Departures and Grief

I’ve been preoccupied with death today. More accurately with grief.

A colleague found out on Monday that her sister had died. Based on what they know so far, she died in her sleep. The sister had not suffered with a long-time illness. She was healthy in all appearances. Strong, happy, and healthy is how my colleague described her. Happy. This adjective is the least meaningful in a diagnosis, but it is still so important to the people that love her. “She was happy, how could she die?” or “At least she had a happy life.”

To get that call — someone you love has died. Not a death you were expecting. Not an elder come sweetly to the end of their winter. Not the afflicted finally at peace. She was strong, happy and healthy. And now she is gone.

But you are still here — waiting your turn or running from the inevitable.

Following the theme of today’s thoughts, I received the unexpected gift of a poem postcard from my favorite poet. The poem was about death, or grief. Or it wasn’t, but my thoughts were about death and the interpretation got shadowed by looming gravestones in my memory.

The poem is called “The Loneliness of the Last” by Robert Okaji and the last few lines hint that we might be inclined to chase that departing train, for one last touch, but “What lies ahead is not yours to embrace.” — at least not this time.
The lines remind me of the many dreams after my father died where I would wake myself up trying to hold his hand. Once my dream self recognized that it was a dream…when lucidity crept in to remind me that he was gone, therefore this must be a dream, I would stretch my arms out to catch his hand in mine. To pull him back? To keep us there in that moment? Or just to feel his hand — strong and solid, a constant of my life — one last time. Only to let go of it again.

Grief can be a form of self-torture. Or grief breaks down our defenses and causes us to engage in masochistic thoughts. Like examining all of the ways you took someone for granted.
“Why didn’t I answer the phone more? Why didn’t I skip that Thanksgiving with other people and go have one more holiday dinner with him? Was I kind enough? I should have been more respectful. Why did I argue with him about the stupid VHS tapes? Was he disappointed in me? I should have been a better daughter instead of a brat.”

You know they loved you but there is significant doubt as to whether you deserved it. Did they love you despite all of your many flaws? Of course. But how much happier would they have been if you had less flaws? Masochism.

There is a cavernous void in my life where my father belonged.

People like to say, “Time heals.” They say a whole lot of nonsense when it’s your loss and not theirs. At least not this time.
If you’ve ever lost a person you loved more than yourself (or at least the person you reeeally reeeally tried to put first but you were too tired to talk and your favorite show was coming on and the stuffing was so much better at Ant P’s Thanksgiving…so you failed.) If you’ve ever lost a person that meant more to you than everything except your most selfish moments, you know that time doesn’t heal anything. Loving a person who is a major part of your life is an addiction you didn’t know you had until they are gone. You have to quit cold turkey. The only thing time does is retrain your soul not to need them. As much.

After a year you stop reaching for their hand in a dream. After two you stop reaching for the phone to tell them things. After three maybe you can get through their birthday with dry eyes and some laughter. After five you can remember them and not fall apart. Most of the time. It’s been fifteen for me and today has not been a dry-eyed day. Every time someone else experiences a significant loss within my vicinity I revisit the hole my dad’s death left to see if it’s any smaller or hurts any less. Nope. Other people’s grief is like a smoldering butt in an ashtray that makes me want to light up. (Figuratively. Smoking is a disgusting habit I will never take up again but a former smoker will totally get what I’m saying.)

The hole they leave isn’t two dimensional either. It has X, Y & Z axes but it also crosses time. When I lost my father: I lost him giving me away at my wedding and the father/daughter dance; I lost the answers to all of the questions about his childhood I forgot to ask him, and the name of the Japanese girl he fell in love with before the Korean War broke him and sent him home; I lost the other end of the phone call for every day when stuff and things would happen to give us something to talk about. I lost his voice, his aftershave, his smile as we pulled into the driveway, his stubble scratching my cheek when he said hello or goodbye. He was my father, my mom can remarry, but I can’t get these things from anyone else.

There’s no methadone for the departed.

I don’t like to talk about it, but I can’t
write about this,
about grief,
about the hole left behind by loss
and the space-time it has punched through,
without thinking about the gut-wrenching grief
the other great loss.
Two great fissures have cracked open my soul.
The other has not reached the five year mark of not falling apart.

It may very well take longer without a Tardis.

Two generations, present and future, slipped into the void. Sacrifices made in the past became moot. Never again will there be unexpected messages that begin, “Hey Mom. It’s me. Your son. And you better know who this is, because I’m pretty sure you only have one.”

There is no methadone. No patch. No smiley faced Welbutrine. It’s strictly cold turkey and burning guilt.

“all points
erased in the null,…
lost to touch and forever beyond reach…”
excerpt “The Loneliness of the Last” by Robert Okaji


Author’s note: I’d like to say a special thank you to Robert Okaji. In obtaining permission to quote his poem I found out he has not shared it anywhere but the special snail mail poet’s bio card. Gracious as he is talented, Bob gave me the greenlight to use it anyway.

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Act I: Know Me (Recorded Reading)

Since there was no reblog option, I’m going to “Press this”. This is not my work.

I have been friends with the poet over at Generation Kathy for years. A few years ago she taught me about Centos and we had some fun putting them together from song lyrics (my poetry appreciation was not really developed back then).

From that time to now, I have seen Kathy’s own poetry grow into something beautiful, visceral, poignant, and heart-achingly good. It is because of her I now feel something for poetry when I read it, rather than just bleeping through and hoping it’ll be funny at the end.

For a recent competitive entry to our writing community, Brigit’s Flame, Kathy put together a Cento that was so seamless and flowed so well I never would have guessed the lines had been extracted from multiple poets and sewn back together like a quilt. The written piece is here with credit to the poets. And the Act II follow-up Cento is here.

Below is my friend and favorite poet reading her Cento – “Know Me”.

Share some love. She’s awesome.

Act I: Know Me (Recorded Reading).

 

Samuel Taylor Coleridge – A Soliloquy Of The Full Moon, She Being In A Mad Passion Poem

Samuel Taylor Coleridge has been a favorite poet of mine since grade school – possibly because they quoted his work in the movie Xanadu.
In the following poem he is being silly and playing with some of the other poets of his day. I love when they do this kind of thing. Also, botheration!

 


 

Now as Heaven is my Lot, they’re the Pests of the Nation!

Wherever they can come
With clankum and blankum
‘Tis all Botheration, & Hell & Damnation,
With fun, jeering
Conjuring
Sky-staring,
Loungering,
And still to the tune of Transmogrification–
Those muttering
Spluttering
Ventriloquogusty
Poets
With no Hats
Or Hats that are rusty.
They’re my Torment and Curse
And harass me worse
And bait me and bay me, far sorer I vow
Than the Screech of the Owl
Or the witch-wolf’s long howl,
Or sheep-killing Butcher-dog’s inward Bow wow
For me they all spite–an unfortunate Wight.
And the very first moment that I came to Light
A Rascal call’d Voss the more to his scandal,
Turn’d me into a sickle with never a handle.
A Night or two after a worse Rogue there came,
The head of the Gang, one Wordsworth by name–
`Ho! What’s in the wind?’ ‘Tis the voice of a Wizzard!
I saw him look at me most terribly blue!
He was hunting for witch-rhymes from great A to Izzard,
And soon as he’d found them made no more ado
But chang’d me at once to a little Canoe.
From this strange Enchantment uncharm’d by degrees
I began to take courage & hop’d for some Ease,
When one Coleridge, a Raff of the self-same Banditti
Past by–& intending no doubt to be witty,
Because I’d th’ ill-fortune his taste to displease,
He turn’d up his nose,
And in pitiful Prose
Made me into the half of a small Cheshire Cheese.
Well, a night or two past–it was wind, rain & hail–
And I ventur’d abroad in a thick Cloak & veil–
But the very first Evening he saw me again
The last mentioned Ruffian popp’d out of his Den–
I was resting a moment on the bare edge of Naddle
I fancy the sight of me turn’d his Brains addle–
For what was I now?
A complete Barley-mow
And when I climb’d higher he made a long leg,
And chang’d me at once to an Ostrich’s Egg–
But now Heaven be praised in contempt of the Loon,
I am I myself I, the jolly full Moon.
Yet my heart is still fluttering–
For I heard the Rogue muttering–
He was hulking and skulking at the skirt of a Wood
When lightly & brightly on tip-toe I stood
On the long level Line of a motionless Cloud
And ho! what a Skittle-ground! quoth he aloud
And wish’d from his heart nine Nine-pins to see
In brightness & size just proportion’d to me.
So I fear’d from my soul,
That he’d make me a Bowl,
But in spite of his spite
This was more than his might
And still Heaven be prais’d! in contempt of the Loon
I am I myself I, the jolly full Moon.