“Grieving, like being blind, is a strange business; you have to learn how to do it. We seek company in mourning, but after the early bursts of tears, after the praises have been spoken, and the good days remembered, and the lament cried, and the grave closed, there is no company in grief. It is a burden borne alone.” ―Ursula K. Le Guin
I can’t stop crying. This hits so personally for me…
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.
“Do not stand at my grave and weep, I am not there, I do not sleep.
I am in a thousand winds that blow, I am the softly falling snow.
I am the gentle showers of rain, I am the fields of ripening grain.
I am in the morning hush, I am in the graceful rush
Of beautiful birds in circling flight, I am the starshine of the night.
I am in the flowers that bloom, I am in a quiet room.
I am in the birds that sing, I am in each lovely thing.
Do not stand at my grave bereft
I am not there. I have not left.”
―Mary Elizabeth Frye
Three times a year, I pause to honor my mother. Had she lived, she would be seventy-five this year. It’s hard to believe she isn’t here, because of late, her presence has been evident.
Explaining that you’re an orphan to people, especially as an adult, is tough. Not everyone can relate. Far too many people expect you to, “get over it”, and move on as soon as the funeral is behind you, as though someone like a mother is easily forgotten or replaced. This is not the case. Not for me. The grief is real, and it is present in everything I do. Not in a negative way, but in a questioning way.
Unlike a lot of mother/daughter relationships, I do not sit and question if my mother was proud of me. I know she was. She trusted me to handle tough situations, to take care of others, to do the right thing, even when I wanted to scream, and to forge a path no one could ever doubt, not even me. Whenever I had doubts about what I could or couldn’t achieve, she would marvel at my brilliance, not at any potential lack of confidence. Ultimately, I don’t lack confidence, but I do plan things out in a very clear fashion. It’s borderline obsessive, but it’s part of who I am. I would not be able to do these things, or be the person I am, if I hadn’t been gifted with an honest parent from day one.
Parenting today is quite different from my own upbringing. When people tell me how they grew up, I am generally appalled at the lack of diversity, culture, joyful moments, simple moments, the lack of music, theater, and film. Often, the lack of books or regular use of a library also galls me. The lack of any kind of bond between parents and children. Even more so when Grandparents are involved, but cannot or do not choose to be present in their lives. My maternal Grandparents lived across the street from us. I saw them every single day, practically. I never had babysitters; only relatives. My brother grew up differently in many ways, and does not have the same memories. I can mention something from when he was two or three and he has zero recollection of it, whereas I have vivid recollection.
Maybe it’s a cultural thing? Perhaps it is also a location issue. City kids grow up differently than those who grew up in the suburbs, in rural areas, or in tiny places where everyone knows everyone. I definitely wasn’t cut out for anything else, except city life. I’ve been thinking about it a lot, lately. My mother trusted me to let the city be my playground in many respects, but she also said no to many things, and I’m glad she did. I’m almost embarrassed over the things I pushed her on at a young age. To the point where a friend’s mother called her to complain that I was, “too sophisticated” for my age. 🙄 I laugh when I think about it now. I was deemed, “too sophisticated” at thirteen. This other woman said I should, “Still be playing with Barbie dolls and stuffed animals” at that age. 🤣 I remember my mother hanging up from that call and saying, “Thank GOD you’re a teenager and not an infant! What healthy, normal thirteen year old is still playing with dolls?!” She rolled her eyes and assured me I was okay.
I can’t say anything really stood out for me at thirteen, aside from being different and not fitting in. Though, I didn’t care about fitting in, and I still don’t think about it on such terms. Why should I? It was the year I added additional piercings, which officially stopped at twenty-one. It was also a hard time in my life because writing and singing were my only escapes from an abusive home life. Not many people understand that now, either, but I did and I do. We didn’t discuss it outside the family. Family friends knew and certainly saw things weren’t right, but no one ever stood up to my father. No one ever corrected his behavior or told him off. I do not recall anyone EVER standing up for my mother and brother, except me. People, especially family, simply chose to avoid us, as though we all suffered from the plague. Out of sight, out of mind. A few pretended to care once my mother had enough and left, but their support was temporary and disingenuous. To this day, I do not speak to anyone who ever disrespected my parents or Grandparents.
When I think about my mother’s childhood and how she spoke of it with a lot of fondness, I realize I was robbed of mine. Maybe this explains my “sophistication”. 🙄 I was functioning in chaos with an adult mindset, and I remember having these thoughts at about age four. Don’t misunderstand me though; I do not feel sorry for myself about this in any way, shape, or form. I am not angry with my mother for believing she had no other choice, but to stay. I am not angry for being the person who protected her and my brother. To this day, I still protect my brother in many ways.
Yesterday, a family member made the gross misjudgment of trying to tell me how to live my life, how to think and behave, and she took a shot at my parents. Let me be clear; this is one hundred percent NOT ALLOWED. I read this message multiple times and did not respond. Why? Because I was a step away from going from zero to epic bitch. I will not respond at all moving forward. I don’t need anyone to dictate to me, or attempt to use me as a replacement relationship for something lacking in their own life.
If it was her intention to be permanently iced out, she came to the right person. I am my mother’s daughter; you’ll die of frostbite before I give you the time of day ever again. No one gets to criticize my parents, except for my brother and I. We lived it. We get to say how we feel, but outsiders DO NOT. Unless you are living in the world’s most perfect relationship, glass houses shouldn’t throw stones and think it’s acceptable behavior. I will throw back bricks and concrete slabs, and I don’t throw like a girl.
What’s worse is, this person likely has no idea how disrespectful they were being to me, but I won’t sit here and take it. That’s the difference between mother and daughter: I don’t feel obligated to anyone regarding politeness and there’s no one overseeing my behavior. The niceness gene clearly skipped a generation or two. Even my brother would have responded with, “Oh, fuck you.” My response would be far worse, which is why I said nothing. I am kind and fair, but I’ve got boundaries and rules.
I have a short list of untouchable people in my life. My brother, parents, and Grandparents are extremely high on said list. If you were not a constant presence in my life, and did not deal with any of them regularly, then I strongly suggest you keep your mouth shut. If you’re going to persist in disrespecting any of them, I want you to do it to my face so that other people hear you do it and understand why I broke your face. No, I’m not kidding. Don’t let your mouth write a check your ass can’t cash. It’s simple and easy enough for most people with a brain to grasp.
My father used to affectionately refer to me as, “the family pitbull”. No, he wasn’t saying I reminded him of a dog. What he was saying is that once my temper comes loose, he almost felt sorry for the poor bastard on the other side of my wrath. Almost, but not really. It’s a good analogy for being a protector archetype, which matches me to a T.
Mom, thank you for seeing me. Thank you for letting me be my true self. Thank you for showing me that honesty and authenticity would get me further in life than anything else. Thank you for reminding me to be persistent in my goals. But most of all, thank you for having my back and teaching me to have my own back. Those are important tools to have in life. I am grateful to you for preparing me for things I never thought I’d survive.
Today, we plant a tree in your memory, because the memory of you will stay strong and live forever.
copyright © 2022 by Lisa Marino & Poison In Lethal Doses, LLC. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. Poison In Lethal Doses®™ is a registered trademark. Photo and poem are fully credited, and no profit is being made from either.
“The grave itself is but a covered bridge,
Leading from light to light, through a brief darkness!” -Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
Grief is like a snowflake? If you want to be poetic about it, okay. If you want to be honest about it, which I am going to be, grief is a demonic fucker that sneaks up on you when you least expect it.
I buried my father seven years ago today. The morning of the funeral I was up until nearly 2:00 a.m. finishing the eulogy. I have no idea how I functioned that day because eight hours later I was heading back home, back to the funeral home where I’ve had to bury almost every key person in my life. I stood up in front of family and friends and brought the house down. The rabbi went up after me, saying “She’s a tough act to follow.” My father’s co-workers came up to me afterward, blown away by what I had written and how I speak in public. A few of them had known him for 40+ years, others nowhere near as long, but they all came, right before Christmas, and paid their respects. I can say a LOT about that because it’s a level of respect that I respect and appreciate. It’s something I will never forget. My father’s own family (all but a few did not live locally), never bothered to show up at the funeral, call, or send so much as a card. I damn near kicked a headstone over this disrespect at the neighboring cemetery where, in four inch heels, I flipped out at my Uncle’s grave and told him he should be ashamed of his family. The tone of voice I was using was enough to probably break bone. If any of them ever need an exact match for tissue or organ donation, I would have to seriously re-think my views on “family” because I don’t tolerate disrespect. There are moments in life when you truly see everyone for who and what they truly are. Sometimes it’s heartening, and other times it makes you murderous.
I’ve been sitting here for the last few hours wondering why I feel so terrible. Not just physically, but mentally and emotionally. I’ve wondered if I was coming down with a cold, and a plethora of other issues. While it is entirely possible that I have a cold in my system, the truth just hit me: I’m upset and when I realized the date, I changed my plans for the day. I don’t want to have a nervous breakdown in public. I will make sure the two places I need to go are open tomorrow and go then, because it’s not an emergency, but it does need to get done before everything shuts down on Christmas Eve, which I totally understand and respect. I think the only thing that will be open Christmas Day is Walmart (Every year I call them to check, expecting a different answer. Every year they tell me “We never close.”) and the movie theater, and probably a Chinese restaurant or two. I’m cooking, so I want fresh ingredients because I am on some insane mission to get through the rest of this year without going ballistic or tearing someone apart. I’m not certain the latter won’t happen. There is a LOT I can accomplish in eight days.
Today, it’s okay to have a mini-meltdown in the privacy of my own home. It’s okay to be upset and angry, and to feel abandoned.
I thought I’d reached the stage of acceptance. Maybe I have, but that doesn’t mean loss is not upsetting to me. When you lose your parents young, the way you view life is very different than it is if you lose your parents at a more appropriate age, like 90. We all live hoping to make it past retirement age, but the truth is, even though many of us say that a specific age is “too old”, we still want to live into the future. Our desire to survive is still present. A family friend once said “I’m never retiring. I’ll still work when I’m 100, so long as I can do so.” He’s a good person, a hard worker, and I pray he makes it to 100 and can see his grand-daughters grow up, maybe even become a great-Grandfather and be able to enjoy that too.
My father never got to see any of those things. I don’t know that he would have truly been interested to do so, but still, it hurts. I do not hurt solely for myself. I hurt for my brother, who really needs a parental figure in his life right now. My father was everything to him. He is not as strong as I am and I spend a lot of time worrying about him because he & I are so different. It’s hard to believe we’re brother and sister, unless it comes down to our sense of humor, passion for things that are important to us, and small things that brand you as “siblings” to others, even if you don’t look alike.
Losing a family member is never easy. Losing one during the holidays is very hard. Having to re-live it year after year is a choice. I tried working through it, but sometimes it creeps up out of nowhere and slaps me across the face. I remember it happening last year too. I did so well on the anniversary of his death, but today, I just have to let myself cry and grieve. Odd as it sounds, tomorrow will come with an entirely different set of emotions.
As the great Billy Crystal has often said “Grieving is a process.”
copyright © 2014 by Lisa Marino & Blackbird Serenity LLC. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.