Postcards of Grief

Mourning is a process.

Comments on breast cancer by proxy, written by a woman coping with the loss of her mother.

Thursday, May 27, 2004

Tampon transit

I’m sneaky, but this time, it failed. I found myself in a long, sleeveless dress without pockets and with a need to carry a tampon surreptitiously. I have no cuffs under which to stuff the tampon, no socks in which to tuck it, and no waistband under which to hide it. Seeing no other way to carry it across the floor, down the stairs, and past three open offices and a lunchroom short of bringing my entire work bag into the stall with me, I stuck it in my bra.

I ended up not needing it at that moment and decided to leave it there for later. However, it’s not there anymore, and it’s nowhere to be found. Crawling around on the floor around my desk looking for it doesn’t seem like a good way to spend my afternoon, so I guess it’ll turn up when it turns up.

Now I just have to decide whether or not to fess up as its owner when it’s found.

Wednesday, May 26, 2004

Cooperative sadness

An old house burned down the other night. It was one of many in the historical district around here, over a hundred years old. It’s been student housing for the last couple of decades, and it was vacant for the summer to be repaired.

I used to live around the corner from that house in another historical home that had been remodeled to serve student needs. I attended no fewer than four parties there and smoked no fewer than three packs of cigarettes on that porch. The porch’s painted steps are the only remaining recognizable parts of the house, and despite the charred debris all around them, they’re still colorful. It’s almost spooky. It makes me sad.

All of the memorable moments in my life belong to a place. Kirchoff Park is where I asked Brooke to be my girlfriend. The parking lot of the Fourth Coast Café is where the first digital picture of me ever was taken. The footpath at the Nantahala Outdoor Center is where I stood to gaze down at the first Class V rapids I passed as a professional. My cube at that Godforsaken research institute is where I learned that I was going to be an aunt.

My room around the corner from that old house means so many things. I felt loved and betrayed there. I learned about my mother’s cancer and my aunt’s death there. I stared out the leaded glass window, the original window from 1894, and tried to motivate myself to live or to die. I sang loudly and tried to ignore the sounds of other people having sex. I had sex to drown out someone playing the euphonium at midnight on a Friday. I drank and smoked and ate and danced. I can’t imagine it gone. I can’t imagine it reduced to a pile of charred wood and gypsum board. It’s bad enough that the leaded glass window was removed, but the thought of the room and the house in their entirety in small, black pieces over the foundation is too much.

I can’t imagine the day that one of my past homes is destroyed. It seems like such a burden to maintain the memories without the site as a relic.

Tuesday, May 25, 2004

The Prophet (an excerpt)

Your joy is your sorrow unmasked.
And the selfsame well from which your laughter rises was oftentimes filled with your tears.
And how else can it be?
The deeper that sorrow carves into your being, the more joy you can contain.
When you are joyous, look deep into your heart and you shall find it is only that which has given you sorrow that is giving you joy.
When you are sorrowful look again in your heart, and you shall see that in truth you are weeping for that which has been your delight.
Some of you say, “Joy is greater than sorrow,” and others say, “Nay, sorrow is the greater.”
But I say unto you, they are inseparable.

They say she is veiled

They say she is veiled
and a mystery. That is
one way of looking.
is that she is where
she always has been,
exactly in place,
and it is we,
we who are mystified,
we who are veiled
and without faces.


Out into the morning mists I come,
alone, yet with family and friends.
I come one last time to see you.
I stoop to touch you, to bathe you with my tears again,
and wrap you in my gaze of love for who you were.

Although creation beckons you back to the earth, your spirit abides with me.
You taught me many things.
You illumined the world with your gifts.
You modeled love to those around you.
Those evidences of your life will evolve and live on through
others who have been touched by your life.
You are a part of the web of creation.
Your life made a difference.

The Ceremony (an excerpt)

We will grow old, and older.
One of us will die, and then the other.
The earth itself will be impaled
on sunspokes. It doesn't matter.
We have been imprinted on the protons
of energy herself,

and so stand in another atmosphere,
where an undiscovered star we will never live to see
casts shadows on a grove of succulents we cannot yet imagine.
There our interchangeable features still vibrate and blur,
each smile half of one circle,
each utterance spiraling like light
upward in shudder along the spine
as if the moon and you and I were slivers
of one mirror, gazing on herself at last.

Sleep, ghost, soup, guilt

We got home at 6 last night after discussing our evening plans on the bus: dinner, PJs, then reading the paper in bed until we passed out. I was asleep on the couch by 7, just minutes after eating my pesto/mozzarella grilled cheese sandwich, and woke up some number of hours later, cold and annoyed that Brooke had abandoned me in the living room. I thought it was late, but it was 10. She was asleep in bed and had been since 8:30. I peeled my contacts out of my eyes, gooed up my stye, brushed my teeth, and again received the blessing that is fexofenadine. (I may have to ask for a refill. It was prescribed for a cold, but being relatively headache-free is indescribably marvelous.)

We didn’t roll out of bed until nearly 7:30 this morning, meaning that I got twelve hours of sleep and Brooke got ten. I’m still hankering for a cup of green tea. This is another thing that tells me that maybe parenthood is not for me. Perhaps it really is time to give up the sperm ghost. (Did you know there’s a fractal design called Ocean of Ghost Sperm?) We made it in plenty of time for the bus which ended up being one of the paratransit short busses for some reason. Every person along the route was thoroughly confused, and we found the whole thing too entertaining.

Somehow (I blame Webshots), Mom’s picture got removed from my background on my computer at work, and I decided to put one of Hannah’s pictures there. It was a really hard decision, and I still feel guilty about it. I don’t mean to remove her from my life. I don’t want to do that, but does that mean that I have to keep that one picture of her there forever? What would she want? Would she want to see Hannah’s picture there? I know she wouldn’t want me to feel guilty about it, and it’s not like I’m removing her picture and not replacing it with anything. After all, there’s joy in lentil soup as finger food:

Monday, May 24, 2004

You wish you knew her.

God's Clods

Over the weekend, I felt as though I had something interesting and insightful about which to blog. I don’t. My bathroom desperately needs to be retiled, and that seems to be increasing my stress level for some reason. That started the night the tiles popped off the wall like so many playing cards in the wind and wasn’t much ameliorated by the cold shower I took the next morning, not having considered that one’s friends might turn off their water heater when leaving the continent for three weeks or so. Until last night, I had been headache-free for three weeks under the tender loving care of fexofenadine, but a combination of stress and general sleep deprivation seems to have ended my painless days and nights. Again. I do think that the Return of the Headaches has something to do specifically with stress, since I’ve also just experienced anew the Return of the Stye.

Instead, I leave you with this phenomenon about which I recently learned. Had you ever heard of liturgical clowning before? This website about Clown Ministry makes me uneasy, and I'm not sure why. Probably because clowns are creepy, and clowns for Jesus don't make me rest more easily. I can't decide whether or not to thank frog for the tip.

Tuesday, May 18, 2004

Weekend roundup

Lest I leave with an inaccurately morose post, let me add this very abridged version of the rest of the weekend:

I left the computer after writing the earlier entry, fully intending to brush my hair and leave, and my dad asked me to sit down with him. We talked for a little while. We were both having a really bad day. Rather than go to the outlet mall 45 minutes away, we had lunch and went about more functional things. He met with various monument (aka "tombstone") makers, and I ordered the flowers for the next day.

Dinner was nice. I got my crème brulée.

We spent the evening chatting with Aunt Friend and Paul and Hope. The pastor came over for a little while. Hannah was an absolute joy.

The burial was adequate. The anticipation was worse than the event. The post-burial lunch was wonderful, but the restaurant had exactly one vegetarian thing on the menu. It was a Vineyard Salad and quite good, but I do prefer having a choice.

The rest of the weekend was wonderful. We spent some time outside, me taking pictures and Dad and Brooke looking for morels. They found a huge number that look just great. Hopefully, they won't make me throw up.

And now I'm back in adultland, and I hate it. I'm mostly content, but I hate it.

Friday, May 14, 2004

Prelude to another funeral

I'm sure this isn't the worst birthday in the history of humankind, but it's the worst one I've ever had. It came less than a week after my first motherless Mother's Day, the first time I've pretended the holiday didn't exist. Brooke spent last Saturday with her mom, and I spent last Saturday avoiding them. They went to the Farmers' Market and out to lunch at everyone's favorite deli. I hid in the bathroom when my mother-in-law came by to pick up Brooke, and I left for the day before they could return.

I pretended that Mother's Day is and always has been one of those Hallmark holidays that serves no purpose in my life. I pretended that Mother's Day has never had meaning to me, has never been a day to celebrate my mother and my relationship with her. I pretended that I never shared my birthday with Mother's Day and that I wasn't due the day before and born the day after.

Truth be told, it went pretty well. My Saturday errands were productive, and I went from store to store to locate a cabinet that would suit my medium needs. I took frog's advice and went to the second hand furniture store, but the best choice remains this from IKEA with its matching CD shelves. The mall and most of the other stores I visited were lousy with mother-daughter pairs, and the jewelry and cosmetic section of one department store was particularly heavy with Mother's Day guilt trips. Keeping in mind the irrelevance of Mother's Day in my life and ignoring its past significance, I managed to have a really good day on Saturday. Sunday was just working in the yard and around the house, and I passed the day without really caring.

My birthday isn't the same. I'm so painfully aware that it's my birthday, that Mom's not here, and the day needn't even be my birthday to begin to be difficult. It was supposed to be nice today. I was supposed to spend it going from small town shop to small town shop and then eat lunch on the beach. But it's raining, and Brooke and I are arguing. I'd rather cry than eat, but I don't cry when I'm worried and I'm worried about the burial service tomorrow, the service I spent most of this week preparing for—that is, when I wasn't freaking out about my bathroom tile. I didn't finish the forms for the research validity approval which is due to expire, so I should be working on those today rather than playing or crying or passing time being neurotic. The house needs to be cleaned, especially the guest bed where my mom's close friend and my "aunt" will be sleeping, which is in my room, meaning that I'll have no privacy tonight that would allow Brooke and I to conclude this argument so that tomorrow doesn't suck quite as much as it otherwise would.

So, I'll go shower and have a bowl of cereal. Maybe I'll escape so that I don't have to explain just yet why I'm running off to be by myself. Maybe I'll have to sit down and cry and spend an hour negotiating to plans for the day. Part of me wants to lie in bed and pretend that lying in bed will make everything go just right.

Oh yeah, and we're burying my mom tomorrow. Her body is in a box in a cooler. Tomorrow, it will be in a box in a concrete vault under six feet of dirt. I'll be twenty-five years and one day old.

Wednesday, May 12, 2004

The cicadas might have something to do with it

It’s not something that will be easy to explain, much less easy to understand. Monday was one of those days that made me want to pull my hair out. I was busy all day and didn’t even eat my lunch until 4:30. At 4:45, Brooke was ready to go home for the day, and that meant a stop in at the co-op to pick up some groceries, including our special order that had come in while we were sick.

We ordered a case of toilet paper. It seems that we’re always running out, and running out of toilet paper is never a good thing. Our little toilet paper storage closet is narrow and deep, and I tend to forget to write it on the list when I pull the last package out. Toilet paper doesn’t go bad. Toilet paper only requires a dry place to stay until it’s used. We have a dry place. We ordered a case of toilet paper.

The toilet paper wasn’t the problem. It was sort of vaguely embarrassing for the co-op to be packed with people and have our cashier yelling, “I need a case of toilet paper!” around the room and into the phone, but that wasn’t it. The problem was the guy who walked out of the store room with the big box of toilet paper. Holding this giant box in front of himself, he verified my name. He mentioned a posh suburb of a nearby city and asked if I had lived there, and I had. I did. I lived there until I was eight.

I went to elementary school with him. Our moms were friends. I hadn’t seen him since I was eight—only, I really had seen him, not knowing that the dark haired guy who works in the store room at the co-op is someone I knew from the time I was five. He said he’s seen me around but didn’t know it was me. I mean, the last time I saw him was when we moved away, seventeen years to the day. To the day.

What do you say to someone you haven’t seen since you were eight? What do you say to someone you haven’t seen in seventeen years?

What do you say to someone who doesn’t know that your mom died? Who doesn’t know to ask? To whom that information is relevant as much as anything about you is relevant? Who would have to tell his own mother that an old friend is dead?

He asked how I was, and my mind raced through all of the possible answers: Good. Okay. Fine, thanks. Great! Really well—this is my partner... My mom died in February.

It’s not easy to catch up when you’re signing your credit card slip and balancing a giant box of toilet paper against the checkout lane. But, I know where he works. I’m sure I’ll run into him again. Maybe I’ll invite him to the Sodomy Party in June, and we can catch up then.

That was all awkward and weird, but the hard part, the scary part, the holyshitihavetocallmydad part is how close to the surface it brought one of my constant fears: telling people about Mom. It’s always there, this dread of being engaged in a conversation and having to tell someone that my mother is dead. It’s on my mind. I’ve been known to avoid people I haven’t seen or talked to since before February simply because I would have to say it. It’s not the same as being at the doctor’s office and speaking about my winter weight loss. That’s an explanation, a relaying of facts.

I dread avoiding it. I dread choosing the time to mention it. I fear the conversational jolt of it, the needle on the psychic record player skidding off. I don’t want to answer the same questions about that time in my life, and I don’t want not to be asked them. An old friend has been avoiding me, maybe for these reasons herself. We haven’t spoken much in the last several years, but she knows about Mom—her parents came to a visitation. We avoided each other at the co-op a month or more ago. I’ll let her pretend this doesn’t exist. I know I’d like to.

Wednesday, May 05, 2004

That whole "ashes and dust" thing

We set the date for Mom’s burial and have begun the long, cold path of planning it. It is my proximity to the clergyperson contracted to perform the service for the burial that dictates me as the one to work with her. I like her and all, but this was a really hard thing to do. We’ve made a bit of progress, and I think it will work out well in the end. The funeral included a reading from the Wisdom of Solomon:

For in her there is a spirit that is intelligent, holy, unique, manifold, subtle, mobile, clear, unpolluted, distinct, invulnerable, loving the good, keen, irresistible, beneficent, humane, steadfast, sure, free from anxiety, all-powerful, overseeing all, and penetrating through all spirits that are intelligent and pure and most subtle. For she is a breath of the power of God, a reflection of eternal light, a spotless mirror of the working of God, and an image of God’s goodness.

I like that and want to incorporate something like that into the service. And there’s the fact that we’re returning her body to the earth, giving it back to the land that nourished her. And all of the power and energy and passion she pushed into her community to try to improve resources for and awareness of sufferers of domestic abuse. And that all of the love she gave us is seeping out of us and foisted upon the people around us.

I’m supposed to come up with a ritual, a word, a gesture to encompass all of that?

What color would you say it was?

I got really, really sick last week. Sick like I haven’t been in a long time. Fortunately, I still have a little sick time left and was able to take that time off—paid—from work. Unfortunately, Brooke got it too, meaning that our weekend of babysitting Hannah was blown. She spent all of Saturday sleeping. I may have seen her for an hour. Then Sunday morning, Hannah decided at 2am that she wanted into our bed. At 4, she woke me up while she stared at the ceiling and practiced saying “No.” (I know I’m biased, but she’s got a great “No.”) As soon as she realized I was awake, it was all over.

We snuggled on the couch with a bottle and some Baby Shakespeare, and she fought falling asleep every step of the way. Every time she realized she was dozing off, she’d scream and flail and throw herself off the couch. God forbid she sleep at FOUR THIRTY IN THE MORNING.

Right. Anyway. Eventually she did. Eventually, I got more rest. Eventually, we had a good day and packed up and left, only to come home feeling crappier than when we left. By this point, I had snot coming out of my lungs and nose and it was green from both directions. Monday morning, I called the doctor. My afternoon appointment led to a trip to the Meijer pharmacy. I felt like ass. I was tired, dizzy, nauseated, snotty, headachy, etc., and I had to go home and think about dinner.

Rather than wait for the prescriptions at the pharmacy, I went to the frozen food section to peruse their selection of Junk. Junk is a many splendor thing. It’s cheap, quick, tasty, and not very good for you but will fill you up. When I feel like ass, I buy Junk. I traipsed through the frozen food--haphazardly shoving my cart, as I had managed to choose the wimpiest cart in the entire county—and picked up anything that looked good, including a couple of bags of frozen vegetables. Then, I spotted the Oberon. It’s in! I smiled weakly and picked up a six-pack.

Wandering back through the pharmacy, I picked up another six-pack, this time of Ensure. You see, that five pounds per month weight gain challenge I had made didn’t quite pan out. I gained five pounds from February to March but nothing in April. Since I’ve been sick, I’ve lost at least two. I need more healthy calories. Thus, Ensure.

I also noticed the greeting cards, and while thinking about what kinds of greeting cards we might be needing soon, I remembered that THAT DAY was my five year anniversary with Brooke! Okay, bought a card.

Now, I know what you’re thinking, and yes, it’s true. A la Steve of One Good Thing fame, I bought my wife beer for a romantic occasion. (Only Leigh Anne’s was for Valentine’s Day. Mine was only for an anniversary that’s been subsumed by our wedding anniversary.) She really likes it though. And she didn’t get anything for me, so I guess I still come out ahead.

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