Browsing Tag

death

death, Guest Posts, healing, motherhood

Lying To A Stranger & Then Finding Love: A Tale of The Interwebs & Connection.

August 17, 2016
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Note from Jen Pastiloff:

So I received this message on Instagram from a woman I didn’t know the other night. My community there is beautiful and active. I had posted about an opening in the “Writing & The Body Retreat” I do with Lidia Yuknavitch. For those of you who don’t know Lidia (and you should! you should!)- I call her my “wifey.” She has written life-changing books, given a bring-you-to-your-knees TED talk (watch it here) and teaches writing (and also, basically, how to just be a free AF human being.) If ou follow her on Facebook, you know what I mean. People live and die by her Facebook updates.  Her memoir, The Chronology of Water, starts with the loss of her daughter, who was born stillborn.

Read it if you haven’t yet. (Thank me later.) We do have one spot open for next month, otherwise catch us in Portland March 15-17 or take one of her amazing online courses. 

That book (and Lidia) changed my life, and I don’t say that lightly.

So I posted on instagram about our retreat and I got this message after someone had commented that Lidia’s book had really helped her. Her brave message to a stranger moved me tremendously.

Here it is:

“Dear Jennifer, I’m not sure you will read this and I’m not sure I will even send this but I need to get this out, either way. I want to begin by saying that This Instagram thing is so strange and so beautiful and so weird. Connecting with strangers and the desire to be “seen” and “heard” through use of language, likes and emoticons (our modern day hieroglyphics) It’s by explaining this that recently I have been leaving comments on your pages beneath the beautiful and raw as red meat posts on Motherhood.

You have written back a few times and I felt less alone. And inspired. And when I received your words, my heart bloomed and gushed. That’s the beauty of social media. No, I’m no stalker. Or a weirdo (only stalkers and weirdo’s say that, right?) But I’m trying to get somewhere in explaining all this with you.
You probably don’t remember, as you receive so many messages, but yesterday you posted about your friend Lidia Yuknavitch. Now here’s the weird thing part of social media.

I wrote beneath your post that lidia’s work, the Chronology of Water helped me through the time in my life when I grieved for the loss ofmy own daughter at birth.
I’m ashamed to say this but that was a lie. I have never read any of Lidia’s books. I have wanted to. I’m going to. But I haven’t. I wrote that because I needed someone to catch that memory. I wrote that because it felt scary to fling it out there into the dark void of Instagram and for my pain to be caught by your kaleidoscopic care. It’s bizarre I’m telling you this.

But that’s it. In a nutshell, I lied to you, a stranger who I read about on Instagram, me who you don’t know. Me who is writing this Unshowered and sweating with an hour for myself before my husband comes back with the baby. And this ridiculous lie was on my mind all night, and I didn’t need to tell you because there’s really no need and you won’t give a fuck anyway but I lied that I had read your friends book, your friend who has suffered a similar loss as mine. A lie in order to connect.

Actually, not a lie to connect. But a lie because I’m so fucking lonely in my grief and in motherhood and finding myself within the thicket of sleep deprivation and deeply caring for my boy.

There I said it. I was vacuuming and I added this on.

Like you’re listening. Like I’m having a conversation to myself.

But maybe you’re there-“

——–

I told her I was. There. And that I was listening.

Connection is real- however you get it. However you find it. So we started talking and she sent me the following essay about losing her daughter. And I think you should read it and let her know in the comments because I do believe connection is everything. As Brené Brown says, we are hardwired for connection. That is at the core of all the work I do and why I am started an online course experience next month. To simply connect and be more free, to take up space in the world, and to share our stories. Like this one:

By Katherine Jakovich

It was backpacking through China with my husband that we came to know I was pregnant. The little stick I peed on told us so. And then a second one told us the same. I was so eager to return home, to care for myself, to prepare for this little being. My husband was ecstatic. Very early on in our relationship, we had always spoken about the children we would have together. And here we were.

Once back in America, I felt safe and ready to nest. This feeling would not last long. The first blood test and ultrasound revealed that my baby was in some way “abnormal”. What that abnormality was, they did not know and it could only be revealed through more thorough testing. It took weeks, months, of waiting, waiting, always waiting for results.

They told us over the phone. Our baby was diagnosed with a major heart defect. And one that could not be fixed. They would not operate at birth. My baby was deemed incompatible with life. I kept repeating the words over and over in my head, tapping each syllable onto my arm, the kitchen counter, my coffee cup.

In-com-pat-i-ble-with-life.

That man over there yelling at his wife, is compatible with life. That child eating ice cream, is compatible with life. That flower, that dog. And aaaaaaall the other babies. Compatible with life.

I thought of my daughter’s heart. I thought of her tiny heart that would not function. Never ever. I thought of her tiny heart that was rushing like a freight train within me. I heard it once. And then I asked to never hear it again.

You see, she was thriving within me. Growing, and moving, and swishing and she was all elbows and legs, kicking softly.

When we were told the diagnosis, I was a little over six months pregnant. But I did not stop being a mother. I sang to my baby, I danced with my baby, I played music to my baby. My daughter. Through my womb, I sang to her lullabies, I let her hear the sound of the ocean, the sound of water trickling in a fountain, I let her feel the cool rain as it fell on my belly, I crushed crispy fall leaves near my belly in the hopes she could hear. I gave her flowers, her father played songs on his guitar and he whispered love to her and we touched her through my belly- tickled her.

It was time to let her go. It was no longer safe to keep her, for me or her. I gave birth to my daughter, in a hospital. I was induced. I went through contractions and everything else that comes with birth. Only I knew my daughter would not be born alive.

My husband never left my side.

During labor, I saw four people dressed in white in the corner of the room. Later I asked my husband who they were. I thought they were doctors or medical students, observing. My husband said besides himself and me, there were only three people in the room- two nurses and the doctor. I’d like to believe they were protectors or, yes, angels even.

She was born so peacefully. With the softest smile. Breathless.

We held her. She was weightless. Already of the stars. Her gentle fingers around my thumb. Still warm. Then, stone cold stiff.

I gave birth to death. The sweetest death.

My daughter. Sunshine. That is her name. That is what she was.

And is.

All other names were too earthly for her. She was bigger than life. And so free. She knew only love.

“You are my Sunshine, my only Sunshine…”

The aftermath was grueling. An unbearable grief.
 And when the milk came in, it was as if my breasts were weeping. And at sunset, and sunrise, it was as if she was dancing and laughing across the skies, finger paintings for Mom and Dad.
 At night, I would wail.

At night, I would walk around the rooms of our apartment, searching for her. During the day, the Southern Califonian sun was relentless and there was no hiding from the red raw pain of my post-partum body under the light of the stark sun. I wanted to run into the rain and drown in it and pull the dark sky over me and hide. The names of the days no longer mattered. Time felt like one long Monday. For a long, long time.

Until, he came along. He, who began to heal what felt broken.

A son that is sleeping beside me as I write this.

A son that giggles and breathes and poops and crawls and wriggles and reaches for me in the night.

A son that points to the moon.

A son with a heart that beats like a jungle drum.

Katherine Jakovich is a writer and yoga instructor. She grew up in Australia and the Netherlands and now lives in California with her husband and rambunctious one-year-old boy. Katherine is not on FB so please leave her a note below.
Join Jen Pastiloff for an online experience called "Don't Be An Asshole: How to Forget Perfection and Be Human." Email, prompts, a secret Facebook page, videos & connection. $50 for the first 40 to sign up & then $65. Click photo to book via PayPal.

Join Jen Pastiloff for an online experience called “Don’t Be An Asshole: How to Forget Perfection and Be Human.” You will receive emails, prompts, a secret Facebook page, videos & connection for 4 weeks. $50 for the first 40 to sign up & then $65. Click photo to book via PayPal.

 

 

Guest Posts, Surviving

There Is No Story Until It Happens To You

May 18, 2016
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By Richard Fifield

Someone else is driving your car. He thinks this road is a video game, accelerates to sixty on the straightaways, slows for the sudden plunges, and your car rollercoasters and dips past reedy bogs. You step on an imaginary brake pedal. You are no tourist, you were born and raised here, you hate these roads.

This road is notorious, chiseled through mountains. On your left, a steep plummet to the Yaak River. To your right, ridges rise out of sight, emerge from a mighty ditch that is a dumping ground for road kill. Not just unlucky animals, white plastic crosses are riveted to stanchions, the Montana American Legion honors every highway fatality. One million acres of national forest, this northwest corner an eruption on a topographical map. Your birthplace has been christened by drunks and geniuses: Burnt Dutch, Red Top Cyclone, Pete Creek, Lick Mountain, Devil’s Washboard. You are thankful your mother gave you a normal name.

Jacob is driving, and you think you can trust him. There is no cell service here, eighteen miles from Canada, thirty from the Idaho border. This land is a secret to most people, primitive, unpredictable, occasionally vicious. This is why you left. Continue Reading…

Grief, Guest Posts

Can You Have A Birthday If You Are Dead?

May 6, 2016
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By Leah Sugarman

Do you still have a birthday if you are dead?

Facebook reminds me all day that today is my mother’s birthday. 

My youngest son has special needs and is obsessed with birthdays. When he asks this morning, as he does most days, if it is anyone’s birthday I consider lying and saying no.  But I am a bad liar and almost always get caught so I tell him it is grandma’s.  But then I remind him that she’s all gone.  He declares that we should sing happy birthday to her.  I wonder if he maybe understands things much better than the rest of us.

I am supposed to light a Yarzheit candle on the anniversary of her death but do not have a clue how to mark her birthday.

Later in the day, we have dropped his sister and friend at dance class and are driving home.  He casually comments from the back of the car that it is grandma’s birthday but she is dead.  And then tells me that my grandmother, Evelyn, her mother, will celebrate her birthday with her.  If only Jews had a heaven, my love. Continue Reading…

death, Grief, Guest Posts

A Choice of Wood

April 25, 2016
death

By Whitney Fleming

“I can’t do it. I can’t go into the room with all the caskets. I can’t do it again,” she told me.

“It’s okay, Mom. I’ll take care of everything,” I stated easily, as I knew that my father wanted to be cremated, which reduced the decision-making burden. Although I was the youngest in my family, the responsibility would be mine. My brother and sister had their children to manage, and I was the most involved when it came to my dad’s care.

“Just do what you think is right. I just need you to take care of it.”

My mom wasn’t much older than I was when she buried her own mother, along with three teenage siblings. They died in a fire started from bad electrical wiring in their dilapidated Ohio farm house. As the oldest of eight, she managed the burial arrangements, and selected the caskets for her teenage brothers and sister. The act of selecting small coffins for young people yet to reach their prime crushed her to the core. It was a weight she carried around with her each day.

She was the strongest woman I knew, but even she had her limits. Continue Reading…

death, Guest Posts, Young Voices

On Saying Goodbye And Eating Chips

March 9, 2016
death

Note from Jen Pastiloff, founder of The Manifest-Station. This is part of our Young Voices Series for Girl Power: You Are Enough. We are always looking for more writing from YOU! Make sure you follow us on instagram at @GirlPowerYouAreEnough and on Facebook here.

By Haley Jakobson

On the day your grandmother is dying you will eat a bagel with cream cheese and salmon and the guy behind the counter will misunderstand your impatience for rudeness. He doesn’t know you have to go home and kiss her cheek. You cry in the bodega and you take an Uber all the way to Westchester because your Dad says you should.

You get there and you climb into bed with her and all the fear you had before is gone because you need to take care of the woman that is the reason you exist. You hold her and press your face into her back and you put a cold wash cloth on her forehead and you don’t hide from her dying anymore. You cry into her pajamas and you feel how warm her body is, like a child, and you just keep pressing your hands into her. Every time she opens her eyes, wide and blue and scared, you tell her that you are there and when you listen to your own voice it sounds so strong and resilient and there is no fear.

You love her and she loves you and this will not go away even when she is not there. Her eyes are so blue, like this cleansing force of beauty, a color of simple beginnings and quiet endings and still water in between. Every time she realizes it’s you she says hi and you say “I love you” and she says it back. It’s all love. And when she cries out in pain you don’t deny it, you affirm it, you affirm her and everything she is going through. This is real, and it has been so elusive, this cancer, for so long.

She asks to put her head on your leg and you let her, and you help her sit up and stand up even though you know she’ll want to lay down straight away. Put the blankets on, take them off. The nurse says the pain is internal, it won’t go away from switching from her left to her right. You know she’s speaking your language now. The sickness has turned to violence inside her, like demons and monsters and bad, bad energy. The medicine is poison and life is leaving her. Continue Reading…

Compassion, death, Grief, Guest Posts

Out of Death, Something

November 22, 2015
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By Mark Liebenow

In late April we gather our dead and cry. For some it has been a year since our lives were ripped apart, for others barely a month. Emotions are on edge.

We are the families of those who died and donated their organs, and we have gathered at Chabot College in Northern California to honor our loved ones. My mother-in-law Marjorie has come with me. She is doing better after burying Evelyn, her youngest child and my wife, and is back to running the office of her retirement community.

I think of Tom Hanks in the movie Cast Away. He went to college here at Chabot, and there is a life-sized cutout of him in the lobby. He plays a man who struggles to survive physically and emotionally after his plane crashes in the Pacific Ocean. In one scene, before learning how to make a fire, he eats a raw, gelatinous fish. The look in his eyes as he chews is of a person wondering what’s the point when it’s unlikely he will ever be rescued. I know that look. When he gets back home years later, his wife has remarried, so he begins a new life with what he has left. I sense he will be happy, and wish that life was like it is in the movies.

Reg Green is the main speaker and talks about the desperate need for organ donations. The wife of my friend John was one of those who died waiting. In 1994, robbers killed Green’s seven-year-old son, Nicholas, when the family was vacationing in Italy. He and his wife donated their son’s organs to seven Italians. Because of their selfless act, the organ transplant movement finally took hold in that country. Donations doubled and thousands of people are alive because of them. A movie was made about it, Nicholas’ Gift, which starred Alan Bates and Jamie Lee Curtis. “Each year in the U.S.,” Green says, illustrating how often even the very young die, “five thousand families donate the organs of a child.”

After his speech, the smiling face of each donor in a time of happiness fills the large theater screen, and a hush settles over us. Music fills the auditorium as image after image bring back the childhood joy of Danielle, age fifteen, red bandana on her head; Dexter, two years old; forty-eight-year-old Bill with a Fu Manchu moustache; Maribel, a young mother dead at twenty-six; three-year-old Eddrick in his new sweater; nine-month-old Alexandre in knitted cap; and the photos and names of one hundred and forty others, including Evelyn’s, her face shining with hope.

Ev died in her forties of an unknown heart problem, and I think of the dreams we had for our future that now lie in ruins. In the memorial booklet I read the words I wrote that begin: “Evelyn’s soul was sweet like dawn in the Sierra Nevada. She was intoxicating like alpine air. The light in her eyes illuminated the dark paths through the forest of my heart….” Continue Reading…

death, Family, Grief, Guest Posts, loss, motherhood

Black Lace: On Music, Motherhood, and Loss

November 18, 2015
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By Geri Lipschultz

Nothing is sexier than black lace, nothing more deadly.  When it’s cut in a circular shape, one slips the bobby pin inside, fixing it there into your hair.  With the black lace thus covering, you can show respect upon entering a synagogue or a funeral parlor where your mother is, before she will be buried.  It may only be nine months after your father died that she developed the cancer, less than three months before it would kill her—and in between that time, that is, in between the two deaths, you, at forty-six, would deliver a girlchild in darkening November. With the lace in your hair, you are holding the girlchild in your arms.

My daughter’s love for me was palpable.  A friend had seen her spirit when the baby was in utero.  Her shade was long, Tibetan, a tall thin dark man who sat on my shoulders and wrapped his legs around me, put his head upon my head. Cradled me. Farfetched or not, this was the feeling of this baby. Loving, attached, but withdrawn among strangers, whereas my son would work to catch the stranger’s eye.  Born eleven years before, my son had colic. I held him, and he cried. Even his entrance into the world came with a face of doubt, a scowl of woe.  He was covered in meconium, an expression of his discontent?  My daughter swam into life, looked up, surveyed it, said it was good.  Did my daughter know she was conceived in wedlock?

I was already married a year when I found out I was actually pregnant, for the second time, at forty-six, and I called my mother to tell her this.  She expressed something that sounded like horror.  I asked her if she was horrified, and she said that she was worried.  I was too old.  She was in her seventies.  The other grandchildren, my sisters’ kids, were teenagers, mainly.  My son, David, was ten.  He would be eleven when Eliza was born.  I told my mother to please keep her horror to herself.  I told her I was thrilled, that she should pray for a healthy baby, preferably a girl, for me, and if she was worried, to please not inflict it on me.  It vaguely reminded me of my writing, the once or twice I’d shown her what I’d written, her inability to take it in, her tendency to read too much into the stories.  I wrote stories, fiction. The lace of words, of black on white, the way stories gush up into images. You turn something terrible into something beautiful. I made things up.  If it was good I made it bad—some bit of salt or pepper or honey to change the flavor. If I told the truth, I would feel guilt, but the truth can hide behind a lie. It can light up the sky. For a long time after my mother died, I felt the guilt of someone who did not do enough because she could not cope, could not take in the loss. I was in the thick of motherhood, myself.

Black lace is what’s left when the mother is gone. A string of memories, a household full of items, tangible and laden and one day all of her furniture and even her wastebaskets would be sent to your house, because you were the one without a real job, just adjunct teaching and the pittance you made from your writing. Not to mention the insecurity of your marriage. Sometimes, if you could, you would take a match to the world. Sometimes it felt as if someone had. Can you admit the waters of grief? Stunned, after your mother’s death, you walked away brittle, unfeeling, protective, pretending. This has become your way with any kind of loss, until music arrives with its stream of the eternal, its messages, its images, its notes and rests and etchings. Continue Reading…

death, Family, Forgiveness, Grief, Guest Posts, healing, Regret

And I’m Sorry

November 5, 2015
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By Stacy Jo Poffenbarger

Six years. Six long years. I waited and hoped and prayed and managed the instability while you looked for a way to find yourself. To forgive yourself. To reconcile your own past and face your own demons.

Everytime the phone rang or the text message sound went off. Every month that went by without a word.

Every time you said it was over, you were done. You loved me but not enough. You needed to be free.

And yet, I waited. Six long years. I looked after your mom while you were away. Behind your back. Taking her grocery shopping on Sundays and out to dinner on Wednesday’s, just so she wasn’t so lonely. I don’t even think she liked me very much, but she missed you and there was our common ground.

When she died, you called for me, and I was there to help pick up your pieces, drunk and broken.

I never dated anyone else. Never once strayed. I waited patiently, through the lies, the promises and the times you found comfort in someone else’s bed.

Some said I was a fool. Or a girl in love.

***

Then one day you came around. You were done running. You loved me enough and proved it with a ring. We started to build a life. Together. The three of us. You took my son with you to teach him to build a house. To learn to work with his hands. And then to the bar to bond like a man. I was so mad. You told me you and he were friends, buddies, pals. And he told me he thought you were funny and smart and cool. He was happy we were together. That I finally had the love I waited for. He told me he was relieved because he didn’t want me to end up all alone. And I was happy. Finally truly happy. Continue Reading…

Grief, Guest Posts, healing

Room Full Of Wounded

October 26, 2015
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By Larry Patten

My questions were casual.

Sarah’s blunt answers weren’t.

“Sarah” is a pseudonym. I know several nice Sarahs, and this pretend Sarah certainly fit into the nice category. To further protect confidentiality, I’ll dub her friend as “Aspen.” Both women were in their mid-twenties, assistants on the staff where I did physical therapy for a troublesome left knee. They comfortably joked with patients, shared encouraging words, and often took extra moments to make sure those of us in therapy knew the whys and hows of what we were doing.

On this day, Sarah was the one reminding me which exercise was next. She brought me the yellow flexible ball to help stretch my lower body, and later set the timer for how long I should move my limbs back and forth, side to side. I usually bantered with her, though sometimes I silently plowed through the series of exercises.

When finished with the yellow ball, I asked Sarah a casual question that led to her blunt answers.

“Aspen told me she started working here because you recommended her for the job. Is that true?” (See . . . just a casual conversation with a casual question.)

Sarah grinned. “Right. She graduated from college and didn’t know what to do next. I told her she should give this a try.”

“How’d you and Aspen meet?” (Still casual, right?)

Sarah paused. Or did she? Did I later, recalling our spontaneous exchange, add a pause?

“Aspen was good friends with my fiancé. He died a couple of years ago.”

Just like that.

Sarah, always vibrant and bubbly as she helped the patients, had quietly disclosed some of the worst news in her young life. We continued talking while others around us worked their shoulders or knees or hands, all trying to recover from damaged bodies. In brief, hushed sentences, Sarah told me about her fiancé dying in a motorcycle accident, and how important that her caring family and friends (like Aspen) had been and continued to be. I mentioned my work at a hospice in bereavement support, where I spent time with those mourning the death of a loved one.

I suspected Sarah had other conversations like the one with me. While she may have extended our chat after learning about my job and sensing my “expertise,” her initial response was to just another one of her patients with a cranky knee. I wondered if her sharing had once included tears or that she simply never volunteered any information. But now, if someone asked about her life—to get to know her better, to deepen a potential relationship—had Sarah decided to let people hear the hardest truths? I think her honest, unadorned words were like sentries on a castle wall, warning about an approaching threat. After all, many of us dread conversations about death. Everyone who has had a loved one die like Sarah has probably experienced strangers, co-workers, and even “close” friends abruptly changing the subject. Worse yet, some people literally avoid the subject and the grieving person.

Her fiancé had died because of the negligence of another driver. Once a soldier in Afghanistan, he’d survived a tour-of-duty only to return home, dying on a tree-lined suburban street on a sunny day. He and Sarah had hopes and dreams, but now she told his (and her) terrible story to me. One day alive. The next day . . .

Sarah thanked me for listening. She smiled, guileless and unwavering. Still with that smile, Sarah told me to get started with my next exercise. Tough woman.

A few moments later, she swung by the raised table where I was finishing leg lifts. She whispered, “See the guy over there?”

I nodded. He looked to be in his early seventies. He was lean, seemingly in good shape. However, as he stepped up-and-down on a platform, I detected a hitch in his right knee. He, like me, was grappling with a leg injury.

“He lost his wife a week-and-a-half ago,” Sarah continued in her whisper. “So, so sad.”    Lost. Gone. Died.

I did my final leg lifts. Out of the corner of my eye I watched the lanky man with the slight weakness in his right knee step up-and-down. Up-and-down.

Sarah departed to assist a newly arrived patient.

Some injuries are easily seen. Others are invisible. Some injuries, with hard work, will heal. Others remain, a hitch in the soul.

Lost. Gone. Died. The room was filled with the wounded.

Aren’t all rooms?

Larry Patten_3 (1)

Larry Patten  is a writer, a United Methodist minister and currently serves as a Bereavement Support Specialist at a hospice in Fresno, California. He has had essays published in his local newspaper (Fresno Bee) and national magazines like Spirituality and Health. Along with working on a novel, he maintains www.larrypatten.com (musings about faith) and www.hospice-matters.com (thoughts about dying, death, and grief). 
Continue Reading…

cancer, courage, Grief, Guest Posts, healing, writing

Half A World Away (fugue: unfinished)

October 11, 2015
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By Jennifer McGuiggan

I’ve been away: Out of town. Out of state. Out of this time zone.

I’ve been away: Out of words. Out of tears. Out of time.

Out of time: To have no time left.

Out of time: To be outside of time.

* * *

Some people believe that God is outside of time, seeing the whole story from start to finish before it plays out for us mortals. This theory allows for predestination, the idea that God not only sees the whole story but also has ordained it, including who receives eternal life and who, well, doesn’t. This kind of predestination thinking seeps into the highs and lows of human existences. Horrible things happen and some mortals leach comfort from platitudes: This is all part of God’s plan. Everything happens for a reason.

I believe that everything happens for a reason insofar as I believe in the commonsense law of cause and effect.

Yes, things happen for a reason. One thing causes another. We can reason it out:

My friend got breast cancer.
She had treatment.
The treatment worked.
She got well.

My same friend got another kind of breast cancer.
She had treatment.
It didn’t work.
She died.

* * *

Life is a series of If/Then statements.

The day after my friend died, I flew across the country for a trip I’d had planned for months. The older I get, the more nervous I feel on planes. With each takeoff, landing, and turbulent bump of this trip, I thought to myself: If Christy can die, so can I.

This wasn’t a recognition of my own mortality. I’ve been well-aware of that for years, like a stone in my shoe mostly obscured on a daily basis by the padding of a well-placed callous. Rather, this thought was a comfort, almost a feeling of empowerment: If my friend who loved life so much could die, well, then by golly, so can I!

* * *

The week after I returned home, my mother had a scheduled surgery at a hospital an hour from my house. During her five days in recovery there, I drove to the hospital. I sat. I drove home. Repeat.

None of us knows how much time we have. Continue Reading…

Binders, Guest Posts, Relationships

Waitress of the Month

September 22, 2015
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By Gail Konop

Mother is dying. I dream…wedding night, summer of 1986… having second thoughts, jitters all week leading up to wedding. Who am I kidding? I had the jitters from the moment my now ex arranged and orchestrated a proposal straight out of a Kay Jewelers’ commercial, a romantic dinner at the French restaurant where we’d had our first date exactly a year after said date, a walk to the same park we went to after that first date, then down-on-his-knees “will you marry me?” with a diamond solitaire gold ring and me thinking how this would make one of those girls who leafed through bridal magazines and stared longingly into bridal shop windows and dreamed of marriage, over-the-top happy. But I wasn’t that girl.

I thought marriage was a capitalist contraption manufactured to enhance men’s lives and careers and trap women. But in the wake of my older brother Richard’s suicide the year before, I found myself attracted to this safe and stable seeming man who already had a life plan and represented hyper-normal Normalcy which I rabidly sought even though there were red flags from the start. We met in 1984, an election year, and I was crazy excited about Mario Cuomo’s speech at the Democratic Convention. My ex claimed to love everything I loved including Cuomo and Grace Paley and slam poetry readings and cheap vegetarian food in my neighborhood near Tompkins Square Park, my quirky tastes in clothing and friends, my “progressive” opinions about marriage and capitalism. My gut told me his “claims” were inconsistent with his Dartmouth College pedigree and belonging to a fraternity and that secret society, with the fact that all his friends had a life plan involving either Ivy League post-graduate schooling or jobs requiring expensive polished shoes. But he said that was silly and “now look who’s being narrow-minded.” When he took me home to meet his WASPY conservative Western Massachusetts family, I overheard them saying they were “okay” with me being “Jewish” as if it were a contagious disease…but he’s down on his knees in the little park in the West Village asking me to marry him and I nod and start having an out of body experience from which I didn’t fully emerge for many years. Then a stretch limo filled with champagne and strewn with rose pedals pulls up and drives us all over New York City and delivers us to the Plaza Hotel and I keep thinking, where is that girl this should have been for?

Coughing up enough bridesmaids… who weren’t either anti-wedding or too weird or eccentric to want to commit to anything… was nearly impossible. Not having the kind of friends who would want to be in a wedding straight out of that Kay Jewelers’ commercial made me feel certain there was something inherently and irreparably wrong with me… so I managed to round up a motley crew: my sister who was in the middle of her own crisis (I later learned) in France; my soon-to-be husband’s sister (who was very angry at me that my now ex was getting married before her since she was older); a friend from college (one who had been kicked out for fabricating her entire existence… she had claimed to be a poor girl from Ireland but was actually a rich girl from Boston) and my on and off again best friend from New York, who all had reluctantly agreed to wear the hideous blue dresses and matching shoes my soon to be mother-in-law had picked out at the local bridal shop.  And now it’s the night before the wedding and I’m staring at the dark circles under my eyes in the harsh bathroom mirror lights at the Howard Johnson’s (where all the out of town guests are staying) and thinking about how I would plaster my eyes with cucumbers before I went to get my hair and makeup done in the morning when the phone rang and it was Mother on the other end.

She said, “You need to pay back that $50,000 immediately.” Continue Reading…

death, Grief, Guest Posts

Missing Someone Before They’re Gone

September 9, 2015
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By Marissa Dubecky

For as long as I can remember, my dad was sick. It started when I was in kindergarten, and he had several heart attacks that our family physician misdiagnosed as heartburn. When he went to him the third time, after collapsing in the grocery store parking lot and crawling the rest of the way to his car, the doctor took his complaints more seriously. After doing some tests, he wasted no time life-starring him to the hospital in the nearest city, where he had a quadruple heart bypass. Bypasses were less common twenty years ago, and the doctors were honest about the fact that it was a risky procedure. But all went smoothly, and the blockages around his heart were soon circumnavigated by clear vessels grafted from other parts of his body. The blood could flow to his heart again.

After a few months of recovery, my dad returned to the bookstore where he worked, but he was never the same. He’d always been a worrier, painfully aware of his mortality since he hit puberty, and now death felt all too real. My brother and I were only nine and five respectively, and he became obsessed with the idea that he wouldn’t live long enough to watch us grow up. Though fixed for the time-being by surgery, his health issues weren’t gone for good. The physical ills morphed into morbid, troubled thoughts that made themselves comfortable in his brain.

My dad worked at a bookstore an hour and a half away from where my mom, brother, and I lived in the country. They’d moved to get me and my brother into a better school system, but hadn’t found work to support us, so my dad kept his job in the city and the apartment we’d inherited from his mother. It wasn’t a bad situation; my dad loved his job. He worked next to the Yale School of Drama and Art, so he was constantly connecting with artists, actors, and writers. He was a jack-of-all trades kind of artist himself, so he could easily converse with the customers, forming bonds with movie stars and screenwriters.

My mom carted me around to her freelance graphic design gigs, and I joined her most days as she volunteered as the librarian at my brother’s elementary school. On Friday nights, my dad would come home with a VHS tape and stories to tell us over a big dinner. Saturdays were spent grocery shopping and scouring thrift stores for books, clothes, and antiques. Sundays we relaxed, and Monday mornings he headed back to the city for work.

After the surgery, his lifestyle there changed. He started drinking when he got home from his shifts, and when we would visit the apartment during the summers, my mom would find the porch littered with beer cans. Among other anxieties, he felt that his death was impending, and alcohol was the best way he could erase that thought from his mind.

My mom eventually got certified as a teacher, and my dad was able to move up to the country with us the year I turned nine. We hoped he’d find work there and his drinking would stop, but it didn’t end until a court-ordered trip to rehab when I was sixteen. He didn’t get a job, but he built a studio on the side of our house and spent hours filling its walls with paintings.

Throughout this, I worried about my dad’s physical and mental health. He had a temper, and his sadness was palpable. You could feel the stress emanating from him when he was angry. He looked healthy and handsome, with smooth, glowing brown skin and a thick head of bright white hair, but he drank and smoked a pack a day. He joked constantly, always making me laugh, but it was obvious from what he talked about that death was never fully out of his mind.

He was also one of the most loving people I’ve ever known. He was complicated, but he wore his heart on his sleeve. I lived in constant fear that I’d get off the school bus and find him dead from a heart attack, but I never worried that his love and adoration for me would die.

When I was fourteen, my dad went to the hospital for an angiogram, a test that examines arteries for blockages. He refused to go to the doctor unless his pain was unbearable, and this time it was. We all breathed a sigh of relief when the angiogram revealed clear vessels. It was summer, which meant we were all free of obligations. It was our time for adventures. We hit the road, driving up to Maine to see the ocean.

Somehow, no matter the frequency of arguments or tension, we all thoroughly enjoyed each other’s company. Long drives were spent in constant conversation, and none of us ever ran out of things to say to one another. We cared about the same issues, shared the same sense of humor, and were curious about the same topics. The trip was as memorable and magical as all our others.

The day after we got home, my brother, mom, and I were eating pancakes in the kitchen when we heard a crash come from my parents’ room. We ran down the hall to find my dad has knocked over a lamp to get our attention. He was gasping for breath. My brother ran and called 911. To this day, I’m not sure what I did. Eventually, the paramedics made it out to our rural home. They loaded my dad into the ambulance and took him to the local hospital, where he was again life-starred to Hartford.

The angiogram had punctured his lung, allowing fluid into it that he was literally drowning in. The moments while I heard him suffocating and waited helplessly to see if he would somehow make it were familiar. I’d felt that worry when I was five, begging a God I didn’t really know much about to give me more time, because I had no idea what else to do. I’d felt it dully over the years as I watched him neglect his health.

After a couple of weeks in the hospital, my dad was able to come home, but he was too weak to really get out of bed. The timing was especially hard because my brother was about to start his freshman year of college in upstate New York, a six hour car ride away. Our only option was for my mom to drive him, so I was left home caring for my dad. It was stressful the moment they left, but took a serious turn the day she was heading back. The previous night, his temperature had been rising and he’d been very confused. The next morning, it was dangerously high, and he was near-delirious.

I was scared and helpless at only fourteen. I paced the house, passing time taking care of him the only ways I knew how, which were mostly by getting him water and turning on fans or adding blankets. My mom got home around dusk. She took his temperature, and then as calmly as possible began to get him dressed and into the car. Then she drove him straight to the emergency room. Continue Reading…

Binders, Friendship, Guest Posts, travel

Manolos and Genocide: A Love Story

September 3, 2015
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By Hillary Kaylor

“What shoe size are you?”

This is how she hired me. At twenty-three, I was looking for an identity, and found it by becoming the assistant to the publisher of the most coveted foodie magazine in the world. A magazine glamorous in a gleaming midtown office building over a hundred years old that used to house carnival acts in old New York at the turn of the century. The place was wild with beaming chefs’ events and exclusive parties and in its office on the 9th floor, multiple test kitchens roasted whole chickens, prepared six different crusted pies for the November issue in the cold spring months, cinnamon-spiked hot chocolate in July, all manners of honeyed fruits and roasted vegetables, and next to our own wine-tasting room, a nearby counterspace where a bounty of fancy boutique packaged cookies and tins of toffee stood unscrewed and slashed for testing. It was a gate to a heaven of kinds.

As soon as I said 7 ½, she went over to the sleek metal locker. As she slid it to the side, I held my breath.

The shoes. Oh, the shoes!

Prada. Dior. Chanel peep toes. Sky-high wedges by Sergio Rossi. Leather and suede, silk and satin, all colors and styles. There were shelves and shelves of them. All size seven and a half.

“Yes.” I nearly shouted when she offered me the job. I would become like her. I would be queen of New York—gorgeous, rich, important, and well fed. Just like her. I could be someone.

The most beloved pair of shoes she gave me in the years that I worked as her assistant, was zebra pony skin pumps with a knife-sharp toe and an un-sensible heel.

They were also the shoes that I wore to her funeral.

Working for her was complicated, though we formed a close relationship from an intense routine. She was organized and put-together and I fell in line. Because everyone knew her, everyone had to know me, and it gave me purpose. I was important enough to run someone else’s life, and I rose to the occasion in a way I didn’t in my own.  I filled her fridge with glass-bottled organic milk while the cheap stuff curdled in mine. When she needed her designer bags to be curried to the high- end vintage shop, or when she needed a personal trip booked door to door to Hong Kong, and I could deliver, the world changed. It seemed conquerable.

Each morning I shrugged out of my boyfriend’s arms early to pick up the morning papers and arrive at the office. Then, I cut out the front-page news, anything business-related, and the fashion sections. Once the sheets were cut and pinned, I ordered her morning fruit shake: strawberries, de-seeded black berries, skim milk, a shot of bee pollen, blended with extra ice, served with two straws.

At 8:30 AM sharp, she would roll into the office, dressed to thrill in stilettos and a Balenciaga skirt suit, fresh from a personal session at her pilates studio, and I would stand, wearing what I thought at the time to be a particularly good knockoff Chanel jacket.

She’d eye my outfit, furrow her ash blond brows, take the papers and drink and retreat to her office, closing the door.

When she invariably complained her shake was too icy but demanded I did not remove any of the ice, I’d shove it into my lap and cup both sides of it, warming it between my stocking legs.

I continued on. I had broken through to something. It was a world of fast deadlines and style, of travel and class. Once I had to get her a new passport because hers was already full of stamps. I held it in my hands like a badge of honor as I went to the passport office. When I returned, she merely tossed the old one back at me to shred. As if it was nothing! I kept it instead in my pencil drawer for years. I wanted her world for my own. I loved her, and she loved me almost as much. She remembered everything: my birthday, my favorite color, wrote me cards, treasured my work.  I went through boyfriends with a vengeance, but whenever they told me I had to choose between my job and them, I always chose her. The boys came and went. My boss and I were here to stay. Our love lasted through my twenties, as long as it took for the magazine publishing houses to begin to fold.

She began having long meetings in her office with the door closed, and then for a while, no meetings at all. A promotion was pushed upon her to assist another magazine in the company. Then she was fired. Or downsized. Or reorganized as an outside consultant. The company never said why, and I was too polite to ask.

When she walked out of the doors of her office for the last time, she said, “It’ll be an adventure!”

“I’m going to quit,” I told her. “I’m not staying without you.”

“Don’t be ridiculous,” she gathered her favored calendar: a buttery, camel-colored Tiffany book. “Anyway, you know I’m going to call you for help.” She showed me: she’d already marked up the “Hillary” days.

She called often at first. I spent months setting up her home office, reorganizing her contacts, and typing up job prospects in her living room.

Later that year, she was invited to just six of the many usual Thanksgiving cocktail parties. When Christmas came and she still hadn’t gotten a new magazine job, she was invited to none. I attended three, and lost an expensive gift bag in the cab home.

More time passed, and she called me to help her less. She never contacted to see me socially and when I asked, she was suddenly busy. She’d been hard to love in life at times, even harder to love unemployed. Her edges sharpened, her niceties became lax. She seemed bitter and angry; people whispered.

“Did you see how FAT she got?” a pretty and interminable gossip who Anna had been particularly cold to, nudged me from behind, and thrust her phone forward with the offending photo. That’s what people said about her, if they said anything at all. I’d since gotten two promotions since she left. I felt the strange pangs of survivor guilt.

Soon, her presence faded from the circle in New York that she’d valued the most, her place in pictures filled in by fresher, hungrier faces. Once it was gone, she didn’t seem to want to find another. She stopped taking my calls. I walked by her apartment on occasion on the Upper East Side, a far cry from my Williamsburg tenement, and rang the bell. She never answered.

When I was told she was found dead, I sobbed in the ladies’ room as my cashmere skirt dipped into the toilet bowl. The world was big again; dark and wild territory. That summer it seemed to rain every day, hot rain, soaking through everyone’s bright summer clothes. The city itself began to wear black. Continue Reading…

Binders, death, Grief, Guest Posts

How to Have a Dead Child, The First Five Years

August 20, 2015
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By Adina Giannelli

Live in a state of fog, half-submerged in water. Everything is fuzzy, cloudy, gray. Feel as though you’ve been anesthetized, but badly. Quickly you realize that what you thought was a general anesthetic turned out to be a local; the pain comes through the haze in sharp shards, and there’s no one you can sue for malpractice.

Cry, seemingly at random, at strollers and strawberries and the number 23. Living after death is not rational. Even through the anesthesia you see that. Exist as unhealed wound, sore and open, vulnerable to everything, yet somehow impenetrable. Scar tissue forms keloids around your head and heart; refuse to be moved.

Stare coldly at strangers who ask questions; stay angry. Exercise until you’ve lost all discernible body fat and rip your hair out at the root. Cry in your bed, in your car, in your office, at the gym. Wear age-inappropriate clothing that hangs on your gaunt frame like a signal light, a warning sign, a red flag.

Imagine yourself pregnant, feel phantom kicks; dream, occasionally, that your dead child is reincarnated as younger sibling. Become pregnant, accidentally but essentially on purpose, by your dead child’s father—a man you once loved and now hate.

Go to Russia where you sleep for fourteen hours a night and cry silently into your cheese grater cot at night, hoping for another day to pass, willing yourself to forget all you’ve left behind. A voice so small it is nearly inaudible whispers in your ear: remember, remember.

Two

 Move to a beautiful apartment in an idyllic little village an hour from where you work, where none of the faces are familiar and no one knows your troubles or your story or your name. Strangers stare, no one bothers to ask. Walk the streets in the day, to the library and the cooperative market and the village’s flower-covered bridge in rainy mornings, sit in your living room chair late into the evening, staring out the window and wondering why.

Your water breaks in the living room late one evening on the precipice of winter. A fierce cherub is born in the bedroom shortly thereafter, apparently healthy and squealing. Your midwife Kirsten catches the baby and places him on your swollen breasts; silently, in a manner discordant with your tradition, you pray.

Do not name the baby for eight days, less for religious reasons, more because you’re scared he won’t survive. His father, if you can call him that, wants to name the baby Uzi. You want to name the baby Ariel. His father is nowhere to be found for most of that first year, visiting occasionally as you monitor your second child’s breathing and anticipate the moment at which it might cease

Cry sparingly, for tears do no good. Winter births spring as you birthed your December baby, who passes through the five-week mark easily and without fanfare and tell yourself that if you don’t get too attached to the idea of his permanence, there is a very small chance he might survive.

Give strangers death stares when they ask about your husband, how many children you have, if he is your first. It is just you and this small infant this first year. Wake every fifteen minutes, checking his breathing, which steadies your own. You call this baby Samuel, a Hebrew name meaning God has heard. You are not so sure.

Three

Exhaust yourself with work and the task of raising a needy infant alone. Stress yourself with thoughts of your own poverty, the loneliness of a solitary future, the uncertainty of how you will survive. Realize you have no idea how to parent this beautiful baby when no one parented you, when you exist in a state of fog, when half of your heart is buried miles away, encased within a tiny white casket in a verdant cemetery plot, left to earth beneath the shade of ancient maple and pine trees.

Visit the cemetery and the other half of your heart as frequently as possible. Watch as your second baby is reborn a toddler through a sort of fog which offers a strange clarity, even in a haze of grief.

Repeat, as a mantra to guide you:

Your daughter is dead but your son is still here.

Your daughter is dead but your son is still here.

Your daughter is dead but your son is still here.

Sometimes it will work and sometimes it doesn’t. Sometimes your days are better than others, even good. See that life is extraordinarily beautiful, at times; feel happy. See that life is extraordinarily blessed, at times; feel grateful. See that life is extraordinarily difficult, at times; feel angry. Your daughter did not deserve to die. Your son did not deserve a dead sister, an absent father, a mother teetering on the edge. Resign yourself to the fog, lean into it and hope that like all other weather patterns, it will one day lift. Some mornings it is a challenge to lure your body from bed, the fog is so heavy, but you rise. Even on the worst days, you find yourself lifted.

Four 

Struggle. Become so busy with teaching and work and the labor of parenting a toddler that you have to remind yourself daily of your reality. You don’t feel sad, most of the time, you feel so overextended and exhausted by the activities of daily living that you nearly forget you have a dead child. Cease speaking about her, as a means of self-preservation.

Listen as people ask if Samuel is your only child. Tell people you had a daughter but she died; comfort them as they work through imagined grief. Learn to lie when people ask if you have other children, so as to maximize everyone’s comfort. Think of her daily; cry less frequently; try to move forward and upward and on. Feel guilty, as if by approximating a life you have betrayed your dead child, your buried half heart.

Realize that the fog very nearly overtook you, but it was merely an overture: a necessary beginning, but a temporary one. Recognize that even if you don’t know how to get it, you and everyone around you deserve something else.

Five

Decide you really have to get it together, to get off the treadmill of stagnant, unspent grief where you’ve stationed yourself in the years since your daughter’s death. See that every bad decision you’ve made in the last half-decade has been a function of indecision, a failure, driven by fear, to make a move, to take your life by its own balls and do the thing you were initially driven to do.

Realize that though your daughter is dead, you are not. Recognize that though you have tried desperately for the better part of the last five years to match her in her death state, it is physically impossible. You cannot be dead while you are still alive. The realization is shocking in its simplicity, and somehow profound, if only for the fact that you’d never considered it before.

Recognize your process was blocked, and you need to get unstuck. Act accordingly. Throw yourself into exercise, and friendship, and work. Help everyone who asks. Be kind to everyone who crosses your path. Write and read and teach with fire burning beneath you, from the place where for five years, half your heart’s been buried.

Pitch stories to editors and proposals to agents, knowing that many of them won’t be accepted. Eat ice cream after you go to the gym and have three drinks at dinner with your beautiful cousin and her wonderful husband, and laugh, and laugh, and laugh. Wrap your arms completely around the broad body of the man you’re casually dating but beginning to love, even if you don’t know where things are going, even if it means your heart will be broken and badly. Your heart’s already broken, and if you’re very lucky, it will break again, and again, and again, anyway.

Go to the cemetery at dusk on the evening of your daughter’s fifth birthday, and cry into the grass while your son runs circles around you. Walk down the hill to the nearby playground with your preschool aged son. Stay there until well after dark, blowing bubbles on park benches and chasing your boy on the pavement, summer fireflies lighting the night around you, long after he should be sleeping. When you arrive home, read him seven books in bed rather than the requisite three. But I’m three, Mama, he will protest, conflating his nightly reading load with his chronological age. Yes, but you’ll be seven someday! you will tell him, and you will mean it.

Maybe it is G-d working in and through and for you and this revelation is holy. And maybe it is for your daughter and maybe it is for your son, maybe it’s for your favorite cousin or that man you are only casually dating but find you’re beginning to love. Mostly it is for yourself, but it isn’t selfish. Your child has been dead for five years, but you have walked among the living, even if half your heart’s been buried since. If you are going to have a dead child you must find a way to be alive. You start by choosing to live.

 

*

 

A writer and teacher whose essays has appeared in publications including Role Reboot, Salon, and The Washington Post, Adina Giannelli lives and works in Western Massachusetts with her son Samuel. She is currently at work on her first book.
Ring in New Years 2016 with Jen Pastiloff at her Vancouver, BC workshop Jan 23. The workshops are magic! It sells out quickly so book early. No yoga experience required. Just be a human being. With a sense of humor. Click photo to book. NO yoga experience needed. Just be a human being

Ring in New Years 2016 with Jen Pastiloff at her Vancouver, BC workshop Jan 23. The workshops are magic! It sells out quickly so book early. No yoga experience required. Just be a human being. With a sense of humor. Click photo to book. NO yoga experience needed. Just be a human being.

 

The 12 Day Detox is here. Sign up now for the next cleanse on Jan 11, 2016. Space is limited. This detox comes at just the perfect time. Reprogram your body and mind as we move into the holiday season. This is your time of rejuvenation and renewal.This is not a juice fast, or a detox based on deprivation. Click photo to book.

The 12 Day Detox is here. Sign up now for the next cleanse on Jan 11, 2016. Space is limited. This detox comes at just the perfect time. Reprogram your body and mind as we move into the holiday season. This is your time of rejuvenation and renewal.This is not a juice fast, or a detox based on deprivation. Click photo to book.

 

 

 

Featured image by Barbara Potter.