Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Starting Over

Blogs are a curious thing.  These days, it seems like everyone has a blog.  Including me obviously, since you're here.  If you've followed me from the link on my "old" blog, you know that I've been sporadic the last year or so in posting anything.  Mainly because I think I've just run out of anything interesting to say.  When I started blogging, it was because I needed an outlet to write about my younger sister Emily's death.  So why a public blog and not a private journal?  I started the blog initially as an open site for anyone to write and share memories about Emily, but it ended up being mostly me writing.  And for a few years- it helped.  But then- I ran out of things to say.  Or at least anything new to say. The story never really changes- and there are only so many times you can say "I miss Emily". 
So like me, my blog got stuck.  I started the blog centered around Emily, and when I wasn't sure what more to write about her, I didn't know how to write about anything else.  Let me rephrase that- I felt almost guilty writing about anything else other than Emily.  I felt like moving on with my blog was losing another little piece of Emily. That probably doesn't make sense, but then again... when have I ever?

I believe this is what they call "moving on".  It took me awhile to realize that this is not a bad thing. Life goes on, as much as I wish sometimes I could go back.  And while there are times that I find myself missing my sister so much it hurts to breathe, those moments are not as paralyzing as they once were.  I felt like I wanted to start over with my blog- to make it mine and not a shrine to my sister. I debated how I wanted to do that.  I thought about deleting the whole thing and starting over. But there's a lot of history here- good, bad, and sometimes ugly, but history that I don't want to forget. I thought about making those posts "hidden" so only I could see them. There are a lot of posts that I would like to forget- and in many ways my beliefs have changed so much that I don't even feel like the same person, but yet there's a lot of who I was in those words.   So- I compromised.  I started a new blog- with the same title of "How High Is Up"- simply because it fits. How is life, grief, and joy measured?  How high is up?  It still applies.  I'm leaving Emily's story right where it is. And I've started my new story here, with a link to what I will call "Phase 1" of measuring "up".

So if you're still with me, follow me to Phase 2.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Meandering down memory lane

On my last trip to my parents house, I brought back my boxes of high school memorabilla.  Since Emily died, I've lost alot of interest in collecting things.  But I am still a pack rat when it comes to sentimental things.  Cards, letters, notes, photos- I save all of it.  Even movie ticket stubs.  It's a sickness, I know.  But I'm getting better.  At least now it's organized. 

Which is what I spent my morning doing.  Organizing and going through 4 years worth of cards, letters, and little trinkets from what seems like a lifetime ago.  And yes, I did manage to condense the box just a bit.  I read cards from friends that I've long since lost touch with. Graduation cards from people that have since died, making those written words all the more precious.  I love the internet- but I think it has robbed society of written letters.  Instead of writing cards, people send a text or e-mail.  And even though you can save those on a drive somewhere... it's simply not the same as holding a piece of paper that was once held by someone you loved.  My Aunt Pat has been doing alot of research into our family's history, and found a love note written by a great grandfather.  The poem talks about how his love will endure, even when the letter has faded with age.  It's timeless, in a way the internet will never be.

But back to my meandering.  I came across notes from my teachers, and as I read their words it's hard to believe I was ever that girl they wrote about.  I read some of my essays about my hopes, dreams, and fears for the future and realize that in some ways that 16 year old hasn't changed all that much.  I find at 30 I still have some of those same fears.  I saw glimpses in my writings of the pains that I was trying so hard to hide.  I wonder if dealing with them then would have saved me quite a bit of therapy. 

I found an e-mail from my friend Maria that caught me unexpectedly.  It was sent shortly after she came to stay with me and Emily after September 11th. She wrote at the bottom that if she and her (then) husband were ever lucky enough to have a daughter, she hoped she would be like me.  I sobbed then- the ugly kind of cry that leaves your eyes red and puffy and your head feeling like it's stuffed with cotton.  2001 seems like such a long time ago.  Who knew that only ten years later she'd be gone.  I'm realizing more and more that aside from family, there aren't many people left in my life who've known me since I was a teenager.  Maria met me when I was an obnoxious 15 year old.  And despite the terrible teens, she ended up being one of the dearest people in my life.  I wish she was here to help me navigate adulthood in the way only a friend can.

I don't keep in touch with my high school friends.  I read the letters, notes, and cards- all full of declarations that we'd be "BFF's" for ever.  I was tickled to be reminded of nicknames my friends had for me.  Did you know I used to be called "Muppet?"  I'd forgotten all about it, but those cards brought me right back to it.  At the time, it was unfathomable that we wouldn't be a part of each other's lives.  In some ways, I regret that I didn't try to stay in touch more.  I believe people come into your life for a season, and don't always stay.  Even though I think the internet has taken away some things in life- I will say that I am thankful for Facebook.  Even though it's not the close relationship sworn in those letters- it is nice to keep up with some of my friend's lives.

It makes me even more thankful for the friendships I have now. 

Are you there World? It's me...

If my blog was a book- it would certainly be covered in a layer of dust.  Anyone still with me, or have you all given up?  Let me remove the dust and uncover the keyboard....

I've actually written a couple of posts sporadically in the last year and a half, but I didn't want to hit publish.  At the time, there was so much going on I didn't feel right posting my "dirty laundry".  Now reading back on the few drafts that I saved... it's really not all that bad.  Perspective, eh?  I thought about using bits and pieces of various posts and starting over- but one of the things I like about journaling is that it's a journey.  And re-reading some of those thoughts I'd written gives me a glimpse into the person I was, and the changes I've gone through since then.  So I'll leave those posts as they are.  I might re-post a few here and there, we'll see.

So what have I been doing for the last year and a half? For starters- I've moved into a place of my own. I will leave it at that for now.  If I re-post some of the drafts I've written, they go into more detail. But that is for another time.  I survived another year of Emily's birthday, Christmas, the anniversary of Emily's death (I still hate phrasing it like that, but there really isn't anything better to call it), and another birthday.  It still sucks eggs. I also turned 30 this year.  That kind of sucks eggs too.  But then again, my sister will never get to complain about turning 30, so that kind of makes me feel like a jerk for whining.   Actually, it wasn't really turning 30 that bothered me.  It was turning 30 without Emily that was getting to me.  I couldn't help but imagine all of the awful things she would have been doing to mark the milestone.  So because I was feeling blue- I got a motorcycle.  Talk about a midlife crisis. 

That's just the outside surface of what's been going on.  Inside?  I'm still a bit of a mess- but then again, aren't we all in some way?  I was still talking to a therapist up until about 6 months ago.  I miss talking to her- alot.  But I realized that she'd given me all of the tools and skills she could to help me function. It got to a point where I just didn't have anything else to say that I hadn't already said.  And since her counseling and advice for my problems never changed, I figured I'd be better off saving my monthly co-pay and try doing what she said.  Turns out she was right on just about everything. I guess that's why she has all of those letters after her title. 

Now it's just a matter of listening to her and going through each day.  I learned alot about myself talking to her.  And realized that I was messed up long before Emily died- her death just brought it all to a breaking point.  So while I can't say that I am "cured"- I'm functional.  And I can get through the days without longing to curl up under the covers and let the world go by without me. 

So here I am.  Still wandering through trying to define how high is up- but at least feeling like I'm going forward and not falling back down.

If you're still out there- thanks for listening.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Worth more than silence

Usually my disappearance from my blog is the result of not having anything to say. Lately it’s been the opposite- I have too much to say, but I am not sure how to say it. One of the down sides of a blog is you aren’t always able to write freely. It’s one thing to write about yourself, but when it involves a sensitive situation with another person… the lines between public and private become blurred. Metaphorically, I don’t want to “air my dirty laundry”, so to speak, but yet my “dirty laundry” is stinking up my whole outlook these days.

Confused? Just wait. It doesn’t get much better.

For starters- I’ve moved out. Into my first big-girl-on-my-own space of my own. Which is exciting, and long overdue. I just wish that it had been under better circumstances. While I am LOVING my own space, and the freedoms that come with not having to answer to anyone else, my heart hurts because it has come at a high price. I’ve lost a relationship with someone that at one time meant more to me than just about anyone in the world. And I don’t know how to fix it. I feel the same sense of loss as I do with Emily. Only in some aspects it’s harder- especially knowing that this person is still very much alive and still very close by. But while the physical distance is short- the emotional distance might as well be to the moon. I’ve never dealt well with having someone this angry with me. At least, not so angry for this long. And with the unresolved guilt I still feel over my up-and-down relationship with Emily, I’m even more sensitive to leaving things unresolved. Life is too short, and you don’t always get a chance to make it right.

But how do you make someone forgive you- when they are just as much at fault? There were certainly things I could have done better- and given the chance to handle things differently, I probably would. But you can’t change the past. But while I am willing to admit to my mistakes and my failings, I won’t take the whole blame. It’s not a matter of being “right”. I don’t care about right or wrong. It’s a matter of thinking enough of myself, and having enough self worth to know that while it’s true that sometimes it’s easier to obtain “peace at any price”- sometimes the price is just too high.

By now, the old me would have apologized for everything, and would be begging for forgiveness- regardless of fault. And believe me; the thought has crossed my mind. Peace at any price again. But the new me? The new me has realized that she is not a doormat. The new me has realized that she is worth friendship, that she is worth being heard, and she is worth being loved for herself- not for what she does. Maybe the fact that the relationship crumbled over what now seems so insignificant is a sign that it wasn’t built on equal footing in the first place. And that is a hard truth to swallow.

What I want the most is simply to talk. Even if things can’t be repaired- I wish at least for the chance to try. Or I would be thankful for even a simple acknowledgement. Just to know where I stand. I hate confrontation more than anyone, and avoid it all costs- usually by hiding behind words. There’s a safety at least in written words. You can hit send and the ramifications are easier to deal with from behind a screen, rather than face to face. But it’s still better than silence. One of the cruelest ways to punish someone is by silence- you can’t reason with it. But yet it sends a message loud and clear- when you reach out to try and you’re met with nothing… that pretty much speaks volumes of what the other person thinks of you.

My worst fear is being unloved. And it’s happened- or at least that’s what it feels like. But you know what- it’s not the devastating end of the world I imagined it to be. Because I have realized this one simple truth:

I’m worth more than silence.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Four Years

Four years.

Four years ago I was having a mini meltdown about turning 25. Fast forward to being on the brink of 29 and I’m just thankful to be here.

Four years ago I was stuck in a job I hated and in a town I couldn’t stand. Fast forward to finding a new job and a new state.

Four years ago I had a sister. Fast forward to clinging to only a memory of what it was to have a sister.

So much has changed, and yet somehow some things are still very much the same.

I started to read some of the comments people were posting on Facebook about Emily. But after the third or fourth “angel in Heaven” reference, I decided for sanity’s sake I needed to turn off the smartphone. (And my cursing was scaring the cats.) I know people mean well… but people are idiots. They say stupid, stupid, stupid stuff. And unfortunately, you can’t cure stupid.

Anniversaries bother me. Not just for the obvious reason, but because there’s a hollowness in it. I miss her just as much on the 1st of April as I do on the 22nd of August.

The ache doesn’t deepen. It doesn’t lessen.

But what is unsettling is that I think the 1st of April doesn’t bother me as much as it seems to bother everyone else. I didn’t change my facebook picture. I didn’t post anything to acknowledge the passing of another year. I didn’t miss her any more or any less than the day before or the day after. I don’t feel the need to mark the passing of time, because it all blurs into one continuous absence.

And this makes me wonder if there is something wrong with me.

It was suggested that I join a grief group. While I know there’s a measure of comfort in talking with someone who “gets” where your emotions are coming from- I’m not on an even enough keel to be in a group setting. Comparing war stories doesn’t bring healing for me. Knowing that someone shares some of my emotions doesn’t help me deal with mine- it just heightens the awareness that there is a whole lot of hurting out there. Instead of sharing my sadness, I feel like I’m absorbing someone else’s. Group therapy isn’t for me. I’m not willing enough to share, because I talk about Emily on my terms. Most of the time, she’s a topic that’s off limits unless I want to talk about it. Is that denial? No. It’s self-preservation. I don’t like it when she comes up unexpectedly in conversation. Sometimes the casual mention of her name is enough to make me want to scream. It’s selfish the way I deal with it- but regardless, it’s the way I cope.

I also feel guilty because I am tired of Emily’s death defining me. I am tired of evading and avoiding the “do you have any siblings” question- because the answer leads to pity. I feel guilty because I don’t know how to honor Emily’s life, because sometimes I want to forget the whole damn thing. I don’t want to spend the rest of my life marking the passing of time, and living under the shadow of my sister’s death. And it thoroughly depresses me that it’s not going to change.

And this too makes me wonder if there is something wrong with me.

I’m not looking for someone to make me “feel better”. I’m not fishing for compliments, or sympathy. I’m not looking for reassurances that what I am feeling is “normal”, or “understandable”, or that there is nothing wrong with me. On the contrary, I have it on good authority that my head is thoroughly messed up. There’s a fine line between messed up and crazy. What’s keeping me on the sane side of the line is the fact that I am well aware I am a mess.

So what do I want? For someone to acknowledge the fact that it’s not normal to feel this way? To agree with me, that yes, Melissa you have issues? (Again, stating the obvious).

No, that’s not what I want either. I have no idea what I want.

Oddly enough- that’s probably the one feeling that doesn’t make me feel like there is something wrong with me.

Maybe there’s hope. But I still miss Emily.

Monday, March 19, 2012

When the hole won’t close

After Emily died, there were so many cards, calls, comments, and letters that came in. Most of it is a blur. There were so many things that were said- in all honesty, I tuned most of it out. Mostly out of self-preservation. There are only so many times you can hear the same phrase before it makes you want to explode. On a side note, I have the same feelings about lunchmeat trays. It sounds ungrateful to complain… but take it from me- there is a reason why lunchmeat is not considered a comfort food. I know lunchmeat trays serve a practicality purpose by feeding several people with little effort. And I also know food is usually the last thing on your mind- but I distinctly recall weeping at the sight of the stuffed shells our neighbor brought us. And Ms. Eileen is still my hero for that chocolate cake.

But I digress- back to the comments. One comment in particular that was made has stuck with me:

“Losing someone gives you automatic membership into a club that no one wants to join.”

Almost three weeks ago there was a helicopter crash that killed seven Marines who were on a training mission for their deployment to Afghanistan. My friend Mark’s son was one of the Marines. Mark was the pastor of my church growing up when I lived in Alabama, and is one of the greatest people I know. I didn’t know his son Ben very well. He was two years older than me. And when you are junior-high aged, two years might as well be twenty. Ben was one of the “big kids”. But you don’t have to know someone to be affected by their loss. Ben was thirty-one years old. He has two young children. He was a son, a brother, a father. And while I can’t say that I knew him well, it’s jarring when someone who’s your age is suddenly and tragically…gone. It goes against the natural order of things. I don’t understand life sometimes. It doesn’t seem to play fair.

Pastor Mark has been posting a lot on his facebook. As I read some of his posts- his pain is almost palpable. I ache for him. I ache with him. I ache with the kind of hurting from deep within a heart that’s been there. I find myself wanting to say “I know what you’re going through”. Which is ironic- because I hate that phrase. But I finally understand why people feel the need to say it. You say it because you desperately want to convey that while you don’t really know what the other person is going through, you still know that sense of loss. No two losses are the same, and every relationship is different. Every dynamic, every piece of past and history, every aspect is different. But the underlying grief is the same. The sense of loss, of emptiness, and of a pain too deep to put into words- that’s the same. While everyone grieves differently, there is a weird sort of camaraderie between people who have lost someone. It’s not a knowing of how someone feels, but a knowing that on some level, there is a shared sense of emptiness. There just isn’t an expressive enough way to convey its meaning, so the phrase tends to fall flat. So even though it doesn’t express itself well… I do understand now the depths from where the phrase comes from. But when you’re struggling through one of the deepest tragedies of your life, the last thing you want to hear is someone saying they know what you’re going through. At least that’s how it was with me. I didn’t care. It didn’t help knowing that there were other people in my shoes. I was so sick of people comparing their stories of loss to mine. I was tired of nodding along in “shared sympathy”. I didn’t have the energy or strength to be gracious.

Now that I’ve moved beyond that initial raw and hurting place, I do find a little bit of solace in sharing with people who’ve been through it. Everyone reaches that place in different stages. And those stages aren’t always permanent. It’s been almost 4 years since Emily died, and my stable ground is still pretty shaky. I feel caught in the “in between”- somewhere between grief and healing. It’s a strange place to be. It’s the place where you know that the hole they left won’t close, but you’ve learned to live with the emptiness.

One of Pastor Mark’s posts talked about how he was holding onto Ben’s dog tags like a rosary. For a year, I kept something of Emily’s in my pocket. Without realizing it, I’d find myself running it through my fingers- exactly like a rosary. You think that grief is something that’s personally yours- but it’s strange how our patterns of dealing with it can be so similar.

I’ve found myself starting to comment a couple of times on Pastor Mark’s posts. But then I catch myself and think “Ok, is this something YOU would have wanted to hear? Is this going to help him… or help you?” That caught me off guard. Grief really is selfish. Some of the sharing and telling of grief isn’t necessarily to help the person who is grieving. It’s a subconscious form of therapy. It helps me understand some of the comments people made to me. But that’s now. When it was then, I was pissed.

So I find myself saying less. There’s a time for words, and there’s a time for silence. There’s a time for flowery sentiments and there’s a time to simply say “I care”, and nothing more.

For me, the worst part was when people went back to “normal” life. When the cards stopped. When the e-mails stopped. When the phone finally stopped ringing. When the first anniversary came around and the world didn’t stop. When people stopped being so forgiving when I snapped and sniped because they forgot that my heart was still shattered. That’s when you need the grief club. That’s when you need the gentle reminders of “I understand your sense of loss”. I find myself wanting to give him a head’s up- “here’s what is coming your way. Be prepared!” But each journey is different. And knowing what’s coming doesn’t make it any easier to prepare. And it certainly doesn’t make the hole that won’t close any more visible.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Rescued from the Draft Folder....

Have I really been absent since Christmas? Yikes. Don't worry- I haven't comepletely fallen off the face of the earth.

I was cleaning out some old drafts, and came across this one from back in September. Not sure why I didn't post it then, but here it is now.

Watch out for the quiet ones
Drafted, September 26, 2011

I don’t make friends easily.

And that’s a truth- not one of my typical self-degrading statements. I like to think I am a friendly person- approachable and somewhat likeable. People say I’m easy to talk to- so I suppose that there’s something redeeming in there. Either that or I am extremely adept at fooling people. Okay, okay… I’m done being me.

But in all seriousness… I am friendly, but not easily friend-able. I very much keep people at a distance. I have what you would consider several surface level friends, but I can probably count on one hand the number of people that I would truly consider a “friend”. And interestingly enough, one or two of those few that I consider close friends are people I only know through e-mail correspondence. But I consider those relationships just as deep and important. There’s a level of safety that’s found in pouring out your soul in anonymity.

During one of the first meetings with my therapist, she asked me some of the things I hoped to gain from these sessions. My response was to become more extroverted and adept at making friends. When she asked me why, I responded without hesitation, without even really thinking about my answer:

“Because that’s what people want me to do”.

The words I spoke hung the silence for a moment, and then the clarity of those words struck like a clanging gong.

For several months I’d been berating myself because I wasn’t living up to expectations that were set for me- someone else’s idea of who I should be. It was pointed out that I wasn’t going anywhere. I wasn’t doing things. I wasn’t forming enough friendships. But the more I tried to force those things, the emptier I felt. I was smothering, and making myself miserable to fit myself into expectations that I can never meet, because

That’s. Simply. Not. Me.

I think the advice was well-intended, and prompted out of a level of concern. Or more accurately, from the perspective of an extrovert who can’t comprehend how an introvert operates. For an extrovert, the thought of a weekend looming with no plans made, no places to go, no people to see is incomprehensible. For me? I’d prefer my own company to just filling up the emptiness with a warm body. Don’t get me wrong- I like being around people. I would say that I’m social, but I don’t seek out company just to save myself from being alone. And I’m not a talker. Put me in a group of people and I tend to blend into the background. I don’t have the ability to entertain a crowd, and I don’t captivate an audience with stories or conversation. More times than not, when I am in a group I get the joke that each teller thinks is so original and funny:

“Hey over there, you should really keep it down!”


“Someone shut Melissa up, she’s talking too much!”

Or my personal favorite,

“It’s the quiet ones you have to watch out for!” (what does that MEAN anyway?)

The variations are many, but the message is the same:
You’re not measuring up.
(And I can’t help but think to myself, it’s the quiet ones like me that allow the boisterous ones to have an audience to perform in front of.)

I listen more than I speak, and absorb more than I expel. Maybe that’s where the innate sense of empathy I seem to have comes from… and I think that quiet nature is what makes me essentially who I am. I would much rather be in the background than in the spotlight. Believe me; I’ve tried the spotlight thing. And I’m okay with sharing the spotlight. Heck, I don’t even want to share it. For all I care, you can have the spotlight, the secondary lights, and the backlights too. I’ve tried to fit myself into the mold of what other people think I should be, and it doesn’t work.

I think about Emily and Lauren and Rachel and my friend Debbie- the four most social people I’ve known- and wonder at what it is that they have (had) that makes it seem so effortless, and why I seem to be missing it. Lauren and Rachel are the same way. And if you look up extroverted in the dictionary, you will find my friend Debbie’s picture beside the definition. Emily never knew a stranger. She had more friends than I could keep track of, and a never-ending stream of places to go and people to see. But I can’t be Emily. I realized that I’ve been trying to be. I look at my sister and all the things she was, her huge personality, the friends that she had, and the effect she brought on people, and I envy those qualities in her, because I don’t have them. Usually the younger sibling lives in the older sibling’s shadow. Subconsciously, I’ve been trying to lose myself in hers. Or maybe I’m trying to fill a gap that simply can’t be filled. The funny thing is, if Emily was here, she would be the first one to give me the well-deserved kick in the pants that I need and tell me to get over myself in the way that only a sister can.

To me an extrovert is almost like a puzzle that I can’t quite solve. It's the missing key to unlocking the world’s standard of “normal”.

But that’s them. And that’s not me. The cool thing is though, I think for the first time in 28 (and a half) years…. I’m finally starting to be okay with that. I’m happy with the friends I have. It may not be many, but they’re genuine, and they are friendships that will last a lifetime.

I do have one friend in particular who has quickly become one of the dearest and truest friends I’ve ever had. I don’t share easily. I don’t trust. And I very rarely speak my heart or give voice to my own wants or needs. I’ve heard it time and time again that I’m too easy-going. I’m one of those people that consistently defers to what someone else wants. “It doesn’t matter”, “I don’t care”, and “whatever you want to do is fine with me” are my Gospels. And most of the time, it’s because that really is what I feel. I happen to really be that easy-going. But once in a while I do have a preference, yet still hesitate to give it voice. One of my biggest fears in any/all relationships is that eventually the other person is going to get tired of me. That they will wake up and realize that I’m really not worth all the aggravation. I don’t know where that comes from. I’m sure that’s a whole year’s worth of material to keep my therapist occupied. But I think the fact that I recognize it is progress. And somehow with my friend Viviane, there’s a security in our friendship that I’ve never really found with any one else. It’s freeing. I think I realized that if someone decides they don’t want to be my friend anymore because I’d rather have pizza for dinner than Chinese…. that certainly isn’t a friend worth having. It seems ridiculous, but those are the kinds of trivial opinions that I won’t typically voice.

But while I’ve found that security with one friend, I still haven’t been able to extend that to the rest of my life. I take on too much at work, and can’t seem to ask for help. I still let people use me as a doormat, and find myself making excuses for the reasons why they do that. I still hesitate to take a stand and say…

“I want Chinese for dinner!”

I struggle with some deep-seated need to be accepted. To earn other people’s approval. Basically, my self-esteem reaches a point so low at times that it’s non-existent. I don’t know why my mind works like that, or what chemicals in my genetic make-up went haywire to make me wired that way, but that’s the way I am. My therapist likes to tell me that it’s only a matter of re-programming my thinking. That your thoughts are only a projection of your mind, and what your environment has pressed upon you- they aren’t a reflection of your soul, of your true self. Makes sense to me. And it makes me hopeful that there’s a simple cure for neurotic self-depreciating people like me: it really is all in my head.
But curiously I wonder…
If you can re-program self-esteem, can you re-program yourself into an extrovert? Is extroverted-ness or introverted-ness controlled by your thoughts or is it part of the soul? And is one really better than the other? If we were all extroverts, the world would be… a much louder place. And if we were all introverts, well…. let’s just say that the restaurants would be hurting for business because none of us would be willing to voice an opinion as to where we wanted to eat dinner.

But while there are some things about myself I admit need some “tweaking”, I don’t really want to re-program into an extrovert. I wouldn’t be me. And for all my faults, flaws, and sometimes too-easy-going- nature, there’s obviously something about me that seems genuinely likeable-enough. I wouldn’t have been able to say that before.

And that thought alone is encouragement enough to keep trying.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Christmas Triangles

I want to put Christmas lights in my office this year.

I love Christmas. It’s my favorite holiday- always has been. I love the music- and by music I mean REAL Christmas music. Not Madonna singing “Santa Baby” or the latest teen sensation angelically lip syncing to a rendition of “O Holy Night”. Honestly? And if Lady Gaga comes out with a Christmas CD, I think I’ll revolt. And of course, anyone who has read this blog for an extended period of time knows my extreme hatred of Elvis’s “Blue Christmas”. Seriously, it is THE Worst.Christmas.Song.EVER. I’m contemplating inventing a device that will completely eradicate its existence from the minds of the entire population. Have I mentioned how much I despise this song?

But I digress… back to lights. I used to go all out for Christmas at my old office. I had a Christmas countdown on the marker board. I had garland, I had Christmas beads, I had bowls of candies, Santas and snowmen, and lights strung around the cubicle. My former boss remarked once that it looked like Christmas threw up in my office. My response was the immediate purchase of an adapter to make the lights twinkle on and off. An instigator? Moi? Nooooo…..

After Emily died, it was all I could do to survive that 1st Christmas, let alone give any thoughts to decorations. The 2nd Christmas, I was unemployed and had no office to decorate. Last year, the 3rd Christmas and once again employed, I still didn’t have the heart to decorate my new office. But this year is different. I want lights. I want garland, and I want to make cookies for my co-workers. Some would say that’s healing- but I don’t think it’s really healing. Nothing has healed… because Emily is a wound that will never heal. It’s more of an… adapting. I turned a bit of a corner when I realized that my soul is never going to fully heal. The key is learning to live with the hurting soul. Easier said than done of course, but it’s progress.

Christmas still isn’t the same. But at the same time, I don’t want it to be the same. I don’t want to honor the same traditions, because they hurt too much. I have a mental image of trying to make a star shape fit into a triangle-sized hole. With enough pressure, you can force it to fit- but you lose vital pieces in the process. You lose what makes a star a star- and that’s how I feel about Christmas. Pretending things are the same only makes it more hollow, more empty, and more about my sadness and my grief than about Christmas itself. I don’t want Christmas to be a triangle.

I tend to listen to melancholy Christmas songs. It gives voice to the hurting part of my soul- it is an outlet for the sadness, while at the same time still honoring Christmas. Sarah McLachlan is my favorite album. Her voice has a melancholy overtone, and her album is a perfect blend of what I like to call, "Subdued Christmas". Sometimes I think her song “Wintersong” was written specifically for me. It’s the perfect song when you need a good cry.

And part of steering away from falling into the Christmas Triangle is realizing that it is okay to be sad at Christmas. It is okay to cry through a sad Christmas song, and it is okay to not have the heart to send Christmas cards just to check them off a list. I refuse to stress about not having money for Christmas presents (well- I’m still working on that one). I’ve given myself permission to enjoy my lights, I bought myself a pair of Christmas pajama pants, and I am itching to bury myself elbow- deep in cookie dough. I realized that it is okay to accept the fact that I despise that Christmas macaroni wreath Emily made, but at the same time its absence from the wall would break my heart. I am coming to grips with the fact that grief makes no sense, there is no rationalizing, and there is no rhyme or reason to its triggers.

I miss Emily more than anything. There are so many things that I wish she was here for. She’s my Christmas star- and her death is the triangle-shaped hole. And somewhere in between is a shape that encompasses both-instead of forcing the star into the triangle, you simply let it rest as it is and the shapes eventually form into one.

Friday, December 9, 2011

15 Words or Less Photo Poetry~ Dare to be Different

Attempting to fit in
left me frustrated.

I dare say,
highly overrated.

Check out the rest of this week's poems at Laura's site!

Thursday, November 17, 2011

15 Words or Less Photo Poetry ~ Look Twice

Reflections slice
through crystal skies
and clouds of ice
memory’s surface
bringing you
to me.

Check out the rest of the poems at Laura's website!

Thursday, November 10, 2011

15 Words or Less Photo Poetry~ A Charmed Life

Charms of sterling
memories circling
weaving long ago dreams
and childhood whimsy
in silver threads

Check out the rest of the poems this week over at Laura's site!

Thursday, November 3, 2011

15 Words or Less Photo Poetry~ Midnight Rendevous

Midnight Rendezvous

Moonlight falls
glistens in palest light

light and water meet
in a secret moonlit-dance

Friday, October 28, 2011

On beer shirts and saying goodbye

It’s hard to sum up a person in words. You can describe them- their personality, their looks, tales and stories of things they did, and share their words of wisdom…but words and paragraphs can’t fully capture the look of a person. The way someone’s eyes crinkle in just such a way that is uniquely theirs when they smile, or the feeling you get when they say your name in a certain way. The subtle glances exchanged over inside jokes, or the way you can send a silent message of understanding that only comes from the heart of a deep friendship. The familiar scent, the sound of a laugh, the weight of an arm around your shoulder, or the gentle pat of a hand- all these things are beyond the description of words. It’s a feeling of someone. And when they’re gone- you’re left with an emptiness that also defies description.

My friend Maria was… one of the greatest people I’ve ever known. I’ve known her since I was 15- that right there ought to tell you something. Teenagers are not fun. And the fact that she looked past my sullen, grumpy, mixed up teenager attitude and still saw something redeeming… says a lot about her. I remember the first time I met her was when I grudgingly went to dinner with her and my parents. I think I was probably the epitome of a sullen teenager who would rather be anywhere than at a boring work dinner. Boy was I wrong. I liked her instantly. She spoke to me like an adult. She didn’t ask me what I wanted to be when I “grew up”, or how I liked school, or any of the other ridiculous questions adults seem to like to ask kids. She asked about my interests, and my thoughts and opinions on things. She was definitely one of the coolest adults I’d ever met. After that initial dinner, I went with them often when they’d get together. My parents were out of town when the terrorist attacks happened on September 11. My parents couldn’t get back home, and didn’t want my sister and I to be alone. Maria, a government employee working in D.C., came without hesitation. Driving probably a good three hours to stay overnight with my sister and I so we wouldn’t be alone, just to turn around and have to drive back early the next morning. I’ve never forgotten that. Her presence was calming in the midst of a tragedy beyond comprehension. In the days and weeks after the attacks, I was convinced that my dad was going to be re-called from retirement into the military and would have to go to war. I finally e-mailed Maria and asked her what she thought, (probably hoping she’d have some inside-information and could tell me if he would have to go.) I still have the e-mail she sent back to me: “I don’t think this is something you need to worry about, but I won’t lie and tell you that it isn’t a possibility. Right now things are pretty uncertain. But I will tell you that if they get to a point where they have to recall old retired farts like your dad (sorry dad!), then we’re all screwed anyway.” That of course, was Maria.

One year she asked me if I’d be interested in riding with her for a charity bike ride- 150 miles in two days along the Eastern Shore of Maryland. I think that’s really when I stopped seeing her as just my dad’s friend and she became my friend as well. You spend a lot of hours together when you train for a long bike ride. We’d meet halfway, or sometimes I would drive to her house and spend the weekend. She had a way of listening without judging. She never made me feel like I was whining. She gave you advice without lecturing. And she was able to maintain a distinct line between being both a friend to my parents, and a friend to me. She listened to me complain about my parents, and I’m sure she listened to my parents complain about me. She saw me as Melissa, not Wayne and Peggi’s daughter. And she saw my parents as Wayne and Peggi, not Melissa’s parents. Not many people can do that so effortlessly, and make it work so well.

When I think of Maria, I think of how her eyes were always smiling. I think about the fact that she was who she was, and she didn’t care what anyone else thought. I think about her huge heart, her contagious laugh, and the way she walked. She walked on the balls of her feet, so she always had a little bounce in her step. I could pick her out of a crowd anywhere. I think of the last time I saw her a few months back. She looked so happy. Happier than I’d seen her in a long time. She and Rimas, her partner, came to South Carolina with a golf group. I drive down to meet them for dinner. It was the first time I’d seen her since I moved south, and now I am so thankful I took the time to see them.

Her service is tomorrow. Well, I say service, but it’s actually a celebration of life. She did not want a funeral, so her family is having a celebration at a military country club. Attire is jeans and your favorite beer t-shirt: no suits. She is my hero.

But I’m not going.

I thought long and hard, and did a lot of soul-searching. I can come up with a million plausible excuses: It’s a really long drive, and I just did it last weekend. Plane tickets are too expensive. I’d have to fly into a different airport, and it’s not convenient for someone to come get me. But when it all comes down to it, they’re just excuses that could be worked around. The real reason I’m not going, all excuses set aside, is simply because:

I don’t want to.

I don't want to remember her in a room surrounded by a crowd of people I don't know, pretending to celebrate, but still saying goodbye. I don't want to hear stories just yet. Even though it's what she wanted, I am not ready to celebrate her life. I still need to mourn her loss. No, back up. I still need to accept the fact that she's gone, and I'm not there yet. I'm still stuck in the "I can't believe it isn't true" phase.

I am just not ready to say another goodbye.

And you know what? I think Maria would completely understand that. So I’m going to celebrate her life in my own way. Since I don't have a beer shirt I’m going to wear my shirt she bought me from the Tequila Mockingbird restaurant on one of our bike rides, I’m going to find a quiet spot on the lake, and I’m going to have a margarita and drink to my friend’s memory.

And the world’s going to keep on-turning, the memories still churning. Hearts continue breaking, and souls are still aching. But the world keeps moving, and memories start soothing, giving healing to a sorrow that has no words.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

15 Words or Less Photo Poetry~ Taking my bike and going home

Because I need to think about something light.....

Bicycle for two
just me and you
started a fad
'cause I got mad;
and split the bike in two.

Monday, October 24, 2011

The words keep churning, the heart's still burning...

I’m not sure where to start.

Words are my solace. My emotions spill out in black and white type, and through fingers flying over a keyboard. I picture the inside of my soul as one big jumble of squiggly black letters, just waiting to be released. Thoughts are formed, sentences are strung together, brilliant and inspired thoughts are born… only to be caught because....

I never know where to begin.

I can’t seem to find the release button, and so the words stay churning, and the hurts keep burning. I can't give voice to my emotions. Writing gives me the freedom of release- of revising and sorting through the jumble of letters and extracting exactly what I want to say. But when it comes to tragedy- the time when I need the strength of words the most, I flounder at the beginning. I can't sort it out because there’s no beginning, and what’s worse is that there’s no ending, because grief is that nasty circle that just keeps spinning. Somehow putting the catalyst of the breaking of a heart into a simple sentence seems so... so mockingly…. normal. There should be better words. There should be an easier way to begin. And there isn't.

My friend Maria died this weekend. And the news came on the heels of a weekend visit to Pennsylvania to attend the memorial service of a friend who passed away from cancer two weeks ago. Two lives, two deaths. One older, one younger. One expected, the other a tragic shock that I still can’t comprehend. Is one worse? Is one loss easier to deal with than the other? The answer is no. There is nothing in death that is easy to deal with. The answer is no, but with a caveat. The answer is no, but one is easier to accept, as callous as that may sound.

I liked Charlie a great deal. He was a good man- with a kind heart and a laugh that I can still hear in my head. His presence will be missed. Cancer robbed us of a good man- but also a man who had lived a long 75 years. Death hurts, but there is a slight consolation in the knowing that he is free from suffering. And these thoughts alone break my heart. These thoughts break my heart in the realization that because I’ve been touched by so many deaths of friends and family I can now measure it by the degrees of acceptance. My heart is calloused, and I don’t like it.

But Maria? My mind refuses to accept her death. I saw her four months ago. She celebrated a birthday three days ago. She told me via facebook that the next time we got together she wanted to be on the other end of the photos of my cooking experiments. I told her that hopefully once I have my house, she’d even get a place to stay out of the deal. Plans that will now never be. A friend whose beautiful smile and gentle encouragements are lost forever. How does a seemingly healthy woman in her early forties have a heart attack?

I’m mad. No, I take that back. I’m furious. I’m pissed off and ready to thoroughly throttle the first person that dares to look at me cross-eyed. I want to crawl into a room and stay there forever and stop having friends because it hurts too damn much when they leave me.

I wrote a poem once that contained the line; “even the most broken of hearts is never beyond what God can mend”. I used to believe that wholeheartedly. It’s what I clung to when I thought my heart was shattered. Now, I’m not so sure. I think the heart has limits, and I’m reaching mine.

I know that grief has cycles. And I know that life moves on. My heart will hurt and break and mend, my life will go on, and that the days will come when the thought of Maria will bring a bittersweet sigh. I’ll tell stories with a smile, and the stitches of the broken hole in my heart with her name on it will fade to a dull ache instead of the piercing pangs of the present.

But instead of bringing comfort, that thought brings tears. I’m tired of becoming used to moving on. I’m tired of accepting death after death. I don’t want to resign myself to passing through the grief process and knowing that I am going to make it through, that I will smile and laugh and joke and move on with my life. Instead, the five year old me is wailing and stomping her feet, and she is demanding that the world simply stop and wait for her broken heart to mend. To her, life simply isn’t fair. She wants answers and is refusing to listen to the voice of Time and Reason.
I start to count the people I’ve loved and lost and somehow the ratios don’t seem to balance out. I’ve said goodbye to too many people in my 28 years. In my grief-tainted thoughts, it’s more than my fair share.

And I don’t understand.

Yes, this post is all about me. I wanted to write about Maria- I wanted to give her a tribute fitting for a dearly loved friend. Maybe in a few days I can write about her, and the friend that she was, the friend that she will always be, and the many, many ways she touched my life and my heart. Those words are there. They’re forming in the depths of my soul, even though I’m doing my best to not acknowledge them because I’m wounded and hurt and not in the frame of mind to let them be. They will form and break through and maybe even bring healing. But for now, for today, the only thing that my heart can hold is the knowing that it has been stretched to just about it’s breaking point. That the constant mending and breaking is wearing thin, the seams are fragile, and that it’s liable to shatter into a million pieces.

The soul’s still aching, the world keeps breaking. And the words keep churning, and the heart's still burning with a sorrow that has no words.

Monday, October 17, 2011

When faith in the unknown doesn't cut it.

I saw a cat get hit by a car this weekend. In the big scheme of things, it was just an insignificant thing. But it's been on my mind since it happened. The scene played out in slow motion. Four lanes of traffic, and a little black cat caught in the median. I watched as he made a dash towards the side of the road. The car in front of me slowed down to miss him, but kitty got spooked and turned and went back towards median where he'd come from. My eyes were involuntarily squeezing shut as I somehow knew what was going to happen. The car in the next lane was unable to miss him. It struck the cat, and I watched as he flopped and scurried back across the lanes towards the side of the road, and then collapsed in the parking lot of a bank. I quickly turned in and went to check on him. He was still breathing, but suddenly I was unsure of what to do. There are two types of people in an emergency. The ones you want to be with and the ones you don't. I fall into the latter category. Do I touch him? I didn't want to move him and make his injuries worse. Do I call 911 for a cat? Where's the nearest vet? Do I have a blanket in the car? What do I do? As the thoughts went through my mind, I watched as he got a faraway look in his eyes, and then he stopped breathing. Just like that. When I looked closer, I saw he'd been hit pretty bad. Even if I hadn't hesitated, I don't think he would have made it. My friend told me the fact that he made it to the side was probably pure reflex. I hope so. I hope he wasn't hurting, and I hope he didn't suffer.

Like I said, it was a little insignificant event in the big scheme of things. But it's stuck with me. One wrong move, one split second decision changed a destiny- even if it was only that of a cat. If only he'd kept going, he'd have made it safely across the road. If the car that hit him had been going slightly slower, the cat might have made it back across. If I'd been in the second lane, maybe I'd have been more aware and missed him. If. If. If. Life is full of too many of them.

But what really got to me was that moment when life stopped. I've been touched by death, but I've never witnessed the actual moment when life stops. Now you're here. Now you're gone. And the world just keeps on going.

But where does the soul go? I can't seem to wrap my mind around the concept. I know people argue whether animals have souls. I myself firmly believe that some animals have more of a soul than alot of people I know, but that's another post in itself. But even though it was a cat, and regardless of whether you believe it has a soul.... I could see something shift in its eyes in that moment when he stopped breathing. Something changed. That spark, that thing that made it alive, went out... and for a moment the sounds of traffic faded, the surroundings blurred...and there was silence.

I'm sure I'm making a bigger deal than necessary out of the life of one little cat. But it's not so much about the cat, (although as an avid cat lover, I will confess that there was a tear or two that slipped out), it's just that the mysteries of life and death became a little too real again. And like everything else, it started me thinking about my sister, and generated thoughts about her last moments. Thoughts that I really didn't want to be thinking.

Did she know? Was she aware? Where is she now? And please, for the love of all things holy, do NOT tell me that she is in a better place, or that she's looking down from the heavenly skies, or that she didn't suffer, or any other such thing, as I cannot be held liable for what I'd do or say next. I am tired of platitudes and empty answers, no matter how well meaning the good intentions are behind them. Sure, there's theology and theories and beliefs and explanations and books and studies and thesises galore on the subject of the afterlife. But it's not proof. It's not definitive. It's not an answer. Or at least it's not the answer I want. Most days I get by with leaving the unknown in the hands of faith. Usually that's enough to drive away those nagging unanswered questions, but there are moments, phases if you'd like to call it, when my faith seems insurmountably too small, and all I really want is a satisfactory, concrete answer. This is one of those phases where faith isn't enough, where faith in the unknown simply does not cut it. I want it to be enough. I really do. But right now I want answers more. And of course, the only ones who hold the answer to the unknown.... can't tell you.

I wish someone could.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

15 Words or Less Photo Poetry~ Brief Respite

Brief respite

Shed the weary load

if only for a moment

before braving

the world once more

Monday, September 26, 2011

15 Words or Less Photo Poetry ~ Impenetrable

Photo is a dirty/fogged up parking meter!)

Smudged and shadowed
mysteries within
yet clarity is found
in reflections
from the outside looking in

Friday, September 23, 2011

Ocean sands and glowing candles

I’ve been in a bit of a funk since I returned from France. Actually, I was in a funk before I went to France… so much so that I didn’t even write about the fact that I was going to France in the first place.

So first things first- I went to France about a month ago.

The trip came up somewhat on the spur of the moment. My friend Viviane grew up in France and still has family there. She needed to make a trip home, and asked if I’d like to go with her. Umm…. That was a hard question to answer. Ha!

So off we went for a whirlwind 19 days. The trip was upon us so quickly; I didn’t even have much of a chance to freak out about the flight. Well, at least not as much as I usually do. At least not enough that Viviane would realize just how neurotic a friend she’d chosen to take with her. I do try to keep the crazy to a minimum.

It was definitely the trip of a lifetime. And a tiring one- we traveled from Paris to her mom’s house, then headed to the coast for three days. Back to her mom’s house for a few days, then headed to Southern France on a four day adventure, then to Paris for the remaining four days of the trip. In 19 days I was able to put my toes in the English Channel, and then in the Atlantic Ocean. We waded in rivers in Southern France, and drove through mountain roads. We walked in the ruins of centuries-old castles, and got lost along the Route de la Noix. (The Road of the Nuts. I thought that was appropriate!) I stood under the Eiffel Tower, put my feet on the spot that marks Paris’s coordinates, and managed to navigate the Paris subway system. We even ventured into a cave in Southern France. I can honestly say that I have seen France from the inside out.

And the food…. Ah, I think I am French at heart. Bread…. Cheese… wine… pastries… sigh. I’ve been home for two weeks and am still going through major pastry withdrawal. To my amazement, I actually lost a few pounds while I was there. I attribute that to all the walking. And we certainly walked A LOT. Americans are most definitely sedentary creatures. And also probably to the lack of fast food restaurants, and the on-the-go processed foods that we typically eat because we are in too much of a hurry to sit down and actually enjoy a meal. One of the most common questions I was asked was if I minded the amount of time spent at the table. On the contrary- it was a welcome change from grabbing a quick bite in front of the TV. And one of my favorite parts of the day was stopping for a coffee and pastry. Have I mentioned yet how much I enjoyed the pastries?

But a lack of baked goods is not what is causing my funk. Although I’m thinking that an √©clair and au caf√© would probably do my blue mood a world of good.

No, my problem is the same old story. I miss my sister. I spent an incredible two and a half weeks in France, and all the while, I missed Emily something terribly. Not in the overwhelmingly painful sad kind of missing her... but the “I wish she could be here” kind of missing. Which is an improvement of sorts, I suppose. I wasn’t miserable and depressed during the trip. I wasn’t despondent, and as I might have briefly stated, I was able to fully enjoy and indulge in my new found pastry habit. I laughed, I enjoyed the company and companionship with my best friend, I took a million photos, I had a wonderful time. I’m able to function without the overwhelming sense of loss and black despair.

Yet everything reminded me of her. From the interaction between Viviane and her two sisters, to the amazing sights I wished I could have shared with Emily, and all the pretty things (and presents!) that she would have loved- she was a constant in my thoughts.

I wrote her name in the sand along the coast of St. Malo at the edge of the English Channel, and in the sands of Cap Ferret on the Atlantic shore. The ocean reminds me of Emily more than any place in the world. And even though her name has long since been swept out with the tides, it made me feel like a little piece of her was with me, even for just a few fleeting moments.

When I went to Poland a couple years ago, I lit a candle for Emily in one of the cathedrals. Though I’m not Catholic, it was my little way of letting her know that I was thinking of her. Of letting her know that somewhere, her light is shining. So during this trip, I lit one for her in a cathedral in Bordeaux, and of course- the cathedral of Notre Dame in Paris. I had a hard time finding a place to light one in Notre Dame. For one thing- it’s HUGE. Pictures certainly do not do it justice. And there were little alcoves honoring all kinds of Saints everywhere. Obviously not being Catholic, most of the areas that were set up for the candles didn’t hold much significance for me. I didn’t really want to light a candle for my sister in just any place I could find, I wanted to find the “right” spot. Something not as… “Catholic-y”, as irreverent as that sounds. And to further test my lack of decision-making skills, it was a rather gloomy cathedral. Most of the alcoves were dark and depressing. I was just about to give up, when I happened upon an area dedicated to St. Genevieve, who was a patron saint of children. Right away, it made me think of Emily- she was really good with kids. It also had the prettiest and brightest stained glass window- in blues and greens. I got an “Emily-vibe” as I stood there. I think she would have liked that one. And so… Emily had a light burning there too.

But oh, how I still miss her! I think about the amazing opportunities that I’ve had, and the places that I’ve been able to go… and I still feel an underlying sense of guilt because she’s not here. Why her? Why not me? And I know there’s no point in asking those kinds of questions, because there’s not a thing I can do about it. My feeling guilty is not going to bring her back. But feelings do not listen to reason, and my feelings happen to belong to one of the most obstinate people on the face of the earth. All I know is that even in the writing her name in the sands and in the glow of the candles I’ve lit- my heart still aches with her absence. It’s abated somewhat over time. But it’s still there. And I suppose it always will be.

So where do I go from here? I don’t know. I simply do not have the answers, and I don’t know where to find them. I just get so tired of the cycle of embracing grief and letting go, only to have it turn tail and head right back for me. I tire of having the highs of a wonderful experience tempered by the shadow of Emily and the loss of her. It’s wearying. I see signs of light at the end of the tunnel, only to find that I’ve run into another dark curve and the light has disappeared.

I need a brighter flashlight.

And a pastry.
Perhaps two.

But ultimately I want the one thing that I cannot have…I want my sister back.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Glimpses Beyond Bars ~ 15 Words or Less Photo Poetry

Glimpses Beyond Bars

Captive soul
yearns to break free
to soar beyond
a world
that doesn’t understand

Sunday, September 11, 2011

The Questions that Define Us

It's the Question that defines every generation. "Where were you when.....?"
I imagine that some day my children or grandchildren will be coming to me for the answer to my Question "Where were you on September 11th?" Perhaps they'll ask out of curiosity, or most likely for a history assignment. Kind of like the questions I asked my parents: "Where were you when Kennedy was shot?" or " Where were you when the Challenger exploded?" Sadly, every generation seems to have at least one.

I imagine that Question has been asked several times this week.
I wouldn't know for sure- I haven't watched the news once today.

Now granted, that's really not anything new for me. I haven't watched the news in.... well, I can't remember when. But if I did watch the news on a regular basis, I still wouldn't have been watching it today. I don't need a news anchorperson to remind me of what happened ten years ago. The images are forever burned into my mind- and I don't need to turn on a TV to recall them. Days of spending hours glued to a screen watching sorrow after sorrow caught on film, all the while knowing you are powerless to help, leaves a mark on your heart that never really goes away.

Every one remembers in their own way. I know some people are comforted by inspiring stories, by watching the tributes on TV, by heartfelt lyrics, and photos with a song playing in the background. And there is nothing wrong with any of those things. It's just not my way of remembering. It's not how I cope. Perhaps it's just another manifestation of my personal tendency to bury deep and ignore those things in my life that I don't want to deal with or think about. "If I close my eyes, I can't see it... therefore it doesn't exist." That of course is straight from chapter one of the gospel of Melissa's Guide to Dealing with Life and All the Crap that Comes With It. Which typically is the case in about 98% of everything in my life. But I don't think that is necessarily the case today. It's not that I don't want to remember. You can't not remember what happened. It's just that for me, sitting and weeping in front of a barrage of image after image of pain and sorrow and confusion and suffering is..... hollow. That's the best description I can come up with to describe it.

There's a part of me that really cannot stand "anniversaries". This "anniversary" is no different in that aspect. I know that people need to mark the passage of time. I know that when significant milestones come around, there's a deep-seated need to draw again on that sense of community and patriotism that swelled in the aftermath of tragedy. But with that comes the question that begs to be asked. Why is this day any different from the day before and the day before that and the day before that...? Where are the tribute videos on Facebook, the American flag pins proudly displayed on blazer lapels, and the sense of solidarity that brought this country together in one of the worst and darkest days in our history as a nation on the other 364 days of the year?

What happened to those days when you weren't a Democrat, Republican, or an Independent- you were an American. What happened to those days where the color of your skin faded and it didn't matter if you were a 1st generation American or if you could trace your roots back to the Mayflower, what mattered was that you stood on the soil that proclaimed "Land of the Free"? What happened to the days when you could look into the eyes of the person next to you and the unspoken message that passed was that we were in this together?

What happened was what happens in all tragedies- life returned to normal. People slip back into their routines and habits and reclaim the prejudices that were all too briefly set aside. Democrats once again became the Devil(s) Incarnate, Republicans returned to thumping their Bibles, and Independents slipped back into the middle ground of Those Who are too Dumb to Make up Their Minds- each group loudly bashing the other. People whose skin was bathed in the glow of red, white, and blue returned to the colors that still somehow are used to determine a person's worth. That ticket from the Mayflower once again became all- important, and newcomers are looked down upon as being on a somewhat lower level as far a citizenship.

Do I sound cynical? Unpatriotic? Preaching from a very high horse? Perhaps. Maybe it's not the most patriotic of remembrances that will be written today. But it's the way I feel. For the average citizen, at least, for this average citizen, September 11th is a day that's now honored once every year, and mostly forgotten about the rest of the time. But for the soldiers that went to war as a result of that day, September 11th bleeds into September 12th. And continues on into February 2nd. May 19th. July 27th. For the thousands of families that lost someone they loved, September 11th is the shadow lingering on October 2nd. On December 24th. On April 3rd. On June 30th. On August 9th. September 11th isn't a once-a-year anniversary for them... it's a daily reality. For me, it's not. The war rages on in countries and towns with names I cannot pronounce, bullets are hurtling through the air, and buildings are burning, people are suffering, families on all sides are mourning their losses all as a result of that day 10 years ago, and yet here I sit in the comfort of my air conditioned house typing on my pretty red laptop, listening to my iPod, occasionally glancing at my Facebook news feed from my phone, dreading going to work in the morning, chatting with my mom and making plans to fly home for Christmas, and all the while drinking microwaved Starbucks coffee. In other words, a typical day.

Somehow the two realities don't equal out in the Scale of Grief. And I am having a hard time reconciling that with the significance of what today should mean to me.

Yes, my life changed that day, along with the lives of this nation, and most of the world in some aspects. The lingering aftershocks still follow me ten years later- an intense aversion to watching the news. A dislike of heights and tall buildings. A greater and more amplified fear of elevators. A flash of slight panic when seeing someone of Mid-Eastern ethnicity at the airport, followed by a deep sense of self-loathing for feeling that way, and worst of all- a sickening realization that even in the knowing it is so, so wrong to feel that way, this prejudice will probably stay with me the rest of my life. Even though September 11th left its scars on me... my life returned to normal. And maybe that's why the marking of its anniversary doesn't bring me comfort. I feel dishonest in honoring a day that most days I don't even think about anymore.

So how do I wrap this up? Surely there ought to be something redeeming to say at the end of all that. Honestly, I think part of me was hoping that I'd find my own answer somewhere in the writing- that I'd suddenly change my outlook and be like the rest of the population who can spend the day remembering without the sense of self-righteousness that I'm pretty sure is threaded all throughout this post...
but you can't help who you are, and I certainly am not like most people.

I guess the best I can do is to try and honor the memory of September 11th. Or rather, quietly mourn and reflect.

Mostly I fervently pray that there will be no more "Where were you When...?" questions to be asked.

Friday, August 5, 2011

15 Words or Less Photo Poetry ~ Moving On

(The photo is one of those automatic vaccuum thingies....)

Moving On...

Empty room
with ghosts and gloom
shadows linger
like prints of a finger
they cannot be
wiped clean

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

It doesn't play fair

I think what I hate most about grief is its unpredictability. Just when I think I finally have a handle on it, when I think I am finally navigating my way through, when I'm starting to believe that perhaps there is healing, when I'm getting to the point where it's finally easier to breathe...

the rules up and change.

Grief does not play fair. It lurks in unsuspecting corners, lies in wait for when you at your most vulnerable, and plays on what once was safe and familiar. A photograph you've looked at a thousand times a day suddenly catches your eye in a different light and just about breaks your heart. A song that has absolutely nothing to do with death, grief, or loss has you weeping over your steering wheel because it's a new song that Emily has never heard, but she'd probably love it. Someone asks you how many brothers/sisters you have, and you still do not know how to answer that question. A photograph of her drinking out of a plastic cup makes you inexplicably pissed off at the fact that the very same cup is still in the cupboard all these years later, but she's gone. Throughout ordinary convervastions- the word "diabetes" comes up at least once a week. Why is that?

Grief doesn't play fair. It changes the rules.

For the first two years, Emily's birthday didn't hit me as hard as the day she died. The 1st of April forever will be the day that my life, and the life of my family and Emily's friends changes. It's a giant, ragged gash in my timeline. And every time it rolls around, it marks another year that she's been gone. The 1st of April is like a shadow that I know I can't escape. It's expected, and I'm learning how to wait out the shadow of that day. But her birthday was different. I think because in my mind, she'll never be more than 20. It's hard to imagine what she'd be like at 24, because it would be just that- an imagining. Without her here to incessantly bug me about what I bought her, or where we were going to dinner, it's easier to let the day go by with a remembering, but not dwelling. For me, her birthday was easier to get through, because as callous as this soounds.... without her here the day lost its significance for me.

But oh no... not this year. Grief decided to throw me a curveball and turn me into a complete, weeping mess. I miss her today so much I can literally feel the ache. I close my eyes and picture her, and it feels so real I don't want to open my eyes. I plugged in my iPod on the way to work, in the hopes of drowning out the sorrows in my head. Lately I've been on a Melissa Etheridge kick, and I figured she'd be a safe choice- there's not alot of sorrow in her rock-style singing. But grief, in its cosmic plot against me, had other ideas. The song "Breathe" came on, which contains the lyrics of a chorus that goes "I'm alright, I'm alright. It only hurts when I breathe."

And cue the water works. That line, that chorus, sums up my existence lately. I'm alright, I say. Sure, I'm fine. Put on a smile, work hard, laugh, best foot forward. But meanwhile, each breath is an aching for what's missing.

Grief doesn't play fair.

I sobbed my way through the song. Then figured if you can't beat 'em, join 'em. I switched on my playlist I've entitled "Emily", which is every song I have that makes me think of her, and I bawled my eyes out on my way to work. I gave in and I cried for the heart-ache, for the unfairness of it all, for the loneliness, for the breaking and mending of a heart, for the memories that were, and the ones that will never be.

I can't say that I felt better- nothing will ever make it better. But I did feel a little less despondent, and at least ready to face the world. (Once I cleaned up my face. Note to self- buy waterproof mascara).

Grief may not play fair, but then again.... it's never played against me.

Breathe- Melissa Etheridge

I played the fool today
I just dream of vanishing into the crowd
Longing for home again Home,
is a feeling I buried in you

I'm alright, I'm alright
It only hurts when I breathe

And I can't ask for things to be still again
No I can't ask if I could walk through the world in your eyes
Longing for home again Home,
is a feeling I buried in you

I'm alright, I'm alright
It only hurts when I breathe
I'm alright, I'm alright
It only hurts when I breathe

My window through which nothing hides
And everything sees
I'm counting the signs and cursing the miles in between

Home, is a feeling I buried in you, that I buried in you

I'm alright, I'm alright
It only hurts when I breathe
I'm alright, I'm alright
It only hurts when I breathe, when I breathe
Yeah, it only hurts when I breathe, when I breathe
Oh,it only hurts when I breathe


"There is nothing that can replace the absence of someone dear to us, and one should not even attempt to do so. One must simply hold out and endure it. At first that sounds very hard, but at the same time it is also a great comfort. For to the extent the emptiness truly remains unfilled one remains connected to the other person through it. It is wrong to say that God fills the emptiness. God in no way fills it but much more leaves it precisely unfilled and thus helps us preserve -- even in pain -- the authentic relationship. Further more, the more beautiful and full the remembrances, the more difficult the separation. But gratitude transforms the torment of memory into silent joy. One bears what was lovely in the past not as a thorn but as a precious gift deep within, a hidden treasure of which one can always be certain."

~Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Happy Birthday Emily.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

15 Words or Less Photo Poetry

Twisted wire

digging into pristine sky

rain pours through pin-pricked holes

when angels start to cry.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Three Years....and then some

The blank screen has been mocking me. I feel like I have a million words just aching to pour out of my fingers, but I'm just not sure where to start anymore. Even writing in a journal, pen to paper, writing with the freedom of knowing that no one else will read those words.... the words still don't come. Words used to be my solace, my way of coping, my outlet. And now? It's an emptiness. I want to write, but I don't know who I am writing for anymore. My thoughts are disjointed, and so are my sentences, and when I re-read what I've written, it falls flat and empty. And when I can't say what I want to say perfectly, I'm too embarrassed to post it. Heaven forbid I write something that is less than stellar. There aren't many things that I am good at... so the few things that I am relatively talented at, I'm pridefully snobbish about.

And perhaps therein lies the reason for my writing block. Maybe the flight of my Muse is nothing more than a much-needed dose of humility to remind me that I write to release, not to impress. Maybe I need to write without thinking, without wondering what people will think, and eventually I'll come back to where writing was healing, not hindering.

I don't know what to say that hasn't already been said. Another year has come and gone. Another milestone, another empty day. On the first of April, I started to post something on facebook about missing Emily. But I didn't.... because I wasn't sure if I really wanted to read the plethora of "thinking of you's", "I'm sorry's", or whatever else's people say. And I don't mean that in an ungrateful way... because the comments and notes from people who remembered meant the world to me, they really did. The problem was within my own self. I did some soul searching and realized that I was searching for something, ANYTHING, to fill the emptiness, and I was looking for sympathy. I would have found it on Facebook... but then I was more afraid that the consolation I thought I was searching for would instead make that emptiness all the more real. That instead of filling the ache, it would echo more resoundingly. And I'm not sure if I could have handled that. I feel like I am warring against myself- the self that wants to be reassured, comforted, and made a fuss over... and the self that is longing desperately to finally FORGET. Sometimes I hate myself for feeling that way, but I do. I'm mad, I'm angry, I'm sad, I'm lost, I'm lonely, I'm furious at her, and I'm mad at myself.

And that seems to be the cycle of my life right now. The simple fact of the matter is that I am 28 years old and have absolutely no freakin' idea of who I am. I go back to a line from my favorite movie, In Her Shoes- "without her, I don't make sense".

But I should make sense. I am more than my sister's sister. I am more than my parent's daughter. I am more than so-and so's friend, family, employee, or co-worker. I am those things, but not defined by those labels. The loss of one shouldn't make me lose my sense of self.

Losing Emily made me lose my balance. I used to think I lost my sense of self, but I'm realizing that I never really had the core sense of who I am to begin with. And I don't know where to find it.

I've been going to counseling again. And this time around, I'm actually seeing a licensed therapist. Nothing against counselors, but I think last time left me with more questions than answers. Or to put it bluntly- I was more screwed up than I thought and needed more than band-aid therapy. This is the "I'm going to ask you tough questions and tell you things that aren't necessarily nice to hear, and make you re-hash buried and unpleasant memories, make you feel lousy sometimes, and this isn't going to be butterflies, kittens and lady-bugs, but we are going to deal with this CRAP, and even though it doesn't seem like it now, you will get through this mess" kind of therapy. My therapist asks the hard questions, and doesn't let me get by with a non-answer. Sometimes I don't like her. But I respect her for not giving up on me. I think she won my everlasting respect when in answer to one of my typical self-depreciating humor jabs at myself about being beyond help, she said "Melissa, I like you, but get over yourself. If I thought you were beyond help, I wouldn't waste my time or yours." Talk about putting it in black and white terms. In some ways, I am very much a black or white thinker. Other times I like to think I try to see in color, but really most of the time I am a misplaced free-spirit who wants to see in color, but is too afraid to peek beyond the shades of black and white.

All that to say, she sees through my B.S. and I respect her, and also like her, for that.

I keep thinking that by now I should have moved on. From the outside, I have. I get up every morning, I work, I have friends, I laugh, I brush my teeth, bathe on a regular basis, and only occasionally catch myself having deep philosophical conversations with the cats... I function. I live. But it's that shadow that follows me that I can't quite shake that reminds me in some ways I'm still stuck in a rut. That shadow of Unfair. Sadness. Loss. Death. Reminders. Memories.

I know that death is a part of life. I know that bad things happen for inexplicable reasons. I know that my loss is on some levels a tragedy, and yet on other levels is nothing compared to what some people have suffered. I am not special or alone in my sorrow, but yet I'm still marked by that shadow of "One who has suffered". I'm a card-carrying member of the Grief Bites club, but I don't want the perks of membership.

What I want most is what I can't have....

.....the end of the story. To see how it all turns out in the end.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

One More Day ~ Mary's Blog

In the two years, 10 months, and 15 days I've spent trying to process grief, loss, and Emily... this blog post pretty much says it all.

One More Day

Thursday, February 10, 2011

15 Words or Less Photo Poetry ~ Frozen Tundra

Frozen tundra

I’ve reached the edge
where the horizon bends
touches, then blends,
merging light with
frozen earth

Thursday, January 27, 2011

15 Words or Less Photo Poetry ~ Escape


Spinning, twirling,
stretching, aching
into a world
where nothing
touches me

But Grace

Lots of awesome poems this week- be sure to read through the others!

Monday, October 18, 2010

Hello blog, it's me...

I feel like I did when I was a kid and I ignored my journals for a period of time. I'd stop writing and then when I picked up the pen I wasn't sure if I should play catch-up with everything I'd missed, or start with whatever the thing was that had prompted me to pick up the pen again.

I've been avoiding writing. I've told myself I'm too busy, I don't have the time in the evenings, I don't have anything new or interesting to say, and weekends are too hectic to waste time on a computer. But the truth of the matter is that writing makes me confront my demons, and sometimes it's easier to push all that to the side and continue merrily along in ingorance.
Or denial.
But the thing is, that only works for so long until eventually it reaches a point where it threatens to erupt into what my friend Diana so eloquently calls... emotional vomit.

Writing soothes my soul. I don't like to talk. I process my thoughts slower than most people, I think. Writing gives me the time and opportunity to sort through my thought process, to find exactly what I want to say, and more times than not- I usually find my answer to whatever I'm wrestling with by the time I'm through.

So why stop? Because sometimes there are answers I don't want to hear, and lessons that I don't want to learn, and recongizing a problem means that I can no longer continue in blissfull ignorance and I actually have to DO something to change it.

And that's not always easy.

So if you're still hanging with me... bear with me. I'm still processing...