Wintering

Suicide is the storm that knocked out our power, 
plunged us into darkness, 
blue-penciled our future. 
An impossible interruption
delivered by an unwelcome uniform. 

Friends and family arrive, 
and their light accentuates the devastation. 
Words fall like rain, 
streaming into the gutter and gushing down the storm drain,
too loud to make sense of.
Lightning flashes anger.
Questions snuff out candles of hope.

Well past blankets and hot cocoa,
we sit together in the stinging cold,
silently alarmed at the landscape of this life,
daring still to breathe
for who knows how long.

Some day we will pick up words like fallen branches,
carefully
shaving away the splinters
wondering what we might use to build
something.
But not today.

Today’s work is
to feel the black ache,
the powerlessness
the unrelenting fear
the seeming insignificance of love against such tumult
and to gather ourselves
gently
present anyway.

***

Wishing you light and strength on your healing path. Especially during the storms.

There is help if you need it: National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 800-273-8255

Crisis Text Line: Text HOME to 741741

Taking Flight

This piece is from the archives, as it were, and as kids are heading back to school, it feels like the right time to share.

***

The little one’s last two years of high school have been colored by a renewed struggle with his father’s suicide. I can’t blame the father 100% for the child’s behavior. It’s entirely possible that the boy would have engaged in the stereotypically risky teenage business anyway. But his adolescent anger has fueled some unfortunate decisions, and I’m afraid that love and patience and therapy will not counter the effects of paternal abandonment and the allure of drugs and alcohol and pretty girls. 

My son believes his mother didn’t get it. And indeed, I don’t.

I love him. I am proud of him. And I am profoundly afraid. 

Over the summer, my son and I fly to the Midwest for his orientation weekend for incoming college freshmen. We travel together in that distinct tandem of parent and child. At nearly 6’3”, he acts as my defender, and as the baby, he follows my lead through the terminal to locate our departure gate. Naturally, his eyes occasionally roll dismissively in my direction, and also, he falls asleep on the plane with his head resting on my shoulder. I tip my head toward his, feeling his thick, unruly hair against the side of my jaw, trying not to think about the fact that the next time we fly to Milwaukee, his ticket will be one way and I will return home to my freshly empty nest. I inhale the sea breeze scent of his shampoo and close my eyes. No matter how stinky and surly a teenager becomes, these points in motherhood stabilize the tension. Balancing on the razor’s edge between love and loss, I drink in this tender interval between a moment and a memory. 

On the return flight home a few days later, he wants to watch a movie, but he has forgotten his earphones. 

I wonder silently whether he is really ready for college.

“Can we share yours?” he asks, smiling impishly. “Let’s find a movie we both want to watch.”

Normally more of a book-reader than movie-watcher, I slide my iPad into the seatback in front of me. His three older siblings have conditioned me to drop most everything when they want to share an experience, which becomes increasingly rare as they grow older. If he had asked to borrow my headphones, I might have simply handed them over, and I am pleased he wants to watch together.

He scrolls past the action movies he knows I’m not inclined to choose, Spiderman and The Fast and The Furious.

I scroll past the documentaries RBG and Free Solo.

He lands on A Star Is Born and looks to me for approval. 

“You know there’s a suicide at the end,” I say. 

“I know,” he says.

“At least 10 people who loved it warned me not to watch it.” I have purposely avoided watching this film. I’ve lived with a suicide. I don’t need my entertainment to be punctuated by one.

“I know,” he insists, “but I heard Lady Gaga was great.”

Thus, we are agreed.

Held close to each other by the cord of a shared pair of earphones, we watch. As the movie nears its foretold conclusion, I force myself to breathe. Inhale, exhale, repeat. I feel my son’s warm, brown eyes – inherited from his father – glancing over, watching me protectively.

In fact, it is a brilliant film with heart-wrenching performances. Painful scenes echo our own reality. My friends were kind to have warned me. And yet, this is probably the best way I could have watched this film – on a tiny screen and connected to a son who shares my earphones and my grief.

The most poignant moment happens after the film is over, when my son who at six idolized his father and at 16 reviled him, turns his 18-year-old self to me and says, “I wasn’t expecting to like the Bradley Cooper character, but I really did.” Which begins – yet another – conversation about his father, about life and mental health and suicide and love. About how it might be possible – if inexplicable – that Sam both loved his children dearly and never would have hurt them, and was suffering so desperately that he imagined they’d be better off without him, shattering them. That he could be a truly kind man and the asshole who left. And that the child himself could love his father and resent him and be proud of him and ashamed and miss him and feel his presence. All these can be simultaneously true. 

I marvel at my son’s resourcefulness and his capacity to love and forgive. 

Yes, I think. My no-longer-little-one is prepared – for college, for travel and for life. He has everything he needs, even when he forgets his earphones. 

***

Wishing you light and strength along your way. And please remember to remove all personal items from the seatback in front of you.

***

Also, my iPad found its way back to me. And the so-called little one is now half-way through college.

Light and Strength

Hello Tuesday People ~

I’m feeling like I should say something, but I’m not entirely sure what to say…

Like all of us, I’m trying to keep my wits about me in the ways that suit me. I’m taking the dog for a lot of long walks and I’m sitting down for quiet sits. Online yoga in my living room, or weather permitting, outside in the sunshine. I’m limiting my time on news and social media sites, and spending much of my time writing…. Writing grocery lists, writing love notes and mostly writing my manuscript.

What I want you to know is that I am deeply grateful for you, my Tuesday community, and that I am holding you in my heart. Know this, even if you don’t see much activity on my blog, that I am sending love and giant hugs your direction.

Here are some of the resources in which I am finding comfort in these crazy coronavirus days. Please feel free to share:

Staying Present: Elizabeth Gilbert’s 5-4-3-2-1 grounding technique: You sit and notice 5 things you can see, 4 you can hear, 3 you can feel, 2 you can smell and 1 you can taste. This practice brings you right into the moment. It’s especially yummy if you can do this lying on the grass in the sunshine. Dog optional, but recommended.

https://www.instagram.com/elizabeth_gilbert_writer/channel/

Meditation:

Tara Brach’s talks and guided meditations are terrific. She has several resources on her website, and you can subscribe to her podcast on iTunes or wherever you access your podcasts.

https://www.tarabrach.com

Good News:

If you haven’t already discovered Maria Shriver’s Sunday Paper, I recommend it. “The Sunday Paper is a free modern digital newsletter to inspire your heart and mind.” It does. Enjoy.

https://mariashriver.com/sundaypaper/

Poetry:

Of course, poetry! A salve for the head, the heart, the soul…

“Go to the Limits of Your Longing”  by Ranier Maria Rilke

(Book of Hours, I 59)

God speaks to each of us as he makes us,
then walks with us silently out of the night.

These are the words we dimly hear:

You, sent out beyond your recall,
go to the limits of your longing.
Embody me.

Flare up like a flame
and make big shadows I can move in.

Let everything happen to you: beauty and terror.
Just keep going. No feeling is final.
Don’t let yourself lose me.

Nearby is the country they call life.
You will know it by its seriousness.

Give me your hand.

***

Light and strength to you all.
Love,love,love,

Charlotte

We Begin Again

Mom

The so-called little one. I can hear the anguish in his voice a thousand miles away through the one word text message. It’s a terrible thing to lose a hero, especially when they’re so young. Or we are. Or ever, really.

Whether that hero is an icon or a parent, a son or a daughter. We ground our hopes in their vitality and curiosity and tenacity, and through them find our own. But what to do when they are gone?

Kobe died in a helicopter crash.

We feel the loss keenly, the way it reverberates on the heartstrings of our own losses.

Kobe was 41; my husband was 41 when he died.

He died on January 26th; my dear father-in-law died on the same date a few years ago.

His daughter, too; it’s impossibly sad.

I think about a blue-sky day, not long ago. I was out walking my dog when I saw my neighbor walking their dog. A neighbor, and also a friend. Our families have coordinated carpool, celebrated graduations and bar mitzvahs, shared meals and concert tickets.

I cross the street to greet him, and he looks gaunt and pale, almost gray. My stomach clenches, prepared – not prepared, braced – for imminent bad news. I can almost hear the words “I have cancer” before he says them, but what he says is unimaginable. “My son is dead,” and suddenly I understand that this is not a dad with a terminal illness, it is a father in grief, in shock. There are not enough words for this kind of pain. His son was traveling abroad; he was supposed to return home to begin his junior year in college. Catastrophe is not how the story was supposed to go.

There is no way to make sense of this. I have so many questions I do not ask. It won’t make any difference; no answer will bring the boy back.

I have no words. There are no words. Only palpable pain and silence.

I do not want to offer the platitudes I myself had been served. But I probably offer up different ones. Maybe not. I can only hope.

I give him a hug.

“I have no words,” I say.

“There are no words,” he says. And we look at each other for a long moment, until his dog wags her tail and puts her paws up for attention. He smiles wanly, and says “What is there left to do but walk the dog?”

Indeed. There is nothing to say or do, only that I am glad that he told me himself. There is something about the communal breaking of hearts that softens the suffering, if only slightly. And the walking of dogs.

Almost immediately I think of an overcast day a few months earlier, when I met up with a friend whose teenaged son had fallen to his death in a crazy, tragic accident. As I held her she sobbed and said, “How can people walk their dogs?”

Indeed. Normalcy has no place in a world that has been tilted off its axis by so great a loss.

Take care of yourselves, Tuesday people. Walk the dog. Or not.

Inhale, exhale, repeat.

Notice where it hurts.

Shoot baskets until your arms ache.

Shout, cry or talk. Or don’t.

Write. Write a song. Or a poem. Or gibberish. It all counts.

Pray. Or not. Tell God to take Her own flying leap.

Sit and stare vacantly at silent green stems for however long it takes the daffodils to open.

Feed yourself with something good and spicy or sweet and life sustaining. Or both. You are here. You are loved.

Today begins again the healing process. I leash up the dog, who is an enthusiastic partner for the journey, and we spend an hour moving along in companionable silence. We stop to smell the paperwhites, now open, that we’ve been watching for a week. As we are nearing home, I see a woman up ahead on the road. I’ve only seen her once before — two miles ago when our paths met for a short stretch. She smiles broadly as we cross paths again. “Still going!” she says.

I smile in return, “Yes, we are!”

Yes we are. Still going. 

***

Wishing you light and strength on your healing path. You’re still going.

***

Sometimes people ask me what I’m reading these days. Here you go:

Ask Again, Yes, by Mary Beth Keane

From Scratch: A Memoir of Love, Sicily, and Finding Home, by Tembi Locke (If possible, and especially if you aren’t fluent in Italian, I recommend listening to the audio version, read by the author herself.)

 

Process

I write much the same way as I pack for a long weekend away:

I think about where I’m going for days, weeks, even months in advance. I imagine, flirt with and fanaticize about how wonderful it will be.

I walk the dog, pondering my experience, and return home full of inspiration and motivation, dizzy with excitement and optimism.

I forget every thought in my head, caught up in the daily caffeinated swirl of kids, cat, dog, school, work and home.

I repeat the above practice daily.

I panic, realizing that time is short, and I’ve done NOTHING to prepare. I cannot remember a single thing I need and I cannot settle on where to start.

I wonder if it’s too early to eat lunch.

I throw a bunch of stuff out there, maybe write a list, but more likely just compile a ton of pieces I think might be handy along the way.

I go to the fridge to determine whether my leftover veggie enchiladas are still in the there or if my teenager has already eaten them, leaving me only the empty container. Sometimes, I get lucky.

I check the weather, realize I’ve made a strategic error, and throw eight more essentials on the growing stack.

I rearrange the pile. And frown.

I get overwhelmed and think about doing something else – queuing up a podcast, getting the car washed, calling my mother, shopping for a housewarming gift. I add those items to the list and, once again, attempt to get down to business.

I receive a panicky text message from my teenager who forgot his [fill in the blank: calculator, iPad, team jersey, lunch money, dorm key, and yes, he lives in another state a thousand miles away]. I marvel that boys survive to adulthood. I grab the car keys, vow to finish the project after just this one errand.

Lunch, two loads of laundry, three chapters of a novel and one trip to the grocery store later, I return to the pile of good intentions, waiting patiently for me to sift through it, and I check the clock. Am I really going to tackle this before [fill in the blank: the kids get home, the scheduled conference call, the dog’s vet appointment]?

I make a cup of tea – iced or hot, depending – and I sit. I find the cookies where I hid them from the kids. I wonder if this whole enterprise is all too much trouble and I should cancel my plans. It’s expensive, glitchy, and who will really notice or care? I eat another cookie.

Sigh. I care.

I dash off a few emails. With considerable restraint and a hint of intention, I close all the other open windows on my laptop, but not before sending a quick note to my niece.

Inhale, and dive in. I’m ready to work.

Reset Wifi.

Now, I work.

I look at what I’ve done so far. I realize I’ve got way more stuff here than makes sense. I cannot carry this comfortably, so I dig in and really start thinking about what’s important. Reluctantly, I let a few things go, putting them carefully back in a drawer for another time.

Things are starting to come together, and I’m feeling good until I realize that in the midst of my focus, I totally forgot my own haircut appointment. The one I planned months ago. Missed it completely. Not by minutes, by several hours. I call and beg the salon to take me, because every trip is made better by a fresh haircut. Mercifully, he makes time for me. I feel five pounds lighter without having to give up dark chocolate or red wine.

I return home, but the pile has still not packed itself neatly into my travel bag. I peruse the weekend’s itinerary and get back to the task at hand.

I notice the cat has been eerily quiet… I get up to check that he’s: 1) inside the house, and 2) still breathing. He is. I notice the combination furball-cat-vomit on the carpet but, like a teenager, pretend I didn’t see it, hoping that my husband will take care of it later. He does.

I remember something important I had forgotten. Really important, like the-whole-reason-for-this-trip-in-the-first-place-important. I marvel that I have survived to adulthood.

The wizened cat sits on my handiwork. He looks pleased. Or maybe he has just declared it good enough. Mission accomplished.

With gratitude and surrender, I tuck everything into place and I’m ready to go.

***

Wishing you light and strength on your healing path. And joy in the journey.