front-yard crocus . march 2011
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Filtering by Tag: on grieving (and healing)
front-yard crocus . march 2011
ellie jane and great (great) aunt honey
today, as i watched my daughter sit on your sister's lap, the missing caught me in its clutches. the missing. as she made the funniest sounds to get ellie jane to laugh, i began to silently will myself (with every cell) to be standing in a family room in south carolina (a family room that now belongs to another family). i thought that maybe i could just will myself to be standing in front of that rocking chair that i can just see in that photo from my first christmas. to be standing while watching you hold my daughter and purse your lips to vibrate them to make her giggle. her smile would heal you. this i know to be true. her smile would cause your heart to almost hurt with the joy you would feel in that moment when you would look up and catch my eye and we would be able to see the love between us.
in this moment, as i sit in a quiet house looking at this photo, my heart hurts with the missing. i can actually feel a pain in the middle of my chest as i sit here. the missing. almost six years. it gets softer. it becomes like the train that whistles in the distance a few times a day that is just always there but not so loud that you notice it daily or even weekly. it is just there until the moment when you are dancing in the kitchen as neil diamond sings, "she got the way to move me, cherry" and then the playlist suddenly ends and it seems so very quiet until you hear that train call from miles away and you find yourself paying attention again. it catches you. and then you notice it each time for a while.
i know (oh how i know) that i was so lucky to know you, to call you my grandmother, my friend. i see the beauty in all that time we had together. i see the beauty in today as i think about the joy in the eyes of a 91-year-old woman holding a seven-month-old little girl as she giggled. and the missing is so much softer now. but in this moment, i take a deep breath and close my eyes and i say the truth: i want more days. i want more time. i want it to have happened differently. in this moment, i wish (for you. for me. for her) that i would open my eyes and find myself in a little house in south carolina. and you would know the little girl sleeping down the hall who heals with her smile. and i would hear your voice again. in this moment, i would hear your voice.
backyard dogwood, south carolina . spring, 2009
for the first year, all i wanted was one more day, hour, breath, second. i just wanted to pick up the phone and hear her voice say, "hello" in that funny, "i'm so glad it's you" sort of way. as my brain tried to train itself to realize that i would never see her, hear her again, my cracked-open heart tried to remember to keep working.
this is a piece of what my first experience of the path of grief felt like.
the wishing. the missing.
this march was the first time after her death and the last time that i would visit the home away from home that was my grandparents' home. trying to soak up everything while standing on another branch of the path of grief was difficult. i took a lot of photos, but i wish i would have taken more. i wish i would have written while sitting on the backporch. but when a family gathers for a funeral, there isn't much time to take it all in. and then, in the weeks that followed, the "settling of the estate" began. and as a grandchild, i did not have a role. which i understood intellectually...yet, this was my home away from home...a home filled with unconditional love that i had experienced...even if this might not have been the experience of everyone.
my mother would call and we would talk about "the list" of "stuff" and what we might want.
and as i would look at this list of "stuff," the feeling began again. i want one more minute. i just want to tell her all that i have learned. i want her to know this me, this me that grief has birthed. i want to ask her so many questions. i don't care about any of the stuff, i just want her. i just want her.
during this time, my mind kept turning around this phrase: all that they were became a list in a word document with a total at the end. all that they were. all that they were.
the missing became the drum of my heart yet again.
weeks later, the boxes arrived at my mother's house. a lot of boxes. the journey she has been on to go through them...the journey that is not always about missing in the same way my journey is. a child's grief, so very different from a grandchild's or a friend's.
a few weeks ago, she sent two boxes full of some of the things from that house. being sick for several weeks, and some other things that have made life a bit fuller, made for the realization that i didn't quite have the energy to open the boxes. i didn't want to sift through the feelings again, and i didn't want to uncover new ones. i just walked around the boxes and stacked things on top of them.
alone in the quiet saturday night, i found myself noticing those two white boxes and wondering. as i lifted out sewing supplies, linens, odds and ends, i began wishing i could ask her about the seven days-of-the-week embroidered towels and the odd beginnings to a pillow and the red "happy time" harmonica.
the wishing. the missing.
in the second box, under a few other things, there was layer upon layer of bubble wrap around a box. as i began to unwrap it, the quiet mingled with the scent of her.
the jewelry box that had sat on her dresser for decades. the jewelry box that had sat there as she put on her makeup, sprayed her perfume, decided which pair of clip-on earrings to wear.
the jewelry box soaked up that perfume and makeup and pieces of a life; it soaked up the scents of that life, her life, and they settled in. as i opened that box, the scent swirled around me and i closed my eyes to remember.
the little girl visiting her favorite people and sleeping in that room. supposed to be napping, she peeks inside that box, lifts the lid of a compact, opens the bottle of perfume and breathes in deeply. the little girl sits on the stool in front of the dresser and looks in the mirror wondering what it might be like to be old enough to wear this perfume and use the pencils and brushes. the little girl who feels so at home in this room, who feels so loved in this room. the little girl who is the woman who remembers this love. this woman who takes a breath and deeply misses.
the jewelry box that was on a list that became part of a decision. the jewelry box that was wrapped up and put into a box and then another box now sits inside this home on another coast, part of another life. the jewelry box that became another step on the path as it became the gift of one more minute, one more second, one more breath.
the gift of one more breath.
this morning, for the first time in more than forty years, it is possible that someone else woke up and padded into the bathroom first thing to find himself looking into this mirror. this person would find himself looking into this mirror that is on the wall in a bathroom in his new home.
i know that feeling that might have come up when sleepy eyes adjusted to new surroundings, that "oh my goodness we bought our first house and today we woke in our new home" feeling. it is a beautiful, embarking on a new journey that is your life, your real life, sort of feeling.
i sit here in this moment and give myself permission to sift through my own feelings that come up as my heart reaches toward another coast, toward this home and this mirror and the memories of so much time spent with my grandparents in this home that now belongs to someone else.
i sift through the ache and the sadness and the joy of the blessing that was a friendship, a real friendship, with my grandmother. i sift through the echoes of my grandfather's last words to me the day before he died. i sift through the feelings that cause me to simply sit with confusion about how a person's life just ends one day.
my brother said to me recently as he sifted through his own feelings after just learning that a friend his age had died quite suddenly...he said, "you know liz, we can just die at any moment."
this simple truth is one that we seldom think about. we rush about our lives and worry about so much. we focus on so many things that do not matter. we forget to simply be present and experience and instead worry about missing a television program or why someone hasn't emailed us back quickly enough or if people even like us.
jon and i were driving a few weeks ago and i was telling him some story about my childhood and i suddenly stopped and said something like, "if we only understood that we would want to remember every second." i wish i could tell my five-year-old self to breathe in a moment spent by lake edwin johnson learning to skip rocks. what were the sounds? the smells? how did my grandfather's hand feel when he touched my head to tell me i was doing great? i wish i could ask my five-year-old self to tell me about every second of that afternoon.
for a project i am working on, i have been spending time looking at old photos of my family. while doing this, i have been closing my eyes and trying to remember pieces of the moments captured and then writing about what i remember or what comes up as i look at the photo. such a beautiful exercise this is as i do believe so much is tucked inside this brain and heart i carry around with me. i do believe that even though we don't remember every second, we do remember so much. and these photos of our past, even before we came to be, make up pieces that make up us. i am going to share a few of these writings paired with photos every now and then (like i did here)...maybe you will want to join me with your own photos and memories...
and in this moment, as i sift through feelings and allow myself to sit in the quiet, i think about that first day of waking up in your new home feeling and i feel my face relax and my shoulders settle into my body and my heart opens just a bit. someone else's life is beginning. another couple has a story to tell and lives to live and perhaps even create. it is beautiful. it is the cycle of life.
(a little about the photos above. when we were in south carolina in april, i took a lot of photos inside and outside my grandparents' home. at some point, my brother picked up my camera and took a few. when i returned home, i found that we had both taken photos in this mirror in my grandparents' bathroom. i love this.)
it was the hash browns. the chopped green pepper with onion and potatoes with a bit of ketchup. the sucker-punch in the form of a wave arrived. as i blinked back tears, i wondered where this came from as i suddenly imagined myself climbing into the passenger seat of a silver buick to ride along to the trash dump. (a word i so do not enjoy, but did we call it something else? i doubt it.) we would turn onto one of those named after a flowering southern tree streets and suddenly the air would be filled with, "you picked a fine time to leave me Lucille." and i would start to giggle, and then you would say, "i can sing better than that guy. what's his name again?" and i would laugh harder and playfully roll my eyes (well, depending on my age in this memory of this often-played game) and say, "Grandpa, you know it's Kenny Rogers." sometimes i would join in for a chorus of the next song "ohhhhh Ruuuuuuubbbbbyyyyyyyy...don't take your love to town," but mostly it was all about Lucille and i would listen to you and giggle.
in this moment of this memory, i wish i remembered more. trips to visit you were so often about her. well, you, you who would answer the tan rotary phone on the wall in the kitchen and upon hearing my voice say, "hold on, let me get your grandma," you know this. you understand perhaps more than anyone that she and i were friends. i guess i want to believe that i helped make things softer in your world by being her friend. i tried. in this moment, as i sit in this restaurant after hash browns and eggs, i wish i remembered every single moment of each moment spent in that house, with you, with both of you.
tonight, as i try to wrap my brain around confusion over something else entirely, i suddenly find myself coming back to tears while eating hash browns two days ago. the truth that bubbles up tonight that i tried to will aside while eating breakfast two days ago, the truth that bubbles up in this moment: because i didn't visit after visiting every year for my whole life, because i didn't visit you after she died and while i was not visiting, you were becoming a shadow of you, i just didn't wrap my brain or rather my brain refused to wrap around the truth that it was really, truly you i spent time with those days in april in south carolina a few weeks ago.
yet, i know, my brain knows that i actually spent quite a bit of time whispering to you and brushing your hair down in places and gently, barely touching the top of your hand. my brain knows it was you. so maybe it is my heart. yes, it must be my heart that refuses to wrap itself around the truth that i did not visit you one time after she died. except for after she died. but i am not counting that. because you know that i mean really visit. me, who had spent many most-loved memories that rest inside this heart of mine with you, i did not visit you when she was no longer there.
i did not drive up and see you standing in her spot at the kitchen window as the curtain fluttered just before you walked out to greet me and to say, "so you found it okay" and i will say "yes" while smiling to myself thinking but of course i did as i have been coming here every year at least once for my entire life and then you will ask if i am hungry because you made sloppy joes just like she used to do and it will be very easy to warm them right up in the saucepan and you have some cranberry juice because you know i like that just like she did and even though i will think about how odd that combination might be, i instead say, "that sounds perfect" but no i won't let you carry my suitcase up the steps and to my room that was her room and after i put the suitcase down i will stand in that room and breathe in the few remaining pieces of her and then smile as i hear you in the kitchen as you open the cupboard for the saucepan so you can heat up the sloppy joes and i will touch the blanket on her bed with my fingertips and say, "it's okay, we've got him now" and i will walk down the hall and through the family room to sit at the kitchen table and tell you all about the drive and the rain through the smokies and how i sang my way through the curves of the mountains and then listened to lewis grizzard after i hit the north carolina border.
tonight, this body that houses this heart full of those most-loved memories stands knee- no neck-deep in this truth. this truth that i did not visit you. and i cannot breathe. i wonder how it is that anyone expects me to be someone else, that i am expected to be my best self for someone else, when i stand neck deep in this truth. i am so sorry that i didn't get on a plane sooner than the saturday morning of the day you died. and i know that you know the love. yes, i do know this as i hear your voice saying one of the last sentences you ever said as you said i love you over the phone to me. my heart holds this truth, but i stand neck deep in another truth, the truth of knowing that i won't ever again start my day waking up to the sounds of you in the kitchen with leftover potatoes that will become our breakfast.
in this moment, as i hear the distant sound of a plane and millie settle onto the floor at my feet and my husband get ready for bed and the rhythm of the fan that turns the air around me, in this moment, i close my eyes and hear distant sounds of a cubs game and a rocking chair and pencil on a crossword puzzle and you look up at me and say "cubs win! cubs win! want to go for a ride?" and i say "yes !"and we turn the corner and your voice fills the air, "you picked a fine time to leave me lucille," i reach for your hand and say, "i love you too gramps" and you know and i know. and it is okay. i am okay and here breathing in and out and doing the best that i can. and i know that you know that too.
and suddenly i found myself doing that pull inward, that pull that you do with your face and your heart and your gut to keep from bursting into tears.
it was unexpected and odd and a bit silly i suppose.
but this is grief.
standing in the frozen food section, the sucker punch that is grief brought me almost to my knees.
for just a second.
as jonny stood saying, "which kind of pizza did you want?"
and i stood just looking at the cart as though in a daze.
after a few seconds of borderline annoyance (the store was the busiest i have experienced in a long time...there wasn't really space for hanging out in front of the frozen pizzas in bewilderment), he walked around to me and the pizzas and said, "are you okay?"
i waved my arm in that "i am fine...move on" sort of way.
but when he stood next to me, i leaned in for support.
"do you miss your grandma?"
nodding, the tears began.
and we chose the california pizza kitchen pizza margherita thin crust.
one foot, then the other.
tonight, i took out a favorite picture that used to be out all the time, placed it on my altar, lit a candle, and remembered what love is.
this song, this very beautiful melancholy song by joni mitchell is sitting inside my heart tonight.
i also love this version by sarah mclachlin (i listen to it all the time...her album wintersong is my favorite favorite christmas album)
and tonight i found this version by james taylor
and this pretty freaking fantastic version by corrine bailey rae
and this bluesier newer version from miss joni
sending blessings and peace to you this evening...