WYG prompt 24 b: (more) uncanny moments

After my dad died, I sent my mother a customized card with a picture of Dad on the front and back. On one side of the inside, I wrote an inscription telling her I was coming to Reno for Thanksgiving to hold her in my arms. On the other side I’d written the lyrics to the song “Carry” by Tori Amos. My intention was to share a song that gave me comfort as we mourned Daddy. As fate would have it, she died the day before Thanksgiving (just barely), in my arms, and these lyrics have come to mean even more to me:

“Love, hold my hand
Help me see with the dawn
That those that have left
Are not gone
But they carry on
As stars looking down
As nature’s sons
And daughters of the heavens
You will not ever be forgotten by me
In the procession of the mighty stars
Your name is sung and tattooed now on my heart
Here I will carry, carry, carry you
You have touched my life
So that now
Cathedrals of sound are singing, are singing
The waves have come to walk with you
To where you will live in the land of you,
Land of you
You will not ever be forgotten by me
In the procession of the mighty stars
Your name is sung and tattooed now on my heart
Here I will carry, carry, carry you
Here I will carry, carry, carry you


Writing Your Grief prompt 24

Today’s prompt: When have you felt yourself drop deeper, click in, to something larger than yourself? Were there moments when the pain of loss felt – different? Gentler, somehow? Have you had encounters that let you know you’re not alone? Synchronicities, “signs,” or just cool alignments of things that, whatever they “mean” or “don’t mean,” brought you even a moment of stillness inside your pain? What does it mean for you that these moments actually do exist? What’s it like to experience that deep kind of connection or love, and then shift back again into pain?

Just a quick note on writing/not writing before I answer Prompt 24. It’s been tough going lately: in my grief, in life. I’m a person who deals with Major Depressive Disorder, Chronic Fatigue, and grief, and sometimes, “deals with” is optimistic. For a few weeks now, I’ve only been able to work (from home, mercifully) and sleep. And sleep a LOT. It’s tricky sometimes to tell if I’m sleeping because of exhaustion, depression, or sadness. Or all three. Lately it’s felt like all three more often than not. During this time, my/tired heart has shrunk away from responding to most of the writing prompts. Some I think I will go back to; one or two still feel too raw to touch. Anyway, that’s me lately. Here’s Prompt 24:

Sometimes it happens when I’m alone in quiet moments. Just a moment of stillness. Sometimes, I feel like writing immediately after those moments (like right now). They pass quickly, but I am grateful for them. A few other, uncanny little moments of alignment have happened as well, which of course I cherish.

Like the prompt mentioned, those moments are tricky to discuss with non-grievers. The other day a co-worker said, “It seems like you’re doing better, which I really hope is the case!” (Notice how that’s not a question about if I’m doing better, but rather a declaration that I possibly/hopefully am.) I probably wouldn’t tell those types of people about the still moments. And certainly not about the uncannily aligned moments. They’d likely react just the way Megan wrote in the prompt (which made me laugh a lot):  “If you share the scarce moments of peace, or alignment or grace, people outside your grief process may jump on it, shrieking with joy that you’ve found it! You’ve found the gift! When it isn’t that way at all.”

If I tell those people about those moments, they will likely misconstrue it as me saying I’m healed. Over it. “Doing better.” I’d like to explain to those people that grief isn’t linear. I can be “doing better” and then “doing worse.” On the chart of grief, it’s not all up and to the right. It’s more like mad scribbling that cover all corners of the page. Or like trying to track a paper airplane’s journey: all over the damn place, then, ultimately: nosedive. Boom. Right back down where you started. Which might not be what many non-grievers want to hear. So most of the time I just don’t respond to that part of the message.

Other moments, non-grievers would probably take as me losing my mind a bit. Those don’t get shared, either. The other day, I was in the basement storage room with my mother-in-law. She’d just found an heirloom of her mother’s she’d been looking for and presumed was lost. Then a few moments later, as we’re chatting, I look up to the rafters in the storage room for the first time ever and notice the stamp on a supporting beam of the house: Roseburg Forest Products. Roseburg is where my parents are from. A small lumber town in Oregon. My dad used to work in one of their mills. It seemed like parents were passing through: my father, my mother-in-law’s mother. We both said as much. It was a nice moment.

I’ve written about a few of the uncanny moments in my other prompt responses, and a few are too deeply connected to my heart to share at the moment. Oh, but I will say that the other day, when I wrote about winking at my mother’s ring…I’ll be darned if it didn’t seem to “wink” right back with a little twinkle. So that was nice.

Writing Your Grief Prompt 21: (more) memory

Choose something. Anything. The more ordinary, the better. Shoes. Kitchen table. Garden hose. Bookshelves or tea pots or underwear drawers. Choose anything as your subject. Set your timer for ten minutes, and begin. Write: I remember…

Dad, your top dresser drawer was where we’d never fail to find Hershey’s Bars 12 packs. With or without almonds. “Hey, that’s my medicine!” you’d protest when we’d busted you. Which was easy enough to do once we saw you were in possession of a Hershey’s bar seemingly out of nowhere.

The stately oak dining table was such a big purchase, literally and financially speaking. Though as an 8-yr-old, that never entered into it for me. I never thought of the cost of things and therefore, never clocked how poor we were in Oregon or how well off we were in Florida. I probably never stopped to realize that you two always kept us fed, clothed and happy. I never wanted for anything. Anyway, the table: I just knew it was a huge table and finding extra chairs for it was a big undertaking. Oddly enough, it’s a very common chair design, which of course, now, is bittersweet, because I get/have to see them everywhere, and they remind me of you both, but they also remind me of how everything you owned was either thrown away or auctioned when you died. But I don’t want to go there right now. Or ever, really. Who would? Anyway. Of course I went along with you on the hunt. I could almost always be found alongside you on any errand—they never seemed mundane. Even to a place like the Home Depot, where I was obviously not angling for a My Little Pony or anything. I just liked hanging out with my dad.

Note: despite only calling out one, there were actually two spots in writing this where I very easily could have taken a turn into Unhappy Memory Town. I am very deliberately avoiding going there right now.

WYG prompt 19: memory

For this prompt, I’ve decided just to focus on the good ones. Today, right now, that feels like self-care to me.

Mom, when I was an anxious child, I remember rehearsing with you my rebuttals for any situation about which I was anxious and/or was being teased. I’d come to you with some (usually hypothetical) worry and you’d effortlessly cook up some bulletproof retort for me, just in case, to my horror, a confrontation arose. We’d run the lines over and over and over again until I had it down. But mostly, this was a sort of protective ritual, I realize now. So of course today, while preparing to confront a friend/co-worker (THE friend/co-worker if you’ve been reading my stuff regularly), I said out loud, “Mom, I need you. What do I say?” The talk was postponed, and I’m sad that I don’t have you to rehearse with tonight, to get all the potential rebuttals down.

Daddy, I remember the very first time I sat on the back of a horse. I can’t say “rode” because we remained stationary (you’ll see why in a moment!), but it incredibly thrilling to three-year-old me. I felt SO HIGH up there, but I felt exceedingly secure and confident. You were there by my side. Now, as to why it wasn’t a ride: wellll, we technically jumped to the horse-ride line from the pony-ride line, just for a quick, innocent hijack. I was too little for the horse-ride line, but you knew that’s where I really wanted to be; the pony was okay, but I was horse-obsessed, not pony obsessed. So after I got done with the pony ride, you took advantage of our proximity to the horse and swooped me on its back for just a moment. Just to sit for a few seconds. A guy with his kid in the horse-ride line protested and you said, “Mind your own business, bub!” and then gently set me down on the ground. It was just for a few seconds (you were not a rude guy, you just knew it was our only chance to get me up there). It didn’t really sink in until later, but it was definitely a moment of civil disobedience in service of your horse-loving daughter. I don’t remember the pony or the pony ride, but I’ll never forget sitting up tall on the tall, gentle dapple grey horse for just a few seconds, before we made a run for it. 😉

WYG Prompt 15: Halfway-through reflections.

Prompt: We’re half-way through. Has anything developed or become clear in your writing that you hadn’t seen before? Have you learned anything about yourself, or your grief, or the ways things live in you? Has anything surprised you? Disappointed you?

I didn’t know people would misunderstand me so much

I didn’t know the Callie/co-worker thing would hurt me so much.

I didn’t know how many people would—and continue to—come to my rescue, in astonishing ways.

I didn’t know how much emotional sludge would be drudged up.

I didn’t know how exhausting that would be.

I didn’t kow that could still be a good thing.

I didn’t knw I could be as gentle with myself as I’ve been for missing posts.

I didn’t know I could crank out 11 posts in just a few days about my heaviest truth.

I forgot about the magical, happy little accidents that can happen in writing.

I forgot how fun found poetry is.

I didn’t expect writing would bring back memories.

The prompts that seemed innocuous could turn out to be so meaty and cathartic (e.g. color)

Revelation: I think maybe Dad talks to me through Nick Cave songs. “It was you, it was you and only you.” I miss you, Daddy. And mom. And JJ. And Camilla. And my old ignorance. So much happened in one year.

WYG prompt #13: the unwanted guest (the 13th fairy, et al.)

For today’s writing, can you imagine yourself in the fairytale? Are you the old wise person who brings an uncomfortable gift? How do the people around you see you? Are they afraid, superstitious, uncomfortable?

“Are you the old wise person who brings an uncomfortable gift?”

I’m using this prompt as an open letter to my “team lead” at work.

I am 13 years older than you. Sometimes, I used to forget. Like during a good, few-days’ run of strictly professional banter between the two of us. A few weeks after my dad died, though, it became impossible to forget. More than your age, your immaturity. Your complete lack of compassion or empathy toward me betrayed a lack of experience lived. And, as if that weren’t evidence enough, you told me so after my mom died a few weeks after dad. Four weeks and six days after dad, to be exact. “Death comes with a lot of paperwork,” I said, in a mood to test the good will reserve between us. “Yeah I guess,” you offered back, flatly. “I wouldn’t know.” confirming that it was tapped. Bone dry. Possibly with several holes gouged out. Irreparable? I don’t think so, but likely to remain broken. Because, at the end of the day, your callousness is just that: tough. I don’t think you want to face me. To face what I am to you now: a reminder that people we love die. That, one day, a pain you never saw coming will stop by to rip your whole life to shreds. And THEN, it might show BACK up in 34 days and rampage again, just to make sure you understand. That nothing in life is permanent, and nothing is safe.

WYG Prompt 9 – Color

“write from a color – any color.”

I’m stalling on this and maybe it’s because it’s technically yesterday’s prompt and I’m letting guilt seep in and kick off an anxiety spiral? I took a break on purpose but now I think I’m just being me about it. Anyway. I thought this would be super simple but now I’m not sure. Let’s see:

Dad is blue. Mom is garnet.
Dad is blue because when I was a little girl I asked him what his favorite color was and he said, “Blue.” I wish I could remember more of that conversation! I do remember that he asked me what mine was and I was on the fence between blue and green. I think I still am, 33 years later. Typical me. Anyway, from my observations, it seemed like Dad was being sincere about blue, or maybe he just thought, after that conversation, he’d better get serious about the color blue or I’d take him for a liar, hahaha. But he is blue to me. Yes, his eyes were blue. Oof. Like many of you expressed in your Day 9 prompt writing, I just found that sentence incredibly difficult to write, even though I have been using the past tense: “Dad loved animals.” Dad had an INTENSE sweet tooth.” “That sounds like something Daddy would’ve said.” But…something about that sentence: “his eyes were blue” really gets me. I guess because it betrays the fact that his eyes…aren’t…anymore. And now, right on cue: my own eyes are tearing up. My eyes are also blue, but until I was about 29 I thought they were green. It’s because they have gold around the iris, and yellow and blue make…you know. But I digress. Also, I didn’t realize it mattered to me, but it’s really bothering me that I can’t make you know exactly what his blue eyes were like. I keep trying to describe the shade but none of my adjectives are quite right. They weren’t light blue, I can get that much across. I suppose they were a bit on the denim-blue side. They were kind. They were genuine. True blue. Oof again. I can hear him saying, “Hey that’s pretty good Manda!” He always appreciated my puns. Thanks, Dad.

Mom’s red is definitely deep, dark garnet, no question there. Her birthstone. A color she loved to have her nails and toenails painted. Jewelry my dad bought her early in their marriage (I think he was trying to impress her. I suppose it worked!). The color, oddly, I’m wearing right now, although I don’t own many pieces of clothing in this color anymore. That was more my calling card during my angsty goth years. But again, I digress. Mom is garnet. My sister has one or two of those pieces of jewelry now. Mom hid them in a sock in her purse when she was admitted to the hospital for an infection that, ironically, was declared “successfully treated” the day we took her off life support. Actually, not quite, but the doctor said it was “looking good.” Of course. The meds would technically have been finished November 26, and she died right at the tail end of November 25. Pacific time, for what it’s worth. When we knew she was very close, my sister and I snuggled into either side of her head and neck, as much as the hospital bed would allow. We started singing the song she used to sing us to put us to bed: “Put Your Head on My Shoulder” by Paul Anka, and, never one to miss a bit of dramatic flair, she died before we finished. Oh, mom. I know you had to leave because you’d never had to “do life” without Daddy, but I miss you so much.

See, I knew this one was gonna kick my ass!

writing your grief prompt 5: personify your grief

My grief:

Does not talk

is not pushy

loves to sleep

lets me cry

is with me all the time

under the covers, absorbs my tears – a small white caterpillar that changes size

Grief lives on a certain a frequency:

My wonderful dog heard it when dad died. He refused to leave my lap and he is not a lap dog.

I hear it intermittently; tap into it, hear the language, cry for a while,

sometimes i meet people who are hearing it at the same time too, or are simply familiar with its tone

Sometimes, my sister, thousands of miles away, and I are tapped into it at the same time: I will get or send a text at 2am her time, 5am my time, with a memory of mom and/or dad or just something about how much we’re hurting–more often than not, the response on the other end is immediate. We’re both awake, both missing them, both living, hearing, and feeling grief’s frequency

Sometimes it shows up as uncanny synchronicity: I will be looking down at my mother’s wedding ring, which I know wear, just letting it communicate to me with its loving, encouraging sparkles. Then I’ll realize the song I’m listening to—a part of a Tori Amos song I never paid much attention to—has a message for me: “You are not alone in your darkness.” And I know the song has tapped into the frequency, too.

Writing your grief prompt 4: smell

Daddy. I close my eyes. I smell freshly mown grass. Your Sunday morning ritual. I see you sitting on the porch drinking your Coke. Now I think of your other signature scents: Listerine (the hardcore, yellow kind! Not that gentler mint stuff!). Old Spice. Fresh donuts. Coffee. The leather of saddles. Specifically the saddles in the tack room of the barn where I first started riding lessons at age 9. Dad took me to every lesson. He’d stand ringside, talk with the instructor, and watch me ride. He said she told him I was better than I let myself believe. And afterward, we’d go get breakfast and talk. It was our ritual. I still remember some of our conversations and they’re my treasures now.

Mom: Divinity candy. You made it every Christmas when I was little. I wanted to make it in your honor last Christmas, but I didn’t/don’t have the strength. I have all the ingredients, though. Oil of Olay. Neutrogena Rainbath shower gel. Gardenias from our Georgia backyard. Coffee. Patchouli. Did you smell it? When Heather misted it all around you the night we said goodbye? We hoped it made your journey feel more familiar. A little “smellum-good” from your girls to let you know we were there.