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.



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.


25 09 2013

“Grief is a powerful river in flood. It cannot be argued or reasoned or wrestled down to an insignificant trickle. You must let it take you where it is going. When it pulls you under, all you can do is keep your eyes open for rocks and fallen trees, try not to panic, and stay face up so you will know where the sky is. You will need that information later. Eventually, its waters calm and you will be on a shore far from where you began, raw and sore, but clean and as close to whole as you will ever be again.” – Rhonda Riley, The Enchanted Life of Adam Hope

Grief is an odd, powerful, and universal thing.  For once it isn’t me I’m thinking about.  (I know, right?  I’m as shocked as you are.) And it’s entirely possible that my mad skillz in grief management are making me think that every time someone is upset or worried or angry, it must be some form of grief in action.  Nonetheless, I continue.  Ahem.

I’m fairly active in the blogging community on Shakesville.  Some days it’s profound, some days silly.  The last few days I’ve been following the postings of a woman who lost her cat.  Literally lost her cat… he left home and didn’t come back.  She is understandably heartbroken.  And she is also, in the way of so many grieving people, chiding herself for feeling so sad, for not taking better care of herself so that she doesn’t feel this way.

Grief sucks.  It sucks hard.  It is demanding and squats in the middle of your life howling for attention.  And you can ignore it for short periods; denial is in fact an outstanding short-term coping mechanism.  But long term?  It follows you from room to room and howls more loudly until you finally have to address it.  It won’t actually devour you.  But it sure seems like it will.  Sometimes it’s easier to let the sadness tip over into anger, rather than feel that inexorable gray emptiness of grief.

My son is dealing with problems at work, the unsettling part of early career when you realize that your expectations exceeded reality.  There’s plenty of talk about this in the media, as there is every few years when someone decides to write yet another fresh new outlook about Kids Today!  They expect everything handed to them!  Unlike the sober and clear-eyed workhorses of our generation.

That’s not entirely the kind of expectations I’m talking about.  I’m talking about my son’s expectation that people in the workplace would be grown-ups, that they would behave in professional and adult manners.  Most people do.  But he’s finding the people that don’t, and also finding that corporate and management motivations are sometimes not what they claim to be.  It’s a crushing discovery for every new generation, when they were raised by parents who taught them to play fair, tell the truth, and apologize when you’re wrong.  Most corporations have some variety of core values that always, always include that kind of integrity.  I’ve been at this long enough to know that those core values aren’t rock solid.  My son?  He’s still seeing it all for the first time and it is a huge disappointment to him.

It shows as anger and frustration with his workplace.  But I think it also carries loss with it – you had in your head that life was a certain way, and now surprise!  It really isn’t that way at all, and you have to build a new model.  As they called it after my husband died, it’s the New Normal.  I loathe the New Normal.  I liked the Old Normal.  And in my son’s case, this is all hitting right around the anniversary of his father’s death, and I think that it’s all tangled together in a sticky mess.


18 09 2013

So, it’s September 18.

I have been hyper-aware of the approach of September 19 this year.  I’ve been aware of it for several weeks.  And as a consequence, it has seemed especially slow.  And yet, I’m unwilling to take my eye off it.  It’s like my own Weeping Angel – doesn’t seem to move as long as I keep watching it, but blink or look away?  I’m done for.

Tomorrow it will have been seven years.  In the bible, there is the tradition of Jubilee – at the end of seven years you wipe the slate clean.  Debts are cancelled, slaves are liberated.  I wonder if I could do that on a personal level – wash myself clean of the years of grief and loss.  Wipe it away, start fresh and clean in a liberated world.

In my case it feels like a faulty metaphor.  Losing my husband is always with me, but not like some kind of sticky film; it’s more like the sheerest silk enveloping me.  I can see through it, and I’m so used to it that any weight is imperceptible.  I only notice it if it gets caught on something.

And there’s the thing.  Never knowing what it might get caught on.  Rarely the big things.  I can see those.  It’s the little stuff, the unfinished edges and rough surfaces, with their snags and catches.  Little comments that are completely innocent in intent, but somehow detonate, all spines and sharp edges, in my heart.  A song with more meaning today than it had yesterday.  A combination of light and wind making today like a day long past.  A scent, a sound.

Always I hear the slightest echo of my life, in the space where he should be.  No bigger than seven years ago.  No smaller, either.


24 07 2013

And then, just gone. My Rosalind is gone.

She spent two nights in the hospital after her surgery and was cleared to come home.  Then the vet called and said while they were getting her ready to come home, she collapsed without a heartbeat.  They did CPR on her for ten minutes, and I had to give them permission to stop, to let her go.

I won’t compare this to the other deaths in my life.  But I won’t trivialize it with “just a cat” either.  Our companion animals are never “just” anything.  There are ways in which this death is more basic – there are none of the worries about legal proceedings or filling out the proper paperwork.  Instead, I brought her home in the back seat.  Not in the carrier, because she hated it.  Driving carefully so that she wouldn’t slide around.  I carried her into my back yard and laid her in the sun.  And then I wrapped her in one of my silk lace shawls and placed her body in the ground.  She is among the hydrangeas and peonies, her place marked with a stone from my grandmother’s farm.  I planted the forget-me-nots that the vet’s office sent home with me.

And with that, the physical effort of her life is done.

What isn’t done is grieving for her.  It’s still so fresh, there is a howling void of loss in my chest… so immense that I could stuff the entire world in there and it would still be just as empty.  And I torture myself with the what-ifs, the things I could have done differently.  I can’t even list them here.  I did the same thing when I lost my husband.  The what-ifs, the bargaining… even as I know there is no bargain to be made, there is nothing that can be changed.

Clara is now my only cat.  She has never lived in this house without another cat.  And truly, Rosalind dominated her for seven years and they weren’t buddies.  Right now she is wandering the house and calling.  She is emphatically my son’s cat.  But last night she slept on my bed with me.  She is lingering near me.  And she, like me, grieves.