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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.
Maybe all I need is a little seawater, sand, coconut water, and time with MKL to cure what ails me.
Quote of the day: “That’s the thing about depression: A human being can survive almost anything, as long as she sees the end in sight. But depression is so insidious, and it compounds daily, that it’s impossible to ever see the end.” — Elizabeth Wurtzel
Flocks of birds with white underwings
That the grass is still green by the Prairie Flour apartments
Remembering clothes from your childhood from out of nowhere
Sleeping with the window open
As a former ballet and modern dancer, I am no stranger to broken toes. The first one – the right “piggy that stayed home” – was broken in high school as I twirled off stage during a class, misjudging and running into the red velvet stage curtain. And the metal flagpole behind it. The second one, also in high school, was broken during a performance at UNC-Chapel Hill. I performed a leap and landed smack on the tip-top of the left “piggy that stayed home”. The show must go on, so dipping offstage as part of the planned choreography, I gasped to a fellow dancer “I think I just broke my toe,” and then went back on stage. Sure enough, x-rays the next day proved that I had split the bone smack down the center. That one took a bit longer to heal. That’s also when I discovered that, no matter how bad the toe break, as long as it’s not a compound fracture, all they do is tape the toe to its neighbor toe and let it heal up on its own.
In other words, doctors are often a waste of time and money.
Moving ahead a year to college, the right pinky toe was the next victim. In that case, the perpetrator was not myself, a wood floor, or a metal pole, but a rather large woman in very spikey heels who took an unfortunate lurch back onto said toe with said heel spike while we were crammed together in the subway. I can still remember the pain, my sharp exhalation, and her titter of “Oh, sorry.” Poor little pinky toe. I believe that was in the Fall of freshman year, because I still danced on it.
That spring, I broke the right little piggy that went to market. I have no idea how. I believe it was a stress fracture from class. As soon as it healed, I broke the left one in the same way. My early demise of my dancing days was starting its slow approach. Both healed, and I danced on through another two years or so, but finally a torn back muscle, and knowing that I just wasn’t good enough, made me hang up my slippers with a few regrets and lots of happy and proud memories.
Last week after work, my big toe hurt. I didn’t really think anything of it, because I’m at that point where things just hurt inexplicably. Perhaps the weather was changing. Maybe I had caught it in the sheets while I slept and sprained it, Who knew? It felt mostly better for the rest of the week. Then I went to work on Saturday, and by Sunday, I knew it was broken. Another stress fracture. Bruised, swollen, tender, and exquisitely painful, particularly when moved or touched in certain ways.
Having learned how useless doctors and x-rays are in these scenarios, I lathered it was BF&C, taped it to its neighbor, and am letting it heal. Note the charming mustache duct tape. In the absence of paper tape commonly used for such medical procedures, this was all I had. My other option was duct tape with flames, but I found this more amusing.
So here’s to all the toes out there. They do an awful lot of hard work for as small and fragile as they actually are. Let’s hope that the next time I share them with you, they’ll be dug in the white sand or somewhere like this.
Marina Cay, Tortola, British Virgin Islands.
Quote of the day: We begin so aware and grateful. The sun somehow hangs there in the sky. The little bird sings. The miracle of life just happens. Then we stub our toe, and in that moment of pain, the whole world is reduced to our poor little toe. Now, for a day or two, it is difficult to walk. With every step, we are reminded of our poor little toe. Our vigilance becomes: Which defines our day—the pinch we feel in walking on a bruised toe, or the miracle still happening?” — Mark Nepo
The sound of rain on the woodstove pipe
Feeling happily tired
To start this tale, I should tell you I’ve been sick. But sick in a balanced way. A kidney stone on the left and an ovarian cyst on the right. That’s me, always balanced. Pain on both sides. A post-bath collapse as I tried to feed the cat. A trip to the ER on a busy Friday night. Pills to kill the pain, pills to make me relax, pills to help me sleep. As many pills as a 92-year old woman. Enough of that. Now, I’m just going to get better, since medicine doesn’t seem to be doing the trick.
But perhaps cat treats will help.
The night after all the hoopla of pain, after my hero MKL had gone home, I crawled into bed and felt something hard. Upon further drugged investigation, I discovered a single cat treat – Purina Whisker Lickins, to be exact. I didn’t really think anything of it. I wasn’t really thinking anything about anything. And I slept. I think that was Sunday. I spent Monday on the couch with pain pills and a heating pad and my computer. When I got in bed on Monday night, I noticed that there was a lot of …. debris in the bed. Like crumbs. I often produce sand in my sleep (yes, it’s a thing), so I wasn’t really that concerned. I figured Mr. Man had tracked something in, since I hadn’t made the bed that morning.
Tuesday was another at-home-drugged-on-the-couch day, though this time I did make the bed before moving to the couch. When it was time to shift back to the bed, I again found the debris, and after sweeping it out and crawling in, I discovered another cat treat. I was puzzled, but still not too aware of my surroundings to be curious.
Let me say that Mr. Man does like to be in the bed, but he has consistently crawled between two of the comforters – never between the sheets. When I look everywhere for him and can’t find him, I know to look for a lump on the bed, and if I pet it and it’s warm, I trust that it’s Mr. Man. But he has not left my side since I got back from the ER.
So now we come to Wednesday. Another day at home. The bed made, and again kibble debris on Wednesday night. When I awoke this morning, I went to make the bed, and found three cat treats positioned neatly in a triangular shape on MKL’s side of the bed, near the pillow. And now I’m stumped.
I wondered if Mr. Man was somehow getting cat treats from the bag on the Boat Anchor and bringing them into the bed, but have ruled out that theory because:
1. He can’t reach the bags on the Boat Anchor
2. He doesn’t have opposable thumbs to open the bags, even if he could reach them
3. When he gets a treat, he wolfs it down completely as one watches.
He’s not one to squirrel things away.
Then I thought perhaps, horror of horrors, a mouse had made some kind of nest in the bed and was nibbling breakfast and saving lunch for later. So I have stripped the bed completely, and found no sign of rodent. If I had, I’d have had to burn the house down.
My next theory, which I have not ruled out, though no doubt most of you will, is that the house spirits are leaving treats for Mr. Man, as a way to help me out since I’ve been sick, making sure he’s taken care of. It’s possible.
My final theory is that I’m doing this. The sleeping pills I’m taking (and have been taking for a month or so) are ones that do not make people inclined to sleep-eat, sleep-drive, or sleep-murder (my doctor and I discussed this), but it does happen, and back in my college days, I had a tendency to sleepwalk. Is it possible that I am getting up at night and bringing Mr. Man cat treats? And further, was the unexplained extremely strange taste in my mouth of late evidence that I have been eating the cat treats? And all this in my sleep?
This would make me just about the best cat mom ever, and would assure future purchases of Listerine by the case if I ever want MKL to kiss me again.
So tonight, I have washed all the sheets and comforters. We’re starting fresh. I have woven a complex maze of my work badge lanyard around all the cat treats. I am about to drug my pain-ridden self and go to bed. If the treats are disturbed in the morning and there’s kibble in the bed, I’ll have my answer.
If not, perhaps I’ll fall back on my Mother’s explanation of “A man came in and did it.” (Kelsea uses that phrase now.)
My Mother died this night eight years ago, and I miss her beyond words. (Maybe she’s been feeding Mr. Man.)
Sometimes silence is a good thing, and sometimes it’s not. The silence of a sunrise is a good thing. The silence of a loss is not. My daughter has been struggling with the suicide of a beautiful, bright friend, which is especially painful considering how she wants to help people. It hurts me to see her pain, when I can do nothing except be there. It was been 10 days now, and she is getting better but she’s still sad, which I reassure her is normal. She and I have both been sick. I have been overworking and not seeing enough of her. It is a hard transition into Fall. On a happy front, MKL and I have set our wedding date for next August at the spot in this picture, which will make everyone, including my dear departed parents, very happy.
I understand suicide. I have wanted to commit suicide. I have come achingly close. Only a promise to Kelsea has kept me from it. Depression lies, and one of the lies it tells you is that the world would be better off without you. And as a teenager, everything is so immediate that it is hard to see past the moment, past the pain, past the despair, to remember that yes, many people care about you, that you will have a bright future, that your parents will not ruin your life, all those things. I wish there was a way of showing every teenager who feels like this life is too hard that there is a future worth living for. If you are reading this, please, always remember that.
Topsail Beach, North Carolina.
Quote of the day: “Some people are just not meant to be in this world. It’s just too much for them.” — Phoebe Stone
Love and MKL
Cleaning out the refrigerator
Ice cold pillows
It was one of those days when my depression got the best of me and I was enveloped by blues – and not the good tropical kind of blues either. I jumped to erroneous conclusions, berated myself for everything, and questioned the choices I’ve made in my life. I felt all my losses and all my regrets and relived pain in excruciating detail in my head. I was too cold. I was too hot. I was just all wrong.
MKL made things a lot better. He gave me a biiiiiiggggg hug at lunch. He helped me remember who I am and what I am and how loveable I am. That I am worth having as a partner. That my ability to love and that the love I give is as deep as the space beyond the stars. And for all that, I thank him. I feel better.
Quote of the day: “Life will break you. Nobody can protect you from that, and living alone won’t either, for solitude will also break you with its yearning. You have to love. You have to feel. It is the reason you are here on earth. You are here to risk your heart. You are here to be swallowed up. And when it happens that you are broken, or betrayed, or left, or hurt, or death brushes near, let yourself sit by an apple tree and listen to the apples falling all around you in heaps, wasting their sweetness. Tell yourself you tasted as many as you could.” — Louise Erdrich
Feelings that pass like storm clouds
Happy bus drivers
Giving little old ladies directions downtown
On top of my own scare today, my heart is aching for the families of Moore, Oklahoma who lost homes, loved ones, and children. This image of the children’s garde at the lovely Oklahoma City Memorial seemed fitting today. Wishing you all as much peace as you can find tonight.
Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.
Quote of the day: “What I need is the dandelion in the spring. The bright yellow that means rebirth instead of destruction. The promise that life can go on, no matter how bad our losses. That it can be good again.” — Suzanee Collins
People who stand by me
I once gave you a two-headed coin
to protect you from fates that hurt you.
Now, you choose to hurt me with your words,
And I am thrown into the River Styx,
I do not want to be here,
trying to breathe.
I hope the ferryman
will accept that coin as payment.
Please ask him to take care
not hit me with his oars
as you pass by
for I have been hurt
Three Yellow Balloons (For Boston)
Three yellow balloons drifted away.
This city that took much of my naiveté
Lost some of its own innocence today.
My old city shines and celebrates.
This day is a vacation day, a play day.
Everyone is your new friend,
The chill of a New England winter
finally shaken off our shoulders.
Music plays at the bandstand,
And the Charles sparkles with
Little jewels from the sun.
It is Race Day.
Runners start far away, but still
the streets are lined with people,
cheering on strangers.
We set up chairs on the roof of a brownstone,
Bask in the almost-forgotten sunshine.
Skip class. Skip work. Skip under the blue sky.
Runners start arriving
At the foot of Heartbreak Hill.
We yell and shout and clap and encourage
and find our favorites to root for.
The runners struggle on with an end in sight,
Worked for and earned with sweat and time and pain
In an instant
In a blast
In leftover puddles of blood.
three yellow balloons
drift into the air
above it all.
Released by the hand of a person whose life will never be the same.