Browsing Tag


Family, Guest Posts

The View From Here

October 3, 2016

By Abby Mims

Four months after my mother died at 66, I was closing in on 41 and pregnant. Her dying had been long—four years—but my pregnancy had happened fast, only a few months of trying with no fertility drugs, narrowed down to one hectic shot in the right 24-48 hour window, and we had what could be classified as a minor miracle on our hands. I thought I was ready. I thought I was ready because my ovaries were ticking so loudly I could practically hear them in the quiet of certain mornings. I thought I was ready because I had learned to take such good care of my mother in the last years of her life. The cancerous brain tumor took her mobility and her speech and eventually, everything else, and because I had been the daughter least likely, but the only one left standing, I knew I could take care of a child. I thought I was ready because I believed that having a baby would cure my grief, that there would be a way to trade her death for his or her birth so that I would come out even. Whole again. But then the hormones hit, the reality, the heartbeat, the perfect spine lit up on the ultrasound at 13 weeks, and my loss was only magnified by this gain. Her absence, which was already taking up 90% of me, went for 100% and then some.


When I was in my early 20s, my mother gave me the book “How To Survive The Loss Of A Love” to help me get over whatever wrong boy had most recently dumped me. It had a cheery red cover that I thought didn’t quite match up with its outline of the stages of grief. It included a tidy graph of said stages—denial, bargaining, anger, sadness, acceptance—and I studied its ups and downs for the answers as to how and when I would feel better. Those jagged lines and plot points were comforting, because it indicated there was, somewhere in time, an end to my pain. Post-breakup(s), I would check in with myself: What stage was I in? Was I angry or bargaining? Anger was good, as that usually meant things were progressing; bargaining was bad, it meant I wasn’t anywhere near acceptance. Sadness was mind-numbingly boring and full of drama at the same time, with hours spent on the floor sobbing, promising myself I wouldn’t call him and calling him anyway, along with myriad lost afternoons (read: days, weeks and months, sometimes years) devoted to extensive forensic analysis of the situation with my girlfriends and my mother. And on it went, until I met the next wrong boy, who would conveniently stand in for the acceptance stage if I hadn’t quite gotten there yet. I believed the pain of losing those boys was the worst kind I would ever experience. I also believed that this roadmap out of mourning and grief was reliable, maybe even foolproof. Continue Reading…

Grief, Guest Posts


September 30, 2016

By Suzanne Magdalena Rolph-McFalls

Shopping while grieving is a dangerous thing. So much so that my advice to you is to keep a dark suit, a black dress and shoes, at the ready, at all times. Mark it on your calendar to update the outfits, and sync it to springing forward and falling back, but be sure to keep something in the right size, appropriate for warm or  cold temperatures, rain or snow.

Because you should not shop while bereaved. You should not have to pick out a proper pump or a man’s black 34 belt while this mourning quivers so close to the surface of the thing that makes you yourself. You’ll lose your temper, lose your composure, spend too much money on the wrong thing or too little on the right thing, and end up wondering how you ever decided on a “right thing” to wear to that funeral. It will stay with you (if you don’t take my advice and keep the mourning suit at the ready!), the memory of a McAlpin’s or Nordstrom or DSW or Target or JC Penney. You’ll somehow fuse the event to the death, like  surgeons do with ruptured disks, to lend strength to the surrounding vertebrae. A metal cage and titanium screws will integrate into your spine, just like those clothes will become part of the narrative of that week; the story of the black trench coat with the red lining, and the below the knee black dress with the ivory panel down the front, the things you bought on a store credit card that equaled a month’s wages, but it didn’t matter because one more second in that store would have driven you mad. One more inane exchange of words with a clerk, the small talk of commerce, would make you spill it. Everything. The anger, the love, the guilt, the love, the jealousy. Yes, jealousy, because THIS not happen to him, or her, or her, or him, you are jealous of them. You do not know if it actually has, or not, it may have, it is not NOW, and the petty part of you is jealous.

You carry feelings, attitudes, on your skin and on your person, like a heavy pack on your back. There is superiority, because fuck them, they don’t know how strong your are being at this very moment. You are shopping for dress to wear to a funeral.  You are iron. Continue Reading…

death, Guest Posts, healing, motherhood

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

August 17, 2016

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.


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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 (musings about faith) and (thoughts about dying, death, and grief). 
Continue Reading…

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

Half A World Away (fugue: unfinished)

October 11, 2015

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

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

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…