Being alive is weird. I’m sure being dead is weird, too. Or maybe not. Maybe your consciousness is dead along with your body and so there’s nothing left of you to witness whether being dead is weird, or not. But back to alive weirdness.

We put my mother’s beach house on the market this weekend. (It’s been 20 months since my dad died, and I’ve finally moved from calling things “my parents’” to calling them “my mother’s”.) My parents bought the beach house when the grandchildren were little. My brothers were still married to their wives. They were still alive. They spent weekends at the beach house with their wives, and kids, and with my parents. My sister and her husband and their kids went, too. No one knew yet what my sister’s husband had done (was doing) to their daughter. My brothers’ alcoholism hadn’t yet stolen their lives. Dementia hadn’t stolen my father from us. And now my brothers and my dad are dead, and we know what my brother-in-law did. And the beach house is up for sale.

We’ve spent the past weeks sprucing things up, moving things out, and dealing with my mother’s need to hang on to her things. Her memories.

“I can’t leave that coffee table. Mike made that. I won’t just leave it with the house.”

Mike. Her oldest son. Oldest child. Dead in April 2012 at 56. Liver failure. Fucking alcohol. It’s a god damn thief.

I didn’t know it was going to be hard to sell the beach house. I didn’t know I was going to well up with grief all over again. My sister, who is not terribly sentimental, couldn’t bring herself to throw out an old metal dog bowl.dog bowl

“It was Sandy’s originally,” she told me. Sandy was my dad’s boxer. The first family dog after I was born. I recall a photo of me as a little girl, leaning over toward Sandy, pressing my forehead into his. After Sandy, there was a series of black labs. Rebel, then Nugget, and then Lacy. Each of those dogs had, over four decades, lapped water from that metal bowl.

“Maybe you should take that,” I told my sister. And so she did. She took it to her beach house, where the dogs of her daughters will drink from it. And maybe some day, the dogs of her grandchildren. Dogs that will be around long after my sister and I are dead.

We die. And the beach houses and dog bowls remain. Weird.

My writing spot at Doe Bay

My writing spot at Doe Bay

A couple of weeks ago, I went to a writers’ retreat on Orcas Island taught by memoirist, Theo Nestor. It was a momentous four days. Four days of clearing the hurdles I’d constructed between me and writing my story. I thought, having cleared those hurdles, I’d come home and begin filling the pages. But up until today, I hadn’t written a word. As I worked my way through this post, writing and rewriting, adding and deleting huge chunks, I finally realized: I’ve been mentally working through the events of those four days. But mentally working through things doesn’t work nearly as well for me as working through them via writing. And so today, I wrote through them.

One of the most formidable hurdles I would work through at the retreat was how write my story with the specter of my sister’s husband hovering over me. How to write about his sexual abuse of their daughter, my niece, and my possible (probable) abandonment by what’s left of my family when I do so. Just look how I phrased the issue: (1) To write my story I have to write about my brother-in-law’s pedophilia/sexual abuse of my niece (and to a lesser extent, me); and (2) if I write about that, what’s left of my family will abandon me. Yeah, that’s a little bit of a block, don’t you think? And what about my arcless story; the not knowing where my protagonist is headed, if anywhere? Not knowing how she’ll be transformed? If she’ll be transformed? And if she is transformed, whether it’s the kind of transformation anyone will give a damn about? Without an arc, without transformation, there is no story. How can I write a storyless story?

I decided to be brave and meet privately with Theo hoping she would have some sage advice on these issues. Turns out, she did. As for the abuser, I simply need to write the story to sort out how I want to deal with it. Do I need to employ a take-n0-prisoners approach, and torch the whole village? Will I feel OK if I omit the abuser and the abuse entirely? Or will I find some middle ground that feels like truth? It all depends upon what kind of memoirist I want to be; which depends upon who I am. Writing it will help me sort out whether I have to burn it down to feel I’m being true to myself; to my art.

Next up was how to deal with my seeming lack of arc–a protagonist who has not had a readily identifiable happily-ever-after transformation. Theo suggested that if I write the story, I might find the transformation I’m in search of. She then asked what I hope to find. What drives me to write my story? Well that’s not hard. I want to find Peace.

Peace.

And when I thought about that word–Peace–I thought about Sophie, the little black stray cat. About the months and months, amidst all the death and despair, I spent trying to save her. How I did save her. And then I had it. My story was about saving a little black stray cat named Sophie. And through saving her, I would find Peace. And my Arc.

I’ve been avoiding the page for the past two weeks because I haven’t wanted to deal with life head on. The year anniversary of the death of my brother was a couple of weeks ago–March 25. I took the day off work and drove out to Pedernales State Park to commune with nature and my brother’s memory.

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Pedernales River March 25, 2014

I generally don’t like people in my nature photos, but if you look closely you can see the itty bitty people standing on top of the rocks right of center, which gives some perspective as to the vastness of this place.

On my way home, I saw these little guys, so I pulled over to stop for a visit.

As spring finally appears in Central Texas, I’m only now beginning to appreciate how weighed down I’ve been by all the grief. The change of seasons is prodding me to awaken, and the fact that it’s so difficult to do so highlights grief’s impact. As I hiked around the park, I thought of Steve, and my dad, and my other brother, Mike. All the loss has changed me. Irrevocably. It had to.

I no longer know what I want from life. I don’t think I want much of anything, in fact. I don’t want to excel at my job. I want to do good work, but I don’t want to achieve, get ahead, become a star. I don’t want to pass the time in idle conversation. I don’t want to buy things. I’m not much interested in world news or politics, including Facebook bickering. It just seems so inconsequential. To me. (I did accidentally shake hands with a tea party candidate at my office last week. One who is expected to win a powerful post in my state. I felt like I’d contracted cooties, afterward.) I used to care deeply about this stuff. But many things that used to matter, don’t now.

What does matter is this beautiful rainy Sunday. The squirrel eating out of the bird feeder. The gold finches and the doves. The cat on my lap. My visit with my mother at her assisted living home yesterday. The doctor told us last week that based on her EEG results, she’s got dementia. They are starting her on Aricept and Namenda. I kept hoping her memory loss was due to grief, but it’s only getting worse. The doctor says she’s still very high functioning. And she is. But I can’t help but think of my father’s deterioration and the fact the Alzheimer’s killed him, albeit indirectly. (Disorientation caused him to fall out of bed and hit his head on a nightstand–he died a year and a half ago from a subdural hematoma, exactly a month after emergency brain surgery.) I asked them to do an MRI of my mother’s brain, which will be done next week. Hopefully it won’t reveal any additional concerns.

All of this has brought me back to a familiar spot. Wanting my mother to live and enjoy life for many years to come. But not wanting her to live long enough to make it to the devastating late stage of dementia. My father got close, but the brain injury spared him (and us) from the worst of it. And now with both my parents having been diagnosed with dementia, it’s bound to catch up with me at some point. I’m trying to stay in the present. Focus on the beautiful moments in front of me. But my mind keeps racing ahead.

Here is a photo I took last weekend, to bring me back to now.

Texas Bluebonnets

Texas Bluebonnets

Another surreal Christmas has drawn to a close. Over the past several days, I’ve been trying to think back to a time when Christmas wasn’t weird. When it was happy and normal. Maybe they were never happy and normal. But I get glimpses of moments. I know they’re there.

I recall trying to sneak peeks at the presents before my mother wrapped them, and my brother Steve telling me we shouldn’t look or we’d spoil the surprise. I remember baking cookies with my mom. Squeezing the dough through the pastry bag, snowflakes emerging through the tip. The red and green sprinkles and cinnamon redhots lined up in little plastic containers on the table, ready for the next step in the assembly line. I remember going sledding on a red wooden sled. I remember ice skates with two blades on each foot. And decorating the tree. My brother wanting to throw wads of tinsel on all at once. My mother insisting we do it strand by strand. The star, or the angel, always placed on top last by my father, who, up until that point, had been sitting in his chair supervising.

I can’t remember my oldest brother or my sister in this process. They left home as early as they could, but still, I should have memories of them. Other than the star, I also don’t remember much of my father from way back when. I recall later years. He was always trying to recruit one of us to wrap the gifts he always bought at the last minute. They were good gifts. My father was extravagant. My mother, on the other hand, was quite frugal. Even so, there was always loads of gifts under the tree. It would take hours Christmas morning to unwrap them. We’d take turns. As the youngest, I’d always go first. Then my brother Steve, my sister, my oldest brother, my mother, then my father. And the line would extend as the grandchildren were born. Before my sister estranged herself from the family and my brothers’ wives divorced them (both due to alcoholism), there would be 15 of us opening gifts Christmas morning. Each of my siblings came with a spouse and two children. 4 x 3 = 12. Adding 2 for my parents got us to 14, and I made 15. After high school, I rarely brought a boyfriend home for Christmas. Due to the yelling and alcoholism. And because I didn’t usually like anyone I was dating enough to go through the pressure of bringing them around.

Here we are present day, and my brothers, long-divorced, are now dead. My father is gone. My sister has created her own make-believe happy family with her husband, two adult daughters, her son-in-law, another possible soon-to-be son-in-law, and a grand baby. She gets to surround herself with happy people and pretend it doesn’t matter that her brothers and father are dead and that her husband didn’t do awful things to their daughter.

I, in contrast, get to spend Christmas with my mother and my brothers’ children. We went from 15 to 6. And yet, it was a nice Christmas. We all felt an ache, to be sure. As we cooked, the adult children of both my brothers broke out boxes of old family photos. They sat on the floor, photos spread around them, with my mother sitting in her wheel chair thumbing through them. They all looked like they were enjoying themselves. Every time I walked into the room and looked at photographs of my brothers and father, happy and healthy, I cried and went back into the kitchen, where my oldest nephew was helping me get dinner ready. (Actually, he’d taken charge and I was helping him.) I asked him if he didn’t want to look at photos while I minded the pots and oven. He said it wasn’t his thing. If you don’t look at the photos, you don’t ache. At least I assumed that was his strategy.

They came across one photo taken at the beach. My family spent a lot of time at the beach growing up. My brothers were sitting on the shore in a light surf, both with baby boys on their laps. Their oldest sons laughing and splashing at the water as their fathers held them safely in their arms. We took the photo into the dining room with us and set it on the chandelier. My brothers and their baby boys sat watching over us as the 6 of us ate our Christmas dinner. I said it was a shame Steve wasn’t there as there was plenty of room this year for his left-handed eating. And then I cried again.

I know my mother won’t be around for too many more years. Although she has surprised me by being around this long, given the frequent scares with her health. My father surprised me for many years too, with the cancer and the Alzheimer’s. But it caught up with him. As did the alcoholism with my oldest brother. And the alcoholism with Steve, although it was the cancer that killed him. Just 9 months ago.

For years I secretly yearned for the day I would be free of my family and able to make Christmas traditions of my own. I imagined, like my sister, I would have my own family and could create my own happy traditions, free of the conflict and alcoholism that scarred the holidays for many years. And now, I’m almost there. The only thing standing between me and that wish is my mother. I can’t bear the thought of losing her, too. We’ve grown quite close over the past year since my father died, and despite my railing on her as we adjusted, I’ve grown quite fond of her. All over again. And then there’s the complicating factor that I don’t have a family of my own. But I have friends. Dear friends. Friends that would (and have) welcome me into their family celebrations. Or I could spend a week on a beach. By the sea. Alone. But that would mean my mother is gone.

Devil and the Deep Blue Sea

And so I find myself caught. Caught between the devil and the deep blue sea.

It’s in the 20s and 30s in Austin. Just a few days ago, it was in the 80s. I’m lounging on the sofa covered in a faux fur throw, a pot of Bolognese simmering on the stove. (Less than 2 hours to go!) Sadie is napping on the green silk chair.

Is the bolognese done yet?

Is the Bolognese done yet?

Sally is doing the rolly pollies on the dining rug.

No, I'm not currently using the rug as a scratching post.

No, I’m not currently using the rug as a scratching post.

Sophie is upstairs in her room snoozing on the hand-crocheted blanket on her sofa.

imageOr at least she was until I attempted to photograph her, at which point she got up, went for a quick scratch, and refused to pose further.

You may photograph my hind quarters. That is all.

You may photograph my hind quarters. That is all.

Damn, the paparazzi. Always intruding on my naps.

Damn, the paparazzi. Always intruding on my naps.

This time last year, Sophia hadn’t yet appeared on my doorstep. This time last year, the temperatures hadn’t yet reached freezing. Thank goodness she was lost last year.

Later, I’ll lie on her sofa, and she’ll jump up immediately, meowing and trilling repeatedly, until she settles herself on my belly. She’ll lie there, purring and drooling, as I tell her what a lucky little cat she is. No hiding from storms or the cold. Or dogs. No scrounging in the trash for food. No matted fur. No protruding bones. No resorting to rubbing against bushes for petting.

This holiday season, she lives in a warm house with all the tuna she can eat (Whole Foods pole caught albacore, no salt added). She has her own room with a sofa, sheepskin, blanket, and jungle gym.  She has two not-so-wicked-after-all stepsisters who’ve all but stopped hissing at her. They’ve even allowed her onto the two-legged mama cat’s bed. She’s got a clean litter box all to herself that is scooped twice daily. And she gets to lie on her mama’s tummy every night, purring and drooling to her heart’s content.

I can’t help but think in these freezing temperatures what Sophie would have done had I not found her. How she would have fared on her own. But I did find her. Or rather, she found me. She gave me something good to focus on in the midst of all my grief. She warmed my heart. And I warmed her paws.

Journal entry for Day 2 of my Great Bear Rainforest adventure:

September 3, 2013 Tuesday

Crossing the Hardy Entrance

I awoke to the sound of the engine starting.

Last night, the cove in which we anchored was like glass, the pine-covered islands shrouded in fog. The sky was cluttered with stars, the cup of the big dipper pointing to the North Star. The Milky Way slid across the dark sky like sea mist.

The fog has burned off. Captain Dave tells us today’s crossing will be the smoothest he’s seen. A few swells here and there, but generally calm.

I feel my father. I can see him at the helm. Hear him yelling commands. I wish I could tell him of my adventure. Were it not for him, I wouldn’t have chosen this trip. When I begin to feel the grief envelop me, I think of Sophie. I conjure her meow in the early morning hours–”Mamamama.” My chest, which has seized into a fist, begins to relax.

It’s another unusually warm day. The sun’s rays dance on the sea. The shimmer closest to me, large chunks. It spreads across the water receding into a mass of shimmery white light at the horizon. Farther ahead I see a silver fog masking the bottom edge of the shoreline, growing wider until, at the farthest point, the entire land mass is hidden.

Steve stopped having adventures decades ago. The alcohol killed his wanderlust. He needed to stay close to home. Close to the bottle. I thought that having gotten sober, I’d get to take him into nature and remind him how it heals our wounds. Instead, I’m healing my own.

Only I don’t feel like I’m healing out here. I feel like the scab has been ripped off–the ache naked and raw. I feel like I have to work extra hard out here to keep from falling apart. Maybe that’s what I’ve been doing these past months–holding myself together by sheer force of will. Maybe I need to allow myself to fall apart. If I were alone on this boat, I would.

It’s warm here on the bow. I’ve unzipped my hoodie with nothing underneath but a t-shirt.

The strip of fog is edging closer. Will it disappear once we reach it? Or will it envelop us?

Some of the others saw a seal this morning before I came on deck. Captain Dave says there are humpbacks in the area. I keep an eye out. I’ve seen sea birds this morning. No other wildlife.

I love the sound of the bow cutting through the water–like a perpetual wave crashing against the shore. Like a mantra. Or a lullaby.

I shall stop writing for a moment, and just be.

And I had a cry. A little one.

We’re catching up to the fog now. It didn’t disappear into the horizon. The air is cooler now.

Growing up, I spent many hours on the bow of the boat. Alone. It’s my spot. It’s my spot now. It’s the place on the boat you can find solitude.

Hoodie off. Hoodie on.

And then the humpback begin breaching. Mist from their blowholes. The sound. Ffffffftowwwwwww.

Do you see things better through the viewfinder? Or do you miss them, focusing on the shot?

And now for a few of the photos I took this day. So hard to choose! When you have mom and baby humpbacks, which photos do you post? And what about all the other photos that day? I narrowed it down to a mere 26. And I’ve learned how to post a photo gallery.

I’m lying on the sofa in baby cat’s room. She’s cuddled up to me, purring, as I write. If I go too long without petting her or kissing her head, she presses her wet nose into my arm. The little stray is lost no more. I, on the other hand, am asea.

My neighbor left for California last weekend. There’s no one filling up the emptiness. I didn’t realize it was there until she left. That first night without her company, the grief pounced. I thought I’d made it through. Turns out I was just delaying it.

My brother has been dead five months. If we make it through two more months, that will be the longest I’ve gone without someone dying in my family since April 2012. Back in June, I was preparing for my mother’s death. When she went into ICU with DVT, I wrote a list of what I needed to do to wrap things up. The Death List. Cremation. Easy. We’ve used the same guy three times. Church for service? What’s one more time in that fucking chapel? Piece of cake. Cleaning out and selling the houses would take some work. My aunt in California loves the cat. And I’m becoming proficient at probating wills.

But my mom didn’t die. She went from ICU to intense inpatient rehab to a skilled nursing facility. She seems to have settled in well at the SNF. She has daily therapy. The psychiatrist visits. She’s getting some attention for the loss of her two sons and her husband. She got her hair cut in the salon. She gets manicures. (My mother never pampered herself. Ever.) She plays bingo. She goes to the ice cream social.

My mother didn’t die. At least not this time.

I leave in two weeks for the Great Bear Rainforest. I’ll spend nine nights sailing on a 54-foot boat from Ketcikan, Alaska to Bella Bella, British Columbia. I booked the trip shortly after my father died. I grew up sailing with him. We spent many summers at the family cabin in Ontario. Combining sailing and Canada shortly before the year anniversary of his death seemed like a fitting tribute. I didn’t know at the time I’d hit the trifecta, and have a third loss to grieve.

I’m hopeful the rainforest will restoreth my soul. For even a tiny sliver, I’ll be grateful.

Spirit Bear -- photo credit bcrainforest.com

Spirit Bear — photo credit bcrainforest.com

image

I’ve been 50 for 7 days. Today is the last day of my birthday. Yes, I decided that my 50th birthday celebration was to run from Friday May 17 through Memorial weekend this year. Eleven days.

Throughout the eleven days, I didn’t have a single cupcake.

I did paint my guest bedroom. Now Sophie the stray cat’s bedroom. It went from a bland khaki beige to Benjamin Moore’s Softened Violet. Purple. I finished painting on Sunday the 19th, the day before my birthday. I took Monday off from work. I told my boss I was spending the day at the spa. As it turns out, I decided I didn’t want to spend the day at the spa. I wanted to spend the day at home. But I thought that sounded pathetic for a 50th birthday, so I said I was going to the spa.

I awoke at 7:30 am on the morning of my birthday and called my mom. She was to have outpatient surgery later in the day (bladder issues) and I wanted to catch her before she left. My first birthday without a “happy birthday” from my dad. Or my brothers. Steve sent me flowers when I turned 45. I bet he would have sent them for 50 if he were still alive. Mike sent cards and usually enclosed a Starbucks gift card. Except the years when he was drinking heavily. Those years I didn’t hear from him.

I didn’t hear from any of my nieces or nephews except one. She turned 30 on the 16th, 4 days before I turned 50. She sent me a text message. Maybe the others wished me happy birthday on Facebook. I haven’t checked. And of course I didn’t hear from my sister.

After I spoke with my mother, I decided to begin taping the guest bathroom with blue painter’s tape. My goal was to paint over the horrifically bright beach-house aqua with the purple. Halfway through the taping, I decided to go with a softer shade of purple for the guest bath. I haven’t gotten around to buying the paint, so the room is still adorned with blue painters tape. Next weekend.

Later in the day on my birthday, the carpet measurer arrived. The old beige carpet is now 12. Like the new paint, I want new carpet. I’m going with a light, silvery gray. Cool colors. I need to be surrounded by cool colors. Teal, purple, gray, lime green. I recently got my new dining room chairs. They’re covered in lime green velvet. The accent wall in the dining area is Benjamin Moore Pacific Ocean Blue.

I need cool colors. I need to paint over the past five years. I need to peel off my skin and see who I am underneath.

My 50th birthday. I prepped the bathroom for painting. I had measurements taken for the new carpet. I hung Kitschy Cats on the wall. My neighbor stopped in with chocolate truffles, a calla lily, and a card. The doorbell rang shortly thereafter. Flowers from my dear friend in Houston and her husband. The friend who has worked for my father’s business for 30 years. The one who has watched her work family, my father and two brothers, die within 11 months. The friend who attended all three funerals with me, running interference between me and my sister and her pedophile husband.

I sound bitter. I don’t know that I feel bitter. I think I just feel tired. Worn out from everything that’s happened over the past several years.

I didn’t go to the spa on my birthday, but I did treat myself to a manicure and pedicure. Purple. That was the extent of my decadence. Anything more would have felt incongruous.

I rushed home from my pedicure to get ready to meet the girls for dinner at Uchiko. Sushi. Trendy sushi. One of my dear friends rounded up the girls and made the reservation. There were to be eight of us. Six showed. Air conditioning repairman and a late evening at the Legislature kept the other two from coming.

There were more flowers. More chocolate. A faux fur stole. A gift certificate for a massage. A bottle of wine. Cards. We toasted with bubbles. We ate plate after plate of sushi. There was laughter. Exotic desserts. One contained kalamata olives. Kalamata olives in the dessert. I shit you not. It’s trendy sushi. They have to push the boundaries. Even if it does taste nasty. It’s trendy. So lucky to be eating trendy kalamata-olive-filled dessert.

At the end of the evening, the conversation turned to my losses. I can’t remember which of my friends was brave enough to broach the subject. But she gave me permission. I got to talk to my friends about my most recent loss. Finally. I haven’t talked to a single friend about it since my brother died on March 25. Except my neighbor. Other than going to work and an occasional Pilates class, I’ve stayed home. But on my 50th birthday, they drew me out. And the thoughts I keep thinking over and over fell out of my mouth.

“This one was by far the worst. My oldest brother was hard. My father was hard. But Steve was the absolute worst.”

“Why? Because he died suddenly? Because he died 15 minutes before you got to the hospital?”

“Because I thought I’d saved him. After the intervention, I had my brother back. After the other losses, my father, my other brother, I thought I’d saved him. And then out of the blue, leukemia. They said he had the kind they could treat. With a pill. But they were wrong. And within hours of getting the formal diagnosis, acute myelogenous leukemia, he was dead.”

I dabbed at my eyes with my napkin as the waiter inquired whether we wanted anything else. After he left, I repeated,

“I thought I saved him.”

And then came the platitudes. The same platitudes I tell myself. And my mother.

I gave him three sober months. He spent the last three months of his life connecting with the people he loved. The people who love him.

The platitudes help some. But my heart still is broken.

So the birthday dinner ended with tears. And I was grateful for them. I was grateful my friends let me acknowledge my losses. Allowed me to cry.

I felt joy on my birthday. And sadness. I didn’t have to pretend.

But the kalamata olive dessert and the dearth of cupcakes had to be remedied. And so this morning, on the last day of my birthday, I ordered a chocolate Italian cream cake from a local bakery.

“Do you want anything written on it?” he asked.

“Yes. Happy 50th Birthday, Ella.”

“Okay. And what’s your name?”

“Ella.”

I picked up my cake, and my neighbor stopped in.

“The eleven days of my birthday are over today. I haven’t had a single cupcake. So I bought myself an entire cake.”

She went home and returned with a Waterford cake stand. She put the cake on the stand, stuck five silver candles in it, and lit them.

I made a wish. Blew out the candles. And ate cake.

When my oldest brother died, I handled it. I emailed my boss: “My brother died. I knew it was inevitable. I’m fine. I’ll be in tomorrow.” When the shock wore off, I wasn’t exactly fine. I took a few days off and then went back to work. When my dad died six months later, I had spent six nights with him in hospice. I felt frightened on night two, so a childhood friend stayed with me that night. She brought pizza and magazines and two Clark Peppermint patties. I didn’t like the irreverence. I spent the next four nights alone with him. He died at 6:00 a.m. sharp on that last morning.

I ate a Ghirardelli dark choclate peppermint-filled square tonight that reminded me of that second night in hospice. The night I was grateful when my friend stayed, and glad when she left.

I mourned my father’s passing more deeply than my oldest brother’s. I’ve not yet let myself feel the depth of my grief for my oldest brother. I sneak tiny sips of it when no one’s looking. Not even me.

But my 52 year-old brother who died of acute myelogenous leukemia the same day he was diagnosed, three months after I’d put together an intervention in hopes of not losing him, too. An intervention that led him to treatment, hoping for life, after so much death. Five months after my father died, my remaining brother died. That death I’m feeling. That death has left me shattered. The pieces are too numerous, too tiny. I will never be the same. So why bother trying to put them back together? I’ll be this new me. Whoever she is.

But then again, I’m no different than anyone else. Death is happening all around us. We all have our patterns. Our timing. My family’s timing thus far happens to be April, October, March. Or three in eleven months. Or death, six months, death, five months, death. A death sandwich.

Some days I complete the tasks of my days as if everything is still the same. Some days I’m able to pretend it matters. Or ignore that it doesn’t.

But none of this seems to matter any more.

People piss me off. I have no patience. No tolerance. I don’t care. And I don’t care that I don’t care.

I know I need to work for a living, but I am perfectly content to do this from my bed. Why do I need to be in the office? Around the stupid people who think stupid things matter? Why must I exert my energy, the precious few resources that I have, interacting with all those people who have no fucking idea that I just don’t care about anything that matters to them?

I have all these questions. And I feel so inane having them. I’m not the first person to have been faced with muliple deaths in a short period. I’m not the first to then ponder weighty subjects and find no answers. The reason we’re here. How existence came to be. Whether it matters. If there’s another dimension. If we cease to exist physically, mentally, and energetically when our hearts stop beating.

We all ask the same questions and there are no fucking answers.

We’re born. We work. If we’re lucky, we love. And then we die. We get maternity leave for births. For deaths, we get a week if we’re lucky, and then we go back to work and are expected to hold it together as if nothing ever happened. When all we want to do is go home and work on our beds, pile them up with papers and cats, and just stay there. Occasionally eat an almond butter and jelly sandwich in our beds and leave the white plate smeared with bilberry jam on the floor. Next to the coffee carafe.

I want to stay in my bed and pile the floor with white plates smeared with bilberry jam.

Grief Sandwich

Grief Sandwich

Bone marrow aspirate showing acute myeloid leu...

Funny how these acute myeloid leukemia cells look kind of like bilberries. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I’ve been thinking a lot about “letting go” in the context of loss. Specifically, the loss of my father and both brothers; all the male members of my family, within eleven months. The deaths happened in such quick succession. My oldest brother died suddenly last April. I brushed it off. I knew it was coming. Some day. I’d been waiting most of my life for that one.

My father died in October, six months after his oldest son. I had a little more time to prepare for his death. I spent five nights with him, just the two of us, in hospice. But even so, when my remaining brother died suddenly a month ago, on March 25, I was still trying to grieve the loss of my father. Only five months had passed. And I hadn’t even begun grieving the loss of my oldest brother last April. That death was complicated.

imageWhen I think about grieving, about letting go, I feel my heels planting more firmly into the dirt, my body leaning back against the rope I’m gripping. But it’s beginning to slip, sliding through my hands, in my own private tug of war.

I don’t want to let go. I don’t have time to feel the losses. To feel their impact. How can I let go of that rope?

Why am I not grieving? Why do I fear feeling it? Am I afraid it will take me through to “the other side”? To a place where I’m “done” with the loss? To a place where it doesn’t matter any more? To a place where they don’t matter any more? Back to my meaningless “before” life?

And so I lean back harder against the rope and hold on tight, even though my hands are torn and bloody.

I went from one death to the next to the next, with no time to grieve. My focus has been to push it away. Get back to work. Back to billing hours. Back to being productive. Back to fitting in at the mega-firm we merged with two years ago. Back to attempting to fit in at that firm even though I don’t share their ambitions and goals, let alone their pedigrees. I didn’t feel their level of ambition before the losses. I feel it even less, now. It all seems so trivial. Moving money from one deep pocket to another.

I need to let go of the rope. To be left alone to grieve. To let go of the rope and just fall apart. Why are we not given time in this culture to grieve? When did that stop? Why can’t I wear black for a year and have people leave me the fuck alone?

Since my brother died, I’ve had very few weekends to myself. Two were spent with family. Last weekend was spent out of town with my firm. And today I have to travel to a client event in a town about an hour and a half away. It’s a fundraiser for a good cause, and it’s being held by my favorite client. But I’m so tired. I just want to be alone. I want to write. Pet the cats. Sleep.

Nothing matters much right now. All the things people worry about at the office seem ridiculous. I want to slap them and tell them to stop fretting over stupid, tiny, small things. But nice things don’t seem to matter either. My jasmine is in full bloom. It smells lovely. And I don’t feel like sitting outside enjoying it and watching the birds. I want to be inside, in my bed, with a cat on my lap.

Last weekend, when I returned from Chicago, I got sick. Just a little cold. Maybe allergies. I wished I was sicker. Even so, I worked from home for a couple of days. In my bed. Papers strewn about, a cat in my lap (Sally), the drapes closed against the world. Just me, in my space, eliminating as many of the things that irritate me as possible. Next week, I may do the same. The boss will be traveling, so it won’t matter whether I work from home or not. He won’t need to walk down to my office every ten minutes to interrupt me with some idiotic, inconsequential tidbit. I like the man. But he’s annoying the crap out of me these days.

I know the irritation is part of the grieving process. But I want to drop the rope and move on to the harder pieces. I want to fall apart. I sometimes fantasize about being locked up in a loony bin for a month or two so I can just be alone and fall apart without all the meaningless bullshit distractions.

I’ve fallen apart exactly once since Steve died on March 25. Last weekend in my hotel room in Chicago. After the after-dinner drinks, of which I had too many, I crawled into the hotel bed. Maybe it was the unfamiliar surroundings. Maybe it was the lack of kitty sleeping companions. Maybe it was too much wine. But the next thing I knew, the dam broke. I sobbed into my pillow for over an hour. I was in such deep despair, I couldn’t prise myself off the bed for a tissue. But I was in a hotel, so I didn’t much care about the snot-covered pillow case. I just kept crying. Ugly crying. Body-wracking-sobs crying. I don’t recall ever crying so hard for so long. I was weak and hollowed out when it subsided.

That’s the kind of grief I want to feel. Over and over again. I know it’s there lurking, beneath the irritation. If only I could drop the rope again and fall flat on my ass in the mud. I don’t know how. I don’t know how I did it last weekend. It just happened. I think I just need to be alone. I need to stop with the tv-watching with my neighbor every night, which generally has included wine and a nice dinner. She’s my distraction. She’s been my distraction since the night I got the news Steve was dying. I haven’t spent a single night after work or on the weekend alone. Not one. Before Steve died, I was alone most nights. My neighbor was in Hong Kong and I spent my evenings in solitude. She is my defense against the grief. She’s supposed to leave this week, but is still waiting for word from her husband. I want her to go.

But I fear being alone with my grief. What if I fall into a pit of despair and am unable to climb out? What if the depression returns? I am depressed. Death does that to a person. But what if the regular non-situational depression returns? What if I can’t keep myself from being sucked under by the quicksand?

Depression is a part of grief. I know that. But what makes that depression different from clinical depression? Why is depression caused by death okay, but depression caused by life is not? How would I feel off the pharmaceuticals? Would I find grieving easier? Would I grieve too much? How can you grieve too much?

Maybe that’s why I’m having trouble grieving. Maybe I need to get off these meds.

Another rambling post. Forgive me.

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