Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Cherished threads

I've got some of the conversations sorted out, between Jesse and various friends. I know, it's not really right to peer into his relationships this way. But it comforts me, and while I apologize to any of you who texted him in the last six months of his life, I want you to know that you make me love him and see him better through your exchanges. I won't post the convos, but just want to say that I feel I know each of you better, too, and that if ever you need it, I'm here to talk or just shoot the breeze. You know where he lived, you can find me there any time. It would give me a lot of comfort to meet each of you, to know how your lives are going, your stories about Jesse, or just to hear the voices of the people who loved him. I feel that Jesse has given each of you a terrible and important gift, in the process of his life and death. I hope you each learn how to bear it, and learn from it, and I hope you all lean on each other when you need to, as you navigate your lives. And if there is anything I can do to make the burden a little easier, the grace more apparent, please. You'd be helping me, too.

Monday, April 28, 2008


Lately I've been moving Jesse's text messages off his old phone and onto my email. I try to keep the received and sent ones in order, so I can see the conversation form as I forward each line of dialog. It feels very intimate and distant at the same time, like archeology, maybe. As if I can almost see him passing by the places where he no longer is.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008


Yesterday, I read an article in the Science Times by Hariet Brown, about her daughters' brushes with severe, life-threatening illnesses. It wasn't a terrible article, but the second line nearly drove me to distraction: "But there is another [sorrow] that approaches [that of losin g a child], and that, paradoxically, is grief averted — the grief of the narrow escape when a child comes close to death but survives." The rest of the article goes on to describe her experience and that of other parents who've had strong emotional reactions after their children were desperately ill-- even though the children had all recovered.

At first I felt pity for Ms. Brown because I know it's terribly painful to go through such a traumatic experience, I understand it, I was there with my son’s first round of leukemia. I think it’s important to light this landscape of parental suffering so that others who experience it can realize they are not alone.

I don't like the emotional math: no one can say x is equivalent to y type of suffering, you can't be precise about what each of us feel. And I shouldn't apply it here, myself. But this is exactly what Brown is doing in saying that grief about near-death approaches the grief of losing a child forever. Are you kidding me? You who have faced near-loss wake up every morning and see your child alive. Mine dies again every morning, when I wake up and he is gone. I don't doubt that there are many people all over the world who suffer more than I do, who have been through more, seen worse, lost more: but I'm not the one saying my grief approaches theirs. I wouldn't dare.

I struggled for the last 24 hours over how to cope with Ms. Brown’s article. Should I graciously say nothing, or respond for my own sake, out of my own pain? Which choice would help me put away the anxiety and anger I felt? What would my son have done? I want to embrace Ms. Brown’s suffering as others have mine. But Dear God! I would do anything on earth to be in her shoes rather than mine. Just for a day, an hour. Five minutes. I hope Ms. Brown and her friends who have been through near-loss of their children seek help for their emotional pain. But I can’t imagine that belittling mine could help her in the least, and it has affected me more deeply than I imagined it might.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

What it takes.

If you can't fly, run. If you can't run, walk. If you can't walk, crawl, but by all means, keep moving forward.


Life is totally about losing everything.
--Michael Tyson

Monday, April 7, 2008

Sunny Hills in Springtime

Spring is a little sad to me, even when I convince myself that Jesse is still in my heart, enjoying it with me. I try to walk through at least one sunny park a day, and really listen to the birds singing and children laughing in the playground. It almost works, except for that one special laugh I will never hear again.

Yesterday was Jesse's grandfather Milt's 90th birthday party. He has inoperable lung cancer, has had it for over a year now, but he still gets around ok. We danced together to Beyond the Sea (one of my favorite songs, he whispered to me), not long before the belly dancer showed up to wriggle and dip and get Milt's youngest great granddaughters out on the floor, awed by spangles, trying to approximate her hips. The party was at his sons' art gallery, and all the extended family, and quite a few friends showed up, some of whom I hadn't seen in decades. I've stayed close to my ex's family, mostly because they're kind and supportive, and don't ask too much of me. What I give is given gladly, without thought. That's how I want to be in the world, and they give me the gift of fulfilling that vision of myself.

My own grandfather was dying of lung cancer 25 years ago, at home on his farm. My mom tells me that one afternoon the family was gathered there, grandpa in an easy chair, watching my little sister teach a younger cousin how to play marbles on the rug. She'd learned this, as had we all, from Grandpa when she was a tiny thing. Grandpa turned to my mom and nodded toward the girls. My sister, his granddaughter, teaching his great granddaughter a game he had taught her. That's what life is all about, he said.

But now the farm is sold, the family scattered, my grandfather, and even my father gone. Their graves on the same site, a sunny hill overlooking the town of Connersville, where they were both born. Right now it'll be windy and a bit damp, the first pale new grass and leaves barely grown enough to shiver in the cold breeze. A lonely place.

They say the pain eases. That one day we can visit our dead without tears. I'm not sure I'll ever get there, I still cry when I think about that hill, the graves. The sun on the grass. My grandmother with them now, her funeral marred by a family feud that ultimately means nothing, except money in the pockets of lawyers. Money and anger and loneliness and loss. But they can't seem to stop themselves, what's left of my father's generation, a few members of my own. Even God has been dragged into it: which priest should say her mass, which Church should see her catafalque. Angry even today, bitter over where she was celebrated, where she was taken from God to darkness. She
asked only that the Prayer for Peace be read, and that the priest ask our family to let her death finally unite them. Even this last plea has fallen on deaf ears. The feud has worsened, I can't even bring myself to see them now. Yesterday was the anniversary of her death at age 99, a few short years ago. Today would have been her birthday.

Picking something to have faith in, in the face of all evidence to the contrary, is a painful, terrifying thing. But we have to, don't we?