Now What.

This is where I start but it will not be where I end.

I can hardly move.  I have this sensation that if I just sit still I won’t have to cry anymore.  Like a mouse aware of a snake in the barn I’m frozen in anticipation; hoping grief will forget that I am here and move quietly on its way.

I also have this immense feeling of dread.  I can almost feel that the sadness is gathering strength somewhere in my peripheral and is waiting to catch me unaware and then it will unleash itself on me full strength.  As bad as it is now I have the strongest sense that it plans to get worse.  Darker.  It will try to eat me if I let it.

I don’t really know why I am trying to write about this.  Maybe I’m not.  I’m just trying to put my brain to use.  To force it to organize thoughts.  Preparing for Nelson’s memorial took hours of pretty serious concentration and it was helpful for me.  I looked at his face in hundreds and hundreds of pictures and thought of him intensely non stop for hours on end as I put together photo montages and selected songs.  But those were the moments I wasn’t crying and I wasn’t floating aimlessly.  Of course now there is no more memorial to plan and the world is beginning to uncurl its edges and go back about its business and we’re left here trying to go on.  I guess I am hoping this can be the replacement activity to the memorial planning.

Already I am doubting though.  I don’t understand the website or its features or why I would want to assign a category.  The category is ‘my life is destroyed’.  Is that a category? Tag this ‘my brother died and I don’t know how to go on’.

I want to feel normal again.  I want the bliss I was unknowingly experiencing when Bart called me to tell me.  I want my brother back.  I want this to be the worlds longest nightmare.


Today kind of hurts

It’s one of those days.  Tuesdays to be specific. Tuesday is the day I go to my “suicide survivor group”.  I signed a confidentiality agreement regarding the group and I’m trying to take it seriously so will say no more about it except that I tend to leave those groups feeling a little battered.  I think going is productive but it is tough and I feel like I’ve worked when I leave. Inevitably I cry on the way home and am usually a bit more emotional the day after than I am most other days.  I see an Ativan in my very near future so I can go to sleep tonight.  Tonight is a bit extra painful because on the way home I called my dad.

He had written to ask for my social security number.  He is preparing his bank accounts for his death, adding me and my siblings as ‘pay on death’ beneficiaries.  A lawyer has advised it.  I understand and suppose it is the smart way to set things up but it also feels gross to be doing this sort of business with him.  But that wasn’t the painful part of the conversation.  My Dad is ostensibly very healthy and I don’t anticipate his death in the near future.  That part of the conversation just felt like an exercise in preparedness.

The hard part of tonight’s conversation was that I  also told him that when I talk to him I feel sad because he seems to not be sad about Nelson dying.  What does that look like?  Well, when we talk I inevitably ask “how are you?” with meaning hanging heavy in my voice.  I’m not asking how the day is going, I’m asking how he is doing with the grieving.  I have to believe he knows that is what I am asking.  But inevitably his response is “I am doing good, Teresa” said with emphasis on good.  At first I wondered if this was his way of making sure I don’t spend energy worrying about him?  Was he saying this to be protective of me?   Was he being paternal? But in the back of my head has been a growing discomfort because I think I’ve known it was no such thing.  What if he really is doing “good”?   How do I feel about the idea of him feeling “good”?

Let’s back up.  It’s important to know that I come from a long line of criers on my father’s side.  Growing up I thought of my father as the emotionally in touch one of my parents.  I saw my mother as tough, stoic and holding feelings at arm’s length.  I thought of my father as being more affectionate than my mother and more capable of being emotionally vulnerable.  Growing up I had seen my father break down in tears a multitude of times and can vividly remember the one time I saw my mother cry.  A four-year old Nelson had used one of her college papers as a practice sheet for his scissor skills and had shredded it pretty thoroughly the night before it was due.  So I thought of my dad as the feeling parent; the one who was emotionally available.  All of that may actually be true but it’s all relative.  The more time I spend in therapy the more I come to realize that our household didn’t lend itself to emotional honesty.  Like at all.   The fact that I thought of my dad as being emotionally available didn’t mean  he was.  it meant he was more so than my mother who had defense mechanisms on top of her defense mechanisims.  Crying about something isn’t the same as talking about something.  Caring isn’t communication.

When I was in highschool I spent a summer living with a friend’s mother.  It was a pretty big crisis point in my family up until that point.  My parents really struggled with how to parent me and things weren’t going smoothly.  During the events that lead to me leaving to go live with this family friend and also during the months of that summer my parents wrote each other letters discussing what they thought about how to handle the situation.  Let me say that again, they wrote letters.  To each other.  THEY LIVED TOGETHER and slept in the same bed but they left each other letters rather than talk about these emotionally charged concerns.  I’m not sure that they didn’t talk but I certainly know the letters happened and I found them and read them my senior year.  At the time they were a fount of information for me about the thought process my parents were each using to approach the subject of parenting me; the things they wanted to happen, the things that worried them, the strategies that would be employed.    I wish I could read those letters now because I’d be curious to see if they contained any reference to actual feelings about what was happening.  I am going to guess they did not.  I feel so surprised to realize how little we all talked about feelings.  I had such emotional upheaval as a teenager and spent so much time embattled with them and slamming doors and crying and seeing my dad cry that I think I thought of us as being an in touch group.  But we weren’t.  Not really.  Maybe more than some other families of the day and my dad was certainly more comfortable being sad than many of the other dads I knew but we weren’t skilled at talking to each other about how we felt.  We said I love you and at birthdays and other family celebrations we would talk about what we liked about each other and things we were grateful for and I confused that with emotional connection.  It was the tip of the emotional iceberg but it didn’t mean we were comfortable or practiced at speaking truthfully about difficult emotions.  I continue to get my arms around that.  We would read books and cry about the things that happened to the characters and I felt very deeply which made me think I was part of a deeply feeling tribe.  Maybe I was but feeling isn’t expressing.

When my Dad left us – and that is how we describe it – when Dad left us he gave us each a pretty silted phone call.  I think he cried and tried to  say that he just had to do this but it was a month or so later that we got a much more in-depth letter explaining his decisions.  As I write this it occurs to me that Dad is much more comfortable talking about his own feelings than receiving the feelings of others.  I’m not sure what I am trying to say.  Or what significance any of that has on anything.

Anyway.  So I told my Dad I needed him to be honest with me and tell me if he was really okay because I’m not okay and I feel really alone in that.  No one seems to be sad like me and I don’t understand why and THAT makes me sad too.  But he told me he is doing good.  He said he is an old man with an old man’s perspective.  He thinks it’s neither good nor bad that Nelson is gone – it is just is.  It happened.  He kept saying that.  It happened.  Which I guess means he is not struggling to accept it.  I should be relieved for him.  I continue to struggle with accepting it.  I just have this notion in my head that parents who lose their children are devastated.  I think of that as the worst pain a person could face.  No one wants to outlive their children.  Right?  Talking to Dad it sounded like he was talking about the death of a houseplant.  I can’t imagine he meant for me to feel this way about our conversation but it gutted me. I imagine he wanted the things he was saying to comfort me but I felt so distant from him.  People can be at different places, I get that and talking about this stuff can make people uncomfortable and as I have already described raw emotions aren’t our strong suit.  I get that too.  And maybe there is something about being in the twilight of your life where you have a perspective that the rest of us don’t and you can put things into their place and process it without all the tears.  I just don’t know.  I just know I’m not in that place and it hurt me to talk to him and I can’t imagine wanting to talk to him again any time soon.

I feel so lonely with this grief.  Both of my siblings have made statements that this loss is different from losing our mother.  The context is that it is not as earth shattering for them.  For me it is the exact opposite.  My world was rocked when my mother died and I grieved hard and heavy but this hurts in a very different way.  To me this is tragedy.  My mother’s death was so hard but it was not a tragedy.   There were even parts of her life that I felt profound sadness and regret about both on her behalf and on my own.  She had a tough life and a lot of emotional upheaval that she didn’t know how to cope with until the very end of her life.  She died just as she was beginning to live.  And that is tragic but her death was not a tragedy.  Nelson’s death is a tragedy to me.

Talking to Dad I think he also pointed out that he had not seen Nelson in some time and I suppose that makes him more removed?  I don’t know.  I miss Nelson’s presence for sure.  There is a void on Friday evenings.  There is an emptiness in my phone.  It hurts.  It is ongoing hurt.  I feel like I just want (need!) to find someone who is as sad as I am about Nelson but that person can’t be found.  And the looking for that person, that reaching out to others and finding such a disconnection is just too much.

Not every day feels like this.  I readily admit that I am now in the possession of many good days, better days.  But this has not been one of them.

I picked up a pen

There were several days between my brother’s death and his memorial.  We needed the time to assemble the family from far and wide and to let people know and to dislodge the lump which was perpetually stuck in our throats.

In hindsight I feel good about the memorial we put together.  I may have written about it before.  Intense grief seems to produce amnesia about things for me.  Anyway.  The memorial was held at the funeral home in Nelson’s home town.  It was the quintesential small southern town funeral home.  In other words, men in suits and southern accents who probably expected things to be done a ‘certain’ way.  We were most definitely not the ‘certain way’.  We brought in a projector and a macbook and a huge screen and John Moreland music.   We brought in a 10 gallon bucket and straw hats and guitars.  We created a busking spot a-la Nelson style at the front of our designated room.  The memorial service itself was comprised of three slideshows set to music – good music; intersperced by addresses from each of Nelson’s siblings and an open mic portion for anyone who wanted to speak.  It was moving and it felt like Nelson and I wish he could have known that the place was packed, every overflow room utilized and that he was greatly missed and mourned.

I suppose I took the lead with the planning of the memorial.  The highschool version of me that had perfected procrastination has long ago been banished and the replacement version of me overplans and works voraciously to meet deadlines and exceed expectations.  The memorial was no exception.  I slept very little that first week as I culled together hundreds of images of Nelson and arranged and rearranged slideshows so that they held a theme or complimented the music.  I rehearsed their execution and left absolute nothing to chance.  I wrote my remarks for the memorial after thinking for days about what I wanted to say and throwing away several drafts that proved inadequate.  I made a photobook for my son that included hundred of pictures of Nelson with his uncle Nelson and had it printed in hardback book format and delivered prior to the memorial.   I was exhausted but I was determined to treat the occasion with the respect it deserved.  I wanted very much, to do right by Nelson.  In so many ways he didn’t treat himself well and I wanted to offer the counter balance to that by honoring his memory with care and attention to all the details. Many people commented about the amount of work I had done in those few short days.  They remarked about it as if it was somehow unusual or implausible that I would be able to do such a thing in the midst of the tragedy.  I must admit I was somewhat bewildered that others weren’t attacking the planning with the same gusto.  It was such a comfort to me to be so immersed in the music my brother loved while pouring over images of him.  It was good for me to journey through my memories looking at the pictures and organizing and chronicling them.  I felt like it was keeping my brain moving and my thoughts revolving around Nelson in a way that, while sad, also gave me great comfort.  I felt compelled to work on the memorial.  It gave me somewhere to place my grief.

And then it was over.  And there was a strong sensation of now what?  We almost immediately went to Portland and then we were back and off to the beach for a few days with friends but then we were home and it was too quiet and I didn’t have a memorial to plan and I didn’t know what to do with myself.  It was such a dark time.  I felt like I cried so much and the future seemed so bleak.  At some point during this time my friend Chris remarked that I didn’t seem to have any defense mechanisms to help me deal with the grief.  He pointed out that I seemed to stay in a perpetually raw state.  I remember thinking at the time ‘why would I want any defense mechanisms?’   I needed, wanted to feel the sadness.  My brother was so important to me.  I didn’t want to defend myself against the loss.  I wanted to sit with it and hope that maybe it would swallow me up and that would just be the end of it all.  But it didn’t work that way.  I was just adrift with my pain.  And it wasn’t good.  I worried that I might really lose myself.  I was having dark thoughts.  Very dark thoughts.  I didn’t know if it was normal but I was very overwhelmed.  And that dark, overwhelming sensation was also static.  Day after day I would wake up and burst into tears.  I would cry off and on all day long and ended each day sobbing into my pillow.  I wasn’t able to articulate it then but I needed a place to put the energy of my grief.  Planning the memorial had given me that but it was temporary.

While we were in Portland Judd found a painted rock at the Japanese Gardens.  It had a positive message painted on it.  When we got home I found two more rocks at Target of all places.  It got me thinking.  I took a trip to Michaels to buy paints and brushes and I started gathering rocks.   I had actually had the idea of painting rocks germinate in Portland and I picked up a couple rocks from Portland and brought them home.  I decided I would make my brother a rock garden in my backyard.  The first rock I painted was big and I painted small dots all over it.  It wasn’t very creative or artistic but it was tedious and it took hours of concentration.  It was the sort of concentration that requires you to focus on what you’re doing but with room for thoughts to move about which was the magical combination I apparently needed.  What happened next has felt like a miracle to me.  I started painting rocks – badly and with little vision but while I was doing it I wasn’t crying; usually.  I started to look at rocks other people had painted to give me inspiration (direction) and I discovered Mandala stones which I thought were extremly beautiful.  I tried in vain to create one myself.  Mine were so sloppy and horrible I often painted over them and started over.  It wasn’t rocket science but I was making something and I was using my brain.  I was practicing being focused again.  It felt medatative in some strange way.

All this painting necessitated the buying of more supplies.  And on one of the trips to buy more paint or some such thing I wandered the aisles of the store and found something called ‘artist tiles’.  It was nothing more than a small pad of black paper squares.  On the cover was an illustration of a doodle done in white ink.  Hey, that’s neat, I thought to myself.  I should try that.  And so I bought a pad of artist tiles and a pen with white ink.  I felt pretty unencumbered to sit down with a piece of paper and pen when I had become adjusted to paint bottles and brushes and cups of water and rocks and paper towels and lots of prep and even more clean up.  I don’t know what I was hoping to do.  I just wanted to try to draw something with white ink on black paper.  I simultaneously bought new colored brush pens and a couple books on hand lettering.  I was on some creative high.  The hand lettering, while very appealing to me, didn’t catch fire.  Not yet.  I tried it and realized my mind wasn’t able to take on the task of learning this skill.  I put the books and pens in my closet.  But I put the artist tiles and the pen on my kitchen table.  And I went back to mostly crying all day.  One day, while crying I picked up the pen and drew a flower on one of the black paper tiles.  It didn’t look half bad.  I think most of the credit goes to the fact that it’s white ink on a black background but I liked it and I drew another flower next to it and then another and then another.  Before I knew it, I had made a drawing.  I had made a drawing!  I made another.  I kind of liked them.  I surprised myself.  I was drawing flowers and thinking about Nelson and it was focused and it was comforting.  And then I drew more.  And then I drew so many that I bought a box to put them all in.  I began to realize that at some point I might look in this box and think about where my life and heart were when I was doing these drawings.  I tried not to care if they were good or not.  They were quite definitely medicinal for me.  But Judd told me they were good.  He made me feel so good about them.  He made me feel artistic.  Never would I have identified myself as artistic.  Can trauma make turn you into an artistic person?  I tried painting Mandala stones again and finally they started to look better; not great perhaps but better.  It was a new experience for me to create something and feel that it looked good.  How emotionally rewarding.  I own a lot of supplies now and I worry a bit that all this desire to create may come to a screetching halt particularily when the rigors of the real world, paying job and school work  come pressing in.  But for now, I am drawing and painting and grieving for my very precious brother.

dimes, nickels, quarters, oh my

The dead have no privacy.  All the secrets will be brought to light.  Idiocincracies will be examined by people you never meant to show them to in ways you never imagined.  Bad habits will be illuminated.  Everything is up for examination, discussion and assumption.  Its a very difficult thing for me as we move through Nelson’s life leftovers and try to make sense of it all.  He was a private man and he no longer has any privacy at all.

I have washed every piece of clothes in Nelson’s house over these last weeks.  I have handled his socks, his underwear, his stained tshirts.  I have stuck my hands in pants pockets to ensure they were empty.  I’ve folded dress shirts and wondered if he ever wore them.  Going through all his clothes I was able to identify the clothes that were his favorites – or at least the most often worn.  I now know he kept socks that had lost their elacticty but didn’t have holes in his pants.  I have come to realize most of his clothes weren’t orginally owned by him.  I recognized so many of them as things we had given him.

Collectively, Nelson’s siblings have moved through every inch of his home lifting piles of trash looking for answers.  We have poured over rants written on scratch papers hoping to make sense of things.  I have been staggered at the notion that we let him live in these conditions; that his house could be so dirty yet he was always neatly groomed.

I’ve looked at his taxes for the last umpteen years.  I know how much (how little) money he made.  I know that he itemized his car travel and he reported his busking income. I know that he didn’t value paper money and it laid all over his house – all over his floors.  I know he collected change in jars and pots.  I also know he never used it because when the jar would be filled it would then glaze over with an inch of dust.

We know that Nelson was planning for some sort of economic collapse.  He had purchased gold and silver; physical gold and silver.   Some of it he treated carefully and secured with deliberation and some of it was handled very casually and was found under heaps of trash or at the bottom of used styrophoam cups.  He had stockpiled grains in the crawl space of his house.  He had purchased Johnny Walker Red mini bottles by the case presumbably to be used as currency should the need ever arise.

He bought toilet paper and paper towels online and had them delievered to his house.  He slept on a bed without sheets.  He spent his days cleaning for a living but did not clean his own home in any way.

He had plans.  He had purchased recording equipment.  He had long term investments, he saved money in the bank.

I look at all of these details and I become more and more certain that Nelson did not feel he had a choice when he decided to die.  If he felt he had time and ability he would have taken steps to protect his privacy more.  On the afternoon he died he was observed by a neighbor throwing away a computer.  It struck the neighbor as odd so he remembered it and told Bart.  Bart got the computer out of the trash.  We haven’t looked at it yet and it makes me uneasy because I realize that discrarding that machine was Nelson’s one act of hiding the proverbial bones. I can’t imagine he fully appreciated the degree that we would be going through all he left behind but in regards to that computer he knew he didn’t want anyone to see it.  We will look at it though.  That’s the thing about this abrupt departure.  For me it has fed the need to know more than we should be allowed; to be privy to the private.  It has taken from Nelson the dignity of keeping one’s own secrets.   I suppose that is true for all of us.  Nothing is truly private.  At any moment we could be gone and our details will be left bare for another person who has no way of really translating what it all means.

And that’s the other thing.  I think about my own life, and the conclusions someone might reach if they looked at my things without context provided by me.  There are the things people wouldn’t understand and I realize this is also probably true about Nelson.  And maybe that is the place where his privacy gets to live.  No matter how many times we sift through his things and walk his frequented paths we can’t experience them in the way he did.  We can never know for sure.



I wish this was about me being resiliant but it’s not.  It’s about how resiliant depression seems to be.  Depression is a bitch that won’t leave the party.  I’m taking Welbutrin now and it’s not working.  I cry without any control.  It happens multiple times a day.  I am full of worry.  I have thoughts, the likes of which I have never had before.  I wonder how this will end.

I’m too sad to write an actual blog post but I think it is important that I document the whole of this journey so I am leaving this here in hopes that some day it will just be ‘that dark time in my life’.

cobwebs, money and other gross things

Money changes things doesn’t it?  It changes people.  It gives and takes power.  Today I am struggling with the unknown.  Specifically, did my brother have a will?  *rubbing hands together gleefully* ooooh, family drama!  We found a draft will that was dated a few years ago.  It was kind of slap stitched together.  Brevity is the soul of wit and shit.  But it is but a draft.  We have not yet found a signed copy.  Did one exist?  If it does not exist do we assume from the draft what his final thoughts were?  What if there is a lone hold out that says “I don’t think this is what he ultimately would have come up with three years later”?  What if that hold out is me?

Last night I heard someone say ‘you can’t be logical when you’re being emotional’.  No doubt that is true.  I just screamed at my sister.  Like, screamed at my sister and said a lot of ‘you can’t take that back’ kind of stuff.  For no reason.  We don’t even know what we’re talking about.  I’m ratcheting up over the potential of something that in fact may not even exist.  I’m preemptively striking.  Sigh.

So there are three living children left in our family.  We are the walking wounded; all of us.  Let me be clear, we are all the walking wounded and I get that.  We are all casting about to make sense of the nonsensical.  We are all hurt in ways that are uniquely are own.  I am looking at the horizon of my life and deeply struggling to see what could possibly still be out there that is worth looking forward to.  Too bleak?  Too bad; it’s all I have.  And the uncertainty of things is very uncomfortable to me.  Why did Nelson choose to end his life now?  What precipitated these events?  Could we have stopped it in some way?  Was the needle moveable?  And what now?  That is one of the biggest questions, what now?  The things we didn’t lose in the proverbial fire; what becomes of those things?

As it stands now, our only glimpse into what Nelson may have wanted was the draft will which said give everything to our youngest brother and if he is dead split it between my sisters.  He is not dead.  He is here and mourning alongside the rest of us yet he is now different from us because all the flotsam and jetsam  of Nelson’s life are theoretically under his domain.  This includes a house that had deteriorated into chaos under Nelson’s ownership and any holdings my brother may have had.  All of it – the responsiblity – to one person to sift through and reorganize and keep and give away.  It feels and has felt complicated.  It is a lot for one person to be given.  I feel for my brother in many ways.  THat said, I also feel I need to ask permission to venture into Nelson’s home, which by the way, was also our childhood home.  In the days directly after the suicide I felt sure that there were answers lurking in those walls and if I were just given the time and opportunity I would be able to find them and make sense of the nonsensical.  But the pain of not feeling as if I could move freely and sink my arms in to my elbows gave me serious reservation and some resentment, if I am to be honest.  I finally asked for a key and was immediately given one.  It made me wonder why I hadn’t asked sooner.  My brother is healing on his own timeline and he and I are very different about dealing with the emotional struggles of life.  I wade in and he turns his back on the puddle.  Neither is right, it just is.  So he’s not ready and I’m chomping at the bit.  I can’t imagine having all the decisions and searching and sifting hanging over our head for weeks and months.  I want to pull the band-aid off.  I want to have it all over but the shouting, as they say. But baby brother is moving at a glacier’s pace by comparison and I feel like I can’t push things because it all is his to manage.  It has been a humbling experience to say the least.  I find myself walking on eggshells; wanting to do more but afraid to ask for fear of being told no.  It is worth mentioning that he has given no indication that he would say no; there is just pain in having to ask.

The house is in very bad shape.  There is garbage on top of debris.  Cleaning it will take a Herculean effort.  We all plan to pitch in and help but in a deferential manner because it isn’t ours to orchestrate.  There is little of value and what is there has been so long neglected.  My mother’s art is there.  That has value, to us.  My brother lived like a pauper which means that in theory there is also money left over and here is where the road takes a sharp turn.  Flotsam and jetsam are marine law terms.  They are the stuff found in the ocean.  Flotsam is the stuff that can be claimed by the original owner and Jetsam is up for grabs.  To me, the house has always been flotsam.  My mother left the house to Nelson because he lived with her at the time of her death and had for several years prior.  She must have said to him ‘take care of your brother’ because it is sort of known without origin that Mom intended for Nelson to share the house with my youngest brother if needed.  He was a college student at the time of her death.   She didn’t want anyone to be homeless. But that was over a decade ago.   So here we are and it appears Nelson meant to make good on that promise. While difficult, I am at peace with that.  It is no longer the home of my childhood.  That home lives on a short street in the back of my mind and there it will remain. As my father said, it was a lifetime ago.

But the jetsam.  What of the jetsam?  Should that not be distributed evenly to all of us who remain?  Was one of us really so much more important than the others?  Were the rest of us such footnotes?  I struggle.  I know Nelson loved me.  I know without hesitation he loved my son more.  But as he goes from this world nothing of him remains for us except our memories.  I struggle.  I struggle to see why one person may get inequitabley enriched and the rest of us just get heartbreak.  I think it is not fair.  The world isn’t fair though, right?  Another log to burn on the fire.  And what does it say about my moral character that I care?  I’m struggling with that too.  You are not supposed to care about this sort of thing.  It means you are crass and selfish.  Or does it?  My sister feels that if there is no will found she will honor the draft will.  My father agrees.  *camera swings slowly to me*……….    I want my remaining brother to say ‘I think Nelson meant for all of us to feel loved and he didn’t mean for me to just be the recipient; he meant for me to act as his steward.  You are all helping me with the job of cleaning the house and picking up the pieces Nelson left behind and I feel like it is my responsiblity to be benevolent about the things that can be salvaged.’ That is what I would want him to say.  Perhaps he will.  Maybe I’m supposed to wave my hand casually and say ‘oh no, this is yours’ like my sister and father say they will but I am really, really struggling.

The hilarious part is that we don’t even know what there is besides cobwebs and 15 year old cars.  There may be nothing more than words on a draft will.  There may be nothing but the love between siblings struggling to survive.  It would be simplier if it were so.

Birthday cakes

My birthday was this weekend.  I wanted very much for it to be the birthday that wasn’t and for the most part I accomplished that.  My ability to feel joy and to want to celebrate have been all but wiped out.  I had a heightened sense of anxiety because this weekend was also Bart’s 40th birthday which was a bigger deal before Nelson’s suicide.  I was actually really anticipating falling apart in the way I fell apart at the one month anniversary which is to say, I was expecting to be inconsolable.   Judd asked what I wanted to do for my birthday and I said NOTHING and meant it.  Bart called the day before and asked what I wanted to do for my birthday and I said NOTHING.  I don’t want it acknowledged.  I want it to just go by peacefully.  I don’t want to be an emotional wreck.  I want everyone to just ignore it.  I want to just join my regular life already in progress.

And then I got a text message from my friend Jenna.  I had run into Jenna at the grocery store earlier in the week.  She saw me in the produce section looking for leaf lettuce.  I don’t do the grocery shopping.  Grocery shopping is one of Judd’s things and I was uncomfortable and disoriented in the store.  I had been roaming the store over and over still looking for random things and not being able to figure out why I couldn’t find them.  I was near tears because I’m the pillar of emotional instability these days and then there was Jenna.  Let me explain that Jenna is one of those people that exudes light.  She is smiles.  I see Jenna and she reminds me of the color turquoise, bright turquoise.  Everyone should know a Jenna.  And so; there is Jenna asking how I am and saying I know your birthday is Friday what are you doing for it?  I was so stunned that she knew it was my birthday.  It was days away.  How does she do that?!  It doesn’t matter how many times I get to relive this life I will never be so in tune with my friends as to realize which of them have upcoming birthdays without numerous reminders.  But that’s the kind of person Jenna is.  She is inclusive and friendly and she remembers details about people and she asks questions with genuine interest and she knows who has a birthday four days from today.   And so after that brief encounter on Monday I get a text message from Jenna on Thursday night that simply said “I have a little something for you and will be bringing it by about 9am tomorrow if that’s ok.”  I reply “Oh you shouldn’t have” to which she replied “But I did.  See you at 9.”  And at 9am the next day she showed up with the most beautiful angel food cake.  It was all I could do to hug her and hold it together.  And that sort of set the tone for the day of my 49th birthday.

People went out of their way to be kind to me.  I had no less than three flower deliveries; one of which came with a visit from one of my dearest friends and was from my circle that I refer to as my “Primrose Moms”.  That evening my son asked me on a date.  How can you tell an eight year old no?

It is the strangest sensation to realize there are people in the world who are better at being human beings than you are.  It’s humbling and also oddly comforting.  I feel like before Nelson died I was living among these people and not noticing them.  They have all been illuminated so clearly for me now.  I have been spending lots of time thinking about these people in these last days and weeks.  I am thinking about the people who stood with us in the rain the night Nelson was found.  They stayed near us but quiet and didn’t interfere.  Some of them didn’t even know Nelson although many of them, I learned, did.  It was oddly comforting to realize that there were people willing to stand vigil with us so that we wouldn’t have to face the heartbreak alone.  It would have been easy for them to go but they did not.  It was an emotionally charged situation and it couldn’t have been easy for them and I am grateful they were there.

And then there were the numerous ‘doers’.  The people who immediately went to work to keep us afloat.  My friend Amy showed up the very next day with a care package of foods that she had thoughtfully selected for each member of our family.  Amy was also actively grieving her mother who had died just three weeks before and yet she came to my aid.  It is hard for me to get my head around.  When she arrived at the house I was asleep and didn’t even speak with her.  Sadly, I must confess I didn’t have the appetite to eat the Caesar salad she brought for me but I drank the hell out of the Diet Coke.  The night after my dad arrived a group of Bart and Kerry’s friends prepared a huge spread of food for all of us down in Petersburg.   Again, as seems to be a theme with me, I didn’t even see them.  I was so emotional that I stayed on another floor of the house pacing, pacing.   I later saw all the food and it was an overwhelming display of care and concern disguised as pastas and fresh bread and colorful side dishes.  My friend Jen left a care package on our front steps that included our favorite snacks, flowers and a lovely bracelet with the word “Hope” on it.   Yes, my world was extremely bleak and my friend brought me hope.  As I am writing this I am thinking that my thank you cards for all these people remain on my kitchen counter.  They have been written but not delivered.  See what I mean about being surrounded by better human beings? A neighbor friend left a bottle of wine and a card of support by my front door.  When I found it I must admit that I wondered if I would have been thoughtful enough to think to do the same?  Going forward, I strive to have that answer be yes.  It will take the rest of my life to repay all the kindnesses we have been shown.

The caregivers were also present immediately.  My friends, Chris and Karen were so remarkable.  The moment Chris heard about what was happening he came to our house and stayed with my son so that Judd could come to me.  He and Karen showed back up the very next day.  They were this gentle presence in our home that made me feel so comforted.  I don’t think they even know how much their visits meant to me.  They both have ‘clinical’ backgrounds and maybe that gives them an unfair advantage in the area of how to handle the survivors of tragedy but having the tools doesn’t mean you have to use them.  They could have held back but they waded in. Chris played on the floor with my shell-shocked son which is the sort of thing Nelson would have done.  It was just the thing my son needed and I will never forget it.  If you want to make a mother feel your love; tend to her child.  Chris and Karen have been relentless in their concern.  They call, they text, they show up.  They have listened, they have advised, they have encouraged and reassured.  With honesty I can say that I am not sure where I would be without them.  I hope they know what a difference they have made.

My friend Jen, the friend who brought Hope?  She also helped focus me at the very moment I was really going off the rails.  It was the night of the big feast in Petersburg; the one that I heard through the floor because I didn’t have the emotional fortitude to join the gathering.  I was in a constant state of tears and I was overly fixated on the upcoming memorial.  The emphasis I was placing on finding the right thing to say was actually making me immobilized.  Earlier in the day I had heard the piece my sister had prepared and it was so sincere and tender and I realized I would never craft something so eloquent and I was bordering on panic.  I was also tasked with speaking first which gave me the sensation of having the enormous task of setting the tone.  I wasn’t sure of the tone to set.  I had terrible ideas about things to talk about.  I had to do so many course corrections that I was blind to my ‘true north’ feelings about Nelson.  I was well on my way to creating the worst memorial talk in history.   Trust me when I say this, it was going to be bad.  It was going to be awkward and would surely have made everyone uncomfortable. If I had given that talk I would have regretted it forever.  And then Jen texted me.  I don’t remember how we got to the subject of the memorial but I most certainly told her I was struggling and in a few, short sentences she reminded me of so many things about Nelson that I truly loved.  She said it so plainly and simply and its truth resonated with me and gave me a place to center myself.  The next morning I sat at my kitchen table and wrote my remembrance in one sitting.  Did I get it right?  I don’t know, but I felt good about it, I still do.  That is another gift that Jen gave me.

The funeral was packed.  Every room filled with people.  As I stood to speak I realized that I was looking at the faces of several of my friends who didn’t even know Nelson.  They had just come for me.  There was one friend who brought her son because they wanted to support my son.

We had an open mic at the funeral for anyone who wanted to speak.  It was overwhelming how many people did.  They came prepared to talk and tell stories.  One woman from the library where my brother worked for years read a children’s book to us.  It was magical.  My former husband spoke even though, as he explained it, he felt like a ghost there.  It was a lifetime ago.   The director of the library spoke and said there would be a brick at the library dedicated to Nelson. There were people there who I never even spoke to that day.  They were just there because they wanted to be there.  When you lose someone it means so much to see that other people cared for them so sincerely.  I will never forget the people who came.

After the funeral everyone gathered at Saucy’s in Petersburg.  The owners, family of Bart’s girlfriend Kerry, closed down the restaurant for the afternoon and fed us all.  It was humbling and important and terribly terribly kind.   The generosity was mind-blowing.  It was a generosity on a scale that might not have occurred to someone else to do.  Those McCormacks are good people.

And the kindnesses continue to this day.  My friends take my son on play dates when I’m too sad to rally.  My workout buddy calls me every week to nudge me.  People text for no reason other than to see if I’m okay and to remind me they are still there.  My coworkers urged me to stay out as long as I needed with a sincerity that took my breath.  The biggest and simplest kindness?  People remember.  They remember Nelson.  They remember what he meant to me.   They know when a birthday cake will mean everything and when a text message is worth a thousand words. And that in turn holds me in place on this earth.



Hi Ho Hi Ho

Here I am sitting at the back of the Midlothian Library while Nelson gets his Wednesday evening tutoring.  I’m trying to ignore the two young guys having a very bizarre and yet intense and maybe even well-informed conversation about world currency.  It’s not really a conversation.  One of them seems to be providing a lecture to the other.  At a common table at the library.  It’s fascinating.  The lecture recipient keeps leaning this way and that as if barely remaining in his seat but then he occasionally adds a comment or question which keeps his compadre going at a rapid pace.  Apparently, this guy has the onset of WWII boiled down to something about the free market and John Adams.  But I digress.

Tomorrow I am supposed to return to work.  I am not at all sure if I’ll manage it.  I have been on the verge of what I assume is a panic attack the last couple of days.  My chest has been aching today and I’ve been pretty close to tears for much of the day or else fighting off sleep which feels defensive in nature.  This business of work and grief has been very complex for me.  I have been out of the office for just over four weeks.  I feel like I need four more to be honest.  But my doctor wrote the note saying to me “you’ll need a month; at least”.  What she didn’t say was ‘come back and see me’.  So as this date on the calendar has been slowly creeping toward me like a lion in the tall grass I have been thinking “I don’t feel healthy.  I don’t feel ready.”  but simultaneously I also thought “I’m supposed to be able to go back now.  I need to go back now.”   I have this huge sense of obligation.  It seems to be coupled with these comments from others that going back to work will be a good distraction.  A good distraction???  I have so many reactions to this I don’t even quite know where to begin.  First, I suppose, is that work is not supposed to be a distraction.  It is something you are supposed to do and do well; in a fully committed manner.   I don’t want to go to work and mail it in.  It’s not the gym for God’s sake.  (that right thee was a joke.  A gym joke; get it?) AND more importantly, I have so many ways I would want to distract myself I don’t need to go to an office with people who aren’t my family and close friends to do that.  I want to write, paint, go to therapy, spend time reading with Nelson, crying and taking walks by water and checking on my father and siblings.  I want to buy an ash tree and plant it for my brother.  I want to sift through the corners of his home looking for answers in the Virginia heat.  Those are distractions that feel worthwhile at the moment.  I do believe that I will find my way back to interest in my work but not today; not yet.  If I had been physically injured no one would say to me go back to work and sit at a desk.  It will be good physical therapy for you.  My heart and my psyche are hurt.  I don’t need to be distracted  I need to be healed.   I need the world to make a bit more sense than it does right now.  Four weeks can’t get me past the loss of my brother of forty-four years.  It can’t sweep the trauma out of my mind.  And yet I feel guilty and weak for not being ready.  I feel like I have to expose my pain to get the time I need and that makes me resentful even if it isn’t entirely true.

Meanwhile, as I’m writing this the guy with way too much information about world currency is now talking about his job as a cheese monger at a local grocer.   That’s right, a cheese monger.  He’s equally as passionate about this subject.  He’s happy and proud and talking at length about the arm’s length of responsiblities he has making sure the cheese is fresh and properly displayed and cubed if needed.  Yes, he said cubed if needed.    I find myself wishing that I could have a job where I stood and cubed cheese.  I think I might be able to do that tomorrow.  Hi everyone, I’m back.  If you need me I’ll be elbow deep in a rich munster.  Pass me my hairnet.    Except, cancel that.  I just heard this guy say he’s concentrating on his career now and maybe he’ll date in his thirties.  Cheese mongering may be too intense for me at the moment.

So the reality is that I am expected to turn on my computer and begin working tomorrow morning.  I have taken no actions to postpone that or communicate my reservations to anyone so in all the ways that matter the train has left the station on this matter.  It is time to give myself a pep talk and a permission slip to fail if needed.  Just maybe not too profoundly or publicly.