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Grief

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.

 

Join The Manifestation Retreat: Manifesting Under The Tuscan Sun. June 17-24. 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

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…

Grief, Guest Posts, Pregnancy

I Was A Mother Waiting To Make The Call

May 8, 2017
call

By Mallory McDuff

I waited until I was three months pregnant to tell him about the baby. Then he died three days after my phone call, when my six-year old daughter shared the news of a baby sister in her future, squealing her delight in a high-pitched voice that sounded like a toddler, although she was quite pragmatic and focused for a first-grader. What drove me to call on that day rather than later in the week, when it would have been too late? And why was I devastated by his sudden death but comforted by his support of this unusual pregnancy?

“The Lord works in mysterious ways,” my mother always said, describing the twists and turns in our lives that both confound and amaze us. This phone call to my father was definitely a mystery, one of those encounters I could never have predicted, even if I’d written the script in advance.

For starters, I’d gotten pregnant while separated from my husband, separated for nearly three years, as we avoided the eventuality of the end of our marriage, much like we often waited until the last minute to do our taxes. While we waited for something to happen (a move, an affair, a sudden desire to teach English in Japan?), I got pregnant, much to my joy-filled delight. We were separated, but not separated enough, I learned to say to anyone who questioned the timeline. Hearing that quip, people stopped asking questions, which was the intended outcome. This conception came several years after we ended a second pregnancy due to a genetic disorder affecting the baby, a gut-wrenching decision made from a foundation of love in the midst of a crumbling marriage. Continue Reading…

Grief, Guest Posts

The Exploring Heart

April 30, 2017

By Debra Feiner-Coddington

Sometimes in the middle of my nights when everyone else is sleeping the beautiful things happen. In those quiet hours they always have. Nocturnal now, nocturnal forever, I pass as a day dweller because I don’t need much sleep. While everyone else breathes into their night I prowl through my house, my home, and find the simple things I miss during the hours when the sun shines and I’m too distracted to notice them. Too busy. At night when I am alone listening to the little noises: snores, the creaking of our wooden house responding to the change in the weather, I find them, little treasures waiting to be found; seen. With no distractions I become Ponce de Leon, Magellan. And my home is where I unearth discoveries.  The rippling glass of a jar holding trailmix on the counter; very old, my son Baylin unearthed it cleaning out the ramshackle mess of a storage shack. An apothecary jar. Mouth blown and hand made. The uneven glass makes me dream about whose hands made it, what they looked like, what’s been stored in it over the course of its life. What it can tell about its life before, and the stories about us it holds for the next pair of hands to fill it.

Baylin never seemed to care much about the trail mix I made for his dad who thrives on nuts and berries. But when it was time for his cross country drive to Burning Man, his last ever road trip Baylin asked, “Ma, do you mind if I take the trail mix with me?” Mind? Oh dear. Even then, when I thought he’d remain with us, when I thought we’d watch him marry and give us grandchildren, even then I was tickled that he liked my trail mix enough to want to take it on the road to feed him as he traveled. What mother complains about their children loving the food they prepare no matter how simple? Even trail mix. “Mind? No Baylin. Take it with you. I don’t mind.” Continue Reading…

Forgiveness, Grief, Guest Posts

Reframing: Making Peace With My Mother

March 3, 2017
mother

By Jill Goldberg

My mother died last month.

Seventeen years ago, after my first son was born, I broke off all contact. At any moment in time during the past seventeen years when I felt the longing for a mother, I reminded myself that I wasn’t actually missing my mother. I wasn’t missing what I once had; I was missing and wanting what I never had. And I knew that even if I’d remained and accepted the endless, degrading, shameful abuse from him, and the lack of affection and protection from her, I would still never have what I wanted. Not only would I never be safe, I would never be able to raise children who respected their mother or understood what a family should be. The cycle of violence had to be broken.

I was angry and hurt and disappointed in my mother, but I wasn’t trying to actively punish her. I just wanted out. Ever since I could remember, I’d been counting down the years until I could leave forever. But still, she was my mother. She had never been healthy, and I did want to know if she was still alive as time passed. I tried to maintain minimal contact with a few relatives who would keep me informed, but gradually I realized it was not going to work. It had to be all or nothing. Either no contact at all with any relatives, or full contact, because they didn’t know, or didn’t want to know, and couldn’t understand, the reasons behind my decision. In order to protect myself, and to protect my growing family, the choice had to be nothing instead of all. Continue Reading…

Grief, Guest Posts, healing, loss

The Season Before Winter

February 22, 2017
paperwhites

By Marika Rosenthal Delan

The world was in a state of unrest when fall came.

In my home state of Missouri, people in Ferguson were rioting and burning shit to the ground. The only thing I was burning were hours of sleep and some old notions about the way things should be. Watching the world in complete disarray already had me fighting back vomit as two pink lines appeared on the stick I had just peed on.

Forty had descended on me like a wrecking ball that summer. I was surprised to find myself embracing this milestone, but had long considered a third child out of the question. I had always joked that I wanted three. But that was before 40, before three back surgeries and endometriosis.

Before. It was before my body was breaking.  A baby was not on my radar and it showed up like a UFO.

I had been exceedingly careful with my birth control after once getting pregnant with an IUD- what are the chances? I looked it up: 0.8% in the first year of use whatever the hell that means.

I had eagerly signed consent for tubal ligation while undergoing exploratory surgery for endometriosis the previous year. But I hadn’t met the required 30-day waiting period by the day of my procedure. I woke up from anesthesia with my tubes intact.

A plan B wasn’t immediately established. It took months of discussion after which my hubby finally manned up and volunteered for a vasectomy.  This was our three-part plan: We would make an appointment right after the holiday.  He would have the procedure. Then we would go to the movies. It would be a date, I joked. Continue Reading…

Grief, Guest Posts, storytelling

The Widow Next Door

February 20, 2017
neighbor

By Shawna Kenney

We cannot live only for ourselves. A thousand fibers connect us with our fellow men.
-Herman Melville

Where I grew up in Southern Maryland, our nearest neighbors were sometimes miles away. Still, I rode my bike through the woods and drove my first car around town confident in the fact that if there were ever an emergency, help wasn’t so far away. Neighbors kept an eye on us kids when my mom went back to work and my dad was away on duty with the Navy. They towed my prom date’s car out of the ditch while he and I stood by, helpless in our 80s couture. They also snitched on my sister and I when we were in high school and threw a big party while my parents were out of town. Since my dad’s death a few years ago, neighbors still plow my mother’s driveway after every snowstorm, unasked. When I later moved to Queens, NY in my twenties, the grey-haired woman next door welcomed me with kugel. In grad school in North Carolina, we shared blueberries with our neighbors’ granddaughter and he would periodically cut back our weeds when he was out chopping his own.

Now I live in Los Angeles, where I’ve left apartments due to bad neighbors—3 a.m. high-heeled stompers, incessant complainers, violent rage-aholics… but even in a city as vast as this, where things get downright Darwinian when it comes to parking spaces or freeway merging, I have mostly lived next to nice people. It’s good to know the mailman and it makes me happy to find familiar faces in a county of 10 million. Deep in my psyche, Sesame Street always looms as the ideal. Continue Reading…

Grief, Guest Posts

Cake and The Sweet Sadness of Death Anniversaries

January 31, 2017
cake

By Carina Ost

My teenage self loved cake so much that, in the middle of 8th grade, when the opportunity arose to teach a Core class on any skill, Christina, my friend and neighbor, and I chose cake decorating. We had no experience beyond the one from a can applied with a rubber spatula, but that world of pastry tips and bags seemed so glamorous.

On this particular day, the last day of the first month of the new millennium, January 31st, 2000, my mom stayed home from work. She kept saying that she just felt off. After school, Christina and I worked on our cake project that was to be presented the following day. I was used to having the house to myself but now my mom was there and so were a handful of her friends, so we retreated to my room to work. Lying on the carpeted floor, we glued pictures of cake with printed out instructions onto a giant tri-fold poster board with fragrant markers spelling out Cake Decorating on top in pink bubble letters. Continue Reading…