Archives for posts with tag: grief

(Oh, isn’t that wishful thinking.)

I was clicking back through my posts sort of mindlessly checking whether I use categories or tags when I had that moment that Snoopy has, where he’s wandered into the tall grass and he tries to play it cool, so cool, but he really wants to turn tail and run like a squawking chicken back to safety. I had stumbled upon my own grief.

And damn my blood for knowing how to write it, too, because I remember the way the sentences translated into the real world. I remember hating Fridays. I remember eating clementines. I remember how easily I remembered so many details from Dad’s last few weeks, remembered them like they were needlepointed to the insides of my eyelids.

It’s weird how the last ten months have changed me. I’ve been slowly but perceptively recovering in the ways you can recover (I don’t hate Fridays anymore) and also learning to recognize the swathes that are just permanently altered. I’ve been in therapy, which is just great – people, it’s great, you should try it – but it’s always surprising to me that it’s not always about my dad. It’s always surprising that the rest of my personality has withstood the gale force winds that blew.

But I’m also still so easily shocked into earlier states. I have this little problem where I wince when I meet the eyes of the very old or infirm. I feel like a grade A asshole but it hurts somehow, somewhere that isn’t all that healed actually, to see rheumy eyes and papery skin or watch a hand tremble on the subway. I want to fling myself against a window like a heart-thumping little bird to get out, away, out. It’s jarring how completely sub-conscious this reaction is. Sorry, old people. I’m usually not this weird.

Also I hate the sight of those auto-hand-sanitizers.

Grief is weird.

The thing I’m left with is so much more universal than what I had before. What I had before (amongst many other blessings) was this brilliantly unique relationship with this utterly brilliant human being that just happened to be my father, and happened to like me a lot, with whom I happened to have a ton of personality in common. What I have now is grief, plain and simple, dressing on the side. It’s not even wild grief with unresolved crunchy bits and fugue states. It’s manageable, but it has robbed me of something. I am a girl who has lost her father. Look around – there are a ton of us! You might even be one! Do you know what was better? Having a father.

So that’s where I am. Simultaneously marveling at the efficiency of my psychic organs, which always seem to know what I need when I need it (now: stay busy! now: pamper yourself! now: sad movie for release valve! I am a well-oiled machine!) and frustrated with my loss, with the misplacement of this unique and brilliant relationship. Like it was my fault!

We are these mighty creatures, I guess, if we don’t spend too much time staring at the little holes in the fabric of our superhero capes.

ain't she a beaut

<Beth, Philadelphia, July 2010.>

We went to Philadelphia a few weeks ago for Josh’s show at the Grape Room in Manyanuck. We wandered around Philly the next day, mostly stopping at landmarks and deciding the lines were too long, or the entrance fee was too high, or who cares about history anyhow. Lunch was finely enjoyed at Eulogy, a Belgian pub in Old City. We laughed at the people on the steps of the Art Museum doing Rocky Arms. We drove back in the fading afternoon light, so exhausted and elated from being Somewhere Else. Driving in cars with friends is still one of my favorite things, even when we take the wrong highway and I crush my knuckles against the steering wheel trying to Be Cool about it, when we all know I am Not Cool about getting lost. I love traveling with friends, particularly the best ones, particularly the best ones who like having booze with lunch.

Lately, Stuart and I have been very nesty. Or I’ve been really nesty, and Stuart just likes me. We have a beautiful apartment and it gives me such stupid bougie joy to come home to it, to drop my keys on our kitchen table and let our little dog out of the office, to watch him bounce and whine with excitement, to open the fridge and know there are ingredients for an easy summer salad and maybe a quick pasta, to watch another episode of Life with dinner, to sleep deeply in a darkened cold room with my loved ones just right there. I have small bougie joys. Let me have them.

A friend (one of the best ones) said to me recently during a particularly soulful and wine-fueled heart-to-heart that I don’t have to justify having had a great childhood. It struck me with the not unpleasant sense of being very, very understood by the people I love. She’s right; I’m exceptionally hard on myself and one of my reasons (among many) is that if I don’t do something extraordinary with the blessings I’ve been given, then I’ve wasted them. This is like the exact opposite of people who still fuck their lives up because their childhoods were crummy. Neither is particularly healthy. These standards I’m carrying around don’t affect anyone but me.

Lessons here: a) it’s nice to have friends that remind you to give yourself a damn break already. b) Husbands sometimes get tired of making this point as you yet again agonize over some tiny choice and the Right Way to choose. c) It does not help to have this huge legacy from someone who was really good at ethics and taught you maybe too well. d) Things to talk about in therapy! e) all of the above.

Where were we? Oh, right. So, a motley assortment of other cool things:

Guess what I did last week? Saw David Mitchell read at BookCourt with Zan, got three whole books autographed (including a replacement copy of Black Swan Green, since I lent it to someone unworthy and never got it back). Then we went to dinner, her and Jen and Lavina and I, at Apt 138 and we drank gin things and laughed about everything. Then, the next night, Stuart and I joined Mayumi to see Mitchell read, again, this time at Greenlight, and then we went with May and her mama for a glass of wine at Stonehome, and then Stuart and I finished with dinner for two at Smoke Joint. Date nights are good, you guys.

Guess what I’m doing next week? Having brunch with Leah and Kristin at the same time. Plus, thanks to Leah, I’m going to pretend to be a decent blogger for once and go to the Friday night BlogHer party.

Guess what I’m doing next month? Turning 30 and going to Santa Fe on the same day. YEAH.

Guess what I’m doing in September? Starting my last year of coursework for my Master’s degree. And taking over the world. Watch out!

a girl and her dog

It’s been six long months since winter, since the worst and toughest days. I’d like to think – why is that in my nature, that I’d always like to think? – that there’s something I’ve learned here, that I’ve put my pencil down and finished the exam and now this is what I’ve learned.

But in truth, there’s little I’ve learned through winter into spring and now that we’ve tumbled into summer except that grief is a thing I will have to endure with as much grace as my reserves can muster. I have learned that it can be less often but not less potent. I have learned that I miss my dad no less today than I already did six months ago, the day he died. I have learned that because of our extraordinary bond, it’s okay that this part is the hardest, but that other parts are easier – the parts where I have no regrets and I know where I stood, which was in a place of real and abiding love. Where I still stand, actually.

I’ve learned who I can rely on to check on me a little more than usual, and who I have to forgive for being unable to cope with loss. I have learned that I can be tough and competent when I need to be, when Mom needs me to be, but that at home, with my tears buried into Stuart’s shoulders, I don’t need to be any kind of competent or tough, I can just be bereft if I want to be. I have learned that Stuart is my rock, well, I already knew that, but I know that without him I would have long ago needed a dive mask to get through the vale of tears.

And I learned that as the sun warmed our corner of the earth, I got through more days with more smiles, and now I’m doing better. I’m less irrational, I’m less afraid of the unknown, un-dad-approved future. I’m more vulnerable, still, I am still a delicate fucking flower compared to the Weimar tank I used to be, but I’m better. And now that it’s unbearably hot out, and I can’t remember how cold and frozen it was in December when I didn’t think the world would ever warm again, I can’t believe it’s been six months and the hardest six months, at that, and there isn’t anything to show for it. Not exactly.

through the trees

I’m starting to notice this pattern. Fridays are impossible. Something
about the amount of wind my sails can hold, I don’t know, only gets me
until Thursday night at 10pm. Then I wake up on Friday and I know the
only thing I have to do is go to work. Compared to the rest of my week
where it’s usually work-school, or other-work/work, or school-school
… you’d think Fridays would be a breeze. But my little sail refuses
to lift. It’s waterlogged. I wake up and all I fantasize about, roughly, with violent
intent, is staying under the covers until Monday.

So I get up late and put on clothes – usually clothes I look crappy in, because somehow by Friday I can no longer be bothered to bother – and I usually forget or can’t be bothered with breakfast. I give the dog a terrible walk, poor dog, and I go to work. And I’m usually pretty productive, if I can forget how tired and waterlogged I am. But all I can think is, it’s not really Friday. I’ve got class on Saturday morning, surely that defies the very Fridayness of a Friday. All this non-Friday is going to be the end of me.

What is there that is sunny: well, there’s been some sun this week, for one. (Look at my tattered rags of repartee, reduced to scraps of weather.) On an unexpectedly beautiful walk on Thursday morning, I curved around to the sweeping harbor views of Sunset Park to find just the mildest hint of mild on the wind, a lack perhaps of cold more than a breath of warmth. I was gulping it in, giddy with the idea that Spring is coming, and surely this great inky black spider weaving its little dirgy ditty in my chest will be banished when Spring comes.

Maybe all I need is a cookie.

This morning something occurred to me, as I fought the impulse to stay home instead of dragging my weary bag of bones to yet another Saturday class (it’s never as bad when I get here as I imagine it’s going to be) … it occurred to me that it would have been enough to proceed with work, just work, under this stupid inky umbrella of grief. Work would have been plenty. But school, well, there are moments when I just don’t feel tough enough to do any justice to school.

Who am I kidding! There are moments when I don’t feel tough enough to peel a banana. For the first time in my adult life I am a delicate fucking snowflake. I suppose if I had been someone already given to a fair amount of hand-wringing and hyperbole, all this grief would be a practiced flourish, perhaps? As it is, all I can do is look back on the happy, centered and rational person I feel quite sure I was through November 18, 2009, and miss the stuffing out of her. I particularly miss her when I find myself throwing tantrums over what kind of taco I ordered, or crying because the train is late, or snapping at Nano because he isn’t walking fast enough. Honestly! Who is this drama queen! And by drama queen, I mean me.

I have a song (I’ve become someone with a song!) that I put on my iPod when I’m really just tired of pushing past the stupid feelings I’m feeling all over the place, and just want to stand in place (last night it was in the middle of Union Square Park) and just feel the damn feelings already. It’s the Rolling Creekdippers’ cover of Gram Parson’s In my Hour of Darkness. It even has a dramatic title! But I suppose it reminds me that even though I don’t believe, I can still plead with the Universe to cut me some slack already. And by Universe, I mean me.

Then there was an old man,
kind and wise with age
he read me just like a book
and never missed a page.
Oh, I loved him like my father
and I loved him like my friend.
And I knew his time would surely come
but I did not know just when.

In my hour of darkness,
in my time of need,
O lord grant me vision,
O lord grant me speed.

Predictably, I stopped writing here as soon as the semester started. This is because I am busier than I have ever been. Serving as Graduate Assistant to one of my favorite professors has been a godsend, if only because I am too busy Tuesday through Thursday to spend much time feeling sorry for myself. I am dressing like a grown-up and going in to work and impressing the pants off my professors and all I can think is, this is what I was supposed to be doing. I was supposed to be this busy, this studious, this excited about school. So my dad wasn’t supposed to die in the middle of it, fair enough, but at least I am doing what I was supposed to do.

Only, the sad thing is, all I can do is what I was already doing. I feel crippled, hobbled, when I think about doing anything – passing any landmark of time – that will be the first thing my dad doesn’t know I’m doing. The big slam of the bell will signal that this was the first time I made a decision without him and for all the strength I thought I had, I don’t have enough yet for that.

I have just enough strength, it seems, to recognize that tomorrow is his birthday so I should go out to dinner with my closest friends at his favorite pizzeria and be grateful that I’m still his daughter and I still love pizza. I also have just enough strength – but only just – to know that I’ll get stronger.

I saw a friend last night who’s already ridden this particular carnival ride and she asked how it was going and I said, I don’t know, it’s going whether I want it to or not, and she said, sucks, doesn’t it, and I said yeah, would not recommend, would not purchase from again, and we started laughing and I realized, this is funny only because it sucks so much harder than you could ever imagine it sucking. And at least it doesn’t always suck alone.

I don’t know why time should matter, the marking of one week to the next shouldn’t make grief any more or less burdensome, and yet, I had a terrible day yesterday. Only when I was walking home did I remember that yesterday marked two weeks since dad died, and maybe that was part of it. Only, how? Year-long anniversaries, I can understand. But two weeks? Maybe the part of my brain that likes to race to conclusions was struggling with how little time has elapsed and how much has nonetheless changed.

Last night we watched Man on Wire, the documentary about Philippe Petit’s highwire walk between the WTC towers. I was thinking about 1974 and whether my father was still working in Rockefeller Center – had they moved to New Rochelle already? – and before I could catch the sneaky little bastard the thought jumped into being, “I should ask him if he remembers it”, and that was hard.

It’s all these things I had yet to ask that sink my valiant little boat. At least I know that my dad would have thought walking on a tightrope between the tallest buildings in Manhattan was the work of a lunatic idiot. He might even have used a colorful swearword. No doubts there.

I remember thinking when I was in the hospital for my appendectomy, back in 2003, that being sick in a hospital isn’t as tragically glamorous up close as I thought it would be. Or really, tragicaly glamorous at all. I didn’t relish the concern, or the doting, or even the lovely flowers. I just wanted to be up, and better, and eating cheeseburgers. I don’t know quite what it says about my mind that I had assumed any level of tragic glamour. Too many childhood viewings of Shirley Temple’s Heidi, maybe?

This is like that. I think I imagined the grief I’d feel over losing my dad and the real enchilada doesn’t look much like it. I probably thought I’d cry more, or more around people other than Stuart. I know I thought I’d have been a wreck at the funeral – I wasn’t. I remember being terrified at being around his body right after the life tiptoed out of it. I wasn’t, funnily, it was still like being around dad. That was still nice.

But when I do cry, when I do feel it, hoo boy I feel it. I said to Stuart that I felt silly now, for any grief I’d ever felt over any of my ex-boyfriends (sorry guys). He asked why, and I said that until This, there wasn’t anything that had made me cry harder than lost love. And now it seems quaint, trite, almost adorable.

I had lunch with Simon, who I have dubbed The Wise Man (it says so in my phone when he rings) and we talked about grief and religion, and whether there’s any comfort I’m missing out on by not believing. I suppose you can’t walk into a bargain with Belief – you make me feel better in exchange for my membership! – but I wanted to know if it helped. I wanted to know whether I’m missing out by putting Life and Death in two distinct, irreconcilable boxes at opposite ends of a room. My favorite thing about Simon is that he thinks he’s some sort of curmudgeonly misanthrope while actually having a heart bigger than Texas. A lot like my dad, actually.

Aside from thinking all these deep fucking thoughts, I also had an amazing massage on Thursday, and I had a wisdom tooth removed yesterday. The ridiculous along with the sublime, it seems.

I’m getting to the end of my gracious length of rope – already! Everyone wants to know how I’m doing, and the right answer involves stuff like “he died peacefully” and “he was such a great man” and “we didn’t want him to suffer” and “impossible recovery” and “hospice care” and “holding up”. I’m tired of all those terms, even though they’re absolutely true.

Today I’m feeling more like telling people that I miss the shit out of him already and it’s only been a week. How I’d see him there when we exited the train station at New Haven, standing by the car and wearing a plaid shirt and corduroys with the burgundy suspenders, and he’d look so pleased as punch to see me, and I’d be pleased as punch to see him too, and only one hug was enough to say that. How I never got tired of hearing him say “hi, love” down the phone even if it was third time that day. I feel like telling people that anything is better than gone, that even when he was sick and wordless I loved sitting by the hospital bed and just looking at him, how I’d bring a book and never read it because my eyes just wanted to rest on his face, a face I’ve known my whole life and maybe even a little before.

Last night I dreamed that he came downstairs and we were all so happy to see him even though we knew he’d died, and how he explained very simply that we’d always be able to sit down in my dreams and have dinner together, and that I could tell him what was going on and he’d remember it the next time. I’d like to think my brain is so tired of thinking about Before so now it’s finding ways to live in an After.

I guess there’s no polite way to say all that when someone asks you how you’re
doing. They’re not asking you whether you’re bouncing back. What they mean is, can you carry on? And I guess I can. 

Sitting in the dark theater watching a movie helped. Sea salted caramels and emails from friends and shopping for groceries helped. But I’m still swinging wildly between relief that I’m back home and life will proceed whether I will it to or not, and wishing I was sitting with my arms around my knees on a beach somewhere, giving full rein to my grief. Too bad I live in New York and it’s January and there are no beaches with the requisite warmth around.

I bought sweet clementines yesterday and the first one brought me joy, which is funny since my dad and I loved sharing a box of clementines you’d think it’d make me cry (it made Stuart cry a little) but I thought to myself, I’m eating this delicious sweet thing! It’s not even one-eye! There’s no crying in here. I thought about how I sang him the song in the hospice, as he slept, and how I fumbled past all the deathiness of the last two verses. The clementines are still sweet, the sweetest box I’ve bought in years. Is meaning found, or created?

There’s no shortcut. It wouldn’t do any justice if there was. So through it, it is.