the valley of the shadow of death

It’s June. It is twenty days away from the anniversary of a fixed point in time. It is two years ago and it is twenty years ago.

The grief pulls at me and I feel like I am heavily pregnant again, waiting and waiting and waiting for the birth so that I don’t have to hurt like this any more. I had back labor in the week before he was born and I cried because I couldn’t stop myself crying from the pain.

When he was born it took a few days for him to look familiar to me. He was always comforted by my nearness.

When his father left, he had no memories to hide away in his heart for later. I think that this was best; if there was a better time to leave us it was probably then, when we were all still so new.

The earth rotates around the sun unceasingly, turning the years inexorably. There is not enough time, there was not enough of me, I could not help him. You cannot help someone who does not want to be helped.

He left us almost nineteen years after his father did. There was nothing I could do. You cannot help someone who does not want to be helped.

I knew this was coming, years ago. I knew there was a hurricane destroying its way to us, and I ran and I ran and I ran with him and one day I could not outrun it. You cannot run from someone else’s destiny.

He is not dead but my heart hurts as if death took him that day almost two years ago. I dwell in the shadow of that day and I will mourn while the echoes of labor pains grip me. With the strength of my body I brought him to his first breath. That room was so quiet and my memory of it is colored in shades of grey.

Everyone but me was upset when they learned I was pregnant with him. I was always the one who wanted him. I was always there, always steadfast, always standing between him and the oncoming storm, until I couldn’t any more. Each must be free to choose.

I love him, I loved him. You cannot help someone who does not want to be helped.

I will mourn you. I will cry as if you are dead. I will not stop wishing that everything had been different. And I will live, even though there is pain that lives in me.

fall on me

Sooner or later the lights up above
Will come down in circles and guide me to love
I don’t know what’s right for me
I cannot see straight
I’ve been here too long and I don’t wanna wait for it

Fly like a cannonball straight to my soul
Tear me to pieces and make me feel whole
I’m willing to fight for it
To feel something new
To know what it’s like to be sharing a space with you

Fall on me
With open arms
Fall on me
From where you are
Fall on me
With all your light

lyiric selection from Fall on Me, performed by A Great Big World and Christina Aguilera

After my very old-man chair nap this evening, I had the thought that it’s getting to be about time to start doing the Work again, the Work that is for me to do, within the framework of the business that I set down in March and haven’t picked up since; and to change that framework so that it fits what’s needed right now.

It might be that this is a fleeting idea, one that will be forgotten later. It may be a passing thought caused by my bone-deep need to be of service, even though I’ve been running on empty for a long time and am only just beginning to have days that don’t feel completely hopeless.

But since taking a death doula class, and feeling that the light is about to feel dimmer out there since the darkness is gathering itself to spread out and blot it out, I have a weirdly strong belief that there will be ways that we can get through this. They might not be perfect, they might not be what we wanted or planned for, and they might hurt a lot. But there are ways. And if I can stand and hold a candle in the darkness, shielding it from the wind and rain and the dark, for you because you matter — even if it is only for you — then I will.

Hope in the dark might be the only thing I can try to provide. I’ll fall down and I’ll still have days where everything seems desperately awful, but the Light burns within me and I will share it where I can.

unbelievably charming

I’ve been spending all my weekdays with the kids during their online schoolwork, and all my evenings on either laundry or reading Twitter until it feels like my eyes are going to bleed. I am trying to get better about what time I go to bed, since I haven’t been getting enough sleep at night. I’m pretty stubborn, though, especially with myself, so I have to take it incrementally or I just won’t. Whatever it is. WON’T.

Last evening I was hit with a wave of depression that I was not expecting, and I couldn’t pinpoint where it might be coming from. Then today my google calendar said it was the fourth anniversary of my Mamow dying, and now it makes sense.

She had increasingly deteriorating dementia for several years before she died, and I spent about a year going to my Mamow and Papow’s house each week and spending time with her: making food and encouraging her to eat it, washing her hair, helping her get cleaned up, going for short wee walks sometimes, and even once I took her to get her hair cut and we got McDonald’s on the way home because that’s always how she did it before.

As I told one of my classmates in my death doula class — because we need to use our own experiences to understand what about death we already know and how to use that wisdom for our future clients — it felt like a holy and sacred thing to wash her hair and remind her who the people were in the photos hanging on the walls and surreptitiously clean her baby doll’s face after she spent her entire lunch time trying to feed it from her own plate. I expected to be with her as she gradually became more and more frail, less and less cognitively grounded in the now, and transitioned into active dying. I expected to be at her side as she began to die, and that I would be there when she finally took her last breath. But I got to do none of that.

During her final year, her oldest child, my aunt, died in hospice. At her funeral, my mom was a mess; she was angry that my eldest had decided not to attend because he was constantly being misgendered and deadnamed by his own grandmother; she was angry that her older sister, who had lived with a form of schizophrenia that rendered her perpetually about twelve, and who needed caretaking by her younger sister who did not want that job, was gone and that there was no way to ever make up for how that made her feel; that her mother kept forgetting her daughter was dead and kept going back up to the casket and touching my aunt’s body and wondering what happened to her; and all the other things that have hurt her over decades that she’s never resolved or been in therapy for.

At the cemetery, I wanted to share a poem with my mom to comfort her, because it was also comforting to me, but she was so angry she pushed me away with tears in her eyes and told me roughly to stop. I did, but in that moment my own ability to mourn my aunt and help take care of my own grandmother, my mother, my family, was somehow broken: like a windowpane with cracks in it that hasn’t yet shattered but only just. Her anger consumed her, and her unwillingness to address any of us (my big queer family) by our chosen names and proper pronouns led me to tell her, a couple of months later, that I wouldn’t speak to her again until she could do that.

That was almost five years ago and she hasn’t spoken to me since. And during that five years, my Mamow died, and no one told me until my sister texted that she was in her final hours. I sat on the floor with my phone, stricken, trying to logistic how I could get to the hospice in time and whether I’d be welcome at all, when I got a second text, that she was gone. It broke my heart that I was not there, and I still have a lot of personal guilt associated with that. If I had just gotten along with my mom better (as if I could have given up my own identity and the safety of my children, even for that), if I had just tried harder to help her understand, maybe it wouldn’t have happened this way.

But I didn’t, and it did happen that way, and still I can hardly believe it’s been four years since.

Time has compressed for me in that moment so that it always feels like it recently happened, even though the grief is much less dull and heavy now. And the grief is less about her dying and more my horror and agony over not being there. I never promised her I would be with her when she died, but it always felt like a foregone conclusion that I would be. I am not sure that I will ever get over how that feels.

And yet, time does seem to continue forward. My children get older, new children are born, a pandemic of dangerous illness consumes all the countries and people of the earth, governments shift and change and people take to the streets to scream and yell and cry the things that need saying, and the whole west coast of this country is on fire. Sometimes I know what to do and sometimes I really definitely don’t.

Today my fifteen year old had a Zoom meeting with his math teacher to go over some concepts that he wasn’t quite getting, and to prepare we set up his Zoom account well ahead of time (during which he got pretty stuck and nonverbal for a while), and I emailed his teacher to give her some context around how he interacts with the world and what to do if he got stuck during their session.

And, beautifully, his meeting went very well, he understood the concepts he’d been misunderstanding, he didn’t need any extra help from me, and after signing out he told me that it had been ‘unbelievably charming’ and I think that’s the best thing I’ve heard today. So I will hold the dialectical emotions of pride in my children and grief for what I have lost, and perhaps there will be other unbelievably charming things.