Category Archives: loss

We’re Just Plain Lucky

I remember how she smiled. It never quite reached her eyes. She’d stand back, arms folded across her crew neck sweatshirt. She’d watch the joy escaping through a little girl’s butterfly knees as they bounced up and down on Christmas morning.

And we couldn’t be mad at her for dying. We couldn’t be mad at her for dying.

Those moments when she held us close without ever holding us at all, those were the ones we had to keep. Most of our lives will be built not on holding her tight but dwelling on the faith she had in us.

It’s what happens when you lose someone young.

It’s what happens when you sit in the hearse and explain the folds and the sequins of the turquoise dress they buried her in. And why the flashers are on. And why the kids standing outside for a fire drill are staring and pointing at the limo passing by.

It’s what happens when you’ve got to be the biggest kid in a silent black car.

And you’ve got to stand in front of a couple hundred strangers, tell ‘em all that, “you never met that woman, but darling didn’t she already love you like that girl on Christmas morning? Darling, wouldn’t she have squeezed you in your candy cane pajamas?”

She would have.

I can’t be sure what happens when people pass away too soon. I can’t be confident whether we would’ve met this other side of them where they weren’t so caring, but I’d like to pretend that wasn’t true. I’d like to pretend, because the truth is, we get to imagine it.

We get to carry their words, their lessons, their photographs, in our pockets.

We get to hold onto them when we need strength. When getting up in the morning feels heavier. When pushing through the day seems unbearable. We get to hold onto those words and those lessons when we’re lost and we’re just plain lucky.

That’s what I wanted those strangers to know. They were just plain lucky to have her words in their back pockets.

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The Things We Might Not Always Have

By fifth grade, I was a good little worrier. I say that because, at ten, I scanned the church library, a five-by-five corner in the back of the chapel, to find this book about a girl who professed her faith in God before being gunned down in another library across the country.

I can’t be sure, but at the time I was somewhere between grasping the idea of cancer hitting home and not yet learning that tragedy could hug a nation. And so I saw the front cover, a smiling blonde girl who said yes—to what, I wasn’t sure—and I wanted to know her.

Reading that book was like clutching onto an airport terminal goodbye—I didn’t want to put it down, now that I had learned Columbine’s nasty face, but it hurt more to hold on.

That year and the year that followed, I grew sure only in the idea that we might not live to see another day. There might have been dozen of bomb threats in my intermediate, then middle, schools. We walked with ducked heads across the street to the high school auditorium. Every time. And there were many times.

Before 9-11, I knew what it meant to worry about the gaping hole between this-is-not-a-drill and some-kid-wanted-to-get-out-of-a-test-and-wrote-empty-promises-on-bathroom-stall-walls.

In high school, we lined up with our books in our hands, no bags allowed, as we entered the building one by one, our teachers patting us down and searching us like TSA officers. We sat in the gymnasium for countless hours. Every time someone threatened to tear into the building with a gun, we waited with lips pursed and said a prayer that it was just another silly little lie.

The last time it happened, I was in the cafeteria. The alarms went off and everyone ran—panicked, already watching the way the world was shifting from once-in-a-while tragedy to everyday possibilities that we might not always be safe.

We just didn’t believe it. Even standing in the cold in mid-December for half an afternoon, we didn’t believe that people out there with far less practice runs, far less birthdays, could see the other side of that gaping hole.

But they did.

I may never know what it feels like to have every single one of those moments become more than just a wasted afternoon, a precaution, six years of waiting for the all clear. I hope children, precious little children, never learn tragedy like that again. That the closest they come is walking into a church library and devouring a paperback with a smiling blonde on the cover.

There are things we owe children: their innocence, their time, their tomorrows. We will have to return to our own youth, maybe, to play Make Believe and pretend those are still possibilities. Because they aren’t. They aren’t anymore.

They become the things we might not always have: birthdays, graduations, driver’s licenses, jobs, parents and children, bedroom sharers and twin brothers.

We Will Find Goodness In All This Sadness

No matter how many presents I wrap this holiday season, there ain’t nothing pretty and tied up nice about this December. Because when the grief rolls in and my legs get heavy, the honesty is the only thing tucked underneath my Christmas tree.

Right now, my life feels like two ends of a frayed string of lights. In one hand, the past. In the other, the future.

All because some story never got its pretty-with-a-bow ending. All because I’ll be spending this Sunday in God’s waiting room, trying not to let my voice shake when I tell these strangers and friends that some endings don’t get to look sparkly. Some endings don’t get to shine. Some endings look a little worse for the wear, a little impromptu, a little hard to swallow.

It’s what happens when somebody dies in the middle of a big ole brawl. The screaming only stops long enough to turn to silence. The searing anger only subsides so we can sob and tuck sorrow into the pockets of our black lace dresses.

I have a love-hate relationship with the month of December. It’s pretty darn pathetic the way I turn to a 13-year-old girl every year, willing myself to remember the wise words of a man who’s been beneath the ground for almost a decade now. And I guess I never thought I’d christen my Thanksgiving eve with the news that you, you are done with this little old life, this big ole battle.

I forgot what it felt like to process tragedy in all its newness. And so I sat on my parent’s fireplace and put my head in my hands and said, mouth agape, “I’m sorry, but I just can’t wrap my head around this.”

Just can’t wrap my head around the messiness of no resolutions. Just can’t wrap my life up nice and neat when you’ve got no hellos left, only goodbyes. Just can’t wrap my fingers around paper reserved for all the words I have yet to say to you.

Tell you about my first apartment, my life fresh out of college. The way I sometimes think about that last phone call back in March, the voicemail you never returned.

It’s like opening an old scar with a fresh wound. It’s like eternally ending on bad terms. It’s the fight that never ends in an apology, the kind that leaves you tossing and turning all night long for the rest of forever.

It’s hard to deal with a loose ending that leaves us torn into two halves—before you left and after.

I never intended to let my mamma call herself an orphan the week before she turned fifty. Never intended to scrape blog posts into Word documents and speak them loud and shakily in front of people.

It is much easier to write my heart into a WordPress draft when nobody, absolutely nobody, is there to judge me. And I never thought I’d have to pull these blog posts into a story. I never thought the last thing I’d ever say on the subject of you would be crafted in an HTML document and blasted out for the Internet but never your own eyeballs. That I would write you a story and never tell you about it.

But I would like to be the kind of blogger my family turns to when things get weird, when lives get messy, when hearts get achy. That’s sort of how it happens these days. That’s sort of how it plays out.

I could’ve lived with the weight of my words so long as I never had to string them together like Christmas lights brightening up a eulogy. But I do. And I am. And we will find some goodness in all this sadness, so long as we have the choice to remember the past for what it was: glorious and short-lived, quietly content and full of the fabric of this family.

But here I am, pulling a paragraph here and a sentiment there and teaching my brain how to tie up that which will never be resolved, that which you will take to your grave.

For The Nights Spent Singing In Your Closet

Some nights, I zip up my knee-high riding books or slip on my Target moccasins and lock my front door. I tumble, yes tumble, there is an awkward falling quality to it, down the flight of stairs and press the key fob to unlock my car door.

I turn the ignition and wait for music, wait for something that might keep me from feeling alone. I wait for another voice to fill the hollow space inside this car that’s mine but not yet mine. This car that doesn’t yet smell like me.

Sometimes, just stuffing my feet into those shoes and closing that door and smelling that leather and hearing those first few notes are enough to calm me from whatever I’m inevitably trying to avoid.

In another life, I’d be a singer.

I’m not terrible, can pick up a melody and learn it, but I have no illusions about someday earning myself a record deal. Nashville will never hold my heart.

Maybe, in the far-off-don’t-think-about-it-or-you’ll-only-be-sorry future, I’ll feel comfortable enough to sing for some boy (man?) who doesn’t make me feel like I’m in a room full of strangers who would rather a juke box accompany their next round of beers.

It’s not something I think about.

Kind of like the reason I’m sitting in the car, putting it in reverse, shifting to first and cutting the wheel hard, squeezing it till my fingertips are white because I’m sure that will stop me from scraping the back of the Kia Soul that yes, does have a stuffed hamster on the dashboard to match the dancing ones on the commercials.

John Green - The Fault In Our Stars - "I was thinking about the word 'handle,' and all the unholdable things that get handled."

Loneliness. That’s what lingers in those lyrics that the other tenets are bound to know over tooth brushing and flossing, shower shaving and tea brewing.

They are bound to hear my good days, my bad ones, as I sit in front of the computer and try to pretend I am alone, on an island, with soundproof walls and no one around for miles.

That doesn’t help the loneliness.

And probably the only thing that does is knowing that someday my once-broken, twice-broken, gosh-how-many-times-can-you-break-a-heart-before-you’re-twenty-three heart will come in handy when I want to master a melody about the things that chisel away at us.

Cancer.

And dying without goodbyes.

Funerals.

For boys who never became men.

Breakups.

For girls who always break first, before he has the chance.

Getting stood up.

For divorce and disease and forgetting the name of your own family. Forgetting where you live. For growing old and wishing you didn’t have to wake up anymore. For goodbyes that take too long and aren’t long enough.

Maybe that’s why I’m sitting in my closet on the floor, trying to find lyrics and notes to hold all those things we, as humans, are inevitably going to have to handle.

Maybe that’s why we have driver’s licenses at sixteen—there are nights when the car will always need to hold melodies for us, when we will need to remember that sometimes, all we know how to do is stop at the red light and use our turn signals and wipe the rain away when it comes.

Because it will come. If not today, then another day.

And there will be a song on the radio and you will wonder why every single country star knows somebody who died of cancer and why must every single commute feel like the world has ended and put itself back together in just the span of 15 minutes while you sit in traffic?

It will happen. Maybe you won’t sit in your closet. Maybe you won’t be alone. Maybe the music will fill the spaces you don’t want to deal with right now.

“I was thinking about the word ‘handle,’ and all the unholdable things that get handled.” – John Green, The Fault In Our Stars

Don’t you know that being naive can damn near break you?

There are no pretty metaphors tied with lace and ribbon to tell your story.

It wasn’t like the end of the world or as if tragedy came knocking on my doorstep. It wasn’t like anything.

It was just a slow unraveling of time, the greater part of the last eleven years, leaving us with an equation that always ends the same: tragedy one plus tragedy two equals losing you.

I thought there might be a way to write this in third person, you know? Like maybe I could pretend I wasn’t talking about us, the collective us, so much as some man I had never known but stood next to in the deli line, scrutinizing meats for carving and cheeses for grating.

In my memories, you hold a baby boy and whisper made-up melodies into his ear while his mom looks onward from the kitchen sink. You pull a white cloth handkerchief from your pocket and wipe his mouth when he spits up all over his Gap hoodie. You reach for diapers in the maroon Jansport backpack by the staircase and change him when he needs it.

You never grow older. Never past your sixtieth birthday party, my knees digging into that turquoise plush carpeting, my breath held, until you walked up the landing and found us all waiting for you.

That was before you decided the past didn’t exist anymore. Before you decided you’d rather not remember a Tuesday in September or a Saturday in April or a funeral for the only woman who’d ever been able to keep you in line.

That was well before the Towers dusted your shoulders with the ashes of strangers, clinging to you all the way to a home that belongs to somebody else now.

Nobody really wants to sit inside a tragedy and call it home, but that doesn’t mean it didn’t happen. That doesn’t mean the whole nation didn’t get down on hands and knees alongside you and inject the same fear and shock and rapid awakening into their own hearts.

You’re not the only one who lost someone. But you’re among a select group who chose to let that hollow you out and separate you. From your family. Your friends. The people who were there long before you woke up one Tuesday morning and decided to go to work even though you’d retired.

You went to work that day.

And don’t you know how it feels to be eleven years old and come home wondering why your mother is crying and you don’t even know your own grandfather takes the subway to those Towers every morning? Don’t you know that being naïve can damn near break you?

You went to work.

It was just every day after, for eleven years now, that you have chosen not to.

Chosen not to show up the same way you would’ve when I was just a girl who refused to keep her dress on or stay out of the mud or please dear God, would you two stop bickering?

That’s the real tragedy. The one you’ve left us with. Deserting the past and leaving us in the rubble.

This tragedy could’ve devoured our nation—it didn’t. For years, you’ve let it change you.