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Grief

Grief, Guest Posts, Young Voices

I Am A Thief

December 8, 2017

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 Gabriella Geisinger

I am a thief.

At age fourteen I began shoplifting. It was part of my teenage rebellion. A ring here, a bracelet there; a tube of mascara or lipstick would find their way stealthily into my pockets as I sauntered, impervious, past cash registers. I only acquired items that were small enough to conceal in the palm of my hand. By age eighteen the habit had waned. My first year at college provided whatever psychological freedom I required to keep the mild kleptomania at bay – for the most part.

With adolescent abandon, my freshman year passed uneventfully by. August soon became May and I packed up several suitcases, shoving them into our Pampolna’d bull of a car – a black minivan with a nasty habit of spewing maple syrup scented steam when it over heated – and returned to New York City for my first summer at home in three years. Continue Reading…

Dear Life., Grief, Guest Posts

Dear Life: Friends Disappeared After My Wife Died

November 8, 2017

Welcome to Dear Life: An Unconventional Advice Column.  Different writers offer their input on ways to navigate through life’s messiness. We are all about “making messy okay.” Today’s letter is answered by Kimberly Maier.

Please note: The opinions or views offered by columnists are not intended to treat or diagnose; nor are they meant to replace the treatment and care that you may be receiving from a licensed physician or mental health professional. Columnists acting on behalf of Dear Life are not responsible for the outcome or results of following their advice in any given situation.

~~~~~~

Dear Life,

On 4 October 2014 the lights went out, the house suddenly became cold and someone switched the volume down. It remains as such today. The change is as shocking as it was dramatic. Yes everyone who could came to the funeral and they all spoke kind words and promised to come a see me and Rhiannon and help us through this dark period.

A week after the funeral and no one appeared at the door and no one phoned or even text but I put it this down to people maybe just getting over the shock and thinking that we might somehow want to be alone for a little while. Another week passed and more of the same. The nights were getting longer, darker and colder and the silence in the house was deafening. Rhiannon spent most of the time in her room and I sat downstairs looking sadly at photos and video footage of our last 25 years together. I really needed a visit from a neighbor or a friend at this point as I was becoming very low. Rhiannon found solitude on her Facebook Account and chatted to her friends that way but none of then came round to break the silence in the house that a few weeks before had been alive with light and laughter.

When I ventured out to the local shops I hoped to see some friendly faces but to my amazement people I knew did all that they could to avoid me including crossing the road and ducking into different isles in the shops. Continue Reading…

Grief, Guest Posts, healing, The Aleksander Fund

To My Sweet Baby Girl, After Her Death.

October 31, 2017

 

By Dannielle Gallagher

CW: This post discusses infant death. To learn more about The Aleksander Fund or to donate please click here.

To my Sweet Baby Girl, Poppy:

The minute I discovered I was pregnant I knew you were girl, just like I knew we would be the best of friends – that is after you outgrew some of that fire you inherited from your Daddy. I knew I loved you more than I ever thought possible, all before you were the size of a pea. I knew that you would grow to be brave and strong and determined. I knew that you would grow to also “know” things in that same deep down way that I sometimes do. I felt that about us, that we belonged to each other, right from the very start.

 

What I didn’t know, was as you grew inside my belly (and my heart) you were sick. You see as you were growing, your tiny heart didn’t form quite right. There was a little valve inside it that wouldn’t close, so as you grew from a tiny seed into our beautiful little Poppy, your heart became too large to fit into your chest, it expanded to squash the organs that would make it possible for you to ever take a breath. Your official diagnosis took up most of a page, it started with your heart, compounded with a series of devastating complications, and ended with three serious looking specialists in an ultrasound room, telling us that your condition was “not compatible with life.” Those words will haunt me, always. The moment I learned that I wouldn’t get to watch you grow into the extraordinary woman I dreamed of, was excruciating. It was also only just the beginning of my heartache. Your diagnosis also came with a recommendation of medical termination.

I won’t say I didn’t have a choice, because I did, but ultimately every option I was presented with still ended in your death. So I picked the option that sucked the least, the one that I thought I could best live with. I made the decision to love you enough to let you go in peace, surrounded by those who love you most in this world. It wasn’t a choice I wanted to make, but I made it, because sometimes being a Mother means doing what is best for your child, even though it breaks your heart to do it. I want you to know that If I could have chosen to have you live a healthy and full life, I would have given everything to give you that. Its devastating to know that even with all of the medical miracles we have in this day and age, there wasn’t a miracle big enough to save you.

Continue Reading…

Grief, Guest Posts

To Mom with Dementia

October 22, 2017
dementia

By Caroline Leavitt

You are alive but not alive. You, who used to try to know every single detail about me as if it were your own, don’t know who I am anymore. “Who?” you say. I try to get you to remember something, anything we can hang our relationship on. A song about a turkey sitting on a limb that you used to sing to me, but you don’t remember. “What turkey?” you say. “What song?” I ask about your boyfriend Walter. “Who?” you say.

“Tell me something,” I say desperately. You do. You tell me that you are going to take a streetcar and go home, that you have gone to a restaurant and gotten lunch for yourself, chicken and pie, that you are going to see your sister Teddy. I know streetcar is an old term and anyway, you never leave your room. I know that Teddy, your sister, has been dead for years.

You can’t hear me on the phone anymore. “What?” you say. And then, “Who is this?” The last time I came to visit you told me to leave after half an hour because my presence agitated you. I cried in the car and Jeff, my husband, took us out to dinner.

Oh, Mom.

The only way I can tell you what I need to is through writing now, to imagine how you might respond, how we might work our relationship out.

First, I want to talk to you about all the things you did for me because I want you to know, again and again, how I appreciated it, how I knew you did things that some other moms might not have. I want to talk about how when I was in second grade and I failed a test where all the questions were about Jesus and Mary, and you marched up to the principal and demanded they retract the F I received because I was Jewish and who gives a Jewish child a test about Christianity? You demanded an apology, too, which I got from my teacher, though after that, she never quite liked me again. I want to mention how in junior high when I was denied entrance into the National Junior Honor society, because I was Jewish, you went to the school board and fought for me, and even though they refused to give in, I felt your fierce love. We went shopping and then to eat and then to the movies and then for hot fudge sundaes and we laughed. Oh, how we laughed! I want to remember with you, how when my fiance died, you flew up from Boston at three in the morning. You sprawled on the bed with me and held me while I cried. There was the time, too, when I was critically ill, and you came to stay with us for over two months to help us.

You loved me. I know that. Maybe too much, because you didn’t like when I went off on my own. You didn’t approve of my choices. You hated that I moved to New York City. You despised my wild hair and how I dressed. (“You like that?” you’d say, your eyes gliding up and down my body.) You hated my boyfriends, except for my first husband. “If I were fifteen years younger, I’d take him away from you,” you told me, which stung. You were proud that I was a writer, yet you walked into the bookstore for my reading loudly announcing that no one would show up. Once, when I got a bad review, you went into a bookstore with that review in your hand and asked them if they would stock my book despite this terrible, terrible write-up.

It wasn’t until I was an adult with a husband and a son that I really got to know who you were, and I came to understand you, to feel a deep well of compassion. You were one of 8 kids, the runt of the litter. You grew up with a mother who didn’t really like you or try to understand you, who preferred your shining twin brother. You had buckteeth that your parents wouldn’t fix (You, at twenty, found a kind dentist who let you pay a little every month.). Your fiancé ditched you and you carried a torch for him forever, and you married my father on the rebound, a nasty brute who would punish you with silence, sometimes for weeks. It was the 1950s and you couldn’t divorce, not with two little girls. When I was seventeen, when I decided I couldn’t stand another silent vacation with you and my dad, I ran away from our cottage, and before I did, you shouted at my dad that if I didn’t come back, you would divorce him. He found me, hitching at the side of the road, and because he was crying, something I had never seen before, I came back. As soon as I came into the cottage, I saw your face, how you were packing. I saw you were disappointed, that I had ruined your chance at escape.

I wanted you to change. I begged you. But it wasn’t me who changed you. It was my dad dying. Your life opened up. You traveled! You seemed happy. You and my sister were close as sardines, which made you so, so happy, but I had my own life, and I know that hurt you because you told me so. I was so happy when you fell in love at 90! So happy that you had four years of bliss with Walter, and that when he fell and died, you already started dementia and never knew your one true love was gone, that even today, you are sure you still see him.  You made me realize there is always another chance.

Except for us.

I can’t yell at you for being so cruel sometimes and get you to understand. I can’t thank you for being so loving and make you feel good. We can’t come to any understanding about anything.  Not now.

I write about you. You were Bea in my first novel, Meeting Rozzy Halfway, the woman whose fiancé jilts her. You were Ava in Is This Tomorrow, the Jewish woman in a Christian neighborhood who fights back. And most wonderfully, you were Iris, in Cruel Beautiful World, the woman who falls in love in old age. You never recognized yourself in any of my novels, even after I told you. “That’s not me!” you said.

I know, at least some part of me knows that even if you didn’t have dementia, you probably would not hear this. You’d tell me what you always did, that I am selfish. That I am too independent for my own good, that we’ve always had this problem with me. That you were a much better mother than I ever was a daughter. And as always, I’d be silenced by you. I would know if I said one thing in my defense, you would shut me down again.

But I watch you vanishing. From me. From my sister. From yourself. I feel the tears and the rage boiling inside of me.  I remember when my dad died, I slept beside you and you woke in the night, holding me, crying, “I want him back!” even though you hated him.

Sometimes I hated you. I can admit that. But mostly I loved you. I really really loved you.

And I want you back.

Caroline Leavitt is the New York Times Bestselling author of Pictures of You, Is This Tomorrow, and Cruel Beautiful World, as well as 8 other novels. She hopes there is a cure for dementia because love is fair and dementia is not.

 

Donate to the Aleksander Fund today. Click the photo read about Julia, who lost her baby, and what the fund is.

 

 

Grief, Guest Posts

Hang On Little Girl

October 20, 2017
girl

CW: This essay discusses suicide. If you or someone you know needs immediate help, please call 911. You can also call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at: 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or contact the Crisis Text Line by texting CONNECT to 74174. The world need you.

By Sara Bartosiewicz-Hamilton

Wouch…a cross between whoa and ouch.

 

I obviously don’t do this task often enough…but, as the queen of spreadsheets to keep myself organized, I’ve been working through some work that’s been patiently waiting. I’ve been working in the spreadsheet for almost an hour. My eyes just caught a glimpse…the last time I was in this spreadsheet: 8/29/16.

 

Whoa…almost a year ago…holy shit…quite literally, a week before my whole world would cave in…wouch…

 

I tried to remember what I would have been doing at that point last year…I stopped. Why relive the painful summer we had? To most people, the day they found out you killed yourself is the day of trauma for them. For us, it had been building up to your grand finale for a couple years – no one wants to acknowledge that…it’s easier to just embrace one single day of trauma and pretend we hadn’t been living in hell long before.

  Continue Reading…

Grief, Guest Posts

Practising Grief

September 11, 2017
dementia

By Julie Butler

I’ve braced for my father’s death my whole life.

Dad was two decades older than my friends’ fathers. As soon as I could understand mortality and average life expectancy, I counted down the years and milestones I might have left to share with him. I became a child who practised grief.

As a teenager, I snooped through the folds of his wallet to find the neat, white envelope where he kept his nitroglycerin, as though keeping a secret inventory confirming that he had slipped a tiny tablet under his tongue might protect me from shock if his heart gave out. That was the threat in all my worried forecasts; a sudden, massive, lethal myocardial infarction.

There were times I believed I’d arrived at that eventuality, bursting through the backdoor, my bare feet descending two porch steps at a time. I anticipated the snip of pruning shears that would prove to be too much exertion. Yet, Dad’s heart defied my worry. So focused on what may come suddenly, I did not consider that death may slowly claim him, and in minute pieces. There was no rehearsal for dementia. Continue Reading…

Grief, Guest Posts

The Sacred Silence of Visiting the Dying

August 23, 2017
hospice

By Larry Patten

Before meeting my new patient, I admired her Ford Mustang. The snazzy red convertible was parked on the street, by her brother’s driveway.

The license plate frame declared: Fly Away!

While unsure if it was her car on that first visit, the frame’s message represented a solid clue. I knew she was a forty-something flight attendant.

This was years ago when I worked as a hospice chaplain and spent considerable time driving to see my patients. Most of them resided in their home or with a family member. I probably visited the red Mustang’s owner on a half-dozen occasions. From our first awkward handshake to the final moments beside her hospital bed in her brother’s living room, our patient-chaplain relationship deepened. She learned to trust me. I certainly learned from her as she continued living and loving while cancer wrecked her body. Even at my last visit, her short gray-blonde hair was stylish. Her make-up, aided by her sister-in-law, was impeccable.

The red Mustang’s owner never spoke a word to me.

The cancer, seemingly everywhere by the end, had started in her throat. Long before entering hospice, she’d lost the ability to speak.

***

Nowadays, I spend hours at a different hospice on the phone. According to my lengthy title, I’m a Bereavement Support Specialist, involved in what other staff and volunteers in other hospices do: contacting family and friends after a loved one’s death. Part of a hospice’s mandated requirement is to support the grieving.

I make a bunch of calls every week.

When someone answers, I try to gauge how she or he is doing and make sure they know about our additional resources for grief support. On the phone, long minutes pass with me only muttering, “I see” or “Really.” I want them to know I’m paying attention, but don’t want to interrupt their stories, questions, or worries. Most calls are brief. A few of the hundreds of calls made every month cause me to feel that what I shared, or how I listened, helped someone find a smidgen of hope in their day.

Long ago, my parents said I had “the gift of gab.” By background I am a pastor and spent years preaching, striving to capture people’s attention for at least a portion of a twenty-minute sermon. In the churches I served, there was also endless phoning: cajoling folks to serve on committees, work with the youth, or teach Sunday school. So many phone calls, so many opportunities!

Though no longer preaching, I’m still talking.

I press the numbers on a phone and reach out to another wounded, fragile person. After asking if this is a good time for a chat, I fulfill the Medicare guidelines to comfort the grieving.

***

The red Mustang’s owner never said a word.

Our first encounter was awkward with a capital A. I was a stranger, the guy from hospice. I babbled. I struggled to find questions that allowed her to shake her head “No” or nod a “Yes.” Her doting brother, who’d convinced her to move in with his family when the disease made living alone impossible, hovered in the background. He didn’t want some fool of a chaplain to upset her. This was his little sister and only sibling. Her dying would crush him.

With each visit, I babbled less and posed easier questions.

We prayed.

We held hands.

We made lots of eye contact. There were stretches of silence. Initially, it felt uncomfortable. Eventually, the silence felt sacred.

She had a million dollar smile. She forgave my mistakes and fumbling questions. She never saw my tears . . . though after leaving, passing by her red convertible as it gathered more dust every week, I would weep.

She died less than two months after our first visit. Her brother buried her ashes in a cemetery with a view of the Pacific. “She loved the ocean more than flying,” he once said to me.

***

Professionally, I understand the value of words. Even a simple Uh-huh contains the power to gently remind a person that I am still listening to her or him.

But I also know silence’s power: touch, eye contact, shared smiles.

Some dread spending time with a loved one who is dying or grieving because they don’t know what to say. So I say, say nothing.

Enter the room. Enter into their day and let them know by a caress, a nod, a grin, or a tear, that you are there.

And so are they.

Larry Patten is a writer, a United Methodist minister and currently serves as a Bereavement Support Specialist at a hospice in Fresno, California. Larry has participated in the Squaw Valley Community of Writers, and is published locally in The Fresno Bee) as well as in national magazines like Spirituality and Health and The Christian Century. He can be found online at www.larrypatten.com (musings about faith) and www.hospice-matters.com (thoughts on dying, death, and grief).

Join The Manifestation Retreat: Manifesting Under The Tuscan Sun. Sep 30-October 7, 2017.. Email retreats@jenniferpastiloff.com or click the picture above.

 

 

Join Jen Pastiloff at her signature workshop in Atlanta at Form Yoga on Aug 26 by clicking the picture.

 

Donate to the Aleksander Fund today. Click the photo read about Julia, who lost her baby, and what the fund is.

Grief, Guest Posts

Instructions

July 24, 2017
wait

By Meg Weber

I. Before

Wait for the elevator to open, the green one in the lobby of the hospital where she gave birth to you. Wait for the doors to close, buttons to light up, the soft rise of the lift and the faint ding of arrival. On the sixth floor, walk the sterile hallway to the same room she was in last time. Brace yourself to see her, frail and exhausted, curled up in her hospital bed.

Wait for her eyes to peek open just long enough to notice you before she returns to fitful sleep. Feel your veins pulse with more emotion than you want to swim through. Wait for her to wake up again or for the shift change. Wait until you can’t bear to wait anymore.

Turn your attention to the view: forested hills to the north, evergreens for miles. Watch cumulous clouds drift across the bluest blue sky. Notice contrast and light. Feel hope and despair. Take photos of the clouds to add to this week’s study of darkness and light strewn across the spring skies of Portland.

Send a photo of the slightest wisp of a cloud to the person who carries you through your grief. Tell her it reminds you of your last time together. Wait for her text reply. Hope that this one won’t be swallowed in the ether but will arrive like an arrow of compassion sent directly to your heart. Continue Reading…

Grief, Guest Posts, Letting Go

The Seven Stages of Alone

July 23, 2017
alone

By Jenna Tico

Like most roads to hell, it is paved with vision boards. Watered with four-dollar wine, and the metaphorical blood of the men who have “wronged you.” There is at least one volume of sad poetry; probably bought on impulse while waiting in line at the bookstore, impossibly dense text in one hand (“I’ll finally have time to read Kafka!”) and a cheap spiral notebook in the other. Later, you will label this your “INTENTION JOURNAL,” and stare at it each night before going to bed; with every intention of cataloging your intentions, but instead, watching four hours of Lifetime original movies. Which like most roads to hell, are paved with vision boards.

Stage One: Shock

It’s a Nicholas Sparks world, and we’re all just buying tampons in it; and at some point, you probably meant to be here. You probably caught a movie (or twelve) that taught you that, to live the life of your dreams, you must have one of two things:

  1. an easily accessible window, should John Cusack arrive with a boombox, or
  2. a self-induced period of solitude in your twenties; preferably in a rent-controlled apartment; preferably one with exposed brick.

And at some point, the sea of boyfriends inevitably parts; in its place, their echoey chorus of “I’m just not ready” and the expanse of that which you always thought you thought you wanted: Alone. With no end in sight. A space that, while sanctioned by sitcom, remains exhaustingly absent from the cultural consensus on womanhood. Everyone tells you to spend time alone. No one seems to understand, nor believe, that you are.  That the beast of your life leading up to this point, every dream you had for the people you’d loved, has sunk its teeth into your apartment. Noticeably absent of exposed brick. Likely missing several essential qualities, such as street parking, and glue. Continue Reading…

Grief, Guest Posts, healing

Over and Over

July 5, 2017
fishing

By Jessica Knuth

There is an unexpected sense of loneliness in watching the dead body of someone you love being taken away from your home. Alone in the back of a car. Zipped up inside a body bag. Driving away into resounding blackness.

Somehow, in your delirium, through the tears and snot, through the sharp pains in your chest and loved ones touching your shoulders, your hair, somehow you manage to walk down the hallway where your Dad should be sleeping, where he has slept your entire life, and you look inside his bedroom, though you know you shouldn’t. The bed is unmade, sheets jumbled and repositioned in haste. There is a stain on the bed and you can’t tell if it’s blood, or urine, or vomit. Otherwise, the room is the same as it was two hours earlier when he was still alive. When his lungs still worked. His heart, his brain, however limited. Before he went from present tense to past tense. Animate to inanimate. Living to dead. Continue Reading…

Grief, Guest Posts

Beach Town Liberalism, And An Answer For My Deceased Dad

June 18, 2017
dad

By Deidre Reed

It’s Father’s Day, the first one since my dad passed six months ago. Tomorrow is my birthday.  We’re in church, my mom and me.

I lit a candle for my dad, but by the time we got to the last row where my mom’s wheelchair fits, it had blown out. Being full of magical thinking and even more full of guilt, I spent a good while staring it down, willing it to spontaneously light up again.  Certain the dud wick meant that my dad was still pissed at me from The Big Upstairs.  Maybe I’m still a little pissed at him, too.

Halfway through the sermon, the family to our right – all five of them – doubled over with the giggles. That has to be one of the greatest feelings ever, when you get the giggles in church and just. cannot. stop. I nudged my mom and whispered that it reminded me of that Christmas Eve service, remember?  Where we’d sat behind that lady with one roller left in her hair, right smack in the back of her head? We’d taken turns pretending to pluck it out in slow-motion while stifling snorts.

If you’ve ever known someone with dementia, you know that weird things can set off barking laughter, and that did it.  But when my mom laughs now, it turns into something that sounds like she’s wailing and choking and possibly dying.  It echoes, people sometimes shift and look away. Continue Reading…

Grief, Guest Posts

The Chair

June 11, 2017
chair

By Kirsten Larson

Three days before my mother started to talk to angels, the hospice nurse suggested I get her a recliner. Over the phone, the hospice nurse explained to me that my mother could no longer both lie down and breathe.

That day, instead of eating lunch, I went to The Chair Store, with its unironic name. The sign read “We have over 100,000 chairs in stock.” A store like that would normally repel me.

Inside, a skinny young salesman who wore a thin, short-sleeved, button-down shirt and a sideways smile walked toward me like we had all the time in the world. I waited by the entrance and tried to take in a breath past my throat.

When he got to me he reached his hand out, looked at me, and then pulled it back. “Welcome to The Chair Store. I’m here to help you find what you are looking…”

“I know what I’m looking for,” I said.

I wanted a nice chair for my mom, a chair she would like—a chair that matched the old lady furniture she had left, a blue couch that she loved, and her antique dark wooden side tables. I wanted a chair she could get up and out of easily for when her friends came to visit—something quality, because she deserved every fucking break she could get. That’s what I wanted to say to the salesman, but stress and illness and grief had a way of pounding the nice out of me.

“I’m looking for is a chair for my mother to die in. A recliner. Which way?” I pointed my hand left, then right. The sales clerk’s arms fell to his sides, his mouth dropped open to an O. I felt better.

In the recliner section I sat hard on each chair and kicked the legs out, one after another, until I found the right one. The salesman stayed quiet. Maybe they had over 100,000 chairs in stock, but they had only one that was both soft enough to prevent bedsores on her thin skin and easy enough to get in and out of. And it was ugly—an overstuffed, maroon, synthetic cloth recliner chair that I knew she’d hate. I hated it myself.

I told the salesman that I needed it delivered that day, no matter the cost. I told him if he couldn’t do it, I would send one of my own employees to pick it up. I handed him my credit card and took a call on my cell phone about a work issue while he rang up the purchase. That’s the kind of person I had become.

Usually, I spent the lunch hour with my mom. That day I had called her and explained that I wouldn’t visit until after work because I was going shopping at lunch to “get her a nice chair.” I told her I thought she would like it. I hated myself for saying “nice chair.” I spoke to her like I was talking with a child. She was sixty-five.

To be honest, I was really trying to manipulate her into showing appreciation for the new chair, which I was buying so she could die as comfortably as possible. We never talked openly about her dying. We barely spoke an honest word to each other about her impending death for the entire two years of her illness. We talked around it using our age-old trope, the to-do list.

I loved a to-do list. It made me feel like I was in control, like I could make a difference in the outcome of her illness by being busy. But everything I did for my mother back then took something away from her. The recliner chair was no exception.

While I dealt with getting rid of property, moving her to Oregon, creditors, doctors, prescriptions, medical appointments, medical emergencies, hospice, cremation arrangements, and the like, she continued to act like she would live forever. I let her, something that made me feel more alone than I thought possible.

Over the phone I heard her breathing like an electric teakettle always on boil, “Do you think you could call Dr. Cain and find out if she could put me on that first chemo drug, the one that worked so well?” I heard her roiling breath while I thought up a lie. The familiar churning of pity, anxiety, fear, and sadness made my stomach clench and my fingertips tingle.

“I can do that mom, sure.” But she’d been past any treatment for months.

I was such a fraud.

I didn’t know at the time, but the chair was the last thing I would cross off my to-do list. The only other thing left was to write the obituary. She’d asked me to help with the obituary, but then she started holding conversations, lively and pleasant, with invisible people. “Angels,” the too pleasant hospice worker said. I was angry. Angry that my mother, after all I’d done for her, a woman who’d pouted and argued when she talked with me, was talking so reasonably to “angels.” I was angry that the demented hospice nurse dismissed one of the most profound and disturbing things I’d ever seen with that one word—angels.

+++

The next morning, when the chair arrived, my mother barely registered it. She turned her bald head, her sadder-than-sad face, toward the window.

But she used it.

A day or so later my mother only got out of the chair to take a wheelchair to the bathroom. She worked all of the controls easily and napped often. I felt good about the chair purchase then, despite its appearance.

She spent the last ten days of her life in that chair while I sat across from her on the blue sofa.

On one of those days we had a difficult conversation. She flicked the oxygen tube in front of her with her once elegant hands, then swollen like baseball gloves. “I have something I want to say,” she said.

“What?” I sounded five years old.

“You have become a cold, hard person,” she said. It was true, but it hurt. Stoicism was always my defense against overwhelming emotion. What I really wanted was my mother’s comfort, not her judgment, but I couldn’t ask for it.

My mother, too, was asking me for something, in her familiar roundabout way.

I struggled against the tight pain that clenched my chest. She was the one who had taught me about the uselessness of self-pity. The warm protection of my anger held back the sorrow that I could not bear.

I looked down at my own hands, still young and unlined. “Well, who is the one taking care of you?” I asked.

My hands looked like her hands, strong, but with slender finders. Her hands rested on her swollen abdomen, just five feet from me. The hands that had cleaned and fed me, slapped me, loved me, hands that held cigarettes and too many glasses of scotch. Hands that had cradled her grandson, still slick out of my body. Hands that, for the last two years, had appreciatively dug into what I cooked, helped clean my home while I worked, held tissues to her nose when we argued.

Well, I wanted more arguments. Some perceived or real slights. I wanted it back, that daily shit that falls away when someone is actively dying and all of the love is left out in the open without the protection of irritation. Painful love. Love that was too much for me to have and too much to lose.

For the two years I cared for her, she also cared for me; she took my side on every argument between me and my husband or my son, listened with interest to anything I wanted to talk about, called me several times a day, “Hi honey, it’s Mom.”

If I could write her a perfect ending, she would have had a different daughter, an angel. Someone endlessly patient to deal with her bullshit, someone cheerful, someone who drank less. A daughter who wasn’t rude to chair salesmen and hospice workers. Someone who didn’t flip off slow drivers. Not someone like me. Me, who called the hospice chaplain and asked him to help my mom find peace—I even tried to find someone to fix my mother’s spiritual peace of mind.

If I could rewrite the ending, I would have made her scream and hit and cry. But she sat still in that ugly chair, and I sat on her blue sofa, both in our tense silence, terrified of what sat between us, unspoken, the enormity of the loss.

+++

Even if it were possible to rewrite the ending, there was one thing that happened that I wouldn’t change. Two days before she died, right after the angels came, after we wrote her obituary, she was in the chair, fingernails like chips of bark, pole pine sticks for legs.

Her face was turned away from me, the soft curve of her cheek, my first, hard love. My stomach was in a barber pole twist, my heart a discordant bass drum. There was nothing left but to wait for her to die. Anguish pushed up through my chest.

Her face turned to me and I saw pain. The liquid morphine was beside her, but I didn’t move for it just then because I saw her chin relax into a small smile, her head fell slightly and her eyes went soft on me. Like my own eyes soften on my son, the wonder and beauty of him. My son whom I love more than I thought it possible to love.

I saw that she loved me like that. I didn’t look away.

I slid down to my knees, put both palms in front of me and crawled over to my mother in the chair I bought for her to die in.

I laid my head in her lap. Under my head her body was still and firm. The same lap it had been when I was a child and had trouble sleeping or had an earache. The place where I learned to love stories and songs, my oldest sacred space.

I laid my head in her lap, cried from somewhere down in the animal of me, up through my screwed up face. “I love you so much, Mom. I’m so sorry this happened to you. I’m just so fucking sorry I can’t help you, this is so unfair,” I yelled, choked on snot and coughed hard between words, words that had cost me so much to hold in. My body was cold to the core with fear and wonder.

“I am going to miss you so much.” My knees shook on the stiff carpet, my chest pressed against the soft arm of the chair. I said these things over and over. Her body, my confessional.

Her hand, falling leaf delicate, quieted my head to her stomach. My mom, soft and slow, touched my head, ran her hands down to the ends of my hair. I let my dying mother comfort me. That time I didn’t pull away first. I knelt like that, into the side of the chair, until my knees stopped hurting and went numb, until her cotton skirt had soaked up my tears and dried.

“I feel like I’ve been a good mother these last two years,” was all she said.

I didn’t pay much attention to those words at the time, but years later when, on an ordinary day, they popped into my head, I understood what she meant. When I took care of her those last two years, I let her into my life. I just let her be my mother. It was the best thing I’d done.

+++

Three in the morning on the day she died, my mother lay in the chair breathing what they call the death rattle. It was just us in the room. I slipped dose after dose of liquid morphine and Ativan under her wooden tongue until her hand stop struggling in mine, and her breathing slowed way down. I told her over and over how much I loved her, soft and calm.

Soon my family arrived along with some of the hospice people I’d pissed off over the last months. We surrounded her in her chair.

My brother sat on one side and I sat on the other. My knees were pressed into the chair’s soft side. We were holding her hands when, comfortable in the chair I bought for her, she died.

For a few hours afterwards we stayed in the room with her still sitting in the chair. Eventually I called the crematorium. They came with a stretcher and, using care, moved her body from the chair onto a stretcher.

One of them remarked that she wore an adult diaper to protect the chair. We may not have talked about her dying, but she planned far enough to preserve the resale value of the chair, something in line with her practical, Midwestern values.

When she died, we divided her belongings as she’d instructed, but no one wanted the chair.  I could not bring myself to bring it into our home, instead put it in the garage where I’d look at it only when I went to and from work. The loss of my mother, while expected, was so very shocking that all I had of her was the absence of her. The chair seemed to have the outline of her body in it.

Sometime later, when I was ready, I put an ad in Craigslist. The chair sold that day.

Kirsten Larson lives in Portland, Oregon. She earned an MFA from Antioch University Los Angeles. Links to her published essays and stories can be found at kellenlarson.com.

 

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Grief, Guest Posts

Ghosts And The Perfect Puddle Dive

June 4, 2017

By Debra Feiner-Coddington

Inspired by Edna St Vincent Milay’s, What lips my lips have kissed, and where, and why (Sonnet XLIII) 

“… but the rain
Is full of ghosts tonight, that tap and sigh
Upon the glass and listen for reply,
And in my heart there stirs a quiet pain…”

Part I – My World is Full of Ghosts Tonight…

Our house is getting a new room. Built to make our lives easier, it will stand in front of the old glass double doors dented and scratched by 30 years of assorted cats and dogs.  A portico is what I thought it was called but recently learned it is a vestibule – if one cared about accuracy in names – because it will be enclosed when it’s completed.  A portico would be open sided.  Built to collect pebbles and mud from our boots before we enter our house. Built to hold the mess scattered through our lives and our kitchen: shoes, coats, hats, containers overly full of recycling.  Built to make our lives easier, our home is getting a new room.

Made of wide glass panels, its roof is open and light.  Lovely. My husband built it from galvanized steel sheet he carefully measured, cut, laid and folded to fit glass inlaid with chicken wire, like the glass protecting hallways in the little apartment house in the Bronx where I grew up. The first project he’s done for himself in 25 years, he stands under it looking up through the wired-glass at the threatening clouds. Under the safety of his new roof, arms folded across his chest he surveys his work and radiates satisfaction. His chest rumbles, “Hooommmmme.” It is his home. The home he opened to me so generously when we met 40 years ago. The home that grew our business, our children, our lives. Continue Reading…

Grief, Guest Posts

I Didn’t Want to Exist Today

May 14, 2017
chest

By Sarah Dwyer

I didn’t want to exist today. It’s not that I wanted to hurt myself or remove myself from the Earth forever. I just didn’t want to exist—just for today.

I got up to get ready for work, took a shower, and forced myself to blow dry my hair while tears dripped down my red, blotchy, scrunched up face and tightness pulled across my chest. I had this infuriating desire to do a handstand into a somersault—or to burst every inch of bone, muscle, and organ out of my skin. I didn’t just want my insides to escape my body, I wanted to be the one to initiate the explosion, to be in control of the process–to  push the button. 3, 2, 1…be free.

At that moment, I was (and I still am) physically incapable of both doing a handstand into a somersault and exploding, so, naked and sobbing, I climbed back into my bed, pulled my tangled sheets up to cover myself haphazardly, and lay there on my back with the sun shining brightly through the shade and curtain in my window. Continue Reading…