Today, my youngest stepson would have turned 26. We lost him to suicide almost two years ago, another date that we mark with grief as we pass through the years. He was a complex and magnificent soul, with so much to offer. But as we all do, he found it hard to get out of his own way. The hopelessness and futility that feeling can engender became too much for him to bear.
M marks his birthday by dining at our son’s favorite restaurant, accompanied by his picture. He buys our son a glass of wine, and leaves it untouched. To date, M does not want me to accompany him on this modest pilgrimage.
I feel somewhat detached from my own grief about his loss. I think that’s defense mechanism that I have built, particularly around losing him. I have seen my hopeless, raging grief spill out at sunset by the side of a mountain river. I know it’s there. I just don’t know how to manage it, particularly in the face of M’s deeply painful, life-changing sorrow. My grief lives tucked away on a shelf so that I can be strong with him, for him, in the face of his.
Losing a child, at any age and regardless of the relationship you have with them, means losing so much more than just their being, their day-to-day existence, your interaction with them. It means losing the future. Your hopes, prayers, and dreams for your child vanish in an instant. You grieve that loss as well. I chastise myself for the opportunities I missed with our son, the promises I didn’t get around to keeping, the unintentional hurts I may have caused him. It’s impossible not to ask myself if I contributed to his choice. Or if there was something I might have done that could have prevented it.
His joy in his life was as real as his struggle. I hope with all my heart that where he is now, he can freely feel all the joy, and that the struggle is gone. As my belief supports, I trust that he and I will have a chance to get it right in some other life. In the meantime, M and I honor the day of his birth in our own ways, and honor him daily with remembrance, and prayers that his spirit has found some peace.
Daily gratitudes: Jasper the Great Pyrenees Two horses playing “I’m gonna eat your face” Wind chimes Having Ice Melt on hand for our upcoming snowstorm Sending presents
Quote of the day: “May the stars carry your sadness away, May the flowers fill your heart with beauty, May hope forever wipe away your tears, And, above all, may silence make you strong.” — Chief Dan George
Today is the 16th anniversary of my Father’s death. It feels strange to call it an anniversary, because I associate that term with happy events, despite the fact that I’ve lost an inordinate number of people I’ve cared for in my life, disproportionate to my age. My body is aware of today. I have felt ill for a week. This is not new to me. My body has a physical memory of events, moreso than my conscious mind. There comes a point, usually before the anniversary of the event, when my body and mind catch up with each other and I figure out why I’m feeling like a cow turd in a remote Highland field.
I remember most of this day as it happened 16 years ago. I knew Daddy (yes, I’m a Southern girl) wasn’t well. I had talked to him the day before, and the last thing we said to each other was “I love you”. That’s as it should be. I was still in bed when ex-Pat came in with the phone, and said it was Larry, my parents’ best friend. I knew then. My Mother couldn’t talk to me. I don’t even know if she called my brother or if Larry did. K was going to up to see ice sculptures in the mountains with her aunt and uncle that day, and to a classmate’s birthday party. I was supposed to go with her, but we decided we didn’t want to spoil her much-anticipated day. So I stayed home and her dad went with her.
What I don’t remember is what I did after they left. Did I cry? Did I call my brother? Did I talk to my Mother? I don’t know. In the afternoon, I called my friend Denise. She is one of those friends who you know will always be there for you, even though now we’re quite distant. (But my phone Facetimed her about a year ago, all on its own when she was trying to talk to Comcast, and we caught up after a decade. It was lovely.) When my Father died, she dropped everything, and came and drank martinis with me in the lobby of the Renaissance Hotel. She helped. I wish I could have been within a thousand miles of her when she suffered a similar loss, but that’s life. Or death.
I was a Daddy’s girl, for sure. I still miss him every day. I wish he could see who I am, what I’m doing, what I’ve become. Who I’ve become. I’d like to think he’d be proud of me. Neither of my parents was ever effusive with pride over me, to me. In the course of the last year, I’ve thought about that a lot. Been angry about it sometimes. And recognized that there are things that just are, that I can’t come to terms with, not without a dialogue with them about it. That’s how it is, and I think that’s part of how I grow as a person as I continue to age and look through the glass darkly at my past, my relationships, my perceptions. I also think that’s an important step to take as I move through the years towards the next place. Acceptance. Of my parents. Of relationships. Of myself. We can’t always have answers or fix things. Sometimes we just have to settle for an unfinished peace.
The sense of loss of Daddy never leaves me. It’s not at the forefront of my days as it was for a long time after he died, but it’s always there. When I make a huge change in my life, he (and my Mother) are the first people I want to tell. I think it’s important that I’ve had to make changes without their guidance and input. I think that’s a sign of strength, of growing up, which is a journey not limited to our childhood or teen years — it is a lasting adventure in our lives, if we’re lucky.
My life looks nothing like what it did when Daddy was alive. But I know he’d support me in the changes I’ve made. I know he’d have so much to talk about with M. I think M would be one of those guys he’d actually have approved of. And he’d be so proud of K.
He didn’t want to go, and he made that clear to me after he died. It took some time for us to work through that. I may write about that later. We talked a lot in our lives. We had a unique relationship. Ex-Pat always thought that we were too close. He didn’t understand how a father could tell his daughter that he loved her so often, that he would always look out for her. That’s a refection of the relationship he had with his own father.
I try hard not to catch the grief train when it pauses at the station these days, but I still step aboard, look around, feel. It’s how and who I am. It is woven into my curious relationship with death and the afterlife, a thing which I am still holding close, trying to feel how it nestles into my daily existence. I don’t wallow as I did a decade ago. But while years according to the calendar have passed, my partnership with my Father, and what today signifies, are still as fresh as they were 16 years ago. My heart, today, around this, his death, is like a statue that has stayed in place outdoors through seasons and weather for all these years. It has changed in appearance, grown mossy and tender and tougher all at once, but with its core solid and intact.
How did I celebrate my Father today? I worked. As he always did. I had a couple of glasses of wine that he would have liked. He was not a drinker, but he enjoyed trying wine with me. I went to my local library’s book sale and bought 11 books in honor of his lifelong career as a librarian. I picked up some yellow roses at the grocery store, which were my Mother’s favorite, but he would have approved. I wrote this post, which he also would have appreciated, because he always loved my writing, and he was the first person to introduce me to the blogosphere, when he asked me, “What is a blog?” and I didn’t know, so I looked it up. And while he so very seldom visits me in my dreams, I will fall asleep tonight thinking of him, and having recited the prayer that he always said with me at my bedside when I was a child.
Love you, Daddy, and I hope you’re having a marvelous time.
Daily gratitudes: Birds in the out-of-place tree, a sure sign of Spring The squirrel that made it across the road Cooper the Beagle mix at the Dog Bar A clean oven My red shoes
Quote of the day: “I have always imagined that Paradise will be a kind of library.” — Jorge Luis Borges
When do couples usually get “their” song? Is it the song that might be playing during some particularly memorable moment? Something that seems like it’s speaking just to the two of you, that puts words to feelings you have, but couldn’t find words for? Do couples still even have songs? Gone are the days of making cassettes or burning CDs for partners as a sign of love. Do people just share playlists on Spotify now?
I know that at many of the weddings that I’ve worked, the first dance isn’t really the couples’ song, but just whatever the DJ recommends. There are hundreds of suggested “first dance” songs on the interwebs, and I’ve heard hundreds over the years. The memorable ones — which are often songs I haven’t heard before — are the ones that I can tell are that couples’ “song”. One of my favorites wasn’t a bride/groom first dance at all. The groom had the first dance with his little girl, who was about six, to her favorite song from Frozen, and his bride joined them towards the end. I thought that was pure lovely.
Looking back on my past relationships, I wonder why some, which were “meeting the parents” serious, did not result in a song, while others did. I believe it reflects the strength of the relationship. In those where we’ve had a song, we still think of each other fondly, even decades after the romantic relationship ended (with one exception — there’s always one exception). So, let’s travel down memory lane and take a peek at my relationship song playlist, starting with the first and ending with the finest.
The college boyfriend from Boston: “Genesis” by Jorma Kaukonen. The boyfriend was kind of a Deadhead, but also artsy. Our relationship was a bit stormy (my fault – I was young and stupid) but he still kept me company on my last night in town and saw me off at the Greyhound bus station the next morning. On that night, we sat on the floor in his apartment, on the carpet we’d carried home from Sears about half a mile away (a building which is now the Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts offices, and in which I had a work meeting once about a dozen years ago, which was weird) and looked into each other’s eyes silently as this played. It’s a sweet memory.
The Ex-Husband (heretofore known as Ex-Pat): “Last Kiss” by J. Frank Wilson and the Cavaliers. K thinks this is a terribly morbid song to be her parents “song”, and I can’t recollect why it was our song. Ex-Pat had a wonderful singing voice; I have a vague memory of him singing it to me, driving down Highway 93 in his old white Ford Falcon station wagon very early on in our relationship. He also serenaded me with it from a stage in a bar while I was playing pool one night. Another sweet memory.
One Dear Friend: “The Girl from Ipanema” and “I Thought About You”, both by Frank Sinatra. We were as close as a couple could be without ever being a couple. We danced to both of these songs, the former on a balcony in New Orleans in the afternoon light, and the latter in an Italian restaurant in Las Vegas. And we both loved Frank.
The Captain: “Roam” by the B-52s (a song he shared with others that he sailed with) and “My Romance” by Carly Simon. We were in a cab in San Francisco one time, talking about music, and Carly Simon’s name came up, and he made the cab stop and wait while he ran into a music store we just happened to be passing, coming out with a double Carly Simon CD, from which we gravitated to this song. When I knew of the Captain’s death, I was in the car in a traffic jam in Washington, D.C., and was listening to Rod Stewart’s “Sailing”. I cannot listen to that song now.
Ex-fiance Dr. Narcissist: “Come Away with Me” by Norah Jones. This relationship was just what you’d expect from a narcissist, so needless to say, it ended terribly and has taken a decade of recovery and ongoing recognition of how much gaslighting I experienced. In this relationship, I loved like never before, which makes it that much sadder. This song is never to be played in my presence, which is a shame because it’s a beautiful song.
And saving the best for last, my husband M: We have two pieces of music that we think of as our song. “Variations on a Theme by Thomas Tallis” by Ralph Vaughan Williams, which obviously isn’t a song, but we discovered early on that we both liked classical music and that this was a favorite of each of us. You don’t find a lot of classical music lovers out there these days, so I got lucky. The other, which is an actual song, is “True Companion” by Marc Cohn. We’d both wanted a true partner to be in love with, which is what this songs speaks to, and we were blessed to find each other.
I’ve had two weddings (although M says we actually got married three times), and neither was large enough to merit music or dancing. They were both outside, so in the first, the music was the wind in the pines and strangers singing acapella to us from the next rocky promontory over. In the second, the music was the sound of the waves. That sea song was sweet enough — no other accompaniment needed. On our next trip to the Retreat, I think I’ll ask Alexa to play both of our songs. It will be a nice housewarming.
Do you have a song with your partner? If so, tell me what it is in the Comments. I’d love to hear it. One day, I’ll write about having a soundtrack to my life, something I think we all have.
Daily gratitudes: Hawks on light posts Housecleaning room by room Halo Top ice cream Snuggly Cat
P.S. Mr. Man and I also have a song: “Can’t Help Lovin’ Dat Man” by Ava Gardner from the musical Showboat. I have loved this song for decades and only realized this weekend that it actually references “Mr. Man”. It was just meant to be.
Why do we always have so many quasi-brilliant thoughts in the shower? I’m sure that I’m not the only one here who does that. I’ve often thought of getting one of those little shower notepads or white boards or whatever they are, because such thoughts are as fleeting as the water droplets on our skin. Here’s the thought that emerged from the shower last night.
After mentioning “adjustment disorder” yesterday, I realized, with the help of a little research on the Mayo Clinic website, that there’s a significant difference between “adjustment disorder” and just acclimating to adjustment. I am a person who takes a little more time than some to adjust to changes in my circumstances. Of course that feeds into depression (a lifelong, yet currently well managed, gig for me) and anxiety (like almost anyone alive has these days), but it doesn’t mean it’s a “disorder,” with all that word implies.
The fact that it takes me a bit longer than some to adjust to the idea of change, as well as the actual change, is not a thing for judgement. It’s a thing for awareness. At the lowest points of my life, when change has been thrust unwillingly upon me, I’ve always been able to step up. I go on autopilot, because I know what needs to happen and I know what I need to do. So I do what needs to be done. To move forward. To take care of my family. To manage things. This time, with a big and very positive move pending, I have a partner I can trust, and we’re doing this together, which makes everything feel gently different.
I’m pleased with this new awareness. It’s actually quite lovely. M and I can talk about issues as they arise, he understands and shares my feelings of this being a healthy adjustment period. We’re both looking forward to actually making the move. And it’s really okay to be a little nervous as we forge ahead, making new tracks in the snow.
It’s astounding how much one human can accumulate in ten years. Ten years ago, I moved from the Cottage to the Bungalow. From six rooms to nine rooms. In starting the move to the Retreat, which will require combining two houses into one, I’m determined not to move anything that I haven’t touched, held, examined, and decided I need or want to keep. While K and I made this same agreement when we moved out of the Cottage, we were only about 60 percent successful. Not this time.
This is a much more gradual move, in part because it involves getting two houses rental-ready, and because the location of the Retreat affords limited access to large trucks like U-Hauls. When there’s snow (which there is), it’s really not possible. I don’t even know how a real moving truck could manage in good weather. We’ve been moving in pickup truck loads — boxes of books, but no bookcases yet. Containers of car parts, but no tools yet. Baking dishes, but no silverware. The previous owners left a significant amount of furniture, so the Retreat doesn’t feel like we couldn’t live in it — just like we don’t quite yet.
I haven’t lived with anyone but K (part-time) for a long time, so it’s been a new experience to have to share my vision for the Retreat with M. We’re very good at talking things through, and he’s wonderful about taking us back to a clean slate when we find ourselves diametrically opposed in our plans for each room. This whole long process of house-hunting, making offers and being disappointed, finding the right place, and overcoming the challenges that buying a house in the time of COVID has presented, has strengthened us as a couple. We’ve grown even stronger since we acquired the Retreat, working exceptionally well as a team, clearing trees, pushing cars through the snow, seeing what we missed in the excitement of the new house seek-and-find game, and figuring our what we need to do to fix things.
We’ve been married for over five years now, and have been together for nine and half years. When we say we’re finally moving in together, more people than we can count have said that maybe the reason our marriage is so good is because we DON’T live together. We choose not to believe that. We’re approaching it as something we’ve wanted for a long time, and finally get to do together. That said, I’m still a little cautious. I’m rather set in my living-alone ways, and I don’t know what it will be like to live full-time with anyone else. One thing I’ve recently learned about myself is that it takes me a while to grow accustomed to the idea of change. A dear friend recently defined this as an “adjustment issue” and I’ll go along with that.
I guess that for me, slow motion is just the right speed.