Category Archives: kindness

Getting through…

My friend, Robin, pointed out that I wrote a comment  on a blog post regarding the death of my friend, Derek.   The comment was “Why do people come into our lives if it is only their intention to leave?” She said that comment shredded her, as she often feels the same way.  I tried to back my thoughts up to five years ago, in reflection of why I might have said that.   It was a comment made in the midst of grief, but it is a question for the ages.  Why do people come in, allow us to get attached to them and then, suddenly, they are erased from our lives?  Death, estrangement or just a simple case of growing in different directions.  People that you love just sometimes…go away.

I told her, people come into our lives to teach you lessons.  Lessons that are either great or small.  Everyone has an expiration date in the lives of others.  Whether it is due to physical loss or emotional detachment, we all run our course.  There are friends I needed long ago that I just don’t need any longer.  They were there for their reason at the time.  To support me, to love me, to be by my side while I went through something or for me to be there for them.  People I thought would be in my life forever suddenly vanished.  But, when I look back on it…it was a moment in time that bonded us.  Something we shared.  Something that we related to and we needed each other to figure out the equation.  Once the problem was solved…it was time to move on, for both of us…or just one of us.

But when one is not ready for that sudden absentia, it leaves pain in its wake.

And questions.  Lots and lots of questions.

I am no stranger to loss.  I have lost a great number of people in my life from death.  I have lost a parent.  I have lost a child.  I have lost friends who I thought I could never survive without.  I have lost pets who were like children to me and I grieved them more ferociously and vehemently than I have some actual human family members. 

It’s never an easy process.   Ever.

I have become nearly superstitious when it comes to death.  I won’t let any one leave my house without saying “I love you” before they go.  We could be in the middle of a heated fight…and if they leave my home without a hug or a kind word, my stomach always knots up.  I think, I am going to lose them now.  Now that we parted harshly, those words will be the last words we ever speak to each other.  I think this is because my last words to my friend Derek were “I’ll see you tomorrow…” when he asked me to please come out and hang out with him, and then, tomorrow never came for him.  Or, perhaps because the last words I ever said to my father were “I hate your fucking guts.  I never want to speak to you again.”

Guess what?  I didn’t ever get to speak to him again.  He died a week later.

So, it has become a life mission of mine to make sure that I never part harshly with any one.  I don’t think my heart could take another memory of someone leaving this world with the last thing having been said between us being something cold or hateful.  It’s a huge burden to live with and a bigger one to die with.  I find myself apologizing and justifying constantly to people who no longer walk this earth. 

“You know I didn’t mean that, right, Daddy?”

“I should have come out to see you, Derek.  I should have found a baby sitter.  Maybe you would still be here, if I had.”

“I’m sorry I didn’t kiss you goodbye, Snoop.  I’m sorry I was too busy to kiss you goodbye.”

I keep hoping for validation in a situation where I know I will never get any closure.

Of course my Dad knows I didn’t mean that.  I was a teenager.  19 years old.  I was angry with him because I needed help with something and, in form with the lousy father he was, he didn’t come through for me.  I think now…who really owes whom the apology?  Why aren’t YOU sorry that you didn’t do what I needed you to do for me?  Why was I constantly put in the position of begging you to be my father?  Why am I making myself feel perpetually guilty for saying such a terrible thing to you before you died.  I didn’t kill you.  YOU killed you.  YOU chose to get into a car, loaded up on drugs and alcohol, careening into an oncoming truck, potentially robbing the driver of that car of being a good dad to HIS four children.  He was probably a great dad, just out for the day, driving to or from his job so he could get home to his wife and kids that he valued.  YOU, Dad, were the bad guy in this scenario…so why am I feeling guilty?

Because words spoken cannot be unspoken.  Simply put, you can’t un-ring a bell.

And of course, Derek has forgiven me a million times for not having a baby sitter to go out on other nights.  So why is this one eating me up…getting the best of me?  Because this particular night…he killed himself.  How could I have possibly known that your request for my time was to be spent talking you out of ending your life?  You were a drug addict.  You put those drugs in your body.  You chose to take more than your body could handle.  You died.   I have to continue living knowing that if something would have changed that night, it could have altered the course of your life.  You might still be here. 

Then again, you might not.  And, as I always said, you were dying since the day you were born.

Only this time, you took my heart with you.

Why am I angry with myself, when you chose to make me walk in the pain of losing you over what I will only ever believe could have been “fixed” had I just been there.  Why shouldn’t I be mad at you, Derek, for causing me this never ending grief and turmoil over those last moments?

Why?  Because you’re not here.  I am.  And you can’t blame something that no longer exists.

So, how do you get through the guilt?  You don’t.  No matter how many times people say, “don’t blame yourself”, it’s hard not to.  It’s hard to gloss over the obvious…that the last things you said to these people are what you are going to have to live with.  It’s strange.  Most of us don’t even recall on a day to day basis what the last thing someone said to you was.  But, let that person die…and suddenly, you have no recollection of anything else but that.  I can scarcely remember any other words uttered between Derek and I, or my father and I, save for those last words.

Why do I only dwell on the fact that the day my precious dog, Snoop, passed away, I was too busy with work to give him a little pat on the head before he went to the kennel?  We were leaving for vacation that afternoon…and I was so busy playing catch up, I just yelled out, “Bye Snoops!”   I never got up from my desk to give him a hug and a kiss. 

And now, he’s gone too.

I can flip the switch on this, you know.  I can remember my best friend Norman dying.  I held his hand.  I kissed his lips, dry and cracked as they were, as he lay in a hospital bed while the leukemia ravaged his already small, frail body. He knew I loved him desperately and he said to me, “I’m not afraid, you know.”  I said, “I am.”  He said, “Don’t be.  It will be grand.  Gay pride day in Heaven, can you imagine?”  The vision he conjured in my mind of angels in rainbow wings and gold lame loin cloths made me laugh out loud.  He laughed too, and that laughter is what I remember.  That, and my husband leaning in to kiss him goodbye.  I will always remember those moments when I think of Norman. 

Then, there’s my grandmother.  I can remember stroking my grandmothers hair just a mere few months ago, her telling her that she loved me so much and patting my cheek.  I knew at that moment, I would likely never see her again.  She was so sick.  The dementia and the Alzheimers were eating her mind and body away slowly.   But I was there.  I held her.  She knew she was loved…and she was able to let go.  She usually asks me when I leave, “are you coming back soon?” to which I always reply, “Of course I am, silly.  I love you!”  But this time, she didn’t ask me.  She just smiled at me and went back to sleep.  Maybe she knew she was leaving…maybe I did.  I pulled a flower hair clip from my own hair, and put it in hers. 

Maybe that was our goodbye. I don’t know. 

The mind chooses to remember what it chooses to remember.  Sometimes it is terribly cruel.  Other times, it is graciously merciful. It shames me to say, I barely remember my son, those last moments before I had to hand him away.  I barely remember his face.  I don’t remember the smell of his hair or the feel of his fingers wrapped around mine.  There was no time to remember.  No time to ingrain that moment into my memory.  And, ironically, I find that to be both cruel and merciful. 

So, how do you get through the anniversaries of the deaths of those we love?  How do we stop the self fulfilling prophecy of relegating yourself to a life of wallowing in guilt and anguish for the things we did or did not do while that person was still alive? 

The truth is, we don’t. 

We make mountains out of molehills in our minds.  And, on the opposite end of that, we make molehills out of mountains…just so we can cope.  We have to force ourselves to cope in the best ways we know how.  For some, it helps to allow yourself a day of grief.  It almost feels contrived.  I felt great yesterday.  I will feel great again tomorrow.  But, right now?  Right now all I feel is pain, devastation, anxiety and the ever looming fear that I will add something else I said to that list of regretful final words. 

It’s truly a source of anxiety for me.

The other night, on Facebook, my son wrote a status:

“I don’t think I can deal with this.  Please tell me this isn’t happening again.”

I read it at 3 am and immediately, I flew into panic mode.  To hear your teenager say, “I don’t think I can deal with this…” conjures up every news article we have ever read as parents of teens taking their lives over things that would scarcely disrupt the life of an adult.  I knew from that statement, something had happened between him and his girlfriend.  Did she break up with him?  Did she cheat on him?  Hurt him in some way?  Is he REALLY not able to deal with it?  Am I going to go to bed tonight and wake up in the morning to a phone call that he was found hanging in his closet, a note to his girlfriend on his bed and his Facebook page open to a status that says, “goodbye”?  Sleep was done for me at that point.  It wasn’t going to happen.  I was FAR too afraid that if I go to bed, when I wake up in the morning, I will hear those words that no mother ever, ever, EVER wants to hear.

I’ve already heard them once before.  I couldn’t live through it a second time.

Admittedly, I panicked hard.  I called his fathers house, where he was staying, at 3 am and crying into the phone, begged my ex husband to please, go check on him.  Make sure he’s asleep. Please watch him.  Please keep an eye on him. 

Because in my heart, the terror of “last words” looms large.

It is terrible to be a slave to what if’s and what could be’s.  Yet, I still find myself scared to death of those last words before someone leaves the house, hangs up the phone or walks away from me.  It is my own cross to bear, my own personal problem that I have made into a much bigger monster than it honestly is.  But, when you are living a life that includes a lot of loss, you can’t help but feel that way sometimes.  Especially after a fight with someone. 

So, ridiculous as it may be…I make sure that I tell everyone how much I love them.  It’s really something we should practice any way, the fine art of letting the people in your life know how much they mean to you.  It should not take estrangement or death for those words to finally find their way to your mouth.  It should not take fear.  Instead, it should be part of living.  Nothing is more important in this world than the love we take and the love we make.  Nothing.  Mistakes become regrets very quickly and while I know I can’t walk around 24/7 telling everyone what they mean to me, I can make sure that the people who are in my life daily know how well loved they are…so that if their time should come, or mine…we all can remember that our last words were “I love you”.

They say that there are some things that should just go to the grave with you.

“I love you” should always be one of those things.

song inspiration
“it’s only love. it’s only pain.  it’s only fear that runs through my veins…
it‘s all the things you can’t explain, that make us human.

RIP Derek Wollen, the inspiration for this post…and the pain that accompanies it.
August 25, 1980 – November 15, 2007  i miss you so much.  so, so much.

And to Debra Wollen, who left to find her son on November 24th, 2007. 
A mothers love leads to a mothers death.  i pray you both found each other…and peace.

Because she needs to know…

Because she has rescued my weakened psyche more times than I can count.
Because she has reached out to me when everyone else has turned their backs.
Because she knows my heart better from 2500 miles away than some people who are right next to me.
Because she understands me, even when I don’t.
Because she makes me throw my head back and laugh.
Because she keeps secrets.
Because she is painfully and brutally honest with me, even when I beg for a lie.
Because she protects me.
Because she gives me advice, unsolicited or not, and I can take it…or not.  And it doesn’t matter.
Because I can give her advice, unsolicited or not, and she can take it…or not.  And it doesn’t matter.
Because she is one of the handful of people I can rely on.
Because she doesn’t let me fall off the deep end without standing close by with a life preserver.
Because I can talk to her any time of day or night and know that I am a welcomed presence.
Because, despite having green eyes, she never looks at me with jealousy.
Because she knows the difference between jealousy and envy…and lets me be envious of her thin bod.
Because she is the only blond I simply cannot make fun of.
Because I like her 95% of the time and the other 5% I forgive her.
Because she likes me 5% of the time and the other 95% she is laughing at me.
Because she knows that orange pants automatically make you a loser.
Because she needs to know that she gets thought of at least once a day by me.
Because I think she is a level of controlled awesome and Canadian coolness that I could never achieve.
Because she needs to know I admire her and always have.
Because she needs to know that the sun has shone a bit warmer since her presence in my life.
Because she needs to know that she’s one of my favorite people in the world.
Because she needs to know…that she is a friend in every sense of the word.
Because she needs to know that I’m not ready to let her go any where.
Because we have a date in 2016.
Because she needs to know…she is loved.

And she always will be.

I love you, J.  Holding your hand across the miles.  Right there with you.  Never letting go.

Ever. 

Focus 52: "Line It Up"

 The prompt for this week was “line it up” and this being Memorial Day, I thought what better than to show a bunch of soldiers lined up, doing what they do best…protecting our freedom.  I knew that I wanted to find a touching photo online, perhaps a somber looking sunset with a flag at half mast while the silhouette’s of soldiers lined the bottom of the photo.  But, as I was perusing Google Images for ideas, I saw this photo.  I tried to find out who the original photographer was, but to no avail.  This, for me, was a beautiful way to endorse the prompt, salute Memorial Day and remind everyone that at the very basest level of any soldier is their heart.  Their ferocious, lion strong heart.  They are brave, true enough, but they are also tender, putting their job above their personal needs, the needs of their family and friends and above all, their own lives. 

In my life, I personally have not been effected by the loss of a soldiers life, but a friend of mine lost her beloved husband last year, a mere two weeks after turning 30 years old.  He was a baby.  A child himself, practically, with four little ones of his own.  Beautiful little ones, the oldest who may some day have faint, distant memories of his daddy…and the youngest, barely old enough to ever remember what her father looked like.

This is Sgt. Keith Adam Coe.  He was the beloved husband of my friend Trina, a girl I have known since she was barely out of high school herself.  I had not heard from Trina in years, though my best friend was still in touch with her here and there over the years.  Last year, my bestie told me that Trina lost her husband, Keith in Iraq.  He was killed in action.  I tracked Trina down on Facebook.  We talked.  We shared photos of Keith and her children and, we cried. Keith was killed by a roadside explosion in Northern Iraq on April 27th, 2010.  He was a dedicated and loving husband and father by all accounts.  My heart broke having to hear my friend of over a decade relay the pain and anxiety she was now feeling with this loss.  Scarcely thirty years old herself, she now finds herself widowed…the ultimate sacrifice of war.

I think about Keith and his friends, the fact that Keith did indeed die a hero while rescuing a friend.  It makes me both mournful and prideful.  He died doing what he loved and a job he was proud of.  He gave his all to protect his country, our liberties and our freedoms.  I find myself realizing, as I get older, that Memorial Day is more than beers and backyard barbecues.  It is about the men and women of the military giving the ultimate all to provide for their families and protect this country.  No matter what your politics are, no matter what side of the war fence you sit on, it is so important that you support these men and women who are merely doing their job.  You may not like the fact that we are at war. I sure as hell don’t, but I am not naive enough to believe that every soldier fighting in that war believes that they should be there fighting it either.  However, they have a job to do, no different than any of us.  They do their job even if they don’t necessarily agree with the politics behind it.  They do what needs to be done, sometimes at the expense of their own personal values.  There is honor in that.

On this day, for this F52 project prompt of “Line It Up”, I choose to line up a group of soldiers in the shape of a heart and hope that Keith Adam Coe knows how much he was loved and is missed by his family every single day. I truly hope to never have to hear that any of my friends have lost their spouse to this war ever again.  It hurts me, unbearably to the core, to know that Trina’s little ones will be growing up without their father.  But, if I know Trina as I do, she will make sure that their daddy is incorporated into their lives.  She will do fun things with them to honor him.  She will keep photos available to her babies and, as they get older, she will share the more intimate details about their father with them.  And, they will grow up to admire their father for his ultimate sacrifice, for his giving, loving heart and for being so very brave. 

God bless you and rest you well, Keith Adam Coe.  And to all the spouses, significant others and children of the men and women who serve so diligently…God bless all of you as well.  May your loved ones stay safe always.  May they always be protected, loved and most of all, supported by their fellow Americans.

Happy Memorial Day to all who have served.  And please, if you come across a soldier in your travels today, offer him a handshake and a thank you for a job well done.  It is the very least we can do for those who make incredible sacrifices so that we may enjoy our freedom.

Focus 52: "Yellow"

This weeks Focus 52 post is brought to you by the color “yellow”.  Actually, that is what the prompt is.  And what a good time for this prompt to show up.  The above flower was from a bouquet I received from the wonderful girls that comprise a group of ladies I now affectionately call “Team Melia”.  These girls have been a constant mode of support for one another since our dear friend Melia lost her daughter in an accident at the end of this past February.  Six beautiful, wonderful women who would make this flower blush with embarrassment for thinking it could remotely compete with them, who all rallied together at a time of crisis for the seventh member of Team Melia; Melia herself.  Seven women.  Seven women bound in the wake of tragedy who have since brought so much laughter and love into my life that I can scarcely find the words to describe it.  Seven women, one for each color of the rainbow, who have brought so much color into my world.  And, how appropriate that this yellow flower was the star of the bouquet, for yellow is the color of loyalty and friendship.  Yellow is bright and full of promise and hope.  Yellow is warm as the sun in the sky and the warmth in my heart when any of these girls leave me random love notes on my Facebook wall.  We, the members of Team Melia, are a force to be reckoned with.  We have conquered every subject from bad backs to bad marriages.  Good sex to good food.  We laugh at one another and with one another.  We cry just as readily.  We have brought tears of joy and tears of pain to each others eyes, but never once was there someone not readily available to dry those tears with a soft word or a sweet gesture.

And while we have all known one another for various rates of time, it matters not, because we are seven women for whom time stood still, stopped and then, started once more.  Anything that happened prior to that fateful day in February does not matter.  What matters is here, now, under the watchful eyes of our “Rainbow Girl”, Destiny.  Could our angel be any more aptly named, for if not for her departing our lives so soon would we have made this “rainbow connection”; the lovers, the dreamers…and me.

This post is dedicated to my girls, my world.  I love you all. 

Focus 52: "Play"

Playgrounds.

The birth of innocence starts here.  The death of innocence generally starts here too.  Standing outside the chain link fence of a nearby school, I am transported back to the days that I spent in my own schoolyard.

“Fat girl, fat girl,” they used to chant at me.

I would slide underneath a sliding pond, looking for solace, hoping to become invisible.

“Brace face, brace face,” they would scream at me.

I would try to touch the sky in a swing.  Maybe if I could get just high enough, I could fly away.  Maybe if it would lift me high enough, I could learn to rise above this…but their hate spew would still fill my ears and simultaneously, empty my heart. 

“If you would just get to know me,” my heart would cry out to my head.  “If you only knew how funny I am.  How silly I am.  I have the best jokes.  I really could make you laugh…if you would only let me.”  I make my little brother laugh, I would think to myself.  I do a really cool impression of Donny and Marie singing,
“I’m a Little Bit Country/I’m a Little Bit Rock and Roll”.  If you would let me show it to you…you’d forget how fat I am.  You wouldn’t care about my braces.

You might even like me…just a little.  And we could be friends…in secret.  No one would have to know.

I can keep a secret.  I’d make a good friend.  I promise.

There is nothing lonelier than the sight of a little girl alone on a see saw in the downward position, the other end high up in the air.  “The whole class would have to get on the other side to lift you up,” one especially mean-spirited girl would spit at me, venom in her voice and malice in her eyes.

I would close my eyes.  Squeeze them shut tight.  So tight, I would see colors.  I would make up rhymes in my head, jotting them down in my notebook.  Later on, when I get home, I can write a song.  I can write a poem.  I could write a book, someday.  My teachers always said “what a good writer you are”.  And I was.  Alone…in my little world, I could write the words that could bring grown men to tears and cause the coldest heart to defrost.  I had talent.  I had a gift.

But they don’t know that about me.  They can’t see past a fat girl with braces. 

So, I would get up from the see saw.  Walk over to the bench and sit down, eating my lunch quietly alone. I had my notebook.  I had my new pencils.  I had a shiny, brand new Charlie’s Angels lunchbox.  I would happily give you half my sandwich.  Or, you can have both of my snacks.  I would give you the world if only you would be my friend.

“What are you writing,” the teacher would ask.

“Just a poem,” I would mumble.

“You are such a good writer,” she would say with kind eyes that easily translated to “I feel so bad for you”.

“Thanks,” I would reply with a shrug of my shoulders. 

And I would continue to sit on the bench, scribbling notes and words that scarcely make any sense.  I would show them all someday, when I am a famous writer.  I have no time for their silliness.  I am a smart girl.  I am a good person.  I have more important things to do than play hide and seek or freeze tag.  I have plans.  I have hopes.  I have dreams.  I have secrets. 

But, if you knew me at all, if you ever took the time to…you’d know the truth.

All I ever really wanted to do…was play.