Category: death

Let Go

Let Go.

I had to share this post from one of my favorite bloggers, Behind the White Coat, because it so perfectly mirrored my own thoughts as I watched my daughter plunge ahead of me on the sidewalk yesterday. She doesn’t want to hold my hand any more, but wants to forge her own way through the world, armed with her knowledge to stop at driveways and look for cars, and to always, always stop at the street and wait for me or her daddy to hold hands.

I want to hold her hand forever. I want to feel her little hand, so warm and soft in my own, with the knowledge that if her hand is in mine, I can keep her safe.

But little girls get bigger, and little girls want to learn how to stand on their own two feet, and to see their moms looking back at them with a smile, not a constant look of terror.

Because when she runs ahead, with a carefree bounce in step, I am constantly imagining a car coming from nowhere, jumping the curb and taking her from me. I’m imagine her bobbing hair, her head turning and those innocent happy eyes looking into mine as she’s ripped from my world. I imagine her broken, dying, in my arms, and all the terrible things that could happen in that moment when’s she just out of my reach, and I’m plunged into a dark place. I want to run to her, pick her up, caution her that the world is a scary place, and she must always be careful of all the terrible things that could happen in that moment when she turns her head to beam at her mommy. But then I think, if she’s obeying the rules, if she’s close to me, why should I put my own fear of all the things that COULD happen into her?

I see her joy and it lifts my spirits, but my fear of letting go of that little precious hand and letting her discover the world on her own, with her own two hands, not just one – that terrifies me.

I let go, I smile and laugh and enjoy her exploration of the world around her, point at the things we’re learning at together, but each time I feel like I’m holding my breath, waiting for the moment when she comes back to me. When her hand is in mine, or I’m carrying her, her head resting on my shoulder.

Drowning in the Dark – Finding Your Way to Forgiveness

It has been a long time since I last wrote, but as my son approaches his very first birthday, I’m feeling a little uptick in energy that means my fingers are itching for something new, and Facebook is just not cutting it.

But, the thing I want to write about today isn’t my son or daughter and their adorable antics – it’s about forgiveness, and a point when I thought things were at their darkest. My sister recently wrote a post about forgiveness and asked me about a dream I had after a tragedy in our lives. You can find her post here: Until I was Free.

As background, well over a decade ago, my husband and I were married. It was one of the happiest days of my life. It wasn’t perfect, because my mother showed up that morning and told my husband she wouldn’t be at the wedding. I was in my room getting dressed, but I heard her, I could hear the panic in her voice, but before I could come out to plead with her, Nick had used his compassionate powers of persuasion to convince her she had to be there. After the wedding, my mom’s illness became worse. She would show up at our house and rant and yell. She left voicemails for me telling me I was the devil incarnate, demonspawn (her most used adjective for me) and she wished I had never been born. Nick began screening and deleting these voicemails, because it had become just too much for me. It was bad enough watching my mom slip away mentally, but to be the object of such hate was more than I could bear.

Our honeymoon was the first chance for me to escape. For three weeks, I didn’t have to worry that I would be woken up in the middle of the night by the woman I called mother yelling under my window, the rattling of her trying to break into my house at 3:00 a.m., to do who knows what. It took a while for me to unwind, but I think it was about 1.5 weeks into the honeymoon before I felt I could breathe and let go of all that hurt, fear and anxiety I had been clutching close to my chest. For the first time, I felt like the world was actually going to be okay. And I reveled in the beauty of Greece, the food, the relaxation, the different culture, and did I mention the food?

When I returned, my world was turned upside down. While I was off re-learning to enjoy myself on my honeymoon, a friend from high school, Lucas, had killed himself, and murdered Skye, someone else from my high school. I wanted to say he had “taken someone else’s life”, to dance around the sheer brutality of it, but that’s what it was. It was murder.  It was suicide.  

I was simultaneously racked with guilt and angry at Lucas. I had known Skye in high school and from ballroom dancing – he was a rare soul who just radiated kindness and compassion. I never saw him without a smile on his face, and I never saw or heard him speak an unkind word about anyone, no matter how deserving.  The reason I was racked with guilt is pretty simple – I had grown up with mental illness in my life. I knew the signs. I knew when someone was drowning in a darkness of their own creation.  I saw Lucas lashing out at people, I saw the spark in his eyes slowly disappear until it was entirely consumed by an emptiness. It was the same aching emptiness I saw in mom’s eyes when she sank into a depression, and would hurt herself. I once found my mom sitting on the stairwell to the basement with a kitchen knife in her hands, crying. I was maybe 12 or 13 – that’s when she confessed that the scars that run up and down her arm that she had always told me were from her attempt to take a knife away from my autistic uncle when they were children – she had lied. She said that sometimes she would “hurt herself so she could feel something – anything.” As a kid, I didn’t know what to do when someone I loved was hurting, so I took the knife away and held her and told her I loved her. I made her promise me to never hurt herself again. We never talked about the knife again.

Lucas‘s emptiness was also deep, but he would hurt others so he could feel. I started to see the pattern, as he became less charming and more focused on mounting verbal attacks, in tearing me (and others) down so he could feel better about himself. 

I recognized this on some level, but, I think 20 year old me couldn’t cope. So, after he had verbally abused our brother, and I found him licking the ear of a sleeping under-aged friend, I blew up. I just couldn’t take it. For the first time, the mousey-Raven blew up and, more surprisingly, held her ground. I confronted him, told him his behavior was inappropriate. When he tried to tell me I was over-reacting and being hysterical, I stuck to my guns, I remembered my self-defense class and identified exactly what he was doing that was inappropriate, and when he still wouldn’t believe me, I swore. If you know me, you know I *hate* being angry, I hate confrontation of all kinds, but I yelled at him: “Get the FUCK out of my house.” He said his friend lived there, too, and I said “I don’t give a fuck, so long as I live here, you are not welcome. Do not talk to me, do not speak to me, get the FUCK out, and don’t come back. If you don’t get out now, I’ll call the police.” I literally walked forward, yelling at him to get the fuck out of my house until I had backed him out of the door and slammed the door on him. Then I ran to my room, shaking and crying. This all took place in front of our friends, whom I think were totally surprised, and possibly horrified, because his behavior was so commonplace. It was just Lucas being an asshole.

I remember that scene vividly, and when I found out about the murder-suicide, it all came back to me. I had cut him out. My other friends hadn’t – they still saw him, but I had not done it in a constructive way.  Some time after I returned, a mutual friend called me and conveyed that Lucas had a parting message. He had taken this friend out before the tragic events and asked him to convey to me how sorry he was for the way he treated me. That he’d recognized I had been a victim, and he’d taken advantage of it. He wanted me to know how sorry he was if he’d ever hurt me, but that he could see I was doing much better now. 
I’ll admit, that didn’t help my guilt. I knew Lucas was mentally ill. I’d seen it in Mom, I’d seen it in others, I knew the signs. So, I was mad at Lucas for Skye, I was mad at him for all the hurt he’d caused everyone around him, but I was mad at myself for not recognizing the signs, for kicking him out/shutting him out, because I didn’t know enough to take him aside and say, “Lucas, this isn’t right. What you’re doing, isn’t right. You need help. I can’t give you that help, but I can be here for you while you get it. Please, start seeing someone, and I will support you. If you don’t, THEN, I’m afraid you are no longer welcome here.” But, in all fairness, I was young and silly, and hurting myself. 
So, when I learned about what happened, I felt terrible. My friends told me there wasn’t anything I could have done – that if I had continued to be in his life, I, too, might have been hurt. What I did then – it was self-protection and I needed to do it. But, at the time their words fell on ears that weren’t listening. 
After a few weeks of intense guilt and crying myself to sleep every night thinking about the hurt and pain that would drive someone into that kind of darkness, I drifted into a fitful sleep. I was suddenly in Monroe Park, where my siblings and I used to play as children. I was my 11-year-old self, and holding the Express (my favorite kitten who had died in an accident when I was a kid), surrounded by  other kittens playing in the sun-filled grass. It was magical. A warm breeze teased the grass and I felt an intense wave of peace roll over me. As I pet and cuddled my sweet kitten, whom I hadn’t seen in over a decade, I saw feet in front of me, and I looked up in surprise. It was Lucas, standing above me. His head was surrounded by a halo of sunlight such that I could barely make out his features, but I knew it was him. As he stepped closer, he gave me a huge smile, the likes of which I hadn’t really seen since high school, and held his arms out. I stood up, and he embraced me and said “It’s okay, Rachael. I’m okay.” I felt those words to my very core and I woke up with them ringing in my ears. Somehow, the heaviness was lifted from my heart.  I realized that he was gone, but all his pain was gone, too. He had taken a light out of this world that we couldn’t bring back, but I needed to stop dwelling on his pain and his hurt. I needed to stop drowning in the darkness his world had become at the end.  
In that moment, I understood. In that moment, I forgave him and I forgave myself. 

Three years and some change

It’s funny, the things you can find when you sift through the backup files from various old computers. You can find old pictures that you thought you had lost. Half-finished notes, poems, a tidbit of an email you thought you might send before you thought the better of it, and just let it sit there.

Or, you can find a little document, only 24 pages in total, entitled simply “Open Letter.” It seemed innocuous enough, so I opened it. Six months of entries, here and there, some longer than others, but they all started the same.

Dear Mom

The hurt, so far removed now, bled on the page.

In each letter, I danced and skirted around the words, like I still do. I couldn’t say “Dear Mom: It’s been eleven days since you died.” No, I couldn’t write those words. I thought it, I know I did. But my fingers wouldn’t type those words.  It was always something like “since you found peace.” Since you passed. Since the light touched your face and I knew you were finally free.

Do I believe all of the above? Yes. I sincerely do.

When I bought flowers this past March 4th, do you know what I told the flower clerk? I told her I was looking for an arrangement for a particular friend, and the arrangement couldn’t have carnations. My friend hated carnations. I caught myself right after the lie slipped my lips. Why did I say that? Even I was confused at the time. I felt at peace when I was surveying the flowers, so why did I lie? Was it to avoid the expression of sympathy, the sadness, the tears? Or is my problem with the word itself? I felt silly correcting myself, especially since the look of sympathy was all the worse for the lie. *sigh*

Dead. You are dead. You died three years ago. Dead. There. I said it. More than once. It is just a word. Of course, most of you know me. I am silly and old fashioned. I know words shape us, as much as we sing and plug our ears with our fingers we know that sticks and stones may break our bones, but words will forever scar us. Or mold us. We are the words we come to love or hate.

But really, I need to own this word. It cannot hurt me, to speak it, leave it, or lay it out in the open. So, for another installment in my open letter, I write the following:

March 20, 2013

Dear Mom:

It has been three years and sixteen days since I last held your hand, kissed your cheek, and laid next to you. I still miss you. The hurt is still there, but it no longer feels like a gaping empty vastness of all the things that might have or should have been. I see you now when I close my eyes and think about you. I don’t see the sickness, the illness, the pills, the morphine patches, the syringes full of liquid sustenance. The hurt and shame you tried to hide because you couldn’t face the fact that you needed someone else. I don’t see that anymore. 

I don’t see your death. Or you dead.

I remember it, but more than anything, I remember you, Mom.  I remember the Mom who hovered like a giant over me, who could protect me from anything. I remember the way you laughed with your whole soul, and I felt the world open up before me. I remember the walks and the banter and the singing, and the arguing. I remember the white-lipped look of rage you got when someone hurt one of your babies. It used to embarrass me, that look, because it invariably meant that someone was about to get a piece of your mind. And everyone in earshot was going to hear it.

A part of me couldn’t say the word “dead”, couldn’t really think it, because there’s that part of me that doesn’t believe you’re dead. I held you in my arms. I saw your chest fall that final time and I heard the release of your last breath. Yes, this is all true. 

But in the corner of my eye, I still see glimpses of an almost six foot woman, close cropped graying hair, in a pink sweater. Sometimes she’s on a bike, sometimes just crossing the street, or picking up a piece of garbage on the side of the road, and I stop and take a second look. The woman is never you, but there’s often something so familiar in the scrunched shoulders and a look of hurt in her face. When I see her, I smile, because I feel you. I bet most of the women think they’re encountering a crazy lady, smiling at them as if she knows them, but you know what? To hell with ’em. Some of them, well, they smile back.

Literally speaking, you are dead by all modern concepts. I have your certificate of death. But much like the medieval period, there is factual truth, spiritual truth, and symbolic truth. And as St. Augustine once intimated (if memory serves me correctly, since it has been many years since I read De Civitate Dei), I do believe factual truth is the lesser of these truths. Why?

Because I still feel you in the earth, in the grass beneath my feet, in the wind, in the sun shining on my sweet daughter’s face, in the joy I feel when she points to the sky and yells “Buh! Buh! Buh!” at the passing birds. You are free. Free of all the hurt, guilt, pain and sadness you carried with you. You are free. I knew it when I saw your face relax, a smile tickle at the side of your mouth, and the pained look that I had seen on your face for so many years finally melt away. I saw that peace when you died.

And Mom? Wherever you are, there is one thing I do know for sure – you will always be with me. And I will always love you.

Your loving daughter, now and until the end of time,