It’s always the same funeral home. Maybe they specialize in supporting the families of addicts and alcoholics. Maybe one them is one of us and understands. Maybe, maybe not, but it’s the place we meet when one of us dies.
One of us.
Another one of us has died. We gather together again and stumble through all the things you say when there really is nothing that would make this anything other than horrible and tragic. Prayers, Healing Light, God, Heaven, At Peace, Better Place, people say these things when they want to provide some comfort, where there is none to be had. There is nothing that is comforting at a time like this. Honestly the only thing that makes sense to say is that This Sucks, It Sucks A Lot, and I’m sorry. We hug each other, cry, hold hands. We laugh too, just a little, sometimes.
This will be the first memorial I’ve been to since my brother’s. He is at the front of my thoughts today. He is most days, but more so today. I miss him. She will miss her sister. Forty and dead. Somehow this seems worse than forty eight and dead.
Not that you should qualify the degree to which some thing is tragic, but we do just that. Did they have children? How old are the kids? Was it sudden or was it drawn out? How old were they? Were they in love? What were their gifts? Somehow the answers to these questions let us decide relatively how tragic someone’s death is. Then there is the shame or a stigma that can accompany a death from addiction, alcoholism, or mental illness. Sometimes this can let us believe that we can be immune to this kind of death. We cannot. No one is. We know this. It’s why we congregate and reassure each other that we are still okay, that our demons are still in check and that, just for today, we can look at them without needing to hide from or numb our feelings.
As to the purpose of this pain and heartbreak, I can think of just one, and that is to make you better able to be of service to another person. Ultimately, that is all we can do, service is the thing that gets us out of our own ego centered lives and broadens our vision and our reach. John’s death has been unspeakably painful, it has been to date the most difficult thing I have experienced. It brought me to my knees, physically and spiritually. It has made me at times, angry, heartbroken, depressed, cynical, and so many more things. It has also opened me in a way I was not before. Today’s service was excruciating, awash in all the emotions from John’s service and the months following it, but I was also able to be there for a friend and be fully present with the pain she felt.
People die from alcoholism and addiction for many physical reasons, but emotionally a very self centered fear is what takes over their thinking and leads them to their death. Fear of not getting what we desperately want, that we are unlovable, fear that we are unworthy is often what drives us, what holds us back, what causes us to lash out, to retreat and hide. When we live in fear we don’t really live. When we live in fear we can reach for anything to numb it, to take the unbearable feelings away. Living in fear is dark and scary place. The only way out of it is to do the thing that is the most terrifying, to lean into the fear, to feel it completely, to get really, really uncomfortable, to tell someone of your shame, your fears, to be fulling present as yourself, your flawed, imperfect, messy, shameful self. It is here you realize that you can survive being uncomfortable without constant distractions, that you are worthy of love, that you can be comfortable in your own skin.
This is not the easy path. Anyone who has walked it wished for an easier, softer way. If there is one, I have not found it. If there was one there would be fewer services like today.
I don’t expect to get profound life advice from How I Met Your Mother reruns, but life advice can come from anywhere I suppose.
Me. Totally On The Hook.
The Urban Dictionary has the following listed under “On The Hook”
A person who is “on the hook” will be overly infatuated with another person. The person who is the desired generally takes little notice (and often complete advantage) of the person who is on the hook.
Often times the person who is on the hook is a back-up.
Signs that you are on the hook:
1) giving foot rubs
2) making mixed tapes/cds/play lists
3) making chocolate cake
4) dropping everything at a moments notice to be with the other person.
Ted: “Lisa came over last night and I gave her a foot rub as we watched a move.”
Marshall: “Are you guys dating now?”
Ted: “No, she is still with her boyfriend, she is just looking for the right time to break the news.”
Marshall: “Dude, you are so on the hook.”
My own signs:
1) being overly infatuated with him
2) he took little notice (and often complete advantage)
3) was his backup / strung along /rebound person
4) giving foot rubs
2) trying to learn Spanish
3) obsessive checking of WhatsApp
4) dropping everything at a moment’s notice to accommodate his whims
The call display said Montana, and I almost didn’t answer, I don’t know anyone from Montana. The call was from a father that I didn’t know. A father that I will never meet. He told me his son was dead, and for a moment I had to think which dead son is this, which dead child is this about.
Then I understood.
This was Kevin’s father. Kevin who was dead. Kevin, the young man who made a small party my son’s first birthday in Arizona, far away from home. Kevin, who arranged for a decorated ice cream cake and twenty candles. Kevin who ordered pizzas with everything that Graham liked on them. Kevin who took pictures of Graham blowing out the candles and sent them to me because he knew how sad I was about not being there for his birthday. That Kevin who took care of my son when I could not. That Kevin who within six months of the party had relapsed, and shortly after had died.
I had sent his phone a text after he died. More of a prayer in text form. It read something like I’m so very sorry, and thank you. I was so sorry he had died, and still so grateful to him for taking care of my son. I sent it, and like a prayer, I never thought anyone would ever know about it.
I do understand that to his father when he finally got his dead son’s phone that my message would be a mystery. I imagine how many times he must of read it before he worked up the nerve to call me and ask just what I meant texting a dead person.
Today he called and we found out about each other, although we never even exchanged names. I told him that I was so sorry, that his son had been kind to mine, and kind to me, and how much that meant to me. I told him that my son was still alive and still clean and sober. I don’t know that was comforting or painful for him. I think it could be both. Maybe I should have said in October my brother, John, and many years ago my father, Alan died of the same disease his son did. Maybe, but that’s not the same as a child. Nothing could be that.
He seemed content enough to have his mystery solved and we said goodbye, and then I sat there and cried for all of us, for those who have died, and for those of us who loved them. I cried, because there is nothing else I can do for Kevin, for John, for Alan, for any of the dead ones.
For the families and loved ones left behind, sorry is not ever going to be enough. Sorry can’t heal the kind of pain this is, but is all we can do. We say sorry and we then hold space for someone’s pain. We say sorry and we hold space in our words, in our actions, in our lives, and in our hearts for them. We let them feel their pain without judgement. We surround them in as much love as we can. This is what we do for the living,
because there is nothing more we can do for our dead.
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.
Then 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 Amitabha 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.
Google has been good enough to remind me that your birthday is coming up. There’s a bright red rectangle, with a little picture of birthday cake on my calendar on the top of Tuesday, an “All Day Event”, “John Day’s birthday”. Facebook too doesn’t want me to forget your 48th birthday is coming up this week.
I don’t know how to get rid of either notification. I can’t wait until about 10 am on Tuesday when my phone will send me the notice that I should wish you a Happy Birthday. There doesn’t seem a way to turn these things off.
Thanks, Google! Facebook, you’re awesome, the absolute best, I mean I might have forgotten to call you and sing happy birthday with the kids like we always do. Except you won’t have a 48th birthday. You won’t have cake, terrible singing (that would be from me and my kids), me making fun of you, your daughters, you won’t have any of this again.
And what do I do? I sit here in wrapped up in your clothes punching the keyboard of my laptop in some vain attempt to find some meaning, some comfort, some anything in this. I’ve got nothing. Absolutely nothing. I want to write something profound and beautiful, but all I have is this huge empty place that is absolutely silent.
“Love is so short, forgetting is so long.” – Pablo Neurda
or as he orginally wrote it “Es tan corto al amor, y es tan largo el olvido” translated “It is so short to love, and oblivion so long”
It is so short to love, and oblivion so long.
I wish I had loved you better. I wish we had had more time. There is nothing now, no more time. I rethink and replay entire years and the individual seconds that I had you as my brother and know I could have loved you better. I should have done something more to save you. I knew better than anyone what was happening to you. I can never say I didn’t fully understand what was happening. I understood. I felt many of the same things you felt. We were the same in so many ways, I knew your demons, I shared so many of them, and I still did not save you. I stood still and watch you leave.
The truth is I was too busy saving my own life, too busy with my own demons, too busy trying to save my son. I knew you were leaving, and I watched you go. I should have done more, I should have done something. I just didn’t have anything left in me to save you too, and now it’s too late.
“There will be bad days, Times when the world weighs on you for so long it leaves you looking for an easy way out. There will be moments when the drought of joy seems unending. Instances spent pretending that everything is alright when it clearly is not….” Shane Koyczan, excerpt from “Instructions for a Bad Day”
There will be days where your best is not crying, at least in front of everyone, at least not for extended periods, at least not to the point of boogers running down your face (save that for the car where you have tissues), that your best is not crying, and not curling into a ball wishing the world away. Some days that’s all you’ve got.
When I quit drinking 10 years ago someone said to me that I would feel better, that I would feel everything better, pain, joy, happiness, anger, sadness, you know everything. She also told me not to believe everything you think. Solid advice that still applies.
Today I am feeling all of the things, emotionally, mentally, physically, metaphorically…. (note: I feel most things metaphorically, writer thing… maybe, not sure… actually I have no bloody idea and am freestyling this bit). Medically, things have been a bit rough. So much so that I have four new prescriptions and more doctor appointments than I would prefer (I would prefer zero appointments, but still). Everything hurts, well not everything, just the things I’m focusing my attention on. I feel a bit like a House episode, minus the curmudgeonly doctor. My doctor is very nice, and quite firm, which is why I’m sitting here looking a gaggle* of pill bottles. *a herd? a cluster? a bevy? what do you call a collection of medication bottles? I even googled it, apparently it’s not a thing.
And then, because I’m me, and I swear this stuff just finds me when I’m sitting innocently being responsible (you know, and not crying, and not assuming the fetal position, and doing all the grown-up things that I don’t feel like doing) I find this little bit of music, this tiny lyric.
Vair me o, ro van o
Vair me o ro ven ee,
Vair me o ru o ho
Sad am I without thee
I find this little bit of music, and there are no oatmeal raisin cookies in my house, no lightly frosted lemon scones, no dark chocolate truffles with caramel and sea salt, none of these things, so I have to sit here and feel all the feelings, which is still not my favourite. I’m even out of lemons for my tea.
Shane also says in his poem “There will be bad days. Be calm. Loosen your grip, opening each palm slowly now. Let go….”
Okay. Okay. I’m on it. Letting go. (for extended thoughts on letting go, with lots of pictures and convoluted thinking click here ), putting on my game face (the one that says “I ain’t bovvered”), and making tea without lemons, but with lots of honey.
I want you
to miss me
I want you
to think of me
before you sleep
and when you wake up,
when you’re driving
and when you’re doing
nothing at all,
when you’re flying,
and when your garden blooms
I want you
to pick up your phone
10 times, 20 times a day
to send me a funny story
and then stop.
I want you
to be moody and sad
when that movie
we were going to see comes out
and for you to go alone
and miss holding my hand.
I want you
to read every poem that
I gave you for your birthday.
I want you
to miss my wild hair
my skin on your skin.
I want you
the love you want
I want you
to miss me
for a while, and then
I want you
to be happy.
For 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.
When 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.
Johnny, 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.
I 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.
One definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. Over and over and over and over again.
That’s been me about you.
I can’t anymore.
I should never have, but I thought if I tried hard enough that I could change the way you felt (see insanity definition) about me. I know. Insane.
There’s no fool like an old fool. Or perhaps the older you are the more ridiculous you feel when you make an idiot of yourself over someone. I don’t suppose there is an age where people ‘know better’. I think we just keep making fools of ourselves over the wrong people, or we let the right people go (likely after making fools of ourselves), or we never open up and then what may have been the right person leaves anyway, or we stay with the wrong people because the thought of leaving is just too damn frightening.
I think we all are just making this shit up as we go.
I also know you and I, we simply don’t feel the same way about each other. Right one, wrong one, it doesn’t matter. I’ve made a fool of myself again.
I should know better by now (see no fool like an old fool), but I don’t, or maybe I do now. Maybe I will find the gumption to really walk away this time. Maybe.
You won’t come after me.
I like to imagine that you do. That you arrive with your intense eyes, your focused gaze and claim me as your own.
You would never do this.
I know this, which is why I keep myself so shamefully available. I have to stop.
I’m like the petulant child who runs away from home and just goes around the block. I run away, and circle back. I make stupid reasons to contact you.
This doodle didn’t start out as a heart, and it certainly wasn’t for Valentine’s Day, but that’s how it turned out. I didn’t start out like this, but this is how I’ve turned out.
I have to go.
I have to go.
I have to go. If I am going to salvage any self respect and dignity.
I can’t do this. I thought I could. I can’ t. I can’t. I cannot.
I try so hard. I do, but I suck at this (see old fool). I mean really suck at this.
That’s okay. I’m good at other things (writing non self pitying drivel would not be one of those things tonight).