All Mad Here

The most surprising thing about grief so far is how angry it makes other people.

My friends are angry that I don’t care about the gossip. Can’t care. Don’t want to go out. Shopping. Bar hopping.

My mom is mad it’s taking me so long to get past it. Look how long it’s lasted. Why are you so dramatic?

My kids get mad at me because they’re raging inside, all day and all night. They need someone to fight. To feel alright.

My boss is upset that I sit at my desk stone-faced. Staring into space. I try but I can’t concentrate.

I’m mad too but not at you. At some unseen thing, some heavenly being, who took you from me. I love you, Daddy.

…I didn’t mean for this to rhyme or have rhythm but is cool that it did. Seriously, PSA: if you know someone who is grieving a tremendous loss, don’t be a dick about it. Don’t pressure them to come to parties or “be normal”. Don’t go silent on them because they can’t care about your kid’s birthday party right now. Please. Be better than that.

To My Friends

I’m sorry.

That’s the thing I would say to all of you first, most sincerely, urgently, since I believe my love for you is understood.

I am, and can be, selfish, vain, ignorant, unaware, self-involved, oblivious, moody, dismissive, callous, and proud. I like to think that I demonstrate these qualities only in the worst of times but I may be kidding myself.

Some of you trickled into my life – quietly, gently endearing yourselves to me. Through a shared love of reading, a common workplace or school, we bonded.

Others of you struck me suddenly – blasting into my awareness like a thunderclap so booming that you shook the ground I stood on. It was kismet, and we felt it.

Looking back, those are my favorite moments in life. Meeting my friends.

All of you are dear to me, in unique ways and for unique reasons. If you have let me into your heart, thank you. If you have kept me there, well, you must like trouble. I keep you and carry you – your face, our conversations, the things that were sacred only to us – in my heart, wherever I go.

I think of you so fondly that were we living in the 1800s it would cause an absolute scandal. Just needed to write this down. That’s all.

Macabre

Before he was cremated

I was allowed to see him

Not his face

They said I couldn’t handle that.

I put my hand on the dark tarp

I felt his leg, his shin

Realized in that moment

It really was him

All the air was sucked out of my lungs

I can’t scream, there’s no voice

His hand

Freckled, big, kind, hand

Hung out from under the covering

I stroked it and talked to him

Probably nonsense,

I can’t recall

Collapsed

Onto the floor of the funeral home

I sat and cried and touched my

Fathers lifeless body

And became

This new, broken, shattered, scarred,

World-weary, stricken, drowning

Whatever sort-of human I am now.

His wife saw a cockroach

On the floor

She joked that it was him

My dad

And she laughed and laughed

What a day nightmare of a day that was.

Stairwell

It’s an odd kind of peace, what I’ve been feeling the last couple of days. It isn’t blissful, and it isn’t resigned. I can’t explain it to anyone because I do not understand it myself.

I had a dream about Dad. Maybe 3 nights ago, maybe two. The days continue to blur into one another. In the dream, he was sitting in a stairwell. Might have been in a hospital or … it actually reminded me of the back stairs of a convent where I spent some time as a kid. I approached from the higher floor, walking down some steps towards him, my view was of his back. He wore a white shirt (always a white polo shirt when I dream of him) and a blue vest. He wore that vest often in his earthly life.

As I came around to him and sat beside him, I was aware of another person standing half a floor down the stairwell on our right, and someone else standing behind me. I am not sure now who they were, but I think I just forgot that detail when I transitioned from asleep to awake.

I looked at his handsome face. I am sure I hugged him, or tried to hug him. Sometimes in my dreams I can’t accomplish physical things like hugging, or punching someone. For some reason I am unable to move quickly, like I’m stuck in quicksand or slow-motion. There is great resistance. Anyway, I hugged him and told him that I’m sad, or that I am struggling, something like that.

He asked me why.

In that moment, in the dream, I had the awareness that I was speaking to my “no longer living” father. It was not a wish-fulfillment dream where he was living and I was living and we were continuing our lives or what felt normal for me. No, in the dream I knew the whole time that he was dead, and I was meeting with him in that state. So when he asked me “why” I was sad, (the answer being incredibly obvious from my viewpoint) or why I wanted to quit, (I really think I may have communicated many things to him without having to say them) my first thought was “maybe he doesn’t know he’s dead”. I didn’t want to tell him, I thought that might be devastating for him and I also didn’t know what would happen. What if he ran from me or disappeared? What if I upset him? I keep thinking about this moment because I believe wholeheartedly that sometimes – not all the time – we visit places in dreams we cannot even think to touch when we are awake.

I did tell him.

I took a deep breath and said, as gently as I could, “well… because you left.” (Or something like that. I apologize for having to almost completely paraphrase dialogue from my own dream but there was almost telepathic communication, not so much speech, and instant understanding. So it is difficult to transcribe here.) And he, in his way, responded with “well why should that make a difference?” or “yeah, so?” as if to say that his death need not be a hindrance on my life. He had run his race, and now it was time for me to run mine.

Especially because I could see that he was fine, still himself and still somehow with me, I found comfort in that. Dad was always like that, encouraging me in a very common sense way. It was absolutely something he would ask, in the way he would ask it.

Since having that dream, I have felt peace, but not in the way that I think anyone reading this will understand it. It’s like a warm blanket, that drowsy feeling you get after drinking hot cocoa in the evening or reading before bed. Calm, slow, sleepy, at rest. I wrote today on Instagram that I can’t tell if I am healing or if I am going completely numb. Is my heart falling asleep? Or did seeing him help me in some way I can’t put into words?

I don’t know what it means. If it means anything. I just wanted to write it down.

Grief is a Motherfuxker

That’s a typo but I quite like it

The title of the poem

I was going to write

I haven’t written it yet

Like so many things

I can’t right now

I’m dying again

Maybe tomorrow

Grief is a Weed

I am

Not a shrinking violet.

I am

Not a withering willow.

I like to grow,

Tall and proud and sure.

But this insidious, black coward

Whispering to my leaves

In the night time

This crafty repulsive rot

Oozing up from the ground

seeping into my roots

Strangling me from the inside

It’s taking over.

Father’s Day 2022

I think the same thoughts every day:

This is going to kill me if I let it.

Should I let it?

Then I get up, and live, and contemplate the difficulty versus the value

of living the next day.

It hasn’t killed me. Not yet,

not because I haven’t let it, really,

more likely it’s biding time. It’s to be torture rather than

anything quick.

Make me sick

With grief, with agony, with regret

It hasn’t killed me

but it feels every day like it will,

like it’s holding me

over a ledge, and I am waiting, indifferent, to fall.

To die.

Hanging here, still alive,

a new version of myself.

Not whole, not really recognizable.

Flayed wide open, for everyone to see

The breathing, bleeding dead.

A cautionary tale, a smiling, achieving, happy and gleaming

yet somehow

morbid and macabre display

Come one, come all,

Step right up you curious gawkers

Grievers, disbelievers

Step right up today

Come and see the girl who didn’t love her father

enough

for him to stay.

Galaxy Girl

Do you remember me?

Your galaxy girl

The one who made your eyes twinkle

Your imagination bloom

Who inspired the stars

The moon

The universe

Into being

Do you still think of me?

Your galaxy girl

The one with constellations

On her skin

A multiverse within

I’m fading now, darker, thinner

But still here,

Existing.

Does a Frog Bump His Ass When he Jumps?

I was so proud of myself. The details are fuzzy, and so will be the retelling, but I’ll do my best. I was a student at Valencia Community College in Orlando. I had written something that had been chosen for some type of publication. It was a piece on family or something (I told you – fuzzy) and I had written about what qualities I’d inherited from those who came before me.

Somehow or another, my father came to read the thing. “Useless Southern Colloquialisms?” he asked, his facial expression somewhat pained, head tilted to make eye contact with me, questioning what I’d written as his “contribution” to the human that is me. Some were classics – “Hold Your Horses”, “Can’t Never Could” – and some were his own creation – “Atta boy, girl”. (That one was always one of my favorites, usually said when I did something klutzy or clumsy.)

It would be true to say that I wrote that bit to be funny, and I was inexplicably proud of my use of the word colloquialism. What I didn’t realize at the time – or even consider – was how a line like that would make Dad feel. The joke fell flat. As I studied my dad’s face as he read and his subsequent reaction, I realized I had hurt him. In that moment I felt so guilty, filled to the brim with shame. In an instant I had reduced my dad – the man who had taught me so much, sacrificed so much for me, come to my rescue more times than I could count – to a comic strip punchline. And that, of course, had cut him deeply. It wasn’t funny. It was rude. Cruel. Tone deaf. Ungrateful.

My dad and I (and our complicated relationship) have been on my mind so much lately, for obvious reasons. When a person dies, one of the many thoughts that swirls around in the minds of the ones who live, is how we could have done better. Regret. All the ways I hurt him, let him down, and all the ways I could have loved him well, been less selfish, expressed my deep and undying love and gratitude for his presence in my life.

I’ve been told that these aren’t the thoughts I should focus on, and I get it, it’s not good to dwell on mistakes that can’t be fixed. But I think it is a necessary part of healing, to look at a relationship like ours from all sides, to pore over old conversations searching for meaning and truth, to hope that somehow even when we were shitty kids they still knew how much we loved them.

Yes, my dad said the funniest things and he usually said them in ways that northerners likely wouldn’t understand. Many times when parenting my own kids I hear those same funny things come out of my mouth. It was actually one of my favorite things about him – his wit. Even so, when I remember this whole horrible “15 minutes of community college fame” situation, I cannot fathom why “useless southern colloquialisms” would be what I’d choose to say I inherited from him.

Maybe I thought he’d laugh. Maybe it was self-deprecation. Maybe I thought the other things I admired so much about him – his strength, his grit, his unconditional love, his fighting spirit – were not also mine, so I went with the one thing I knew we did have in common. The probable truth is that I didn’t think at all. I was young and selfish and had no understanding yet of the world, or of my dad as a human being.

So when I remembered this moment, details fuzzy but the hurt on my dad’s face clear as a bell, I said sorry. Right there, out loud, I talked to my dad and told him I was sorry for hurting him and that he was so much more to me than some silly phrases, country one-liners, and I hope he knew it. I hope he still knows it. One day I will tell him in person.

Lord willin’ and the creeks don’t rise.

Six Months

Six months ago tomorrow at 11:38 pm my father departed this realm. Six months ago Sunday I got a phone call that would change me entirely – my heart, my soul, my spirit, my life, my beliefs – all of me.

I remember the days before, sitting outside a bar on Broadway with my brother thinking everything was going to be ok. After all, how could it not be? I’d never seen my dad not muscle through a hard situation. I’d never read a story where the hero dies while slaying the dragon.

I speak cruelly to myself sometimes. I have to, to force myself to face it. This isn’t a story. It isn’t a movie. The credits won’t roll and the man who played my dad isn’t coming back to life for the Hollywood premiere.

My attorney quit today. I accidentally watched a movie on Netflix where the dad died (didn’t know this was part of the plot) and cried into my supper. Today I had a genuinely good time at work. Last week I laid on the floor of the bathroom and screamed. Wyatt asked me why my shirt smelled like you and I gasped. I registered the boys for school and couldn’t bring myself to remove you as the emergency contact.

Life goes on, I know. I wish it didn’t. I wish the world didn’t forget you, didn’t act as if you never existed.

Your voice is so fresh in my mind. Your laugh. Your smell. You’re still very real to me, Dad.

So are the regrets.

I miss you. With all my heart. I hope you’re ok and I hope you’re proud of me, of your precious boys.

I love you, more.