Posts Tagged ‘grief’

Get Out There

I hate that phrase but it is exactly how I am trying to shift my focus. The other phrase I hate is “Just Do It”. Like somehow you can change your life and outlook by doing something. My life changed on December 12, 2020, and I’m just trying to recover some part of me that wants to go on living.

No, I am not suicidal. But I have days when I don’t want to get out of bed. I have a lot of days when I don’t care what I look like. And days when I cannot clean the house.

I joined a Facebook group for parents who have lost adult children and I am discovering that it is not unusual to have these feelings, even when we have surviving children we love and grandchildren we adore and love. Even when we have a spouse that understands. Or a huge circle of caring friends who continue to reach out years after the event.I have all of the above but some days I just don’t know how to feel.

Backtracking a little here, many of the parents who post on the group are people who do not have a strong network to catch them. Their friendships have dissolved, they are on the verge of divorce or separation, their circle is wondering “why haven’t you gotten over it, yet?” “When will you move on?”

We can’t. We are crippled in one of the worst ways: the child we carried for nine months, nurtured, and set free to become an adult on their own has been ripped from us, suddenly, inexplicably, and painfully. A clock has been set on a mantle and the hands are stopped at the exact moment our child left us or we learned. We are broken and we are forever changed.

We are not the person we were before. That person died with the child we buried.

I suffer mild depression and severe anxiety, but I am not given to wallowing in too much self-pity. My son would not want me to. Yet, here I am, two years and several weeks later, doing just that. I am in therapy and I take a healthy dose of antidepressants. I drink too much. I have gained weight and lost interest in most of the things I have always loved. I can’t find the Creative Muse and I have tried. Oh, how I have tried.

But the muse evades me and what I create lacks the spirit and life I wish to impart into it.

Which brings me to where I am now. You already know I am in therapy. That’s new. I’m not much for spilling my heart out to a stranger much less a friend. A blog is more anonymous and doesn’t cost this introvert much anxiety. I am an introvert. I prefer my own company to almost anyone else. I reserve the right to bail on a get together for no reason. It’s an introvert thing, but it is also a sign of a highly anxious person.

The odd thing is this: I don’t mind being in large gatherings for short periods of time. I can be very social. I can manage small talk. I could even deal with the chaos that was my son’s household long before he died. Or the chaos that is my daughter’s life. they both have large families: chaos goes with numbers of children. I have no problem befriending a stranger in a public restroom (one of my very best friends became acquainted with me in a public restroom).

That particular friend has invited me to join different groups with similar interests. We did a spin with a cosplay group but both became disenfranchised by the “control” certain people held over the group. If nothing else, I hate controllers. Introvert, but highly independent. Now we are trying out a group of women who like to go camping. Just women. No rules: tent, car, RV. I’m a pro at tent and car camping as is my friend. I am a pro at dry camping and wilderness camping. I don’t need a paid spot in a government or state sanctioned campground. But the group sounded interesting so we both joined.

Jury is still out on that organization but that’s a huge move for me. Camping on my own. No husband or dogs. Meeting new people who might have similar interests. Camping as a group. I know my son would approve.

I know I need to embrace the new woman I am. I can’t continue to spend my days feeling the undertow of grief. That grief is fueled by the loss of my mother, my baby sister, my father, my son, and the loss of my youngest daughter who has had to take her own path to healing (a path does not include me). Relationships I can’t repair or replace.

I signed up for three course at The Great Courses.

I’m not going sky diving – just yet. That was a fantasy of mine when I was younger (and my bones were not fragile). Then my son usurped that dream and became one of the US Army’s elite Special Forces (Airborne). He loved jumping out of airplanes and helicopters. It damaged his knees and back, but he loved to fly in the open air with just a parachute.

I believe he wants me to jump out of the airplane and trust my parachute.

Wish me well.

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We Have to do Better (grief)

Short post tonight. I ran into an old neighbor at the UPS store today. He recognized me before I knew he was even there. I was busy shipping off Easter cards to grandchildren and a shadow box to our son’s widow. The clerk was busy trying to get me the best deal and we were holding up the line.

This old neighbor called out to me. We exchanged hellos and “it’s been so long since…” greetings. Then I said, “We lost Levi in December, you know.”

“Yeah. I heard that.”

Not much more. I’m sure he felt awkward. Levi worked for him during his pre-teen years. Worked hard. Nights, cleaning and waxing floors in commercial buildings. Levi made good money under the table. It was hard work and the neighbor was a hard boss. We never encouraged Levi to complain but we knew it was hard work and thankless. It gave him something to do and a way to make money, and it taught him the value of hard work.

Still. I waited for more of an acknowledgement, but all I got was, “Tell Don, ‘Hi’.”

Tell Don “Hi”.

No, I’m sorry for your loss.

No, he was a great kid and a hard worker.

No, I knew him.

Just, “Tell Don, ‘Hi’.”

The last time I saw this person was at another funeral, probably ten years ago. I know he’s not insensitive to grief.

He just didn’t know what to say. I don’t know what to say. Death rips us apart. Our hearts are shredded. What can you say? Don’t ask for the details: I can’t talk about those right now, and not in a public setting. We can’t even reach out and touch hands in our Covid-19 society.

My ex-neighbor left the store. The clerk got me the best deals on shipping. I left, feeling slightly empty, like something had not been acknowledged about my son’s brief life. My son spent hours at the neighbor’s house, playing with his children. He worked hard. and I didn’t get a simple, “I am so sorry.” That’s all I wanted. An acknowledgment that my son walked this earth and touched your life. That he was real.

We have to do better when reaching out to people who are bereaved. Acknowledge the life lost. Speak a memory. Offer a hand, even in COVID times. Don’t just pass it over.

Our son mattered. He was a hero. A father. A Husband. A brother. A son. A hard worker.

I forgive you, my neighbor. I get that you felt suddenly awkward in the face of death. I hope this post spurs someone like you to speak out next time. Grief needs to be acknowledged, not brushed past.

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I like to decorate early and un-decorate late, but Christmas 2020 deserved to come down before the New Year.

Words fail me at this point. How do I tell someone about this past month?

We were on an airplane somewhere between Phoenix and Charleston, trying to catch a little sleep. I must have dozed off. I woke to a feeling of something passing me in the atmosphere and the soft Voice that whispered, “He’s gone now.”

I lied to myself the rest of the flight. He wasn’t gone, I heard wrong, he had to still be alive. Even the cryptic message from our daughter-in-law could be read either way. I stared at that message in the airport in Charleston, waiting for the last leg of our trip, hoping that she meant he had improved and still lived. In my heart, I knew. And when she met us at the gate at Fort Walton Beach, Florida, I knew.

Our son was gone. We had a brief time of good-byes before we boarded the flight in Phoenix and we had a chance to tell him we loved him by phone. His sister was in the air somewhere and had no chance for a good-bye.

There are so many questions. What the hell is “Secondary HLH”? How could such a beautiful soul die in such a terrible way? Why?

Father to six. Beloved husband. Beloved in-law. Son. Soldier. Leader. Friend. Lover of dogs (and cats, even though he denied it). Hero. Green Beret. God, he loved Special Forces (Airborne). He loved jumping out of airplanes and helicopters. He loved his children.

And he’s gone. 34 years old. A baby. The hole in our collective hearts is huge. His wife. His father-in-law who loved him like a son. His brother-in-law who looked up to him. His sister. His father and I. His six babies.

My emotions are still very raw. Words just don’t flow. His oldest son (age 12) wrote a beautiful tribute.


Once upon a time there lived a son and his father, they both had a lot of fun together then one day his father had a great idea to go to a place called Disney World. They started their journey from home and then made a couple pit stops but they made it. When they got there, they went to a hotel and then the next few days of endless fun, they rode 21 rides in total but on the last day at Disney World his dad got extremely sick. When they got home, he was taken to a hospital next to the beach. It was two days until the son had news his father had passed away; his whole family was sad and angry, so they stayed home for a week due to this tragic event.  The son missed his father very much and his father never got to give him his Christmas gift, so his mom did, and it was a swiss army knife from his father and his son loved it. A couple days later they had to plan his funeral, but they had their entire family by their sides through everything.

The End

Levi A. Presley, Sergeant First Class, 3rd Battalion, 7th Group Special Forces (Airborne)

September 6, 1986 – December 12, 2020

Painting by Elisabeth McGinn Art

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001I lost my temper today. I haven’t lost my temper in ages. It felt so odd, to be angry. So out of the blue. The situation was justified: I confronted a jack-ass who thought he could just park his semi truck across all four of the parking spaces in front of my office while he ran into the fast-food place across the parking lot to eat. He didn’t even apologize, but he did move it.

Then I snapped at an innocent broker before I’d calmed down from the confrontation.

What is wrong with me? This is the old me. The me when I was when buried under stress. The me before antidepressants.

I decided perhaps I had not been meditating and praying enough (you know, we all fall out of habit, and we all blame guilt for our actions). I reasoned that I would come home tonight and plant all the flowers I bought since the weather is cool and will remain cool for the next 10 days, at least. Gardening always relaxes me. Gardening is wonderful therapy.

Except… it wasn’t. I snapped at both of the dogs, for being dogs. I almost snapped at my husband. I just felt so… so… angry.

Gardening may be therapy, but it is muddy, dirty, work, and by the time I climbed into the shower, I was wondering how high my blood pressure was. And then I cried. Big sobs. Real tears.

I don’t cry. Antidepressants dull that reaction, and I don’t like to cry. But I couldn’t stop it, and I didn’t want to – because, suddenly, I understood.

I am getting on an airplane Saturday to fly to Reno. From Reno, I will make my way to Ely. 21 years of grief just washed over me – everything I lost that lived in that little, dusty, town. My mother. My sister. My father.

The trip this time is a trip to celebrate a milestone, but that milestone is, in itself, a contributor to the circle of grieving. My sister’s youngest child is graduating from high school and turning 18. She was almost 3 when her mother died, and has no recollection of her mother. None. She barely remembers my father, her grandfather.

I am dreading this trip, but I don’t want my niece to feel that it is because of her – it isn’t. She is outside of the equation and is the reason I want to go. I want to be there for her, and for my sister. She’s blood. She’s family. And I will be there to see her receive her high school diploma.

But – God. Why can’t my sister be there? I would have taken this girl on, if I could have, but she had a birth father somewhere and her stepfather was extremely leery of me after I took Chrystal on (we sort of kidnapped her when she was 10).* My father, while he was living, feared the birth father would try something. Moreover, we did not want to alert Child Services to the status of any of my sister’s children, throwing them into foster families. So, my niece stayed with her step-dad and his new wife.

That’s her story to tell, and she did tell me. She’s a smart girl. She’s got her mother’s moxie. She’s in a good place right now.

Going back to me and the lashing out.

I counseled a young woman in my office the other day. She recently lost her father, suddenly, and it has thrown her for a loop. I advised her that it never ends. You just learn to work around it. You won’t know what triggers it. Suddenly, you’ll be standing in the middle of a grocery store, crying. You’ll smell something. You’ll have a mood change and then you’ll look at the calendar and realize what your spiritual body already knew: it’s the week of an anniversary.

I’m going back to Ely, and it is the fifth anniversary of the week we held my father’s memorial service. My sister’s 57th birthday was Sunday. I’m watching my orphaned niece graduate from high school and turn 18. I’m loading up a truck and bringing the rest of my inheritance home, specifically the furniture items. Visual items.

And I’m lashing out in anger, but it’s the grief that is talking. I wear my emotions on my sleeve. I’m more likely to write out what is going on inside of me than talking about it – or than most people will confess to feeling. I’m writing this, not to hash out my sorrow and grief, and to play “poor pitiful me”, but to tell you – the reader of this blog post – that it is OK. It’s natural. It’s grief. It’s a circle that will never be broken as long as you live and feel deeply.

Wish my mom was here tonight so I could talk to her about this over a bottle of cheap red wine. We used to change the world with a couple glasses of wine. God, I miss her so very much. 21 years.

21 years of dreading a trip to Ely.

*I need to clarify this. Chrystal was the only one of my sister’s children that was a true orphan, in that her birth father was dead also. Originally, we left her with her step father, with her sister, because my father didn’t want to break up the family. I think he was reeling from the fact that my sister’s son’s father came and picked him up from the reception following the funeral without any notice. It was his right: his son. But it was very clear within a few months that Chrystal was miserable. She was going on 10. So my dad arranged a vacation trip for her to come to visit me, and for me to go to a lawyer and get custody of her. Meanwhile, Chrystal determined that if she was coming to visit me, she would request that she stay with us. So, somehow, she both ran way and we kidnapped her. It was a mutual agreement between us and a ten year old girl who decided the first day that she would call us “Mom” and “Dad”.

PS – I know good people who work in Child Services. But there have always been the horror stories, and we were determined that none of my sister’s children should end up in that system. They’ve suffered their own trail of grief, but none of it has been at the hands of the State. Whether you agree with that or not is irrelevant to me. I’ll suffer none of my family to go into that system so long as I have breath.

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Damn. I looked over at the calendar. Today is March 2nd. Sixteen years ago, my father called me, almost in a panic. He didn’t know what was happening, but my sister was critically ill. She was so ill, in fact, that she was in a coma and on a helicopter to Reno from Ely, Nevada. She could have gone to Las Vegas or Salt Lake City – it’s all about equi-distant from Ely: a good 5-hour drive. But my family has always gravitated to Reno.

I remember how numb I was when Dad called again on the 3rd. She didn’t make it. My little sister, the one person I had a profound love/hate relationship, was gone. The one who once bit me over who got the blankets in our shared bed (she had them all and I just wanted my share, but she rolled over and bit me). The girl who purposely mimicked my clothing choices throughout my high school years (and her junior high years), often bringing out the worst in me because I couldn’t see imitation as a sincere form of flattery. The girl who drank her way through her Freshman year in high school, often stumbling home in the wee hours of the night – she was gone.

Since her death, I have been overwhelmed by the number of kids we grew up with who have messaged me and told me how much they loved her. Her laugh. Her ability to tell a joke. Her very dry sense of irony. Her one-liners. Her way of living life for the moment. Her fierce and loyal friendship.

I held her hand from a distance when she had to give up her first born to adoption. I still have all the poems she wrote about that dark time in her life, how she didn’t want to let the baby go. We cried over the phone together.

I sensed, much later in life, that her words to me were often staged: the words of a little girl who just wanted her older sister to love her and be proud of her, unconditionally. She’d detail house plans, redecorating schemes, art projects. She wanted me to love her.

I did love her, but not. How does an older sister put that into words. I was the “good” child, the do-gooder, the A+ student, the never-does-anything-wrong kid. The unintentional suck-up. Truth was, I don’t have a daring bone in my psyche. Risk of physical pain? I’ll take the easy way out. My sister (and my brother) would face the pain head-on. I am the unabashed introvert. Brother and sister: extroverts. I am the one that takes everything into some deep place and over-analyzes. I am the clumsy one.

I remember some girls picking on my sister. I no longer remember the circumstances, just that they were to the point of physical bullying. It so happened that my best friend and I happened upon a scene of them bullying my little sister. They were big girls, much bigger than me. But that was MY little sister, goddammit, and *I* was the ONLY person allowed to give her a hard time. I’d recently found my voice in life, and I used it that day, at the mouth of an alley way, to lay into three girls who had no business being bullies. me, all 70-pounds of petite, chasing bullies with her words.

Words became my weapon. My sister learned to break beer bottles over people’s heads. Not exactly a technique I would ever be good at, but she excelled at.


The thing is, her youngest kid is graduating from high school this year. She has no memory of her mother. A few photos. A strong resemblance to me. No idea of the teenager her mother was. Huh. Her mom was a teenager until my mother died. Deni decided then that she needed to grow up. She was probably about 23 emotionally when she died. She was chronologically 40 years old and starting to look older than I am now. Life’s a bitch.

Grief comes with layers. You grieve for the lost relationship, for the things you didn’t get to say or do, for the love of the person. When anniversaries come, I grieve for the loss of my family: Mom, Sister, Dad. There’s just the two of us left now, and all of our children (my brother’s, mine, and my sister’s). I miss the laughter. The hugs. The covert whispers after dark. The secrets we promised to never tell. The looks that passed between us. The feel of her hair in my fingers as I braided it for the last time in 1998, standing in Dad’s kitchen as he and my daughter went through a box of mementos on the sun porch.

Dad’s 70th birthday. The last time I held my sister in my hands. She had headaches, she said. I told her to try braiding her hair differently: two braids instead of one heavy one down her back. I proceeded to part her hair and braid it for her.

Sisters have complicated relationships. I desperately wanted to work through ours. I wanted to figure out where and how I’d hurt her. I knew she’d forgive me: that’s what she always did. I wasn’t ready to forgive myself. Oldest sister. The bitch. Me. It doesn’t matter now. She’s gone.

And she’s come back from the dead to let me know she forgave me long, long ago. I still see her as about 10 years old.

004The girl I see in my visions.

001Playing dress up in the basement

003“How much can I torture Jaci’s cat?”

002Always styling.

I love you and miss you, Mary Denise.




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