Coaster to Coast.

Roller coasters at their best. We expect some kind of relief, but the hills keep coming.
And the waves—oh, the waves!—splash over my head before I can take a proper breath.
But I love the ocean, and who doesn’t love the thrill of a coaster?
Coaster to coast I flit, whiplashed and tired.
Bob and sway, bob and sway.
Mayday, mayday!
Operator, stop the ride! I’m out of energy and tickets to spend.
I never remember walking onto the beach, stepping onto the pier with the ride that never stops.
Excuse me, miss, where are we? Sir, can you tell me time or place?
Faces blurring past, I think I catch yours but it’s gone.
This place has a vague quality to it, as if I’ve dreamt about it before,
but the edges are blurry, and even when I touch things they don’t feel real.
It’s all sensation.
The woman who sits next to me in the front seat whispers, “How do you feel?”
How do I feel?
“Tired,” I answer.
“That’s not a feeling,” she winks, and I know that I’ve been false.
But the motions tells her all I cannot say.
Motions conveying emotions—
A far more efficient conveyance.
Conveyor belts bring us higher and higher again
And I smile for a moment as the sea air hits me
Because though I still fear the waves I relish not being in them.
The smell is satisfying. It speaks of survival.

But I know what’s coming.

We climb until we think we’ll touch the clouds,
But the lurch comes and I’m facing the sea and I’m not ready.
We’re tipping and flying and falling and why aren’t we stopping?
Why aren’t we pointing upward again?
And then we cascade into the sea.
Waves return the favor by cascading over us.
Over me. Only me.
Were the others ever there?
I want to find them but the undertow requires my attention.
It tugs at my ankles, soft fingers locking around my legs and

I’m under and the water floods my eyes as memories pool behind them.
The taste of fear on my lips.
And the sea, I let her take me somewhere new.

—————

I recently lost my grandfather, and this came at a time in my life when I was finally setting out on the road of accepting and grieving my father’s death. I think this poem is my commitment to the journey–to not running away from it this time. Even though I am pained and afraid, I will make this trip to recovery. I know it’s what they would both want for me.

Reminders.

Last week I learned that my grandfather has advanced, aggressive cancer. He’s ninety, and he’s lived a good life, but neither of those facts make this easier on any of us.

This news comes at a time in my life when I’m finally working toward getting through my dad’s death. As I’ve said before, my father’s death is something from which I’ve been running for almost six years now, so to have this put on top of me when I’m finally trying to move forward makes the whole process feel that much more daunting. It’s just too similar. The waiting. The long, drawn-out agony of waiting for the death you’re so afraid of. I feel myself picking up pieces and sprinting as far away from this as possible, but I’ve already started my journey in the other direction, so it’s too much of a disservice to myself to abandon the effort and run away.

I’ve been led to remember some pieces from my past lately, mostly concerning my dad. I’m amazed by how little I remember about my childhood and those years in which grief fogged up my life. I’m startled as to how little I remember about him, but it makes sense. It’s a defense mechanism, sure, and I’m not sure if I’m ready to remember. I’m not afraid of what I’ll find–I know there are things in our past that are painful–but I think I’m more worried about the nostalgia that comes with the territory. If I remember what it was like, I might want that past to be my present again. That’s an impossibility, obviously, so why put myself through the pain of wanting something so completely unattainable?

I get that I should honor his memory just like I should honor the time my grandfather has left with us, but it’s all too painful and close to the surface at the moment. I’m dreading Father’s Day even more fervently this year than I usually do. My entire family is going out to lunch to honor my grandpa, which is a nice idea, but the restaurant they chose is the restaurant we went to right after my dad’s funeral. That is the only time we’ve been there as a family, and it’s pretty much the only time I remember ever being there. I don’t want to be back there, especially since it’s going to be another time of pain. It’s going to be hard for everyone, but it’s going to be the worst on me. On the surface that kind of sounds selfish, but for once I actually carry some kind of resentment and anger. It’s so unfair that my mom and her siblings have had their father for more than fifty years. I had mine for fourteen. It’s just not fair.

I hate that petty “it’s not fair” stuff because it doesn’t get my anywhere, but that’s where I am in relation to this process. I’ve never been allowed to be angry or frustrated or emotional. I realized only yesterday how silent I was forced to be in my dad’s death. Lawsuits really do complicate things, and I was taught to be suspicious of almost everyone. I was told not to talk about it, and somewhere along the line it really stuck. That’s at least part of the reason why thinking and talking about it now are so foreign to me.

This is all disjointed and not nearly as eloquent as I usually like my work to be, but nothing in the grieving process is neat and tidy. It bleeds over into everything, leaving stains and marks you try to scrub out but never truly can. There are no rights and wrongs, no do’s and don’ts, no map to follow. I find my journey is a series of starts and stops. I picture myself as a sprinter, but one that doesn’t have enough energy to clear the hurdles, so every time a hurdle appears in my lane, I crash into it. Then into another, and another, and another until I sit down and wait for my muscles stop aching enough for me to run again.

As I said before, everything feels too similar, and it’s jogging memories of what life was like when my dad was in the hospital. Yesterday I was reminded of how little support I had in high school, at least in the beginning. I lacked true support in a lot of ways, and I didn’t find really helpful people until my junior and senior years. By then a lot of the damage was done; I had taught myself how to suppress feelings and memories, so that support didn’t do as much as it would have when I was 14 and 15. This time around though, as someone was smart and kind enough to point out, I’m not alone. I do have an abundance of support at this moment in my life, so if ever there were a right time to work through grief, it’s now. My fear, as always, is overburdening other people, but right now my need for comfort far outweighs the guilt I might feel. I have to keep reminding myself that I’ll be able to repay them later somehow. I really have to believe that, and then I’ll feel more comfortable with what I need to do now.

I’m lucky, though, to have so much support. That’s what I choose to focus on a lot of the time, especially now when things seem to be so difficult. For now I’d rather write and think about the amazing relationships I presently have and how they’re helping me along. Later I’ll be able to think about the relationships that I’ve lost or are about to lose, but gaining strength is one of my main goals at the moment. I’ll do what I need to do to get there. I’m not weak by any means, but I’m not yet strong enough to clear the hurdles.

And you know what? Right now, that’s completely okay.

The Weary Traveler and the Girl Who Fell.

Opening the door I found the monster I had drawn pictures of in my mind, but he had quite a bigger jaw than I had imagined.

They call this a process–a journey–and say that there will be missteps and stumbles along the way, but I feel I might have to claw my way across the ground before I can even hope to have missteps. They don’t tell you that there’s a good chance you’ll fall right out of the starting gate, and the soil in your mouth tastes gritty and bitter. Bruised knees. Bloodied elbows. Breathe the scent of earth and lie there, hoping to God that someone comes back and realizes you’re not moving along. It rains. It’s cold. Trying, trying to get some strength to pick myself up off the ground, but everything hurts and it’s so cold and I want to go home. Home is with you, but you’re not here.

And as I lie there, eyes closed and mind tired, I hear cautious footsteps. A gentle hand on my back and the soft whisper of, “It’s okay.” An understanding. Someone sits on the ground next to me, knowing it hurts. Knowing it’s cold and oppressive and that getting up is not as simple as moving muscles. Someone becomes something, becomes hope, becomes light, becomes a piece of the key needed to unlock the shackles that cut and bind. The road is the same for us weary travelers, you and me, and though we may travel at different paces, at the end of the day we try to make a camp in the same place so that we may share the same fire. Dark isn’t as dark when “me” becomes “us,” and something that’s bigger than me cannot be bigger than us. “Us” is big. “Us” is strong. “Us” is the fortification against a terrifying travel through a land no one can face without holding the hands of another.

Your voice, unwavering and low, cuts through the haze of pain. Your voice, kind and patient, stirs movement in my joints and I can sit. I can lean against your shoulder and feel something other than hurt. A blanket against the cold. You’re cold, too–I know you are–so we stay close together and wait for the rain to stop. I’m still so near the beginning, so near the door with the monster, that I cannot see even the first bend in the road, but you’ve been there and tell me that it’s not too far from here. I believe you because I want to. I believe you because I trust you.

For now I will sit next to you, soaking up your presence, basking in the feeling of not being alone. You can leave anytime you want to, but for now you choose to stay next to the girl who tripped coming out of the gate. You can leave anytime you want to, and I’ll make it to the next bend. Just know that the clouds are fewer and the days are warmer when you’re whispering, “It’s okay” with the confidence of someone who’s seen the dark but chooses light. And despite myself I find a voice in the back of my mind that says, “Don’t leave,” even though I should know how to walk this alone. I should. I do.

But I don’t have to, and that’s what makes all the difference.

The Long Road.

My past is something that I’ve been running from for six years now. Typically I keep my thoughts and feelings to myself when it comes to my dad for many reasons:

1. It’s really difficult for people to find the “right” thing to say when you speak of loss, but really it’s more about the listening part than the speaking part. What I find interesting is that even though I have experience with difficult loss, I still find it hard being there for people who are going through the same thing. It shows how individualized the grief process is; when someone doesn’t handle grief the same way I do, I feel as though I’m doing more harm than good when we talk. (But when someone does handle things similarly, it’s amazing because we can understand each other on an extremely deep level.) Anyone who has lost someone knows how inadequate the phrase “I’m sorry” can feel, yet when we go to console someone else, what is the first phrase that pops into our heads? The idea is not to take the words at face value but rather brush them aside and get to the sentiment. I don’t want people to avoid me or avoid talking about what has happened to me because they don’t know what to say. It’s not the saying but the being there that really counts in the end.

2. It seems too personal even though it’s a universal human experience. There are some stories in our lives that are deeply personal, and we keep them to ourselves until others earn the right to know them. I could be friends with someone for three years and not tell them a damn thing about my father’s death, yet there could be someone I’ve known for a month that gets every single detail. It’s a feeling thing. Stories and memories are a kind of currency we exchange in order to become closer to another person. If we follow this metaphor, this story, the most defining of my life, is worth all of the chips. It’s the most emotional thing I have to give of myself, so in order to earn it someone has to be really important to me. Otherwise, I don’t feel anyone has the right to know.

3. I’m afraid. I am so damn afraid every single day of my life of having to come to terms with this. My last entry shows the optimism I cling to in order to keep orientation in my life, but the truth is, I haven’t dealt with this. I can see the positives of it, and I have to in order to start my journey through grief therapy. I’ve been running for six full years, but I’m tired of running. It’s not fair to my father’s memory, either, for me to run from my feelings about him. I need to start talking–a lot. I can’t be silent about a person who was part of my life every single day for fourteen years. I cannot ignore half of my genetic makeup just because it hurts so damn much. He’s my father. He’s always going to be my father, and he’s always going to take up an enormous part of my heart. Right now, that part of my heart isn’t healthy. It hurts. It’s dark. It deserves to be brought out into the light, and the response I received from total strangers in my last entry made me realize that I am never going to be alone in this. I know that people in my life are willing to be there for me, but to know that there is an entire online community ready to support each other through a terribly difficult time gives me so much hope. Thank you, everyone. It means so much.

So this list? Yeah, it’s going to disappear. I’m taking out the gag. This is my blog, and so often I try to tailor it to an audience. “No one wants to read this depressing shit. Lemme right about something funny or sarcastic.”

Well, yes, I can still write that stuff because I do enjoy writing it, but I have to be concerned about myself and this long healing process. If I can use this blog as a tool, great. If someone else can find comfort in my experience through the land of mourning, even better. If I can help even one person navigate this awful land, I will have done something truly beautiful. Really, that’s all I can ask for.

So, what do you say? Shall we walk the road together?

The Positives of Grief.

To say that to grieve and to have lost is a positive thing seems on the surface to be something insensitive and illogical. Even the words “loss” and “grief” conjure up images of unbelievable pain and sorrow, and, believe me, I cannot argue with such correlations. However, in every loss there is something beautiful, and even loss does not have the word “forever” stamped on it.

I know as well as anyone, if not better than most, that the road of healing after losing a loved one to the cold hands of death is a path that presents hardships no one can imagine. Each person’s journey through grief brings them to different obstacles; grief is an intensely personal experience, and no one can lump a group of people together and tell them a proper way to grieve because everyone has a different experience. On top of that, we all have our unique ways of dealing with hardships, and it can be difficult at times to even find a common denominator. Some people internalize everything, some people go into denial, some people outwardly fall apart, and some do all of these things at the same time. There’s no real way to predict or neatly describe what a person’s experience is, was, or is going to be.

There is a common thread, though, and it concerns both the mourners and the one being mourned–those whom we love will live on regardless of their presence on this little earth. I’m not talking about Heaven or the after-life, even though I believe in those things. What am I talking about, then?

Whenever you meet someone, whether it be the day you’re born or at the end of your life, you start to form a bond with them. If you’re lucky–really lucky–this bond becomes a true link between two souls, a common line of communication that we try to assign mortal words like “love” or “friendship.” The truth is, a bond with someone is more than what we’re equipped to describe, which is why grief is something so profound and troubling. When we mourn, we realize that we have lost something so beautiful it injures us at the deepest level possible. However, in loving someone, we internalize a lot of who that person is. In essence, they live in us. In any good relationship, there comes a point when you give enough to another person that they carry little bits of you with them wherever they go. The converse is true. Whenever someone tells you a personal story or shares a memorable experience with you, you unknowingly get a piece of them. We often try to think of souls in terms that we can understand and quantify, but really, is a soul something that has dimensions or can be confined in a small amount of space? One soul can dwell in many bodies by its influence and its light, and friendship, love, and family all encompass this exchange and sharing of souls.

When someone closes his eyes never to return to the mortal world, many get the idea of the one singular soul leaving the body to go wherever they believe souls go when we’re finished with life. What happens to those other parts of the soul that are living inside of that person’s closest companions? Do those pieces go, too? No. They remain here with those who cherish them most, and this is something so profoundly beautiful and hardly understood. While we can no longer physically see the person or touch them, we can look inside of ourselves and find the person exactly as we always loved them. We can even see them in things around us–a camera, a beam of light slanting across the floor, a butterfly. We are never without those we love; they live inside of us, and we keep them alive by remembering–and by grieving. To pretend that the deceased never existed is not only to do them a great disservice, but it’s also to try to kill off a part of yourself.

Many people, me included, avoid grief because of the pain. If you’ve ever lost someone, you know how immense the pain is, and it’s terrifying to think that you have to battle something so strong for such a long time. But there’s something incredible and stunning in the pain of loss: there was something to lose. Feeling such devastation is an indication that you experienced something so cherished in having that person in your life. You feel intense pain because you had intense love, and that’s something amazing, isn’t it? To have someone to lose in the first place is a gift, and even though losing a loved one is the most difficult thing to face, take comfort in the fact that the person you lost lives in you and so many others.

Almost everyone will go through the tragedy of losing a parent at some point in their lives. I have. It’s some of the deepest pain this life can cause. It’s hard to tell myself that it’s beautiful to have been loved by my father because his love was expected, just like every child hopes and expects their parents to love them. It’s hard to find that beauty in having loved, but the fact that I am the living, breathing embodiment of my father far outweighs that. My dad lives in me, and every parent lives inside of their child. It’s a biological fact as much as an emotional one. I can feel him when I look in the mirror and see his nose. I can feel him when I hold the viewfinder of a camera to my eye. I can feel him when I watch Monty Python. He is everywhere because he lives on in me. Our parents will always live in us more than anyone, so to lose a parent, while it’s unbearably painful, isn’t really to lose a parent. It’s horrible, but it’s bearable only for the fact that we can feel them all around us even after they are gone. They shape us, they guide us, and they are us in every way. We all say that we don’t want to turn into them, but after they’re gone, it’s a comfort to know that we could.

Grief is powerful, but it is born from something even more beautiful and profound: love, our comfort and our reason for living.