“Time is ungovernable, but grief presents us with a choice: what do we do with the savage energies of bereavement? What do we do with the memory – or in the memory – of the beloved? Some commemorate love with statuary, but behavior, too, is a memorial, as is a well-lived life. In death, there is always the promise of hope. The key is opening, rather than numbing, ourselves to pain. Above all, we must show our children how to celebrate existence in all its beauty, and how to get up after life has knocked us down, time and again. Half-dead, we stand. And together, we salute love. Because in the end, that’s all that matters. How hard we loved, and how hard we tried.” ―Antonella Gambotto-Burke
I don’t have much to offer right now. The past few days have been fraught with sad news. My best friend buried her Grandfather (It took a few days for the body to be flown out of the United States to its final resting place.), and the other is burying her father, who passed away this morning. Both lived long lives, but there are mixed emotions for those involved, and I feel it.
These issues bring up my own losses, because I am dealing with a lot of trauma at the moment. As one person said to me, “You know how it is, because you did all of this by yourself.” That’s right; I did. I arranged everything by myself. Two funerals. A headstone. An unveiling. I have not been back since, but I need to go and try to get a feel for things because avoiding it is not helping me.
I remember asking a family member about a word for the headstone and being told, “I’m not paying for it; they weren’t MY parents.” Yeah, my jaw dropped for a second before I composed myself. All I did was ask if they wanted a word added to one side of the stone. I displayed an act of kindness which shouldn’t have been shunned, and yes, I paid for the word and the stone. I showed respect to someone who disrespects me constantly. Nothing has changed in almost thirteen years. I see it, and I’m paying attention. I don’t have to understand why this person chooses to behave this way towards me, I only have to understand and control my response to it.
Grief and loss were once the only things I felt I had to offer others, but not anymore. Now I see myself clearly and I know I am not the cause for these things. In fact, I’m actually the person who will offer someone the most guidance and support. If my pain can help someone else, then I will allow that, but my pain isn’t going to be used against me.
I’ll be back soon, hopefully with better news.
“Perhaps some day the sun will shine again,
And I shall see that still the skies are blue,
And feel one more I do not live in vain,
Although bereft of you.
Perhaps the golden meadows at my feet,
Will make the sunny hours of spring seem gay,
And I shall find the white May-blossoms sweet,
Though You have passed away.
Perhaps the summer woods will shimmer bright,
And crimson roses once again be fair,
And autumn harvest fields a rich delight,
Although You are not there.
But though kind Time may many joys renew,
There is one greatest joy I shall not know
Again, because my heart for loss of You
Was broken, long ago.”
Today is the funeral of a friend of the family who died as a result of Covid 19. My brother is there now, and there’s nothing I can do except be encouraging, even though it puts me into the headspace where I relive every funeral I’ve ever been to. Funerals aren’t usually anyone’s cup of tea, but my brother especially, is not good with them. He has his reasons, and they’re perfectly understandable. That’s why he texted me this morning to ask if he looked okay and to go over certain things since we don’t usually get asked to attend non-Jewish funerals. There are religious and cultural differences between the two, believe me.
I’m in an okay element at the majority of funerals I attend. I’m being brutally honest when I say I’m invited to funerals, but no one ever invites me to their wedding. I’m serious about this, too, so don’t invite me to a wedding out of pity. I have nothing to offer there.
Having always been honest about life and death is likely crucial to how I handle things as an adult. My mother didn’t try to pretty it up for me when my Grandfather died, or when subsequent family members passed away after the fact. There were no bullshit stories in my home growing up, and I had no tolerance when people attempted bullshit stories with me. I haven’t changed on that level.
I cringe when people tell me how they (tried to) explain death to a child (at age three-ish or so), and fucked up royally (My words, not theirs. They think they did the right thing. My eyes rolled to Japan and are on their way back. Excuse me one moment.). I’m mortified by the shit they tell their kids because that level of dishonesty will shape them as they get older, and I’m not good with it. To this day, I still can’t tolerate the lies people tell. If you ever wonder how dishonest you come off, ask me and I’ll tell you.
Yes, I was the kid who told all the other kids that Santa, the Easter Bunny, and the Tooth Fairy weren’t real. And I’d do it all over again, too. I mildly got in trouble for my honesty growing up, but it was mostly in the sense that my mother understood why I was being so honest, and told me it was the responsibility of other parents to also be honest with their children, or not. And if “not” was on the table, then I needed to try and keep my mouth shut, so as not to interfere with what they wanted their children to believe. I don’t think I’ve ever been on board with that.
In my eyes, a funeral is where you go and pay your respects. You’re not doing it for you or those involved (unless you’re really close with them), you’re doing it because it’s the right thing to do. Period. Respect is something I find lacking in so many relationships these days, and it’s disgusting to me. If you are unable to attend, then you send something, based solely on your relationship with the survivors of the deceased. I generally send cards and fruit baskets, but last year, when my cousins lost their mother to cancer, I had trees planted in Israel in memory of her, because I knew it would mean more to them, and it did.
When my father passed away, I sorted through hundreds of cards. I’m not exaggerating; cards came daily for over three months, and there were a decent amount of people at his funeral. When my mother passed away, I didn’t get five cards in total, and I got only three phone calls. It was bizarre as hell. My support system (i.e: Family) sucked then and it sucks even worse now. I cope differently than I used to. The person who buried her parents five months apart is a completely different woman now. I am colder, harsher, and darker, but I respect myself more for that than I once did. You see, these hard things change you, and when they do, you should honor the change, and not think of it as something awful. Change means growth. That’s not negative, and don’t let people tell you otherwise.
Did I want to burn my Aunt and Uncle’s house down after my father’s funeral? Absolutely, but I didn’t (Instead, I marched over to my Uncle’s grave and tore his spirit a new asshole. It felt good to get the anger out of my system, in the moment.). Did I want to rip people to shreds at my mother’s funeral? Yes. Instead, I stayed quiet, behind dark sunglasses, like a lady, and spoke when spoken to, after eulogizing my mother. I admire the woman I was that day because behind her pain, she was poised as hell. I am still poised. If you’re kind to me, I will be kind in turn. If you’re disrespectful, it’s not beneath me to throw you into the nearest open grave and shovel dirt over you. Everyone picks their own poison with me, no pun intended.
Today, I am sad. I’m sad that people still don’t seem to understand how serious this pandemic is and I’m sad many people have had to say goodbye to loved ones way too soon, and I’m angry with the knowledge that much of this could have been prevented.
I’d like to go back to normal. I’d like to not have to wear a mask (I’ve nearly walked out without one so many times.). I’d like to not have to worry about whether or not I’ve touched something that may be contaminated, etc. I’d like for people to feel safe again and not be worried, but I’m too realistic for that. Naturally, I have definitive opinions on the three vaccines that were pushed through and approved in less than a year, too, but that’s a discussion for another day and, possibly, a different audience entirely.
For today, I wish everyone the best and hope that you’re safe, healthy, and coping to the best of your ability. If you’re not, please know you’re not alone.
copyright © 2021 by Lisa Marino & Poison In Lethal Doses, LLC. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED
Today is also my Uncle’s 68th birthday. He’s been gone nine years and I nearly broke down this morning when I looked at old photos saved on my laptop and phone. I miss you so much, Zio. Thank you for all the good lessons you taught me and the girls. Thank you for supporting my knowledge, my education, and my fierce spirit. I might not have been your daughter, but I always felt like I was, and I was always treated as though I was. So many special moments and memories, which I’ll treasure for the rest of my life. Ti Amo.
“The grave itself is but a covered bridge,
Leading from light to light, through a brief darkness!” -Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
“There is no grief like the grief that does not speak.” -Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
“When the raw pain is so unbearable and unbelievable, you may wonder if you can go on. But, you can, and will. And life can be good again—when you work at it. It’s a conscious choice to decide to move through grief, mourn the loss of the person you love, and heal.” ―Chelsea Hanson
Late yesterday afternoon, the news of a death in my family hit me in an unexpected way. One, it is close to home and heart. I’ve lived it and I’ve lived it predominantly alone. Two, it re-traumatized me in a way I never could have anticipated. I couldn’t even speak about it.
People who have suffered through a lot of awful things eventually reach a level of mental compartmentalization only those who’ve experienced similar situations will understand. We will tell you what we’ve been through and our tone of voice will come across as cool and neutral, or cool and detached. Or completely empty. We’ve legitimately gone through so much that we’ve lost the emotional context tone of voice which newly traumatized people have. We can tell you the worst things you’ll ever hear, and we will often not even blink. We’ve told the story of our pain so many times, we no longer react to it. It’s the reaction of a survivor. Believe me when I say this doesn’t mean we are leaving out details or being dishonest. However, it does mean we’ve continually walked through hell.
I try to keep the boundaries between my private life and my public life as a writer extremely separate. Sometimes I do discuss situations I am dealing with or have dealt with, but I word things carefully. Today, I can only say a family member passed away. Being excluded from the virtual funeral is something I am trying not to take personally, but I find it incredibly disrespectful. Virtual Shiva is taking place, except for Friday and Saturday due to the Sabbath, but I have made the conscious decision not to participate. I have my reasons.
I’m pretty fed up. I have to keep in mind that when I was the one planning two funerals, I called people personally, except for three cousins who my Aunt is closer to, and she offered to make those calls for me. I didn’t text anyone or publicize their deaths via social media. The only people who knew what was going on were those I had called or e-mailed (due to their location) directly. I remember e-mailing my best friends in real-time, as I was going through all of it. I kept in touch constantly, even when they were both ill and there was a lot of uncertainty. I was careful not to exclude family friends, coworkers, etc. The few people I didn’t reach out to were people I felt were not deserving of being a part of my pain.
I planned everything from transportation of the body to selecting the coffins. I contacted the cemetery. I spoke with the Rabbi. I wrote two eulogies. I spoke at each service. These are not easy things to go through.
This year, people reached out to me on Mother’s Day, but no one remembered the actual date of death, so I suffered privately. I felt incredibly overwhelmed with sadness and zero emotional support. Not a word was spoken to me on Father’s Day. My father’s birthday is approaching, and it makes me sick to think about it.
I can’t help but feel excluded by my extended family, but I AM in control of how I respond to all of them moving forward. I’m no longer making myself available to anyone. Right now, that’s what I need to do to help myself heal. I highly doubt they’ll notice. I’m okay with this. I will be okay.