03 December 2011

Grief and its geography, 39 years later...

After 39 years of this grief journey, I don't know why I continue to be surprised by it, but I am. I am surprised by the way it lands right in the midst of my day and takes me off-guard. And there you have it.

My fourth child, Sawyer, is nearly the exact age I was when my father died. Five and three-quarters. Or to be more precise, I was five years and 286 days old when he died. And so on December 16, 2011, Sawyer will be five years and 286 days old. As the fourth child myself, I watch Sawyer closely, observing him, trying to find out exactly what five and three-quarters looks like since memory fades and discovering exactly what it is I lost.

It turns out that no matter how deep you go, how far you search, you can never fully understand what it is you've lost, but I think I have a pretty good idea.

Sawyer at five is so attached to his father. He calls out for Terry, he asks Terry to dress him, he asks Terry to wrestle with him, to read him books, to make him a snack, to watch a movie with him, to scratch his back, to tickle his back, to go on a walk, to play with the dogs, to be his punching bag when he's angry, to drive him to school, to pick him up, to arrange playdates and to make him more snacks and while Sawyer and Terry are not the same as I was with my own father, in them, I see a glimmer of what I was about to lose, and I see that played out again and again in all my children but most especially now at five.

Because at five and three-quarters, Sawyer is both branching out on his own, demanding things from us, still wanting to snuggle, still ending up in our bed and then suddenly wanting to be left alone. Sawyer is discovering his remarkable world by sounding out words: L-O-V-E. Love. And saying things like, "Mama, Grace died right, but she'll be coming back soon." And there much more complex things he is doing now too.

For example, he has written his numbers all the way from 1 to 1,413. He writes them on a number roll, each number one after the other with the perseverance and focus of an older child.

But he still has his moments of absolute collapse and panic and sheer frustration and trying to regulate his emotions with his logical mind, and sometimes despite his best efforts, he can't regulate them because he is five. So instead he collapses into an emotional meltdown.

And while Sawyer and I are not the same, I am just again understanding through him the depth of my loss. And here in this moment is a glimpse of what I lost:

I lost the ability to sit on my father's lap and read a story.
I lost the ability to tell him that I love him.
I lost the ability to understand how much he loved me.
I lost the ability to be his only daughter in flesh and blood.
I lost the ability on Father's Day to make a card and give it to him.
I lost the ability to call him up in the middle of the night as a young adult and use him as a sounding board in understanding the confusing rules with dating.
I lost the ability to have him walk me down the aisle.
I lost the ability to watch him hold his grandchild in his arms.
I lost the ability to fall apart in his arms when his granddaughter died.
I lost the ability to call him up as an adult when so many complex issues in life no longer make sense.

And what I really lost was the ability to understand what it means to have a father, what it means to be a daddy's girl, what it means to be unconditionally loved by him.

And I don't care what gifts came out of that loss, I will forever mourn his absence in my life, and I will forever miss him.

I will forever wish that this darkness, this emptiness, this place in my heart where both my father and daughter together leave a deep chasm and deep longing never really existed at all.

Because sometimes, this darkness really sucks, and this longing for a father is so much larger than we can ever really understand.

And this kind of love hurts entirely too much.

And so still the grief rises inside of me when I least expect it.

Because love after all turns out to continue to be the thing that matters most.

14 September 2011

For Sale. Baby Shoes. Never Worn.

It's a six-word short story that takes my breath away. Whether or not Hemingway wrote it is sometimes up for controversy, but I like to believe it's true. Either way, it's written. Six words. Carefully constructed to hold a deeper truth than any I have ever read anywhere else:

For sale. Baby shoes. Never worn.

Bam. Gut-wrenching. Having read it in graduate school when my literal self posed as a reader, writer and critic of short stories, I read it with gusto, ate it up and spit it back out, analyzing the six-words into what seemed to be profound, graduate-school like gusto.

And now? Now, I just sit staring at the words over and over again.

For sale. Baby shoes. Never worn.


I couldn't even write about her this year in her eighth year yet. Why not? Perhaps I am trying to preserve some sense of privacy now, some sense of holding something inside me that I can't possibly release. After all, how do you capture what your eight-year-old daughter might be doing when your ten-year-old daughter is standing before you reading a poem:

For sale. Baby shoes. Never worn.

Yes, those are my shoes. Yes, there is something wrong, something missing. Yes, give them back.

Only I wouldn't have sold them I don't believe. I think I would have held onto them if only, if only I had shoes to hold onto because even those weren't purchased yet. I am sure that I would have recycled her sister's shoes only 2 1/2 years old, but what would I do with a pair of unworn baby shoes, perhaps still in their box, perhaps white with pink bows or pink with white bows?

For sale. Baby shoes. Never worn.

I cannot hardly believe that school has started and an entire class of third graders lines up, and she isn't part of them. She doesn't stand amongst the others in our family.


For sale.


Baby shoes.


Never worn.

It is the small things now that can undo me. The surprises, the take your breath away and catch you off guard. The whisper or hint of something that never was.

past. future. present.

My six-word story has to be written. Has to be recorded. Has to be remembered. For after this, who else will really remember any of it at all? Because all of us will simply be a figment, one day, of this world's imagination.

And so it goes.
And so it is.
And we too shall come to pass.

Sarah. Terry. Carver. Sophia. Grace. Sawyer.

30 March 2011

Lent and Spring and Seasons

It is spring and with it comes the waiting, the wondering, the remembering.

How is it that a body prepares itself for a grief that happens time and time again?

It is also the lenten season, and with it comes a period of 40 days in the desert, of holding our breath.

Each year I welcome spring with eagerness, as crocuses appear and delicate lilies of the valley sprout. And each year, I forget and remember what the season is about to spring upon me.


I appear in church on Wednesday nights in the spring, and in our church we honor lent with Holden Evening Prayer. It is a service of vespers, of chanting, of praying, of psalms.

And each year, one of Grace's funeral songs is sung. And each year I forget and am blindsided by that grief rising again. Of funerals. Of remembering. Of sadness.

This year, the song appeared early in lent. So I thought tonight, I'd be safe to return. The song passed. What else could possibly blindside me?

And tonight, blindsided again, by a sermon about Mary at the foot of the cross and the pastor spoke about parents who experience the death of a child. He spoke about 'those parents' in a third person kind of a way, a way that I'm sure wasn't meant to be impersonal, but how can it be anything else but that when you are the parent sitting in the pew and realizing, "Oh, that's me; I am one of those parents." And the pastor is speaking from the pulpit, protected from the grief of ever knowing what it is like to be childless, with his own children sitting there?

I am like Mary without her child.

I am one of those parents that has to be dealt with.

I am a childless mother with some of my children present. Some not all.

It is spring and as March draws nigh, and April showers greet us, my body gets tense; my muscles grow tighter, and I begin to hold my breath in a way that I do every season.

I am in a period of waiting. I am 40 days in the desert. I am slouching toward Bethlehem to find myself at the foot of an empty manger.

There is April, and then there is May, and with it comes the rush of emotions, the undulating pulse of the memories, rising again and again.

Recently, a friend posted a video news clip about the children in Japan being swept away by the tsunami. The children. More of them than one can keep inside of a head.

It is a frightening number of children still missing. And yet, each child, is just one child of one parent; each one should be individually remembered and mourned, but how can an entire nation mourn just one when there are so many?

One child is enough grief to last an entire lifetime.
Where to you place the grief of an entire town of children?

Sometimes, I am blindsided by my own grief. I don't pretend not to be.

I live my life fully present in the moment, while all at once remembering the past and looking forward to the future.

It is spring and with it comes the waiting, the wondering, the remembering.

How is it that a body prepares itself for a grief that happens time and time again?