loss

I will hold you up

My BFF and I came to each other rather late in our childhood — we were 45 — but I think we have made up for the years apart and then some. We met because her second child and my one and only were in the same Kindergarten class. We have evolved far beyond school-parent friends and have melded into family. It all happened very quickly. And I am thankful for her every day.

In September, on my BFF’s birthday, her grandmother died. Annie was 99 years young and was the very definition of a Babba. She loved her children, her grandchildren, her grandchildren’s children, and her great-great-grandchildren with an unbelievably open heart. Hell, she loved BoyGenius as if he was her very own great-grandchild right from the day she met him. She had lived through some things, she had come out, and she kept on living. And loving. I loved her, and I miss her.

At the beginning of this week, on Sunday night, while in hospital fighting pneumonia, my BFF’s mother had a massive stroke. She died Monday morning at the age of 79. This second unbelievably strong woman from this family passed away so unexpectedly that we are all still reeling. Shirley was a seemingly tireless worker who took care of everyone and everything. She was the glue that held her family community together. This loss, so close on the heels of Babba’s passing and coming so without warning is like being hit by a tetherball in full swing — the force and ensuing vibration have rocked us to our cores. I loved her, and I will miss her (it hasn’t really sunk in yet).

I know that my friend will find it exponentially more difficult to come through this than I will. I know that her head and heart are filled with regret and “if only”s. I know that her heart is broken and her spirit is only hanging on by the thinnest of threads. I know that words are cold comfort and even actions may go unnoticed right now. I’m doing what I can, including driving across country this evening so I can be there with her, for whatever she needs.

As I enveloped her in my arms on Monday afternoon I promised her one thing: “I will hold you up as long as you need.” The palpable release of even a little bit of tension was all the thanks I needed. I love her and I don’t want to have to miss her.

Categories: family, friendship, loss, love | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

musings (on death, in this case)

The first line of this crept into my head as I was peanut-buttering my toast this morning. No idea why, but I thought I had better sit down and find some paper pretty quickly (kind of like that split second when you know you’re about to throw up), so I did just that. And ended up with this:

 

I have held the hand of Death
as it invades and seeks to usurp
the breath of Life in a loved one’s body.
While Death is not pretty and Death is not proud,
wanting and waiting to snuff out the Life within,
it does seem to care for the shell and the skin without.
Rarely have I felt a hand so soft or smooth
as one struggling to hold on to another day or two.
Skin stretched taut over cheekbone and brow
may seem a grotesque mask to some,
but if so then surely one made from the finest silk
with nary a furrow or crease.
It is almost as if Death, knowing its own reputation
doth proceed, has searched for some small way
to repay the great sacrifices made,
and understanding that family and friends may be holding fast,
offers the only softness it knows,
one of gentle touch.

 

As I said, I don’t know where this came from, I only know it had to come out.

Categories: loss, love, words | Tags: , , , , , , | 2 Comments

I said no

My good friend, arguably my best friend, asked a favour of me yesterday: would I keep an eye on her house while she and her family were on vacation? Not an unreasonable request. I’ve done it before. I know she thought I would say yes but as we stood in her entryway I hesitated. Then she said, “You don’t have to say yes.” I said I would have to think about it and I would let her know — not really aware of the fact that she and the kids were leaving today, until she said, “Well, M (her husband) will still be here for another week, so you can just come pick up the key.I said no. Standing right there, about 75 seconds after I had told her I would have to think about it, I looked at her and said, “I’m going to say no. I don’t think I can do it.” (And let’s not even talk about the key, okay?)

I left, and for the next, oh I don’t know, 12 hours or so, was having all kinds of agita because I said no to her. What kind of a friend am I? Haven’t I told her time and again that she can always ask me for help if she needs it? That I will always be there/here for her? That she should never feel like she’s taking advantage of me? Yep. And I said no.

Listen, I’m still not settled. But you know what? She doesn’t want to ask me for help anymore. She doesn’t want to ask me for anything. We’ve had a not-necessarily-troublesome-but-still-not-normal (for us) relationship over the past 10+ months. It has seemed to me that she has withdrawn from the friendship, even felt like I had been cut out of her life. I questioned her about that, she said it wasn’t her intention and she would try to be a better friend. I pointed out that I didn’t need her to be a “better” friend, I just needed her to be the friend that she always had been.

So, we work together at our kids’ school, running the biggest annual fundraiser that we put on. We have to see each other, we have to go places together, we have to make it work. And it does indeed work well, we work well together. And it did work again this year. And then, it was back to this distance between us. We’d see each other at the gym once or twice a week, but that was it.

The school year ended, we had no contact for about the first three weeks of summer vacation, and then we both went out with a mutual friend for a girls’ night. I hadn’t really even known she was coming with us. We talked a bit, but we were in a group. A few days later I got a text asking if BoyGenius and I would like to join her, her three kids and two additional children at a local pool/park. BoyGenius was away so I said thank you, but no. The next week BG and I were going to swim at another local pool and I thought I’d be nice and ask them to come along. Her kids would rather stay at home with their own little pool, would we like to come there. Since her son is my son’s best friend, and they hadn’t seen each other in a while, either, we said yes. It was an enjoyable enough afternoon, but things still don’t seem right.

Another couple of weeks have gone by, her son spent 5 days/nights at my house, we all went out for dinner once, and now we’re pretty much caught up in the timeline. I was out shopping the other day and as I walked into a store, a gorgeous blouse caught my eye, and the first thought I had was how good it would look on my bff, so I bought it for her. Took it to her yesterday because I knew they would be leaving for vacation soon. That’s when she says,”Oh, since you’re here, ….” And that’s when I said no.

Here’s the thing. I know, I said I would always help her if she needed it; I said she could ask me anything; I said I would take care of her. Those things haven’t changed. They are not now untruths. I have not forsaken her. But that’s not what this was. At least not how I see it. This almost felt like being taken for granted. Or something like that. I don’t know, maybe I overthink things sometimes (definitely) and maybe this is one of those times (definitely), but I think if she had talked to me about it even, say, two weeks ago, I probably would have said yes. But she didn’t. So I said no. I mean, what if I hadn’t stopped by? Would I have gotten a text a few days later? Did she just mis-plan her time and not get it done? Did she ask someone else who cancelled at the last minute? Did she forget? I don’t know. We don’t really talk that much anymore so I don’t really know what’s going on in her life.

So here we are. I said no. And I feel bad. Sort of (definitely). Bad enough that I had to write it out. And now I feel bad about that. Like I’m somehow betraying the friendship because I’m telling you all about it. Not her. But I don’t have the opportunity to talk to her about it, and I’m pretty sure she won’t want to hear it anyway. A few months ago I got a “You know you can talk to me about anything, right?” and I responded with a “You know that’s not true anymore, right?” It didn’t go any further.

Maybe I was right all along during my childhood: I never actually had a BEST FRIEND. I had my neighbour across the street who I would consider my best friend, but I know I wasn’t hers. I didn’t stick with any particular group of friends through public school or hang with any one clique in high school. I was a floater. I think I may have been better friends with my teachers than with any of my classmates. And you know what? — it worked! I survived all the bff drama because I never had to deal with it. Until now — at age 50. Great. This and pimples, too. Welcome to adultolescence.

Whatever. I said no. I SAID NO. I’m sure I’ll feel better about it by the time she gets back in two weeks. Maybe. Probably (not). Perhaps. For sure.

Maybe. I hope so.

Categories: friendship, loss, love | Tags: , , , | 6 Comments

amy

I went to see AMY yesterday.

I knew I wanted to see this movie from the moment I became aware of its existence. I knew I would love it. I knew I would leave the theatre angry, frustrated, sad, and smiling.

There wasn’t really anything in the movie that I didn’t already know; no secret confessions; no deep, dark revelations; no surprises. And I’m not anywhere near to being what you would call an obsessed, huge, or even big fan of Amy Winehouse.

There it is: I’m just some average music lover who appreciated the genius of a young singer-songwriter — and I knew all about her.

What is it about us, as a people, that makes us think we have any right to know everything there is to know about celebrities? Why do we build people up to impossible heights, making it equally impossible for them to lead any sort of normal life, and then revel in their inevitable downfall? Listen, I know she had problems, I know she was a substance abuser, I know she had an eating disorder. I know that the general public is not directly responsible for her death, but come on! Truly, I think we all need to take a good hard look at the way we treat the artists we love: actors, musicians, writers. We think someone does a great job, is fantastic at what they do; we admire their artistry, their talent, their gift. Then we harangue and harass them, chasing them down, following their every move, feeling like we deserve to be a part of their lives. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy seeing photos of my favourite artists. But I like to see what they choose to share with us. I don’t like, nor do I or anyone else need to see celeb x caught in an illicit lip-lock with celeb y after midnight in some swanky club, or celeb z stumbling to the curb having been tossed out of a neighbourhood burger joint. It’s none of my business. It’s none of your business. It’s certainly not the business of 142 photographers. We have created this mess. Every living soul has a derailment or two or twenty-eight over the course of their lifetime; we don’t need to try and make every single one of them into a massive train wreck.

Look, I know the drill: the person who needs help has to want the help. You can’t make someone go to rehab and expect that it will stick at all if they don’t want to be there in the first place; but you sure as hell aren’t helping them any by telling them they’re fine and don’t need to go. Amy Winehouse was possessed of a tortured soul. Her struggles gave her the foundation for her artistic expression. She wrote what she lived and I don’t doubt that she relived those experiences every time she breathed life into them on the stage. She was a poet. She was brilliant; she was young; she was scared; she was in over her head. She was sweet; she was funny; she was smart. She was like a firework: we hear the sizzle, the whoosh, the lead-up; then there’s this awe inducing flash, an explosion of colour and light interrupted by the bang/pop that we know came first but just couldn’t keep up; then gone — the absence of the light and colour so stark that you can almost feel it; and we’re left with a lingering puff of smoke dissipating into the atmosphere much faster than we would like.

This movie. I grinned. I chuckled. I grooved. I clenched my jaw. I shook my head. I laughed out loud. I smiled a lot. I cried. I sang. I was prepared for all of the feelings. Some of it was hard to watch, even though I knew what was happening. I had seen it on the news, after all. Some of it was fantastic, simply mesmerizing. I was surprised by what triggered my tears: Tony Bennett. Man, I love this movie.

I do miss you, Amy Winehouse. I would have loved to hear (and feel) whatever else you might have had in store for us.

Categories: loss, love, music, poetry | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

colours

Today started off normally enough: get up, see that HardWorker has already left, BoyGenius is on the couch watching youtube videos, put the kettle on, take the snack bag out of the backpack, put bread in the toaster; get BoyGenius off the couch and into the shower, make him wash his hair while showing me how he does it (because although he goes through about 1/4 of a bottle of shampoo every shower, I’m pretty sure the suds never actually touch his scalp), make him do it again, go back downstairs to make tea and butter/peanut butter/jam my toast. You know, just a normal day.

My son is out the door, my toast is eaten, I’m enjoying my tea, wondering why I’m watching PacMan or Slugterra or whatever happens to be on my television screen. I see a facebook entry from one of my favourite internet storytellers/artists, Brian Andreas. I dissolve into a puddle — right there on my loveseat. I share it to my own timeline, all the while still sobbing. My day dissolves right along with me.

Last Time by Brian Andreas. Find him on facebook or at http://www.storypeople.com/

Last Time by Brian Andreas. Find him on facebook or at http://www.storypeople.com/

So now it’s 2 pm, my son has been home for lunch and gone back to school, I’ve done some laundry, had lunch (did I? — I think so), took a book back to the library, done some banking, some non-purchasing shopping, and cried. A number of times. Over and over. That facebook entry really did a number on me, and got me to thinking.

When my brother BlueEyes died in 1993 I lost a lot of colour from my life. Sure, when BoyGenius was born in 2004 I got plenty of colour back, but while there may be more than a little overlap that happens, the colours are entirely different.

My brothers were in charge of a few things while I was growing up — nothing like scheduled chores or stuff like that, but still. SkinnyGuy was in charge of paper routes and saving money and grass cutting and our television & music education and snow shovelling. He was the oldest, so all of these things made sense. BlueEyes was in charge of piano lessons and baking and making our mom feel special and a different kind of music education and taking care of me. That’s kind of what it felt like. It’s hard to explain. We never really fought, except maybe over whose turn it was to help with the dishes. We were all just there.

We got older; one by one we went off to university. We all ended up in the same city, doing various jobs over the years. We still did things together and while they both dropped some “chores” off of their lists or swapped some out, they were essentially still in charge of the same things, at least the ones that really mattered: saving money, television & music, making our mom feel special and taking care of me.

While SkinnyGuy, even in the midst of all the music, was a numbers and words kind of guy, BlueEyes was all about colour. The colours of music, the colours of feelings, the colours of travel, the colours of wool sweaters. He was in charge of all of the colours: spices from the far corners of the earth, the lighted dance floor at our favourite club, the blue of the sky at 30,000 feet, the swarm of tropical fish when you snorkel with soda crackers, Ikea duvet covers, the various shades of his eyes depending on which contacts he put in that day, argyle socks and sweaters, cherry blossoms in Washington, silk scarves from the Orient, Easter baskets from Germany, red wine from France. If you were with him you saw and felt colours everywhere. And if you couldn’t be with him he brought the colours to you. And they were actually brighter because of his smile and his sparkling eyes; his joy and excitement at being able to share these colours with you made them reach new levels of saturation.

And then he died and everything was transformed to gray scale. Oh, I still saw colour, I could still appreciate the nuances of tint and hue, but it was all muted. The bigger picture, the feelings of colour, changed to gray. Or taupe.

Eleven years later colour re-entered my life. BoyGenius came along and brought red hair and play-doh and fluorescent shoes with him. He’s managed to take over being in charge of a few things himself over his eleven + years, and while his experience with the feelings of colour still has decades to grow, I think he’ll manage just fine. So far he’s been in charge of the colours of socks and shoes, showing us that “matching” doesn’t necessarily mean exactly the same. He’s now my go-to for argyle socks, and I think his uncle would be on board with that. He’s been in charge of our wall paint choices and it’s worked out okay so far. He’s aware that the bright yellow of a bouquet of dandelions picked on his way home from school will not only brighten my day but also warm my heart. He loves the blue of the sky at 30,000 feet and how the moon can change from orange to yellow to white all in one night. He’s starting to feel the colour of the vastness of the Milky Way and I already know he feels the colour of loss when a good friend dies. BoyGenius has the bright smile and sparkling eyes that shine exponentially more powerfully when he is excited to share some newly discovered nugget of information or shiny new object; the same ones BlueEyes had.

I am grateful for my new champion of colour. I want to teach him the feeling of colour and how easy it will be for him to share all the colours. He’s definitely capable; he’s got the foundation. I hope I’m up to the teaching part.

Every day, though, every day I miss my original champion of colour. And sometimes it’s too hard to stay upbeat for the new guy on the job. Sometimes someone smiles a certain way or a song comes on the radio or you see an old photo or a new post on facebook and all of a sudden you realise that you’re at home alone and no matter how many games of Words With Friends you’ve got going on there is no one here to hold you while you cry and all the colours melt together and you’re once again left with gray. Or taupe.

Categories: family, loss, parenting | Tags: , , , , , , | 2 Comments

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