written by Susan
March 3, 2016 0

Momma cried this morning.
I imagined her thoughts were
Of Jesus and the next few months,
But she said that she was sorry
For leaving me with bad memories.

The thing about missing someone,
Is that the bad things will fade away;
There were times when I screamed so hard
All I could think of was how to hurt her—
Make her understand how helpless I felt.

When I turn on the kitchen light and
See an empty room that lacks her warmth,
It won’t be anger that I’ll feel.
It’s that feeling of being left behind,
That I’ll truly be alone.

That I’ll wish I had put more—
More time into starting a family
Of my own. A feeling that
When I’m done being mad,
I can’t find her, kneel on the floor,

Put my head on her stomach and say
I’m sorry.

written by Susan
October 13, 2013 0

Come up to meet you, tell you I’m sorry
You don’t know how lovely you are
I had to find you, tell you I need you
Tell you I’ll set you apart

How do I deal with grief? I talk to plants. I have two big, bushy, white peace lilies that I was able to squeeze back into the house and I talk to them. Often. I’ve had them for just over four months and I don’t think a day has gone by that I haven’t talked to them. I’m a practical person so it barely makes sense to me. If you asked, I would tell you straight up that it’s a grief process. You would think that knowing that would take away some of the magic, but it doesn’t.  I need to regain control over my life and if I just give them water and make sure they have the right kind of light, they will live and grow. They won’t die unless I give them a reason. 

My mom thought I was crazy at first. A week after the funeral when people finally stopped coming by, she was ready to throw them out. I was pretty livid when she pushed them outside onto the wood deck because I’d been watering and chatting with them every day. At first, I thought it would be okay since it was the back deck that gave primarily morning sun, but I could tell in the first two days when they started to yellow and wither that it was too much. 

I felt a clawing in my chest. The same kind of clawing that you get when you watch Bambi’s mother die for the first time as a child. Only it doesn’t go away when you put a new movie on. So I pulled an old plastic kiddy pool from around the yard and paired it with a wire patio table to construct a plant tent. That same clawing sensation would wake me up every morning at about sunrise. So at about 7am every morning I would wake up, water the plants and talk to them. “You can do it. All you have to do is live. I’ll take care of everything else. If you live through the summer, Mom will let you back in.”

Those were words that never actually came out of her mouth. For the first few months she wanted everything that reminded her of the funeral gone. My brother’s stuff remained untouched in a side room because even looking at it would make all of us cry. Not looking was hard enough.  At first talking to the plants while I watered them made me cry too. It seemed like I cried at everything. Maybe I did. 

Tell me your secrets and ask me your questions
Oh let’s go back to the start
Running in circles, coming in tails
Heads on a science apart

“He’s in a better place.” people say that all the time. “At least he’s not suffering anymore.” They say the words but have no idea what they are talking about. If there was nothing else that my brother could do, he could smile. For a boy with severe Cerebral Palsy, controlling his body was difficult. When he was a baby we would work all day sometimes just to get him to unclench his fist and later trying to get him to bring his fist to his mouth. Things that normal babies take for granted. To him, we were always playing games like that. So at fifteen when he would smile, he smiled with his whole body. His eyes would light up and his arms would wrap around you and his whole body would shake as he giggled with pure joy. 

He went to school just like other kids. Granted, he had special classes but his physical therapist was teaching him to communicate with a computer that would track his eyes. In his scheduled tests, he always scored just slightly below his age level. I always wondered what he would say as he learned to use the screens more and more.  I have a feeling that I already know. When he was about five years old, he managed to learn one word. Love.

Nobody said it was easy
It’s such a shame for us to part
Nobody said it was easy
No one ever said it would be this hard
Oh, take me back to the start.

When dealing with my grief, I have learned a few more tricks. My dog died recently and this time the first thing I did was change my sheets. Even the day after my mom couldn’t understand my hysterical insistence on changing them or why my hands were shaking so much that I couldn’t do it by myself. I understand. I can still smell sour milk and feel cold sweat that hit me the night my brother died. Even knowing that it was irrational, it was enough to make me stand in my doorway like a stranger and refuse to go in until they were changed.  

“You didn’t even get this upset when Clinton died.”  she said the next day.  She didn’t dare say it that night. That night she just walked around me and changed all my sheets and pillowcases but she paused when I refused a clean sheet set of the same color. It didn’t matter to her. I’m sure she thought I was going overboard considering my dog had died on a thick burgundy towel and not on the sheets or pillowcases. But it wasn’t about being clean. It was about healing.

It was dark and humid outside and the tall light post near the back of our property made everything glow an eerie orange. I hated it and I didn’t want to leave her out there but I knew it would rain soon. There’s not much worse than trying to dig a hole in wet Oklahoma clay. My mother, older brother Gary and I spent probably two hours in the dark with flashlights digging a hole that would ultimately be only 2 x 1 x 3. Before we tucked her in, I checked once more to confirm what I already knew. Even if my mind wanted to forget, I wouldn’t because I had felt her die. I had held her soft white and tan head in my hands as she passed. 

It was awful when she died. When it happened I felt helpless again and I wasn’t ready to be helpless again. She’d been sick for about a week and while I’d taken her to the vet and even secured a personal loan to pay for the expenses, her heart just couldn’t make it long enough to get better. While I held her head and watched her last trembles, I thought of my brother. I had given him CPR for thirty minutes until county arrived. 

I was just guessing at numbers and figures
Pulling your puzzles apart
Questions of science, science and progress
Do not speak as loud as my heart

That’s something they don’t tell you about CPR when they teach you- how to accept failure. You are trained to keep doing it until the paramedics arrive.  The brain has up to six minutes after the heart stops pumping blood before it loses all function. You have no idea how long he hasn’t been breathing. So you do what you are trained to do. 

In the days after his death, you look up keywords like death and Cerebral Palsy. The statistics confirm that, of course he died. Like you should have known or been prepared for the inevitable. That’s ridiculous. The doctors didn’t know so why would you?  When you love someone, you care for them. You feed them, you talk to them and protect them. You expect that as long as you do that, they will live forever.

Tell me you love me, come back and haunt me
Oh and I rush to the start
Running in circles, chasing our tails
Coming back as we are

I watched a movie about a month before he died that made me cry. Looking back now I wonder if it was trying to prepare me for this life. Prepare me for change that I am still not comfortable with. Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell. Tom Hanks and Halle Berry with several other great actors that I never bother to remember star in a story that spans multiple lifetimes. It follows every character and flashes back through each lifetime to show that each soul is connected and recycled. In one lifetime, Tom Hanks was a bad guy. In another, he was a hero. All pieces leading up to a great finale of love and existence. Then and now, I hope that is the case. I’d like to know him again even as a neighbor or a mother. I’ll take the wheelchair next time.

Nobody said it was easy
Oh it’s such a shame for us to part
Nobody said it was easy
No one ever said it would be so hard
I’m going back to the start

As I lay in bed that night I run my hand along the smooth texture of my new sheets and inhale the clean smell of Lavender laundry detergent. There is nothing but habit to make me check to see if she is okay, much like I used to check if he was okay. But the smooth sheets remind me that she isn’t and he isn’t without having to move. Despite that, the sequence of their deaths replay in my head. I don’t cry. I let all that go while we dug the hole, changed the sheets and talked to the plants. New sheets? Check. Removed dog toys and water bowl? Check. Nothing I could have done to make them live? Check.

I hug my pillow tighter. It is always warm, like he was. The pillowcase has been washed so many times that it’s frayed now, but it was my little brother’s favorite. The constellations on it are faded but you can still make out the line and scribbled distance from the Earth to the Sun.  That distance is nothing now. I stole it from the living room where its match still remains since the funeral. Sometimes I catch my mother in there late at night lying next to it. Old habits die hard.

The truth is that I wanted the sheets replaced because since the funeral I have learned that memories are feelings. Not just intangible emotions but a physical memory of touch, taste and sound. During a time when change hurt so much, I needed to change the sheets that acted like a bandaid.  

If I could go back, I think I would just caress his head and hold him like I did with her. Remember the soft burr of his head and the feel of his hand in mine. Then later, when enough time had passed, go change the sheets and water the plants.