Postcards of Grief

Mourning is a process.

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

Tuesday, November 23, 2004


I’m feeling a little lost right now, but I felt some obligation, as always, to write. The trip ahead of me is long and complicated—spiritually and physically—and then I have to think about Thanksgiving and my family. Dinner attendance is projected to be almost twenty, and Hope, Brooke, and I are planning to tackle Dad when all of this is over and insist that next year’s dinner be just the seven of us.

There should be some kind of wisdom or insight to spout forth about the first end-of-year holiday season without Mom, but there isn’t. It’s going to be different. It might suck a little. It might suck a lot. I’ll get through it and so will everyone else. Things are going to be different in other ways, not just because Mom won’t be there. There will be new quasi-step-cousins there, and the step-cousins will continue to be there. These are people I resent for no apparent reason.

We're in the middle of painting our living room, so that means that the living room has been completely stripped of everything except dropcloths, tools, lamps, and a CD player. All of the living room furniture and plants have been shoved into the guest room with the exception of the couch which I couldn't fit through the doorway on my own. That's been shoved into the dining room, but the dining room table is so big and heavy that I couldn't move it, only turn it slightly. This table is a former cafeteria table with a large, round base. The top has been tiled and then framed with wood, so it’s ungodly heavy.

In light of that and the fact that we left the cats home alone this past weekend, we’re taking them with us on the Great Thanksgiving Road Trip of 2004. Quid does well in the car. Muggle doesn’t. When Muggle gets stressed, Quid gets angry with him for whining. When Quid is angry, he swats at his brother who is generally sitting on the passenger’s shoulders. That means he swats at the passenger’s face. Over 12 hours of car travel are ahead of me in the next two days. No good can come of this.

Thursday, November 18, 2004

The edges of what you break

Do you remember the night I came over to clean up your blood? You were drunk and had called me in tears. You couldn’t tell me what happened, but I knew what to ask. After you broke the wine glass, you couldn’t stand yourself anymore, so you drew its pieces up the length of your arm. I knew it was really about your boyfriend and the way he made you view your body.

When I got to your apartment, I had to bang on the buzzer and throw pieces of ice at your window. It was so cold that night. I don’t think I was wearing socks, but I knew I was staying the night. The slices on your arm weren’t as deep at I had feared, but I wasn’t expecting that much blood on the walls. Your eyes were puffy but dry, and you had patted down your arms. I brought you a wet washcloth to ease the burning and settled you onto the couch.

Your roommate’s rabbits reminded me of kittens that night. They approached me carefully and sniffed my clothes, but they darted away as soon as I shifted.

You never said anything about that night after the fact. We took classes together. I can remember the day I walked into our African-American studies class, and you told me that today we wouldn’t be having sex. The woman next to you gaped, and we laughed. It was our afternoon class: Sex, Gender, and Sexuality. We abbreviated all of our class names, but we could never agree whether Analysis of Deviance was better shortened to “Anal” or “Deviance.” “Anal Deviance” was an adequate compromise.

Our professors saw us together all the time. I think some of them thought we were dating and yet were very confused. You walked me out to my car when I came over in the dark. I rubbed lotion into your skin when your hands cracked and bled in the winter. We shared taste in music and clothes. We went to shows and rallies together. When Fred Phelps came to campus, you held Nick’s sign up high while I played the Christian lesbian role.

God loves everyone – even bigots

Nick photographed us that day. I don’t know if you knew that. I see that photo every day. It’s you and me. I’m holding the microphone at the rally, and you’re holding up the sign.

We haven’t hung out since September 10, 2001, when we had dinner with Sheila and then played Monopoly. I don’t know what happened, if you had a life-changing experience the next days or weeks, but you stopped calling me back. You’ve never seen my house. You didn’t come to my wedding. You emailed about a year ago to say you had a new phone number. I made the cut that time. I replied to ask how things were going, and I never heard from you.

And when my mom was dying, you were on my list of people to inform. You had sent her a card when she was in the hospital, and she thought that was so sweet of you. You never wrote me back. She’s dead and I miss you.

A catmom's pride

Quidditch is going to the vet tomorrow. We're hoping this trip will be less eventful than last year's. We had a family meeting this morning to discuss whether he should get the vaccine. If Dr. LeVet says yes and is willing to hold him for an hour for observation, then we do it. If she says no, then we don’t.

Isn’t he beautiful?

Monday, November 15, 2004

On another Jesusy note

The real question is, why aren't we organizing?

For release 11/08/2004

Where is the Christian left when you need it?
By Leonard Pitts Jr.
Tribune Media Services

I have to thank Jimmy Carter for saving my sanity.

Granted, his was not a presidency one looks back to with fondness. Gas lines stretched forever, Iran took our people hostage and there was disco, besides.

But Carter's ex-presidency has been a model of that unofficial institution. He has built homes for the poor, mediated wars, helped feed the hungry in Africa, fought disease in Latin America. In so doing, Carter, a deacon of Maranatha Baptist Church in Plains, Ga., has obeyed a directive Jesus issued one of his disciples.

Do you love me? He asked Simon Peter.

Peter said yes.

Feed my sheep, said Jesus.

Remembering Carter's example, his very public embrace of that command, is what has gotten me through the last week without a facial tic. Or to put it another way: If one more person tells me "morality" guided their decision to vote for George W. Bush, my head is going to pop like a balloon.

Beg pardon, but one is hard pressed to find much evidence of morality in Bush's ineptly prosecuted war, his erosion of civil rights, and the loss of international credibility his policies have caused. Unless, of course, one has been quaking in one's boots at the prospect of same-sex couples making a commitment straight couples have avoided like SARS. In that case the vote probably reflects one's morality just fine.

More's the pity.

No political tactician am I, but I think Democrats made a fundamental mistake when the Christian right rose as a political force: They watched it happen, ceded God to the GOP without resistance, without so much as a beg your pardon. Democrats, fearful of unsettling the secular West and Northeast, only shrugged as the Almighty was packed up and shipped South, where He is to this day routinely trotted out to endorse various would-be governors, senators and school board members.

Small wonder faith has come to seem inextricable from voting the straight Republican ticket.

And if you are, as I am, a Christian who remembers what Jesus told Simon Peter, it is galling to see Him reduced to a GOP shill, wrapped in a flag and used as a prop to advance a conservative agenda. Which, by the way, stands the Bible on its head.

After all, the book says Jesus consorted with lepers and prostitutes. It says He talked with women - which was beneath a man of His time and place - and washed the feet of his followers.

And it tells us He said things that seemed to make no logical sense.

If someone takes your shirt, let him have your cloak as well.

If someone hits you on the right cheek, offer him the left.

Love your enemies.

This was crazy talk. There was nothing conservative about this man.

So I look at the success conservatives on the so-called Christian right have had in claiming Him as their exclusive property and I wonder, where in the heck is the Christian left? Where are the people who preach - and live - the biblical values of inclusion, service, humility, sacrifice, and why haven't they coalesced into an alternative political force?

Instead of a movement like that, we have an old peanut farmer building houses.

You wish there was more. You wish there were Christian people shouting from the rooftops that these other people, with their small minds and niggardly spirits, do not represent all of us. And that the faith exemplified by the politics of exclusion is not the faith the rest of us celebrate, not the faith that lifts us and settles us and makes us whole.

But nobody's shouting these things. It occurs to me that maybe they're all too busy building houses for poor people. And that maybe I should be as well.

God bless you, Jimmy Carter, wherever you are.

(Leonard Pitts is a columnist for the Miami Herald, 1 Herald Plaza, Miami, Fla., 33132. Readers may contact him at (888) 251-4407 or via e-mail at lpitts@herald.com.)

© 2004, The Miami Herald

Thursday, November 11, 2004

‘Sup, dude? Prayer me back.

or: Are you there, God? It’s me, Pablo.

My friend and fellow parishioner at Holy Lutheran Church, Pablo, is heading the call committee. We’re in the process of looking for a permanent pastor, and Brooke is serving on the committee. She came home last night with one thing sitting mightily on her chest. He leads them in prayer at the beginning of every meeting, and at three meetings a week, Brooke is on the verge of tearing her hair out.

She hates the way Pablo prays. To be fair, articulate extemporaneous prayer is hard to do. It's a talent or a practiced skill, and if you're not trained, you've either got it or you don't. Most don’t.

One example of a particularly bad "most," pulled from an episode of This American Life titled “Music Lessons” is transcribed below:
Father God, right now in the name of Jesus, God. We come to thank you, O God. We want to thank you for gathering us here, O God. We come against every spirit that is trying to hinder this choir, right now in the name of Jesus.
If you doubt me, go listen to it yourself. It’s 4 and a half minutes into the Real Audio.

Pablo’s prayers are not that bad, bless him. They are, like most things, annoying until you find a way to find them amusing. However, once you find them amusing, you’re screwed if you can’t adequately stifle a giggle under the necessary circumstances.
Hey, God, it’s the call committee here at Holy Lutheran Church in Springfield. You probably know that we’re preparing to interview some more candidates for our campus pastor. Please guide us and help us make good decisions in this process. Okay? Great. Thanks, God. Amen.
It’s like he’s leaving God a voicemail.
Anyway, I guess you’re not in. Catch you later.

Tuesday, November 09, 2004

Potted Plants

When my mom died in February, a group of former Ms.ers chipped in and did many wonderful things for Brooke and me. Among other things, they bought plants. Nice plants. I brought two of them to work (along with one of my mom's plants) because we already have some plants in my office, and I thought it would be nice to see these plants there, too.

For whatever reason, one of them wasn't doing well. Rather than tend to it, a couple of weeks ago, my officemate moved it on top of the filing cabinet. I decided to take it home, but last week, I was taking the bus home, and it's just easier to put the plant in the car rather than deal with schlepping it along two different bus routes and the half-mile walk home.

Yesterday morning, I arrived at work, and it wasn't on the filing cabinet. It wasn't by the window or on the floor or in the reception area. My program's space consists of two offices and an open reception-like area. This plant was not in any of those rooms. I asked my officemate where the plant went, and she said, "Oh, that wasn't yours, was it? Well, it was dead."

A plant isn't dead, in my experience, until there's no green left. That plant was failing, but it wasn't dead. She swore up and down that it was and compared it to another (very green) plant in the room. She claimed she thought the plant was a cutting of this other (very green) plant which is completely different. Completely. Her plant has segmented stems like this. Mine looks a lot like a peace lily with variegated leaves. Her plant? No variegated leaves.

I told her it was a gift from my mom's funeral and that, no, there really wasn't anything she could do. End of discussion. I had a bit of a meltdown last night with B about how stupid it is to throw away a green plant especially when it's not even hers and how could she think those plants are related even in the slightest and putting it on top of the filing cabinet was a ridiculous thing to do because, uh, they need sunlight and that is why we call them plants. We made plans for Brooke to pick me up from work today so that I could take my other plants home.

This morning, Office Mate brings in a new plant for me. And for all of her claims that she thought it was a cutting of the segmented stem plant, she bought the same kind of plant mine was. She hopes I can accept her apology. I can't even open the card because I'm still so angry and sad, and frankly, I don't really want this plant. It wasn't the plant that I wanted, it was the gift from my friends, and now I can't have that.

Monday, November 08, 2004

Not to put too fine a point on it

You're an asshole.

Friday, November 05, 2004

Rage against the Diebold machine

A computer error involving a voting machine cartridge reportedly handed President George W. Bush an extra 3,893 votes in one precinct in the key state of Ohio.

Thanks. Fantastic. Great.

Most voters in Ohio thought they were voting for Kerry. At 1:05 a.m. Wednesday morning, CNN's exit poll showed Kerry beating Bush among Ohio women by 53 percent to 47 percent. The exit polls were later combined with—and therefore contaminated by—the tabulated results, ultimately becoming a mirror of the apparent actual vote.

Why do we even bother?

Wednesday, November 03, 2004

But did they respect me in the morning?

For the sake of honesty, I should say that Kerry never did ring my bells, but I voted for him. It seemed too hypocritical to campaign for him or put up yard signs, but I was relieved every time I saw a Kerry bumper sticker or button or sign. If nothing else, I knew that he would make better decisions about the Supreme Court, and SCOTUS was probably my greatest long term concern. Annihilation of the current decisions on affirmative action, abortion rights, and sodomy laws don’t even start to put a dent into all of the damage that could be done by the three justices likely to be replaced. I’m angry. I’m terrified. Frankly, I want my mom.

Gay marriage bans passed in eleven states. I’ll be moving from one of those eleven to the state that elected Barak Obama in a landslide. Brooke just needs to finish school, and while she’s doing that, she’ll apply for jobs out of state. We’ll sell the house and buy one there. I’ll find a new job.

I grew up here. Save for a brief stint as a river rat in North Carolina, I’ve always lived here. The marriage ban means no hope for second parent adoptions. No hope that Brooke and I will both be the legal parents of our future children. We both won’t be able to enroll them in school or make medical decisions for them. We may not be able to provide them with health insurance. Only one option for second parent adoptions exists in this state right now, but if it doesn’t work—any judge could deny it—we would both have lost our parental rights.

I feel like I’m being kicked out of my own home. In literal terms, I never was, but I had friends who were. One’s parents told her that as long as she was gay, she couldn’t live under their roof. She moved out for several months, and since she was a student, soon ran out of money. She lied and begged to move back in. That’s what I feel like. I can be here and be gay, but it has to be a secret. No one can know. I have to lie because someone else has convoluted ideas about what my life should be.

After I voted, I drove to the commuter lot and waited for the bus. As I put my keys into the breast pocket of my winter coat, I realized there was something in there, leftover from last winter. It was soft. I pulled out a small handful of red and purple yarn, the yarn I had used to knit socks for her grave. At the funeral home, I had woven in the ends and trimmed them. The yarn went into my pocket and was soon forgotten.

That yarn was so soft and so comforting. It was my own little security blanket, my reminder that someone was watching out for me, and it was going to be okay. My hopes for the outcome of the election were raised, but I guess I was wrong to be so hopeful. It seems more like a comforting blessing that it’s okay to pack up and leave.

Tuesday, November 02, 2004


It's here. It's today.

I dropped Brooke off at work at 6:30 and made it to the polling place at 6:40. There was already a line, so I joined it. It was dark, cold, and rainy. It still is cold and rainy, but not nearly as dark.

We call this "sunrise."

I chatted it up with my neighbors. Not people I know, mind you, but my neighbors nonetheless. We all live within a half mile or so of one another. One is in small construction and built one of the huge houses off my street. Indoor pool, even. Very huge, and quite hard to see from the road. So I chatted with him and asked for a recommendation for a house painter. He mentioned one I’ve heard of, and we chatted some more.

I made it inside shortly after 7:00 and filled out my voter application and got my ballot. When I got back behind the voting table, I suddenly had to pee really, really badly. I had to rush through my ballot, careful to avoid the Republicans, to vote YES on the millages and NO on the proposals, and I narrowly missed peeing on myself before I gathered up my stuff and made to turn in my ballot. Once the machine sucked up my ballot and I grabbed a sticker, I left the building to find the MoveOn.org volunteer who was promised to by standing at the flagpole wearing a red hat. At 7:20, I was the first one to report to him. He hugged me. I drove off.

Yesterday afternoon, my father had called me at work to ask about whether one should overturn a cake with the words “upside” and “down” in the name, even if the recipe doesn’t call for it. I confirmed his suspicions and proceeded to give him a tutorial on frosting. In the end, he went to the grocery for it, but I’d like to think he learned something. I called him back last night to hear how the cake story ended and discuss my mortgage and equity.

My father and I rarely discuss politics. I adore my father, but we have different priorities. I know that I didn’t want to know for whom he planned to vote for President. There’s only one right answer to that question, and if it’s not the right answer, I don’t want to know. It’s for the best. I’m certain he’s voting against the gay marriage ban, but I never did ask.

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