Monday, May 15, 2017
Most of me knew that we would never see him alive again. He was not likely to survive a seventh suicide attempt, when the prior attempts nearly killed him, and the last one diminished him greatly.
His body was frail. His spark was gone. His smile was forced, barely a pull-back of his lips. His eyes were flat.
But a tiny piece of me held out hope. We'd saved him so many times. He was excited about my first baby; surely he wouldn't leave us with just three months to go.
I needed him to meet my baby. I needed him.
Surely he wouldn't go when I needed him so much.
We got Dad's goodbye letters out of the blue, a year after his death.
They'd been sitting in some file in the 3rd District Precinct.
A kiss with a fist.
It took me five years to stop obsessing about my dad's suicide.
I'd wanted to secretly microchip him, you know, so I could always know where he was. You're not allowed to do that.
It took me five years to understand that not only could I not save him, but it wasn't my responsibility. None of us can save anyone else, not long term. No matter how hard we try.
The instant I understood this, I felt absolved.
Eight years later, I still cry sometimes. I get sucked into the ugly "what-ifs" even though intellectually, I know they are pointless.
I still wonder if Dad died on the 15th or the 16th. His death certificate says the 16th, but I learned recently that the time of death is determined by when the DC official sees the body and records the death.
Did he walk around DC one final time? Did he have any hesitation? Both days were spectacular, drenched in sun, luxuriating in azaleas.
I remember after my mom called, looking at the riotous blue of the sky, the kiss of the sunshine. And I thought, Dad couldn't choose today. It's too beautiful a day to die.
So was the next day.
For a long time, I was angry. How could he abandon us? How could he do this to me? Didn't he love me enough? Didn't he want to know my baby?
And I felt so guilty about my anger.
Now I tell people to allow themselves feel whatever they feel. All your feelings are valid. No shame.
If you can forgive, you will feel better.
You might need to forgive yourself. If you do, start there.
I've decided that if you are someone who can see the bridge, sometimes it looks so easy to just step off. Coming back from that point and living is what's painful and hard.
I have heard the mermaids sing, each to each.
Living every day on a semi-even keel, when you're not a semi-even keel person, can be exhausting.
Laughter and hysterical sobbing are not so far apart.
It's shockingly easy to swerve back and forth in grief.
Always run with laughter, no matter how inappropriate it might feel.
I know that Nick doesn't understand why my dad's death is still a big topic for me. He's not outwardly critical--to the contrary, he's supportive--but I know he genuinely does not understand.
I'm not vying for the worst loss award. But suicide is different.
It's a relief for me to be with others who have lost loved ones to suicide.When I do the Overnight walk, it's a crowd I'm at ease in, no matter how few people I know.
The other day Betty said, "Maybe you can finally stop writing about death."
I said, "I don't think so."
Some days are better than others. Most days are better than others.
Some girls' mothers are bigger than other girls' mothers.
I have a dear friend who annually sends *hugs* on this day. It is perfect.
He is one of my heart people.
I would never have met him if I hadn't started writing about depression and suicide.
All loss hurts.
I selfishly want those I love to live forever. Or at least longer than me.
Whatever I feel is valid. I should allow myself to feel it, be honest, and let it go.
After years of lying when saying, "I'm fine!" I am honestly, actually fine.
Anniversaries are hard.
And that's OK.
Saturday, May 13, 2017
Sunday is Mother's Day. I have my mom, and until last Sunday, I had you.
You were my second mom, my other mother.
You liked to tell the story of how when your kids and I first started high school in Delhi, someone suggested to Shannon that he ask me out. And he said, "Gross! That would be like going out with my sister!"
Your boys were and are dear to me, and always more family than friends.
I hope my kids are lucky enough to have a relationship with an adult like I had with you. Someone they love, who they know loves them. Who they can trust and confide in and turn to for advice. I hope they have someone who tells them they can do it, whatever it is, and since the person is not their biological parent, who would say that stuff to them even if she were lying, they can believe it.
When we spoke, you focused, truly focused on me. This kind of attention is uncommon, and it feels like sunshine. I always felt so considered, so heard. I can't count the times I asked for your advice. You were always certain, gentle, kind and nurturing.
Everyone whose life you touched feels they have lost someone important, someone great. You were generous with your time, your love, your kindness.
Your door was always open, as were your arms.
My parents were always there for me, except when they weren't. Maybe they were living in South America. Maybe my dad was in a rough period, or in the hospital. Maybe my mom was too exhausted, or out by the creek, unreachable.
You were solid, a constant.
How many times did I move in with you guys, just for a bit? Sleep over? Leave my stuff while I took off on an adventure/hid from my life?
I recognize now that I needed a lot, and I received from you more than I gave.
I had the privilege of being there when you took your last breath, for which I feel grateful. Janie told us you'd said that you saw my dad reaching out his hand, ready to welcome you.
How many people have such generosity of spirit to give a gift even as they are leaving?
You were there, and then you weren't. I knew it was coming. And still, I was unprepared.
I do understand that this is the way life works, and I must say, I don't like it.
Naively, despite much evidence to the contrary, I thought my dad was always going to be in my life. And then one day he was gone. Lou was, for me, another mother figure, another always person, who slipped away. Peggy left us way too early.
Your loss pulls up a rush of other losses. I'm heartbroken in a sea of lost loved ones.
I hope you all are having an amazing reunion.
A month or so ago I listened to you and Betty talking about your Peace Corps life in Kabul. You laughed about how you made things like marshmallows and donuts, because you wanted them, and anything you wanted, you had to figure out how to make with what you could get. Betty sewed your wedding dress, and it was blue, because that was the only beautiful fabric available in the market in 1963.
I love all these stories.
My earliest memories are of Bangladesh. I probably spent as much time at your house as at ours.
I loved Christmases with your family and the Ciszewskis in your fabulous sunken living room, with the same tree, dug up and replanted every year. Who else was there? Surely Dallas, who made me laugh so hard.
I have vivid memories of your swimming pool. Would we swim with the frogs now? I think not. My dad made up a bedtime story about the Humph that was stuck in your pool and scared us all night with his HUMPHS! until we buttered the pool around him and enabled him to slip out.
Your mango trees were great to climb, but gave your kids hives. I got hives from the caterpillars. Pepper had such cute puppies.
Just recently you brought up that terrible first Christmas in Delhi. This was the first time you ever mentioned that you were (of course) in a terrible spot, having to move Jordan mid-year, because my dad was too unhealthy to handle a teenager. I wanted to tell you, but didn't, that back then I wished I could get out as well. It was a brutal time.
You loved my dad even though you'd lived with his worst. I loved him even though I'd lived with his worst. And his worst was ugly and destructive and cruel. Toxic. Still you forgave, and stuck with us.
I was always thankful for that, and I never told you so.
I guess actually, you know all of this now. I'm the one who feels the need to say it.
You and Phil came every time my dad disappeared. The two of you held us, made phone calls, drove around with me following lies and false leads.
I remember in 2001, when I in introduced you to my new boyfriend Brad in the ER. You shook his hand in greeting, then hugged me said, "We've got to stop meeting like this!"
Under a decade later, we stopped meeting like that.
You were with Betty that awful afternoon in 2009 when Nick and I brought the news we'd located Dad at the morgue. I will forever remember you two in front of the house crumpling into each other.
The azaleas and dogwood were blooming. It was a gorgeous day.
You and Phil were among the first people to greet my Jordan, my boy, my joy that my dad never met.
My Jordan was due on my birthday but born on yours. Another Leo.
One birthday--either before 7th or 8th grade, you gave me a pair of yellow jeans, saying every Leo needs yellow pants. I took it as a rule. I wore them for a long time.
People still talk about the eulogy you gave at my dad's memorial service. You were always a beautiful writer, and really, a stage performer. I loved that we had Emily from Our Town in common, and every time I used a quote from it, you commented.
You and Phil came out with us on Nick's sailboat to scatter my dad's ashes on his birthday. Who closer, more fitting, to help us release him?
A few years ago, your Jordan slept over one reunion weekend. In the morning he walked into the kitchen, plopped down with my kids and said, "Hi, I'm Jordan." My Jordan's eyes got wide and he said, "Jordan? I'm Jordan!"
I've always been able to recite the history of our families, kind of like kids know the alphabet: My parents met you and Phil in Peace Corps training, and you moved to Afghanistan together. You and Phil got married in Kabul. Betty sewed your wedding dress. Jordan was born and named after us, (except before I was part of the us).
I have known these things my whole life, just as I have always known the four of you. And you leaving us, even when you were sick, was never a real possibility. You were one of my always people, so your not being here was inconceivable.
This means what I think it means.
Maude said that she likes to think of your energy and your exuberance, which has now been released into the air and spread across the world. It's like sparkles of sunlight on dewy leaves, a bright shimmer through the trees.
We all get to revel in it, in you. For this, we should celebrate.
I've lived with grief long enough to understand that my grief is all about me. I'm the one mourning what I've lost.
You, you are sparkling in the breeze, shimmering on the water, glittering in the clouds.
As the Stage Manager said, "There’s something way down deep that’s eternal about every human being."
I am lucky you were my other mother.
I love you and I miss you.
Happy Mother's Day.