My dear friend is in pain

A couple of months ago I got a strange Facebook message from a woman I didn’t know.  She was a friend of a friend and she was reaching out to tell me my friend was participating in a retreat and asked if I would write her a letter telling her why she is special and what her friendship means to me.  Of course I said.  Of course I will write the letter!  My friend lives in another state.  I envisioned her getting my letter and the letters from her other friends here and knew it would be really important to her.  I was honored to do it.  And then.  And then I didn’t do it.  I kept saying I’m going to sit down and do that.  Oh yeah!  I really got to do that!  I HAVE TO REMEMBER TO WRITE THAT LETTER.  And finally another friend reminds me that the deadline was at hand and at that point I was flying across the country to be with my sick father and the letter didn’t get written.  I felt just terrible and thought I would mail her a letter just as soon as life settled down for me.  Then I decided I would write a letter and bring it with me in June when my son and I are going to visit.

And then today happened.  My friend lost her father today.  It was unexpected and my friend is left traumatized.  She called me and the pain was palpable.  And I related to it so much.  It took me back to the immediate time after Nelson was found dead.  That dark dark place that seemed, at the time, to be my whole world and my whole future.  Knowing my friend was now feeling that makes me feel broken for her.  With sudden loss comes questions and second guessing and lists of what if’s.  You can overwhelm yourself with those things.  They aren’t real and they steal your energy.  I know she will spend time with those thoughts and it makes me cry because I can’t be beside her to whisper to her that it’s not you.  It’s not you.  It’s not you.

I have been struggling to remember what people said to me at that time that helped me. Initially I couldn’t remember because that time was almost happening to another person.  The person I was ‘before’.  But then I started to remember the people who reached out to say ‘how are you?’ and were not asking the obvious question.  They weren’t asking some global how are you question.  They were asking how I was at the moment they were asking me because this grief is so fluid.  They wanted to know how I was in the small moments not in the big picture because the big picture part was obvious.  It was the rollercoaster they were giving me a safe place to describe or even to just shake my head and say nothing. They were letting me know they were there for the long haul so they had the time to deep dive with me into the moments of despair or the feelings of confusion and guilt.  When someone says ‘how are you?’ and they really want to know the immediate answer it is a gift.  Other people would say I am here.  I’m thinking about you.  In fact, my dear friend was a constant source of comfort to me because she reached out to me so frequently just to say I love you.  You don’t need to respond.  I am just thinking of you.  I hurt with you.  Sometimes my pain was so intense I would turtle away and it was the gentle reminders of loved ones that they were still there and were not going away that held me in place.  Brave people told me things would get better.  I didn’t always believe them and sometimes I resented them for saying it but eventually I needed to be told that because it gave me something to hang on to.  In the midst of the tragedy the thing I could not find was hope.  Humans need the capacity to hope.  And the word better isn’t what you think.  It isn’t a world where flowers bloom and unicorns roam the street it is a world where you can sleep, where you have an appetite, where you can laugh without immediately feeling guilty, it is a softening of the edges of your grief.  It seems impossible that it will happen but then it does.  Slowly and over a great deal of time but it does.  I am different and I still carry the wound of Nelson’s death but I am also getting better.  I have hope.

I am already making mistakes in the things I say to my friend.  I can sense it and she is a strong enough person to tell me what is useful to her and when what i am saying is not.  But I also hope she feels the intense love I am sending her and that my thoughts are consumed for her and her family.  And I will try to say the right things and I will pray that love will cover me when I say the wrong things.

And I’m really wishing I had written her that letter.  I really want her to know why I think she is special because it is those very qualities that will see her through her dark days.  She is loving.  Deeply loving.  She is the daughter we all wish we had.  She showers her parents with love and they are still deeply integrated into her daily life and the lives of her family.  Her father felt her love.  He loved her.  I hope she never falters in this knowledge.

She is a powerful mother.  She makes Herculean efforts to ensure that her daughters are living their best lives.  She is *that* Mom who goes full throttle to raise healthy, happy girls.  She makes memories for them.  She meets them where they are.  She understands what makes them each unique.  And she loves them with the fierceness of mother love.  When they hurt she hurts.  She is a safe place for those girls and they will be a support to each other during this time.

She is a lousy weather friend.  When things get tough she gets in there and stands with you.  When other people walk out she walks in.  She doesn’t give up on the people who matter.  She is honest and direct but also very vulnerable when it comes to her heart.  She is going to hurt for a long time.  Grief is a measure of love.  My friend loves big.  And she matters.

I hope she feels the many hearts that are joining with her tonight and will remain with her in the days weeks and months ahead.  She is not alone.  She has been a safe place for me to land so many times.  The friend she most deserves right now, if I am to be honest, is one just like herself.  I will never stop trying to be just that.IMG_2915





I should write that down….

Well hello under utilized blog.  What are you doing over here on the task bar of my computer?  Just sitting and waiting for me to decide I NEED you?  You’re so patient and I’m so…  something else.  I have a short pile of unfinished blog posts that I have started over the past year but that didn’t seem to get finished.  A couple of them make me feel bad because I did want to capture some things that have happened.  Maybe I’ll still get to it.  The Out of the Darkness Walk post is an example of one I should and would like to finish.

This business of grieving has been such a mine field and I’d like to write about that too when I can form coherent thoughts on the matter.  Maybe it’s okay that it’s not in real-time.  I have been using my mind.  I have read stacks of books. I have drawn stacks of drawings. I have over and under medicated.  I have gained a startling amount of weight.  I have spent time with friends and avoided them too.  I have had some familial relationships flourish and some break my heart.  It has most certainly been a year of change that far extends beyond Nelson’s suicide; although all inroads still lead there.

For years people have periodically said to me ‘you should write a blog’.  I don’t think they meant this though.  This heavy, sad thing.  I think they meant silly stories about my son and the absolutely crazy funny stuff he says.  I would like to write a blog that was more fun.  That had some wings.  I am making a deal with myself and allowing myself to just be free with what I want to write about.  If there is an arch of a story then it gets written.  If it’s light then its light.  If its dragging me to my knees then to my knees it is.


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.


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.

Benny and Joon

We had friends, Kim and Jeremy,  invite us to their beach house for the weekend.  They have a place in Duck.  We went for a long weekend last July 4th but returned home in time to go see fireworks with Nelson Oscar.  It was just one of those things that had become habit.  I asked him to go to see fireworks and he said yes.  I held my breath and asked again the next year and again he said yes.  I’m not sure how many years he came with us but it felt like several.  It was enough that the 4th was going to be a big deal for me.  And it was.  I ended up not going to see any fireworks this year and sat at home alone and cried instead.  It sounds pathetic but I could not rally.  The idea that we would go and do normal things just didn’t resonate with me.  Anyway.

So we got this invitation and my first inclination was to say no.  No, no no.  I can’t spend a weekend acting like everything is fine or crying in front of people I don’t know well enough to cry in front of all weekend.  They have kids too; a son Nelson’s age and a daughter who is five, I think.  Good people, like-minded and I know the invitation was an act of kindness to our family but it was a hard invitation to accept.

Nelson and I drove down Friday morning.  The ride was sweet and lovely.  We went down Route 460 which is an easy, nostalgic drive.  I thought about Nelson a lot.  Route 460 is mostly country road sprinkled with small towns that somehow reminds me of North Dakota and summer car trips with my mom and dad.  Nelson Cooper read books to me and played on his ipad.  I listened to a book that made me cry.

Nelson was also worried about the weekend.  He told me on Thursday night when I picked him up from camp that he had seen a little boy crying at camp for some unspecified reason and Nelson said he couldn’t go near him because he was worried he would start crying and not be able to stop.  He was concerned about crying in front of his buddy, Luke.  We talked about it and agreed that we might just have to cry and that we could search each other out as needed for comfort.  I also assured him that if it was too difficult we could come home.  I’m not sure I told him this but I had decided that we would go mostly because I feel like we have to try to accept kindnesses when they are offered and we need to try to remain engaged in our lives as much as possible.  I haven’t been back to work yet and am not maintaining routines very well.  I sense that I could easily slip into isolation so I have to try to say yes to opportunity.

Nelson and I arrived a bit after 1pm.  Our friends were in their swimming pool so we suited up and joined them for a bit.  They fed us lunch and in general made us feel really good about  being there.  We headed to the actual beach later in the afternoon.  Jeremy was kind enough to feel my pale girl pain and got me squared away with an umbrella.  And then Nelson got to play.  I had been dreading the idea of going to the beach this summer because Nelson and Nelson were such good beach buddies and I kept having these visions of Nelson Cooper standing at the water’s edge alone.  Having the opportunity to watch Nelson play with friends helped me release that image at least for the time being.  And I found myself feeling relaxed and able to talk about something other than Nelson Oscar’s death for a bit.  I had pangs of guilt when I’d realize that I was just engaging in normal conversation but I was able to hold myself together and remain present which were both big accomplishments in my mind.  We stayed on the beach for hours and enjoyed the ‘golden hours’ where the light turns beautiful and the sun and swim crowd slowly slip away leaving most of the beach to us alone.

Judd arrived that evening after we had a dinner prepared by Kim and Jeremy.  They teased me for my chicken and cheese dinner but it was perfect and carb free.  Tasty and keto for the win. And the best part?  Jeremy was on the back deck grilling the chicken.  It was well past dusk.  He called me to come to the deck.  ‘Look there’, he said pointing to a grouping of trees directly across from us.  ‘Do you know see that?  It’s one of the owls.’ he explained.  They have two owls that they have named Bennie and Joon.  Bennie and Joon – from the movie.  Bennie the brother looking after his complicated sister Joon.  Irony.  It had a happy ending.  Hollywood.  But there it was an owl which all by itself reminds me of my brother.  To twinge this moment even more Nelson Oscar – an owl lover -had actually seen these owls himself a couple of years ago when we happened to be at the beach at the same time as Kim and Jeremy and spent an evening at an outdoors concert with them and then went to their place to make smores.  It was a lot to mentally digest and I didn’t tell them all these connections of course but I stood there on the deck barely breathing watching that owl until he flew away.  It was gorgeous and sad.

The kids went to bed close to 10pm.  The day just got away from us.  We ended the night putting together a puzzle.  I was pretty drained by this point and just sort of sat watching and trying to appreciate the company and the fact that I was there.  

I won’t lie, I cried myself to sleep ruminating on possible triggers for Nelson’s suicide and had nightmares all night but the next day I was able to pull myself up and get dressed and walk to the bookstore with Judd, Jeremy and the kids.  It was super hot and humid (Yay North Carolina!) and was drenched with sweat and a bit dizzy if I’m to be honest but we went to the bookstore and got Judd coffee and books for the kids and a “Happiness Project’ adult coloring book for me because I could use some happiness.  We walked the elaborate series of board walks along the sound and looked at birds and turtles.  I was just another beach goer taking in the town of Duck culture and it felt good.  I did think about Nelson Oscar often and had moments where my breath would catch in my throat but I also had moments where I could talk with genuine interest about owls and the community of Duck and the endless things that fascinate the kids.

We went to the beach for the afternoon.  The water was cold, cold, cold.  I think Judd got in once and I touched it with my toes.  Nelson spent almost the entire afternoon in the surf.  It’s not so bad he said.  He’s 8 and clearly not to be trusted.  Kim brought lunch for everyone down to the beach – file the act under kindness because she specifically brought me a Caesar salad and cheese and salami because my eating habits aren’t normal.  We all need friends like this.

Judd taught the kids how to do word searches and soduku puzzles and I watched Jeremy fly his drone.  Each family is so unique and their habits and routines so their own.  It was both comforting and foreign to be able to lean in to another family group and just go with their rhythm for a while.  Part of their rhythm is to take advantage of the restaurants and bars in Duck.  Kim made us a dinner reservation at the Paper Canoe a place Judd and I didn’t even know existed despite vacationing in Duck for many, many years.  She arranged pizza and a babysitter for the kids.   We rode to the restaurant in the Jeep with the top down.  I held my hair in place like a rock star vomiting.  I ordered the chicken because it came with sugar snap peas.  They were insanely good.  Judd and Jeremy both got shrimp and grits and loved them. Kim had an overcooked steak and sat in front of an overly efficient air conditioner.  We talked college years, dating and neighbors.  It felt easy and good.

Leaving dinner we were greeted with a rapidly darkening sky and thunder rumbling a little too close by for comfort.  We raced back to their house to stow the jeep and jump into Judd’s new car.  We hightailed it over to their favorite cocktails and sunset spot and made it under the covered outdoor bar area with seconds to spare before the sky opened up.  Needless to say, no sunset.  But they had a nightcap and I had an ice water and we sat outside and watched the lightning all around us and counted down the thunderclaps.  We talked books and raising kids in this complicated world.  I told them about my planned rock garden for Nelson Oscar and we took (stole) a rock from the landscaping of the outdoor bar for this purpose.  Later Jeremy would give me two more rocks from the river rocks lining the side of his beach house.  How are awesome are these people!?

This morning we went back to the boardwalk to replace the Geocache box their family maintains.  Geocaching is a not something we have ever done and we got an education about all the experiences we could be having.  I think Judd may just give it a try.

Nelson did great this weekend and for the most part his biggest concerns revolved around getting sunscreen in his eyes.  This morning he did tell me that while in bed last night he was thinking about Uncle Nelson and had gotten very sad and wanted to cry.  I asked him if he had and he said he was scared to start crying because Luke was already asleep in the next bed.  We had a long hug.

It will be a long time before we are able to really go and let go for a weekend without feeling the loss and hurt that is still so fresh and real for us but this weekend gave us a safe and comforting place to practice the motions of normal life – the kind of normal life that involves friendship, food, laughter and ocean waves.  Tonight I sit here feeling sad but also grateful.

Yeah, he’s my husband.

So there was this woman yesterday that I wanted to throttle but didn’t.  You’re welcome airport woman.  You’re welcome.

She’s still on my mind which in some ways really pisses me off because she shouldn’t be- but my brain is not my own these days and I don’t seem to have any control over who comes to visit.  Yeah, so I’m ruminating about her.

It was a brief interaction and it went like this:
Lovely Virginia family of three enter Portland airport shop for ‘plane treats’ for the 8 year old member of family and Diet Coke for the 48 year old member.  Don’t judge me.  I don’t care what is in Diet Coke these days.  It’s delicious.  And life is crap right now so I take delicious where I can get it.

The shop is pretty standard stuff except for this really amazing end cap full of Oregon chocolate.  Who doesn’t want to load up on Oregon chocolate to take home?  I don’t know.  We were fixing to load the f-up.  I’m having this pretty in depth conversation with the 8 year old son about it when I notice this woman standing next to us.  Not just standing.  Staring.  At us.  It went on long enough that it got awkward.  Thanks for that lady.  I look around trying to figure it all out and I realize she is the store clerk and we are blocking one of possibly 14 ways for her to get to her register.  She isn’t looking at us in a ‘can I be of help’ sort of way before you jump to that conclusion by the way.  She is definitely giving us her well rehearsed glare that I can only assume she bestows on customers who annoy her on the regular.  At first I was so startled to realize she was standing there and appeared to plan to remain there until we moved that I gave a little “Oh!” and pulled the 8 year old away from the product I’m assuming her employer would like us to buy so that she could get to the register via her clearly preferred route.  But about one nano second later I was annoyed.  Like, inside voice coming out my mouth annoyed.  And I mumbled something.  Something stupid.  Not bad just stupid.  And in all honesty not loud enough for her to hear.

This is where I should probably point out that under normal circumstances where I’m not dealing with the traumatic death of one of my favorite people on the planet that I’m not quite so reactionary but I don’t want to be disingenuous so let’s just move on.

I go back to the task at hand of loading up armfuls of empty calories for the plane when the husband comes by and remarks that the cashier is grouchy.  AHA!  If JUDD thinks she is grouchy then she is grouchy.  I haven’t contaminated Judd so thoroughly yet and he can be trusted to be objective.

By now we have enough food to put a dent in the 8-year-old’s college fund.  Judd is at the register holding his wallet and casting about for an escape hatch.  I throw him a life ring and say “I’ll get this stuff…..” and look down at my own armful of Diet Coke and sweet and sour gummy worms.  (What did we agree about not judging?) and so he proceeds with his transaction.

About now, I become aware that the cashier would rather we just combine all this into one transaction.  On some levels I get it.  I’ve been the cashier.  Each customer is its own creepy thing you have to do.  If everyone is together can’t you just check out together?  In another universe and on another day when you hadn’t forced me to step aside so you could go through in such a passive aggressive way you would be exactly right cashier lady.  But not today.  Not today.  Before she gave Judd his total she actually came to a full stop and looked at the items I was holding for a full beat.  She moved her hand to gesture ‘this stuff too?’ because why bother speaking to us?  And I said “Oh no, I’ll pay for these separately.”  Sweet smile – because I’m the bigger person.

Judd completes the transaction and herds himself and 8-year-old out the door.  I put my items down in front of cashier lady.  She looks at my stuff like it is covered in Zika and before she touches any of it she says to me, “Sorry, I thought you were together.”  I give her a genuine smile (seriously – genuine).  “Yes we are together but I am paying for this stuff… sorry we’re weird like that I guess.”  She levels me with a really ugly look and says “I thought he was your husband.” To which I say (admittedly confused) “he is.”  She starts to ring me up with the speed of an arctic glacier and then stops (STOPS!)  waits a second and says  without looking at me “You’re very weird.”

Record scratches to silence………

Did this woman just say I was weird???

“What?” incredulous me says.

“He’s your husband and he didn’t pay for this.  It’s weird.”

And then……  well, I can’t actually remember what then because I think I blacked out or went into a feminist fugue or something.  I have no idea what I said but I remember my lips moving and I also remember feeling like I was really holding myself in check *proud moment* and then, blink, I was out of the store on the concourse again looking for our gate and shaking my head in amazement.

And ever since then I have been having periodic flashbacks where I rewrite the ending.

I’m Tony Soprano during that moment of calm right before he reaches out and chokes some lacky.  You know it’s coming and everyone in the vicinity holds their breath and takes a slow step backwards.

I’m Merryl Streep delivering a Devil Wears Prada level verbal smack down.

I’m me but meaner and I look at her and say “Shhhh, you’re stuck here and I’m not.” and I walk away cool like ice.

I run the scenarios 100 different ways until I’m actually tired of the exercise.  And I feel better and I realize I still bought Oregon chocolate.  Let me repeat.  I bought Oregon chocolate.  Life is not all bad.FullSizeRender