Self-aware. Self conscious. Self induced.

Posts tagged “living

A Week

Anthony died last week.

I’ve not wanted this writing to be all about grief and dying, but it’s hard to think about many other things this year.

Yesterday was the thirtieth anniversary of my father’s death. It was the first anniversary of our cat Gilbert’s death last year.

And in a moment of joy that has lasted a day more than a year and is going strong, it was the birthday of the son of friends of ours.

It’s difficult to answer the question, “how are you doing,” because I’m not the one that died. I’m not even related to the one that died. And I was on a brutal job last week that was averaging 16 hours a day. So when I say that I’m tired, but basically okay, that’s true. It was difficult to verbalize Anthony’s death last Friday night and Saturday morning. It’s not so difficult now. I don’t have any confidence that this represents anything substantive. I might just be at the peak before I hit the trough. I’m not really thinking that hard about how I am. It’s very complicated, and it doesn’t seem very relevant yet. But to respond that way is… dickish.

My sister-in-law is defending her thesis this week. My friends’ baby boy is one year old. Cling to joy.


What Fixing a Piece of Furniture Up Has to Do with Anthony

I have an update on my chairs. They belonged to my great-grandfather, my mother told me, and are at least 75 years old. She’s going to do some checking with my aunt to see what she knows and remembers about them. And it’s not just the chairs – the drop-wing table I’ve got and the buffet with no legs (my mom cut them off in the 70s) are all part of the same set. Huh.

Four of the chairs have been stripped and re-glued. I’ve given them two coats of an oil finish, have given them all one coat of sealer, and sanded one of the four down (400 grit). Three more chairs need to be sanded, then they get one more seal coat (top and bottom), and one more sanding (400 or 600, we’ll see), then they’ll be done. Then once I’ve saved up the money, I’ll re-do the same process with the last two chairs.

There are a lot of ways that I could choose to re-finish these chairs, and each of those methods requires a bit of patience. The thing that I loved most about taking my furniture-making class at the technical college over the past three years was learning patience. It’s not that I’m a terribly patient or impatient person generally speaking. I’m more patient in some circumstances and less in others. What I learned from the carpentry – more true, what our teacher taught me – was respect for the process. Whatever process I had to do took a certain amount of time and if I cut any corners there was an immediately visible (and typically not desirable) result.

I’m a much better carpenter all around now than I used to be because of that particular lesson. Respect the process.

So here I am in Minneapolis, watching HGTV with Anthony and occasionally holding up a glass of water so he can drink, thinking about the people I know who are dead. My brother. My father. My aunt. My friend. My dog. My uncle. My grandfather. My grandmother. There are others.

Lisa and I put one of our cats down a few years ago and kept our hands on him when he got the shot, fell asleep, and didn’t wake up. We wanted him to feel us with him. The worst part about finding the second cat last October was not his stiff body, but hunting for it. I knew he’d died when I got up and he didn’t show up for breakfast, but I didn’t know where he’d gone to do it. Was he happier, dying at home in a spasm of pain? Or was the first cat happier, a moment of what’s going on boy do I feel woozy…

We’ve got all of these role models in life. Sports figures. Parental units. We learn how to act in relation to other people. How to be a good parent, a good child, someone who plays fair.

When are we supposed to learn how to die? I’d love to respect the process. If I had a clue at all to what it is.

Assumed Mortality

My grandmother was in a full-care facility. As long as I can remember, she had troubles with circulation in her legs, and in the middle of the night she’d go pound pound pounding around the house, waking up a couple of times a night it seemed, to get the blood flowing to her legs. Eventually both of her legs were amputated. She was in poor and failing health, and no, neither of my grandparents indulged in any obviously bad vices. My grandfather had smoked at one point, I think. They were both partial to the occasional beer or wine, so far as I can recall. They were just getting old is all.

So there’s my grandmother, fretting away in the euphemistically-named retirement center, and my grandfather is on his way out to see her. He’d do this a couple of times a day, driving his giant, gleaming, white boat of a car with matching white (leather?) interior. How the man kept that car in such good condition in the state of Colorado is beyond me. It probably got about 5 miles to the gallon on the highway and its frame was probably real plate steel, before they started compromising materials in the interest of profit. The thing was a well-built, well-maintained tank. And my grandfather was a good, conscientious driver. As I remember the story, he goes out to the garage for the car so as to visit my grandmother. Maybe he even drives around the block, but he certainly remembers something he’s forgotten, and he goes back to the house.

And dies on the front walk. Heart attack.

My grandmother grieved honestly, which is to say selfishly. “I thought I’d go first.” We all thought she’d go first, really.

Lisa and I have expressed the selfish hope to one another that I (she) go first. Because neither one of us wants to imagine what being without the other is going to be like. (Is it in bad form to joke about a suicide pact?)

There are no guarantees. There are never any guarantees, but when we connect with each other, we don’t think, we just assume that we’ll be together for a long, long time. Is this different with military families? Police? We don’t work in dangerous professions, so yeah, barring an accident, we’re going to be with each other.

That’s what we assume, until we get old. My mom still gets cranky with my dad for not being around, and he’s been gone, well, it’ll be 30 years this autumn. I’m sure these assumptions change as we age, and our mortality comes into closer focus.

But what we never expect, what the math doesn’t generally support, is outliving your child.

She didn’t sound bitter, or angry. It came across as more puzzled and sad. As Anthony’s mother hugged me, she whispered, “It’s not fair.”

Give and Take

Because that’s the kind of year that 2010 is – can’t give something nice without balancing it out with something… not. Hello’s to Isaac and Millicent! Goodbye to Lucka (note: “hello” comes with an exclamation point, and “good-bye” with a period).

Let me start by saying that I am not a natural “sharer.” The reason I can write about my vasectomy? I don’t really care about it, and I figured it would be funnily shocking. Easy peasy. Grief? No problem – I’ve been wandering with that for so long it often feels like a second skin. Love, like, closeness? Those are harder. Maybe I’m just playing defense.

Anyway. Here’s the great thing that happened yesterday, in the midst of my sporadic morose-ness (morosity?).

I got an email from Jen’s parents. Last week I mailed them – finally finally – the DVD of Decaffeinated Tragedy, along with some mugs my former pottery instructor had thrown based on some of Jen’s art, and I also put in some mounted versions of a multiple choice quiz Jen had once sent me in campus mail. I have to say, every communication I share with her folks is fraught with some trepidation for me, because of how well they know I couldn’t meet their daughter’s expectations and desires as a friend 20 years ago in the six months preceding her death. Having let them down once indirectly, I think I’m scared to do it again.

This doesn’t stop me from talking to them, and they’ve never given me any indication that they hold anything against me. But the feeling is there.

And they didn’t hold this against me either. On the contrary, just like on all previous occasions, they were warm and enthusiastic and appreciative.

So why is this relevant, except insomuch as it was a wonderful thing to read.

I feel like it’s a guidepost for living, for keeping going after losing someone important, or just after losing anyone at all. We’re marking trails that we have to find on our own. But as Marit sort of indirectly said to me this morning, they’re not trails that we have to find on our own.

Cold Turkey

Let me tell you how this is going to be.

Pick your poison. Coffee? Coca-Cola? Cigarettes? Some shade of alcohol? I know. Ice cream. Orbit gum, mint-mojito flavor. Whatever. Pick it. What do want every day, most days? Ring-Dings?

Got it? I can wait.


You can’t have it any more.

You’re done. Which of course means that you want it a lot. A lot more than a lot, because the fact that you can’t have it means that it’s hard not to think about it. And now your little addiction is starting to take up precious mental space, because it’s hard for you to think about anything else. I mean, I really like coffee. I really, really like coffee, and I look forward to my one-to-two cups a day with sick anticipation. But I can’t have any. And now there’s a headache that’s making me nauseous, and just a little caffeine would make it go away, but nope, no coffee.

Remember, I didn’t quit in this scenario. I can’t. It’s not available to me.

And after a while the headaches go away, and I stop thinking about coffee every hour, then I stop thinking about it every day, then occasionally a whole week goes by without wishing for the taste and the smell. But the dull resentment that is the blunted reminder of the sharp pain of coffee being taken away from me is still there. Anger shifts to bitterness, and not the good coffee kind, and it fades to a nagging GRIM. Because I really, really liked coffee.

That’s what it’s going to be like for me when Anthony dies. And that’s not even the worst of it. The worst part of living – right then – is that nothing slows down. The world keeps turning, like we weren’t even here.