If you’ve spent some time here, read along with the story so far you may have noticed I don’t seem to spend much time with Family.
“Why is that?” You wonder, “With so much loss you’d think the family would come together and support each other. Bloods thicker than water after all…”
Yeah, except when it isn’t.
Except when you spend the anniversaries of your parents deaths mostly alone, keeping busy with as many mundane things as you can find.
When you get a phone call from your mother’s brother on the anniversary of your dads death, a man who only met him a few times over 30 years ago, and he is the Only Person to ask “How’re you doing?”
When you remember the last moments of your dads life, holding his hand surrounded by strangers. Those two other people that share his DNA and a vague resemblance to you, those same two you haven’t seen since that fateful afternoon last August.
Family, the way it’s portrayed by the media as this steadfast harbor in a storm, is a lie.
Family is no more than those people who share a vague genetics connection to me. Who’s concern only extends as far as how I might be of use in their times of need.
Family is a curse. A promised lie I can’t help but fall for each and every time it’s spoken. Like some pathetic dog returning to its master despite their indifference and neglect, when even the dog knows it’d do much better if it just stayed out alone.
It hurts to know it’ll never be. I’ll never have the love and support I see taken for granted by so many.
That’s exactly one year of my existence on a planet where my parents aren’t. Where I can’t call them, or stop by on a random Tuesday to say hi. A whole circuit around the sun on a big blue rock when I didn’t have them toreach out to.
It’s been a long year, but it’s only the first. I’ve seen & felt grief in so many ways I never imagined; and it hurts.
That’s just another piece of the story though, and who reads a story where everything goes right?
Nobody, because it’s the hard stuff that makes it worthwhile somehow. Even when it doesn’t seem like it. It’s diving into what’s unknown, uncomfortable & potentially painful that makes us.
But I digress, I started this with the intention of telling you a a Real Life Ghost Story, so here it is:
On a summer day, long long ago Dad went for a country drive with an old friend. Though they didn’t have a destination in mind, they were hoping to find a new fishing spot along along the streams that run throughout the hills of western MA.
As they drove the road started to curve awat from the River, bringing them higher into the hills. Up here the homes become more sparse. The trees thicker, the bright summer day began to feel heavy as the two turned a sharp corner, noticing a clearing in the trees up ahead.
As the truck approached the men realized what they’d found, not unusual in rural New England, the gate of a crumbling old cemetery.
The clearing was perfect for a break from the truck where they’d sat for so long, so the two men peeled themselves from the seats to stretch their limbs. Dad & Friend wandered together for a bit, trying to make out what was written on the headstones without much luck.
Eventually the two split up, with Dad heading towards the back of the clearing. Here the stones were little more than crumbling lumps, barely distinguishable from the ground. Dad see something off to his right, near the back edge of the cemetery.
As he gets closer it’s clear that this it’s another headstone, but in much better shape than any of its neighbors. Once he reaches the stone he reaches out to brush away some of the dirt and loss that covered the writing, only to recoil in horror before running full tilt back to the truck yelling for friend to follow ASAP.
Written on the stone was his name, but the dates were worn completely off. We’d tried to find the cemetery a few times over the years with no luck, odds are it was some great-great grand-uncle (we’ve been here a while apparently…) but still. I’d be spooked.
It’s different, but I’m not sure how much so. I know a lot hasn’t happened that I expected, and a lot of things have come up that I never saw coming.
As far as this loss goes, it’s a wound. A year ago I got two huge cuts, one down each side from my armpits to my hips. Normally healing these kinds of things starts with the mourning; with sharing the collective loss with the community and those who knew them. Sharing the loss, the stories and the pain helps to close the wound a bit, it’s not healed but it’s on it’s way.
There was no collective mourning here however, and the day my dad died was the last time I saw anyone blood-related to him.
Skipping this step it feels as if the cuts have scabbed over, maybe even started to grow scar tissue but they’re anything but healthy.
Healing might not be the linear process we’d expect. What seems to be an old wound suddenly starts to warm, and I can feel the swelling from under my skin. There’s infection, something that needs release before the body can stitch everything back together. As painful as the infection becomes the urge to try and force it out is strong.
Thing is, you can’t just force the bad away. You need to get rid of it, for sure, but that takes time. Maybe just some TLC, maybe a round of antibiotics. Only thing I know is when you squeeze a pimple it gets 10x worse. Same goes for Grief.
So the cycle has gone this year, from healing to infection; relief to pain. Right now I’m in the infection stage, that bit where it’s not ready to be drained but you know the pain is there. I was hoping that by writing I could trick myself into purging the pain. No luck there.
Sunday will make it a year from the day my Dad passed, and it’s looking like I’ll be spending it alone.
Let me stop you right there friend, this isn’t your usual blog post about gardening woes. I’m not here writing to complain about my lack luster tomato plants or the squirrels that are digging holes in the garden beds killing what little is thriving (even though that is happening…)
No, I want to burn my garden because it failed on a much bigger scale.
See, last summer I built the raised beds to save my seedlings since the greenhouse wasn’t an option ( The greenhouse is it’s own story for another day…). I had a ridiculous number of cherry tomato plants, but only one beefsteak survived.
Turned out that those big juicy tomatoes were my Dads favorite, so I tended that plant like my life depended on it.
Or his, actually.
I had this hope, this ridiculous dream that I’d bring him that tomato and we’d sit around like old times; that with one bite he would commend me for my gardening skills and reminisce about summers past.
Funny thing about pancreatic cancer is it makes eating excruciating.
The day the tomato had finally ripened I made plans to go visit ASAP. As I drove up to his house I played out all the scenarios of us enjoying this moment, how wonderful this t would be. That despite the pain and nausea he’s be able to taste it’s juices and magically he’d begin to go into remission.
When I got to the house I sliced it up and sprinkled some salt, then put it on the coffee table while we watched some shark week. He told me how beautiful it was, how “a garden fresh tomato is the taste of peak summer”, but he never took a bite.
Eventually I started eating it, grabbing spices hoping someone else would follow suit.
When I left I was the only one to try it. He said he’d take a bite later, that when he ate the pain got worse and he didn’t want to ruin our time together.
I believe he did, and that the tomato failed to be the panacea I had built it up to be.
When he died in August I stopped tending the garden. I wasn’t going to grow anything this year, but At some point I planted tomatoes again. Only beefsteak, but the cherry’s self seeded all around the bed.
I care for it, neglectfully so but still. Green tomatoes are growing, and I hate them.
It’s a duality, like so many others, this perfect example of “life goes on” that inherently reminds me of death. I want to burn it, a huge pyre and pit to replace the green that’s there now, taunting me with the memory of Hope dashed.
I won’t though, there’s flowers coming back. Even a cucumber plant bloomed this week. So, it staysfornow.
So first a disclaimer; as long as I can remember I have been fascinated by the unexplained. Ghosts, ufo’s, ancient mysteries like the pyramids or the Nazca lines…if it’s purported to exist I secretly wanna see it.
That being said, I feel sometimes as if there’s just a bit too much coincidence in way things come together in my life. It’s just a little too..neat.
For example, when I was about 6 i made a friend named Sarah, she had an older sister and they lived around the corner from me. About a year later they moved and the new family also had two girls, the younger one named Sarah. She’s still my best friend today.
Skip ahead to this week, when two random events occurred completely by chance but so perfect I couldn’t have planned it better.
Let’s start off with the planning of a memorial for my Dad. My aunt & I had been going over where in the park we should reserve a space, not quite lining up with our ideas but finally agreeing on one. When I called to reserve it I was told everything for that date had already been taken, except the one that’s near his memorial bench. We hadn’t considered it before, his bench is near the playgrounds & the river so it didn’t seem very private and was a longer walk from the parking area. Suffice it to say we’ll be next to his spot, without either one of us choosing it.
Now let’s talk about today. I’d decided to get some flowers to fill in a bed I’d made last summer. I figured i should get some low, ground cover kind of stuff. As I was driving I thought how nice it’s be to have Black-eyed Susans. Susan’s my mom’s name, so I’ve always associated them with her. Last year I couldn’t find them anywhere and gave up.
As I pulled into the garden center there was a huge sign out front, 2 for 1 Black Eyed Susan’s.
Even now, as I was lying in bed trying to read and distract myself enough to fall asleep, this happens:
Jack & Susan…of all the names in all the world…those are my parents names’.
So, now it’s 11pm and all this kismet coincide has me teary eyed and wondering:
If these are all signs from the universe? If so what’s being said?
Or is it just happenstance? Events easily explained away and disregarded.
What truly matters, at least in my opinion, is that I noticed. That I found significance in the mundane. What else do we really have in this life if not that?
My mom was a lot of things, but one thing she was above all else was independent. She raised me alone, sure she had friends & family who cares about us and helped where they could but at the end of the day it was just the two of us.
So when it came to household stuff like cleaning or fixing the dryer she had to figure it out. I learned a lot through watching her. Things that I take for grant today, like knowing how to light the pilot on the stove or insulate the windows for winter, that a lot of my friends are clueless about.
For years I’ve attributed these skills & knowledge/ to my time at Home Depot. Sure I learned stuff there but that’s not where I learned the drive to fix. To figure it out because no one else will, and to do so alone because there’s no other option.
Today I hung a clothesline. I’d tried last weekend with my boyfriend but was missing a piece. I had everything ready to go but kept putting it off, waiting for someone else to be around just in case.
Would it have been easier with help? No doubt. Was it impossible to do alone? No, it just required a bit more creativity (and patience…I damn near tore the whole thing down out of frustration more than once)
Ultimately situations like this remind me that I am capable of doing things independently even if I’d rather not. So yeah, thanks mom.
Death season is upon me, while I suppose it’s technically season 2 I didn’t know season 1 was coming so…
Here we are. One year ago I was reeling from my moms unexpected suicide while trying desperately to cling to hope that my dad would survive.
It was a shitty time to say the least. However I can’t say this moment is much better; over the past year I’ve had family disown me & lost a job. Granted that job generally made me miserable, I miss my students.
I miss having an obligation, where someone would notice if I’m not around. where I was held account for my time.
Truthfully I’ve spent most of the past year in Disbelief (dissociation?) that they’re truly gone. I go from numb to paralyzed and back again daily. Some days the realness of it all is so intense I get sick, retching from anxiety like when I was a kid and had to sleep away from home.
August 29th will mark the end of this first (or second?) Death Season, between now & then let’s try to memento mori. Live this life remembering death will come to us all.
◦ Go back in the store and buy shit you don’t need to distract yourself
◦ Spend too long trying to find a valid reason to do thing 1
◦ Instead decide to go inside use the bathroom and/or splash your face with water
◦ Pace awkwardly around your car because standing is even more awkward
◦ Mentally list everyone you can think of in the vicinity, as well as the probability they’re around and will keep you company
◦ maybe call one
◦ Feel a bit silly about the call (of you got that far).
◦ Lean awkwardly against your car and hope that you’re the only person shitty enough to assume someone leaning on their car in a Walmart parking lot might be some kinda junkie/drug dealer/other miscellaneous miscreant
◦ Collect shopping carts in the hopes that people who are sitting inside their cars (lucky assholes) won’t notice you hanging out in a parking lot (and avoiding previous scenario)
◦ Endlessly refresh the AAA website to see the ETA
◦ Make a list of what to do when you’re stuck waiting for AAA
◦ Look for more birds
◦ Start to regret not eating that sandwich earlier
◦ Grow concerned as your phone flashes the “low battery” message.
◦ Vacillate between “looking on the bright side” (AKA it could always be worse) and being annoyed that you’re even IN a situation where you’re imagining worst case scenarios to feel better
◦ Think about zombies
◦ Make small talk with the kind older lady who asks if you need anything
◦ Be glad you impulse-bought a AAA membership last month for the free maps
◦ Watch somebody do their hair standing outside their car (hairspray & all) by looking at their reflection in their rear view mirror
◦ Realize they probably did that because it’d suck to be in a car filled with hair spray fumes
◦ Wonder why they’re taking so much care with their hair before entering Walmart
◦ Notice the storm clouds off in the distance aren’t quite so distant anymore…
◦ Make a mental note to start keeping a small notebook on your person for future updates
◦ Flag down the AAA truck with the light weight plaid you have tied a
◦ Thank Raziel (who was awesome) and congratulate yourself. You’ve survived a very minor 1st world inconvenience. (which isn’t always quite as easy as it sounds.)
I cried when I realized what came next on the kitchen calendar. I don’t mean I shed a quiet tear in memoriam, what I mean is I crumpled on the kitchen floor sobbing so hard I lost breath, all because I didn’t want what came next.
July is the start of the death season, the time one year ago when I lost both my parents in quick succession.
On July 23rd, 2020 I received a phone call. It was my aunt, who rarely ever calls me.I knew it wouldn’t be good news or a casual chat. I knew someone was hurt, bad.
“Mum’s gone, Jacquelyn.”
“What do you mean she’s gone?”
“Momma’s dead, she killed herself”
Cue me trying to logic my way out of this, me rationalizing that she might not be dead. That her friend, who found her lifeless body lying in her bed, could be mistaken. That we had to wait for the paramedics, for the professionals. That this wouldn’t have been the first false alarm….
Except it wasn’t false.
She was dead. She had overdosed on prescriptions and slit her wrists. I remember going to pack up her apartment and sitting on her bedroom floor, staring at her bed. When my cousin tried to tear me away I wouldn’t leave, her brother understood something I couldn’t have explained. He walked her out of the room and stood stoically behind me as I stared at her blood soaked pillow cases.
“You want a minute?” He asked . I don’t recall if I just nodded, or if I managed words, but I do remember sitting alone on her floor. I think I was trying to make myself feel something, anything. Trying to soak up the reality of this impossible situation.
My mom killed herself and I needed to see that proof.
I needed evidence, and in the months that followed I was obsessed with getting the truth. I would call the detective who left me his card, asking again and again for whatever evidence she’d left behind. Her friend mentioned a note, did they have it? Could i see it? What about her cell phone, was there anything relevant on there?
Eventually I got the cell phone, the first and only smartphone she’d ever owned. On it were worried voicemails from a woman I don’t know, asking if she’s ok. The last one was from October…after that they stopped. Her mailbox was full.
I never saw the note.
Along with the search for answers, for concrete evidence, there was anger. I couldn’t (and still struggle) to understand how she could give up her life while my father was fighting so hard to stay…
How could she leave me? Why did she give up? We hadn’t spoken in almost a year, but I’d sent her a letter. I wanted to try to have a functional relationship, maybe we could be penpals at first? I found the letter in her mailbox. She decided for me, for us, that we could never make it right.
Boy howdy did that piss me right off.
By taking the most drastic of measures she ended any hope of reconciling, of developing a stronger and healthier relationship with me. She made a choice for both of us, and I hated her for it.
I’m sure I will again, but not right now.
For the past two weeks or so this experience, the whole ‘grieving’ thing, has shifted for me. The dread of the first anniversary of her death has all but extinguised my anger, instead bringing all the guilt and sorrow to the surface.
This wasn’t her first tango with death, she’d had many attempts over the years stretching as far back as I can remember.
The only difference this time is I wasn’t there.
I wasn’t there to see the signs. To encourage her to get help. To force her in the car and drive her to the hospital myself, to childlock the doors when she tried to jump out on the freeway.
Logically I know that if a person is determined enough there is no stopping them, but I still feel guilty. I feel abandoned, and alone in a way I can’t possibly describe. While I believe that grief is isolating for everyone, since we all share a unique bond with the deceased, I feel especially fucked. Her family, besides one brother, has all but disappeared over the past year. Besides I don’t really know any of her friends, and I’ve only myself to blame for that.
I’ve arranged to have a picnic next week in her name, I reserved a bunch of tables and invited people on Facebook. I called the one friend of hers I do know, she said she’d take off the day and come by. That she’d let others know.
I’m doing this in the hopes that other people can share their good memories of my Mom, because mine are all tainted. I’d like to have something positive to hold onto, and I need help finding it.
I’ve been reading a lot about stoicism, this philosophy where (in a nutshell) you on increasing ‘positive’ emotions and minimizing the negative ones. Basically use your energy on the good stuff and avoid getting caught up in the anger, misery, pain of the shitty shit that comes with life.
It’s a great idea, and honestly sounds a lot like the kind of advice my Dad would give. In some ways it’s easy to think of a bad attitude or negative emotion like a kind of virus. It’s unwanted, often unexpected, and contagious. If left unchecked it can quickly overwhelm your system.
Good news is that, just like a virus, there’s something to be be done about it. We can try to prevent it showing up at all by practicing good habits. We can work to notice the symptoms early on, catch those errant thoughts before they develop into something worse. And, like with any contagion, we can avoid those we know are infected, thereby minimizing our risk of catching “Bad Mood By Proxy”.
Since so much of what I’ve written here is about loss and pain and the suck that is grieving you might be wondering “How can this possibly apply to Grief? How can you remedy this forever ache that can’t be fixed?”.
That’s what I’m trying to figure out myself, and though I’m not sure exactly how to make it happen I know it’s worth trying. I know I can experience the pain when it comes, but I can also recognize and embrace all the good times as well.
Yes I’m sure I’ll still breakdown at the drop of a hat, or get angry about how things played out. How unfair and unjust life can be, how could this have happened, why me….etc etc. But The Plan is to see these thoughts & recognize them for what they are before they turn into a pity-party spiral of sadness.
To refocus myself, staying present but still acknowledging the pain.