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.

Did It Just Get Uncomfortable in Here? Or Death, Uncomfortably.

Anne Lamott said that writing and reading decreases the feelings of isolation. I have found this to be true. Sometimes reading someone else’s words make you realize, “Hey I’m not so nutty after all!” Or if you are that nutty, at least someone else is right there with you, racing you to the finish line. It is because of this honesty in writing that I desire beyond anything else, to be truthful about what matters, to paint a picture of raw emotion, unfiltered thoughts and to display humanity for all to see. I do this in the hopes that someone will read it and say, “Oh thank God, I’m not the only one.” 

This next bit of blog I have stood tipsy-like on the line, teetering between wanting to write it, feeling I should write it but also knowing that it has to be done with grace, a grace that quite honestly I am unsure I possess. The subject that intertwines itself with death, is about people who because of past situations or hurts, make the grieving process a bit harder for you.  So you see this blog, is a delicate one indeed, but again as Anne Lamott said, If people wanted you to write more warmly about them, they should have behaved better. I will attempt to give my truth with as much love and grace as I can.

A short story to get things going…..

There was a person, one who had shown my family great love through out the years. He helped support my family in a time when others bailed. He was a friend of my Dad’s and at one time a friend of my husbands and mine. Over time we found ourselves working closely professionally with this man. As business so often tends to do friendships, the kinship began to crumble. He began to talk nastily about my husband and I to our customers and in one account to my dad, putting him in a very terrible spot. What a horrible and confusing experience for everyone involved. So the relationship with this man diminished and long story short, he left the business. Since he was my dad’s friend, when my dad died, I called and told him and he was kosher over the phone. We decided to ask him to help seat people and help organize the last rights and salute with the Navy for Dad’s funeral, which He was happy to do and we were thankful for the help. I guess here is the rub, I was hoping that since a person we both loved had gone on, my father, his friend, we would be able to at least offer each other condolences at the funeral, not a water under the bridge scenario, but a human understanding of grieving.  I tried to make contact , I reached out my hand for his arm, he not only ignored it but avoided us the entire time. He didn’t say one word or even try to say hello.

I tell you this, not to run this person in the ground, he has his good qualities and we tried to see eye to eye with him but couldn’t. Please don’t think I am taking the high road here, or that I am trying to make myself look good. In all honesty there have been days where all I could think about was the ruin of this man, I was so angry. There are still moments that I want to see him fail. I know it’s not right, I know this anger is something I will continue to fight . I also know I am not the only one to encounter this behavior at the death of a loved one.  I write about this to approach a subject I have yet to find talked or written about, relational awkwardness or outright  angst in some situations, at a funeral. You would think bygones are bygones when someone dies, that all bets are off and hey, can’t we just love one another, ya dig? But as it turns out, the oddest things come forth, our true nature and our humanity rears their heads, for better or for worse. Whether it is relational difficulties are petty arguments, we all fall victim to the things that aren’t the point. The point being the man we all love who now fits into an eloquently carved shoebox-sized wooden container.

So I write about it. Why? Maybe to get it off my mind and chest. It is a lonely feeling, isolating. As Anne Lamott said, we read so we don’t feel so isolated, perhaps I write for the same reason. As much as I write it to be read, I also write it because I NEED it to be read so I am not kept prisoner with it. The death of a loved one brings about all kinds of feelings that really have nothing to do with that person but because it relates somehow, even vaguely, it digs it’s knife a little deeper and then, it twists. I feel rotten for allowing these feelings and thoughts to be mixed up with the healing process of losing my dad. I think though, this might be a natural part of letting go, and we all have to at some point, let go. That doesn’t mean we forget, but it does mean we have control over what we will allow to influence our life, our anger or our willingness to let go which will allow us to move forward and walk in peace.

As everything goes, it all boils down to choice, what will I allow in my life? For now I’ll say,

It’s a waste of energy to be angry with a man who behaves badly, just as it is to be angry with a car that won’t go” Bertrand Russel

 

Right now, I choose to move forward and Let go.

And I also choose to have one giant bowl of ice cream.

 

The Honest Truth About Clown Noses on Dead Men and Grammar’s Big Screw You

 

clownI have been starting out a lot of paragraphs and blogs with ,”when someone dies” and this paragraph, in this blog, will be no different. Sorry folks but my dad is dead and this is how I deal with it. You definitely don’t have to read it, there are countless other nameless bloggers like me out there waiting for your ready mind, So…..

…When someone dies,  Everything is changed and I do mean EVERYTHING. For starters, there’s the shock of it. You lose it. In my case I bellowed. I am not sure I knew what a bellow sounded like until I heard it resonate from my own mouth. I had no idea my mouth could make noises like that. I am sure my downstairs neighbor thought I was having a nervous breakdown but hey that’s death. Try it. See what you do. We went to my folks home as soon as we could. I remember pulling around the corner from their house and my husband saying, “Maggie, do you need to take a moment? Your Dad’s body will be there still, are you prepared for that?” My dad’s body…. Every time I go visit my mom now, there’s not a moment when I am coming around that bend that I don’t think of that night and that specific moment. Seeing Dad, there, it was a last chance to tell his physical body how much we loved him. What made dad who he was had left that night , Clearly, this was just a shell, the proof of our decomposing bodies beginning to be evident on his.

Now, this is where my family’s strange comes out. My dad spoke often about things he would like at his funeral and this changed from one year to the next, but he said he wanted a clown nose to wear at his funeral so people would laugh. Just before he died, he decided he would like to be cremated. He died so suddenly that we didn’t have a chance to ask, “But dad, what about the clown nose?” As if that was the most important thing ever. And of course it was, because it was one of the only things we KNEW dad wanted. So at the visitation, which was just us kids and mom, we brought Dad a clown nose and we put it on him. Then, we left the room ( I’m pretty sure my mom second guessed this part).

I can only imagine what the folks at the funeral home must have thought. I can hear them discussing it, “Say Tom, maybe he was a clown?” Then Tom in an angry voice, “No, they had no respect for the dead, this poor old man, ungrateful asses! ” I often wonder what happened to the nose, did they cremate him with it on or did it get thrown away? Or perhaps saved in some sort of box labeled “things left behind”, a sort of memory box for the undertakers to pull out on slow days and talk and laugh about. Who knows.

After the visitation, everything greets you like a bright summer sun on the morning of your worst hangover. In fact, you do feel hung-over, come to think of it. Your grief has now made you physically ill. On top of this you must contend with the people who love you and say the most beautiful things, so beautiful, in fact, that it pisses you off. But people want to help even if it’s a seemingly helpless situation and even if it’s something as simple as saying ‘I’m here”. Even though I’m going through my own grief, others around me are trying to figure out how to help that and just as I feel helpless , so do they in their desire to help.

And so present becomes past when someone dies. It’s like it was put on hyper-speed, and Grammar just said “Screw you!” Suddenly you find yourself using words like ‘was’ in place of ‘is’. Your verbs get all jangled up, and if that’s not bad enough you are constantly having to stop yourself mid sentence to correct your grammar, “I’m sorry, I mean my dad liked chocolate pie.” It becomes awkward a moment and you think, do I tell them he’s dead? Or would that be weird? Shit it’s already weird, it can’t get weirder, right? So, you blurt out, “He’s dead now.”

Aaaaand you were wrong, it just got a little bit weirder.

 

 

 

 

Accepting Absence and Doing The Best You Can

There comes a point in grief when you know that if you don’t move forward and get back to ‘normal'( which by the way has changed forever), You will stay in mourning and essentially carry a corpse who never asked to be carried. And maybe that’s harsh or too raw but it is the only way I can put it. My dad is dead, something I am still not used to. He would be in pain to see any of us so desperate in our movements due to his absence, he would say to us to throw down his corpse and celebrate his spirit and move forward.

But how do we move on?

There are days, as I have discussed with my mom, days where I feel like I have a handle on all of this. I’m doing the ‘normal’ things. My house gets cleaned, my kids get fed  and all the day is done with no effort and I smile and laugh. Then there are days like yesterday, where everything feels like extra effort.

Yesterday I spent the day out with my husband, kid free, with friends at a record store. It was a lot of fun and much needed. Even though I was having a good time, I could not get Dad out of my head, it wasn’t his death that bothered me, it was his absence. I have accepted his death but I realize I have yet to accept his absence.

Being around people and music  brought Dad to mind. He loved people and he loved music. I came across a reel to reel of Credence Clearwater Revival at the Record store. Immediately I thought of him and I almost bought it , like it was a piece of him I could purchase. I smartly did not purchase it. Later, out behind the store, a friend of mine started talking about an old friend of theirs who was a Vietnam Vet. His nickname was ‘Handsome Jack’. My dad, a Vietnam Vet, created an ‘alternate personality’ he called Jack. ‘Jack’ made the bed, did the dishes and posted little funny quotes on his facebook profile. It sounds nutty and perhaps my dad was a little off the curb from mainstream society, but ‘Jack’ was something we all loved, and Dad got a kick out of using the name for the hell of it.

So where am I going with this?

I guess my point is this, just when you think you have a handle on something, you realize you were only holding on to the skirt-tail. How quickly it rips from the weight of that which you had no idea you were carrying. Dad is everywhere.

But, we move forward. At some point we decide to either live in mourning the rest of our life, or we somehow move forward until the pain becomes a little less and the little reminders of Dad, instead of bringing us to tears, will bring us to laughter and smiles. I see it happening now, it’s just a little slow coming.

One thing I have learned through this is that there is no right ‘way’ to mourn. There is no instruction manual for the appropriate response or guide on how long we should wear our sackcloth of ashes. There is also no instruction manual for moving forward. We don’t know how we do it, we just do.

My good friend Terri Rousey gave my husband and I a card when we had our daughter Hattie, inside the card was advice that I have cherished. Though it was meant for child-rearing , I think it applies here. It said that you do what you think is right, and when that fails, you do the best you can.

Well, I am not sure what’s right at this moment but I am doing the best I can and for now at least,  that’s okay. For now, I’ll ride those skirt-tails and perhaps soon I’ll have hold of the whole damn skirt.

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“Glad You Got to See Me”

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Tomorrow marks one month of the world no longer housing my Dad. He was always bigger than life, and a month ago the bastard proved it and up and left. We were/are shocked and broken. All the clichés come rushing to your side when death happens. You find yourself saying things like, “I can’t believe it”, or “It doesn’t seem real” or in this case, a cliché feeling, it feels like time has stopped for me and my family but the rest of the world continues to spin and roll as she does.

I have reflected more and more on my dad’s life and on all the stories he told me and others. I have thought about how terrible he felt the past couple of months before his death but how he never did anything less than greet people with a smile and joke around. Before he’d leave a place, quite often he would say to me or who ever, ” Well, glad you got to see me.” It was the best one upper ever. I mean, what do you say in response? It’s a trump statement. I always chuckled and it caught most people off guard at first and then they too would laugh.

I hadn’t thought about him saying this until this morning, it’s amazing that some of the most ordinary or common place things that were my dad have stayed hidden in my mind. Things he said or did all the time are just now being remembered. I don’t know why this is. It bothers me a bit and makes me feel like I’m forgetting and I so badly don’t want to forget a thing. Perhaps, they are being time released for a reason. But the statement, “Glad you got to see me”, is both comforting and painful. It is painful because now it is such a final statement. It is, however, of comfort because I can hear him saying it and I can see his face smiling and if he would have had final words to share with us, I think perhaps these might have been among them. Glad you got to see me.

I am truly glad I ‘got to see him’. It is impossible to put in one or even a thousand blogs what he meant in my life or in others. He left me little crumbs of happiness though, with all the little quotes that he would say over and over again and with the scent of patchouli that never came out of your shirt after hugging him. Anytime I hear the jingling of Keys I will think of him. Anytime I hear  Bob Segar, Bob Dilan, Willie Nelson, Joe Cocker, CCR. The Supremes, soul music of any kind or anything with a good beat, I will always think of him. Anytime I watch a documentary, I will think of him.  And finally, anytime I see a one legged man, I will think of him. He left me and my family many touch stones to remember him by and each time I come across one I imagine him saying “Glad you got to see me sis.”

I’m glad I got to see you too, dad.

 

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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