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You are sitting there, quietly, when suddenly, you know. Death is at your shoulder. Again. All of his other visits swirl through your memory. Why is he a he? I have always thought of death as a male, and birth as female. The female part, I understand. But the male part is a mystery. He has yet to make a claim, but he is there, waiting. Animal or human, death is the same. In the long run, the hurt is the same. The loss is the same. A sensitive soul like me, or a pragmatic soul, like my ex, still feels the ache. The new/old soul like our daughter feels it all the more, because she is far away, and may not get a chance to say goodbye.

Champ’s age is debatable, but that he was adopted as Kelsea’s dog is indisputable. That he is preparing to depart is also without question. I sat for hours on the floor of the vet’s office with him laying between and against my legs, snoring gently and chasing things in his dreams. I know he will be free of the burden of his body over the Bridge, and that he will be waiting there for us. I have shared similar sentiments with three friends who have lost fur family in the last few weeks. It’s no comfort. There is no comfort. I so wish there was.

The feeling of grief before a death is, some might say, premature. But I know it to be very real , and inescapable. Once Death is in the room, there is nothing I can do but sit beside him, in uncomfortable silence, and wait.

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Boulder, Colorado.

Quote of the day: “Dogs are always good and full of selfless love. They are undiluted vessels of joy who never, ever deserve anything bad that happens to them.” — Steven Rowley

Daily gratitudes:
A good vet
Clouds
Getting along with your ex
Video calls
The mixed blessing of feelings

 

Well, not exactly, but the blues are singing a song of me today, and kitties always seem to help, whether it is images on a screen, or the real thing sitting on my heart. Mr. Man does have a tendency to lay on whatever part of me isn’t feeling up to snuff. He’s a wise healing kitty. It was a lovely Thanksgiving, and I hope you all enjoyed it or at least kept family disputes to a minimum. I know it can be a tense time, especially this year.

For me now, we enter into a strange chrysalis-like phase that often lasts from after Thanksgiving until after the anniversary of my Mother’s passing. It will be ten years this year, and seems like yesterday sometimes. Two friends have lost a parent in the last week, and my heart goes out to them. It alters the character of the holidays when a loss is associated with days that the rest of the world associates with a certain celebration.

So for now, kitties.

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Littleton, Colorado.

Quote of the day: “The most beautiful people we have known are those who have known defeat, known suffering, known struggle, known loss, and have found their way out of the depths. These persons have an appreciation, a sensitivity, and an understanding of life that fills them with compassion, gentleness, and a deep loving concern. Beautiful people do not just happen.” — Elisabeth Kubler-Ross

Daily gratitudes:
A lovely day
A lovely yesterday with MKL
A Downton Abbey marathon
A long talk with Kelsea
The East Simpson Coffee Shop

I don’t know. But I feel that there are people I love waiting there – people and animals. And there were people waiting for all of those who arrived so suddenly yesterday. I imagine that when I get there, I’ll see something like this. Peaceful. Beautiful. Tranquil.

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Somewhere over the sea.

Quote of the day: “As the rose-tree is composed of the sweetest flowers and the sharpest thorns, as the heavens are sometimes overcast—alternately tempestuous and serene—so is the life of man intermingled with hopes and fears, with joys and sorrows, with pleasure and pain.” — Edmund Burke

Daily gratitudes:
The concept of Bolivia
The man listening very intently to the pillar on the corner of 15th and Wynkoop
A little girl in the dancing waters
That Kelsea is (still) on her way home
How beautiful my cousin looks

I learned today of the death of a friend. Even though we hadn’t seen each other or even spoken in years, I still considered him a friend. Over the years, we were there for one another when things were falling apart in various sectors of our lives. It has saddened me. Saddened me because we hadn’t spoken in years. As I reach a certain age, I will lose more friends, just as these days, the world loses singers and actors that were icons of my teens and twenties. I love my friends and family, even if I don’t often communicate. And when they die, whether it’s sudden or slow, it’s always too soon. I am left with memories – good, funny, random, bittersweet. And never enough.

My wedding this summer brought me back to some of these people who are closest to my heart, and for that I amforever blessed.

It feels like it has been a year of passings for my friends, and we are not even a month in, and that makes me wonder. Why? Why did pneumonia steal away the larger-than-life man with the larger-than-life heart, whose loss has devastated one of my beloved friends? Why is another of my darlings, who so recently defied death herself, now faced with the slow, tender, painful, spiral of her mother’s passing? Why is a new daughter faced with the light of her grandmother suddenly extinguished?

I keep asking why, and there is no answer.

There is no way to take away the pain of loss. It does fade, gradually, like a well-loved shirt, laundered and worn until it comes apart at the seams and transforms into something different, or gets tucked in a drawer to stir memories when you catch sight of it as you’re looking for something else. But it is always there. Pain of loss transforms us in ways we cannot understand. I would hope it makes us kinder, gentler souls, who handle other souls with greater care, but I don’t know if that’s always so. The pain reshapes us inside, and we are never quite the same person as before, even if we think we are.

We are all treasures in process, I suppose.

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Quote of the day (and one quoted before): “You will lose someone you can’t live without, and your heart will be badly broken, and the bad news is that you never completely get over the loss of your beloved. But this is also the good news. They live forever in your broken heart that doesn’t seal back up. And you come through. It’s like having a broken leg that never heals perfectly—that still hurts when the weather gets cold, but you learn to dance with the limp.” — Anne Lamott

Daily gratitudes:
Memories
MKL, always
Kelsea
The mystery of life
Walking

 

 

 

December 12, 2006:

My uncle and my brother both marked the time, the exact time – somewhere around 3:43 am.

We sat for a while with her, there in the darkness, holding her hands, holding her heart.  I could still feel her.  Still feel her.  Someone turned on the lights, blew out the candle, started doing the practical things.  Calling the mortuary people, calling my “Aunt” who had been my Mother’s oldest friend – the one who had  aided in my parent’s elopement, had driven her to the hospital to give birth to me, who now lived just upstairs.

It felt wrong to have all this stuff going on.  I stayed in the room with her, pulling up her covers so she might not get cold, trying to fully close her eyes.  They wouldn’t stay closed.  I went into the bathroom and looked in the mirror and saw her looking back at me through my eyes.  I saw her eyes in the mirror, in my face.  I called my husband and told him, had him tell Kelsea.  She wrote the date and time down on a napkin and put it in a special scrapbook that she has.

My aunt came.  She put her arm around me, and I said, “I don’t want her to go.”  And she said to me, “She’s already gone.”  I did not know what I was going to do.  I loved her so.  We were such a part of each other.  I just did not know what to do.  As the minutes passed , her body looked less and less…occupied.  I could feel it, feel her soul moving away, as the minutes passed, drifting away, flying away, floating away, soaring away, farther and farther away, without even turning to say good-bye, just excited to be free and exploring.  Leaving me behind.

Things happened then.  My brother put ice around the back of her head to keep her brain cool for the Brain Autopsy Study she was a part of.   I knew it was still nighttime, the middle of the night, but time had become irrelevant.  I just remember again the light, the brightness of incandescent bulbs all over.  The night nurse had slipped out.  She had been hiding in the other bathroom for hours.  She never even came in the room.  She was afraid of dead people.  Everything just felt so surreal.

The funeral home men came, two of them, with a stretcher and a big plastic bag.  Somehow, though she wasn’t a big woman, they just couldn’t seem to manage her.  I don’t know why.  But I wound up helping to put my Mother’s body in that bag.  Wrapped in one of my sheets, one of my favorite sheets, that looked like a sandy beach with seashells on it, that we had put on her bed particularly because she loved those sheets too.  I could never have that sheet back.  That action was the worst part of this whole memory.  I should never have done that.

Then everyone left.  It was morning.  I called my best friend at work.  I started making calls to the people who needed to know.  It was horrible.   I heard her dear friend, whose wife I spoke to, explode with grief – “Oh, GOD!”, he said.  I let her go to him.  I lay down to try to sleep and I just cried.  Cried and cried and cried as if my heart would break.  But it was too late, it was already broken.

I thought about the morphine in the refrigerator.  I could do it.  Could do it so easily.  Just take the rest of it and follow her.  I wasn’t thinking about Kelsea.  I wasn’t thinking.  I was so consumed with pain, I didn’t feel like I could live.  I didn’t want to live.  I was tired and tormented.  I was mad with grief and exhaustion.  I wept myself to sleep.

Later, I told E-Bro about it, and he said he would kick my corpse if I did such a thing.  We started to pack up her things.  We went out to dinner.  We didn’t feel normal.  We were orphans now.  At least we had each other.

Now, four years later, I have come to have some peace with her death, but it has taken almost this entire span of time.  But it has happened.  I still miss her.  I know she’s still with me in her own way.

And I know, with all certainty, that she is having a marvelous time.

[These three days are always hard for me, especially coming at this time of year that I love. And so, over these next three days, I will be reposting what I lived during these days nine years ago. I did this three years ago as well, and find sharing my experiences and memories comforting and cathartic. I find it interesting to reflect on how my feelings about death have evolved as I have aged. But that’s for another post.]

With thanks and apologies to Eugene O’Neill for the post title.

[The next three day’s postings are my memories of the day before, the day of, and the day after my Mother’s death four years ago.  This is a difficult anniversary for me, though it seems to ease each year.]

December 10, 2006:  I don’t remember what we did today.  Probably not too much but talk – and laugh.  Uncle George and E-Bro were with us now, but strangely I don’t remember them being there.  I only remember us.  Over the past week, we had spent nearly every moment together, waking and sleeping.  I probably took a walk once and went out to the store a couple of times.  I took showers alone and went to the bathroom alone.  But you didn’t.  It was as if we were merging, merging for the last time.  Looking back now, I see that that wasn’t a good thing, but it wasn’t something I could control.  We had been so very close for so very long that our separateness was, for most years, only a matter of a few degrees.  In the last days, those few degrees simply vanished.

You had started asking for the morphine towards the end of the day.  Not much, but you’d never needed it before.  I can imagine how much you must have been hurting to make that concession.  You always hated painkillers, hated anything that made you feel out of control of yourself, unlike yourself.  It didn’t seem to affect your clarity, but it did seem to ease your pain.  I remember your pain.  It was in your bones.  When you would move sometimes – or sometimes when you were still and it was so bad that it would make you move – your face would grimace in this expression that was indescribable.  You would hold your breath until it passed.  I hated to see you in pain.  I encouraged you to take the morphine.  After all, we knew you didn’t have much time left – why spend it in pain?  But you wanted to spend it being present.  I admire that.

You had stopped eating by now, but today I could still get a few Dibs into you.  Water.  Your beloved orange sherbet in little tiny spoonfuls.  It was sunny, and the light slipped through the slats of the blinds in gentle patterns, changing throughout the day, as sunlight does.  You never asked for me to open the blinds or asked to look outside.  Looking back, that surprises me, as you so loved nature.  But you were focused on the world inside your three rooms, the world that encompassed the people you loved most, and the small things you had around you that you treasured.  The rest of the world didn’t matter anymore.

People came and went, people you’d known for years and years who loved you so.  You always thought of yourself as being alone, as not having many close friends, but so many people felt like you were THEIR close friend.  You were very comfortable with that, with all of it, and with being alone.  I suppose that’s the mark of a person truly happy in herself.  But today, people came knowing that they were coming to say goodbye, even though nothing had been said. I left them alone with you, and they usually came out of the bedroom and started to cry, and I would thank them and comfort them as best I could.

Everyone brought food.  You weren’t eating.  I couldn’t eat, except late at night, when I couldn’t sleep.  I would eat weird things in weird amounts, knowing I just had to get something, anything, into me.  It wasn’t comforting.  It was a random necessity.  That had been going on for a week, my eating like that.  Ever since you really stopped eating.  For me, that was the beginning of my thoughtless, mindless eating habits that have added so much weight to my small frame in the last four years.

I don’t remember doctors coming.  I don’t remember even talking to the doctors.  But that must have happened. Mustn’t it?

In the afternoon, you took a nap. As always, I stayed beside you for most of it.  I would go do little things, make phone calls, shower, clean something, constantly checking on you.  When you woke, I took your hand, asked you if you had a nice rest.  You said yes, and looked at me strangely.  I chattered at you, you responded politely, still looking at me in that odd way, patting my hand.  Then you said, “Who ARE you?” And I reminded you that I was your daughter.  Your eyes cleared, you looked relieved, you laughed at yourself as you recognized me.  I felt a chill that I did not show.

I had been so wrapped up in caring for you.  For months, I think, I had been flying across the country every weekend to be with you.  Your death became my life.  We had always been close, except for those nasty teenage years, but especially since Kelsea’s birth.  We had talked every day.  After the last diagnosis, we talked three or four or five times a day.  In the mornings, to be sure you were okay.  If you were lonely.  If I was bored.  If you went to the doctor.  In the evening before bed.  If I was scared.  If you had some piece of news.  We talked so much because we knew that soon we wouldn’t be able to talk at all, not in the same way.

And you were so happy to have the three of us there.  You loved us so.  That night as we were going to bed, you felt it was going to be your last night.  You said goodbye to me.  You told me to tell Kelsea that you loved her.  You reminded me that the car keys were in the little bowl on the half-wall by the kitchen.  Yes, ever the Mother. And you went to sleep.

But it was not your last night.

How selfish mourning is.

It neither benefits nor honors the dead.

It will be nine years this year since I lost my father, and eight since I lost my mother. To all outward appearances, I am reconciled to that loss, which is all one can ever be. You never get over it, you just readjust.

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Mother

Except in dreams.

In dreams, such as last night’s, they live. And they die all over again.

Those are the worst dreams, where you go home, you see them, they give you food and advice, and you talk about when you can get time off work to see them again, the conscious self crossing swords with the unconscious self to accept and deny reality, and then, slowly in the dream, there comes the dawning that they are both dead.

It as if they have died all over again.  And in the dream, you have that same sense of endless emptiness that you experienced only then, in reality, except without the comforts of reality to sustain you. That feeling creeps into your waking consciousness and you awake, eyes closed, wondering where in the world you are, and why this weight is filling your closed eyes with tears and if the wind outside that is brushing the chimes is warm or cold.

You remember that your childhood house, now in dreams, strangely borrowed and restored to your memory of it, is now remodeled. The green shag carpet and the books are gone from the living room, the knotty pine cabinets and red cracked ice table are gone from the kitchen. The new owners have the put the refrigerator in a place that does not make sense.

You look out your bedroom window now, on a January day, and see that the snow has melted some, and know that there are daffodils eking their way out of the old ground somewhere, and remember the buttery smell of thousands of daffodils from your childhood.

You do not know what to do with yourself.

So you write about it, before you get up to feed the cat and make coffee. And you wonder about the weight of the human  heart.

The most severe period of mourning – the anniversary of my Mother’s death – is drawing to a close with the darkening of the day. It’s hard to believe that it’s been seven years. I still miss her every single day. Mr. Man is tucked up under and on the blankets next to me on the Red Couch. The Broncos are playing tonight. It was warm enough to go without my coat at lunch with MKL today. My bowl of green chile at Corazon was particularly hot. MKL gifted me with not only lunch, but a hydrangea bloom, and a string of Holstein lights. Sweet MKL. I found my Santa Hat. We have a party to go to tomorrow night, and are spending the night at the spooky Stanley Hotel. I discovered that I want to go skydiving – who knew? All in all, a good day to emerge from the cloak of sorrow.

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Pembrokeshire, Wales.

Quote of the day: “Someday you’re gonna look back on this moment of your life as such a sweet time of grieving.  You’ll see that you were in mourning and your heart was broken, but your life was changing…” — Elizabeth Gilbert

Daily gratitudes:
Union Station all lit up
Tree shadows
Sparkles
My “garden” at work
Love

I am swimming today, beneath my skin, in a deep green pool of grief. On the surface, it doesn’t show, but I am fighting to keep my head above water. And I am getting tired of fighting.

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Little Exuma, Bahamas.

Quote of the day: “You will lose someone you can’t live without,and your heart will be badly broken, and the bad news is that you never completely get over the loss of your beloved. But this is also the good news. They live forever in your broken heart that doesn’t seal back up. And you come through. It’s like having a broken leg that never heals perfectly—that still hurts when the weather gets cold, but you learn to dance with the limp.” — Annie Lamott

Daily gratitudes:
Research
When dreams and reality mingle
Entertaining socks
Books
Kisses
Baths

On some inky black nights, the shadows of loss steal around my soul and make me feel as if there is nothing in this world but sorrow.

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Topsail Beach, North Carolina.

Quote of the day: “I guess by now I should know enough about loss to realize that you never really stop missing someone-you just learn to live around the huge gaping hole of their absence.” — Alyson Noel

Daily gratitudes:
MKL
That it was a touch warmer today
Mr. Man
Blankets
My pair of life-sized plastic geese (don’t tell them they’re plastic – they don’t know)

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