15 10 2014

Between times.

I am between times.

These are between times.

September 19 is my big one every year, the anniversary of the greatest loss I have known.  There is a season of the soul that starts for me then.  My birthday comes less than two weeks after that.  His birthday is three weeks after mine.  The world is not itself for that month, not for me.  That month is my between time.


The day before September 19, my son’s partner suffered the greatest loss she has ever known, when her father died.  It resonated all the way through our family as well.  There is no official state-sanctioned tie between my son and the woman he loves; the tie of love binds us all together into a new family, and we grieve together the loss of a good man.  I didn’t know him long.  Not nearly long enough.

The between time was a day early this year.


On September 19 my father-in-law entered intensive care after throwing up blood.  He is 90 years old, on a bunch of medications that all interfered with recovery, so he ended up getting unit after unit of blood – to replace what was flowing out of him, and to help him keep what was left.  The first check showed a bleeding ulcer.  The second check showed cancer.  There is no curing someone at that age, but you can make the remaining time easier, and he had surgery to remove the cancer the day before my birthday.

He got better.  And then he didn’t.  Fluid started backing up into his lungs and his tissues.  He came down with a severe hospital infection.  And another check, to find out where the fluid was building, showed that the cancer had outrun everything and had spread faster than we could ever have imagined.

He went into hospice two days ago.  The wires and the tubes have been removed.  He is kept clean, warm, and as comfortable as possible.  That means morphine now.  I watch his caregivers as they wash his diminishing body, shave his still-abundant beard, and trim the mustache that annoyed him with its length.  They are tender.

He sleeps much of the day.  He wakes up occasionally for a drink of water, or for a few spoonfuls of the lemon ice his oldest daughter brings to him.  He sleeps again.  And in sleep, he waits.

He is in his last between time.


My beloved’s birthday is in five days. I wonder if my father-in-law will end his between time before I end mine.  I don’t wish for his death.  I will wait with him.  And yet, I wish every day for this good man to finally rest.  He has had such a long time of pain and confusion.  I love him.  I wait for him to move on.

I think of him taking the hands of his wife and his son, leaving this behind, and I breathe…go.

And I wait.


Strong is hard

1 10 2014

I have written of my son’s lovely partner, of the illness that her family is dealing with.  It came to an end a few weeks ago when her father died, felled by a cancer that had been diagnosed three months earlier.  Three months.  It is no time at all.

It is normal, in the face of great loss, to rationalize that what you’re going through isn’t as bad as what others have gone through.  So in the days after this wonderful man died, his widow held my hands and told me again and again how my experience had been so much worse, how she didn’t have it so bad because she had had the time to say everything that needed to be said.  I get that.  I lost my husband very suddenly.

But we too had said everything that needed to be said.  We spent a lifetime doing it, and the last thing we said to each other was “I love you”.  There is nothing else.  And I didn’t have to see him sick, or in pain, or suffering from the side effects of chemotherapy.  I didn’t have to see him afraid of what would happen to his family.  He lived until he was done.  And then he stopped.  It was sudden, and shocking, and I was left in the aftermath.

But that is true of every death, regardless of how you get there.  A lingering decline or a sudden exit, the final silence is a shock.


His widow told my son a few nights ago that she wished she could be more like me, that I was so strong and independent.    I am.  I don’t always feel that way, but overall, yes.  I take care of things.

And she will as well, for the same reason: there isn’t a choice.  She will take care of things because nobody else can or will, and these things must be done.  She will take care of emptying the house, of figuring out what the next step is.  She will deal with the loneliness of an empty bed.  She will straighten out the finances, cook for just herself, shovel her own walks when the snow begins to fall.  These things are hard.  She will become strong by doing these hard things.

Being strong is good.  People speak admiringly of strength.

Becoming strong is hard.


24 08 2014

I have a friend that I’ve had for almost twenty years.  Until last week I had been with him for less than two hours.  My friend was in prison.  I met him when he was already inside, writing to him because another of friend of mine was already writing to him and knew he could use all the mail he could get.

Let us not mix words here or make this in any way romantic.  He was in for murder.  He stabbed his fiancée to death.  In the course of that horrible night, she also stabbed him – but the key difference is that he survived while she did not.  He was sentenced to thirty years for the crime.  And he was paroled a little over a year ago, having served twenty of those thirty years.

Her family is furious.  I understand on the most superficial, basic-human-kindness level.  I can’t understand what they truly feel, and fundamentally I don’t even want to.  I simply cannot imagine the loss they have gone through.  I don’t know what I would feel in that situation.  I don’t want to know.  I do know that, for them, the time my friend has served will never be enough; their cry will always be “But she is still dead.”

Yes, she is.  There is no answer to that.  No matter what, no matter how extreme the punishment for the crime, she is still dead.  I would hope for myself that I would be able to move beyond it to a simple “she is dead,” without that unexpressed hope of the word “still,” as if there were somehow a way to make her not dead, like the situation could somehow be reversed to make the outcome different.

It is not directly comparable – but I know what it’s like to have a crater blown in your world.  It doesn’t ever go away, it doesn’t ever disappear over the horizon of your life.  If you’re lucky and you work at it, you can put some distance between yourself and the crater, though.  It can still be big and overwhelming, but it’s part of the larger landscape of your life.  It’s not the only thing any more and it doesn’t define who or where you are.

I wish her family could move away from the rocky slopes of their crater.  Not because their continued fury is so hurtful for my friend – although his remorse is considerable, and it does hurt him – but because the crater is so unforgiving, so unlikely to support life on its glassy, molten sides.  There is no love there, no memories that end in anything except sorrow and loss.  There is no comfort.

I wish I could tell them of a better world.  I have no standing and they would be justified in driving me off by any means necessary.  I do grieve for them, for the loss they suffered and for what they still feel.

There are no winners here.


1 07 2014

My son is dating a lovely young woman, a woman I would be thrilled to call my daughter one day.  And this amazing woman is surrounded by the most delightful family that I could ever hope for.  I wrote of what it was like to land in their arms at a time when things are potentially quite dark for them.

Her father is still very ill, and right now is dealing with a series of infections that make it very difficult to move on to the next phase of treatment. He has been hospitalized several times since the first diagnosis, trying to get things stable enough to move forward.  He is in again as I type this.  I went to visit him today, and as I walked into the room, I saw his wife leaning over him to gently kiss him – not kissing him goodbye or hello, but just kissing him because that’s who they are.

It was beautiful and profound.  One of those moments when everything stops, for this moment of utter tenderness and connection between two people.  I was blessed beyond description to witness such a moment.

It is a hard thing, taking the journey they are.  It is likely that there will not be a good outcome to this, and all of us know it.  Thankfully, none of us are looking away.  And again: grateful for the embrace of family.

But also: furious at how unfair this is.  How unfair our loss was, nearly eight years ago… my husband shouldn’t have died the way he did.  He should still be here, and he should be part of this new family we’re forming because he would have loved it so much, and they would have loved him, and this is everything he ever worked and hoped for… and DAMN IT my new family shouldn’t have to be facing this kind of loss and uncertainty.  And oh, how this hurts.

You can’t die.

There is still so much to do.

We have so many stories to tell, we have children to enjoy together.

There is still so much and why can’t there be enough time?

Don’t leave.  Please.

Stay here.


16 06 2014

There was a big shift in normal last week – somewhat for me, but definitely more major for my son and the woman in his life.  She found out that her father was very ill, the kind of ill that has >90% mortality within five years.  It’s the kind of ill that takes the wheels off of the world.  My son loves her.  Her grief and fear go straight to his heart.  And he gets to experience – again! – the truth that big new grief wakes up big old grief.  He is hurting for her.  She is hurting on her own and worried for him.  And they turn to each other to hold on and love through it.

Yesterday I was blessed to be included in her family’s Father’s Day brunch.  And she’s in one of those families where nearly anything will serve as an excuse to get a lot of people together, so I met what seemed like everyone.  And I now I know where this lovely young woman finds her ability to hurt and love and hold on all at the same time.

There are as many ways of responding to this kind of diagnosis as there are people.  Denial is common for a reason – it works, at least in the short term.  But yesterday I watched a whole family open up to it so that they could embrace each other more tightly.  It is nearly miraculous to witness this kind of love in action.  I have been swept into this encompassing embrace – “Genetics don’t matter much to us.  You’re family.”  And now I can hold on to them, as they have held on to both my son and me.

It is like sensory overload in the best sense – where it is so much to take in that you have to experience it in a different way.  You feel songs, you hear colors.  They opened up, they folded me in… not because of anything I ever did, not because I had earned it, but because this is the way their world works and now I’m part of it.

It is…astonishing.  Overwhelming.  Exalted.

At least three people that I had just met yesterday told me, as we were spending the hour (for real, a literal hour) that it takes to hug everyone goodbye (I’m not exaggerating) “You have to come to ALL the things!”  I hope to return that embrace with every bit of joy they offered me.