Posts Filed Under despair

I want you to know a few things about grief.

by renegademama

I generally try to avoid writing “helpful instructional” posts, mostly because I don’t really know what the hell I’m doing (you know, in life), but every now and then, fate hands me some piece of information that I think may be helpful to others, so I share what I know. For example, alcoholism.

And now, traumatic death and grief.

For those of you who don’t know, on the evening of November 9th, 2016, my grandmother was murdered by my mentally ill cousin. I was pulling out of my kids’ school parking lot the next morning when my mother called, screaming.

And in that moment I was inducted into the traumatic death grief circle. I don’t love it here, and hope you never join me, but you or somebody you know probably will.

I want to write what I’ve learned about grief because let’s be honest, nobody knows what the hell to do when a friend’s sister, child, spouse or parent suddenly dies. Nobody knows what to do when somebody’s loved one slowly dies. I didn’t. I sent a text or call or card, flowers or food or chocolate, and moved on. If it was a close friend, I showed up once or twice.

I see now that I could have done better for my friends. And I will now.

 

It’s not surprising we sort of suck at this. We live in a culture that does its best to protect us from aging and dying – botox, face lifts, endless “anti-aging” creams, sending our elderly to homes – so I get the feeling most of us don’t want to move too close to the topic of death, and the grieving among us become death beacons. We’re like giant glowing WE ARE ALL GOING TO DIE marquees.

And who wants that?

BORING.

When it comes to death and dying, we want to show up for a moment, touch it for a second, then recede quickly back to our fantasy of safety. There’s nothing wrong with that fantasy. In fact it is necessary for life: How else would we feel comfortable every day hurling down a freeway in a box of metal with thousands of strangers who are probably texting?

Delusion of safety.

And believe me, after having it ripped away, I realize fully how we NEED that delusion. Because I’m terrified all the time now, and I sure won’t weep when that’s over. (My dog suffocated in an insulated lunch bag 5 weeks after my grandmother was killed, and we found him dead in the morning, and it was precisely at that point my psyche shifted into random death can occur at any moment mayday WE ARE NOT SAFE mode. And now I’m weird AF but getting better.).

 

I’ve read a lot of posts about “What not to say to grieving people,” and while I suppose that’s helpful, I’m not into it. People say stupid shit. People said profoundly insensitive things, and honestly, if you message a person whose grandmother was murdered wanting details of the crime because you saw it on the news and you’re living out some detective fantasy, nothing I can say will help you. And yes, that happened. More than once.

But most of the time, people just don’t know what to say. Every time somebody said, “I know what you’re going through. My grandma died last year of old age.” I wanted to be like, “Yeah that’s not actually the same thing as having your grandmother stabbed to death by a family member so please stop,” but I knew that person was trying to reach out, to empathize, to help. So for sure their words were not “perfect,” but it’s small, you know?

It stung because it reminded me of my own sense of isolation and loneliness – as in, what sort of freak has this happen in their family – but during those first couple months, damn near everything hurt like hell. Everything reminded me of the trauma. I had to get off the internet entirely. I was a raw open wound and the world was unknowingly chucking salt into the center of it about 80 times a day. So it was more about ME than them. They were never gonna win with me. I hurt too much.

Plus, how can we make hard and fast rules about what to say or not say in a time as personal as grief? For me, I had to make some sick ass jokes. I needed to laugh about some really dark shit – not at the expense of my grandmother, but rather, the situation in general – because the weight of my sadness was crushing and I needed relief to breathe. At some point, I needed maniacal laughter, maniacal laughter to open a vent and let a little of the insanity of the situation out – my brain unable to hold it. My heart unable to house it. My thoughts unable to reason with it.

 

It’s not about saying the perfect thing.

It’s about showing up and meeting people where they are and I think we do that through opening our eyes and really seeing people, in all their grieving mess, and not making it about ourselves, our comfort, our fear. I know immediately when I’m around a friend who I can be honest with and those with whom I need to give the “Oh I’m fine” runaround.

But here’s what I really want you to know:

Grief is a physical pain. It hurts the actual body. In headaches, tension, anxiety, exhaustion – my bones ached. My face. My head. So I appreciated physical help: laundry, cooking, food, cleaning.

Grief scatters the mind. I straight up forgot about a button on my car that unlocks the doors from the driver’s door. I used it a thousand times, then forgot about it entirely for weeks. I’ve missed more appointments the past 4 months than probably the past 3 years of my life. I will commit to something on Thursday and forget on Friday. I can’t figure out simple questions. I grow confused easily. So I appreciated people’s patience with my mistakes and when they didn’t require me to help solve their emotional problems as perhaps we had done in the past, because holy mother, I HAD NO MORE TO GIVE.

Grief makes you super weird. My pain moved from a freight train slamming my body to waves of panic and terror and sorrow to a gray cloud descended over me all the damn time. A heaviness. A strange apathy. And then, at the strangest moments, the wave comes again, and I think maybe I can’t withstand this one.

And I want you to know how much terror is involved in grief like this. If this is true, what else can be true? What else can be taken? 

Every time my kids want to ride their bikes, I want to say “no.” Every time my mom doesn’t text back at night, I wonder if she’s been killed, and my body physically responds. A friend showed up unexpectedly at 9:30pm one night and my heart raced for 30 minutes after because I thought he was the police, there to tell me somebody had died. The simple walk to the door had me panicked. This happens 10 times a day, still, in response to random tiny events. My intellect says, “Janelle, this is nonsense. Stop. My body and heart say: ‘DANGER.'”

I walk around with that inside all the time, and the world doesn’t know.

So yeah, it’s weird and dizzying and painful for a long time, in a literal, material way – and sometimes I feel like I’m going to get carried away into oblivion, and just then, I get a message from a friend that says, “Hey I’m thinking of you and you don’t need to respond but know you are buoyed, and we will not let you drown.” And I cannot tell you how much I think those messages actually made me survive.

And it was the people who kept sending them and calling two weeks, one month, two months after it happened – and still bring it up sometimes – that helped me beyond measure because they give me permission to keep talking when I was afraid to “bring people down,” and they slammed that sense of isolation.

Because in our busy lives coupled with the desire to distance ourselves from death, once the funeral is over or a month has passed, the world says, “Oh you’re fine now let’s get back to the usual programming,” and that is precisely when the agony settles in: Reality to the new life.

But where did everybody go?

Back to life. Back to the routine. I get it. But there are a few friends who stick around, who keep showing up, who keep asking, “How are you?” in a way that really wants to know, and they keep us alive. They keep us above water.

So now I’m going to show up for the grieving when everybody else has stopped asking. When everybody else thinks it’s “over” and “time to move on,” I’m going to come to your door through word or body, and I’m going to say, “Hey. I’m here.”

And whatever happens with you will become the power to get us both through. Your world is falling, and I know it, but I’m here with you so let’s get weird and real until all the waves have crashed, and we’re just sitting here again in the sunshine.

I’ll remind you it will come, as they have done for me.

 

With my Arlo a few days before she died. I don’t know what I’ll do when he outgrows those dino pajamas. She thought they were so cute.

Batter my heart, I guess.

by renegademama

I don’t want this to be our new reality. I do not want to continue in a world in which each of my four children grow up with the reality that their great-grandmother was killed by a beloved family member after eating Chinese take-out.

I do not want this unfairness. I do not want this deletion. I do not want the crumbling of safety and innocence this all contains.

I do not want them to know 86 years of life culminated in terror and suffering, and I do not want my mom to hurt, and I do not want these tears.

I feel myself yearning for before, before I knew this as a reality, before my family clung to one another to stand, and our fists fought our tears, and Arlo begs, “Mama don’t make that face,” and Georgia asks while crying in her bed, “Is God with grandma, and will he fix her?”

I yearn for before it steam-rolled our tiny card-house, leaving us here flattened.

I know it was a false safety, but shit it was ours. And I know the way to peace is acceptance, but I do not fucking want this truth. I do not want to accept it.

I fear I talk about it too much. I fear I’m exhausting people. I fear I’m whining, being dramatic, oversensitive. Other people have suffered more. I am not the only one to go through this. Come on, Janelle, knock it off, you are not a delicate flower.

The other day I read a Facebook post with a joke about “at least I didn’t get stabbed today.”

My heart raced at the word as if it flashed in neon and hit my face with a quick cold slap. My blood ran in fear, rage, sadness. Goddamnit Janelle. I am not a delicate flower. I am a raw nerve and it’s not the world’s fault, but they keep fucking with me.

I think a cave would be better for a while.

I fear my kids will get hit by cars. I say “no” when they want to ride their bikes. I fear Mac will not make it home. I fear my mom driving. I fear it all and I panic and my brain tries to soothe me, “Janelle, it’s okay. It’s okay.” But my body and heart don’t believe it.

It’s only been 3 weeks. I have time. I have time. You tell me I have time.

But right now, I do not want this in my heart or mind or body.

I’m afraid if I let it in, I will be destroyed. I’m afraid if I let this pain, this reality, this truth to sink in to my bones, I will be altered and I do not know how. I know I will be leveled, split open, broken up and rebuilt, but I can’t see how, and it’s hard to jump when you can’t see the bottom. I feel myself on the edge. I rock, I hide, I cringe.
But I trust it will be love.

A poem keeps coming to mind. It’s a weird sonnet by John Donne, and I don’t know why I keep thinking of it because honestly it’s kind of a rapey Jesus poem (no seriously, he’s asking to be “ravished” by God), but the beginning has been lodged in my brain for days:

“Batter my heart, three-personed God, for you

As yet but knock, breathe, shine, and seek to mend;

That I may rise, and stand, o’erthrow me, and bend

Your force to break, blow, burn, and make me new.”

I am being broken. I am being burned and overthrown, and I must believe it is for love. It is for compassion. It is to become more in love with you, the world, this life. It is to feel more of your pain, and open my heart to more of the wild rawness of being a human, so I can give and live a little more, a little better.

Not to be good. Not to be a martyr. Not to be all glowing in my goodness. But because I cannot take this destruction without beauty at the end. I cannot withstand the sadness without some meaning at the end. I cannot think of my little family getting broken, blown and burned only to end up angry, lost, and afraid.

No, I trust there is more.

Batter my heart, I guess.

And so I tell my babies we loved her, and we loved her hard, and we love our sick cousin who hurt her, and we will love harder for both those people and for ourselves and our pain, and in that, our lives will be more full.

And I have to believe that is enough. I have to believe my little family will be bathed in a greater love, a light that makes us new.

 

we've got you

we’ve got you 

57 Comments | Posted in despair | December 5, 2016

I did not know it felt like this.

by renegademama

Three days before my grandmother was killed by her mentally ill grandson, we stood together in Costco, perusing books.

“Tell me if we’re in a hurry, because I’m just hanging out,” she said.

“We are in no hurry, grandma. No hurry at all.”

No hurry at all.

If I could do it again, I would stand alongside her rather than two aisles away, and I would watch her 86-year-old hands touch each book, opening and closing covers. I would watch the way her fingers moved over the letters and I would hold her purse. I would ask what she was looking for.

“Does Mac like books about World War II?”

“I don’t think so. He’s more into those weird adult fantasy books.” I answered honestly. It made her laugh.

“But maybe,” I added. I didn’t want her to feel bad.

As we drove to my house, I offered to drive her to my mom’s around the corner, where she was staying, but when we pulled into my driveway, Georgia and Arlo came running out yelling “Grandma!” and she said, “I think I’ll stay.”

I think I’ll stay.

So she sat at my kitchen table with a glass of water, which I looked for the day after she died but could not find, with Arlo on her lap, and the two of them talked. When they didn’t talk, he sat with her, looking out from her lap, watching me make dinner. Ava and Rocket argued about whose turn it was to feed the dog. George was tired, and possibly yelled. Mac and I got annoyed at the kids.

If I could do it again, I would do it exactly like that, with her simply there, with us, a part of the raucous family.

last week

last week

When my mom came to get her, I am sure I said goodbye. I am sure I said goodbye and hugged her even though I do not quite remember, because that is what we always do, and I’m sure I said, “Have fun in Utah,” because the next morning she was going to visit another grandchild, and then she was going to come back to us.

 

She was going to come back to us.

That was her plan now that grandpa has passed: She was going to visit each grandchild and spend time with each of her 45 great-grandchildren and “really get to know them.” She told us all about it as she sat at my table, with Arlo on her lap. Mac leaned over and said, “Arlo REALLY loves her.”

I smiled. It was true. I thought of all the things we would do together. I thought I would take her to the B Street Theater, to the Nutcracker, to movies and the Mondavi Center and to San Francisco. Now that grandpa was gone, we could fill her time with a million things. My grandfather had been gone 5 weeks.

Three days after I am sure I said goodbye, at 7:30pm on Wednesday, November 9, my cousin came downstairs with a knife and stabbed her, and she died in the arms of her daughter.

 

Did you know grief moves through you like a freight train? Did you know it tears through you like a thousand shards of glass on rails and forces your chest to release a sound you never knew you could make? Did you know air moving in feels like fire? Air moving out feels like drowning.

I did not know this.

I did not know my body could make that sound. I did not know my knees would buckle and I did not know my mother would crumble against a wall, her legs too weak to support the truth.

I did not know pain like this existed. Too much for the body to contain. It rumbles and shakes in your blood, racing and slamming the walls of your body, your skin and bones, to get out and run, but it cannot, and only releases in broken wails and sad, wild rage.

I hear her now. My mother’s screaming. I will not forget the sound.

That night, I slept with her, as I did when I was a little girl, and when I looked over, she had tucked the blankets up over her face and under her chin and I thought I would give anything to remove even one sliver of her pain and make it mine.

I could not. She lost her mother. Killed. My nightmare as a child, my mama is living.

I touched her hair and tucked it behind her ears and prayed to god for morning.

 

I suppose I should say something helpful about mental illness, and how we need to support sick people better, and educate their families, and not be ashamed or minimize it or turn away, and I suppose some day I will say those things, but today, two days before we bury my grandmother, I sit with my mom at the ocean, because it’s where we’ve always gone when things are hard, to watch the wild beautiful rage of the water as it sings its roar against the rocks of my heart, and we wait to be filled again.

 

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149 Comments | Posted in despair | November 16, 2016