Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Solstice Season, Take Six

This is my sixth winter living in A World Without and, this year, I am trying (yet) another approach. This is the Year of Full-On Celebration. The tree has been up for weeks. Not only are there lights strung on the front porch, there's a fully-lit tree there, too. Sparkly, multi-colored lights twinkling from dusk til dawn.

Inside, there's a festive string, à la Donna Reed, bedecked with cards from near and far. I sent cards this year, and - so far - I'm running about a 55% return rate. (Which isn't bad when you take into account my 5-year hiatus.) I count all the cards received up to New Years Day, so it's looking pretty good, even if certain people have de-listed me. (You know who you are.)

I even shopped. Not excessively, not with abandon, but with a certain measure of the joy and trepidation of past years. Will he like it? Oh, she'll love this! And I chose a wrapping theme (silver foil papers with green and blue and white ribbons and bows) that Himself promptly corrupted with a gold foil box tied 'round with a deep red ribbon. (Mens!) I am fairly certain there's yummy chocolate from our newly opened neighborhood chocolatier in that box, so I am going to overlook it. (I am also going to move it before the official Picture of the Tree - 2010 is taken. But then I'm going to put it back.)

There's a lot to celebrate this year. My Girl's Nana (also known as my dearest MIL) has come to live with us. While the reasons for it are not particularly celebratory, it's a joy and comfort to have her under our roof. There have been babies and rumors of babies. A wedding. Many plans for the future. There's been new sadness as well, fresh grief to lay over the the too-fresh grief that already blankets our world. In short, life keeps happening.

Which brings us here, to the Winter Solstice. The moon hung full and bright in the not-quite-dark sky as I drove home from work Monday evening. And as I twisted and turned along the marsh's edge I could hear Britt's voice, clear as a bell. 'We're going to build a fire, Maija, and dance around it while the moon rises! Winter's death knell...just as it begins, it begins to end. That's an excellent reason for a party, I think!'

So do I, Baby Girl. So do I.

Monday, May 31, 2010

Skinks For Lisa

Today is my dear friend Lisa's birthday and I hope it's filled with all the things she loves most in the world.

For you, honey. First, the skink we all know; look at the blue in his tail. Gorgeous.

And, the skink I discovered this spring, and am trying hard to love. Aren't they prehistoric? Itty bitty dinosaurs that stalk the garden.

As Britt would say "here leeezard, leezard..."

Sunday, May 30, 2010

This Is What Is

Since Britt was killed, April and May have been hard. The anniversary of her death followed so closely by Mother's Day is a one-two sucker punch from the universe. I think about karma, and wonder what I am supposed to be working out. Where is the lesson? What is the lesson? I think about reincarnation and wonder what I could possibly have gotten wrong before that this is the answer to getting it right. I think about unanswered prayers and I wonder why it's surprises anyone that it's just easier to let go and not believe in anything anymore.

Every day is a colossal effort. Get up. Get dressed. Go to work. Focus. Be anywhere but inside your head. Smile. Maintain. Carry on. When people say 'Hi! How are you?' Say 'Fine, thanks! You?' Do not say 'Angry.' Do not say 'Losing my mind.' Do not say 'Have you lost your mind?!' Above all, do not say 'My heart is breaking a thousand times a day.' 'Fine, thanks! You?' is just easier for everyone. Because this is what is. She is gone and she is not coming back and there are countless, numberless days to manage.

There are gardens to plant and rooms to tidy. Laundry and dishes and floors that need attention. Decisions to make and plans to follow and all the flotsam and jetsam of life that continues to accumulate...regardless. And, June is coming.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

A Short Announcement

You may or may not have noticed, but in the last few weeks there has been a lot of comment-spam here. In an effort to reduce it, I have enabled the word-verification feature on posts. I apologize for the inconvenience (my eyes aren't what they used to be, either) and hope you'll keep chiming in.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Today's Poem

This is the poem I woke to find in my in box this morning. That is all.

Graves We Filled Before the Fire
by Gabrielle Calvocoressi

Some lose children in lonelier ways:
tetanus, hard falls, stubborn fevers

that soak the bedclothes five nights running.
Our two boys went out to skate, broke

through the ice like battleships, came back
to us in canvas bags: curled

fossils held fast in ancient stone,
four hands reaching. Then two

sad beds wide enough for planting
wheat or summer-squash but filled

with boys, a barren crop. Our lives
stripped clean as oxen bones.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

The Gathering Storm

I have been laying in provisions. It's an odd assortment, some tangible and some not, and the pile increases as small offerings arrive in the mail from far-away friends who know instinctively what is lacking. Cards and funny signs and Emily Dickenson are added to the pile of potato chips and dark chocolate and red wine. They are necessary. I place them next to the recent memories of good visits that are waiting to be wrapped around me when I cannot get warm. Poems come through the ether, seeking me out and the rose bush is collapsing beneath the weight of its blooms.

Just me and the otters, I held them so close
I felt the bump of ghosts as I held them.
There is no poem that will bring back the dead
There is no poem that I could ever say that will
Arise the dead in their slumber, their faces gone
There is no poem or song I could sing to you
That would make me seem more beautiful
If there were such songs I would sing them
O they would hear me singing from here until dawn

- From Dorothea Lasky's Me and the Otters

Monday, April 5, 2010

Then Again, Maybe Not

Perhaps April isn't the best month to challenge myself to a daily-posting spree? The garden is going in and that takes most of my free time. I'm also trying to throw together a last minute wedding shower (by sheer force of will, it's going to be just lovely, I swear) and get ready for two of my dearest friends to visit. And, you know, it's April and just holding on to my sanity is a lot work some days. I don't have time to read a poem a day, much less the inclination to think about randomly selected verse winging its way through the ether. So we're letting go of the Poem-A-Day-Posting theme.

That said, this poem is lovely. Ms. Lerman's work has already earned a space on my shelves.

Small Talk
by Eleanor Lerman

It is a mild day in the suburbs
Windy, a little gray. If there is
sunlight, it enters through the
kitchen window and spreads
itself, thin as a napkin, beside
the coffee cup, pie on a plate

What am I describing?
I am describing a dream
in which nobody has died

These are our mothers:
your mother and mine
It is an empty day; everyone
else is gone. Our mothers
are sitting in red chairs
that look like metal hearts
and they are smoking
Your mother is wearing
sandals and a skirt. My
mother is thinking about
dinner. The bread, the meat

Later, there will be
no reason to remember
this, so remember it
now: a safe day. Time
passes into dim history.

And we are their babies
sleeping in the folds of
the wind. Whatever our
chances, these are the
women. Such small talk
before life begins

Thursday, April 1, 2010

A New Month

It's April and National Poetry Month is upon us. I haven't always known about National Poetry Month but I do now and I'm glad. I've signed up for a poem-a-day from the American Academy of Poets. (Isn't it marvelous such a thing exists?) I'm looking forward to seeing what each morning brings to my in-box and I plan to share them with you here if I find I have anything at all to say about them. I hope to share every day, mostly because I think it would be sad (and also a touch embarrassing) to read a poem and have nothing to say about it all.

Today's poem is marvelous. It's has history and almost-but-not-quite-forgotten people and the old houses haunted by them and also a touch of melancholy about ticky-tacky houses too close together that have become our norm. This poem reminds me to remember the many women who've made homes in this old house and gardened under the shade of these old trees. Also to be grateful for the view of pastures from my kitchen window. Everyday I walk in well-worn footsteps and it's good to be reminded of that.

Here's Philip Levine's A Story: A Story - Poets.org

And here's my beautiful old house.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

My Friends

I have the best friends in the world. Every day, they give me little pieces of themselves in dozens of big and little ways. I would not be here, or anywhere realy, without them. They make each day mean something, and some days that's much more than I can do for myself

For instance, Lisa sent me this poem a few days ago and it's been pinging around in my head - and propping me up - ever since.

The Mystery of Meteors
by Eleanor Lerman

I am out before dawn, marching a small dog through
a meager park
Boulevards angle away, newspapers fly around like
blind white birds
Two days in a row I have not seen the meteors
though the radio news says they are overhead
Leonid's brimstones are barred by clouds; I cannot read
the signs in heaven, I cannot see night rendered into fire

And yet I do believe a net of glitter is above me
You would not think I still knew these things:
I get on the train, I buy the food, I sweep, discuss,
consider gloves or boots, and in the summer,
open windows, find beads to string with pearls
You would not think that I had survived
anything but the life you see me living now

In the darkness, the dog stops and sniffs the air
She has been alone, she has known danger,
and so now she watches for it always
and I agree, with the conviction of my mistakes.
But in the second part of my life, slowly, slowly,
I begin to counsel bravery. Slowly, slowly,
I begin to feel the planets turning, and I am turning
toward the crackling shower of their sparks

These are the mysteries I could not approach when
I was younger:
the boulevards, the meteors, the deep desires that
split the sky
Walking down the paths of the cold park
I remember myself, the one who can wait out anything
So I caution the dog to go silently, to bear with me
the burden of knowing what spins on and on above our heads

For this is our reward:Come Armageddon, come fire or flood,
come love, not love, millennia of portents--
there is a future in which the dog and I are laughing
Born into it, the mystery, I know we will be saved

Friday, March 5, 2010

And, Another Thing

Here's a podcast of an interview with Meghan O'Rourke. More good stuff, and interesting to note that many of the ideas we've shared here keep surfacing again and again.

A Podcast with Meghan O'Rourke : The New Yorker

Finding a better way to grieve: From The New Yorker

For any of you who are interested, here's a link to the New Yorker story Cara mentioned. Excellent reading.

Finding a better way to grieve: newyorker.com

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Further Thoughts

I've been thinking about yesterday's post all day and I think what bugs me the most is the way these sorts of things - seeds of pop-science wisdom - seep into the culture. They affect the way all of us are treated by our physicians, how we're perceived by the people around us, and even how we view ourselves. More distorted scales and faulty yardsticks by which we can weigh and measure and find ourselves lacking or failing or falling behind.

Yesterday's example is cranky-making one, but the most egregious example I can think of is the continuing misunderstanding of what we have come to call the Stages of Grief. Forty-ish years ago, Elisabeth Kubler-Ross* wrote a wonderful book called On Death and Dying in which she examined the psychological process of coming to terms with one's own, imminent death. Her work changed for the better the way we deal with the terminally ill on every level. Somehow, early on, her research was co-opted by the culture of grieving and soon everyone dealing with death (their own or anyone else's) or just about any form of loss (being fired, getting divorced, moving, etc.) was urged to 'work the stages.' You remember the stages, right? 1.Denial 2. Anger 3. Bargaining 4. Depression 5. Acceptance. And, following Acceptance comes the unofficial sixth stage: Moving On.

Moving On is also known as 'getting back to normal' or 'getting over it.' And that's the stage that other people are really waiting for. Unfortunately, this life I'm living now isn't about stages. Nor should it be. There's plenty of current research on grief and bereavement that does not support the Stages model and, increasingly, therapists and support organizations that specialize in bereavement are moving towards recognizing that grief and grieving are not a cookie-cutter, step-by-step process. Unlike preparing for one's own death, there's not a definitive end in sight...there's just life - as much of it as might be left - to navigate. Unfortunately, it's taking a while for that message to reach the general (and not so general) public.

So, consider this me doing my part to spread the word. Because, I assure you, when your child dies, there is nothing neat about grieving; it does not happens in stages. It just is.

*I wanted her to have her umlaut, and I still don't know how to make them. I am reduced to stealing umlauts.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

It's The Little Things

It really is. The small smile-making things that can turn a day around. And also the littlest indignities and slights that can spawn a thunderstorm in your head.

For instance, earlier this evening I was wandering around a website that belongs to a friend of a friend. Just clicking through pages, really, getting a feel for the layout and the sorts articles they publish when a comment about stressors caught my eye: divorce was the second most stressful event, topped only by the death of a spouse. Seriously? Who makes these lists?

Now, I don't fault the website, or even the person who wrote the article, because you can find these "life stressors scales" just about anywhere (I've seen dozens of them) and - unless you are reading a list specifically ranking types of grief - you're not going to find "Surviving The Death of Your Child" on any of them. And, I'm not arguing the stress-factor of either of those events; I've been divorced (okay, a few times) and while I've not buried a spouse, I have read enough about grieving to know I'm in no hurry to. However, most of these lists are based on the Mother Of All Lists, also known as the Holmes-Rahe Scale. There's no child-death mentioned on the HRS...and so no child-death on any of the other lists either.

I wish I could make this go away by ignoring it, but I can't. The grief is huge and real and everyday is, as Renee once said, like walking a minefield. Even if it isn't on the list.

This is my Buddha Frog, dusted with snow. Imagine.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Other People's Words

John Dufresne (one of my favorite writers - read him!) describes fiction as "a lie that tells the truth." It's an excellent metaphor, and the reason we so often find pieces of our lives buried in stories about people who never existed. For instance, this bit of honesty from The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society:

When my son, Ian, died at El Alamein-- side by side with Eli's father, John - visitors offering their condolences, thinking to comfort me, said, "Life goes on." What nonsense, I thought, of course it doesn't. It's death that goes on; Ian is dead now and will be dead tomorrow and next year and forever. There's no end to that.