Failure of Imagination

Last night I dreamed I drowned.

No. I dreamed I was writing a story about my drowning. But the details of it were so vivid, red in their terror, that I would have had to actually drown to know how to describe drowning so well.

After I drowned, I could see my husband walking from the beach back up to our house. He fell down in the sand a couple of times and I wondered if he was fatigued from trying to rescue me or overcome with grief.

It was then, in my dream, that I decided I couldn’t continue writing the story of my drowning because it was too sad. There would be no peaceful resolution, no messages of triumph or hope, there would just be a cut-off limb, an amputation, and I didn’t know how to write about that so I woke.

 

 

 

 

 

Good Luck to Me

I’m wondering if it’s a mistake that my husband’s my best friend.

I see that in obituaries all the time. The surviving spouse talking about how he or she lost their best friend and I think isn’t it enough that you lost your spouse? You should also lose your best friend at the same time? It makes me think I should be more intentional about diversifying.

I do have two women friends to whom I never lie which is, I think, the bottom line in women’s friendships. These are the people I tell that I hate my children, when I do, and they don’t flinch or scold. They nod and keep eating. They also don’t point out the contradiction when next I wax on about each of my lovely children’s successes and fine attributes. They always clear the dishes without being asked.

But I’m concerned about this husband as best friend thing. I think I’m setting myself up for tragedy. For grief of gargantuan proportions. Bottomlessness. So part of me thinks I should start standing back now, join a bowling league, investigate meet-ups, strip off some of the Velcro that stitches us together and has made us twins all these many years. Not get any deeper into this thing than I am already after 34 years. But that seems crass and unfeeling. I shouldn’t question swimming into the deepest ocean holding the hand of a single person and having no life preserver. After all, it’s what people do.

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Photo by Jakob Owens on Unsplash

 

Broken and Lost Things

I wait for loss.

I put my hand to my neck a dozen times a day to feel the chain that holds my mother’s wedding ring. The ring is gold and very thin. If it was thinner, it would be a strand of my father’s hair. He gave it to her eighty years ago, almost to the day.

The ring on the chain around my neck, I seek it. I believe it. I feel the ring, how slight it is, and I am glad to have this thing that belonged to my mother but I am always afraid that one day I will reach up to my neck to feel the chain and it won’t be there. I prepare for grief as I start reaching, the sick dread trickling through me, and then I feel the relief of finding my mother’s ring with my fingers.

Except yesterday. There was no relief yesterday. The chain holding my mother’s ring was gone from my neck. Vanished. Disappeared in the dark in the country’s third largest city on sidewalks traveled by hundreds of people.

On the counter in the kitchen are the three broken pieces of the green glass sea shell plate my son bought for me in Puerto Rico when he went there on a school trip when he was 12. He could have brought me a t-shirt or a keychain or nothing, but he chose the green plate. I don’t know why. I never asked.

I decided to throw the three pieces in the trash and try to find a new special plate. But the stacked pieces sit on the counter, a cairn marking a thousand dinners. There isn’t a plate that has been more present in our lives all these many years. But it cannot be mended and used again. Even I see that and I try to repair everything, everyone. Then my son’s girlfriend said we should glue the pieces together and then paint the mended parts with gold paint because that’s what the Japanese do. It’s about people, she said, about where we are broken and mended. And so we went to buy glue but we couldn’t find any gold paint.

On Facebook today, I read a post by someone who has lost two beloved children. He described how being in place filled with young people became overpowering to the point that he was searching for an exit, someplace to flee to be sick in private, and then his companion jolted him from this desperate state and reminded him that he chooses life. Every day, I imagine, he chooses life over the alternative, which must be standing in front of him with a wide, welcoming embrace day and night. He chooses life.

Now that I have lost my mother’s wedding ring I no longer dread losing it. That is something but I don’t know what. I would have preferred to keep it, to perhaps have been warned by a close call that it might be lost so I would put it away and not wear it every day as if I was special. As if nothing would ever happen. But that’s not how it goes, for rings or anything. This is just practice. I see that now. Everything is practice for what might come next.

 

 

My Mother’s Face

After my father died, I found this photo in his bedroom. It was leaning against the mirror of the vanity where my mother had sat painting her nails in a room dark except for the small lamp, her red nails gleaming in the dim light. She painted them with half moons, her touch was that fine.

The photo was in a cheap frame from our Ben Franklin store. I knew from having worked there for years that the frame came from the counter between the greeting cards and housewares. It was probably 79 cents or maybe $1.29, When a price ends in a 9, my dad said, people don’t realize they are spending more. This was his wisdom and I’ve remembered it.

I’d never seen the picture before.

Because we were there in his house to take the things that had meaning to us, I took this picture. I also took the bedroom furniture and my father’s minnow bucket. I didn’t take the toaster even though I needed one at the time because it had no meaning to me and I didn’t want to think to myself that I so needed a toaster that I would take it from my dead father’s house. Taking the picture was another matter. It meant something.

It was the image of my mother that my father loved most.

He took it from wherever it was kept before she died, a bottom drawer, an old scrapbook, and he framed it and put it on the vanity in their bedroom where he was now sleeping alone.

Today I slipped the old photo out of its dime store frame to put it in a sturdier frame I’d found. On the back was her perfect handwriting; she always labeled every photograph, with her name and the date, 1946. This was my mother two years before I was born. Her open, beautiful face and her glance of a smile. She is unadorned and so lovely, so unknowingly lovely.

No wonder he loved her so.

I wouldn’t have known this had he not left the picture there on the vanity.

My mother’s face.

Book Mark

When my friends’ son died by suicide, I bought them a book.

I can remember standing in a bookstore near the San Diego harbor, pulling book after book off the shelf, looking for just the right one that would speak to my friends’ terrible grief. Then I decided to mail it to them, somehow thinking that whatever insight that was offered in the book simply couldn’t wait for me to return to Milwaukee to give it to them in person. I wrote a weepy note which I tucked inside the cover and sent it off.

The topic of the book was how to manage grief. My sense at the time was that if they read the book, they would feel better. Thinking back, my naivete seems unbelievable, like a 5-year old with a bunch of dandelions showing up at a crash scene to comfort the survivors.

When I saw my friends a few weeks later at a memorial service for their son, I stood in line with many others to give my condolences. When I reached my friends, they both looked so bereft, so torn, that I put my hands on their faces, first one and then the other, almost pushing back their hair like they were children. I wanted to mother them. I wanted to console them. But there would be no consoling. Neither my grief instruction manual nor my physical presence could pull the knife out of their hearts by a single inch.

So I steered clear for a long time. Their grief seemed monumental. Out of my league. I told myself, you have no business butting in on their grieving. You don’t know what you’re doing. You did enough. Sending that silly book.

Then another friend lost her son to suicide.There is no comparing one to the other. Each is horrifying in its own way as only suicide can be. The shock, the suddenness of going from a normal life to one where every moment and every word are questioned, piled on top of what might be called ‘normal grief,’ that seems to be the essence of suicide.

I was out of town when this friend’s son’s funeral was held. I sent messages to her on Facebook and email and then, not being able to stand having done nothing, I took her a book and a candle. This time the book wasn’t an instruction manual on how to handle grief, or maybe it was. It was Cheryl Strayed’s memoir, Wild, that traces her coming to terms with her mother’s death as she hiked the Pacific Crest Trail. A few years later, my friend would post on Facebook that she’d had a Little Free Library built in her son’s name and my book was one of the first on its shelves. I don’t know if she ever read it. She had at least handled it. I’d told her I loved the book and I gave it to her. So there was that. It was not nothing as we used to say but it wasn’t much. She had better friends, I thought, even though I had known her a very long time. I knew she had better friends so I stepped back.

Then, unbelievably, another friend’s son died by suicide. This one was hard. The distant waves of grief I’d experienced with the other two now lapped at my feet. This one felt close for many reasons. So I sat down and wrote a poem. In the poem, I tried to speak to my friend’s grief, speak to my friend. I tried to be wise. I tried to rise above, not realizing until much later that the perspective I needed to gain was my own.

In the months since that time, I reach out, as she calls it. Thanks for the reach-out, she says. That’s all I do. She has better friends. I know that to be true. But I keep on, sending messages every now and then if only to tell her that her grief lives over here with me, too, for reasons I can’t explain to her or myself. So that’s what I do. It’s what finally feels right to do. Not to presume, not to intrude, but not to forget either, not to go on as if nothing happened. So I send my messages and we go back and forth and it feels right.  But still I felt the need to buy her a book. I bought her Cheryl Strayed’s Wild, and I bought a new copy for myself because, you know, I had given my copy away to someone else.

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Photo: Syd Wachs, Upsplash