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Good Grief

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Admiral Molly loving life

 

Friday morning, Molly, my dog of thirteen years, died in my arms. Then I just sat there next to her, drank my coffee, and read about Orlando and guns on the interwebz for an hour. A dissociative episode: shock.

I knew it was coming, her death. In the last few weeks I’ve inhabited that inbetween world of weird: the frantic care, fatigue, constant foreboding, and desire to be strong that being with the terminally ill brings. Down to Molly’s doped up desires to do odd things in the middle of the night, it was flashback to the final weeks of my father’s cancer.

I’ve seen enough death to know how odd it is. One moment a living being is before you, and then they’re a stiff, cold shell that needs to be washed and cleaned up so other people can look on the dead and say “oh they look so peaceful.” And as the dead lie there, appearing to sleep, you do stuff like excuse yourself in the way you would talk to a department store mannequin you bumped into. It’s just off. They’re there, but not.

When I worked for a funeral home, I used to have to walk past Mr. or Mrs. So-and-So everyday to get coffee. I learned grief speak like a sick Monty Python parody: passed on, deceased, shuffled off this mortal coil, gone to meet their maker, joined the bleeding choir invisible.

Truth is, no one remembers those first few days after a death. People in grief are halfway to the other side themselves.  Hence all the couched terms and euphemisms. So fragile. The grieving have one foot on the other side. They want to follow the dead into the grave.

It’s not until they realize that life trundles heedlessly on that the depression and anger sets in. How dare people go about their lives as though nothing happened?! Don’t they know what I’ve lost?! Don’t you see I just can’t!?

I had Molly for 13 years. I was checking out her rather plain smooth coat JRT brothers, when this ball of white and ginger fluff tumbled down the stairs. Molly! She Bogarted herself into my heart, like the true independent and stubborn alpha gal she was.

She was my total bestie, excercise partner, fishing cheerleader, vermin killing, begging, spoiled, loving buddy who never let me down once. And this house has never been so empty. The park never so unappealing. The sun never so harsh. My favorite fishing and camping spots…all haunted by the spirit of Molly, unconquerable in death as in life.

I know it’s normal. Malaise and sadness, nausea and emptiness, anger and wroth that would make Achilles blush. All changing places, shuffling, resurfacing. The careless moment in which you call the deceased’s name. Looking for someone who you’ll never again see with mortal eyes.

My advice to folks who know others that are suffering the trauma of grief is “Chill.” Let them have their space. Don’t tell them what to think, believe, or feel. Let them come back to life in their own time, in their own way. Just remind them that you are there. There’s no substitute for being there.

And that’s very much what I tell myself and others who are grieving. Give yourself time to feel the whole mess. Don’t feel as though there is a way you should feel. Own your feelings as they are right now. You may never feel as though the pain will go away, and you may not want it to. And when it does, you will feel guilty. Feel it. Feel all of that. This is life at the marrow of the bone. Recognize it. Name it. Accept it with compassion for yourself, a poor mortal. In time, you’ll be OK with the fact that the pain will dull. But you’re nowhere near that now. Don’t push it. Just be.

It occurs to me that the entire nation has been plunged into a great momento mori yet again. We won’t always be here. But we are here now. Say Yes to all that is good and right to feel and do now. Be mad, be rash, smoke and explode, sell all your clothes… Just remember to hold your loved ones a little dearer, and most importantly, hold onto yourself. I hope, for all of us who are or have or will love and lose (i.e. all of us), that as deep as your pain goes now, that’s as high as your joy will soar…hopefully, again, someday…just not today. Today, just chill. Today, let it be.

In memoriam: Molly, 2003 – 2016

Thank you for teaching me to love all of life even a fraction as much as you did.

-JL


Making Time

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Tock-tick

Pink Floyd are bastards. You’re listening to Dark Side, get all snug and sleepy from Breathe, and then ALL THE CLOCKS IN THE WORLD wake you up for a lecture on wasting time. But they have got it right. You need both. The space to breathe and be, and that little clock in the back of your mind that reminds you time passes.

Clocks, particularly alarm clocks,  were made by monks you know. It was to help them observe the proper prayer for the time of day. So, no matter what their daily business: farming, sleeping, eating, writing, counting money, making beer or wool; the clock made certain that they took the time to greet and witness each part of the day with the proper ritual in worship of God, which was their real job. And then they approached each bit of the day and it’s work in the frame of mind of worship. They went about all this walled off and ignoring the crazy nonsense of the world.

And that’s how it works. That is how you make time. One part ritual, one part work, one part ignoring everything else.

I do a lot of dumb stuff. I do a lot of housework, cleaning, animal tending, bill-paying stuff. But I chose that. It’s the easiest stuff to do, and no one else wants to do it. That’s my in! What I do I get back? Time to think. When I’m walking dogs, cleaning the tub, doing dishes, taking a shower…my body goes into auto-pilot, and I can think. That’s when the knottiest problems get worked out. Not sitting about.

I have considered that this is a form of “mindless” living. But no! The exact the opposite. I shower in the exact same way — same steps and soap, shampoo, razor in the same place every day — so I can shower without missing any bits.  I LOVE my showers. Because the rest is automated, my brain is free! I made a routine, a ritual to make time to work. Coloring is my new favorite time-maker! How wonderful to let the mind wander to color, movement, and some music!

I do it on social media, too! Prentend every comment or response is a little exercise in thoughtful writing. I’m practicing. I also try stuff out. Oh, perhaps I’ll write like Spock with a foul mouth? Maybe Dickens with anachronistic references? I was going through a big laconic phase a short time back. Sometimes I just make stuff up. Little “words of wisdom” I just pulled out of my… brain.  Caption this picture for best effect! This is what I do. It’s free practice. It’s fun. And that’s my “social time.” Oh dear!🤓

But then, it comes Time. The Time to do the real deed of writing. Now, here again, ritual is big. It’s a habit, but it’s also a ritual. I have certain things to hand. Vaporizer, extra fluid, at least two beverages, chapstick, and music. Now I can do that part anywhere. In fact, some of my best stuff I’ve done in bed on my phone. (I have yet to determine the causal correlation there. It may be coincidence. Further research is clearly required.) But, you know what? Nine times outta ten, I gather all of the above at my little antique letter-writing desk here (which must have been made for a child or a young woman because it is the perfect height for me), and I light a tea light under a bust of Shakespeare. I shittest thou not! BUT! (big butt) all I have to do is write until the tea light burns out. I normally lose track and it’s long out before I’m done, but yeah, that’s my timer. If I do that much, I win! I can go back after a break, or not. But yeah, I work one tea candle to Shakespeare at a time. And it’s all I need. It’s just a little measurable moment I have saved up and prepared for myself.

I ignore a lot. I might be worse than the monks in that regard. They did charitable works, I presume. I have no idea what the monks did. I know what’s going on. I read the news in the morning (with the coffee, it’s a ritual). Then I forget it and go about my own business! If I’m talking to you, I really care. “I give you my most precious thing, my Time,” is what Dad used to say.

I generally decide on giving a damn status fairly quickly. I am a hermit. I talk to my animals more than actual people…or digital people. I actually only “talk” in “meat-space” to about three human beings regularly. One is my therapist. So you know, if I get out of my house for you (or let you in) I am already way out of my norm. I need like 24 hrs of Netflix to recover from large get-togethers. 😂

Oh yeah, this wasn’t about what a weirdo I am, guess that happened though. It was about making Time. But that’s part of how I do it. My area of giving a damn is really slim. And the rest is all up in the old noggin there. And in my thought-filled dog walks and showers and tub cleaning. And in the ephemeral pixels I manipulate against mortality. And the scrawl of half a page of scribbled lines…that I put into Evernote, set a timer and tag a goal and a project for…

“Far away, across the field
The tolling of the iron bell
Calls the faithful to their knees
To hear the softly spoken magic spell”

– Time, Pink Floyd, The Dark Side of the Moon, 1973

*note to self: add back-up battery for vaporizer to writing materials to avoid getting up

 


Objects in Mirror

 

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Objects in mirror are closer than they appear.

I’m laying at the foot of my bed, where I’ve made camp. I balance the weight of my head on a pillow, but close enough to feel her labored breathing. My best friend is leaving me.

Last week she killed a groundhog and jumped in a river in excitement over a fish I caught. Now her little heart pounds arythmic against my ear. Her swollen belly rises and falls too fast. She struggles for breath and wakes. I dip my hand in water for her to lick.

My father died at home under hospice care. When he decided to refuse treatment, my mother raged in helpless tears. All those years. She didn’t want to accept what he had, that he was finished the fight.

Molly couldn’t tell me to let her go. I had to choose for her. But those eyes that always trusted me and looked to me, those eyes branded on my mind, they asked my permission. If I could never refuse her the last bite of a sandwich, how could I refuse her this? My puppy, my friend of thirteen years, asked me if she might retire from her long, loyal service. I could never deny her anything.

Molly, you saved me from a tarantula. Were my friend when I was friendless. You comforted me when I was sick. And after surgery, you were my physical therapist, making me get out for that walk. My drill sergeant on hikes. Fishing cheerleader and singing partner. We shot the breeze. And when I was down on myself, you were my motivational speaker. You listened when I was sad, and at my lowest point, you gave me reason to live. No matter what, you forced me to enjoy life, if only for you. I live for you, but not nearly so much as you for me.

I will stay here with you, Molly, as long as you want to stay. I’ll hold on to you forever, if that is your wish. My most devoted friend. My funny face that always makes me smile. Little pup. I’ll stay with you until you’re ready to lay down the long burden you bore with inspiring joy. Your precious, life-affirming soul. Always charging headlong into the fray, tenacious as your breed. Courageous heart. My Molly. My baby. My best friend. Thank you.


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