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loss

Guest Posts, Letting Go, loss

Proof of Loss.

January 12, 2015

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beauty-hunting-jen-logo-black1-300x88By Sara Marchant.

When my husband comes home he walks right by the cradle in the laundry room, still drying from its hard scrubbing. His excitement makes him more unobservant than usual. He has news for me. He rushes in, past where I stand at the kitchen counter, already exclaiming before he sees what I am doing.

“The owners took me aside and gave me a raise. It’s supposed to be secret because I’m the only one. At their last meeting they discovered I’m responsible for 60% of the revenue and decided they should keep me happy.” His hands are on his hips. He is containing his exuberance.

“That’s great,” I say, genuinely happy but intent upon my task. “It’s about time.”

“Yeah,” he agrees and then looks up, I assume, for he goes very quiet. I am not looking directly at him, having turned back to my task on the counter. I sneak peeks at him from the corner of my eye as his silence continues. He is standing next to the dining room table he has appropriated for his ‘office.’ He has dropped his wallet, keys, and hat on the table, but stands staring at me. Continue Reading…

death, Grief, Guest Posts, loss, Miscarriage

Finding My Vocabulary.

January 10, 2015

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By Carly Williams.

I’ve learned a new vocabulary.

Dead. Death. Dead baby. Stillbirth. Stillborn. Neonatal death. Miscarriage. Bereaved.

At times I surprise myself at the ease with which death rolls off my tongue.

This fresh plethora of words flows easily from my unsilenced lips, slips calmly from my soured mouth.

For some, my emerging voice rings discordant. I wear, for all to see, the dark grief of random loss. Who wants to look at me, when my son’s death reflects the frailty of all life? Who wants to hear a language they don’t ever want to learn?

Language spirals uselessly around the death of a child or baby. I watch as the eyes of observers dart around, in search of an alternative to my truth. There is no alternative.

My vocabulary is the truth, my truth. Continue Reading…

Guest Posts, loss, motherhood, Pregnancy

Safekeeping.

December 31, 2014

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By Rachel Blumenfeld.

She asks me if I want her to take it back.  “No,” I say, in the way that means no but that also means that it’s slowly killing me, that sweater, hanging in my closet.  I can feel it even when the door’s closed, even when it blends in perfectly with all the other neutrals.  It doesn’t matter if I buy colors; I wear the same grays and browns I already owned.

“I might still need it,” I say, and I feel that now I’m making this a talisman.  Or a curse.  If I keep it, it means I will get to use it, right?  Or am I being too hopeful, and the fact that I have this sweater waiting for me will somehow prolong my wait to use it?  Is it like women’s favorite pants from high school that they keep in their closet, even after three kids and fifty pounds, swearing one day they will fit back into them?  How long until a sign of hope turns into a sign of pitifulness?

My friend, my loving, compassionate friend, asks me how best to support me.  She asks if it would be best not to talk about her situation for a while.  She makes sure to ask me every day how I’m feeling, and while I know that she truly does want to know, and does want me to be okay, deep down she’s thankful that this isn’t her.  She’s happy that the baby in her womb is still alive, that hers isn’t the one who died.

There were three of us, friends pregnant at the same time.  Due November 9, November 12, and November 20th.  Since about 30 percent of pregnancies end up miscarrying, it was statistically bound to happen to one of us, and it’s not that I’d wish this on either of my friends, but I know they both must be glad, to some extent, that it’s me who was chosen.

More than likely, the miscarriage was caused by a chromosomal abnormality, the culprit in up to 70 percent of prenatal losses.  In Annie Dillard’s For the Time Being, she writes that there are 8.4 million ways for two people’s DNA to combine.  I imagine the two strands of DNA dancing, the nucleobases seeking each other out, eyeing each other like two young lovers across a bar, moving closer, but still spinning and circling until they are close enough to reach for the other’s hand.  I see the cytosine reach out for the adenine, get rejected, and the party is over.  Without this merger in the middle of the line, none of the other bases can match up either.  They can’t get close enough with this gap looming between them. Continue Reading…

Guest Posts, healing, loss, love

On Being a Fatherless Daughter.

December 21, 2014

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By Ginger Sullivan.

The last time I saw him was Labor Day Weekend 1987. Our family was gathering in Memphis for my brother’s first college football game of the season. Before my car came to a complete stop, he was there, greeting me. He covered me with an outpouring of enthusiasm and love – much like a dog awaiting the homecoming of its master. Little did I know that three weeks later, he would be dead.

It seems like a lifetime ago. When I had a father. Some dads are not very good ones. I was lucky. Mine happened to be one of the better ones – or at least, I think so. He died before he turned fifty and I was all but still a child.

Sometimes, I wonder if it was all planned out. As if he set my brothers and I up on the next course of our lives and then exited stage left. My older brother had just gotten married. My younger brother just left home for college. And I was set to begin a graduate program in psychology. Weeks before he died, he had a long talk with me about how proud he was that I had chosen a profession of meaning and significance. To prepare me for my studies, he settled me into my first apartment – complete with homemade bookshelves and freshly painted furniture all at his hands. And then he vanished. He went out into the woods to deer hunt with a friend. And when he never showed back up, they went looking for him. He was found breathless on the ground.

No warning. No good-byes. No nothing. I got one of those emergency phone calls – antiquated compared to today’s cell technology. My dad’s best friend was on the other end. He told me that my Dad had been in an accident. “He didn’t make it” – his exact words still ring in my ears. Continue Reading…

death, Guest Posts, loss, parenting, The Hard Stuff

Dear Jerk: A Letter To The Father of My Kids After He Took His Own Life.

December 4, 2014

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By Erica Richmond.

Dear Jerk,

I drove Rain and Moxie to Dresden this weekend for your inurnment. Up until now I didn’t even know that word existed. I guess I should thank you for increasing my vocabulary.

While I’m at it, thanks for giving me the opportunity to explain cremation to our kids (I’m not sure it translates well into the afterworld but that was sarcasm). Difficult conversations seem to be a regular occurrence for me these days and I had to explain how your body could fit into such a little box. I told them that you had wanted your body to be turned into ashes before being buried. Rain’s eyes grew huge and he asked,

“HOW did they do that?”

Before I could even formulate any sort of appropriate and non-traumatic response he continued,

“Was it flame thrower or laser beam?”

God I love him.

When we turned down Trerice Street toward the Dresden cemetery I pointed out the high school we had both attended. Did I ever tell you about my first memory of you? It was here at my Grade 9 dance. You were in Grade 14 (that can happen when you leave town for a while to play hockey) and you ran past me across the dance floor with the Police and principal right behind you. Squeals of laughter and chants of “RUN HOOP – Don’t let them catch you!!” echoed over the early 90s dance music. You’ve never been boring.

Did you notice that Bittersweet Symphony started on my playlist as we entered the cemetery? It IS a bitter sweet symphony that’s life…. Well at least sometimes.

The ceremony itself was short and sweet. Hallelujah. You must have been as proud of Rain and Moxie as I was. They stood quietly between me and your parents and listened to the minister read a piece that one of your friends had written. I bet you chuckled when he even read the word ‘shit’. Did you notice that Moxie had chosen to wear the fancy black dress you had given her? Did you like the red roses they picked out for you?

After the service we went back to your parents’ house. The kids took off to play tag and the rest of us sat around the backyard eating sandwiches, drinking OV and sharing our favourite Hoop stories.

There are 2 things that you can be certain of:

  1. There are a never-ending amount of Hoop stories to be told.
  • You were (and continue to be) incredibly loved. As dark as your world had become for you I hope you had some understanding of how much you would be missed.

Continue Reading…

Guest Posts, Letting Go, loss, love, Men, Relationships

Longing For Her.

December 1, 2014

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By Tim Lawrence.

Our relationship ended in a myriad of contradictions, with love and uncertainty.

She had been my closest confidante for several years—my companion, my lover, and truly my very best friend. This was not a pairing of superficiality, it was the most profound love I’ve ever experienced. Prior to meeting her, I did not fully grasp just how extraordinary another’s happiness and wellbeing could become to you—how inextricably linked you could become to another person.

It was a gift I had avoided most of my life, never really allowing my romantic relationships to move into the territory necessary to achieve the sort of undeviating commitment most of us hope for. But this was different. And it awakened a part of me I had no idea even existed.

An understanding of a lifetime, found, cherished, and cultivated slowly.

That’s what I wanted. And I had found it.

Until I lost it. Continue Reading…

Grief, Guest Posts, loss

The Sound of Loss.

June 28, 2014

 By Lyn Girdler

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image courtesy of Simplereminders.com

There are screams you will hear in your life. Like the scream of someone stubbing their toe, or hitting their head on a kitchen cabinet; maybe even catching their finger in the car door. They are screams of visceral, cellular pain. There are screams of fear and shock; someone encountering a spider, or being jolted by a loud, unexpected noise or even the collective screams of a packed cinema house at a horror film. Those are screams that you hear and then let go of.

Then there are other screams, ones that will wake you up on a cold winter morning, seize your childhood innocence, and not let go of you. Like the sound of your mothers scream when she wakes to find your father giving CPR to her child as he lay there, breathless.

It is a sound that shouldn’t belong in the life of a ten year old.

Continue Reading…

death, Guest Posts, loss

Under the Snow this Winter. By Zoe Zolbrod.

March 14, 2014

By Zoe Zolbrod.

I woke up this March morning to another four or five inches of snow. It was still coming down when I peered through the frost-free porthole in the center of my bedroom window. There was no question it had to be shoveled promptly, from the sidewalk and front steps at least. It was a heavy snow, and I had to heave it high to get it atop the piles we’ve been building since December.

We live in the Chicago area and as in much of the Midwest and Northeast, the winter has been brutal—a record number of inches of precipitation, a slew of record-breaking low-temperature days. In early January we were hit with a blizzard and then immediately after the temperature plunged to under ten degrees below zero.  Work and school were cancelled. On the second day at home I took my daughter a couple doors down to stave off her cabin fever with a visit to a neighbor boy, bundling us both up in layer upon layer until all that was exposed were our eyes. After I dropped her off I decided to take the long way home in order to experience this unprecedented environment. My boots crunched on snow frozen so hard the texture was that of crushed seashells. Cocooned as I was, the sound was as much an internal vibration as it was an external noise, as if I were listening through a stethoscope. I didn’t feel cold, exactly. I didn’t even feel gravity in the same way I was accustomed to. I felt like an astronaut—tethered to civilization by technology, but a speck in an uncharted vastness. It’s a sensation I’m going to carry with me. As I trotted that day, I recalled the time someone asked me to picture outer space and then told me that was how I felt about death. Walking around my neighborhood post-blizzard with the wind chill at minus thirty degrees seemed to me to be a closer approximation of what I imagine might wait for us when our hearts stop beating, when our bodies are burnt or buried to await decay. I had never experienced anything quite like it. And yet this winter has made me nostalgic for all of the winters that have come before, for all the ways I’ve kept warm in them, or haven’t. For all they’ve taught me about patience, and stasis, and change.

I grew up in Northwestern Pennsylvania, and the winter of 2013-2014 has brought me back to those of my youth, the memories of which used to make the Chicago season look unimpressive, if still tedious and ugly. The icicles that poured down from the gutter above the kitchen window in the home in which I was raised could grow thick as tree limbs, stab the entire height of the window so that we looked out through their bars. We had a long skinny driveway that my father had to shovel incessantly to keep passable, scraping away rhythmically in the dark of early morning, or the gloom of late afternoon, or the black of night with the snowflakes glittering in the glow from our light post. The piles quickly grew above my head and then, as the thawless weeks went by, up to my dad’s, the snow spilling over into the yard where the blanket of it was already deep enough for my brother and me to make tunnels through. The door to our house opened right into our small kitchen, no foyer, where we’d stand stomping and huffing like horses when we came in. There were four of us who lived there plus a dog to be walked, and we didn’t slow down for the fact of life that was winter, we were constantly in and out, letting in cold bursts and chunks of snow that would melt messily. The house was always chilly—a combination of thrifty parents and old windows and not helped by the frequent door openings—and my corner room especially so, with its two exterior walls. I shivered near the heat vent while I dressed. I slept under a featherbed that seemed almost as round as it was long. My fingers and toes were always cold, often painfully so. I hated the winter.

And yet there are warm memories—the family deciding despite the weather to drive to a basketball game at the college where my father worked, wondering if the car would make it up the hill, cheering when it did so, the steam from the hot breath of the players and crowd fogging the windows of the gymnasium. And I have warm memories of the snow itself, how the igloos we made could be really snug. And we lived in a place that could highlight the beauty of winter, with a woods across the street from our house that offered up its bare black branches to catch the snow and make a Narnia-like fairyland. Do we ever describe memories of summer as warm? Perhaps that’s why despite my antipathy to the season I never entertained the thought of choosing a college located somewhere it could be avoided.

I was always studying college possibilities, though. From the time I was about twelve I was actively plotting to get out of my hometown. I had good friends there, a solid family, but even as I made-out and partied and learned, part of me believed my real life wouldn’t start until I left, that the real me couldn’t emerge where I was. But here’s a winter memory that proves me wrong. One evening as a teenager on my way to meet friends at a basketball game already underway, I parked my car in the student lot and started walking across the snow-covered field that separated it from the high school, believing I was taking a short cut. My boots sank in the heavy snow, making each step difficult, and I was bitterly cold in the trendy thin coat I refused to button. It soon became clear I’d have been better off walking on the sidewalk. I paused for a moment and looked at the smooth, white expanse separating me from my destination. I ran cross-country in high school, and in the fall the field was part of our course. “It’s the same field,” I thought to myself. And I had the sensation of seeing—of being— at once both the green grass beneath my swift-moving feet and the moon-lit swath of unbroken snow that lay before me. I knew with a surety that made me less cold that spring would come, that it was coming even in the deadest part of winter, that—although I wouldn’t have used this imagery at the time— the very frozen stillness was the pause at the bottom of the exhale that makes the full inhale possible. I knew that in some way spring was as good as here.

It’s a clichéd insight, really—by that point in my life I’m sure I’d already been passed a roach clip with a ying-yang symbol dangling from it—but finding that ancient knowledge within myself felt huge. It’s a moment I’ve held close all the years since—only one of which was spent anywhere warm, and a few of which passed in an apartment without central heat where I’d sometimes wake up to see frost furring my bedroom wall. But no matter the quality of my outerwear or furnace, every winter there’s that month or so when the world is crusted with a layer of gray salt, and the snow banks are black and not going anywhere, and everyone’s puffy coat is deflated and filthy, and it only warms long enough to make a more miserable soup, and when I think: I can’t stand this! Why do I live here! Why does anyone! And then I’ll be visited by my self standing on that field outside the high school, the same self who emerges occasionally during moments of travel, or in a great yoga class, or on a walk, the one lodged most deeply within me but also who sees furthest outside myself, and I feel joyful, and calm, and sure. I picture the real me as a copper wire of energy that’s been pulsing through my core since the dawn of my consciousness, maybe even before that. Maybe it will even go on afterward.

A couple weeks ago a colleague died from the cancer that ravaged her within eight months of her diagnosis. She’s the fourth friend roughly my age who has died in the last three years. How early this inevitable falling off begins is not something that’s been encompassed by the worldview of my dawn-of-consciousness core self.  In my life, the proximity of death has come as a mid-life shock. Living as I have always in places with four distinct seasons, the markers of winter, spring, summer, and fall have been reliable signposts for me, symbols of continuity amidst change, but there is a different quality to their coming now. They’re also beads on an abacus, ways to count years without these other people in them, ways to count off my own.

We’ve had a thaw already this March, and we’re due for another later this week before the temperatures plunge again. My weather app shows more snowflakes in the near future. But even in this fearsome and dramatic winter, one of these days the last snow of the season will come. And then will come spring, for those of us here. I think often of my friends who have died, turning over their absence like a stone in my mind. How can they be gone when I sense them so firmly? It brings me up short. The first flowers that come up in my yard are the crocuses. After the morning snowfall the sky cleared today, and the sun’s staying up longer. Green shoots might be visible even before the full melt.

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Zoe Zolbrod’s first novel, Currency, received a Nobbie Award and was a Friends of American Writers prize finalist. Her writing can be found online at The Rumpus, The Nervous Breakdown, and The Weeklings. She lives in Evanston, IL, with her husband and two children, where she works as a senior editor for Houghton Mifflin Harcourt and recently finished a memoir that explores how child sexual abuse reverberates throughout generations of a family.

Poster by Bryant Mcgill SimpleReminders.com. Pre-order their book (which I am in!) http://www.SimpleReminders.info

Poster by Bryant Mcgill SimpleReminders.com.
Pre-order their book (which I am in!) http://www.SimpleReminders.info

Jennifer Pastiloff is the founder of The Manifest-Station. She has been featured on Good Morning America, NY Magazine, Oprah.com. Her writing has been featured on The Rumpus, The Nervous Breakdown, Jezebel, Salon, and more. Jen leads her signature Manifestation Retreats & Workshops all over the world. The next retreat is to Ojai, Calif over Labor Day/New Years. Check out jenniferpastiloff.com for all retreat listings and workshops to attend one in a city near you. Next up: Seattle, Atlanta, South Dakota, NYC, Dallas, Miami, Tucson & The Berkshires (guest speaker Canyon Ranch.) She tweets/instagrams at @jenpastiloff. 

Hearing Loss, loss

Bursts Of Silence As Holy Things. An Essay on Losing My Hearing.

February 15, 2014

Hello from London! I have an essay up on the wonderful site The Nervous Breakdown. I would love if it you read it and comment/share. It’s the first time I have really tried to put my hearing loss into words.

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excerpt:

After decades of living in profound denial, I finally accepted that I had severe hearing loss. The audiologist put me in a box, stuck a piece of white paper over his mouth, and asked if I could hear what he was saying with the paper covering his lips. I couldn’t.  I understood then that I was going deaf.

Again I thought: words overrated, talking unnecessary.

In a box, locked up like Darwin the dog.

When the doctor said severe hearing loss on top of tinnitus, it occurred to me that the eeeeeeeeeee sound I had made as a child was my way of mimicking what I heard in my head. I was trying to get it out. I was trying to drown it out. Anything to make it stop.

The phrase adapt or die makes sense. I’ve adapted to the constant ringing in my head. When it becomes too much to bear, I adapt by drinking wine. Or by sleeping.

Click here to finish reading. 
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And So It Is, Grief, Guest Posts, healing, loss, love

Nothing Is Just One Thing. By Elizabeth Crane.

February 6, 2014

Nothing is just one thing.  By Elizabeth Crane.

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The last few days have involved a combination of gratitude and morbid reflection.  The inevitable losses that result from addiction somehow still never fail to shock me, though I have not had a drink in nearly twenty-two years and I’ve seen more than a few people die at this point.  It wasn’t until the news about Philip Seymour Hoffman that I thought about how many there have been – which turns out to be too many to count – I keep thinking of others.  Sometimes you see it coming, sometimes you don’t, and for me, most of the times, I just don’t want to.  I’ll make up reasons why this one or that one is an exception so that my friends will all live forever, or at least until after I go first.  The people I’ve met in recovery are some of the most phenomenal people I know; some have come back from homelessness and prostitution to build lives they could once barely imagine.  My own drinking story is less dramatic; think of your most self-pitying girlfriend and add in a bunch of booze (whatever was available/free) and poor decision-making and that’s about as interesting as it gets. When I quit, I had reached a point where I imagined going on like that for the rest of my life, maybe never even missing a day of work at the job I hated and for sure never having any more money than I did then (which was in fact, substantially negative), or a relationship that lasted longer than four months, and I saw a way to change that worked for me.

When I was newly sober, Phil was part of a crew of my closest friends.  He wasn’t my closest friend, I want to be clear about that.  We had many delightful conversations, but we weren’t I’ll call you when I get home kind of friends.  We were close with a lot of the same people (who I did call when I got home), and I often saw him on a daily basis.  That was two decades ago.  But it was a critical time in my life.  I cannot overstate how much each person in that group meant to me, then and now; we were part of a greater thing, and we all helped each other whether it was deliberate or not.

Over the years, many in that group moved away from NY, including myself.  In Chicago, I found a new group of people to break my daily bread with, and as we built our new lives, we all had less time to gather every day.  I have kept in touch with those who aren’t close by, and we’ve always found ways to keep tabs on each other, pre-social media and pre-email.  We used the phone.  We wrote letters!  Crazy.

I’m not getting to it here.

It’s been twenty-two years.  Countless individuals have helped me change my life, countless more help me keep it changed.  But there’s a special place in my heart for the people I met at the beginning.  And losing one of them feels different – shocking, frightening, heartbreaking, cause for a broad, unbidden life review.  The short version is that it’s good now, life.  I’m happy and well, I have meaningful work and healthy relationships with people.  I’m also married to a sober person, and yet it’s not until just now that I’ve stopped to really consider the flip side of that.  We continue to do what we need to to maintain our sobriety, but it is part of our makeup to want to drink or use.  Relapse happens.  There’s a lot of talk in the media right now that makes me want to scream, the idea that we can just suddenly decide to not drink or take drugs, and that it’s a moral failing somehow when we can’t.  We drink and take drugs because it’s what we’re wired to do.  I’ve said many, many times that I think it’s just incredibly hard to be awake and conscious in the world.  Shitty things happen kind of non-stop.  People die.  That’s just the deal.  Spectacular things happen too, which is the part of the deal that makes the other part of the deal worth shaking on.  But the feelings associated with the relentless input of life can often present themselves as unbearable, and plenty of people can have one beer or one hit off a joint and resist taking another.  Alcoholics and addicts don’t have that luxury, not in my view, but we’re really, really good at making up stories about it.  Maybe I should just speak for myself.  I’m really good at making up stories about it.  “Oh, I never crashed a car.  Oh, I never drank as much as so and so did.  Oh, it wasn’t really that bad.  Oh it’s been a long-ass time now, I’m older and wiser and sure it will be different.  Oh, I’ll just take one extra painkiller, just this once – it’s prescribed!”  And so you have one, but for an addict or an alcoholic, as they say, one is too many and a thousand isn’t enough.

I’m still not getting to it.  Maybe I don’t even know what it is.

So Phil died, and our friends are crushed, and I’m in shock and yet I feel lucky and amazed that I’m here.  I don’t know how I got to be this age.  (My thirty-fifth high school reunion is this year.  Wha-huh?)  That’s shocking too, because not many people get to be this age without a lot of losses.  Both my parents are gone now.  I’ve been back in NY for a couple of years, where I grew up, where I drank and where I quit, fueling my bittersweet nostalgia for that time of early sobriety in particular, crossing Columbus Circle with eight or ten friends through rain and slush and sunshine to our favorite coffee shop; we had a big round table in the window that was almost always held for us.  I think of all those guys – and it was a guy-heavy group, though I had many sober women friends too – and how I had crushed on almost all of them for one five minutes or another even though I was in no position to be seriously involved with anyone at that time – and according to some greater plan, wouldn’t be for another ten years.  (It worked out right.)

Maybe there’s nothing to get to.  Oh yeah, gratitude and morbid reflection.  I think we exist in a culture where we still think in black and white so much of the time.  So and so should have not taken drugs, obvi.  This is right, that’s wrong.  You’re happy or you’re sad and if you’re sad you should get happy.  But that’s not my human experience. I exist in a place where I feel at once profoundly conscious of what I’ve been given in this life, and also how quickly that goes.  I feel grateful, giddy, on occasion, at the bounty that’s been given to me, but it’s not mutually exclusive of feeling impossibly sad.  They coexist, more or less constantly.  I’d much prefer an easier, softer way.  I haven’t found one yet, but I have found one that works for me.

***

Elizabeth Crane is the author of the story collections When the Messenger Is HotAll This Heavenly Glory, and You Must Be This Happy to Enter. Her work has been featured in McSweeney’s The Future Dictionary of America, The Best Underground Fiction, and elsewhere.

Bio

Jennifer Pastiloff is a writer based in Los Angeles. She is the founder of The Manifest-Station. Jen will be leading a Retreat in Costa Rica at the end of March and her annual retreat to Tuscany is in July 2014. All retreats are a combo of yoga/writing and for ALL levels. Read this post to understand what a Manifestation retreat is. Check out her site jenniferpastiloff.com for all retreat listings and workshops to attend one in a city near you. Jen and bestselling author Emily Rapp will be leading another writing retreat to Vermont in October. 

Grief, Guest Posts, healing, loss, love, motherhood

What Is Gained After Insufferable Loss.

January 24, 2014

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By Stacey Shannon.

I hide these tears from my husband and kids. It upsets the kids, unsettles them, to see me cry.  My husband, who loves me, but who never properly dealt with his own grief, is not able to respond to the quivering blob of bottomless need that replaces his normally stoic and capable wife each year at this time.  This upsets me–but then most everything upsets me right now.  I am short with my darling dears.  Then berate myself for not holding them close and treasuring them instead.  They are, after all, the babes God allowed me leave the hospital with.  

But, now, it’s a rainy Monday morning, my darling dears are at school, my husband, at work and I am on the couch, still fighting a stomach thing that has been dogging me for two weeks.  I call the doctor to explain the problem and as I am made to list and thus face, the pain, inconvenience and other indignities I’ve suffered for the last 10 days, it is too much, something snaps and the tears will not be stopped.

Who are these tears for?

They are for my raven-haired first born.  Why she was allowed to leave here without knowing how very much she was loved and wanted, I can’t comprehend.  When I think of the things she missed, that we missed as a family, I can only shake my head.  I’m sorry her last day on earth was spent on the surgeon’s table instead of in my arms.  I’m sorry I let them cut her satin skin and crank open her impossibly tiny chest.  I guess we made the only decisions we could at the time, but, now, knowing the outcome, I wish I had said “no” and spent her last days holding her warm little body, letting her feel my love for her. Covering her angel skin with mommy-kisses and tickling her tiny feet.  I would have rocked her and sang her all the lullabies I’d been storing away like so many Christmas ornaments wrapped in tissue paper.  I didn’t have the chance to do any of these things until it was all over. I hope she doesn’t hold it against me.

And, they are for me, the girl I used to be.  The girl I was 12 years ago who never believed, no matter what the doctors said, that my baby would not come home with me. I was the one reassuring everyone around me.  I was keeping every one’s hope afloat.  The possibility of my baby dying never once computed with me until it was all over.  It took us a year and half of trying, in earnest, to conceive her.  “God wouldn’t make us wait that long, give her to us, then take her back after 3 days.  Where is the sense in that?  Of course we will take her home, of course we will.  She will come through this day-long surgery just fine and we will take her home.  This is just another test–He just wants to see how much we want her.”  That girl? The one who was so sure she understood the order of the universe? She doesn’t exist anymore.  And I miss her.  I cry for her broken heart, as I would cry for anyone else’s.  She left a piece of her heart back there in that bitter and grey January.  I see it now, that lost piece of her heart, as one sees the broken bits of muffler in the rear-view mirror as the car it was once an important part of,  inexplicably, continues to chug on down the interstate.

I keep a list in my head of all sorts of things I lost in that moment.   Topping the list: consciousness.  I’m pretty sure, as the surgeon came into the waiting room and said, “I’m sorry folks….”, that I passed out, perhaps for only a few seconds as I slid, sweating and shaking, out of my chair and onto the floor –I was 3 days post-partum, wounded and bleeding, and I remember thinking, “Why does this shit always happen to me?”

I lost all faith in God. Fear not, Readers Dear, the Big Guy and I are tight these days.  But in that moment: I was done.  I hated Him and I was convinced He hated me.  The spiritual rug had been pulled out from beneath my feet, and it took many tears and alot of time before I was able to put my world view right again.

I lost a future.  To best explain what I mean,  I can only say that I spent much of my mental energy reconciling what existed with what I thought my existence would be.  These moments of reconciliation would come upon me in many places.  In the grocery store, I would look down at the empty seat in the shopping cart and think, “there should be a baby there.”  At Christmas I delighted in my little 1 1/2 year old niece, who was such a comfort to me, then sneak out of the room to dab at my eyes, because my baby should have been there in a pretty Christmas dress to match her cousin’s.  At support group I broke down, sobbing, saying, “I shouldn’t be here, I shouldn’t be here.”  The other ladies there, also grieving, rushed to reassure me that I did indeed belong there.  My friend Donna, who gained her own understanding of the situation the hard way, gently explained my tears to the others saying, “She means she shouldn’t be HERE because she should be home taking care of her baby.”  Rocking and clutching my sides, I could only nod and sniffle.  “None of us should be here.”, said another girl, and she, of course, was right.

I didn’t know it then, but in that moment was the beginning of the end of a friendship.  I had a friend at the time, who, having chosen to be child-free, simply was not able to relate to my grief.  She made me, if you can believe it’s possible, even more miserable than I already was. Let me tell you, there are few things more pitiful in this world than a young mother with aching, empty arms.  She couldn’t understand why I couldn’t shoulder her unending problems and listen to her go on and on.  AND, BE FUNNY!  She actually asked me, “Where did my friend Stacey go?”  If we had been in the same room I probably would have, well, I don’t know what I would have done.  As it was, I spat out across the phone lines, “HER.   BABY.   DIED!”  The words tasted like bile and I couldn’t believe I had to actually vomit them out for her.  Eventually, I learned, as I hope anyone who survives a life trauma learns, that I had to show her my back as I turned to face those who did “get me.”

I am happy to report, when I look back on that time, I believe I gained, if not more, than, at least as much as, I lost.  The PA Posse as an example, (read “Wine for My Horses, Chocolate for My Girls” to learn more about the Posse)  and other new relationships. New character traits: strength, patience, peace, etc..  And, a close, personal relationship with my new boyfriends:  Ben and Jerry.   I’ve never been fond of the whole “when God closes a window He opens a door, yadda, yadda, yadda, blah, blah, blah”.  The universal, mathematical  truth of it is that once a vacuum is formed, it will soon be filled.

We all lose our innocence. If we are lucky, we gain wisdom in it’s stead.

Click photo to connect with Stacey Shannon.

Click photo to connect with Stacey Shannon.

Stacey’s first daughter, Faith, would be 14 years old this month.  In the space created between then and now, she and her husband have been blessed (through much blood, sweat and tears) with another daughter, age 10, and a son, age 8, who was the sweetest of surprises.
Stacey Shannon is a life-long reader/amateur writer whose most exciting accomplishment, before today, was to have been chosen as a finalist in Real Simple Magazine’s First Ever Simply Stated Blog Contest in 2011. To see her entry: http://simplystated.realsimple.com/2011/08/31/finalist-stacey-shannon/
She is president of her children’s PTO and is her church’s librarian. She has been married to her first husband for twenty-one years, and is the mother of two school-age children, both budding writers.  You can find her blog at:  http://insomniachamster.blogspot.com/
Join Jen Pastiloff in The Berkshires of Western Massachusetts in Feb of 2015.

Join Jen Pastiloff in The Berkshires of Western Massachusetts in Feb of 2015.

Join Jen Pastiloff in Tuscany for her annual Manifestation Retreat. Click the sunflowers!

Join Jen Pastiloff in Tuscany for her annual Manifestation Retreat. Click the sunflowers!

beauty, Grief, Guest Posts, healing, loss, love

The Weekly Countdown.

January 10, 2014

By Megan Devine.

I relive our last week again and again.

Every single week is a count-down. Every Monday is that Monday, the day you came home from Colorado. The day I left work to pick you up at the airport, even though you insisted you would be fine to walk, with your orange backpack and new Tevas, happy to be walking. Every Monday is your first Monday back, going to dinner. You are so excited to see me. We sit together on the wooden bench, you showing me photos on your phone: here is the place where we stopped to look out at the mountains below. Here is a shot of the cabin where I stayed. Here is the old truck they used to drive around the ranch. And look, babe: I knew you’d appreciate this one – look, it’s a mummified antelope. It’s been dead in the desert so long. I knew you’d want to see the bones.

Every Monday, I live it again, sitting there in the pizza place, wondering why I am distant and tired. Wondering if it is just food, just needing to eat. And I look at you, feel your body close to mine, and I know it’s just the food and the long day, and the clients, and all of everything. Because you, you here next to me, hearing the joy in your voice, the affection in your touch, this is where I want to be.

I live it again every Tuesday, as we both return to work. As I call you from the awful discount store on my lunch break, wondering if I should pick up plastic glasses, since you keep breaking the heavy glass ones on the hard tile floor. “No,” you say, “No. We’ll be purging stuff and packing soon anyway, no sense getting anything new.” We’ll be moving soon.

On Wednesday, each Wednesday, I forget what that Wednesday held. We talked, we worked, we had our life. I relive living that, even when I don’t remember what we did.

Every Thursday, that Thursday, you are here on the couch, your work day still not done, our computers propped open on our laps as you ask me to help you format your new invoices. The cat climbs up in your lap, shoving the computer aside. On Thursday, each Thursday, I relive our closeness on the couch, how much easier it is now to help you with computer things, your old tech-defensiveness gone. Just a by-product of goodness, I think then, and I think again. We are so happy now, so comfortable. Things are going well. So many good things coming.

On Friday, you are working late, you’ve said you’re working late. But you call just as I am going to the grocery store, and you decide to come along. We buy mint chip ice cream, laundry detergent. Dog biscuits, greens, ribs. We buy a roasted chicken, because it’s late, and we haven’t eaten yet.

At home, I start dinner – leftovers, fajitas – while you climb in the shower. I cook peppers and sing. You come out, that last Friday, our Friday, warm from the shower, in your light blue long sleeved shirt that shows your muscles, your indigo sarong around your waist. You wonder why I waited to chop the onions – “they would be done by now,” you say. And I stop. Smile at you. Say, as we’ve been working on: “you are always particular about your onions. I guess I figure it’s easier on me to delay dinner, to have you irritated with my not making a decision, than it is to hear your disappointment. To have you wish I’d done it differently.” You smile. Lift an eyebrow. You say, “yeah, you’re right. I do do that.”

And then we stand, at the counter, your back to the window, and you fold me in your arms, still warm and damp, my head on your shoulder, in just that right spot. And we breathe. Our bellies matching. The firmness of your abs against me, your arms tight around my back. We stand. That Friday. That Friday I re-live. That place I want to be.

On Saturday, each Saturday, this always only Saturday, I am up first. As I wait, I watch the two of you, still sleeping, the long galley view from where I sit: me in the kitchen, the dog in the living room, you in our bed, all of us in a row. When you’re up, we make breakfast. We discuss the books we’ve each just read. Your mother calls. We all do the happy dance about your son turning 18 in three days. “We’re almost there!” your mother says. “I have three days to go,” you say, “don’t jinx me yet.”

And Sunday comes. Sunday keeps on coming. It arrives every week. Every week I live it all again. The previous days, the eternal warm-up, the countdown, that last time, the last.

On Sunday, you say, “bring or wear water shoes, we’ll go to the river with Bo.” We have breakfast at our usual place: fried green tomato BLT, pancakes, hash. You hold my hands across the table. You say, “I’m sorry I’ve had to work so much. I promise, after this week, we’ll have a normal life again. I’ll take weekends off. I’m sorry I’ve been away from you.” As we leave the diner, you trip on the flopping, separating edge of your new shoes. Hands on your hips, forehead creased, long deep irritated sigh. “We’ll take them back, babe. It will be alright,” I tell you. I tell you about your broken shoes which may or may not have gotten stuck on some reeds, holding you down in the hours to come.

This Sunday, every Sunday, we go back and pick up Bo. Bo who dances and squeals and paces waiting for the door to open, waiting for us to bound into the car, waiting for the river to open up in front of him. Waiting for us to play. We drive to the river, windows open, your arm out the driver’s side, Boris’ head wedged between your shoulder and the door. That Sunday, right now, you ask me how most dogs die, having never had one of your own before. We talk. We’re us. I tell you some dogs know it is their time, and they wander off into the woods. You smile. Scratch his head. You say, “that’s how you’ll get to go buddy, just walk off when you know.”

I live this every week. Every week the countdown. Every time we touch. Every time we talk. Every day, the last day. Not knowing anything except us and love and sunshine, and our plans, and what we expect to come.

Every Sunday, right now, you carry our chairs through the woods. Every Sunday, right now, we wade through the high water that has covered the forest floor. Every Sunday, this Sunday, right now, we play, up to our waists in pine-needle-filled dark water, throwing the ball for the dog. Every Sunday, I worry. I look for Boris when he disappears. And every Sunday. Every Sunday, right now, you call to me from the water’s edge, saying, “don’t worry about him here babe, he’s in heaven.”

Now, you turn away from me again. Now, that Sunday, every Sunday, now, you turn away from me again. Right now, Boris has come back, and he and I are playing in the woods. Now, right now, sitting on the couch watching the numbers tick on by, now, right now, you come up for air and cough. On Sunday, and Sunday, every Sunday, I wonder if you need some help. On Sunday, I turn away, refusing to think that thought. And now, right now, this Sunday, that Sunday, here I am, looking back as you call out. Looking back. Here I am. And now, right now, there you are, holding on to the top of a tree, trying hard to keep your grip. And now, right now, here I am, running in to the water after you.

And now, right now, here I am, running in to the water after you.

My name is Megan Devine. I’m a licensed psychotherapist, writer, and teacher. I’ve spent my life learning and sharing what I’ve learned. None of that mattered when I suddenly became a widow at the age of 38: normal life at breakfast, whole new world by lunch. What I do now is different than what it was before that day. Or maybe, it’s the same thing in a whole different form: I listen. I hear what you’re carrying. I help you find ways to carry it that are most true to you. I help ease the loneliness inherent in this path by walking with you: not changing your reality, but helping you to bear it. Honor it. With a combination of validation and practical tools, I help you live the life that’s asked of you – with as much peace, grace, and integrity as you can.

Megan Devine is a writer, licensed psychotherapist, and grief advocate. She’s the author of the audio program “When Everything is Not Okay: Practices to Help You Stay in Your Heart & Not Lose Your Mind,” available on her website, www.refugeingrief.com. She writes for the Huffington Post, and the grief support site Open to Hope. You can talk with Megan directly ~ just click on the toolbox page on her website to find out how.

Guest Posts, Letting Go, loss, love

Blue Is The Color of Sad.

December 17, 2013

Blue Is The Color of Sad. By Amy Ferris.

 

She must have a window seat.

This, she promises, is her last phone call for the night, reminding me one more time, it must be a window seat. I tell her I will do my best, the plane seems awfully full, and since it’s a last minute booking, it might be hard. “If I tell you I want a window seat, get me a window seat.”

This phone exchange was not long after her being diagnosed with moderate stage of dementia. She had some scary moments – unsettling, jarring, and horrifically confusing moments.

A Bat Mitzvah in Scarsdale, New York spurred her into a travel frenzy – wanting desperately to go, stay for few days, and see her family – her sisters, her nieces and nephews. I managed to work it out so a car service (a very kind man who lived on her street) would come and pick her up, drop her off at the JetBlue terminal, and make sure there was no seen or unforeseen problem. I paid the guy to wait an extra half-hour. She was still driving at that time, having just rammed her car into a fire hydrant. A glaring sign that she should never be behind the wheel ever again. “It came out of no where,” she said, “One minute I was sitting there, minding my own business, and the next minute, there it was, crossing the street.” What do you say? Really? “Ma, it can’t walk, a fire hydrant doesn’t walk.” You say nothing, but think plenty. I thought, “Oh shit, it’s really not so far downhill.”

I call the airline, JetBlue, and speak with a reservation agent, who had just the right combination of humor and sympathy and could not have been any more cordial or kind. She promised they will do whatever they could to accommodate my mom, but she needed to remind me that the plane was in fact full, and hopefully someone will be able to move if there was not a window seat available. I ask her if there is a ‘companion’ person who can help my mom get settled. Help her with the boarding pass, and the other unexpected frustrations that may arise. Yes, she says, someone will help my mom. I can only hope and pray for my mother to come ‘face to face’ with kindness. I think of all the times I gave up a window seat for an elderly person, or a pregnant woman, or a wife who wanted to sit next to her husband. I am hopeful, based on my own generosity, in situations like those.

She is picked up at the designated time. She is standing outside her condo with her suitcase and an overnight bag, having packed enough clothing for a month. “Maybe I’ll stay for a few extra weeks, “ she tells me the night before when she lists off all the clothing she’s bringing. I can hear in her voice something I never heard before: loneliness.

She gets to the JetBlue terminal, she checks her suitcase outside with baggage claim, and – I am told by the neighbor/car service driver – hands a crisp ten dollar bill to the lovely bag handler, telling him he is a lovely, lovely kind man. He deeply appreciates her gesture. Little does he know that the remaining eight or so crisp ten dollar bills that she has tucked ever so neatly in her wallet will make their way to others who smile, offer her hand, let her get ahead in line, help her with her carry-on. She makes her way up to the counter, where a ticket should be waiting for her. Yes, there is a ticket, but she must go to the gate, in order to try and get a window seat. This gives her great joy.

She goes through the whole scene – again, I am told by the neighbor/car service guy – the taking off of her shoes, the removing of her belt, the telling a joke or two about her hip replacement, and how it reminds her of the old days in Las Vegas when someone won at the slots, it was a sound filled with ‘good wishes.’ “No More,” she says. “It’s a phony sound, it has no heart. Gimme back my shoes.”

The car service guy cannot go any further with my mom. The rules. The companion person from Jet-Blue now meets her, thankfully.

There is no window seat available. She has an aisle seat. It appears that no one wants to give up a seat. I am horribly sad by this lack of generosity for this old, frail woman, and dare I say, embarrassed, because this old frail woman is my mom. This is where I get to envision the whole crazy scenario. My mother throwing a shit storm of a nut-dance, hauling a racial slur at the African American flight attendant, and then, if that wasn’t enough, causing another passenger who was somewhat overweight to breakdown and cry. “You know how fat you are, you should have your own zip-code.” The administrator later told me on the phone, it was like an unstoppable chaotic ruckus. I am sad. I tell her that my mom has dementia. It comes and goes, but mostly it’s coming these days. I give her all the broad strokes, my dad had died, she’s living alone, we know, we know, it’s time to get her settled, she’s stubborn, she’s independent, and there’s the whole question of what to do now? Move her, or does she stay? And she’s always been much more strident and righteous and defiant. Not going gently into the good night. Not one iota.

She leaves the airport, and manages to get back to her condo by renting a car, even though she is forbidden to drive. I would just love to meet that Avis rental person who gave my mom a red Mustang to tool around in.

She calls me in hysterics. She wants me to fire every single one of those nasty, bitchy flight attendants, and pilots. And the co-pilot, he’s as much to blame. And where is her luggage? Her goddamn luggage? I bet they stole it. They stole it and you should fire them, the whole lot of them. I find out from the very cordial and patient rep, that her luggage is on its way to New York. I am in Los Angeles on business; my brother is at a birthday celebration on Long Island. Nether one of us expected this hailstorm. I try to deal with the airport bureaucracy and arrange for my mom’s luggage to make its’ way to Fort Lauderdale within 48 hours, barring no glitches.

My mother refuses to speak to anyone. She feels duped and lied to and the fat girl should have gotten up. “My God she took up two god-damn seats.” And then she said, “I always, always have to sit at the window.” Why, I ask her, why? She hangs up on me. Typical. Some things never change.

We moved my mom to New Mexico where she was about to start living in an assisted living home. Good care. My brother researched, and found a lovely place that would make her feel just like home. I managed to get her a window seat. As the plane revved up it’s engines and was about to take off, my mom took my hand and squeezed it, staring out the window – watching the plane disappear into the gorgeous white clouds – and after a few long, long, moments, she turned to me, and said: “Up hear, in the clouds, I can dream all I want.” Then she pointed to two clouds, almost inter-wined, and she said with such joy: ‘See that, see that, they’re dancing together. You can only see this kind of magic from a window seat.”

It’s was here that my mother had always been able to see and feel and imagine clouds dancing, forms taking shape, lovers kissing, the intertwining of souls, and as her hand pressed up against the window, she could feel the kindness of Heaven.

amy_ferris
Amy Ferris: Author. Writer. Girl.

Book: Dancing at The Shame Prom, sharing the stories that kept us small – Anthology, Seal Press (2012) co-edited with Hollye Dexter
Book: Marrying George Clooney, Confessions From A Midlife Crisis, Seal Press (2010)
loss, love

Modern Loss.

December 11, 2013

I have a piece up on a new and amazing site called Modern Loss which has candid conversations about grief. It’s truly beautiful.

Here’s an excerpt of my piece:

I’m in a yoga class with my forehead pressed into the mat — this cheesy orange mat with a giant sunset and a backlit tree branch — and my friend Steve Bridges is saying “Hi Gin.” A transplanted Texan, Steve says my name, Jen, like I’m booze. And he’s talking to me during yoga.

The thing is, Steve is dead.

“Steve, it’s Jen, not Gin. I hate gin. At least call me Wine.” We used to laugh at that.

Click here to read the rest.

Click photo to go to Modern Loss and read the piece.

Click photo to go to Modern Loss and read the piece.

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