The Thirteenth Year

May. The month of darkness. The month of flashbacks, nightmares, anger at being robbed of loved ones… It’s hell. I suffer silently; no one is particularly interested in what I have to say. I remind myself it isn’t personal, some people simply aren’t full-fledged human beings. C’est la vie.

Thirteen years ago tonight, my mother’s heart gave out. I got the phone call, “We’re trying to revive her, but…” The BUT was my mother’s DNR; a point of contention between us for years. I had power of attorney and I remember saying, “Screw the DNR. If she can be revived, you save her life.” An hour later and I knew. I remember looking at the clock, in pure silence, and knowing the exact moment when she left. When I received her death certificate, the time was not a shock, but it jolted me. My life was permanently altered. I feel like I’ve lived a nightmare almost every day since.

One of the most important messages my mother instilled in me was to ALWAYS be honest and speak up for my beliefs. I am not a passive, gullible, peace-keeper; I was built for war and educated argument. My mother knew, before I was born, that I was strong and a force to be reckoned with. That’s the kind of daughter she wanted; one who would always speak her mind, one who would not pretend, and one who wouldn’t take shit from anyone, because she’d know her worth and would not be afraid of walking into rooms and being a strong, powerful, determined individual. I suspect she got what she ordered. 😉

My parents taught my brother and I to focus on facts, and to know when we were being lied to. Not everyone is blessed with intuitive education. I was not taught to hate. I am an intuitive person with a mind which pays attention to details others might miss. Micro-aggressions, body language, any shift in behavior or verbal tone is something I will notice. I am grateful for these things, because I know other parents weren’t teaching such things, and because much of this knowledge has saved my life in many situations.

My mother was the best. I was blessed with someone truly devoted to her children, imperfections aside, because NO ONE is perfect. We’re all human.

I miss you. There are no words for the amount of pain I am still trying to work through. Time does not heal a damn thing. Not in this situation.

The Dark Days

I’ve kept an extremely low profile the past few days. For starters, I am still fighting off an infection. It’s draining me terribly. My brain understood I really needed to shovel snow yesterday, but my body sent me back to bed because I couldn’t keep my head up or my eyes open. I was battling a migraine, chronic pain, and a damn infection. My body can only handle so much right now. Second, today is the thirteenth anniversary of my father’s death, and it is fresh in my mind. I’ve needed the rest I’ve managed to get, but it doesn’t wash my mind clean.

I have often told people that when I speak from experience and from no need to, “please anyone”, it stems from being an adult orphan. You are never fully prepared to lose your parents, no matter your age, or theirs. I only have to make myself proud, because no one else is as invested in me as my parents and grandparents were. It is sad that even in 2020, people still make it clear that they don’t appreciate me in any way. There’s nothing I plan on doing about the issues of others. It isn’t my responsibility, and it likely has nothing to do with me, personally. In 2021, I’d like to take things a lot less personally

I’ve always been clear that my father and I were not close or on the best of terms during the course of my life. I come from an abusive home and background, and I am trying hard to make sure the next generation is not affected by this. It was maybe in the final years of his life that he was able to appreciate me. As a person, as a daughter, as the responsible member of the family.

Each year, as I revisit the losses I’ve endured in my life, I also try to keep the good memories alive in my heart. And yet, these are still dark days for me. It’s hard to, “celebrate” a life half-lived. Any time someone dies and they are older than my parents were at the times of their deaths, I don’t have much to offer. It’s a sympathy card, a fruit basket, something I know anyone in mourning can appreciate, but sometimes I want to say, “He was 95. He lived his life.” I don’t mean that in a disrespectful way, but in a, “It was an inevitability.” type of statement, yet I tend to keep that to myself 99.9% of the time.

It’s taken me a while to realize I am choosing to lack empathy and compassion at times. It’s something I’m consciously doing on nearly every dark day. I am not trying to take anyone’s private pain away from them, as much as I am choosing to embrace a fact in my life to keep me from going off the deep end.

I was not shown a whole lot of compassion or empathy after losing my father, and then my mother. I received such things in tiny doses. And I’m not going to lie; it’s important to grieve until you can feel yourself slowly start to heal. Until you no longer feel completely shattered. It does not happen overnight.

My dark day is now a dark night, and I am trying to keep myself calm as I approach the anniversary of the funeral and everything that occurred after the fact. It’s not “dwelling on the past”, as much as it is hoping for a better future.

Be Near Me When My Light Is Low…

“Be near me when my light is low,
When the blood creeps, and the nerves prick
And tingle; and the heart is sick,
And all the wheels of Being slow.

Be near me when the sensuous frame
Is rack’d with pangs that conquer trust;
And Time, a maniac scattering dust,
And Life, a fury slinging flame.

Be near me when my faith is dry,
And men the flies of latter spring,
That lay their eggs, and sting and sing
And weave their petty cells and die.

Be near me when I fade away,
To point the term of human strife,
And on the low dark verge of life
The twilight of eternal day.”
―Alfred Lord Tennyson, In Memoriam

Midnight Musings

I may have shared the quote below last year around this time, or not. If it’s repetitive, it’s not intentional.

My mind has been focused a lot these days on home and my deceased loved ones.

Some people leave their hometowns and eventually feel no ties to wherever it is they’re from. I’m not one of them.

Home is deeply engrained in my soul. Going back is painful. And yet, the streets know my name and my blood feels calmer there. It’s more than a place, more than memories, and more than one particular moment. It simply IS.

When asked where I’m from, it’s an automatic reply. In Massachusetts, they ask because I, “talk funny”. It rarely occurs to them that I simply don’t have a Boston accent. Having filmed periodically over the last few months, I have noticed that, on film, I don’t sound the way I do in my daily life. I have, however, noticed that my accent (Which is one of many. Polyglots can often find themselves “stuck” in an accent if they’ve been thinking in a language and actively using it. I regularly take on an accent if I’ve talked to someone who isn’t American and speaks a language I know, or am extremely familiar with. In regular conversation with a friend, he jokingly noticed my “perfect London accent.” As I type this, I can hear his voice and in turn, my brain switches into the accent he mentioned. I’ve been doing it a lot lately without realizing it. 🤷 He refers to it as “Star Bird Lisa”. That’s a compliment.) is this overly perfected, “middle of nowhere” American English. I NEVER noticed the gradual change until my best friend pointed it out. But when I’m exhausted beyond words, I hear my accent completely change. Inevitably, each one will end up on film. Hopefully I’ll amuse someone besides myself. 

Where was I going with this? Home. It’s not just a place. It’s my heart.

Sleep well, mes amis. 😗

“The tears I feel today
I’ll wait to shed tomorrow.
Though I’ll not sleep this night
Nor find surcease from sorrow.
My eyes must keep their sight:
I dare not be tear-blinded.
I must be free to talk
Not choked with grief, clear-minded.
My mouth cannot betray
The anguish that I know.
Yes, I’ll keep my tears til later:
But my grief will never go.”
―Anne McCaffrey

*In Memory Of My Grandfather…Великою людиною дійсно ніколи не може бути втрачено або забуто- A great man can never truly be lost or forgotten.*

1936-2018

“So live your life that the fear of death can never enter your heart. Trouble no one about their religion; respect others in their view, and demand that they respect yours. Love your life, perfect your life, beautify all things in your life. Seek to make your life long and its purpose in the service of your people. Prepare a noble death song for the day when you go over the great divide. Always give a word or a sign of salute when meeting or passing a friend, even a stranger, when in a lonely place. Show respect to all people and grovel to none. When you arise in the morning, give thanks for the food and the joy of living. If you see no reason for giving thanks, the fault lies only in yourself. Abuse no one and no thing, for abuse turns the wise ones to fools and robs the spirit of vision. When it comes your time to die, be not like those whose hearts are filled with the fear of death, so that when their time comes they weep and pray for a little more time to live their lives over again in a different way. Sing your death song and die like a hero going home.” ―John McCain

I’m not obnoxiously political, but my heart goes out to the McCain family. Having lost many relatives to cancer, including my Grandmother, father, Uncle, and many cousins, this hit me hard. My father’s cancer was rare and it spread to his brain, leaving him unable to communicate with anyone, except me. He battled rare forms of cancer for fifteen years. I know how difficult the journey is, and how helpless one can feel in the midst of the battle.

This isn’t about being a Republican, Democrat, or purple kangaroo; it’s about humanity and compassion. John’s wife & family will be in my prayers. G-d rest and Bless his soul. 😥😢 And YES, I’m sitting here in tears. Not news I expected to hear so quickly.

“Nothing in life is more liberating than to fight for a cause larger than yourself, something that encompasses you but is not defined by your existence alone.” John McCain

 

I Remember

I Remember

This day is emblazoned within my mind. I would learn so much within a forty-eight hour span of time, and I would be permanently changed. But no one tells you that when you’re a child. No. They try to keep you “innocent”. Except in my family. My mother decided I was not going to be lied to or be told nonsensical stories. I’ve been treated like an adult, with free thoughts and a free spirit, my entire life. There’s much to be said for this methodology because, even today, people do try to shield their children from many things. There’s no perfect way to be a parent. Did you just shake your head? You can disagree. That’s fine.

There are so many moments in life, but as someone with extreme intuition, this one still gets me.

I remember a full day of fun, spent with my mother, brother, and Grandparents. I remember exactly where we were, and that we had been in a specific store just minutes before the tension began. I remember feeling confused when some form of visibly silent arguing began, which is when my mother and her parents would switch languages in front of my brother and I. My brother probably doesn’t have any recollection of this, but I do. Whenever another language was spoken around me, I paid attention. I still do.

I remember my mother becoming frustrated, bordering on furious. The plans had changed and she was hurt, trying to rein in her temper. She was trying to put on a brave face in front of her children, but I felt the shift in emotions immediately. Once again, my Great-Aunt and Great-Uncle would get their way, and my mother was not pleased. She was not manipulative and didn’t appreciate manipulative people. She was never fake by nature, but in those final moments, she was putting on a show.

Me, always questioning everything, precisely as she taught me, demanded to know what was going on. “Where are they going? Why are they leaving? I have to say goodbye to Grandpa.” At that point in my life, my entire world revolved around my mother, Grandfather, Aunt (my mother’s sister), and brother.

My mother, of the softly spoken everything, of her calm, easy-going nature, would reply with a tone better suited for a teenager that arrived home at four a.m. drunk, without a phone call. “You don’t need to say goodbye. You’ll see him tomorrow.” I remember trying to get one final hug and kiss, and being forcibly taken away from him. I was angry. He and my Grandmother waved, promising me tomorrow. Tomorrow didn’t happen the way any of them expected, I am sure.

It was extremely early in the morning. Ever the night owl, I left the room I shared with my younger brother to find out what was going on. I remember facing my Grandmother, her always stoic expression conveying something was wrong. I had never seen her so quiet, so sad, so lost.

“Where is Grandpa?” I demanded. You rarely saw one Grandparent without the other, even though my Grandfather was the predominant force between the two. She looked up at me with a blatantly sad expression on her normally expressionless face. “He’s gone.” was the answer I received.

Gone. What did that mean to me? It made no sense. “Then we have to go and find him.” was my reply. I was adamant. I knew he would not leave without me, without talking to me, without saying goodbye. The fiercest part of me knew that he would never leave by choice. Never. She shook her head and waited for my mother to explain to me that the single most important man in my life was “in heaven”.

I quickly learned that NO ONE understood this concept. They would look at me sadly, point up to the sky, and tell me my Grandfather had “gone to heaven”. I did not believe them. I had already extensively searched the clouds and he was not there. Because they all pointed up, I believed he had gone to a castle in the clouds. He would always study the sky with me and show me things, so this made sense in my mind at the time.

I remember his funeral. The entire chapel was filled beyond capacity. People were huddled in to make additional room. Hundreds of people had come to pay their respects. My Grandfather was beloved, respected, admired. I remember looking at all the people, so many of them strangers to me, and everyone looked back at me sadly.

I remember the cemetery. The line of cars was unreal. Again, a testament to this great man. I remember my Great-Aunt Minnie and Great-Uncle Charlie wanting to dote on me from the funeral home to the burial site. I remember my cousins, Gloria and Lenny, trying to lighten the mood in the car. Lenny was known for his sense of humor. My Aunt Minnie tried distracting me with cookies. I was not to be distracted, though. I was this man’s only Granddaughter and I knew I had a purpose on this day. After all, I fought to be there. No one thought I should be “subjected to death”. I’d heard this stated quite a bit in the previous day, and knowing myself, I was paying exceptional attention to who said what and how they said it. I’ve always been a keen observer.

My mother sat down with me and explained everything and asked what I wanted to do. I remember her friend Ellen saying “Don’t you want to stay home and play with me and your baby brother?” I remember looking up at her coldly and saying “No. He is MY Grandfather and I AM GOING.” My mother actually stared at me, shocked by the tone of voice I had used. Before that moment, I had always been described as the “little girl with the ancient eyes”, even as a baby, but in that moment my mother knew I was the fierce warrior she had prayed for. There would be no further argument. I had stood my ground.

Cemeteries are for the living. It’s how we remember those we’ve lost and try to honor them. There is nothing more final than seeing someone’s name and the dates of their birth and death etched into granite or marble. Is it bizarre that my Grandparents’ headstone is the same as my parents’ stone? Not really. I remember asking my mother what she wanted for my father and she said “Just bury us together. Get one stone. Something similar to the one for my Mom and Dad, okay?” Her only concession was that her side have a specific design. I custom-designed that stone with the help of someone who does that sort of work. The final result was startling, same as it was to see my Grandparents’ names etched in finality.

After my Grandfather’s death, I remember heated discussions. My Great-Aunt, my Grandfather’s only sister, asked my Grandmother if she could still go on her vacation, despite the traditional 3-7 days where Jews sit Shiva. My Grandmother acquiesced, as she always did in situations such as this. My mother didn’t speak to my Great-Aunt for YEARS after the fact, and my own anger would become part of the mix as I got older and heard the entire story. If, G-d forbid, anything ever happened to my brother, I would not be on a plane the day after his funeral to go anywhere. I would never show his life such disrespect. It’s nonnegotiable. How the hell does someone claim to be in mourning and then get on a plane to go anywhere to enjoy themselves?! I will forever feel haunted by that move. In reverse, I can assure you my Grandfather would not have done something so despicable.

My Grandmother never spoke about it. She had friends, family, tons of well-wishers, and her children and grandchildren by her side. She became a prominent, front-and-center Grandmother in the wake of my Grandfather’s death, whereas she was very much in the background most of the time before his passing. There was NOTHING she did not do for us, take care of, or handle if my father refused. If my brother or I ever needed something, it did not matter what it is, she was there. She went to all of my gymnastic competitions, every drama performance, every Glee club performance, every Graduation. If it was during the day and my parents had to work, she was the face we saw in every crowd. She loved us, she helped raise us, and she was always right across the street. With her, we would get extra time before cancer came and took her from us. The insidiousness of that disease, coming along and taking someone who stayed out of the sun (I always remember her being under an umbrella or sitting in the shade.), never smoked, rarely drank, was devastating. It just goes to show you that no one is immune.

For roughly the next three years, after things had settled down, I would openly discuss suicide, a word that had NEVER been used in my home or in my life. My family did not discuss such things, EVER. My parents would stare at each other in dismay, and I know what they were thinking. “Where did she get that word from?” I had never been exposed to it, but it was constant. I was determined to be wherever my Grandfather REALLY was, and I made this clear. Every time I would talk about it, my brother would become hysterical, clutching me and telling my parents “She’s my sister. She can’t leave. Don’t let her leave me.” His face would turn red and he’d cry himself into an asthma attack at times. We were incredibly adult for kids, I now realize, but back then, I thought all people had similar family lives and discussions. They did not. They do not.

It’s important to discuss loss, grief, death, and every aspect of mental health with your children. I have suffered the majority of my life because my mother was afraid for me and my father was in denial. But as someone recently said to me “You could have harmed yourself so many times by now, and you’re still here. You’re still in one piece.” Only, I’m not truly in “one piece”. I’m very much a broken, pretty mess, but people only focus on the visual on front of them. They are sitting across from someone who is dressed appropriately, someone who is clean, hair done, makeup on, and they think that someplace, somewhere, I have it all “together”. Sometimes I do, but mostly, I do not. I don’t pretend. I am as imperfect as the amethyst I wear around my neck nearly all the time, except during a Full Moon.

To this day, I still suffer. I still hurt, wondering how different life might have been if he had lived another ten or fifteen years. I miss him terribly. But most importantly, I remember. I remember it all.

copyright © 2018 Lisa Marino & Blackbird Serenity, LLC. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

“The tears I feel today
I’ll wait to shed tomorrow.
Though I’ll not sleep this night
Nor find surcease from sorrow.
My eyes must keep their sight:
I dare not be tear-blinded.
I must be free to talk
Not choked with grief, clear-minded.
My mouth cannot betray
The anguish that I know.
Yes, I’ll keep my tears til later:
But my grief will never go.”
Anne McCaffrey