275 days

wp-1468187743004.jpg275 days of saying goodbye. 275 days so far.

We’ve made it through the first month, first Christmas, first Easter, first birthday, the first 9 months.

275 days since they found you lying on your floor. 275 days of imagining you lying there alone.

It started with a phone call, an email and a long drive home to police tape and a stain on your carpet. Days of cleaning and loading parts of you I wanted into my trunk, an obituary and another long drive back. Later a eulogy, a service with your family, your daughters, my daughters, poems, songs, readings, prayers, food, friends family and a goodbye. Another drive.

20160130_122314-01.jpegThen a flight, a Sedona hike with your nephew, a candle and a prayer in The Chapel of the Holy Cross. Another hike, an offering with the same prayer, “I love you Johnny”. I left part of you in Arizona in one of the most sacred places I know. I left your ring, our father’s ring in The 20160130_143710-01.jpegAmitabha Stupa and Peace Park, a place full of love and peace. I left it there wearing your shirt, the sleeves rolled up in the heat.

And this week a drive, a sacred fire, prayers and songs, an offering to the creator in the tradition of the Lakȟóta people. And last night a bamboo leaf, the same prayer, and a candle floating away into the sunset.

 

 

 

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I love you Johnny

the forgotten art of self love

10616274_10204420794615608_257153541342318674_nFor too many days I have not written about you. I tell your stories more quietly, to just myself. Wearing grief on the outside becomes less fashionable as time passes.

I never did unpack my car trunk completely from my last visit home, my last visit to your home, it’s not mine anymore, and so I still hear the shift of your tool bag and the occasional rattle of the metal picture frames in their basket when I turn corners. To unpack them, and store them has a finality to it I’m not quite ready for.

It’s been just over four months. One hundred and thirty eight days more precisely.

In one hundred and forty nine days it will be what should have been your 48th  birthday. I try not to think about that.

Just over four months since they found your cold dead body lying alone on your apartment floor, alone and cold. One hundred and thirty eight days of imaging you there. I hide the grief better now, but it hasn’t dulled. Its weight on my chest a nearly constant presence.

People are trying to be kind and well meaning when they say things like you’re in a better place, or that you’re happy now, or the absolute worst, these things happen for a reason. I know they mean well, but I also know that regardless, you’re not here, and we are.  That there is no good reason for any of this. The people you left behind, the ones who loved you, the ones who loved you despite your struggles, who loved you even when it was the most painful thing in the world to do. We loved you. We still love you. We are still here trying to make sense of a world without you. You’re not in pain anymore, and perhaps one day that will be comforting. It’s not right now. It’s selfish, but when you were alive and in so much pain, we could at least hope. We could hope that you would find your way back.

20151019_143920-01When you were just a little boy mom had to rush you to hospital in the middle of the night. You were very sick, and I remember being so jealous that you got presents, new pajamas, and all the attention. You recovered completely and the dramatic midnight hospital trip became a family antidote that we would pull out and laugh about.

Last night I ended up in hospital in tremendous pain. It was a different time, different place, but the same aliment. But mine was brought on by my own indifference to myself, that and some ambitious and opportunistic bacteria. I did not get presents or new pajamas, but I did finally see how poorly I’ve been taking care of myself. I’m like the character in the video below, a cartoon version of me.

20151019_144255-01Johnny, I think about you every single day, every hour of every day that I’m awake, and often in my sleep. My heart hurts every day. I wear some of your clothes, your art work hangs in my office, your tools rattle in my trunk every time I drive. You are with me every moment, so much so that I forgot that I needed to take care of myself. I have been so wrapped in grief and heartbreak, and keeping that pain inside that I made myself physically ill.

For the first time in a very long time, I cooked a meal just for myself. We were such foodies you and I, and I lost that. Tonight, after a quiet day of post hospital rest, I made myself a wonderful meal and ate it while I read. It was an act of self love that I’d almost forgotten about.

I miss you. I keep waiting for this to be a story I’ve made up, but it never ever is. You’re gone, and I’m still  here.

IMG_5568I love you Johnny,  that was the last thing I ever said to you, last summer, a couple of months before you died, standing in the pouring rain by the lake in Chicago from my cell phone. I had called you on whim, we had barely spoken since your time in ICU, the time we thoug
ht you were going to die, but you pulled through.  I didn’t realize I would never speak to you again.  I still want to say more to you. Maybe that’s why I write these letters to you. Maybe it’s me pretending that you can hear me still. Or maybe I just need to get the words out to keep myself sane.

I love you Johnny, and I miss you so terribly much.305888_1912109127175_7470649_n

 

 

solid rock

Alex Colville, 1954 Horse and Train

Alex Colville, Horse and Train,

Whatever I thought it would be like, it wasn’t this. And I did think about it, we all did. We thought about it a lot in our own ways. Of course there were, increasingly faint, bits of hope that we would cling to, even against all logic, we would hope. Just the same, we knew this day would come, and when it did it was all the things we feared it would be, but also nothing we expected.

“Love is so short, forgetting is so long.” – Pablo Neruda

It was a good service, as these things go, nice music, a moving slideshow of photos of you, appropriate and moving readings and memories, a traditional hymn, and a choir rendition of All You Need is Love, complete with kazoos. It was very John like, right down to the fabulous food we shared afterwards. Everyone seemed pleased. It was closure, it was a send off, it was people holding each other up, it was all you could hope for really.

scribble face 3It was all you could hope for, and yet, I still find myself walking through mud, through fog, through solid rock. I forget things. I lose hours doing nothing. I stare at nothing. I stare at your things that now are in my home, but are still your things. I sleep longer, and am still tired. I stay up too late.

It’s possible I am pushing through solid rock
in flintlike layers, as the ore lies, alone;
I am such a long way in I see no way through,

and no space: everything is close to my face,
and everything close to my face is stone.

I don’t have much knowledge yet in grief
so this massive darkness makes me small.
You be the master: make yourself fierce, break in:
then your great transforming will happen to me,
and my great grief cry will happen to you.
~ Rainer Maria Rilke (Translated by Robert Bly)

This is the grief work they talk about. Pushing through solid rock, an apt enough description. I dream about you sometimes, not the comforting dream where you tell me all is well with you now and you are in a better place, just confusing dreams. Someone said that to me, a couple of people did actually, said that you ‘were in a better place’. I so wanted to punch them in the throat, to wipe the smug, sympathetic, head tilted ever so slightly to the side expression on their faces. I think that would be the anger stage of Loss.

According to Elisabeth Kübler-Ross the 5 Stages of Loss are:

  1. Denial and Isolation – buffering
  2. Anger
  3. Bargaining – the ‘if onlys’, the ‘what ifs’
  4. Depression
  5. Acceptance

I honestly believe I did everything I could. Wait, that’s not true. What if I had shown up on your doorstep, dumped out all your alcohol and physically dragged you to the hospital? Would that have worked? I don’t think so, but I still take out these thoughts and hold them awhile, feel their weight in my hands, build a fantasy around them where, in the end, I save you. After a while I put them down, but I still feel their weight. More than anyone I should have been able to save you. It was everyone else’s first experience with this disease, I was a seasoned veteran. I had done this dance before, I knew all it’s steps. I saw you leaving well before anyone else.

buddha-grief-quoteI saw you leaving, and I let you go.

I let you go. I talked to you, wrote to you, I wrote about you. I wrote about our disease. The one that killed our father, has a hold of my son, the disease that I only get a daily reprieve from.

But I didn’t save you. I know, in my head, that I didn’t cause, couldn’t control or cure you. I know this in my head. Sometimes it helps, but not always. A year ago we almost lost you, but you came back. I thought you might stay. Maybe that was the time to save you that I missed. Maybe.

I still don’t know what to do with your clothes. I don’t know what to do with our stories, the ones only you and I understood. Where do I put the parts of myself that were yours too? I don’t know. I don’t know what to do with a lot of things, things I should be doing, raking the leaves, clearing out the house so it will sell, making appointments, the business of living.

So I sit, pen scratching across paper, drinking coffee, and staring at the still green willow leaves, who will only fall after all the other leaves have been dutifully raked. Mostly I sit staring and nothing. Four of my orchids are re-blooming, did I tell you? No, of course not, what was I thinking. They’ve spent a year deciding to bloom, a year of somewhat attractive foliage, but now, now they are spectacular.

There is a metaphor in that somewhere, but I can’t quite grasp it. Anyhow, you get my meaning.