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death

Anxiety, death, Guest Posts

Bugs

September 6, 2017
bugs

By Katie Guinn

I work at home, alone, with lots of bugs.

As lively as these insects are, various sizes and luster, many frighten me. I admire them. But mostly they remind me of death. But that’s because most things remind me of the inevitable ending. No one knows exactly when, but “if” doesn’t exist when it comes to death. I love my life so hard that death would be such a buzz-kill if it robbed me at an early age. Or if it took my precious daughter. Or my husband, or his daughter, and from there, well, this is just a sampling of how my wicked brain works against me.

Does death taste like kerosene? Like the sharp, bitter flavor of ants that crawl around my computer desk, dancing gleefully around the rim of my boring water glass? The very ants that if absent from the peony plants, their blossoms would not emerge.

Sitting at this desk I often hear shrill screams echoing from the school one block over. The school my daughter attends. The screams shock me into visuals of terror, of guns, of attacks, of my daughter falling victim with other unlucky children to a madman’s unattended rage.

“It’s happened to other children. It could happen to us,” I tell my therapist.

“Yes, but it isn’t happening to you right now,” she says.

They’re only playful excited screams, I have to remind myself. Children still know how to shriek with absolute elation when released from their studies, the endless direction to be quiet, to stand in line and not talk, touch, or move. To sit at their desks and shut up. These screams signify their freedom. It’s OK.

Is this what death sounds like? The same as ultrapure happiness?

The ants keep me company at my computer desk. Not that I invite them. In fact I’m constantly trying to kill them.

I’m a driven career woman, tackling many facets of creative work. The corner desk handmade by my lover, stained deep red, solid wood, this is where I attend to my various computer tasks.

It sits so perfectly in front of the window, so when I stop for a second to think about things, I can peer out on to the street. I see my neighbors coming and going. My role as “head of neighborhood watch” is just an excuse to spy on them without seeming creepy. Often I see houseless humans pushing carts, scoping for cans and bottles left alone in driveways. Some appear to be on the edge of death themselves, holes in their shoes exposing black rotting toes, 5 months of dirt piled on their winter coats, skin so weathered it’s sunken in and wrinkled well beyond their years. Some of them twitch and gnaw at their toothless jaws, gums deteriorated by white poison. We housed one of these humans once.

I often see fellow parents hurrying off after collecting their children from the school we share, paying no mind to ones who live and play on this block, as their cars race down our wide side-street. This triggers visions of my child being run-over as she mistakenly goes in the street without looking.

The ants play death with me as they find their way into my bra, biting my tits for escape. Their only solace is to escape breathing as I smash them furiously and call them mother-fuckers for biting my beautiful fleshy orbs of life. I’ve tasted the bitter death of more than 10 of these tiny soldiers as I blindly put the rim of the glass to my mouth and drink naively. It doesn’t take much to smash their tiny bodies between the tongue and bumpy roof of the mouth.

What happens when you go hunting for scraps of bacon in my house, little ant? Death. It’s waiting for you everywhere here.

These same ants give life to the precious peonies in my yard. They will not bloom if the ants refuse to slowly pull them apart, allowing them to live.

Does death smell like musty basements? Times a million? My grandparents’ dirt-walled  cellar seemed close. My basement is semi-finished and hosts my sewing studio. This is where the real big gnarly siders dwell, along with the centipedes who are furiously faster and eat the spiders.

On a gloomy, rainy day, I was sitting at my machine stitching away and listening to an interview with my first favorite woman author, Monica Drake, when I saw it, It ran so fast up on to my machine that I screamed loud and jumped. That centipede was the swiftest runner I’d ever seen and it was barreling straight toward me! It slid across the fabric barely missing my hand and flew at me as I jumped up and back. It was as if it had been an arrow released from a bow aimed at my body.  It landed at my feet and I fumbled, heart thumping, I chased it trying to squash it, but it found a hidey hole and stayed there. Its long flat brown body carried into hiding by its 28 feathery legs.  I was done sewing for the day.

The week before that when I got up to take a lunch break from my sewing, I felt a light tug on my head and a tickle. I looked in the adjacent mirror to find a spider had woven an entire web from the ceiling beams to my hair and I didn’t even notice as I sat there for a half an hour.  I screamed and maniacally tore at my hair as I rushed my head to the bathtub faucet. These stealthy little assholes can crawl in your ear at night and nest, they can find your mouth and tunnel down your throat to squat inside your body. They can bite you as you roll over on them or hunt for your neck, looking for a bloody snack. The amount of days I’ve woken with a swollen neck and face, a pussy wound, itchy and bruised from God knows what is more than I can count. Every time I truly believe I’m going to die.

Spiders are beautiful creatures, yet freakishly ugly, maternal yet ruthless, scared yet brave. I love garden orb spiders because they stay outside and live off the bugs that eat my beloved plants. I cannot technically claim to have a “spirit animal” because I’m a Scandinavian white girl from north Portland, but I am deeply connected to garden orb spiders. They can carefully dismantle and re-build a web in one day, acting as nature’s artists. They collect the nasty afids and mosquitos that eat us and our roses. Their markings are like a piece of delicate art. I love to admire them as they sit so gracefully on their prized homes. They protect their eggs as furiously as a black bear, willing to splay their vulnerable, smashable bodies over their unborn babies. I too, would do anything to protect my daughter from death or pain.

I had a year of panic attacks that created a cycle of living on the edge of death. Or so it felt.

It all starts here. I’m in the car, my husband is driving. We’re taking our kid to her grandparents’ house so we can go to his company picnic. A tight sharp pain grabs my chest and holds tight for a few seconds and stops my breath. I’m having a heart attack is what I tell myself. No you’re not, you’re fine I say. No, it could have been a small one. No, if it was you’d be passed out or dead or whatever. My heart is pounding so hard, so fast, and my body starts to constrict. I cannot escape my body, it’s all I want and the last thing I want.

I pace the premises once we get to the parents’ and I decide I need to go to the ER to ascertain I did not have a heart attack and that I won’t.

Since this incident I imagine the worst things happening while in the car. Like my body awakened this panic beast that won’t settle with chest grabs. We fly off the Banfield Loop ramp, straight in to the murky Willamette below. Intersections are where cars run red lights and blast straight into our car, forcing us to crash all around and die. A delivery truck loses control and lurks over the yellow line on a highway destroying us on impact, head on. The east wind shoves over a semi just as we pass on I-84 crushing the metal roof, then us. I once was T-boned by a bicyclist on Burnside. She pedaled past the stop sign and straight into my ‘65 Galaxie, toppled over the roof and fell off the back. So of course every bike that comes out of nowhere takes a few beats off my heart and sends it to straight to my barbed-wire stomach. I’ve always had an over-active imagination, but these visions, these moving pictures that play in my mind’s eye while I’m driving have escalated, they ensue panic so deep I often have to pull over.

In the several months following the original panic war, I had 6 more of these episodes with 3 full weeks of constant panic. It was unlike anything I’d ever experienced. The looming cloud that hung around me, inside me and through my body controlled my every second of being. I had pains that convinced me I was about to die, and the stress was so hard on my body that it agreed I was to die, and therefore more pains arose. The cyclical manipulation of that bully called anxiety is infuriating. The power of panic. Like your body acting as its own worst enemy, no escape. Heightened awareness, yet lost conversations and interactions; the complete inability to perform basic tasks like unloading the dishwasher or reading to your child before bed.

Is this what the ants experience as they risk seeking crumbs for their Queen in my breasts, on the counter, in my water. Do they have a split-second of panic right before my lips squish their tiny bodies and release that bitter taste of their being? Do centipedes go through their entire lives panicked and running? Are their legs a vehicle to save their over-active bug brains? Do spiders’ hearts beat quicker and louder when a predator appears near their spawn? Do we live on a mile wide ant hill, that’s slowly deteriorating from their cave trails, and one day we’ll just sink down and be eaten by the ants? That would be a hilarious reversal of fate, and I’d deserve it. They do all that work to unleash lacy pink petals of the peony and I make sure to eradicate every one before I bring the stems in the house.

I was convinced for that year that I was going to die and my child would grow up without a mother. I was convinced that my husband was going to die on his way to work or on his way home so I made him tell me when he arrived at work and when he left. I was convinced that my daughter was going to be run over in the street, shot by a mad kid who had access to a gun or kidnapped from the playground. These fears ruled my every breath, my every step and every tear. This is the worst way to live in fact, morning and night being afraid of death while simultaneously killing small helpless creatures. Being afraid that this wonderful happiness will be taken away because I don’t deserve it is a dangerous way to exist. My fear of sudden or too-soon death bullied my life for a couple of years until I started painting again. Getting that nasty shit out of my body through the process of art saved me. I started writing poetry and dancing again.

I still have these thoughts on a daily basis and some bugs still make me believe they’re out to kill me. I feel genuinely guilty for killing each one that harasses me, but sometimes I can’t sleep otherwise. I take the less swift spiders outside. I still have visions of horrific events occurring. Planes overhead will never stop that rise in my chest and wide-eyed fear. Being in a car will always give me visions of what could happen. But for now that bully that tries to ruin my life by teasing me with death every god damn second can fuck off. I’m fine now. I’m living now and so is my family. “I see you.” I say, “but you can’t have me today.” I have too much love to give, too many clouds and forests to admire, too much art to make, too many flowers to attend to and too many ants to kill.

 

Katie is an artist, mother of blood and non-blood children, designer and writer, wifey, flower gardener, art teacher and lover of the beautiful, of the female brainwaves and form. She’s spent time as a contributing freelance writer for the Portland Mercury. She’s part of the corporeal writing tribe, which has changed her artist self significantly, bringing about work that’s been hiding in her lungs, liver and heart for years. She lives in Portland, Oregon with her husband, daughter and cat.

An excerpt from this essay first appeared in Nailed Magazine in June, 2017. This is her first published personal piece.

Katie is a fourth generation North Portlander, and Columbia Gorge wanderer.

Join The Manifestation Retreat: Manifesting Under The Tuscan Sun. Sep 8-15, 2018.. Email retreats@jenniferpastiloff.com or click the picture above.

 

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death, Guest Posts

Silent Witnesses: A Night at the Morgue

April 26, 2017
chair

By Nina B. Lichtenstein

There is a beautiful and ancient Jewish tradition of reciting Psalms while watching over a deceased person until burial. A few of us had decided to take turns sitting with our friend Philip’s body overnight. Philip was a handicapped man in our synagogue who was loved and admired by all. When Philip recently died, his death, as his life, brought some unexpected gifts for those close to him.

It was almost 12:30am and the air was thick with the humidity of balmy summer nights. After an eternity of banging on all the windows and doors of the seemingly empty funeral home, which also functioned as the Jewish morgue in town, I suddenly saw lights turn on inside. The door swung open and out stepped a bushy-bearded and bespectacled man with a sweatshirt hood covering his head. Not young, not old, wearing a pair of baggie, well worn, beige Dickies, he stood tall, like me, and cocked his head slightly to one side. Standing in the dim light, he said, “Yes? How can I help you?” gazing quizzically at me from under a knit hat, the kind fishermen wear. It was pulled down on his forehead, resting on a set of overgrown, gray eyebrows. He didn’t’ exactly look your clean cut funeral-home guy, but instead more like a version of the troubled poet John Berryman, or worse, Charles Manson. He was the night guard, or the shomer.  Continue Reading…

death, Guest Posts, Young Voices

And Then I Remember What You Said, a Letter to My Brother

December 31, 2016
lucky

Note from Jen Pastiloff, founder of The Manifest-Station. This is part of our Young Voices Series for Girl Power: You Are Enough. We are always looking for more writing from YOU! Make sure you follow us on instagram at @GirlPowerYouAreEnough and on Facebook here.

CW: This piece discusses the aftermath of suicide.

By Emma Tait

December 31, 2016

Dear Ollie,

I know you know this holiday season is hard for me. But still, I need to tell you how I’m feeling, how I’m feeling about how the holidays this year, the third year since you have been gone. Please don’t take this the wrong way, I know you are looking out for me, in the good big brother kind of way.

I am always catching glimpses of you out of the corner of my eye, seeing men that look just like you, sometimes I even hear your voice. Every time this happens my breath catches in my throat and for a split second I glance around hopefully, as if I live in a different world where there is a possibility of us running in to each other on the street on our ways home from work. In a parallel reality this would be our life. You would have lived. You would have stayed in Vancouver and we’d see each other all the time. This parallel reality still lives in my head, and sometimes when I “see” you I pretend with all my hear that it is so. Continue Reading…

Child Birth, death, Guest Posts, No Bullshit Motherhood

A Wave of Light

December 23, 2016
light

tw: infant loss

By Alison Baron

I am 1 in 8.  I am 1 in 4.  I share a badge with two clubs.  Two clubs that no one should have to be a member of.  Infertility brings feelings of defeat and grief.  Infant loss brings a whole new meaning to bereavement and grief.  Each October is Infant Loss and Remembrance month.  In honor of all the mamas who are unfortunate to be a part of this club I would like to share my story.

Santiago Jose Perez-Barron was born on July 7 at 8:36 a.m., weighing an adorable 7 pounds and measuring 21 inches in length.  He had chubby cheeks and his mother’s nose.  And although he struggled a bit right out of the gate, he persevered like a champ, made huge improvements in his first 24 hours of life, and was even breastfeeding well during his first day. Continue Reading…

death, Family, Guest Posts

Frosty Mauve

August 14, 2016
mother

By Kim Derby

The silence hits me in the face when I walk in. Free of beeping and flashing bright lights, her hospital room is nothing like what you see on TV, the monotonous drone of machines sprouting tubes, blaring alarms. Instead it’s stillness, and the creak of the door as it closes behind me. Daylight streams through a window across the room, lights up her face. I move toward the bed, cautious as if she had a virus I might catch.    

Hi Mom. It’s your daughter. I’m here.”

Her mouth is open, slightly ajar. A lip-gloss sits on the table next to her. Someone must have applied it recently because her lips glisten. I touch her cheek with the back of my hand. Ice. And I pull the blanket up around her neck. Hold her hand, I tell myself, but she’s tucked tight under the bedding. Swaddled. I hate myself for being too freaked out to reach under and take her hand. I reach for her cheek again, rub it softly with the back of my hand. Her 76-year-old face is bare, free of mascara or makeup. It glows, smooth like un-worry, free of wrinkles, contempt or scorn.

“Mom, your skin looks really good.” I think she’d like to know.

Saliva collects under my tongue and I’m glad I haven’t eaten in three hours. I step back from the bed, swallow. I think I’m going to be sick.  Continue Reading…

death, Grief, Guest Posts

A Choice of Wood

April 25, 2016
death

By Whitney Fleming

“I can’t do it. I can’t go into the room with all the caskets. I can’t do it again,” she told me.

“It’s okay, Mom. I’ll take care of everything,” I stated easily, as I knew that my father wanted to be cremated, which reduced the decision-making burden. Although I was the youngest in my family, the responsibility would be mine. My brother and sister had their children to manage, and I was the most involved when it came to my dad’s care.

“Just do what you think is right. I just need you to take care of it.”

My mom wasn’t much older than I was when she buried her own mother, along with three teenage siblings. They died in a fire started from bad electrical wiring in their dilapidated Ohio farm house. As the oldest of eight, she managed the burial arrangements, and selected the caskets for her teenage brothers and sister. The act of selecting small coffins for young people yet to reach their prime crushed her to the core. It was a weight she carried around with her each day.

She was the strongest woman I knew, but even she had her limits. Continue Reading…

death, Guest Posts

Letting Go

April 22, 2016
pet

By Liane Kupferberg Carter

I get the news moments before my 21 year old autistic son Mickey gets home. The biopsy is back: our fourteen year old cat Fudge has lymphoma.

I still manage to greet Mickey cheerfully when he walks through the door. But he knows me too well. “Do you have sad news for me? Is Fudge dead?”

So much for the myth that people with autism have no empathy.

We try a course of chemo. She responds better than we expect. But late one Sunday night, Fudge suddenly pees on the carpet. She has never done this. She staggers, and looks spacey. Something is very, very wrong. When I pick her up, she is limp.

“Is Fudge dying?” Mickey asks. Continue Reading…

death, Guest Posts, Young Voices

On Saying Goodbye And Eating Chips

March 9, 2016
death

Note from Jen Pastiloff, founder of The Manifest-Station. This is part of our Young Voices Series for Girl Power: You Are Enough. We are always looking for more writing from YOU! Make sure you follow us on instagram at @GirlPowerYouAreEnough and on Facebook here.

By Haley Jakobson

On the day your grandmother is dying you will eat a bagel with cream cheese and salmon and the guy behind the counter will misunderstand your impatience for rudeness. He doesn’t know you have to go home and kiss her cheek. You cry in the bodega and you take an Uber all the way to Westchester because your Dad says you should.

You get there and you climb into bed with her and all the fear you had before is gone because you need to take care of the woman that is the reason you exist. You hold her and press your face into her back and you put a cold wash cloth on her forehead and you don’t hide from her dying anymore. You cry into her pajamas and you feel how warm her body is, like a child, and you just keep pressing your hands into her. Every time she opens her eyes, wide and blue and scared, you tell her that you are there and when you listen to your own voice it sounds so strong and resilient and there is no fear.

You love her and she loves you and this will not go away even when she is not there. Her eyes are so blue, like this cleansing force of beauty, a color of simple beginnings and quiet endings and still water in between. Every time she realizes it’s you she says hi and you say “I love you” and she says it back. It’s all love. And when she cries out in pain you don’t deny it, you affirm it, you affirm her and everything she is going through. This is real, and it has been so elusive, this cancer, for so long.

She asks to put her head on your leg and you let her, and you help her sit up and stand up even though you know she’ll want to lay down straight away. Put the blankets on, take them off. The nurse says the pain is internal, it won’t go away from switching from her left to her right. You know she’s speaking your language now. The sickness has turned to violence inside her, like demons and monsters and bad, bad energy. The medicine is poison and life is leaving her. Continue Reading…

death, Guest Posts, Truth

Some Thoughts On The Day John Lennon Died

December 8, 2015

By Jonathan Jones

“Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again.” Whenever I think of the opening line to De Maurier’s  Rebecca, I’m aware of a telling gap, not only in my reading, but also my own memory. It has always managed to evoke, even echo a thought I often had as a child on waking, that it was still dark outside.  A news report coming in, confused by static. Maybe a radio in another room, light downstairs.  It was like at first, nothing had happened, a recurring dream that spoke with a voice both present and at the same time absent. My father told me once that the name he initially thought he heard when he turned on the news was “Lenin.” Apparently it took him a few moments to realize, it wasn’t the Tsar’s Winter Palace going up in flames. All that chaos and violence and shooting and the promise of a new world waiting at the end. I sometimes wonder if he remembers telling me that story, waking up one winter morning to a different name, the definitive end of another era.

The first picture I remember seeing of John Lennon was the Double Fantasy album cover. It’s an image that seems to float around my childhood with a vengeance. The day Lennon died I must have gone to school, although I don’t recall any special announcement at assembly, or anything that stands out to tell me I was present that particular day.  All I know is at some point I was in bed and I knew it was still too early to get up, because it was still dark outside. Beyond that, only my parents movements below me and the front door closing, as my father left for work. It was years before I realized what had happened and by then it was a memory fashioned by snippets of TV and the film footage, flaky in its original transmission. But a memory nevertheless, which had nothing to do with the real memory of my dad closing the door, as he left the house that day.

I was five years old at the time and to be honest can’t say for sure, what my own feelings were on the subject. It’s all too easy to suggest our earliest memories reveal some telling inner glimpse into the adults we grow into. Yet when I think back, the years between my fifth and fifteenth birthday rarely found a clearer point of reference.  The Eighties were too bright, too colorful  by comparison to that  day in December. T.V. that brought us up on game shows and  cheap nostalgia.  Back then trying to teach myself to whistle Jealous Guy, I knew the tune was how I felt for a long time, a permanent angst for the same city he came from. It was a post-lapsarian landscape I remember as a kid, muddy brown, tarmac cracked, whole streets abandoned and boarded up. The docks still so majestic and so tragic in their derelict hollows. A city I only knew from a distance, with its accent and its humor and its tough working intellect. Continue Reading…

Compassion, death, Grief, Guest Posts

Out of Death, Something

November 22, 2015

By Mark Liebenow

In late April we gather our dead and cry. For some it has been a year since our lives were ripped apart, for others barely a month. Emotions are on edge.

We are the families of those who died and donated their organs, and we have gathered at Chabot College in Northern California to honor our loved ones. My mother-in-law Marjorie has come with me. She is doing better after burying Evelyn, her youngest child and my wife, and is back to running the office of her retirement community.

I think of Tom Hanks in the movie Cast Away. He went to college here at Chabot, and there is a life-sized cutout of him in the lobby. He plays a man who struggles to survive physically and emotionally after his plane crashes in the Pacific Ocean. In one scene, before learning how to make a fire, he eats a raw, gelatinous fish. The look in his eyes as he chews is of a person wondering what’s the point when it’s unlikely he will ever be rescued. I know that look. When he gets back home years later, his wife has remarried, so he begins a new life with what he has left. I sense he will be happy, and wish that life was like it is in the movies.

Reg Green is the main speaker and talks about the desperate need for organ donations. The wife of my friend John was one of those who died waiting. In 1994, robbers killed Green’s seven-year-old son, Nicholas, when the family was vacationing in Italy. He and his wife donated their son’s organs to seven Italians. Because of their selfless act, the organ transplant movement finally took hold in that country. Donations doubled and thousands of people are alive because of them. A movie was made about it, Nicholas’ Gift, which starred Alan Bates and Jamie Lee Curtis. “Each year in the U.S.,” Green says, illustrating how often even the very young die, “five thousand families donate the organs of a child.”

After his speech, the smiling face of each donor in a time of happiness fills the large theater screen, and a hush settles over us. Music fills the auditorium as image after image bring back the childhood joy of Danielle, age fifteen, red bandana on her head; Dexter, two years old; forty-eight-year-old Bill with a Fu Manchu moustache; Maribel, a young mother dead at twenty-six; three-year-old Eddrick in his new sweater; nine-month-old Alexandre in knitted cap; and the photos and names of one hundred and forty others, including Evelyn’s, her face shining with hope.

Ev died in her forties of an unknown heart problem, and I think of the dreams we had for our future that now lie in ruins. In the memorial booklet I read the words I wrote that begin: “Evelyn’s soul was sweet like dawn in the Sierra Nevada. She was intoxicating like alpine air. The light in her eyes illuminated the dark paths through the forest of my heart….” Continue Reading…

death, Family, Grief, Guest Posts, loss, motherhood

Black Lace: On Music, Motherhood, and Loss

November 18, 2015

By Geri Lipschultz

Nothing is sexier than black lace, nothing more deadly.  When it’s cut in a circular shape, one slips the bobby pin inside, fixing it there into your hair.  With the black lace thus covering, you can show respect upon entering a synagogue or a funeral parlor where your mother is, before she will be buried.  It may only be nine months after your father died that she developed the cancer, less than three months before it would kill her—and in between that time, that is, in between the two deaths, you, at forty-six, would deliver a girlchild in darkening November. With the lace in your hair, you are holding the girlchild in your arms.

My daughter’s love for me was palpable.  A friend had seen her spirit when the baby was in utero.  Her shade was long, Tibetan, a tall thin dark man who sat on my shoulders and wrapped his legs around me, put his head upon my head. Cradled me. Farfetched or not, this was the feeling of this baby. Loving, attached, but withdrawn among strangers, whereas my son would work to catch the stranger’s eye.  Born eleven years before, my son had colic. I held him, and he cried. Even his entrance into the world came with a face of doubt, a scowl of woe.  He was covered in meconium, an expression of his discontent?  My daughter swam into life, looked up, surveyed it, said it was good.  Did my daughter know she was conceived in wedlock?

I was already married a year when I found out I was actually pregnant, for the second time, at forty-six, and I called my mother to tell her this.  She expressed something that sounded like horror.  I asked her if she was horrified, and she said that she was worried.  I was too old.  She was in her seventies.  The other grandchildren, my sisters’ kids, were teenagers, mainly.  My son, David, was ten.  He would be eleven when Eliza was born.  I told my mother to please keep her horror to herself.  I told her I was thrilled, that she should pray for a healthy baby, preferably a girl, for me, and if she was worried, to please not inflict it on me.  It vaguely reminded me of my writing, the once or twice I’d shown her what I’d written, her inability to take it in, her tendency to read too much into the stories.  I wrote stories, fiction. The lace of words, of black on white, the way stories gush up into images. You turn something terrible into something beautiful. I made things up.  If it was good I made it bad—some bit of salt or pepper or honey to change the flavor. If I told the truth, I would feel guilt, but the truth can hide behind a lie. It can light up the sky. For a long time after my mother died, I felt the guilt of someone who did not do enough because she could not cope, could not take in the loss. I was in the thick of motherhood, myself.

Black lace is what’s left when the mother is gone. A string of memories, a household full of items, tangible and laden and one day all of her furniture and even her wastebaskets would be sent to your house, because you were the one without a real job, just adjunct teaching and the pittance you made from your writing. Not to mention the insecurity of your marriage. Sometimes, if you could, you would take a match to the world. Sometimes it felt as if someone had. Can you admit the waters of grief? Stunned, after your mother’s death, you walked away brittle, unfeeling, protective, pretending. This has become your way with any kind of loss, until music arrives with its stream of the eternal, its messages, its images, its notes and rests and etchings. Continue Reading…

Addiction, death, Grief, Guest Posts, loss

Above The High: Coping With Addiction And Death

November 17, 2015

By Nancy Arroyo Ruffin

The first time I remember experiencing death I was three years old. My uncle Louie lay in a casket at the Ortiz Funeral Home wearing a light colored suit; it could’ve been white, beige maybe. His afro was neatly picked and in my three year old mind he appeared to be sleeping peacefully. That’s the thing about death, to the deceased it is peaceful, and to the ones left behind it’s anything but. To those left behind, the haze of losing a loved one, which feels like a searing mass of heat injected deep into the veins, seeps into everything making it difficult to focus on anything but the grief.

From my recollection, the funeral home was a dreary place, old and decrepit, like an old lady who had spent too many years outside of herself watching her life pass her by. The red carpet in the viewing room was ragged and dirty and the lighting, though warm, was not inviting. It was a place that bid farewell to too many lives taken before their time.  Exactly one year before on the same date, my maternal grandfather (his father) lay in a similar casket sleeping peacefully. He was in his 50s.

I can’t recall if I understood then that it would be the last time I’d see my uncle. I don’t remember if my parents explained to me the finality of death and what it meant when I heard family members say “at least he’s with his father now.” These are not things parents are prepared to talk about with their 3 yr. old. I think about my own 3 yr. old daughter and how I would explain death to her in a way that she would understand and I don’t think she would.

What I do recall about my uncle however are the times when he was vibrant and full of life. I remember how his eyes shone with happiness at the mere sight of me, or when he’d take me to the park and proudly tell everyone I was his daughter, even though he never had children of his own. He was young, handsome, and full of unrealized potential.

When someone dies we try our best to remember them, their great qualities, and how they made us feel. We try as best we can to remember the details about them like their scent or their energy as they enter a room. We try and recollect the curve of their mouth when they smile or the sound of their laughter, or the way their eyes say “I love you” when they look at you. We attempt to remember how their arms wrapped effortlessly around us or how their mere presence brought peace, happiness, and comfort. Continue Reading…

death, depression, Grief, Guest Posts

Dead Space

November 15, 2015

By Betty Jo Buro

I chew the inside of my right cheek while I loop from closet to suitcase.  Jeans on the bottom.  Pajamas next.  I’ll save the dress for last. What a relief it would be to sob and fling my clothes in a twisted heap.  To keen, like the Irish women in the novels I used to read, to work my way through an entire box of tissues, soaking them with tears and snot.  But my mother, whose funeral I’m packing for, had no appreciation for spectacle, and has passed this trait on to me.  Perhaps it’s because she had four teenage daughters at one time, and intuitively knew, that if allowed, girl drama plus high levels of hormones could combine and possibly blow the roof right off of our house.  Our upset was never rewarded with her attention, and thus suppressed. And now, when I could really use a bout of hysteria, I can’t even cry. Instead, I run my tongue over the shredded skin on the inside of my mouth.  I carefully count out the appropriate pairs of underwear, roll and tuck them into the corners, filling the dead space, the way my mother taught me to pack.  The eulogy is placed in the carry-on.  Just in case.

There are shoe issues.  Emma, my oldest, has been charged with carrying her father’s dress shoes in her luggage.  He is working in Missouri and meeting us in Boston. She has plenty of room, but resents the idea of those big shoes in with her things.  Alice, my younger daughter, disapproves of my shoe choice.  She’s scandalized, actually, by my blue Louise et Cie closed-toe sling backs with the 2 and ¾ inch heel.  They match the design in my dress perfectly, and even though they’ve had two sleepovers at the shoe repair shop to  stretch the toe-box, I love them.

“You can’t wear those shoes to a funeral,” Alice says.

“Why not?”

“You just can’t,” she says, shaking her head.  I know she’s referring to the pointy toe, the ankle strap.  She thinks they are too sexy. She throws her hands up in a gesture that says, Mothers.  They never listen, and walks away. I turn the offending footwear so they are facing in, heel to toe, and place them in my luggage.

The next day, I wrestle the girls out of slumber and into the car for the long drive to the Ft. Lauderdale airport. Twenty minutes into the ride, Emma’s voice from the back seat, “Mom, I forgot my sandals.”  She means the ones she needs to go with her dress for the service. If we go back, we will miss our flight. I keep driving.  Inside my mouth, I taste the metallic tang of blood.

***

I am three days into my new routine of waking an hour before the sun rises to meditate, pray and write, when I call someone an asshole.   I am walking my dog Misty, and we have paused at the top of our street, under the shade of a Banyan tree to greet our neighbor-friends, Karen and McDuff.  I have been up for so long the day feels solid, as established as the blacktop under my sneakers, and it’s only eight am.   The orange grove across from us and the remnants of night-blooming jasmine carry an almost sickly sweet scent through the air, already thick with heat. Continue Reading…

courage, death, Fear, Guest Posts, healing, Inspiration, Vulnerability

#MyLifeMatters

November 10, 2015

By Klyn Elsbury

A few nights ago, I was wrapped in a blanket, lying on top of an RV off of a scenic overlook in Utah staring up at a sky full of endless, scintillating stars. The air was cool and crisp, delightfully tickling my lungs as they adjusted to the altitude. A handsome man with a beautiful soul was holding my hand and pointing out Venus to the south. Together, we were dreaming about the future. Something that until Orkambi came, I had all but given up on.

I dropped out of college because I started getting hospitalized several times a year, and I believed I would never live long enough to pay off my student loan debt.

I moved to California from Florida for a career in biotech/pharmaceutical recruiting so I could be closer to the companies that were developing the very drugs that would keep me alive. That would give me hope. When I started getting hospitalized every 4 months, I made the choice to leave my corporate career and preserve my lung function via exercise, diet, and adherence to prescriptions that managed the symptoms. I tried to get in on every clinical trial for Orkambi, before it was even called Orkambi, but time and time again I was denied because my lung function was too unstable.

He squeezed my hand excitedly, “did you see that?” referring to a shooting star that emblazoned an almost pitch black night. My heart skipped a beat. I shut my eyes and made a wish that one day, someday soon, I would be on this drug. I opened my eyes to see him smiling back at me.

For the first time in a long time, I believed I would have a future again. I was the first person in clinic the day after Orkambi was approved. However, they couldn’t write a prescription because I needed to go on IV antibiotics first. My lung function was around 50%. It was my 3rd round of IVs this year alone.

Meanwhile, one of my girlfriends locally who got approved for the drug, posted on Facebook that for the first time in years, she woke up without coughing. I can’t imagine a morning where an alarm clock wakes me up instead of a violent core-shaking, gut busting cough.

“Wow!” We both said in unison at yet, another shooting star. Who is lucky enough to see two of them in one night sky? Just moments apart? Surely this means there are good things to come. Waking up without a cough became my second wish. Continue Reading…