Tag Archives: loss

Of Hats and Flasks and Hearts Tied Up with String

I heard them before I saw them. A murmured, “Dad, there’s Denise.” It didn’t register. I continued to stare blankly at a rack of men’s crewneck sweatshirts. I was in Target, and my youngest son was shopping. He’d been trying on knitted hats in there for the better part of two decades, maybe three, I don’t know. I’d lost track of time. So. Many. Hats. I felt desolate, saw only darkness. Would’ve shot off a flare if I’d had one handy. It was a bleak and humorless existence. I had to pee, and my feet had swelled from standing so long. I was cursing myself for having never gotten into the habit of sporting a hip flask. Every hat looked the same; I could’ve sworn he was fucking with me. Just as I felt myself slip further into the maw of boredom, I heard them calling my name. Repeatedly. Pulling me back from the point of no return. Dazed, I looked up.

There they were, CAF’s family. It was a shock, and I gasped. Loudly. Embarrassingly. The kind of gasp you see a heroine in a shitty movie do. Oh, why don’t I carry a flask? CAF’s widower and her eldest child were smiling broadly at me. It felt like old times, kind of… Yet, what was this? There, hidden just slightly out of view, was her youngest. There was the boy who was too young to remember the catastrophic Spontaneous Coronary Artery Dissection in CAF – the event that began the end of her life. This had not been my first time seeing the family. At the end of August, CAF’s widower and her eldest son showed up at a memorial service for a family member of my husband’s. It was kind of them to come, but as I hadn’t expected them nor seen them in years, and as I was at a memorial service, it became too much. I burst into tears and ran outside. My sons were quickly behind me, making sure all was well. It wasn’t, and I felt fragile, like my heart, badly tied up with string, just had its knot come undone.

This time was different. It was friendlier, happier, and because her youngest boy was there. He didn’t remember me, and most likely no longer remembers his mother – but oh! how darling he was! His face, so like hers – only in miniature. I asked if I could hug him. His father said yes; the boy remained quiet but gave me a gentle squeeze back – more out of politeness than anything else. He was painfully shy, as anyone would be who’s lived through what he has. He didn’t look at me accusatorially, none of them did. I suppose it’s just me. All I felt was guilt; the self-whispers of “murderer” and “killer” going round in my head. Her children never denounced me – never pointed at me and asked, “WHY DID YOU KILL OUR MOTHER?! WHY?!”

I’m sure it was later explained to the wee one that I was his mother’s closest friend. That I was the there the day she passed, the one who held her hand as she died. Hopefully it was not explained that I had to be the one to convince his father to pull life support…

Seeing CAF’s husband is getting easier, and I’m glad her eldest boy remembered me. I still haven’t seen her daughter, who supposedly looks and acts just like CAF. I don’t know whether she’d remember me. They are a beautiful family, and I’m glad to see them happy. I hope at some point to put this all behind me, but for now, it’s just pain and self-recrimination. Whether my part in this all was “merciful” or not, it left its mark – one I’ll never heal from.

Last night as I decorated the interior of my house for the holidays, I came across several Christmas pieces CAF had given me over the years. Strangely, 3 of them are angels. I cry every year…

Ho, ho, fucking ho.

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Ushering Ants

The other day I came up the hall to find a line of ants marching at eye-level on the wall in the foyer. As there is neither food nor water in the foyer, I found this interesting. They came in under the front door, crawled up the closet, moseyed around the corner to some shelves, turned around and left. This went on for a day or two – with me cautioning my family to “Watch out for the ants! Don’t lean on the wall, you might squash one!” This was met with the usual “Uh huh.”

One night as I came up the hall, I stopped and watched their journey. Something about the procession was soothing – the way the ones coming greeted those who were leaving. My husband walked up behind me and muttered, “Would you like me to get you an ant farm? Then you can watch them all the time – and they won’t be loose – in our house.”

It didn’t bother me that the ants were loose, because I knew they’d do what ants always do – leave. There was no reason to be alarmed or kill them – and it was certainly not an infestation. It was only about 20 of the wee fellows – coming and going.

For those of you who know me, the fact I allowed the ants to come and go as they pleased will not surprise you. For those who don’t know me, I’ll explain. I’m vegetarian. I kill nothing. I’m kind and compassionate to everything — even people who hurt me and (as I’m told) “don’t deserve kindness or compassion… or your friendship – because they’re playing games with you, they’re cowardly, and they’re an asshole.” 

Today I woke to find 3 ants aimlessly wandering the kitchen tiles. These I had to usher out. Not for my sake, mind you, but theirs. That’s a dangerous place to wander – a lot more risk of being smashed than when they’re eye-level on a wall. I didn’t want that on my conscience. I put each of them outside to join a line of ants marching by my rose and wisteria bushes. There was much antennae-waving before they got in line and crawled up the branches with the rest of their cohorts. It made me smile, that welcoming back into the fold – like old friends reuniting.

I often find beauty and smiles in places others don’t. But lately I’ve not seen a lot of beauty or smiles. And lately I’m the ant wandering out in the open on the kitchen tiles – exposed, vulnerable – with people and forces coming along trying to smash me. The past few weeks have been especially hard. The day after my return from a glorious birthday trip to NYC, we unexpectedly lost a family member. It was devastating – and it fell to me to tell my children and husband. The grief overwhelmed. To add to this, the following week, I had to put our beloved dog down. She had been part of our family since 1997. This was all so much death – so much grief, in so short a time. I needed to unplug and get away from people – especially those who didn’t have my best interests at heart. I needed to talk to real friends – old friends – the ones who’d always be with me, no matter what. These friends hurt when I hurt – and I’m hurting now. They’ve been kind enough to get behind me, trying to usher me on, and when I rise slowly to the surface again, I know I’ll be greeted with much antennae-waving by them. I’m blessed.

Reach Out and Touch Someone – Really

You know that old expression “A hug is worth a thousand words”? Well, I’m not going to deny it. I can think of many times when I’d been up to my eyeballs listening to words, words, words but never feeling any comfort. Never feeling that real connection that a hug provides. Maybe it was the words that were falling flat, or maybe it was the speaker coming across as being insincere or cold. Either way, a hug always used to work.

After sitting alone in a hospital room and holding a dear friend’s hand as she passed in 2005, I went through a dark phase. It was an ugly time. Watching someone die is painful, especially when they’ve been taken off life support. Their body doesn’t want to let go. So you hold that hand a little tighter, and cry that much harder. I vaguely recall giving her eulogy at the packed church. It’s one of the few times in my life I can say I was proud of myself – I got through my speech without crying. After the service was over, people came up and hugged me, it was then I realized I’m huggable on my terms. Shortly thereafter I became very choosy about doling out hugs. I guess because it all came rushing back. People hugged to comfort me that day, but also because they needed comforting, and I was suddenly all out of that particular commodity. I was very tired.

My children’s hugs were different, and those of my best friends. My dear ones. My “blankies”. Their hugs gave me strength and helped me move on and out of that phase where I tried to box myself up and push away any pain. I’ve gotten really good at “compartmentalizing” over the last few years, something I’d always struggled with. But while I’ve been compartmentalizing and distancing myself from pain, I also realized I was distancing myself from life. I was becoming detached. Whereas that’s all right for a traumatic event like 2005, a sort of coping mechanism to help me continue on with daily chores like moving, getting up, getting the kids off to school, feeding the family, etc., it’s not a permanent way to live life.

Now that I’ve spent so many years detached, it’s the reattaching that seems more difficult. There’s always another, “Oh no!” moment coming along. But life has a way of throwing “Oh no!” moments at us and we just have to be prepared and stand on our own two feet and cope. I began writing the manuscript that’s currently in the hands of my literary agent, Laura Strachan, shortly after the loss of my friend. It helped me cope. It kept my mind occupied. And it has, for years. First it was for defense, then it became my baby. I’ve nursed it for four years now. It’s one of the reasons I’m particularly proud of it and why I couldn’t just let it go when I received rejections. Persistence pays off.

Nowadays I’m back to the touchy, huggy type. I tend to touch people on the arm when I talk to them, and I usually give a quick hug goodbye. I still have my special “blankie” ones, whose hugs are loved and missed the most when I don’t have them. That pain of missing someone though is part of life. Losing loved ones is part of life. But if you’ve merely lost contact or had a disagreement, why not reconnect? Reach out and touch someone – even if it’s only by text. You never know what you’ll find.