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I’ll remember something lost and suddenly I’ll remember so much more, so much more that I have to make myself stop thinking about it all. The losses pile up in my head, one atop the other, and I have to turn my brain off.

We had a beautiful burlwood bar that a chef named Frenchie had given to me and ex-Pat as a wedding gift. One of my grandmother’s lamps cast a gentle glow in that corner, the corner where we always put the Christmas tree. The cabinet held my great grandmother’s china. I’ve actually found a few bowls intact. The drawers held pictures of me that ex-Pat had put away, and some childhood wooden alphabet and map puzzles of K’s.

The top of the bar was reserved for special things. Seashells, which I’ve found whole in the ashes, that crumble to dust at the slightest touch. Vintage things: a packet of hairpins from the Victorian era. A pearl-handled straight razor and rough shaving mug. A can of Prince Albert tobacco. Two civil war minie balls, one dug and one undug. My favorite picture of ex-Pat, taken before I met him, with baby Samoyed puppy Sam.

I start remembering more and more things and my heart starts to hurt more and more, so I have to make myself stop. My old heart is awfully tender these days. Stronger day by day, yes, but the ache is still there, even as I take steps to think about rebuilding, about moving forward.

It’s tempting just to throw up my hands and turn my back on it all. Let ex-Pat decide. But I don’t think his decisions are always in the best interest of the other stakeholders (me and K). Often, they’re just the easiest way out. And sometimes, they hurt me. I won’t stand for that anymore.

Yesterday was a tearful day. I slept badly. Had nightmares. Missed my Mother terribly. Sobbed my way back home to MKL and spent the night drinking wine and watching TV. I am better today, though still frustrated with men who say ‘do whatever you want’ in one breath and ‘but do it this way’ in the next.

I will walk my own path and carve my own trail through the ashes.

Once when we were at Ventanas, MKL became fixated on a coconut bobbing in the waves close to shore. He would sit on the deck watching it, giving me the occasional update. At one point, it washed ashore and he lost track of it so he went down to the beach to do a wellness check. Even though it was embedded in the sand that afternoon, it was back to rocking in the sea by morning, courtesy of the significant pull of the tides.

I feel much like that coconut these days, at the whimsical mercy of the tides of time and the universe, with the moon thrown in for good measure.

I’m trying to recognize what I can control. In reality, it’s not much. I can control my diet. I can control my exercise. I can control what I express as emotions, but not what I feel. I can control my sleep to a certain extent, but not my dreams.

I’m coming to recognize that I don’t know what I don’t know. While this is a true statement about almost all things, it’s currently being brought home to me about the homestead. A few days ago, I spent a good hour talking with a neighbor who’s been in real estate for ages. He and his fiancée lost their lovely historic home three doors down. He already has an arrangement with two other neighbors to have their lots cleared by entities other than the Town. It will happen faster and more efficiently. He’s got his house plans drawn up and his contractor lined up and framers coming in from Rochester and a storage unit for building supplies. He’s telling me about how much I can get for the scrap metal on my property and how the Town is just going to take that – along with some insurance money – as profit in scraping my land. Me? I’m digging through soggy ashes with a trowel whose handle comes off if I don’t hold it just so. I’m sure you see the difference.

He’s offered to answer any questions I have and that’s very kind. I don’t even know what questions to ask. It’s too late to hop on his coattails and I’m not sure I’d want to even if it wasn’t. I’m realizing it’s hard to know who to trust – except myself. The Town does not have the best interests of Original Superior at heart. They’re in it for profit, for maximizing revenue from the properties destroyed by this tragedy, most of which were not in line with their Stepford vision of a community.

The only problem with trusting just myself in this scenario is that I know nothing. And I think that’s kind of a big problem

Doomsayers are claiming it will take homeowners two to three years to rebuild. There’s a shortage of contractors, labor, and materials. Maybe they’re right. I don’t know. But I know all of this is making me irritated. To figure out how to make a rebuild work, I’m going to have to go outside my comfort zone. I can do that. It’s not what I saw myself doing right now, but here we are. And here I am.

Just a sassy coconut dancing on the crests and troughs of angry waves.

Snow is falling today, on the deck outside MKL’s house, on the ruins of my home in Superior, on the Retreat, creating a blanket of stillness tinged with blues. I watch it without much in the way of conscious thought, finding its simplicity soothing.

I met with one of the Southern Baptist team in charge of sifting through the ashes yesterday, along with his daughter. Larry and Sarah. I’m not one for organized religion but I always appreciate people who walk their faith and this man surely did. He sketched out where I wanted to focus in the sifting , what I was hoping to find, and made it clear that there were no guarantees (one thing I’ve learned all too well over the last few weeks). At some point over the next few days, I’ll get a call saying that a team is ready to hit the property and that I need to come. I’m hoping it’s not Friday, the one day I need to be down towards the Retreat.

As usual, once I got to the homestead yesterday, I started digging. I found K’s door latch and handle (at her request), certainly more vintage than it was before. It’s difficult to stop once I start digging, even though I know I’m not supposed to disturb the ashes due to the toxins supposedly mixed in with them. But we know me – I don’t usually do what I’m told. Just ask the young construction worker who had to take down a barrier to let me drive on an irrationally closed road yesterday. I would have found the sidewalk to be a completely viable alternative.

Before he left, Larry asked if he could pray with me and I agreed. It was such a comfort. I’m angry at God/Spirit/the Universe and haven’t felt much like speaking to them. Larry prayed for some peace for me and K, for love, for closure, for hope, and he sounded like he was talking to an old friend, to a father. Which I suppose he was. I wept.

I think “soothing” is the word of the day. It’s soothing being in the same room as MKL when we’re working, as long as he’s not cursing at his computer, which happens. The gentle snowfall is soothing since I don’t have to go out into it. Larry’s prayer yesterday was soothing. It’s soothing to know that A, who lost everything except her dogs, the clothes on her back, and a cannonball, has the comforting presence of her daughter for a few days. Daughters make almost everything better. Ex-Pat is in his apartment now and focused on making it homey. It’s soothing to think of him as starting to be settled.

Today, unless I’m derailed, I will hold these soothing things close and not think about the Machiavellian machinations of the town of Superior, more than broadly hinted at by the real estate developer neighbor who is rebuilding their Little House in Old Town. That’s something for another day’s me.

Today, let it be just me and the drifting snow.

While I’ve seen reports that the Marshall Fire destroyed over 1,000 homes, the first number that I saw was 991. For whatever reason, that’s the number that has stuck with me. My little home was one of 991 that this cruel and capricious fire took.

There are around 140,000 houses in Boulder County. My house was just shy of its 100th birthday. It started life as an old mining cabin, as did many of the houses in the war zone that was our neighborhood. I know I’m rehashing points I’ve written to previously. But still foremost in my mind is ‘Why?’. Why did my house have to be one of the 991?

I know as much as I can know. Where it supposedly started (though not why it was so foolishly started). What the winds were like. I’ve heard excuses from our energy company. I’ve heard justification of choices made by town and county officials. I’ve seen too many people who didn’t lose their homes wanting to use this as an example of the dangers of climate change. But I still don’t care about any of that. It doesn’t change anything. It won’t bring back what’s lost.

I think I will get to a place where if there are things that we as a community can do to help others avoid this experience, I’ll be all for it. I am not there now. It’s been almost three weeks. Forever and no time at all. It’s still raw. I’m still raw. COVID has kept me from going back to the homestead, from talking about the future rebuild, from starting to fight City Hall. I’m sitting in a little limbo, waiting for the sifting teams to contact me, waiting for the debris removal teams, waiting for a little peace.

Impatiently waiting.

Come follow me at http://www.writerinthepines.com.

I know I promised Canada, and will deliver on said promise, but today the Front Range was so lovely, I just had to share. I worked late last night, not getting home until 1:00 a.m., and only falling into a fitful sleep between 4:15 and 7:15. Throughout the night, I heard rain, which was a becalming sound. Being a woman who takes short 45-second private tropical vacations because of my internal magma, I continue to have the bedroom window open a few inches, even in the sub-zero nights, so last night, I listened to the comfort of rain falling on the dead leaves of the evil Chinese elm tree, and the long slow soothe of a freight train whistle a few miles up the road. I tried to remember what the whistle signals meant, as my father gave me a document long ago that explained the whistle “morse code” that engineers used. The grey of the morning wore off, MKL arrived, we bought a lovely little Christmas tree, saw some llamas, sheep, goats, and BMWs, braved the weirdness of WalMart, went out for coffee and listened to the bluegrass jam session at the East Simpson Coffee Shop.

I changed the sheets, cleaned the bathroom (not enough), watched an episode of “Sherlock” on PBS. I had a baked potato, having decided (in a rather numb-nut fashion) to stop eating sugar and flour now, just before Christmas celebrations. After all, it’s 10 weeks to Costa Rica.

Now, I am cuddled with Mr. Man, trying to adjust to how my body has  been today, how my spirit has been today, on the 10th anniversary of my Mother’s death. As I have said before, I can instantly place myself  back in each moment of the nine days that I was with her up to her passing – and the terrible days afterwards. I physically hurt, and have shed tears a few times when talking to MKL, who is extra adorable, because he never fails to have a handkerchief handy for me to dry my tears.

While I only occasionally have visitation dreams from people who have passed on, it is clear when they occur. I would love to have my Mother visit me, and it has happened only twice in all these years, except for this year, when she stopped by every night for about four days, as she was poised to assist a friend to the next place. No matter how much I want her to come to me in my dreams, she doesn’t. It’s a hard thing for me to understand, but I know it’s in both of our best interests. Still, it adds a caul to the sadness that I feel for the loss of her, which is there daily, but more potent on anniversaries. I cried through the parent/child dance at the wedding I catered last night. I haven’t done that in many years.

But today was a good day, a beautiful day, and I know that would make her happy, as it made me happy, even with the ache throbbing in my heart to the beat of the bluegrass.

20161211_124006-cropBoulder, Colorado.

Quote of the day: “There is something about losing your mother that is permanent and inexpressable – a wound that will never quite heal.” — Susan Wiggs

Daily gratitude:
The smell of the little Christmas tree lot
Today’s clouds
Siting a bald eagle in flight
Clean sheets
The seasonal reappearance of the Santa Hat

 

 

 

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.

December 11, 2006:

You had slept.  I had only dozed, for the ninth night in a row.  I had gotten up a dozen times from the bed next to yours to check on you, to be sure you were still breathing, like a new nervous new mother does with an infant.  You would moan every so often.  When you awoke in the morning, you looked over at me.  “Am I still here?” you asked.  “Yep,” I replied, “unless I’m dead too.”  “Damn,” you said.

We talked then, about the pain, about how you wanted to go and were unsure why you were still here.  You asked me then, if I would help you go if you did not go by yourself today.  Which told me how much you were hurting.  We talked about how I would do it, with the morphine.  I would have done anything for you.  But I could not commit to killing you.  I said, “Let’s see how it goes today.”  I couldn’t say yes – but I couldn’t say no.

The quality of the day changed after that talk.  It felt like when you’re getting ready for a journey – which you were.  We were down to just the orange sherbet now.  I would slip a little between your dry lips  (no amount of lip balm seemed to keep them moist for long) and you would smile this blissful little smile.  We talked about the little blonde daughter that you had never had, that one time when you had an early miscarriage, and how she had always haunted you, and not in a nice way.  How you had longed for her (I tried not to be jealous, not to feel like somehow I hadn’t been daughter enough for you.)  How you could see her hovering around now, still being mean and angry.  We had banished her together, you and I, me finding the words to help you forgive yourself for not having her (as if you had had any control over that) and us finding the words for you to use in talking to that spirit, to tell her that her behavior was unacceptable, just as a mother would talk to a obdurant child.  That seemed to ease you greatly.

You needed the morphine – just small amounts – more often.  More people came and went.  We talked about your excitement about whatever came next.  And we talked about your biggest fear – fear that my Father would be mad at you when you saw him on the other side, that he wouldn’t have forgiven you for something that you blamed yourself for, something that I know he never blamed you for, no matter what words I used to try to convince you otherwise.

More people came and went.  I remember the quality of the light of the day, just as I remembered the quality of light on the day the Kelsea was born.  It was a slow, gentle light, lingering and warm, but clear in its waning, fading in beauty, dipping and deepening into dusk, then darkness.

We talked and talked.  You were getting…frisky? Cocky?  Rambunctious?  You were talking about getting up to the Pearly Gates and kicking St. Peter’s ass.  I never did know where that came from, but more power to you.

You wanted to see one person in particular, but he had had surgery that morning and couldn’t come.  You had something she wanted to tell him, but you finally decided that he already knew.  And you let it go.

[As I was writing this, I noticed my reference’s to my Mother changed from “you” to “she” about this time, a sign of letting go, perhaps.]

The hospice chaplain came.  I spoke to her out in the hallway, and couldn’t help but cry.  I didn’t cry much the last few days.  Mother didn’t want me to cry and so I didn’t.  But Jodi, the chaplain was so genuine, it was impossible not to let some tears flow.  I told her that she needed to talk, that there was something she needed to find peace around, before she could let go.  After Jodi left, she was calmer – she had found a certain peace.  I never knew what was spoken between them.  It didn’t matter.  It only mattered that she had released that last burden.

Things felt like they happened quickly after that, and then slowly.  Jackie, her home care nurse, came to visit.  It made her so happy.  “It’s my angel,” she said.  She always thought that way about Jackie.  Jackie too took me into the other room and told me that it was her time.  “Have you noticed that smell?  It’s the smell of death,” she said.  “I know that smell.”  Jackie was a big, beautiful, joyful, compassionate woman.  She told me that she’d tell the night nurse what to do, about preparing the body, that I shouldn’t worry.  She hugged me.

As the afternoon faded, she started to fade.  She became less lucid. She wasn’t talking so much.  She was hurting more.  I was slipping the small dropper of morphine between her lips more often.  I was the only one who could give it to her. I felt like her pain was in my hands.  It was getting late.  We sat with her, my uncle and brother on one side, me on the other.  She had stopped talking long ago, her eyes were closed now, her breathing slowing and labored. She would groan and twist sometimes, and I would give her another taste of the morphine.  I did not know if she was hurting, but I could not stand to think she might be, and couldn’t tell me, and I was doing nothing to ease her pain.

The waitress at their favorite restaurant called, and told me to light a white candle in front of her, and encourage her to go toward the light.  We did.  We sat and talked quietly.  We sat in silence.  We sat through the night.  E-Bro went to rest of a while.  It was calm.  I could feel her struggling to leave her body, as if her very spirit was working hard to let go, to get out, to be free.  Finally, somehow, we could tell her something had changed.  Maybe it was her breathing.  Something.  My uncle went to get my brother from the couch.  We sat again, the three of us, encouraging her to go.  I stroked her hair, whispered to her, kept my hand on her heart.  It slowed.  Her breaths came farther and farther apart, more and more shallow.

Until they stopped all together.

[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.

January 2022
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