Dear Robin

Things have been different around here since you left. As a person who knows the high and the low and has envisioned the step you took, I was greatly affected by your decision. Many seemed comforted to find out you were facing a serious chronic illness. As if suddenly it all made sense.

The People magazine with your face on the cover stared at me for too many days from its place on top of the bathroom trashcan. One day I picked it up with a huff, deciding People had retouched your eye color. They made your eyes look too blue, like a black and white movie with the colors painted in. It reminded me of that movie you were in that I can’t remember the name of.

There were a few retrospective shows, some repeat performances, yada, yada. Then with Joan and football as distractions, everybody settled back down into their relative existences.

Today I read a whole magazine about you while I waited in a really long line in Safeway.

Look, what I really want to say is this. I don’t know what was going on in your mind right before you did what you did. But, why hanging? Because you couldn’t take it back?

I don’t want to talk bad about the dead. And I’ve been feeling spiritual lately and thinking a lot about compassion and not doing harm. But I’m pissed.

Look, what I really want to say, and I hope you take it in the best way possible, is fuck you.

Fuck you for going through with it and fuck you for getting to go when I’m still here and fuck you for setting such a fucking bad example and how could you do this to your kids????

How could I do it to my kid? Have I not yet been where you were, in the space right after you cross every con off your list?

Fuck, I’m sorry, Robin. You don’t know me. You don’t owe me anything. You’re just on the receiving end of a lot of things I’m pissed about right now.

That’s about all I’ve got for now, Robin. Except, say Hi to my dad for me, will ya?

Love, T

 

Requiem

You came to me last night in a dream. We were at some kind of an event – you with your girlfriend and me with mine. Your’s was a small blonde thing with a pinched face. I could see you from where we were sitting. And then suddenly you were beside me, your face close to mine. You held my gaze for a long silent moment. Then you were gone.

I’ve wanted you to come to life lately. My thoughts have wandered all about you. I ask myself, “Why?” I haven’t had any dreams for a long time. But you were there, and so insistently. This is the second time in six months that I have felt your presence so intensely, as if your essence is there in the room. My mind again began wondering, “Why?” Are you hurt, injured, worst of all dead?

This afternoon I was thinking of blogging and the word “Requiem” came to me. I thought it sounded good, but I wasn’t sure of the definition. I looked it up. My body tensed when I saw the definition as “mass for the dead”. I’ve Googled your name twice now with the word “obituary” after it and held my breath waiting for the results. I was relieved to find none. I can’t ever imagine you dead. It blows a hole through the center of me. Please, not you.

It’s been seven years since that day I stood in the phone booth in Albuquerque, begging you to engage with me.  “I can’t be doing this,” you said, with a tone that said the opposite. “I have a girlfriend now.” Yep, that’s you. The non-cheater. You asked me not to call again. You threatened to change your number. I didn’t think you were serious. How many times have we sworn off of each other in our lives? And of course I did call again, twice, just to make sure I had the correct number when the recording said the line was no longer in service. You not only changed the number but you made sure I wouldn’t be able to get it. I looked you up on the internet from time to time and after that your phone number was always unpublished. I kept trying to get it for a while just so I could say I did. During that time I also considered having fresh poop delivered to your door step. But that was long ago. The last time I looked you up fearing you were dead your phone number was right there in front of me. Naked in black and white. Today when I saw it again I wrote it down. I didn’t seriously consider calling but I did entertain it in my mind.

But really, I wasn’t going to call you to start something or cause you any harm. I just hoped you were alive, and not hurting.

I know how you always told me that when you are with someone in a relationship you never think of me. So if that’s true, why do I feel you so much? Am I just conjuring you up? You have always ignited me, and now there is not even a spark inside me.

Could you light me up, Love, even now?

 

Armor

Some days I come home and other people’s lives are swirling through my head. I love my work. I hate despise detest my employer. I was driving into work this morning thinking just that. I was dreading today’s schedule. Three new patients, two returns, all potentially complex. First there was the woman who had become a born again Christian to heal her intense fear of possession after watching “The Exorcist”. It made me remember how I used to have to repeat “Jesus, cast thee out” to calm my own fear of being possessed in the years after “The Exorcist”. Then there was the woman seething with bitterness towards her husband, declaring that she doesn’t believe in divorce. What does that mean? That’s like saying, “I don’t believe in grocery stores”. “How about Santa?” I wanted to ask her. “Do you believe in him? The last patient of the day was someone I’ve seen for a couple of years. Her husband has Alzheimer’s.

English: Histopathogic image of senile plaques...

English: Histopathogic image of senile plaques seen in the cerebral cortex in a patient with Alzheimer disease of presenile onset. Silver impregnation. The same case as shown in a file “Alzheimer_dementia_(1)_presenile_onset.jpg”. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

When my mother first died a few weeks ago (from Alzheimer’s) and I thought about returning to work, I thought about this patient. I was trying to figure out if I would be able to hold it together if I saw her. The appointment began fine. I was all smiles and professionalism. I noticed I was more distant that usual, as if I were watching her talk through a glass window. I heard everything she said, I offered a few observations. Then the door to the cellar inside me opened. I noticed her mouth was still moving but I wasn’t listening to her. I started crying.

Being the kind and compassionate soul that she is she immediately got off of her chair leaned toward me and hugged me. I told her my mom had passed since I’d seen her last. I apologized about ten times. I felt her genuine concern. Later I asked her what it would be like to tell her husband that it was OK to let go.

I’m sad that my Mom died alone. I want to blame my sister for this, because she didn’t tell me what was happening when I could have driven there to be with her. She’d called me a week before telling me it didn’t look good, then called the next day and said miraculously that my mom was up and seeming like herself. I had two opportunities to see my Mom prior to this before she died. I didn’t take them. I have lots of reasons. I don’t think they really matter. I think she would have liked to have seen me before she left.

There is a part of myself deep inside, very small that says, “You reap what you sow. The love you take is equal to the love you make”. My mother’s expressions of love were not initially easy to recognize. They did not come in physical affection or in words. My mom loved me, I have no doubts about that. She loved all of us. There was even a time, for a while that I felt like she loved me “best”. But for a good part of her life, it seemed like she didn’t understand how her actions affected other people. More specifically, she didn’t seem to understand how her actions affected her children. I do not know what made her the way she was, or if she was just born into the person she was meant to be. Looking back, it is hard sometimes to fathom why she did some of the things she did. In fact, my mother did me a great deal of harm.

It is odd, that lately, since her death, I have remembered more of who she was prior to the time that she did the greatest harm. And I have remembered more of who I was during that time. And I have recognized that I am still that same person. It’s almost as if my mother’s death released me back into my original self. And much of what I constructed around my original self was reactionary armor.

I told my patient today, the last one, that I think grief is a different experience when the person had Alzheimer’s. It’s a long slow departure. The more the disease progresses, the more you begin to realize that the initial signs started much earlier than you originally thought. My mother’s condition began a sharp decline about two years ago. Now, I think the first symptoms began as much as fourteen years before that.

My mother died at age 84. My son was born 10 years ago. The last time I experienced my Mom as herself was around that time. She was 74.

Last night I was thinking that I have about 20 years left on the odometer of my brain.

Echoes

I wish someone would come along and lift me out of the cavern I’ve fallen into. But even if someone tried, I would probably say, “I’m good, don’t worry about me”.

It’s grief. She’s here, infusing each moment with her presence.

Caves on Cave Ridge

Caves on Cave Ridge (Photo credit: brewbooks)

I tried to keep her at bay. I said, “I’ve been through this before, I know you well, you won’t get to me this time”. She didn’t listen. She never listens. If I am able to ignite a small spark into even a weak flame she comes along and snuffs it out. There is no reasoning with her. She inserts herself into every conversation and weaves herself in and out of my thoughts. Several times a day she abruptly reminds me, “Your mother is dead”.

She ushers in a host of accessories. Condolence cards I open and read and then shove back into the envelope. Someone’s mother has died, apparently, I tell myself.

Grief’s arrival brought an odd gift, 5 days of bereavement leave. It’s generous, I think. Most people get only three. I took my five days. For a few days at work I was “the woman whose mother died”. Most people said nothing, some said a word or two. Some gave me sympathetic glances. But they’ve moved on now, and so has the rest of the world.

I try not to bristle when someone asks me, “Why are you crying?”

I see her in my mind, her body. Her knuckles swollen and knotted. Her fingernails painted a creamy coral. Next to her blueish skin the color was almost garish. Her nails had grown past the last manicure. Her nails grew because she was alive.

She didn’t know who I was anymore, but I reminded her of someone she knew once, she had told me. When she was alive, Her voice was still my mother’s. I could listen to it, before.

I saved her last voicemail on my phone. She called me to let me know that she would be arriving soon but that she was staying where she was for the night. She wasn’t actually coming, the call wasn’t connected to anything in reality. But she didn’t want me to worry. I saved it because I knew the day would come when it would be the only thing I had left of her.

And this is what echoes through the cavern I’ve fallen into. The one that is threatening to swallow me whole.

Hush

I’ll think I’m doing OK. I walk around, sleep, eat, breathe, and show up wherever I’m supposed to be. For the most part nothing has changed in the day-to-day of things. And then suddenly something will remind me, and a cavernous space opens up inside of me that has no ending. I start to fall through it. And then I remember.

English: Wind chime close-up

Photo credit: Wikipedia

I had a mother once.

It happened today in Safeway. I was there at the pharmacy picking up the latest pain remedy, and Trazadone for sleep. There was going to be a wait, so I cruised the miscellaneous aisle where they keep all the summer “grab-me” items. That’s where it happened. A large Raggedy Ann doll was lying sideways in a summer lawn chair, smiling at me with her eyes agape. The image transported me back, forty plus years ago. I had a doll just like that. I remember relishing its sweet smiling face. I’m pretty sure it was lovingly hand-made by my mother. I loved that doll fiercely.

I had the same feeling two days ago as I went through her jewelry box. It was the same one I remember pouring over as a young girl. The box was covered in gold fabric of some kind, and had darkened with age. A rush of old memories laced with her delicate perfume went up my nose as I opened it.  It used to sit on top of her dresser, with strings of beads and shiny things hanging out of it.  I eagerly anticipated the times when she would dress up to go dancing with my father and let me go through her jewelry. I delighted in the sparkle of the rhinestones and crystals, and how the dangly ones caught the light as she moved.

I feel her when the wind blows through my hair. I hear her in the tinkle of wind chimes and when it is quiet enough to hear the song of a solitary songbird. I feel her urging me to live, to take in, to capture, and to create. She reminds me that the most fulfilling time of her life began at about the age that I am now. I know that if she had my body and my mind, she would not waste them.

“The time is now,” she whispers.

And then there was one

A few days ago I was cleaning out my closet. It’s pretty hard to do that without noticing the two boxes containing my father’s ashes that sit on the top shelf. There are two boxes because my Dad’s ashes wouldn’t fit into the antique cedar box I had provided. “He was a big man,” the lady at the cremation station told me, her lips pressed into a thin firm line. She handed me the second box, plain cardboard, his name typed on a label on the front. Inside, the substantial “leftovers” had been contained in a plastic bag with a twist tie. And they have remained that way for the last seven years. I’ve thought of combining them into one box, but I can’t bear the thought of it. What if I spill some in the process? I’ve thought of spreading them somewhere, and sometimes I think my Dad would like that. The extent of his discussion with me about what he wanted after he died went like this: “By the way, I want to be cremated. No funeral”.

I carried the boxes around with me in my car for several months after he died. I was in my car a lot. Because after my Dad died, I moved a lot. Not just down the block, or across town. My Dad died in Albuquerque in the spring of ’06. By Fall, I’d moved to Washington state. Three months later I moved to Oregon. Eight months later I was back in Albuquerque where I stayed long enough to get a graduate degree. Two years later I moved to California, and after I got here I moved two more times. I didn’t just move through states, I ripped through relationships. I reignited a relationship with my first love. That was two years of intense passionate long distance distraction, during which time I also was a frequent flyer in the bed of my most recent ex. Then there was online dating and another long distance relationship prompting my move to California. Then when that fell apart there were lovers in rapid succession. All too much too soon, my desire to attach myself to anything or any one that would hold me down. One of them was a boyfriend from High School who found me on Facebook. And there was also my job. Fresh out of graduate school, committed, eager to prove myself, I poured my soul into it to the exclusion of everything else. And everything I’ve mentioned here is just the tip of the iceberg of the distractions I piled up. I took a hacksaw to everything in my path. The conflict. A never-ending supply. I pissed lots of people off. Some of them needed to be pissed off.

And yesterday, sitting on the floor of my closet, looking up at the two boxes, it came to me, that it’s all been distraction. Everything has been an avoidance of the feeling I felt as I sat and watched my father die.

I am alone. There is no one left to save me.

~

Dear Dad,

It feels foreign, even to write those words. For so long you were “Dad”, and now you are gone. Today it has been seven years since you left. I know, you didn’t leave. Not by your own volition. And now, as the anniversary rolls around once again, the images of our last moments together float through my mind. I can still see your eyes, the way you looked at me when I asked if you wanted more morphine, right after the last time I watched you struggle for air. You were terrified. You didn’t want to go. I know.

Of course, there was no way to know then how your death would affect me or what was left of our family structure. You were the glue that tied me to them, and when you left, so did they. And though I have tried, to carry on, to be OK, I’m still missing a part of myself because you aren’t here.

If you can see us now, your two descendants, what are your thoughts and feelings? You would be so proud of your grandson. You live on in him, he has your same goofy sense of humor and the kindness that was your trademark. He should have gotten more of you. You should have gotten more of him. I’m so glad you were there when he was born.

You taught me everything I know about loving and being present for the ones you love. You showed me this by example, by always being there for me, no matter what kind of hell I put you through.

One day a few months ago I was in a line at a pharmacy, and there was a man in the front of the line. From the back, he looked exactly like you. The same wiry white hair, a few inches too long and curling up at the ends. The same round shiny bald patch at the top. The same flat ass that is my birthright, crew socks across muscled calves, and shorts. I stared at him for as long as I was in the line. I pretended it was you, and I was waiting. I imagined that when he turned around it would be your face I would see.

I know you’ve never been a fan of sentimentality. And I’m sure you wouldn’t approve of those boxes out in the garage containing the stuff I couldn’t throw away. The clothes you had worn in the days before you left. Your shoes, glasses, and other remnants. You’d tell me to get rid of it. You’d laugh at the boxes I have on top of my closet that contain your ashes. The ones I carried around in my car for months after your death as I moved from state to state trying to find somewhere I didn’t feel lost. You’d tell me to move on.

You never knew how important you were, to me or anyone else. But you always let me know how important I was.

I miss you so much, Dad.