugs made her ramble even more. I am not patient with such things, witness my attitude with my own mother.
And the whole time Alexis was pregnant, Jennifer would find things for her that she might be able to use. Jennifer was a world-class thrifter. But that’s how she was, truly, thinking about other people. Looking out for others even when she already bore so much more than she deserved.
I thought about Jennifer a lot since that September in 2010. I was beyond happy when she was around to spend Christmas with Reilly that year and then the next, and then that thing happened that always happens: complacency. Just as with my brother-in-law Patrick: you get so used to the person being in a certain state of health that that state becomes normal. So when Patrick got sick again, it just didn’t occur to me that he would die. Neither did it occur to me that Jennifer might actually die this time, even though within my heart I knew that it was a strong probability.
“How could I have been so ignorant? she thinks. So stupid, so unseeing, so given over to carelessness. But without such ignorance, such carelessness, how could we live? If you knew what was going to happen, if you knew everything that was going to happen next—if you knew in advance the consequences of your own actions—you’d be doomed.” ~ Margaret Atwood, from The Blind Assassin
Funnily enough, today I was watching Sesame Street with Olivia, and I had a flash of memory: When Lex was younger and one or more of her friends had spent the night, I used to go in and jump on the bed and use Elmo’s voice and yell at them to get up. Weird, I know, but true. I thought of that today, before I got the news. And then a few hours later a got a text that Jennifer had died.
And so I wept. I wept hot tears of hate. Hatred at myself. Hatred at fate. Hatred at cancer. Hatred at whatever it is that decides to inflict such pain upon a sweet, talkative young girl who never had all of the comforts that Alexis had, who came from a broken family filled with dysfunctions—how that girl moved beyond that and became a wonderful mother to her son, the kind of mother she never had.
I wept at myself for failing to do the right thing, and then, I realized that my tears were also selfish tears, appropriating Jennifer’s life and death to add to my own litany of loss, and I am repulsed by myself. How can I cry for Jennifer and turn it into tears for my own losses? Who does this? I am sickened, and so I weep more, weep until I cannot breathe and am on the verge of hyperventilating because the overwhelming sensation that I feel is guilt: guilt over not calling Jennifer, guilt over not keeping in touch with Patrick, guilt over not being more patient with my mother, guilt over not going back to the hospital in time to be with my father so that he did not die alone, and always, always, always, guilt over Caitlin.
“Youth offers the promise of happiness, but life offers the realities of grief.” ~ Nicholas Sparks, from The Rescue
I won’t scream and say that it’s unfair, that it’s unfair because she was young. Death holds sway over who it will. Youth’s seeming immortality has no pardon from its sway, is impotent in its presence.
When is enough enough?
I know that I am merely screaming into the wind here, that nothing can change anything, yet I am so filled with self-loathing right now that it just makes me cry even harder.
We are careless. Humans are careless. We make assumptions. We delude ourselves. It is easier this way. We do not want cold truths. We do not want blunt realities. Allow us to coast along with our false certainties, to be comforted by our denial. Yes, that is better, is it not?
My dog Shakes used to get very worried when I had crying jags. He would come in and try to get in my lap and Alfie would bark shrilly as if that could stem my tears. It was harder to cry when that was going on. I suddenly remembered that in the middle of my keening, and then I cried even harder.
Granted, it has already been a very shaky November so far as it was apparent that I was well on my way to a major fall. But now? I don’t even know how to think. I’m just letting my fingers form the words for me as I do not want to think about anything too much. I do not want to see Jennifer’s face in my mind, especially as I cannot recall Caitlin’s face. I know. That makes no sense, but it feels like yet another betrayal.
“No one ever told me that grief felt so like fear.” ~ C.S. Lewis, from A Grief Observed
Jennifer was someone’s daughter, someone’s sister, someone’s lover, and someone’s mother. Jennifer used to put baby oil in her hair when she was a teenager because it was curly and she wanted to make it lay flat. I’m certain that Jennifer is the first person Alexis got drunk with, and for a while I would not let Alexis spend the night at Jennifer’s apartment. Turns out my daughter was probably the instigator all along, but I blamed Jennifer and Amanda. Not my Alexis.
But we do what we can as parents. We try to make the right decisions. Try to guide our sons and daughters into having the right relationships, and even when they don’t, we make excuses for them because after all, they are our sons and daughters.
After today a young son lost his mother. Reilly will not have his mommy to spend Christmas with him, to celebrate his birthday with him, to see him go on his first date, to watch him graduate. His drug addict father hasn’t been in the picture in years. He will have his uncle who helped Jennifer with Reilly after she got out of the hospital. But no matter how much the people in his life who love him may try, they will never ever be able to fill that void. No one can replace your mother, especially when you are young.
” . . . you know you can go your whole life collecting days, and none will outweigh the one you wish you had back.” ~ Mitch Albom, from For One More Day
I haven’t talked much about suicide on this blog for many reasons. I will only say this: that knowing what it would do to my children kept me from making foolish mistakes. Jennifer had no choice in this. And try as she did, the fates were against her. Her death will affect Reilly in so very many ways, ways in which people could never predict.
Caitlin never had a choice, nor did she have a chance, but that never kept us from hoping until hope was taken away.
Hope. That four letter word that is probably more powerful than love or hate. Hope allows us to fool ourselves in ways that love and hate never do. Hope keeps us coming back. Hope carries us to places we might not dare to travel. And then when hope is lost, that my friends, that is the worst loss of all.
Goodbye, Jennifer. I hope you were loved much as you deserved.
“Come away, O human child!
To the waters and the wild
With a faery, hand in hand,
For the world’s more full of weeping than you can understand.”
~ W.B. Yeats, from “The Stolen Child”
A song I used to play over and over on my piano: Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata