Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Scenic views

A wraparound deck offers scenic views. All Access Photo
I don't know it the picture above will show, as I'm posting this via e-mail. (Here's the link, and I'll fix it later if it doesn't.) But it's a picture I ran across in a sales listing for a house in Walnut Grove, CA. I regularly read a columnist in the SF Chronicle, and I like to look at beautiful houses, and they have some fancy house I could never afford or another listed with pictures every day.

I've never been to Walnut Grove, but I'm sure I've flown over it on my way in to SFO. What struck me about the picture, though, was its quintessential Northern California-ness. The variety of greens of different trees, the hills, and that clear, fresh light filtered through partly cloudy skies. As I looked at the picture, I could feel the cool air on my skin in contrast to the bright warm sun. I could smell the trees and the dampness of the air rolling in off the ocean. My whole body remembered it all; for a moment, I was there. And in the next moment, I was all farklempt.

Because I want to be there. I want him to be there for me to have a reason to be there.

I want him to be.

Because I miss him so damn much.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Bracing for impact: 3 years, 11 months

Since January, I've been thinking of (and speaking of, when I've had reason to) A as having been gone "almost 4 years."  I've been preparing myself for the actual 4 year sadiversary, in a way, I guess, but mostly it's because I think it sounds pedantically precise when I say 3 1/2 years, or 3 years, 7 months, or whatever, like a 4-year-old who has to make sure you know she's 4 AND A HALF, or the short guy who wants you to know he's 5 foot, 8 AND A HALF inches tall, because that half-year or half-inch is meaningful.  I suppose to them, it is.  And I suppose to me, it is, too.  I guess I don't want to get too precise when I talk about his being gone to others because I don't want them to know that I know exactly how long he's been gone; that I've ticked off every hour of it, one way or another.  That would indicate that I'm not as fine as I appear to be.

It's not that I'm not fine.  I'm pretty darn fine, actually.  Surprisingly.  And I'm glad about that.  Glad I can function well and that I accept my life as it is and live it.  That I've largely shed that nihilistic existential crisis that dogged me for so long and am just doing my thing without constantly questioning the point of it.  Of any of it.

But still, my thought processes and pathways have been fundamentally changed in losing A and trying to revive myself in the aftermath, in ways I think would scare civilians if they were privy to them.  I think they wouldn't understand that I can look them in the eye and be listening while having a mental conversation with A on another channel, or understand that I talk to him at all, let alone regularly.  Maybe I underestimate people.  But experience has indicated that I probably don't. 

I don't know what I'm trying to say here.  I guess it's that while I share anecdotes about A frequently even now, I don't much share my feelings about him and his death with anyone, except those who read this blog.  I don't even know if it's as if I feel I can't, but rather, I don't want to.  I don't want to be judged.  I don't want to be doubted.  I don't want to be wondered or worried about.  I don't want to be pitied, either as the woman who lost or the woman who can't let go.  Even if some of those reactions might not be entirely unwarranted.  I guess what I don't want is any response that will not perfectly ease my heart and mind regarding A's dying, and since by now I've learned that that perfect response doesn't exist, I just don't want anyone to try and fail.  Again.

 Anyway, I am in the home stretch of this third year, and am on low-level alert for any emotional difficulties that arise in anticipation of this milestone.  I don't want to conjure any up, but I don't want to be ambushed, either.  But with this milestone, he will be gone twice as long as I was with him.  Twice as long.  And once again, I am shocked at how time can pass like this.  I knew it was coming, but even so, it makes me shake my head.  Seems like that's all I've ever been able to do about all of this.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010


Last week, a co-worker lost her brother to suicide.  I found out through the grapevine, from a friend who herself has been the survivor of two suicides herself.  No one was talking about it, otherwise.  I saw no flowers on her desk.  There was no sympathy card passed around for everyone to sign (despite the fact that we did just that for the widower of the co-worker who died the same day as this co-worker's brother).  Even my friend the SOS said to me, "Well, I'm not going to say anything to her unless she says something first."  When I talked to E about it, because he knew because of his position at the company (but couldn't tell me because of mine), he said much the same.  The code word was "discretion," it seemed, but to me it read a whole lot like shame.  Like our co-worker didn't deserve the care and support of the community (what little it has to offer in times like these) because of the way her brother died.  We were all just going to pretend it didn't happen, the implication being, I guess, that he died shamefully and his family should feel the shame of it as well, reinforced by a good, old-fashioned shunning.

She came back to work on Thursday after four days away.  I heard her voice first, and it was flat and devoid of the liveliness it usually had.  When I saw her later, she had that look on her face:  the eyes empty and seemingly turned inward, and the rest of her face arranged in an expression that seemed pissed and defensive and shocked.  I recognized it as soon as I saw it, even though my own face hasn't looked that way for a long time (thank goodness).  It is unmistakable. 

I talked to E about it over the weekend, and I called bullshit on no one saying a damn thing to her about her brother's death.  Where the hell was our "family company" when one of the family members had suffered a great loss?  Had he talked to her then, Thursday, when she came back?  No.  Had he seen her face Thursday, how hollow she looked?  Yes, he had.  She was not doing well, which was totally to be expected only a week out, but no one was there for her.  If she wasn't going to talk about it, we were free to pretend she was fine?  She's not fine, and no one even cares?  Or no one wants to, because they secretly judge her brother for killing himself, and they secretly wonder, like many folks who have no clue, why his family couldn't stop him. 

I used to be one of those people.  I had all kinds of answers about the strong and the weak, the observant and the clueless.   And then I read at the widow board and learned a lot about suicide, and the lot of the survivors and what they had to go through, and what they were put through by other people as ignorant as I was.  Changed my entire perception, and I realized I didn't know a damn thing about it, despite my judgments from afar.  I know better now; but most don't, I guess.  And they don't want to, because like any death, they want to believe suicide won't happen in their family, can't happen, and is totally preventable because they are clearly superior human beings who wouldn't allow that to happen on their watch; if they admit otherwise, they are vulnerable, and vulnerability is scary.  So they just don't admit it.

Fuck that, I told E.  Screw silence.  Screw "allowing her her privacy" when what we really mean is, "it's all too icky and unpleasant, so she gets to mourn without even token sympathy from the people she spends 40 hours a week with."  It's one thing to give someone space when they ask for it.  Giving people so much unrequested space that we refuse to acknowledge that their life has just been irrevocably and painfully changed by death is plain cowardice.  It pisses me off, frankly.  As if grieving isn't the loneliest road a human being ever walks, we have to make it lonelier by avoiding the subject, or the person, touched by a death?  THAT is what's shameful.

I was adamant about getting her a sympathy card, at the very least.  She had told the secretary that her brother had passed.  That made it officially "known," and it didn't matter how (though of course, the secretary had asked).  E was uncomfortable with it; he's still uncomfortable with the idea of death, with the idea of grief, with the idea of reaching out to someone in it, despite all we've been through.  I wanted to send a picture of his aunt, who's been widowed a number of years now, and her husband, that we'd found to her; he said no.  He frequently says he doesn't want to mention this or that to someone so as not to remind them of their loss; sometimes I'm that someone.  I tell him that they (we) never forget it, and would appreciate someone else remembering with them (us), but he doesn't get it.  And bless his heart, as frustrating as it can be sometimes, I'd just as soon he not.  But he agreed that a card would be okay.

As I was filling out the card last night, I mentioned that I was going to lend her the first (and probably most useful) grief book I'd read.  He got really uncomfortable then, like I was overstepping imaginary bounds.  "Don't you think you should wait until she asks for help?"  I said she wasn't going to ask, and probably wouldn't know what to ask for if she did.  I asked him if his house is on fire, should his neighbor wait until he asks her to call 911, or should she just make the call?  It wasn't like I was going to force her to do a book report.  I was offering her a book that she could read or not, if she felt like it.  And that's what I said in the note I attached to the book.

What I didn't say is that I know she's lost right now, and that I know in a month no one will think to ask her about it (if they're barely asking now), and that most of her friends will not have lost a brother at such a young age, nor one to suicide, and that most everyone she knows is so fucking afraid of death that she will start faking being all right in order for more of them not to fade out of her life in fear.  I did say that while our losses were not the same, I have walked the grief road, and I was there for her, now or later.  I know there is nothing else I can say, and nothing more I can do unless she takes me up on it.

I got an e-mail back thanking me, telling me she'd considered finding a grief book but didn't know where to start. 

Fuck silence; we owe it to each other to be there for each other.  We owe it to each other to try to help; we might not get it right, but we are absolutely guaranteed to get it wrong if we wimp out and don't try at all.