Seven Days

Cinque Terre, ItalyMay 17, 2012
Cinque Terre, Italy
May 17, 2012

I’ve spent my nights since I returned from Houston drinking wine, eating, and watching Downton Abbey with my neighbor. I keep referring to it as Downtown Abbey. My English neighbor corrects me but I’m too tired to remember my error. I keep waking up at 4:00 and 5:00 in the morning and lying awake for hours. I repeatedly open the box of work I brought home and toss the lid back on. Yesterday I was uncharacteristically restless. I began cleaning out closets, cedar chests, dressers, and cupboards at 9:00 a.m. I stuffed four trash bags with clothes and various odds and ends for my cleaning lady. I filled three more with towels and sheets for my mother. I finished at 6:30 p.m., not pausing to eat or rest. Then we put a ham in the oven, along with roasted potatoes and asparagus. It was delicious. Comfort food.

Today I was supposed to work at the office, but I feel too wiped out. I look in the mirror and I see a woman who appears to have aged ten years in a week. I’ll be 50 in exactly 50 days. I’m beginning to look more and more like my sister, who’s 6 years older than me. I don’t like her at all. She’s a cold, cold woman. Seeing her face staring back at me when I look in the mirror is depressing. I’ve spent my day today staring at the computer screen and Googling things like, “Death ages you.” And makes you look like your bitch sister.

So here I am: both brothers are dead. My father is dead. I’m left with my mother and sister.

All the men, dead.

This is so fucked up. Now I can see why women marry their fathers. Or their brothers. It’s comforting. I feel no comfort. The closet-cleaning, drinking, eating, sleeping, and tv are my attempts to avoid my pain. But it’s always there. All day. All night. My chest feels like an anvil is sitting on it. I can’t breathe. I keep sighing. I’ve got bags under my eyes. My skin looks washed out. Ashen.

I  forced myself to go for a Pilates session on Saturday. The instructor kept talking about imagining my breath filling my lungs, gathering the energy in my core. As I slid up and down the reformer, I thought, “My brother’s body is dead. He can’t breathe. He can’t gather energy in his core. I can. But he’s gone. He’ll never breathe again. His body stopped breathing fifteen minutes before I got to the hospital. I didn’t get to say goodbye. I could have been with him all weekend. My brother was dying and I wasn’t there.”

My family has been wiped out in the space of eleven months. Brother. Father. Brother.

Thanksgivings and Christmases are no more. They didn’t dwindle one by one over the years; they were wiped out all at once. I don’t have my own family to take their place. Instead I have three cats. Sally sleeps lying across my neck. I love that. It makes me want to never leave my bed.

And there’s that ache, expanding in my chest again, making it difficult to breathe.

Things will never be he same. I’ll never be the same. I was so lucky a year ago. Blissfully ignorant of this kind of pain. I’ll never be blissfully ignorant again.

Until one week ago, I still had my brother. I was grieving my father. And my brother. He was grieving our father and brother. I looked at some texts I’d received from him before he got sick.

“I miss Dad.”

“Be extra nice to Mom. Remember, she’s going to be 77 this year.”

He was sober. He had a chance for a happy future. Stolen from him by leukemia seven days ago.


  • ‘Things will never be the same. I’ll never be the same. I was so lucky a year ago. Blissfully ignorant of this kind of pain. I’ll never be blissfully ignorant again.’

    I relate to this so very, very much.
    Thanks for sharing this post, I hope writing brings you peace and strength. On a lighter note, cats really are the best companions (and therapists).


  • Thank you for visiting my blog. I know how that feels to be aged in a short space of time. I look back at photos of 3 years ago, and I look so different. Death is the most awful thing. Especially when it is sudden, and if the person is young. In 2010, I held my dead child for 3 days and in 2011, I held my grandmothers hand as she died…. it really did affect me. For quite a long time, as soon as I tried to get breath to get over one thing, it was another. Just wanted to send you a hug, as I have been there too differently, but death upon death – (I went through 4 in a few years)…


    • Thank you so much for sharing your experience. And thank you for the hug. I’m sorry for your losses. Grieving multiple deaths is hard. My pain bounces back and forth amongst them like a pinball machine. It’s hard to settle in and grieve. I feel so scattered. And it still seems unreal.


      • Its also hard and confusing to know WHAT you are grieving too….. or at least that is what I found. I found that I focused on the easiest – whilst I shut away the most difficult….. for a long time. I guess I went into denial and focused on the one that hurt the least. it is so very hard, and also very confusing. Your emotions are all over the place. I honestly didn’t know how to feel. Or what I was feeling sadness or grief for…. which one? 😦 x


  • The sense of loneliness or abandonment that I feel from your writing is something I relate to as well. I’m sure I will enjoy following your blog.
    I am very sorry for your loss.


    • Thank you for comment. Knowing you can relate provides comfort. Sharing the human experience. We can’t avoid the death of those we love. Eventually, it finds them. Some, sadly, much too soon.


  • You are in the dark cave of grief; there is comfort there. When time comes you will emerge from it with understanding and acceptance. For the moment, just be with it all, as best as you can. Thinking of you.


  • So many things to think about in such a short time. How is your Mum? Your relationship with your sister doesn’t sound good but is there no chance that you might be brought together by this?


    • My mom is muddling through. She wondered out loud the other day what she’d done for all this to happen. “Didn’t I take good care of them?” She took good care of them all. There’s no reason for it. Other than we are fragile. All of us.

      I don’t think I want to be brought together with my sister. She made a terrible choice years ago and I can’t feel comfortable being around her and her husband. I’ve written about her before. It’s very dark.


  • I’m so sorry you’re grieving. I’ve never had someone that close die, and I can only imagine how terrible it must be to have three of your closest family members pass away in one year. I’m glad you have your girls to help you cope, and your neighbor. It’ll always be sad, but I hope you can eventually remember to enjoy the life that is given to you. xxxx


  • Somehow holding onto those texts – or a couple of messages left when you didn’t hear the phone – those are all so precious. No one could understand why I held on to a problematic phone – but my dad was on there. When the phone crash, it was like the last line holding the boat from being adrift was torn.
    It’s hard. It will alway be different. You will find a way to go on.
    Good cats, good.
    Hugs and strength quietly sent


    • I’ve got a few voicemails, too. It will be hard to ever trade this phone in. Cats are good. The comfort they provide is so special. Even when they’re head-bonking the lamp shade.


  • Well actually, i was doing a counselling course (me and my big mouth) i was working with a client, and all that she experienced was loss, death after death. this one particular day there had been two in one week. I went to uni to do my counselling qualification study after work, and said ‘I just don’t understand death, maybe it is not my lifepath)

    At that point in my life the only person I knew who had died was my grandfather 10 years earlier. It had upset me, but he was 83.

    Within less than a week my cousin died, he was 23. Then someone I worked with for 2 years who i was close to, he died he was 37, then someone I else I worked with died (another 2), then my own daughter died, 6 days after that, without warning or explanation or further contact, her father my fiancee left and never spoke to me again (I felt he died too) so i concentrated on that and pushed my daughters death to the back of my mind – it was easier that way. By the time I was ready to start grieivng my daughters death 6 months later – others had moved on, and I was now in an abusive relationship.I also had ptsd so i felt like my daughter died over and over.

    I didn’t know how to cope, and it felt absolutely overwhelming. Like it was bigger than me. it was so massive, so huge so big, it was just overwhelming. I was still on autopilot when the following year I sat and held my grandmothers hand and she died too… was awful. Even today, looking back I don’t know how I got through it…. but I did. They are a part of you, and always will be so…. now they will live every day in your heart. One day you will feel the pain is gone, what is left behind is the warm glow in your heart where those you love live….. not just some days but every day.

    I agree with the ‘enjoy your time in the cave’ it is healing….With multiple losses it can shake the foundation of who you are. As roles in life are gone, and you might feel the need (in time) to redefine yourself Or that might have been me…. it changed me, but for the better I think.

    Sending you a hug, as that time was the worst time and it went on for such a long time…..


    • ps – I dont have a cat – but in October 2012, I got a dog a shih tzu, and I live with her…. just me and her…. look out for things – white feathers…. or that cold wind right up next to your face. That is them sending you a sign to let you know that they are around :).


    • “The warm glow in your heart where those you love live…” I look forward to that. Right now, I’m just so angry he didn’t get to be happy for a while longer after getting sober. I do feel it’s changed me. I’m just not sure who I am yet. Thank you for sharing with me. Being with me. It helps.


      • There are five stages of grief…. you will hit them not necessarily in this order – but you will go through them all – the last stage is acceptance.

        HOWEVER multiple loss can be complex. My cousin who was 23 – he had gotten off drugs, well he was almost 24, it was his 24th birthday – so he might have been.

        He got clean from drugs, he had taken crack cocaine at a festival at aged 17, by the last year of his life he was using heroin.

        He was doing so well, he went into rehab and was clean. He had a row with his girlfriend picked the birthday money up off of his mum, and used once – of course it was too strong for his body and he died (he was found 2 weeks later outside)… is so hard to come to terms with – but one day you will, i promise it is a journey.

        The problem with multiple grief, is shifting from different stages with each one, and then back again. I am following your blog so I hope that i can catch your posts, and write to offer you support. I wont say stay strong as what else is there, but I will say that will come the other side, far stronger than you knew you could ever be.


  • I so sorry to hear about your brother. And of course for your loss of your father and other brother


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