Tag Archives: grief

I Have No Words

Which is hard, for a writer. It would be presumptuous to say it’s like an artist going blind, but that’s how it feels. Less presumptuous (maybe) to qualify the feeling as “an artist blinded temporarily“, because I know (hope) the words will return.

Grief has made me mute. Not because a famous athlete is gone too soon. The world is grieving the loss of Kobe Bryant – I don’t need to be one of the many.

I grieve for the other eight victims of the crash, for their friends and family members. Too many lives lost, too many hearts breaking, too little attention paid to those who were not as famous but just as loved, just as important to their friends and family members.

My heart, my prayers, my thoughts are with those who have lost so much.

It’s not enough, but it’s all I have.

Well, that’s not exactly true. I also have some lessons that loss has taught me. They may help you as well.

 

 

 

Picking up the Pieces

I have a friend whose life has fallen apart (no my friend is not me, although I am trying to be a better friend to myself).

Like many of those who have suffered a loss, she’s struggling to find a way to move forward, to find an answer to the Why/why me/why now question we throw to the universe when life doesn’t go smoothly the way we want it to.

Fran Simone wrote an article for Psychology Today on Coming to Terms with “Why Me?” and why it’s such a waste of time: “However it’s asked, the question is self-defeating. This way of thinking fuels resentment, envy, and self-pity. Toxic emotions demean and diminish us. How do we defeat them? When I find myself heading toward a pity-party, I recall the first line of the Serenity Prayer. “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change.”

I am not a therapist, nor do I play one on tv, but (thanks to my rollercoaster life) I have some suggestions that may (or may not) prove helpful.  As with everything else, take what works/resonates and ignore the rest.

In her Bustle article Carolyn Steber reminds us that “dealing with loss is painful, and that it takes forever to heal. But, with a little effort, it is possible to move forward with your life” and offers 7 Tips for Moving On. Her tips include my favorite:

Take Care of Yourself, No Matter What“Make sure you eat, get plenty of rest, and do things that are soothing and comforting.” Self care is vital, even when you’re not dealing with loss. I’m not sure that eating pints of Ben and Jerry’s and Sizzler’s cheese toast count as “food”, but they ARE soothing and comforting. For me, at least.

More importantly:

Don’t Let Anyone Tell You How to Feel“Everyone deals with loss differently, so there’s no “right” way to feel when faced with a heaping pile of grief.” Believe me when I saw that EVERYONE (including strangers in line at the grocery store) will have an opinion on how/how long you should grieve.

Full disclosure – I came home from school one day, to find my mother sitting in the living room, glass of Pink Chablis in one hand, cigarette in the other, Rod McKuen’s Listen to the Warm playing on the stereo. She was staring morosely out the window, crying and looking at…nothing.

Teen Me: “What are you looking at?”

Mom: “Nothing.”

Teen Me: “What’s wrong?”

Mom: (sighing heavily) “Nothing.”

Teen Me: “OMG are you crying about your father? He’s been dead for EIGHT YEARS – you should be done (grieving) by now.” (stomps out of room in disgust)

Teenagers are assholes. Also, Rod McKuen can make anyone cry, even if you have a heart of stone. Have you heard “A Cat Named Sloopy”?

It seems trite, but I’ve found that counting my blessings helps me when I can feel the pity party starting.Some days they are easy to find, some days they’re not, but I never stop looking. Forcing myself to look for the good in my life keeps me from obsessing about my problems.

Asking for help is hard, but help is not a four letter word. I mean, obviously it’s a four letter word (I can count), but it’s not a swear word. If you don’t ask, the answer will always be “No.” If you can’t/don’t want to ask a friend or family for member, reach out to a support group/church member/stranger in line at the grocery store. More importantly, if things are horribly bleak reach out to a professional.

Some days are harder than others, but I keep trying to move forward. TBH, I just keep trying to move (which is getting difficult, now that I’m not 18 any more). Some days it’s two steps forward and three steps back. That’s ok – it reminds me that life’s a dance.

But I think my most important lesson on how to move forward (or at least the most recent) came from Frozen 2. I just try to do the next right thing.

So what do I do when my life falls apart? I pick up the pieces and put them back together again. The pieces may not fit together the way they originally did – pieces tear, pieces disappear (into a ring around Saturn with all my missing socks), and sometimes I have pieces from a completely different puzzle. That doesn’t mean the new image is less beautiful, than the original – it’s just…different.

And for those of you who haven’t heard/read it, I’m posting A Cat Named Sloopy. Don’t forget the tissues.

A Cat Named Sloopy
Rod McKuen

For a while
the only earth that Sloopy knew
was in her sandbox.
Two rooms on Fifty-fifth Street
were her domain.
Every night she’d sit in the window
among the avocado plants
waiting for me to come home
(my arms full of canned liver and love).
We’d talk into the night then
contented
but missing something,
She the earth she never knew
me the hills I ran
while growing bent.
Sloopy should have been a cowboy’s cat
with prairies to run
not linoleum
and real-live catnip mice.
No one to depend on but herself.
I never told her
but in my mind
I was a midnight cowboy even then.
Riding my imaginary horse
down Forty-second Street,
going off with strangers
to live an hour-long cowboy’s life,
but always coming home to Sloopy,
who loved me best.
A dozen summers
we lived against the world.
An island on an island.
She’d comfort me with purring
I’d fatten her with smiles.
We grew rich on trust
needing not the beach or butterflies
I had a friend named Ben
Who painted buildings like Roualt men.
He went away.
My laughter tired Lillian
after a time
she found a man who only smiled.
Only Sloopy stay and stayed.
Winter.
Nineteen fifty-nine.
Old men walk their dogs.
Some are walked so often
that their feet leave
little pink tracks
in the soft gray snow.
Women fur on fur
elegant and easy
only slightly pure
hailing cabs to take them
round the block and back.
Who is not a love seeker
when December comes?
even children pray to Santa Claus.
I had my own love safe at home
and yet I stayed out all one night
the next day too.
They must have thought me crazy
screaming
Sloopy
Sloopy
as the snow came falling
down around me.
I was a madman
to have stayed away
one minute more
than the appointed hour.
I’d like to think a golden cowboy
snatched her from the window sill,
and safely saddlebagged
she rode to Arizona.
She’s stalking lizards
in the cactus now perhaps
bitter but free.
I’m bitter too
and not a free man any more.
Once was a time,
in New York’s jungle in a tree,
before I went into the world
in search of other kinds of love
nobody owned me but a cat named Sloopy.
Looking back
perhaps she’s been
the only human thing
that ever gave back love to me.

 

 

 

 

 

Swimming With Chuck*

open-water-swimmer[1]The past few weeks have been hard. TBH, the past few years have been “less than pleasant.” I’ve spoken before about grief, loss and all the other four letter words that have stopped me from writing. I’ve also spoken about the EIC. He thinks the four letters words are “another lame excuse for quitting.” Writing keeps him quiet. Evidently it’s been too long since I’ve written anything. His words are red, because he’s mad that I’ve kept him quiet for so long.

I’ve been meaning to write more often. I’ve been meaning to return to the things I enjoy. I planned on blogging twice a week, on a regular basis. I also planned on signing up for NanoWriMo. At the very least I was going to be a NaNoWriMo Rebel.

You know what Robert Burns said about “The best laid plans of mice and men…..”

I had every intention of returning to stand-up and acting.

You know where good intentions lead.

Oh please, be quiet. Unless you have something good or helpful to say, just SHUT UP.

… 

Huh. Evidently standing up to a bully makes them back down. Who knew?

The good news is that I didn’t make it all the way to Hell. I’ve been stuck in the pit of despair.

I don’t mind it here. It’s dark, but not lonely – I have all my other personalities to keep me company.

I’ve been trying to blog on a regular basis, but I couldn’t seem to finish. Couldn’t think of anything to say, couldn’t find the words to say what I couldn’t think of.

The worst part was that I couldn’t figure out WHY I couldn’t write.

It’s called writer’s block (DUH!)

Oh good. You’re back.

Miss me?

No.

Hurtful.

….

ANYWAY. I couldn’t figure out why I’ve been stuck. And then I got an email from the terrible mind of Chuck Wendig. I follow him, which means I get an email whenever he posts a new piece. I get a lot of emails. I don’t mind, because I love the way he writes. He’s funny, and smart and writes on a regular basis.

Unlike you.

Oh, for the love of all the gods, will you please GO AWAY!!

Fine. I’ll go for now, but (just like The Terminator) I’ll be back.

Can’t wait.

Where was I?

Today’s post Swimming Sideways: Navigating Grief As A Writer And An Artist resonated with me. Chuck shared an email he received from a fellow writer: “I know you lost your mom recently and I wanted to share my condolences. I, also, lost mine over a year ago and it has completely paralyzed me – stopped me in my creative tracks.

And there it was, in black and white. The reason for my unsurmountable block.

Grief. Grief is a four letter word (before you say anything, I’m aware that it’s five letters – but my grief has come from loss, and loss IS a four letter word).

There have been too many losses these past few years. Loss of health, loss of career, loss of friends and family by blood and heart.

It’s been said that grief is a wet wool blanket, but I think Chuck got it right when he described grief as water:

Grief is water. Grief is wave, river, and lake, it is the sea, it is a current.

You do not control it; rather, you can only respond to it. It wants what it wants, and it is always moving, ready to fill the low spaces. Sometimes you’re in its shallows, sometimes you step wrong and you’re in its tireless, unrelenting depths looking for light, trying to find which way is up. But it’s always there. Sometimes wet on your feet. Other times a fog, a mist, a light rain….Maybe grief is undertow. You don’t swim away from it. You damn sure don’t swim into it. You swim sideways. You find a way left or right and you swim out of its current. That’s the only response, I think. What that looks like, in form, is up to you. But I want to say it’s okay to write, it’s okay not to write, it’s okay to write badly, it’s okay to write beautifully in a way that isn’t practical or useable, it’s okay to write about it or write to avoid it. Whatever it is you create, it’s a response to the grief or looking away from it. Toward it to see it and understand it, or from it to escape it.

It’s swimming sideways.

All I know is, keep on going. Keep swimming. Those we have lost would want us to, wouldn’t they? One suspects it might be their greatest wish, and so we honoring them by doing exactly that, in whatever way we can muster, in whatever direction we find best, with our strongest stroke.

Like I said. Chuck is smart. It’s just one of the many reasons I follow him. You should too.

If you or a friend or family have been swallowed by grief, you can find a local griefshare group here, or you can find online resources here or here.

And to borrow a phrase from my favorite fish – just keep swimming

 

*Swimming with Chuck is more fun than swimming with sharks.

 

 

 

 

Love It or Leave It?

100-days-of-meditation-day-5a[1]

image courtesy of kylecease.com

I took a little break from Learning the Fundamentals – partly because the weekend was full of Things That Needed Doing, partly because I’m lazy, and partly because grief knocked me for a loop.

The good news is that I came back and resumed where I’d left off, even though I was tempted to skip to the “current” lesson (day 12).

The bad news is that Day 5 is “learn to love your theme.” Today I was supposed to preview, try and customize at least 3 themes. I tried. I really did. I found some themes that looked promising, but my heart just wasn’t in it.

Too many ch ch changes going on in my life, I suppose. Or maybe it’s the weird grey almost rain. Or maybe, just maybe, I’ve already found the perfect theme and changing it would be a mistake? I don’t know why today’s lesson was so difficult, but I am proud of the fact at least I tried. As a perfectionist, trying anything new is..well, it’s virtually impossible.

But I did it.

Maybe tomorrow I’ll try jogging (I just made myself laugh so hard coffee came out my nose).

thnclkcidr

image courtesy of http://behappy.me

 

 

 

 

 

On Love, Loss, and Laughter

images71V16YFPI know what you’re thinking – “Where the hell has Tracey been and what kind of writer doesn’t write?” (or, as my EIC would say, “If a writer isn’t writing, doesn’t that mean they’re not a writer?”)

In Hell. Literally (Ok, maybe not literally). A stuck writer. That’s what kind.

Grief has eaten my brain, and stolen my creativity.

I lost someone a month ago who was incredibly important to me. Well, I didn’t’ “lose” him. It’s not like he was a set of car keys, or a sock that disappeared from the dryer, or my mind.

Sorry for that. I have a habit of trying to compensate for emotional issues with sarcasm and lame attempts at humor. Let me try again.

My friend died a month ago.

Wow. There it is, in black and white. The phrase I’ve avoided. I know it’s hard to read, but trust me, it’s harder to write and practically impossible to believe. Timothy Leary was right when he said “Death is the last taboo.”  Nobody dies. They “pass on” or “leave us”, “slip away” or “go to a better place”.

I call bullshit.

My friend died.

Three words. So simple and so misleading. Here’s how dictionary.com breaks down the sentence:

My – belonging to or associated with the speaker.

Friend – a person whom one knows and with whom one has a bond of mutual affection, typically exclusive of sexual of family relations

Died – to cease to live; undergo the complete and permanent cessation of all vital functions

The thing is, Mario wasn’t just “my” friend. He was EVERYONE’S friend. Yeah, he was THAT guy. He was charming and funny, smart and kind. No matter where he went, he always ended up surrounded by a group of people who were jostling for position and vying for his attention. Mario, like my mother, seemed to believe that there is no such thing as a stranger. Strangers are simply friends you haven’t yet met.

He was my friend, but he was more than that. There are friends, and then there are people who are so much more than simply friends – we call these people our “family of heart”. We might not be related by blood, but we are joined by a love that is even stronger than family ties. Mario was my friend, my mentor, my brother of heart.

I met Mario when we were young and foolish, hopeful and fearless. He was dating the woman who ran the booth I worked for – the woman who would become one of my very best friends. In a blink of an eye, they were married, and raising 3 kids.

Mario and Virginia were playing house and being Responsible Adults while I was still trying to decide how to style my hair. It took me longer to grow up, but eventually I got married and had a kid of my own. I am incredibly lucky to have had their help in raising my daughter. Mario was a perfect example of a father for my spouse to emulate, and Virginia was the same for me. Their three kids are amazing people, despite the fact that their parents have a twisted sense of humor (It gave me hope that our daughter wouldn’t be Permanently Damaged). The fact that they were still wildly in love with each other even after 35 years together was inspiring – a testimony to the power of True Love.

17353507_10211672776511502_1622588914363673376_n[1]

Mario’s kids asked us to write down things that we learned from him, to list our favorite sayings or quotes. I couldn’t think of anything at the time. I’m sure people remember a lot of “Mario-isms”, but I can’t remember anything other than him saying “OUTSTANDING!” when things would go less than perfectly, or when someone would do something that was extraordinarily stupid. But here are things that I learned from him:

Be kind. Mario was nice to everyone – no matter what they believed, what they looked like, how they dressed, how much money they made (or didn’t make). He was one of the popular kids, but he wasn’t one of the mean girls (which is not to say that he didn’t enjoy a little CCC* when warranted). He went out of his way to be kind to people who were often overlooked or ignored. He was even nice to the weird kid in the corner (What? No, that wasn’t me, why would you think that?).

Be polite We disagreed about many things (politics, religion, and whether the Three Stooges were funny). As strong minded (or, in my case, hard headed) individuals, we agreed to disagree. Having friends with opinions which differ from one’s own makes life more interesting.

but don’t be a pushover. (does this one really need explaining?)

Keep learning. Mario was always reading, always trying to better himself. As Albert Einstein said “Once you stop learning, you start dying.”

Make people smile Mario would do almost anything to get a laugh (that’s not exactly true. There was no “almost” about it).

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by embracing your inner weirdo – In a world where everyone worries about what others think/we struggle to fit in, to be normal (please note, “normal” is just a setting on the washing machine), Mario stood out as someone who just didn’t give a flying f…

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Don’t whine. (Aka “Suck it up, Buttercup”) The past few years were incredibly hard physically and psychologically, and yet, Mario was always smiling (or maybe it was a grimace). His outlook could best be described this way:

Be strong… Mario was in a lot of pain, but he never let it stop him from doing the things that he needed or wanted to do. Long days at work which required hours of driving? Every day. Trips to Yosemite, to hockey games, to shows and soccer games and even a longa** Christmas parade? NP. The thing that stands out most is the fact that, whenever I came to visit, no matter how much pain he was in, Mario always stood up to say hello.

but don’t be afraid to ask for help when you need it (TBH I never heard Mario ask for help for himself. He was always asking for help for someone else).

and always offer help to those who need it. In a world where people rise above the masses by putting others down, Mario lifted people up.

Those are the things I’ve learned from Mario’s life. What did I learn from his death?

That “Only the good die young” is not a meaningless phrase. Neither is “Life’s a Bitch, and then you die.” That we need to find make time for those we love. When I was a kid, I thought nothing of knocking on my friend’s door, and asking if they could come out and play. We lose that ability when we grow up – we get busy with life – with school, with work. We worry that our houses are too messy for guests, or that our friends are too busy for us. We SCHEDULE our lives and our visits, instead of just “popping in to say hello”. We text and skype and send messages via snapchat or twitter. We brag about the fact that Facebook has allowed us to “reconnect” with old friends and family members, but we don’t take make the time to see each other “IRL”. WE NEED TO STOP THAT, RIGHT NOW.

What did I learn from my friend’s death? Life is short, and none of us is guaranteed tomorrow. Mario’s younger daughter got married in November. At the reception, he asked me told me to stop by after work for a “beer and bitch” session, but I assumed it was the whisky talking, and that we would have a chance to catch up “soon”. Please believe me when I say that “SOON” DOESN’T COME SOON ENOUGH.

I know this was a long post, so, in the immortal words of Inygo Montoya “let me sum up”. What did I learn from Mario?

Live fearlessly, love fiercely and laugh at all that life throws your way.

And, oh yeah, always pet the puppies.

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*Catty Corner Commentary

My Dream Audience

Blogging 101 Day Four – Identify your audience

Today’s Assignment: publish a post you’d like your ideal audience member to read, and include a new-to-you element in it.

When I first read today’s assignment, a little cocky grin popped up. Easy peasy. I’ve been blogging for a while*, so I know my audience – SSAUPWSTSOH (Sarcastic Suburban Adults Usually Parents With a Sick andTwisted Sense of Humor)**. Then I took another look at the assignment. “Maybe it’s your dad, so he’ll finally understand your life choices. Maybe it’s the head of Random House, so she’ll skyrocket you into literary limelight.Whether serious, frivolous or purely hypothetical, focus on your dream reader and write a post — about anything — aimed at him or her.

And a little voice popped up into my head, a little voice who whispered the name of my dream reader – the one person who has never read my blog, who can’t read my blog – my mother.

My first thought was “Oh HELL no – I don’t want to talk to/about my mother” and I got up and ate a cookie. The chills down my back and the tears welling up told me that I needed to/wanted to/had to. It’s been twenty years since my mom died.  I would give all my earthly goods if Mom could read a post. Not that I have alot, but I would.

In my mind, she is eternally 36 (not 37, since she said she would get her ears pierced when she turned 37) with huge frog-like sun glasses and an umbrella hat on her head. That’s the image that sticks in my head, even though at one time (Before Motherhood), she looked like this: 10418450_10205358163211283_8291370969382353911_n[1] She hated having her picture taken. She thought her face was too round, her smile too crooked, her nose too big. At least I think that’s what she thought. It’s what I think, and I am becoming my mother, despite my best efforts.

When I was growing up, I loved my mother. She talked to everyone (strangers as well as friends), laughed all the time and volunteered in my classroom and at the soccer fields. She and the other mothers would sit in front of our house, drinking bloody marys and watching us parade down the street or put on a show.

When I was a teenager, I hated disliked was embarrassed by my mother. She talked too much, she laughed too loudly, she volunteered for EVERYTHING/was always around, she talked to strangers and she TALKED TO MY CLASSMATES (and, oh yeah, she drank a little…ok, a lot). I vowed then that when I grew up I would never have children, and I would NEVER be like my mother.

My daughter is 15, and I talk too much and laugh too loudly and volunteer for everything (although I am learning “the N word” ) and talk to strangers and TALK TO HER FRIENDS….and I drink, a little. (or a lot, depending on the day).

I have become my mother, despite my best intentions, and I am so very, very glad that I did. My mom wasn’t perfect, but she was pretty damn awesome. I wish my mom could read this post. I would love for her to meet her granddaughter, to thank her for all of her love and support through all the years. I wish I could apologize for not inviting her to see Reba McIntyre with my friends and me. I can’t do that, but I can share this video (maybe, fingers crossed). And I can read my post to my mother, if only in my dreams.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lgNIKabg_fE 10306472_10202700817139292_9117299692987768535_n[1]     *Or I was, before my brain melted

** Not only is my acronym too long, but I was wr….wro…I was mistaken.

Au Revoir

I don’t know about you, but I am getting a little tired of loss and other four letter words. I promise, no matter what happens in the next few days, my next post will be happy (pinky swear). This weekend I lost two people who were important to me. One was a new-found forever friend, the other a woman who created a magical, safe place for people to learn and play. Vickie and Phyllis, until we meet again…

This, then, is the hard part. Not the holding on, but the letting go.  We’ve been taught that good-byes are a time of sorrow, with death being the hardest parting of them all. I chose to believe that death is not a final good-bye, but an “au revoir.” Think of the caterpillar left behind, looking in vain for his friends, and wondering at the winged creatures who flit about above him. So let us not spend our time with heavy hearts and weeping eyes. Let us choose to remember our love with joy and laughter, and raise a parting glass to those who go before us.

I can see them, with their wings of many colors, and I can hear them asking “Where have you been?”

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