One Year Later ; A reflection & “as told by Dad” ghost story is

Today marks the first year since my Dad died.

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 to reach 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.

How’s it Feel, like Really Feel?

How does it feel to be grieving a year later? 

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.

Credit goes to GriefKid & thanks to UntangleGrief on instagram for sharing. It’s accounts like this that remind me I’m not the only one.

Briars and Seedsprouts

The sharp edges of grief

I had to think long and hard about this, I spent most of my morning befuddled and confused since so much of grief to me has felt like a shadow. A dark covering over all the moments that are good. 

There is a sharpness though, and I know it exists in the pain but today I want to talk about sharp edges as self-preservation. The moments when someone’s comments about how I deal with the loss of My Parents, and by extension the only close living relatives I’ve ever had, cut me deeply and I go into an awful and defensive place. 

When my mothers body was found on July 23rd of 2020 we were not on speaking terms. I had gone no-contact with her in August of 2019 after she threatened my life, on multiple occasions, because I had called crisis on her for a wellness check. She’d shacked up with some guy she met in a halfway house and was acting erratically. She wasn’t sleeping, and her closest friends said they didn’t feel safe having her in their homes. 

Naturally I was concerned, and being her daughter I knew she wouldn’t listen to what I had to say so I did what I thought was right. I called in the professionals. 

They did nothing. She went  into ‘therapy’ eventually, and claimed she was working the program and getting help, but over the next year I could see the mania behind her eyes and kept my distance. I told her we could ‘open the lines of communication’ soon, but with my father withering away from the cancer I as a bit…preoccupied.

Today I made a comment on a family’s post, something about how we shouldn’t worry about what’s expected, the marriage and family and kids and all that. I made a reply:

This is all quite lovely. And it’s how I’ve spent most of my adult life.

I never worried about being married, having kids, buying a house etc etc.

Yet here I am, 33 years old with no job and no family.

What’s my point? Words are lovely, but it’s the actions we take in each moment that truly matter.

Now I didn’t mean anything mean or callous by this, just that taking those initiatives and really choosing how we use our moments is what matters.

And that’s when my Aunt decided to text me 

“I”m so sorry you lost your job!! But you don’t have a family?!?!? THat’s news to me.” I tried to explain that wasn’t meant as a job towards her, but she wouldn’t accept it. Then she brought out her favorite saying, “The door swings both ways” (insinuating I could’ve reached out to her)

And well… that’s when I got sharp. The anger that grief can bring is something I have to fight back, frequently, lest I alienate every last person on earth. 

“Yea. 

It surely doesn’t swing out this way very often though. 

I’m sorry, but where were you when I watched my father die? Where was the input from me when you held a memorial for my mother the day before I went back to work?

That comment I made, on your daughter’s facebook post, was meant more in the vein that I don’t have the immediate blood family I can turn to. You’ve taken it in an entirely different direction, and I can go there if that’s what you want. 

So please, go ahead and disown me just like your sister did. It’s old hat at this point.”

That is the sharpness. That is a bitter tongue speaking acrid words from a place so dark I hate to know it’s there. 

Sprouts of Sanity

So when exchanges like the previous post occur I’m left in this horrible lurch, this place where I can’t quite tell if the monster is me or if I’m just being buffeted by the storms and the anger around me. 

After that exchange I called an uncle, my father’s brother, to talk and catch up a bit. 

“Well, if I’m being honest I kinda stepped in it this time” I told him, referring to the exchange with my mothers’ sister. 

“Well, family is hard” he said in no uncertain terms. “It’s unfortunate the people were born into are usually the most difficult to get along with.” We talked some more, he’s heading to colorado for a job and we talked about road trips and travels. 

I then talked with boyfriends mother, who has been more family to me than my blood kin for a long while and most especially since all of this happened. 

“Well, she could’ve just said ‘we love you and we’re here for you’”.

That right there stopped me cold in my tracks. No more of the sharp, burning anger but a softening. A realization that her words were said intentionally to get a rise out of me. To make me angry and cause some form of chaos. Had she taken a moment maybe she wouldn’t have brought out that jagged bit of me. 

That isn’t to say I couldn’t have bit my tongue, tried to take a more civil route in all this myself, but it does give me pause. 

I may have those briars and bristle against others, against critiques and criticisms, but I know they exist. It is in that knowing, in that self-knowledge that I take refuge that I can rise above it. That I need not add kindle to the fire when I feel it beginning to grow inside. 

So while I may find myself full of jagged bits and sticking briars, I can also let time and space soothe those wounds. I can nurture the briar until the seed sprouts and something new and green comes through. 

I am but a seed, hard shelled and covered with prickers, but filled with the potential of a future I can scarcely imagine. 

The trick of it..

The trick is…

The thing is that dead is dead. Forever. Grief is a permanent place, but a death is only a moment. It’s the duality of the blood on my moms pillowcase and the bright summer sun that shone through the window.

It’s the sound of my Dad’s labored breathing as I stood in the doorway of the room where he died and the sunlight that streams through now in a room so vastly changed.

That’s the trick if it, that death is just around each corner while I sit in this garden watching the flowers in bloom swaying with the wind of spring. That each day the sun grows longer while I hide from it, praying for the rain.

Truth is, grief sucks.
But then again love hurts so here we are.

Colors remembered

Forest Green was her favorite color. As a kid anytime I asked my mother that was the answer, never seafoam or lime but forest green. Ironic I think since she wasn’t much of a fan of the forest in general. Something about that dark color, that hint of something…

I don’t talk about my mother much, and her suicide, because it hurts so much more than my father’s death. My father fought, he tried, he wanted to be here. To stay. He lived a month and 5 days longer than her in horrific pain but she left me. She chose to abandon me, to never read the letter I wrote saying I wanted us to have a relationship. 

They both had hazel eyes, my parents, but Mom’s had flecks of green where Dad had bits of gold on the edges. Where they had dark hair and olive skin I was the little blue-eyed toe-head with skin that burnt on contact with the sun. Two months before my father’s diagnosis we sat together in his yard around the fire, he was telling me how beautiful I was when I was born (then corrected it to am), how I was the most beautiful baby. 

My father never told me his favorite color, but I’d always ask. He may have said blue at one point, but I could be fabricating that memory. 

Regardless, when I think of him it’s always in greens. Greens of the leaves in the forest, of the water swirling in the gorge where we’d go when I was little. Sometimes it’s the pines in contrast to the orange-yellow-red of the fall. Of my birthday, October, when the hillsides come alive for a moment before they go bare. 

In the spring it was the bright greens you see on the buds in the trees, especially against the gray landscape that is most of spring in New England. This spring where I remember growing tomatoes last year, talking with him about the days getting longer and the hope that’s always there. 

Except when it isn’t. When the hope is gone and there is no chance at redemption or reunification, and it’s times like these where I sit and wait and pray to whatever god might be listening to Please, Please make the sun less bright. Let the gray skies just take over for a while so I can sit in quiet without the feeling I’m wasting my life.

I took the time to write this out, so that’s less of a waste right?

Olfactory Ramblings

It’s 2pm on a Sunday afternoon, the sun is bright and there are wisps of smoke that curl up from the ashtray, catching the suns light. The smell of the smoke, dirt and raw wood that permeates the trucks cabin sink into my clothes as my Dad goes over the checklist once again. Tires, mirrors, seat, steering wheel. Gotta check each one before you get in to drive.

4 pm on a Thursday, sitting in the basement with him as I look at treasures he’s collected while we talk about life and what comes next. That same cologne, the wood stove burning brightly and I know my coat will carry it home for me.

Decades later, when our lessons in the empty lot are long gone and I’m sitting here alone on a dark patio in the small town you once lived, I catch that scent in the breeze. I savor it like a fine wine and try to carry it with me, hold it just a moment longer to warm me, pretending everything is going to be alright.

If I believe it hard enough it’ll come true. If I hold onto good that’s what will come, that’s what you always said.

So I’ll keep holding on.