Death, Beside Me.

1354     I believe everything is wrapped up and converges with one another. For example, I believe all of life is spiritual, that what I put out there is felt and reaches out beyond what I can see. I try to approach daily life with the awe and respect I believe it deserves. I also believe all of life is art. In everything I do, be it the decorations in my home, the way I dress, where I place a piercing on someone or what I cook and how it’s plated, I look at it aesthetically  and do my best to make it pretty and functional. And so, in all of this life I believe , is incorporated death. I have been fascinated with death since I was a young child. It started with my Great Grandfather dying. The church where the funeral was held was small and had basically two rooms, the sanctuary and a room directly connected to it that was for food and visiting. The room with food and visiting was where my Great Grandfather’s casket and body were. Everyone in this room was almost jovial, in contrast to this were the people in the sanctuary who were close to renting their clothes in a good old fashioned biblical way. It was such a stark contrast to me and it made me curious about this death. From that point on I loved anything to do with dead things. Egyptology was a big interest for me, mummies fascinated me and the Egyptians take on the after life was such a mysterious journey I wanted to learn more about. Myself being raised Christian, death was a very prevalent theme, after all the guy being worshipped was killed, nailed to a tree and died. Death surrounded me. I wasn’t fearful of it though, until one evening I watched a documentary on Nostradamus with my parents. I was probably 7 or 8 at the time, and the video largely revolved around his predictions and the fulfillment of them. One of his predictions was about the end of the world, which according to the professors in this documentary would be in 1995. That night, laying in bed, I did the math. I had between 8-9 years of life left. I thought of all the things I wanted to do and wouldn’t be able to accomplish, the people I loved and would never see again. However,  It wasn’t the dying part that was problematic for me, it was the time limit in which I had to accomplish all my goals. Now I’m 34 and there still isn’t enough time. My aspirations are huge, and the list just keeps getting bigger. I want to publish more writing, and get payed for it this time. I want to write a couple of children’s books. I want to hone my craft and provide the most bad ass piercings for the public. I want to go to Egypt, I want to be rich both in spirit and financially. I want to travel, more and more and more. I want to live closer to nature. I want to become more spiritually aware. With the death of my Dad, these wants and the fears of not completing them are starring at me like a rabid wolf, threatening to eat my spirit. I have felt the depression seep in and weigh on me, it’s like being under water, the pressure and the ache in your ears, it pulses and vibrates until finally you come up for air and have moments of clarity. I have found you have to seize these moments, and if it makes sense, to practice them, push against the weight and force your freedom. I know one day these clear blips will be longer and more stable. I am starting to become more accepting of death, though not entirely comfortable. Death is no longer a concept or word, but an understood reality. Death holds my hand , as he has since I was young,  he reminds me to push forward and work harder and to fight against the kind of sorrow and complacency that would trap me. My dad used to come in my Tattoo/Piercing shop on a weekly basis. I am still waiting for him to come in, I will always be waiting for him to come in and sit and talk about everything and nothing at all. His death has effected me and it should. Death should change you, it should cause you to look at everything. His death has made me aware of my own looming death. The legacy he left behind has begged of me  to answer the question of ‘What will I leave behind?’ I know some of the answer and I am developing the rest. I know one thing, I want make a difference in peoples lives, the way my dad did. And if that’s all I can do, then it’s enough. So, though Death is a robber and he stole someone very precious away from me,  he also has gifted much to me. He has caused me to pause and reflect. So to Death, Thank you. I’m still not too crazy about you and though I won’t be inviting you for tea, I am learning so very much from you.

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6 months in…..

Ah Death, the unintentional, yet totally intentional, theme of this years blog.

I did not know 6 months ago when I went to sleep that night, that the next day would be my fathers last day on earth. Tomorrow marks 6 months of his death. I use the word ‘death’  because this is what happened. I do not use words such as departure, passing, moving on etc. I don’t use these words or others like them because it makes light of what death is; death is a slap in the face, it is harsh, it is raw, it is death. You can paint it how you want it, but in truth we can not dress it up enough. When I was a kid my Grandma would light this Rose incense in her bathroom anytime she ‘smealt’ it up. She didn’t succeed in neutralizing or even covering up the stench, only in making it smell like rose covered turds. Much like bowel movements, death can’t be covered with niceties, it will always smell of decay.

Part of me understands why people spew forth these hallmark greetings, (He’s looking down on you, He’s out of pain) when you speak of death and spirit there is a pressure to say things like, “He’s in a better place” etc,. I am a very spiritual person, full disclosure here, but just because I believe we go on in one way or another doesn’t mean that this idea comforts or fills the gigantic pothole in my life that my father left when he died. What people fail to realize, is that the loved one was here yesterday and the day after he wasn’t, your mind even 6 months later, is still trying to understand it.

I still find myself planning the future and my subconscious still registers my dad as being a part of that future and then very quickly, before the thought is in it’s complete stage, I recognize that my dad will not be there. I saw a man who looked like my dad today (or rather the man’s beard looked like my dads, really after seeing that it wasn’t my dad, the only resemblance was the facial hair). For a moment I almost said aloud, “There’s my dad”, as if it was any other day before his death. Each time you make this mistake and catch glimpses of your loved ones ghosts everywhere, it serves as a rude reminder that you’ve lost something very dear that you have no hope in getting back. On top of dealing with daily touchstones, you now have to deal with ‘ghosts’. Great.

So tomorrow marks 6 months of my dad’s death. I have learned to celebrate him when I feel like crumbling, to hold on to his spirit for strength  and to look at his life like a good book, full of adventure, trials and lessons, beauty and sadness. In the end of all good books there are people to carry on the story to pass on to generations, and in the history to come, perhaps there will people to carry on my dad’s love for others, the forgotten people, the misjudged, the addicts, the tinkers, the clowns and just the plain regular folk.

I took this photo below 5 years ago Mardi Gras day and in all the horrible signs and banners people were protesting with, there was this little girl with this shirt, and the shirt sums up my dad.

Finally someone with something positive to say at Mardi Gras, thank you little lady.

Finally someone with something positive to say at Mardi Gras, thank you little lady.

Tragicomedy: The Laughter of The Dead

Tragicomedy:a play, movie, situation, etc., that is both sad and funny.

In moments of sadness, most people know to play it cool and somber. I have found however that I, along with a large majority of folks, find sadness, impossible situations, depression and even death of loved ones, quite humorous. It’s not that we, the mournfully happy, think it’s funny that say an ‘Aunt Peggy’ died, it’s more or less the situations surrounding her passing. It’s the people, it’s the strange and often hilarious ways we will cope with something as heavy as the subject of death. In short it’s our human qualities that make us laugh aloud at inappropriate times.

When my dad died, my family and I were waiting on the coroner. My folks farm house is sizable but felt rather small with myself and my husband, my brother and his wife, my Aunt and Uncle and last but not least a handful of cops and the emergency response team, all in two rooms of the house. At one point it was impossible to move.
After the shock of death and an hour and a half has passed, the practical sides of things started to surface. For instance, we have a dead body on our hands, yes it’s my father’s but it’s a dead body, there are rules to nature….and the coroner, I think, might be lost.
Things could get messy.
My dad once explained all this to a horrified me, over the phone, when my mom’s dad died. I don’t know if you are aware of what the body does after death, if not I’ll let you look that up yourself, but this was something my dad knew all too well. As a Navy Vet, one of his jobs when he was in Vietnam, was diving down into dark water and bringing up dead soldiers. So when my mom’s dad dies, naturally he was anxious for the coroner to come.
My Grandpa’s death was a long drawn out process. He was sick for months ahead of time and in the last two weeks of life, the family sat vigil with he and my Grandma in their front room. Once he finally passed on, I’m not sure if no one had eaten in days or if the loss just made everyone hungry, but either way it goes at some point someone lifted their head from their tear soaked lap and said , “Hey, anyone want a pizza? I sure am hungry!”. Apparently, everyone loved this idea because the family ordered Pizza. And sat. And ate. In the living room, with Grandpa, dead on a bed. It was at this point, my dad got nervous. I talked to him on the phone around this time and he said, “Maggie, we’re eating pizza here! I don’t want to be insensitive but If they don’t get Grandpa out of here soon, things are going to get messy.” I could tell he wasn’t saying this to be humorous, he was seriously concerned.
So, flash forward 6 years to my dad’s death, that night as I knelt beside the body of my father, this memory of my extended family having pizza around my deceased Grandpa popped into my head, all I could hear in my head was my dad’s voice, “Maggie, if they don’t get me out of here soon, things are going to get messy!” Inside I laughed and I may have let a smile escape my lips. I think I was starting to get panicked a bit myself thinking, “where is that damned coroner???” And then “Do I smell Pizza?”

The things that run through your mind when you are under stress, I think this must be a coping mechanism, a way to keep your body and mind from overload and a total nervous and mental breakdown.

As that night played out, I found myself relating to comedies that focus on death and family relations. I could easily see some of what was transpiring before my eyes, happening in a movie.

Once the coroner did arrive, she began to ask my mom questions, general ones, she was a kind woman and was right for the job. In a time of lost senses and incomparable pain, this lady showed grace and class and was very warm to talk with. As I was thinking this, I realized I was being asked a question by my mother. Would I help her take off daddy’s rings? I sighed a heavy sigh. See, this task was difficult in life, dad never took those rings off for a good reason, he couldn’t. They were permanently apart of him, stuck on his fingers. Now in death I was somehow supposed to be able to take them off? I wasn’t sure of the science behind this, But I grabbed the dish soap anyways and got to pouring.
My dad’s fingers covered in blue gloop, I noticed how immaculate his fingernails were, a habit he had learned from his dad. Not only were they filed nicely but they had shine as well, a shine that is brought on only by buffing. Anyways, after a few minutes each of lubing and tugging at his fingers, the rings were released, and subsequently my dad’s hands washed.
After this, I brewed some tea. My sister-in-law and I sat down and sipped at our mugs…which had a perfumed taste, like Dawn dish soap.

So much for tea….

We have to laugh. It oddly feels right when stressful situations arise. Our mind tries to beat us down and put a guilt trip on us for finding laughter in a horrid situation but the truth is, we’d all die of heart attacks due to stress if we didn’t find humor in some of this shit.
It has been over 4 months since my dad’s death and still there are things I am chuckling about, I laugh at his crazy habit of buying knic-knacks, the way he’d buy something new and walk around like the cat’s meow and take the time to explain why it was the best thing and how he got a real deal on it.
I am still laughing at some of the happenings surrounding the planning of his memorial and celebration. I think I will always.
Oddly, I can’t remember my dad’s laughter too much. Seems silly, it hasn’t been long but it’s one of those things, it’s something unexpected you assumed would just stick with you, but it hasn’t. I can explain what it sounds like but it’s like seeing your reflection in a rain drenched window, the edges and shadows are there but none of the detail. However, through all this tragicomedy, I can hear a silent whisper of a laugh, one my memory strains to recall and can only make out parts of, it’s the laughter of the now dead….. and somehow, it’s enough.

This is Grief (figuring it out, talking out loud)

To the person un-grieved, this is grief, raw and uncut.

I am angry. At you. At the world. At the person who asks me how my day is. I should just invest in name tags that say, “Hello My Name is Maggie, Before you ask, I’m shitty.”

Again, I m angry. At me, mostly. The time I should have taken, but didn’t. The words I should have spoken, but left unsaid. The past that I can’t re-write or wash away. I am angry at my poor judgment. This is the emotion that has taken me most by surprise, I expected sadness and even sickness, but anger was just a quick thought that I never expected to blossom into a reality.

So where are you? I long to talk and debate politics and talk about how stupid Obama is or how much you loved a documentary. I wouldn’t even mind a talk about religion right now…When I lay down at night or as I’m driving my truck, you will be the saint I pray to…Saint Billy, Pray for us.

Wait, I am still angry at you! Why didn’t you get help when you KNEW shit was sour? I’m being selfish right now and grasping for anything to hold on to. If I let all of it go, I am afraid in some small way that I will be letting you go and with you all my memories, our memories.

All the to do’s, all the cool clothing I was purchasing, all the top of the line shit I was buying, everything that seemed so important just a few weeks ago, are now just ‘things’. Just things.

And I don’t know how to deal with this grief ( a word I now puke out of my mouth upon saying, so vile).

But here I am and you, you are there on the other side and suddenly death doesn’t seem so bad when I know I have you waiting on the other side for me. I’ll see you when I get there, could be 60 years, could be 20, could be less or more, who knows how the hands of time will sweep us. But I’ll be there and I’ll see you, as you used to say, “here, there, or in the air.”.

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Parents (Phlegm!)

Well, let’s just say, that sometimes, the bar eats you. My daughter has been attending Knox College For Kids, taking art, Spanish and voice. This morning was a small little recital where MY daughter had TWO solos, Castle in A Cloud from Les Miserable and Stay by Rihanna. Drumroll, please!……………. I missed them both. Not because there was a family crisis, not because I worked, I simply had the wrong performance time in my head. I thought she went on an hour later than she actually did. I am reminded of the time when our dearest friend Julie showed up at our wedding as we were marching down the aisle just having been married. The look on her face of disappointment mingling with a little sadness, is the same look I envision plastered on our daughters beautiful face. I imagine her thinking, “Where are they? They said they’d be here!” and then, “They don’t love me, I knew not to trust those scoundrels. That’s it, I’m done with these parents!” And when she says ‘parents’, she says it with so much disgust, that the person next to her wonders if she’s choking on a gigantic phlegm ball trapped in her throat. 

My stomach is in knots, and all I can think about is how stupid of a mistake I made.
So, as parents (phlegm!) how much do we punish ourselves? Do I dwell on it all day, sulking like Alexander and his horrible, terrible, no good, very bad day? Thus making it more about me and my feelings than my daughter? I mean, I spoke to her on the phone and she seems fine, excited. When I picked her up, she again, was fine, excited and fully animated about what she has learned in the past two weeks. As I am driving the truck home, I wonder if her lack of concern over my absence is just her way of disarming me before her attack of “Why, Mom,Why!!!!! I trusted you to be there, this was my first solo I have ever preformed and you guys weren’t there! You are bad parents (phlegm!)”. Instead, when I apologized and explained my idiotic, totally avoidable mistake to her, she looked at me and smiled, then opened her mouth and said, ” Mom, it’s okay. I make mistakes all the time. I did a great job and it was fun!”. Dumbfounded. Do I over-estimate my power of parental support? Did I think she was going to crumble on stage if I or her daddy wasn’t present with her? Worst of all, did I under-estimate my daughters strength? Yes, yes and YES.

This past year with my daughter has taught me so many things about her. She is much stronger at 12 than I was at 20, she’s wiser too. She is going places, where I floundered and jumped from thing to thing at that age. I love and respect her focus. And, I totally under estimated her strength today.

But, I should have been there. Now, not because she would have crumbled without me, but because I wanted to witness her awesomeness.

As I think about me trying to explain myself to Hattie in the truck, dropping any thoughts of sabotage that I was sure she was planning, I now imagine her thinking, “Geeze mom, would you shut up! It’s fine, I’m fine.” and then rolling her mental eyeballs and adding, “Sheesh, Parents! (phlegm!)”

Good, Old Fashioned, Vampire Violence Brought to You by Hattie

Oh no, not another mother gushing about how amazing her child is! Sorry folks, but I am proud.

My daughter recently took second in a local writing contest here in Galesburg Illinois called, The Big Write. When I first found out about the contest, I asked her if she wanted to enter something. She said she would like to write a poem. Okay, I thought, that works. Since my child has recently become more interested in pop culture and with it pop music, I expected something that might resemble a love song or something flowery. I underestimated my daughter. I should have taken into account her love of ghost and horror stories, her admiration of R.L.Stine and her drawings, going all the way back to her toddler years of grave stones and, hold onto your seat, dead people in suit cases. The latter would be enough to send a regular parent into seizures, thankfully I am not very ‘regular’.  Having been very interested in dead things as a young one myself, I was not overly upset about it. Along with this, my husband and I are both drawn to skeletons of animals and the human skeletal structure, and what some might consider morose. So, why I was surprised when Hattie’s poem was about a blood thirsty vampire, and not the kind that sparkle and fall in love with depressed teenagers, is quite beyond me.

I think it signaled to me how much my little girl is growing up. She is coming into her own. While other girls are day dreaming about Robert Patton, my daughter is writing and keeping the tradition of a good old-fashioned flesh tearing vampire. Though I’d be blind if I didn’t think she picked up on Robert Pattons good looks.

Something else that has blown me away about her recently, is her want to  overcome fears. She has a chance to read her poem at the reception being held for the winners and their friends and family. She told me she would be too afraid and nervous to do so.  Meanwhile, she is looking over a two week summer school course  she will be involved in at Knox College here and deciding which courses she is interested in. She comes across one titled, ‘The Voice’, which is a class designed towards singing and learning how to present yourself on stage in order to sell your song and overcome stage fright. Hattie shows this to me and says, ” I want to do this so I can help myself and my nervousness.” Well hell yeah, we can do that. So though she may not read her poem aloud because of her nerves this time, she has a plan and wants to work to master her fears.

I suppose I have rambled long enough about how kick ass my kid is. So, without further adeiu, I give you Ayin Hattie-Belle Wren’s, “The Vampire’s Bite.

 

The Vampire’s Bite

As I drink the blood of my prey,

I’m happy to live another day.

No stake through the heart, no sunlight to tear me apart.

The sunlight turns me to dust, you see,

I am a vampire, unlike thee.


So, I hope you sleep tight tonight,

all snug in your bed, while I go off for a bite.

For, it might be your neck, it just might.

The Silver Lining to Medical Mayhem.

Finding the silver lining of a labeled “bad” thing, can sometimes feel like searching for a needle in a hay stack. Honestly, when bad things happen or even just slightly uncomfortable things, I try to look past it. Every day is a new challenge and there’s always something worse or someone in a situation whose troubles far outnumber my own.

This week it was a boy with cancer. My daughter has severe scoliosis and we are in the process of prepping her for surgery (no date as of yet). It is due to the Shriners Children’s Hospital that we are able to get through all this with very little financial strain. They are amazing. They set us up at The Ronald McDonald House so that we wouldn’t have to pay for a hotel room in Chicago. May I never say a bad thing about McDonald’s as long as I live. They were amazing. They gave my daughter a care package and let her pick out any toy she wanted. They wanted to be sure they helped us in any way possible. When I say they were amazing, I mean it, a Hilton hotel couldn’t have done any better. This brings me to the boy with cancer.

The first night we stayed at McD’s House, we went down to a home cooked dinner  (which was delicious by the way) and grabbed our food and sat down to eat. I looked over and there was this 6 year old boy who obviously had cancer . He was the most spirited young guy I have ever seen. He and his mom joked back and forth and he played and talked about toy cars.

I remember wondering what the mom was thinking, how often she  thought about what could happen to her little man. My daughter has scoliosis, she has two curves and they are putting enough pressure on her lungs and other areas of her body that she has pain and discomfort and because of this, she is being scheduled for an MRI and then, surgery. I worry. I think about it too long and it makes me cry. And the worst part isn’t the “disease”. It’s the fact that I can’t do anything to make her feel any better about the situation. I have no control over it. And it’s this thought and fact that makes me wonder what the hardest part is for the mom of the boy with cancer. In all actuality my daughter will have this surgery and be fine most of her life afterwards. The boy has to struggle and fight and it’s on the edge of a pin wether he recovers or not.

This week showed me how much worse things could be. How amazingly blessed or lucky I am to have the Shriners, the people at Ronald McDonald House and the support of good friends and family. As I type I have a friend who is preparing a care package for my daughter to help take her mind off of everything. I have a mom who was willing to drive 4 hours to Chicago after working all day, just so she could support me and Hattie. I have a husband to works his ass of and who loves his daughter like no other. I have two brothers and sister – in – laws who have checked in just to make sure they couldn’t help in any way. I have a friend clear in South Dakota who offered her help clear from there. I have a Grandmother who has called her prayer chain. I have two very amazing business partners and friends who have offered their home to us after her surgery as a place that will be easier for Hattie to get around in. They have offered to come pick us up in chicago as well. I have a friend and cousin who has watched my little boy so much this past month that she probably feels like she had another child but just can’t remember it. She has never said no. THAT is amazing. I also have bosses who let me off work whenever I need, no questions asked and they give me more hours if I want to make up the money lost.

I am lucky and blessed.

And if I can make the latter my focus, these next few months should be easier. I really am lucky, my daughter will come out okay, she will have challenges at first but we are lucky. I don’t want to lose sight of that.