An open letter to my grief

blue gift

Dear Grief,

You’ve been here for a while now, and while I wish you would leave it seems that’s not an option. I hope you’re not planning to stay forever, but you are the Kato Kaelin of emotions. You’ve taken up residence in my guest house and no amount of persuasion will get you to leave. I wish I could say I’m enjoying your company, but I’m really not. You’re not that pleasant to be around.  

Here’s the thing, Grief. I really actually sort of hate you. Don’t take that the wrong way. It’s not your fault, exactly. Well, okay, it IS, but you can’t help who you are. Can you? CAN YOU?! Because if you can, I’d like to cordially invite you to cut it out. You’re on my last nerve, Grief, and I’m sick of the sight of you. You have on occasion spurred my creativity, but I was creative before I met you and I’ll be creative after you leave. You are leaving eventually, right? Because I’m not even charging you rent and you never clean up after yourself and did I mention you are the overflowing toilet of emotions?

Grief – are you listening to me? Pay attention when I talk to you! Seriously, you are the misbehaving toddler of emotions. I would like to hit you but that wouldn’t be appropriate and it wouldn’t teach you anything, either. I’d like to give you a time out but that doesn’t seem to work. There is always something there to remind me, so even when I’m watching The Princess Bride in the park, there are lines of dialogue about suicide and goofy emcees named Tony and people kissing and… I mean, how do you have SO many people working for you? I’m sure you’re not paying them well. I’m sure you don’t give them any vacation time. You are the Ebenezer Scrooge of emotions, Grief, and NOBODY likes a miser.

And yet… even with all your faults, Grief, you have been unexpectedly good to me. Oh, you’re surprised? Well maybe you should be, given how I’ve railed against you and cursed your name. I would be remiss not to acknowledge the fact that you are the misguided but generous fairy godmother of emotions. You bestow the kind of gift that is not recognizable as such when first unwrapped. How could I have known, at the time, that the howl of pain that escaped from me when I first learned that Tony was dead was the beginning of me reclaiming my life? It did not look like a gift. It did not feel like one. It still doesn’t at times; but in my clearer moments, when I am not on the floor and in tears, I can look at the road I have traveled and see its beauties.

I can see the love and compassion and grace of my friends and family, and of acquaintances, and of strangers. I can see the bonds that join me to those people and feel how much stronger they are than they were, before. I can see that the world is overflowing with love, if we only let ourselves recognize it. I can feel the expansion of my own heart, how much easier it is for me now to extend compassion and love to others without fear of hurt or rejection. It’s not that I want to be hurt, it’s simply that I know I can survive it. I also know that a life lived without the risk of pain is not worth living. I know now that my heart is an ocean, a universe. You gave me that, Grief.

I look at the scars you have given me and they are medals of valor, awarded by you on the field of battle. Even as you flayed me and burned me and wrung me out, you decorated me with reminders of how hard-won happiness can be. I’m sure I will have days in the future when I look at these scars and regret them, but in this moment I am proud to wear them. Thank you, Grief. Thank you.

For Angela, on a Hard Day

first flowers

Today my friend Angela, who I met through a support group for people who have lost someone to suicide, is dealing with the same horrible anniversary that I had to get through on December 21st.  Her love Jon took his own life a year ago today.  Like Tony, he chose a Friday, so yesterday was a very hard day for my friend, too.  Like Tony, he locked the doors. 

There are so many parallels between Angela and me.  So many similarities.  We are close to the same age.  We lost the men we love in similar ways.  We started emailing each other, and then moved to Skype.  I’ve never met her in person, but I love her.  I’m hoping that I can get to where she lives, in Scotland, in the coming year.

Last year when I wrote about grace I hadn’t met Angela, yet how can I fail to acknowledge that she is part of the grace that has surrounded and supported me since Tony died?  She and I, we understand each other.  We can speak in a kind of shorthand because we are traveling the same horrible path. 

I’m writing about her today because I wish I could be there with her, to hug her and let her know that she really can get through this day, even though it may not feel like it.  Her experience leading up to this day has been much like mine – a sense of impending doom, unwanted thoughts about this time last year and all of the doubts and questions about what signs we might have seen, or worse, SHOULD have seen. 

Grief is not linear, and yet there is something about this anniversary that feels linear.  It feels repetitive, like being forced to relive the days leading up to the worst day.  I doubted, many times, that I could get through it; but I’m still here. 

I love you, Angela.  You can do this.

Upon the Death of my Mother-in-Law

Carmela

Her name was Carminella.  She was born in a small town in Abruzzi, in Italy, and she came to the United States when she was still a teenager and spoke no English.  Can you imagine the amount of bravery it would take to do such a thing?  To move to a new country, by yourself, knowing that you would not be able to communicate with the most of the people there?

The fear she must have felt did not stop her.  She came.  She built a life for herself.  She married a man from Sicily, and they had two children.  First my late husband, Tony, then his beautiful sister, Mary Ann.  They were the best parents they knew how to be.  I never met Tony’s dad – he died a little less than a year before we met – but I saw much of Tony’s mom in Tony.  I’ve written before about his work ethic and the difficulty he had relaxing.  He got those traits from his mom.

When Carmela (as she preferred to be called) lost her husband, she was lost herself for a time.  I understand that.  When someone is so deeply entwined with your life and you lose them – however you lose them – you have to rediscover who you are without that person.  It’s a painful process.  Tony’s mom was reluctant to sell the house that the two of them bought with the money they earned working at Polaroid, but it truly was too large a house for her to maintain on her own.  She agonized over the decision – as she did over many decisions, much like Tony — but she finally did sell the house and move into a condo not far from there. 

It ended up being a good decision for her, however long it took her to make it.  She made new friends there.  She did things she’d never done, like take yoga.  I still remember the day Mary Ann called Tony to tell him that.  The yoga was big news, but the bigger news was that she’d worn pants.  Tony’s mom never wore pants, she was always in a skirt.  Always neat and pretty.  She was so pretty – Tony and Mary Ann both got their good looks from her.

I have said this before, but she was unfailingly generous to me.  Even this year, as she was dying, she remembered my birthday.  I have a beautiful opal necklace that she gave me, a scarf that she made for me and one she bought for me in France, and – most precious of all — memories of her kindness.  The memories that are harder are the ones of talking to her the day after Tony died, and how broken she sounded.  Of hugging her when I visited in July and feeling how frail her body was, and hearing and seeing how my presence there, without Tony, cracked her open.

These next few weeks were always going to be hard ones for everybody who loved Tony.  Three weeks from today will be the one-year anniversary of his death.  I dread that date so much.  It’s a strange thing.  It’s just a date on the calendar, December 21st, but it will never be just that to me again.  It’s like my own personal Pearl Harbor Day.  There is before, and there is after. 

Today is a new day with a before and after.  My sweet mother-in-law tried so hard, and she fought so valiantly against the cancer that had taken over her body.  I am grateful that she is no longer suffering.  I will always miss her.    

Family. Friends. Love. Compassion. Understanding. Voice.

Metamorphosis Jewelry logo

These are the things I am most grateful for this year.  Tomorrow will be my first Thanksgiving without Tony, and yet I find I have so much to be grateful for.

Our first Thanksgiving, we were renting a room in a house with two other people we barely knew.  We arrived in San Diego in early November.  Both of our housemates were leaving for the day, so we had the kitchen to ourselves.  I remember that our one housemate, Wendy, was really sick and while we were cooking dinner she was hanging around waiting for her ride and coughing and sneezing.  Tony never did all that well around people who were sick since he hated being sick himself (unlike most of us, ha ha), and he was pretty upset that she wasn’t – I don’t know – hiding out in her room or at least keeping a bigger distance between her germs and our dinner.

I love Thanksgiving.  That first year with Tony was difficult, not because we didn’t have a nice day, in the end; but because I think it’s always a challenge to change holiday traditions.  He was used to having stuffing that included sausage but very few vegetables and no fruit.  I was used to having my mother’s stuffing, with celery, apples, cranberries, mushrooms, onions, etc.  I agreed to try the sausage if he would agree to let me include other things too; and it ended up being delicious.  I wouldn’t have expected it, but I really liked it.

In many ways, that story is almost a metaphor for this year.  It’s not that I’ve liked it.  In many ways I’ve hated it.  I have pushed my way kicking and screaming through a grieving process that was – and still is – so much harder than I could ever have imagined.  I have changed and adapted the traditions of my life because I have had no choice.  I have not written or looked at a screenplay since Tony died.  But I did, yesterday, become a NaNoWriMo winner and am well on my way to having written my first novel.  As painful and horrible as this year has been, writing this novel has been a gift.  An awakening, not just of my creativity but of my mind and body and spirit.  I have reconnected with my immediate family in ways that I could not have anticipated.  My closest friends have become even closer.  I have made new friends.  I have found my voice, and my passion, in advocating for suicide prevention and mental health awareness through this blog, my novel in progress, and the jewelry I am making and selling.

There’s a reason I am calling my jewelry company Metamorphosis Jewelry.  This year has been a long, slow, painful change for me.  At the beginning of the year I cocooned, wrapping my friends and family around me like a blanket.  Staying hidden and wondering how my life became so very dark and small.  The cocoon changed me.  I think I’m out of the cocoon now, still a little unsure of myself.  Still wondering what the future holds for me.  Still missing my husband, and wishing he had been able to see through his own darkness. 

I am sad.  I am happy.  I am determined.  I am so, so very grateful for my wings.

Versatile Blogger Award: Thanks, and Nominations

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Something new today.  I am very honored and grateful that MeWhoaMi has nominated me for The Versatile Blogger Award.  MeWhoaMi was one of my earliest followers and supporters, and the slogan of her blog is Life – How it changes you. Where you go. Who you become.  That pretty much it, isn’t it?  Life changes you. You go places, and you become things that are different than who and how you thought you would be.  Anyway, I love her blog and you will too, so go check it out!

For this award, there are some rules to follow. They are:

  •  Thank the person who gave you this award. That’s common courtesy.
  •  Include a link to their blog. That’s also common courtesy — if you can figure out how to do it.
  •  Next, select 15 blogs/bloggers that you’ve recently discovered or follow regularly.
  •  Nominate those 15 bloggers for the Versatile Blogger Award — then notify them of their nomination
  •  Finally, tell the person who nominated you 7 things about yourself.

Okay, so I’ve thanked the awesome MeWhoaMi and directed you to get yourselves over to her blog, forthwith.  Now, without further ado and in no particular order, here are my nominations.  Some of them have made me bawl into my morning coffee, some have made me smile with their whimsy, and all of them are great:

Out of My Mind Images

Tell Me About It

Shawn L. Bird

MaggieMaeIJustSayThis

TrytoMATTter

Yr Enaid Sipsiwn

To Set the Whole World Laughing

Hollowed Out

Impossible Words

Fresh Perspective

The Culture Monk

Sarah Catherine Hanson

Emma Henly

My Daily Presents

My Desire For Inspiration

And last but not least, here are seven things about me:

  1. My favorite flower is the lilac.  They make me think of my grandmother.
  2. The very first movie Tony and I watched together was About a Boy.  It’s hard to think about that now, because near the beginning, the little boy’s mother tries to kill herself.
  3. In a few minutes, I’m going to go to the kitchen and cook a cardoon.  I’ve never had one before, but supposedly they taste like artichoke hearts.
  4. I am tearing through episodes of Battlestar Galactica whenever I can’t sleep, which is almost every night.
  5. I have watched the lip sync battle between Jimmy Fallon and John Krasinski approximately 513 times in the past week.
  6. My favorite poem is A Valediction: Forbidding Mourning by John Donne.
  7. Writing this blog is simultaneously the most terrifying and the most liberating thing I have ever done.

Thank you again, MeWhoaMi, and congratulations to my newly anointed nominees.  Reading your blogs makes my days a little brighter, and I’m grateful for that.

It Meets Us Where We Are

I do not at all understand the mystery of grace — only that it meets us where we are but does not leave us where it found us.  ~ Anne Lamott

The thing is, I had forgotten about grace.  For months before Tony died, I forgot.  I was alone, I thought, devoid of grace and hope.  I was watching the man I loved spiral into something neither of us understood.  I was watching him drown, and I didn’t even know it.  Things got bad, then worse, and somehow all of it became normal.  It was my world, and it had no grace.  It had only pain and confusion and frustration and anger and fear and shame.

I forgot about grace, but grace did not forget me.  At the darkest hour, truly, of my life, grace met me where I was.  Grace was my co-workers, one offering me a ride home when Tony did not arrive to pick me up as he usually did, one giving me his cell phone number just in case I needed it.

Grace was the 911 operator, keeping me calm while she dispatched the police to our apartment.  Grace was my co-worker Sheri, staying with me while I waited.  Grace was three uniformed officers, one talking to me while the other two broke into the apartment.  Yes, grace broke the bedroom window and climbed inside the apartment and found Tony there.  Grace broke the worst news in the world to me in the gentlest possible way.  Grace went into the apartment to get me a blanket as I shivered on the concrete steps, and came out with the only blanket in the world that I would have wanted at that moment, a beautiful afghan my mother made for me.  That was grace.

Grace, in the form of a beautiful blonde medical examiner, told me that I did not need to worry, that Tony could not have suffered.  Because of grace, I believed her.  In yet another guise, grace answered the phone in the form of my stepmother.  That was not the first phone call I made, but she was the right person for me to talk to.  She’s a therapist and was the one person in my life who could have done what she did, which was to go immediately into professional mode and offer me exactly what I needed at that moment, which was calm and loving guidance.  Grace was my father booking a flight before he even knew exactly what had happened.

Grace was the crisis counselor, who sat with me in Sheri’s car and rubbed my back while I talked to grace in yet another form, my sister Laura.  Laura, who would have come to San Diego that night, too, but there were no flights.  Laura, who flew into Phoenix the next day to meet me and my father, four days before Christmas, leaving her kids in Seattle to come be with me because I needed her.

Grace was my other co-workers, who are now family to me, opening their home to me and going to the airport to get my father late that night, and taking us back to the airport the next day. 

Grace was my sister, Stephanie, going out and shopping for me; not knowing what I needed and buying half of Target for me, everything from underwear to jewelry, because she wanted me to have pretty things to wear.  Grace was my mom, and her unconditional love.  Grace was my nieces and nephews, making me Christmas presents and finding ways, against all odds, to coax a laugh or two out of me.

Grace is my cousin Marcy, whose brother also struggled with mental illness, reaching out to me and opening her heart to me and somehow always knowing the thing I need to hear.  She just did it again, just now. 

It’s strange, the things that can strike you in the midst of tragedy.  The things that can be the hardest to do.  For me, one thing that has proven to be largely impossible is to write the thank you letters that I know I want to write.  How do I thank someone for telling me that my husband was dead?  For telling me that he didn’t suffer?  For dropping everything to come get me?  For loving me, when in my heart I felt I had failed because Tony was dead and I was alive?  Where will the words come from?  How can I thank grace, in its many forms?  Grace, who sent me chocolate and lavender-stuffed teddy bears and soft blankets and sympathy cards and love.  So very much love.

How can I thank Tony’s mother and sister, for the gift of him?  What could ever be enough for that, especially when I feel that the thanks should be wrapped in an apology, because they gave him to me and I lost him?  How can I thank the people I don’t even know, have never met?  The internet friend who has somehow become a friend of the heart because she has been there for me in a way that I could not have expected, and yet doesn’t surprise me because I’ve been reading her blog for years and she is, herself, full of grace.

I know that I will write those letters eventually.  Grace has worn dozens of faces since the day that Tony died.  Grace has had countless names.  Some of them I do not know and will never know.  What I am realizing is that, too, is grace.  The not knowing.  The fact that people who I do not know and never will do things every day that I will never know about, and they, all of them, are grace.