The past hasn’t changed. We all wake up and in those strange waking moments when we bring ourselves back to reality, we remember. We remember what happened in our community. We remember the grief that we might have shielded ourselves from in dreams. We awaken to the pain, to that sinking feeling of what we’ve lost. People. Security. Peace. Illusions.
We get up and make coffee. We get on with our day, with our jobs, with our lives. At the back of our minds, we are tragically aware that there are 10 people who are not doing those things today, and who will never do those things again. That their families are waking up to their new worlds and feeling the devastation that comes from having someone you love ripped out of your life. And in the midst of their pain, they have to do practical things and procedural things. They do those things on autopilot – this I know, from my stepson’s suicide.
Our Boulder world looks the same on the surface. We still go to the grocery store, but now there are police officers in the parking lot. We still buy flowers, but now they are for the memorial and not the bookshelf in our living room. We still pet dogs, but now they are therapy dogs trained to comfort us. We still sit on grassy hillsides, but now we’re restricted by yellow police tape. When we see a police car speed past us with its sirens blaring and its lights flashing, our first thought is “Is it happening again?” When we hear glass breaking, we think “Is that a shooter breaking windows?”
As the reality sinks in, we still don’t care why. Only that. Not why. But we are starting candlelit vigils. We have a memorial that spans two blocks, with flowers and candles and signs and crosses in front of the chain link fence that keeps us away from where the shooting happened. I went there today, and left flowers. Hugged sobbing strangers. Video chatted with K, showing her what I saw, so she didn’t have to feel so alone, distant, and removed in her grief for her town, for her younger self, for her memories.
It will be same tomorrow. I know grief and loss so intimately that I understand how it will play out for me. While it’s different for everyone, there are some constants for all of us. Time is kind enough to help our sorrow nestle into a place in our souls. But it never allows us to forget.
Daily gratitudes: Blue skies K Dogs Community Flowers
Quote of the Day: “She was a genius of sadness, immersing herself in it, separating its numerous strands, appreciating its subtle nuances. She was a prism through which sadness could be divided into its infinite spectrum.” — Jonathan Safran Foer
Today has been a horrible day. Just up the road, a gunman walked into the grocery store I’ve been in hundreds of times and opened fire. Just walked in and without a word, opened fire. The police won’t disclose how many people died. A YouTube video of the first few minutes of the massacre showed two bodies laying in the parking lot and one just inside the store, by the shopping carts. Those souls lay there on the cold ground for hours as SWAT teams broke windows and rescued people through the roof, as news crews swarmed. The thought of them there breaks my heart. This store is the one all the high school kids hung out at — K was one of those high school kids, not so long ago. Today, her high school parking lot was used as a staging point for MedEvac helicopters, but there were no injured. Only bodies. If there is a single severe mercy, it is that this is Spring Break, so even though the kids are back at in-person school, they weren’t all congregating at the store’s Starbucks after classes, just when the shooting started. A Law Enforcement Officer lost his life. Police vehicles from multiple counties are sitting silently with their lights on in a long line, waiting to escort him out.
I remember Columbine vividly. Then, too, I was stricken by the thought of bodies left on the floor for hours. As a new parent, I could just imagine what those mothers were feeling. I remember Aurora all too well. K was at a midnight showing of that film, just at a different theater. The Walmart shooting? About 10 miles away. I have checked in with all my peeps who might have been in the vicinity today and all are accounted for. But my heart grieves for those families who cannot say the same, for those people who were just trying to buy some groceries. You really never think it can happen in your community. But it can.
Daily gratitudes: (tough today) Chicken noodle soup Cuddly cats The comforting reporting of Kyle Clark The woman I made friends with at the store yesteray The beauty of silver hair
Quote of the day: “Everyone has a thousand wishes before a tragedy, but just one afterward.” — Fredrik Backman
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
Because not a lot of people want to. I am not one of those people. I’m not what would classically be called morbid, but I have an affinity for death. I’m not afraid of it. I feel like I’ve lost an inordinate amount of people in my life. It’s something you expect when you’re older, but honestly, I’m not THAT old. It may be that when death touches my life, it leaves a fingerprint that is never erased, that I am always aware of, even if it fades a bit. I’ve never met another person with whom I have this in common.
The suitcase of death is more like a ship-size steamer trunk — or maybe like trying to move an entire house one pickup truckload at a time. There’s a lot to pack and unpack, so this will no doubt be the first of many such chats. I’m not even sure where to start. I think I’ll start with today.
I’m losing a friend. She’s dying. She has been dying slowly for years, not in the way that we all are, but from an illness that has gradually robbed her of her zest, her boundless enthusiasm, her sharp wit, and her tremendous artistic skills. She fought her illness for years, and she fought hard, but there was no way to stop its progression. She is tired of it. She’s ready to go now. I think that readiness to go is often what ends up allowing death to come. It is a different experience from sudden death by accident or violence, or from suicide. It is not quite making peace with dying, but just being ready to stop living. Those two things are not the same.
She was awake and “with it” the other night, and so I had a chance to say goodbye. Even though this is what she wants, and she knows what’s happening, her family told me that we’re not actually “saying goodbye”. Just visiting her and telling her we love her. Which is what I did. But it felt so awkward. Somehow incomplete. Death has walked by my side for so long that, in situations where it’s right at the door, telling it to stay outside just seems wrong. However, I will always honor a family’s wishes. I listened to her sons tell stories of growing up. And I told her I’d see her again. Which I will, somewhere, someday.
Driving home, I shed a few tears. I wasn’t exactly crying — I was leaking, as I did for days before my Mother died. I was thinking about how my ability to vocalize death’s thoughts and comforts had been silenced, and how, in that situation, I was at rather a loss as to what to say. I questioned whether my plan for my next career as a Death Doula is the right choice for me, given the awkwardness I had just felt. (I still think it’s the right choice.) Every death is different. It’s a different experience for every person, whether they are the one who’s dying or one who’s left behind. This death is a different experience for me — which, when you think about it, makes it absolutely normal. It’s just another step along my path. Along all of our paths.
Daily Gratitudes: Blue skies My pumpkin bread Friday Coffee (even if it has to be decaf) That my blood donation was sent to a hospital to help someone needing a transfusion