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I took my mom to visit her eldest brother and extended family for Easter weekend. When I was a little girl, we’d go down for a week or so every year and we never seemed to have enough time to get around and visit everyone. She and I began to make a list of who to see this time and came up with only a small handful of people. We hadn’t really thought about it until that moment, but everyone else is gone.
We drove past houses where people used to live; now they’re just…empty.
That made me remember one of my flights home from a work gig. I was seated across the aisle of a 3/2 seater from an Honor Guard accompanying the widow of a fallen soldier whose casket was in the cargo hold. I observed the way they were seated; she was closest to the window on the 3 side, and her escort was on the aisle. It just struck me deeply that, to her, that empty seat between them must feel like the most empty seat in the world.
When people die, regardless of the circumstances, they leave holes in the lives of everyone around them.
I wonder what shapes those take?
Gram is an empty chair at her kitchen table and a number in my mobile that I had to label “Gram’s House” because, the first time I got a call from there after she died, I forgot for a split second that she was gone. I had been so excited to talk to her– only to realize my mistake and feel I had lost her all over again.
My grandpa, a brown recliner…and popcorn, Mexene chili powder, eggs fried in bacon grease, cold fried chicken with potato salad, holey socks, and a broomstick pool cue.
I always think of my friend, Bill, whenever I see someone with a unibrow because his was spectacular. My friend, Jim, is a red, 1970 Chevy Nova. Lifesavers and Chivas Regal are my Uncle Randy.
And here’s the odd thing: The void in your life, even if we lose the same person, might be a different shape from the one in mine.
The one person my mom and I didn’t visit this past weekend, her cousin “Big John”, once told us a story: He and his friends went around and bought every bottle of Boone’s Farm wine they could find in an effort to collect and drink thirty bottles for his thirtieth birthday. They cleaned out the entire small town! I always think of him when I see that nasty stuff.
My mom called last night to tell me that he died yesterday…
When my Uncle Dale (suspenders and peppermint tea) died unexpectedly in February, his daughter asked on Facebook whether these things get any easier. I still have my dad –which seems like sheer luck once you know his medical history– and I didn’t feel it was fair to comment at the time. I do understand loss, though, and I understand surviving things that forever change you. What I wanted to tell her was, “No. Sometimes, you’ll want to reach over and shake the person talking to you about their trivial crap and you’ll want to scream, ‘Don’t you understand that something HUGE just happened to me and that I will never be the same?!’ It never gets easier; you just get stronger and better at ignoring the fact that there is a gaping hole in your life.”
Sometimes, something –like the phone call from my Gram’s house or the trip my mom and I just took– makes us confront our emptiness. I don’t think there is a way to be ready for that, so appreciate the spaces people occupy in your life while they are still filled.
Wednesday morning there was a long fuchsia ribbon on the floor in the parking garage. I saw it as I passed by and was overwhelmed with sadness. In my eyes, that ribbon was so much more than just a ribbon. It was a symbol of innocence lost or discarded; a dirty, crushed, damp reminder that, sometimes, beautiful little things just fall away and people never even notice.
Beauty is scarce enough in this world without us dismissing it. Little things matter.
I remember the most beautiful slice of lime that I ever saw. It was on the rim of a margarita in a horrid little chain restaurant in Delaware in December of 2000.
The only perfect green apple I’ve ever tasted was in my lunch as I was painting a house with my dad in the winter of 2002.
The prettiest blue sky was over Lake Michigan in July of 2003.
The softest thing I ever held was my very first nephew in September of 2005; he was 20 minutes old.
The freshest air was on the east cliff over the North Sea in Whitby, England in March of 2006.
The smoothest stone was in a tidal pool on Inchydoney beach in Ireland in October of 2007.
The steamiest shower was in a little hotel in a Lake Michigan coastal town in September of 2008.
The kindest gesture came in the form of a homemade blanket in October of 2010.
The sweetest kiss was placed on my right cheek in a sushi bar in June of 2011.
The most unforgettable words were in a hospital in August of 2012.
These are all just snapshots in time of beautiful things that have all disappeared; things that only exist now because I remember them; little things that mattered, to me, in big ways.
Think about all the little things that matter to you. Think about the beautiful things that may have seemed insignificant but made a lasting impression. Remember all those the next time you begin to talk yourself out of a word or a gesture or a feeling because, “It’s just a little thing.”
There are no little things.
When I was little, Gram always said things like, “You better eat something! You’ll shrivel up and blow away!” When I was a vegetarian Gram, bless her heart, would try to convince me to eat the potatoes and carrots she’d cooked in with the roast because, “They’re vegetables, aren’t they?!” It didn’t matter how many of us showed up for Sunday dinner, nobody would ever go hungry in her house. She was always feeding people– which was no small feat in a family of 6 kids, 20-odd grandkids, great and great-great grandkids and, now, even one triple-great grandbaby.
Uncle R and I were talking the other day about when exactly it was that Gram was first diagnosed with congestive heart failure; it was 1993, the year after we lost Grandpa. Her first heart attack was three years after that and I was at the hospital with her when the doctor told her that she would get to a point where she’d only be able to sit in a chair and wouldn’t have the energy for anything else. That was 16 years ago and, until recent years, she’d barely slowed down!
Grandpa always said that Gram was the most stubborn woman he’d ever met and I don’t think most of us saw quite what he meant by that until he wasn’t around anymore.
She held on to every plastic container and glass jar that anything ever came in– probably an effect of surviving the Great Depression and knowing what it is like to truly have nothing. She’d get really, really upset if we tried to get rid of any of those things, however, she’d eventually forgive us and just begin collecting more.
I can’t count the number of times we all had to warn her that the basement stairs probably weren’t safe for her anymore. She never even stopped climbing up into the barn loft until we took away the ladder– and that wasn’t very long ago!
I know that quite a few of us inherited that stubbornness and without it we wouldn’t be as strong as we are today. It was that stubborn spirit, that force of will, that gave us all 20 more years with her than we had with Grandpa. And we all loved her and were so thankful for it.
The last time I sat in her kitchen and talked with her, Gram told me she wasn’t having any more birthdays; she didn’t want them. When I rose to leave I told her I loved her and, like all the times before, she exclaimed, “Oh! I love you too!” and she hugged me as tightly as she could, pressed her soft, wrinkled face to mine, and kissed my cheek.
And, in the hospital on August 28th, she did the same thing. I had spent the whole day before holding her hand and talking to her, wondering if she knew I was there because she hadn’t really acknowledged anyone. But that day I said, “I love you, Gram!” and she said, “I love you too!” as clear as anything!
That was the real secret about Gram: her capacity for love was infinite and the force with which she loved us all was just as stubborn and tenacious as everything else about her.
So, if you believe in an afterlife, you have to believe that there will be one hell of a Sunday dinner waiting for all of us when we get there…and that there will always, always be containers for leftovers.
In loving memory of M.E.R. September 19, 1912 – September 11, 2012
I grew up in a house built on an acre of land that my grandparents sold to my parents. Gram and Grandpa lived right across a big field and my brother and sister and I were at their house almost all the time.
My Grandpa was loud and funny and passionate about all things in which he invested his time or energy. He could build absolutely anything in, what seemed like, no time at all. He made crazy things in the kitchen– including macaroni and peanut butter– made popcorn with bacon grease and always had Mexene chili powder in the spice cabinet. He would sneeze so loudly that it would shake the house and rattle the chimes for their doorbell which would make a loud, vibrato *BONG* and, if we were home, we could hear him sneeze from clear across the field! He wore black, nylon-blend socks that were always threadbare on the soles and if we tickled his feet he’d shriek like a girl. He’d scoop us up in his arms and hold us while he sat in his brown recliner and say, “Gotcha where I wantcha; gonna keepya where I gotcha!” And at Sunday dinner every week he’d say a prayer from which most of us could only understand, “Bless this food about us now… *speed mumble* …Christ’s name. Amen!”
The last time I saw Grandpa was February 13th, 1992. I had gone to his house to get a little basket to use for a Valentine’s Day gift. I picked up the basket, said something like, “See you later!” and left. I didn’t say I loved him or Gram. Ten days later, he died. It was a Sunday.
I never forgave myself for any of that, not for neglecting to say that I loved him or for neglecting to visit in those ten days. So, every single time that I have seen or spoken to Gram for the past twenty years I have told her that I love her.
The last time I visited their house to talk to my Gram, who is now 99 years old, she told me that she wasn’t going to have any more birthdays– she’d turn 100 on September 19th– and that she hoped she’d just die in her sleep like Grandpa did because she didn’t want to be stuck in a bed with people taking care of her. She asked me if I would take care of her if it ever came to that and I told her, “Oh, Gram, I’m really not good at that sort of thing! I do hope you get exactly what you want though.” we laughed and I hugged her and told her I loved her.
And, now, here we are.
Gram had a stroke on August 25th. I’ve heard doctors describe it as “massive” and “severe”. The scans of her brain show damage to 4 regions of the right hemisphere; she has lost muscle control of the left side of her body. She doesn’t open her eyes most days or talk…
Gram was responding to me for a few days. She said she loved me, she asked me to get her water, she kept asking for me by name… just me. She even called my mom, my cousins, and the nurse by my name. So, knowing that last conversation we had, it is always really difficult for me to leave.
I wish I could sit by her side and hold her hand all day every day, but I can’t. I have to keep working and paying my bills and living my life even as hers is ending. That is hard.
My Uncle R and my mom were the ones who regularly visited Gram before the stroke and made sure she had everything that she needed. Now, when Gram needs the most, Uncle R and Mom have been there with her every moment that they can be. It seems to me that they are bearing the weight of this enormous, heavy darkness that is creeping across our family. I am so thankful for them doing that. I don’t know if they realize how much it means; that what they are doing is not just helping her, but helping all of us. It can’t be easy for them and no words exist to thank them sufficiently for this.
My heart aches for everyone who is losing Gram however, for her sake, I still hope she gets exactly what she wanted.
The most successful relationships are a balance of time together and time apart. The time together allows you to be a couple and the time apart allows you to be individuals. All the best couples I know are made of really interesting individuals whose company is easily enjoyed with or without their significant others. If, however, you are not half of one of those perfectly balanced couples, there is something potentially unnerving about giving space to someone you care about.
I’m not talking about a few hours away. I mean real distance; the kind of space in which you don’t see each other for several days and it is ok to ignore text messages and send calls to voicemail; that cavernous, echoing kind of space that shows the gaps you’d leave in each other’s lives.
If you’re lucky there are gaps to be shown.
But that isn’t always the case, is it?
I think it must require faith or, perhaps, just a general sense that things will eventually be ok… Personally, I’ve never been good at either. As a result, I have never been very good at the whole space thing. I can give it, but I rarely ask for it, and I don’t like the silence that accompanies it.
I want meaningful glances and sincere notes and I want to be told that someone loves me. That doesn’t make me needy or weak; it makes me a romantic.
Even when I am away from someone I love—especially when I am away— he is still the first person I want to tell about everything that happens. I always worry he will believe silence means I don’t care or that he must not be missed; not wanted; that I must be happier alone. I know these thoughts are driven by my own fear that, if I don’t hear from him, he must not be thinking of me.
Distill it down and that is the true essence of what makes “space” feel so excruciatingly uncertain: We all want to be missed, but none of us wants to be forgotten.
I have some very talented, brilliant, writer friends—friends who should have their work published and should have a huge following and make money doing what they love. I also have writer friends who should probably not write and would be much better off focusing their creative energy on other things. Every once in a while, I wonder which of those groups I would fall into…
There are things I could write that would make money and there are things I want to write because they’d make me happy. They rarely seem to be the same things.
At some point, the act of writing took a backseat to the how and why of writing; I suppose that is what keeps me from sharing as much as I did when I was younger. I went from putting ink on paper as a daily ritual to needing to feel as though the idea was worthy of the ink and the words deserving of the effort. It’s scary to put little pieces of your heart and soul out for the world to see. Doing so can reveal more than intended about who you are and what you think and, conversely, could be interpreted incorrectly and lend characteristics to you that are absolutely untrue.
To be candid, there is a simple reason that I edit writing that belongs to other people rather than publish something of my own: I’m not courageous enough to relinquish something I have written and hand it off to someone else like me. I struggle with the very idea of allowing it to be dissected and critiqued.
Even here, some of my favorite blogs remain unreleased because as long as they are unposted, they are unfinished; they are growing still and altering them changes nothing for anyone but me. I can even make myself believe that this is done in the name of perfection.
Once I finish something, though, it is Frankenstein’s Monster. Life has been breathed into it and the damage is done. It lives. That’s terrifying.
I admire the people who confront that fear and move forward in spite of it, but I envy the people who never realized there was any reason to be afraid.
We have to earn what we spend; time is no different from money in that and neither is unlimited.
There is something about mortality that I don’t think people can understand until they have, themselves, confronted their own. It has a way of making one feel tremendously insignificant and as if the need to do things right now is amplified. Sometimes it makes people want to get a tattoo or jump out of a plane or have a baby; it’s different for everyone. Confronting mortality twice in two years has made me want to be more certain and to feel like my time is being spent, consciously, instead of wasted.
My Gram (on my mom’s side) will be one hundred years old in September. She has no patience and I am just now beginning to truly understand the why of that. It feels impossible to wait when you’re suddenly aware that you may not wake up tomorrow.
Life is just a flicker, a flash, a moment… I want my moment to mean something.
I know that MJ felt like I was in some big rush to get married. I don’t need to get married. I just need to know that the man I am with might actually like to spend his life with me someday. Nobody wants to feel like a placeholder. Tell me you don’t want to lose me.
This week MJ said exactly that. He doesn’t want to lose me. Hearing that felt really good.
The catch is, in our relationship, MJ always seemed most comfortable in the week or two following a big fight. It was exhausting for both of us and just reinforced my idea that as soon as we’d reach any point in which a decision needed to be made about moving forward, we’d move backward instead. There is no incentive to move forward if you spend all your time just trying to earn your way back to what you had before.
This time, I’ve decided to handle things a little bit differently. It wasn’t just a fight– we broke up; that is fact. I told him that he can’t just un-break-up with me.
As I mentioned in my last blog, things change because people change them; it’s not a passive process. If we want our relationship to be different, we’ll have to make it different. So, I took all my things out of MJ’s house; I even gave his key back to him.
We really are starting over and if we’re going to spend time together, we’ll both have to earn it first.
In case you haven’t been able to figure it out yet, I am passionate. And, as I am always telling people, that is full-spectrum, rip-your-throat-out to rip-your-clothes-off passion.
When I posted Best and Worst on Saturday, it was exactly as I had left it on Wednesday– unfinished and unedited. Normally, that would be fine. On Saturday, however, the note that I tacked onto the bottom of that piece painted it in a very different light than I had intended. Originally, Best and Worst was supposed to be about self-reflection and meant as an “I’m not perfect so why do I expect that from others” kind of thing; I could choose to love the people in my life as they are or choose not to. I realize now that it did not read that way at all– especially after what happened with MJ.
“We are not the same persons this year as last; nor are those we love. It is a happy chance if we, changing, continue to love a changed person.”
― W. Somerset Maugham
We always hear people say, “[NAME] just isn’t the same as [TIME].” I have said it and I know it has been said about me. Guess what- it’s true. If you have aged or learned or experienced anything at all since you met, you have both changed.
Love is not about being or staying the same. Love is about accepting differences- in ourselves and those around us. Sometimes those differences are between you and the other person; sometimes they are between who that person was before and is now. Real, actual love makes allowances for all of that. Love is not always easy; sometimes it is, most definitely, a challenge. But, as a friend recently reminded me, LOVE is a verb. It is not something that just happens; it is something that you do.
Missing the spark? Light a damned match! Want your relationship to change? Change it! Want the person you are with to be more like the early days? Be more like you were in the early days! Be the you that he or she fell for in the first place. Flirt, give compliments, hold hands, send flowers, cook dinner, do whatever it was. Do.