Monday, April 8, 2013

What comes around

The windows are finally open and I can hear the jingle of BBs in his pocket and the sound of the gun cocking. The rhythmic clicking as he fires over and over. 

My teenager, my young man, my grown up little boy is shooting at a plastic bottle lodged in the old dogwood. Just like he did when he was eleven and he had a buzz cut, crooked teeth, a generous smile and spontaneous hugs for me.

Only now there is long hair, persistent scruff, a know-it-all attitude and closed doors.

I'm in mourning. Deep soulful punch in the gut pain.
I'm grasping at straws.
Searching for a connection.
I want it back.

In the morning when I stand before the mirror
In the car when I arrive but don't remember getting there
At night in my dreams..

I'm thinking of all the things I still have to teach him.
All the things I want to tell him.
All the ways I should have done it better.

He is mine and for that I pay the price now.
Born an old soul.
Connected to something bigger.
I knew this time would come.

Everyone says "It comes back around."
I know it will.
But not in the same way
When it was just my boy and me.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

good grief

They say "grief comes in waves." "Grief moves through you." I wonder why these have become the catchphrases for understanding grief. Maybe we imagine we feel grief washing over us, receding, and coming back to smack us hard again when we least expect it. Or we see it moving into us for processing and then moving on over time.

I say grief lives in us. It becomes us, like a laugh line or a gray hair.
Really it doesn't come and go at all. Look in the mirror. It is a part of you now.
You will find it at that cellular level where everything lives that makes you who you are.
You may know the exact moment it got there or maybe you aren't sure when it showed up, but you know when you feel it.
Some days it hangs heavy like a cloudy sky - hot and humid, cold and dark.
Other days it flares like a painful memory from a time before you were really old enough to remember.
It is fuzzy, light, suffocating, and temporarily forgotten.
Grief settles in, not in an evil way, but in a way that is like an old friend to remind and to teach you for the rest of your days.
It changes your composition. It takes the place of old ideas, convictions, and fears that were never really you.
It asks you questions you don't have answers for.
It is patient. It knows it is not going anywhere. 
It won't stop asking until you know. It will never let you forget.

I find myself consumed with forming answers to grief's questions about things like forgiveness, judgment, regret, empathy, and happiness.
But it's the grief that whispers this word in my ears. Transcend. A word that tingles my senses.
It has already taught me not just to answer, but to ask myself new questions.
The most important questions.
It's slowly teaching me to recognize what I probably knew all along but didn't see.

I don't remember when I stopped fighting the tides and wishing away time so the grief would go.
At some point I took it by the hand or it took me.
Now I look at it in my face every single day with the sort of comfort that comes from faith.
And I know that because it is a part of me, the grief can be good.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

they say it comes in threes

For us, it came in threes. Like a roll call. A list. A line you can't rehearse.


My father
His mom
His dad

John, Connie, Irving

The grief, it comes in thousands, millions, bazillions.

Time is finite.

Our love is infinite.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

more than words

It's a hard row to hoe.

When we came here the farmers were feverishly working to get in those last rows of corn and beans, late from the relentless spring rains. Knee high by the Fourth of July seemed up in the air. But everything works out in the end, doesn't it? The weather and life are how they are meant to be and really we have only a small amount of control over it. That's what I keep telling myself.

The Fourth of July came and went and we are still here, but the time is getting short. On that first day I made a prediction that I would come to know the people I saw as I navigated this new space. What I could never have imagined is that this would become my new normal. Not in a million years.

A dozen times in these last weeks I sat down to write about my experiences here. The words would not come. I wanted to let them out, but they are stuck somewhere between my head and my heart. A heart and head that are in a never ending game of tug of war. Dragging each other through the mud in a battle where no one is a winner.

I wanted to tell you about the people who stay here and their stories that have kept me captivated like a book I would stay up all night to read. When one story fades, another begins, and each one will forever have a little place in my heart.

I wanted to tell you about the people who work here who I have lunched with, laughed with, prayed with, and let comfort me. And trusted. From the nurse's assistant who offers a hug every day to the janitor I just stood with and watched a nationally publicized trial verdict. These people have the most tremendous capacity for understanding I have ever encountered.

You should hear all about the incredible Bernice, the only female patient in the house, who made me laugh with her stories and her ability to say whatever was on her mind. Bernice saved her lunches to feed the birds and squirrels and would share any of her few possessions with you without a second thought. One day she privately told me the story of how she came to be here and I walked away feeling as if she gave me a gift. I cheered on the day she was able to go home, but I miss her and will always wonder how life is treating her.

I wanted you to know the man on the other side of the curtain and how I came to adore him. And how I felt so honored to sit close to him in his final days and that I quietly cried when they took him away. Mr. Clinton with the beautiful soul.

These are all things I wanted you to know. But most of all, I wanted you to know my dad.

And those are all the words I have for now....

Saturday, June 4, 2011

first day of the rest of your life

If you are mad, get over it.
If you are jealous, get over yourself.
If you are confused, find some clarity in your gut.
If you are afraid, put one foot in front of the other.
If you are weak, remember that strength comes from within.

Two days ago, I helped my dad get settled in at his last stop here on earth. This place is not the comfort of his own home with his own smells, the familiarity of the rooms in the darkness, or the feel of his old comfortable chair. It is not a beautiful suite surrounded by glorious gardens and highly paid nurses. It is just a cold room at the end of the hall with a little bed at the Veteran's Administration Healthcare System in small town, Illinois.  Building 101, Unit 4, Room 153. My dad is 64 years old. Tomorrow I turn 39. This year has been a million days long.

It's a surreal experience walking through this maze of sterile hallways behind a gurney pushed by two strong men who just climbed out of the back of an ambulance. There's no sense of urgency, but everything moves quickly. There is order and chaos. Questions and answers. You watch it in some kind of strange 3D never duplicated by Hollywood. There is a buzzing in your ears. You find yourself holding your breath. Then you find yourself forcing a deep inhale. Exhale.

This final place is not glamorous, but it is sweet. After sizing him up, you quickly see the doctor may be the kindest man you have ever met. The nurses know exactly what to do. You stretch every muscle in your face to smile bigger than you thought possible because you want them to like you. You want them to like your dad the best.

You struggle to remember every word. You wish you had written down your questions. You take the tissue from the doctor and know this scene has played out in his office a hundred times before.

You speak to every person you see. You know you will come to recognize them and they will recognize you. They will ask "are you his daughter?"  You make friends with the funny, old man on the other side of the curtain. You laugh when he teases that you are pretty, but too old for him. It is a little sweetness in the day that you will never, ever forget.

You struggle not to panic when you sit alone with him and try to go inside his mind. You watch him sleep and pray for peace. You say it over and over in your head. Please, please, please.

You try to put all the snapshots of the day together like a puzzle so that it becomes a reality. You have to figure out how to make it matter. Then you realize it is the only thing that matters. Everything that makes you mad or jealous, confused or afraid doesn't matter. And you know that you will never be weak again. 

Thursday, May 26, 2011

A walking, beating heart

When you are a parent
You see your heart beating outside of your chest

It's like some force of nature takes your fragile, life-giving, miraculous heart and personifies it.
And you know, if something happened to it... you would die.

Yesterday, I watched my heart beat all day long.

the new grad

breakfast with the class

the slide show with baby pics to make the mamas cry

class awards

goodbye to a buddy

a favorite teacher

good friends

twin cousins!

 the band

the grandmas

class clowns

 my heart

Friday, May 13, 2011

I wrote it in a letter

I wrote a letter this week.
A real letter. On paper. With an envelope sealed. A stamp carefully placed in the corner.
It was a bet placed on the power of the written word.

I watched it fall into the box with trepidation, for it carried the potential to damage instead of repair.
It held words of pure intentions unwittingly charged with sentiments of pain and sadness, angst and love.
I wondered if it would go up in flames or down in glory.

The truth is it exploded into a million pieces and then floated all around us - me and the one who read it.
I caught a few words in my hand. He trapped one near his heart. We will put it back together if it takes forever.

He said "why couldn't you just talk to me?"

Oh, but I did. Once or twice. But you didn't hear me.

Until you read it in a letter.