grief

Human Waves

BeckyMeditating
On this fourth anniversary of my mother’s death, I am struck by how often I find her in my day-to-day, by how alive she still is in so many ways. Yet I am also struck by how badly I wish she could have met my son. He has met her, through photographs, recipes, lullabies, records, but she never got to see his face, much less hold his precious little body, and this is the one big thing I still grieve.

But when we lose someone we love, there will always be that one big thing. As I meditate by this glorious ocean, two waves crash into one another directly in front of me, their waters flowing through each other until it’s impossible to tell where either one begins or ends. Seconds later they reverse direction and glide away, disappearing into the vastness of the great water behind them. I think of how my mom and my son are like two waves splashing together inside of me, their waters flowing through each other through me, how really all of us are like waves in the same great glorious human ocean, crashing and gliding and flowing through one another.

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Moms, Roosters & New Tattoos

My mother’s obsession with roosters began when I was a kid. I’m not quite sure what sparked it, though there are a few different theories; much like the rooster itself, represented across cultures as a symbolic, magical creature, her passion for them was the stuff of myths. Roosters hung from our ceilings, sat cross-legged on our fridge, balanced on their claws in the corners of our kitchen. She had plates, silverware and salt shakers with roosters, aprons and t-shirts and dresses. She loved them in all forms: detailed and lifelike, polka-dotted and geometric, tall, serious, plump, goofy. If it were remotely a rooster, she adored it.

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While I didn’t personally share in this passion, I delighted in it. The way her face would light up with childlike glee when someone gave her a rooster-shaped knickknack. The way she’d smile, satisfied, as she stared at her collection. The way some of them made her laugh while others brought out an expression of reverence. It made me happy that amidst all of her struggles, something as simple as a rooster could bring her such joy.

As a kid watching our house slowly fill up with variations on the rooster, I could never have guessed how much they would come to mean to me. After my mom died, I found myself in my own kitchen eating from one of her rooster plates, surrounded by rooster ornaments and spice jars and even a rooster watering can, and I felt so grateful to have these regular reminders of her; the rooster had became a symbol of her humor, her uniqueness, her warmth, her amazingly deep love. So yesterday, in honor of my mother and so that I can carry this regular reminder with me everywhere I go, I got a rooster tattoo. It was difficult to pick which kind to go with, but I ultimately chose a Picasso sketch – I feel like it combines her funny obsession with her creativity and her love of art. I had a lot of emotions leading up to it, but as I walked into the parlor last night, I didn’t feel sad or anxious, just full of peace. I breathed and smiled and thought of her as the needles buzzed into my skin, and now, every time I look over and see my rooster’s curly head, I also see my mother’s bright smile, I hear her laugh, and I feel her love inside of me.

Huge thanks to Brian Faulk at Hand of Glory Tattoo for his good vibes and great work!

Brain-Picking Becky #7: The Cat Bardo

“And when we have to let go, something else becomes possible.”  –Pema Khandro Rinpoche

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A few weeks ago, Dave and I put down our old lady cat Blacula. She’d been howling every night for half a year at least, a long, drawn out wail from somewhere deep inside of her. The sound had found its way into my subconscious, pushed my already strange dreams into new realms of oddity and confusion, and I’d wake up all anxious and sweaty, only to realize it was the damn cat again.

She woke the baby up, too. I’d stumble into his room at three in the morning and he’d stand up in his crib and meow at me. Except his version of a meow mimics the senile, eighteen-year-old cat version, so he’d say it like the word “why,” drawing out the space between the ‘wh’ and the ‘y’ in a dissonant tone reminiscent of old-timey folk laments. This became a nightly occurrence, and he started calling cats “gwhys,” a combination (we think) of the Spanish word “gato” and the cat wail “why.”

Blacula was never easy. Dave’s former roommates adopted her despite his being allergic, and she was one of those terrified-by-life kind of creatures. Always hid. Never let anyone touch her. Drew blood within seconds of being picked up. Her ovaries became infected and then she gnawed at her post-surgery stitches and infected those, too. Like cats tend to do, she fell in love with the one person who wanted nothing to do with her, so therefore Dave was the only one she’d let handle her during all of this. He nursed her back to health and she fell even more fiercely in love with him. The roommates moved out, leaving the cat they’d selected to the person she’d selected, and poor Dave, being the kind soul he is, accepted the commitment he’d been straddled with. Still, despite her obsession with him, holding Blacula was not allowed. Dave has a scar from the top of his pinky finger all the way down to the bottom of his palm from a particularly difficult visit to the vet.

Years later, Dave and I met and moved ourselves and our two cats in together then rescued two dogs soon after (yep, we’re nuts). Blacula quickly assumed the role of evil dictator who controlled her underlings through fear. She regularly bloodied our 80-pound Boxer dog’s nose, once so badly she left a small piece of skin hanging from its tip. She’d also do things like scratch the other animals’ faces when they were sleeping, watch them scramble awake in terror, then simply strut back to where she’d been resting and curl up in a tiny, black-and-white ball, satisfied with the disruption she’d caused. Or she’d sit in the middle of the narrow doorway that divided our railroad apartment in half, make herself as big as possible and growl at the other pets, smacking them into submission if they dared pass through. One of the dogs, Basil, took to lying on his stomach and singing for her, a strange version of a hound-like howl reserved just for these encounters. After a few minutes of this, she’d finally allow him to walk around her and into the other side. No one else could pass, though, until she got hungry and left her post, most likely to eat their food before finishing her own.

bexnblaBlacula and me when we first moved in together back in 2008.

Dave and I put Blacula down together while Lew was in daycare. I wanted to be there, to witness her death, to take responsibility for a decision I helped make, to ease her out of this life, to support Dave. But even more so, I wanted to be there to get some answers. I wasn’t even sure what my questions were, but I was positive that watching a creature die would give me some kind of insight. I was expecting a moment, a heaving sigh and shift in the air, something big and profound. I wanted to be able to say, “Aha, now I understand.” When the vet injected the medicine that would kill her, Blacula was dozing and drooling from the sedatives, motionless on the table as I pet her cheek and Dave scratched her head. We told her we loved her and then I thought maybe she’d passed but I wasn’t sure, I wondered if that was really it or if the big moment was yet to come, and then the vet listened to her heart and confirmed it had stopped.

I’d felt only enough of something to wonder if I’d even felt it at all.

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With Blacula’s history of abusing the others, Dave and I were obviously scared when I was pregnant. We imagined her attacking our precious newborn baby in the middle of the night, perhaps even scarring or disfiguring his perfect little body. And what would we do? Who would take a cat like her? It would be horrible to have to put down a healthy cat because of something like that.

To our extreme surprise, she loved Lewis. From day one. She sniffed him and sat near him and purred loudly. His earliest attempts at petting the animals were rough smacks with his chunky hands up and down against their bodies, and while everyone else would complain or run away, Blacula would just sit there and let him smack her. Each morning after we transitioned Lew into his own room, she’d enthusiastically run in to greet him as soon as we opened his door, sometimes even jumping into his bed. He was the only person who could ever give her a hug. He’d wrapped his arms around her torso and lay his cheek down on top of her and my heart would leap into my throat, and she’d just sit there calmly, happily even. If I’d done this, she would have scratched my face, my chest, any skin that her claws could reach until I’d let her go.

Unless they’re asleep at the time of death, animals die with their eyes open. Seconds after her heart finished beating, I was shocked that she still looked alive. “It just seems like she’s resting,” I said aloud, then leaned down and stared deep into her dead eyes. I swear they looked back at me. Something was still in there. Then they began glazing over, just a bit at first then more and more until about a minute later, they had transformed into cloudy, turquoise mirrors reflecting the fluorescent light above us.

Blacula took to hiding under the futon for most of the day and night about six months before we put her down. The final weeks were pathetic – she was confused and scared, unable to properly clean herself, and rarely came out from her hiding spot. But the strangest part was how the other animals ganged up on her. The dogs began chasing and nipping at her whenever she did manage to venture out, and Frida, the other cat who’d mostly avoided her in the years since we’d moved from the railroad to a more spacious apartment, began guarding the water bowl and litter box and attacking her whenever she tried to use either. We thought this was an instinctive version of payback and did our best to make it easier on Bla, but then immediately upon returning home with the empty carrier after her final appointment, the other pets relaxed, became much friendlier and more easygoing – Frida even cuddles with the dogs now – and we wondered if these attacks were their way of telling us it was her time, that perhaps they weren’t enacting payback but instead trying to end her suffering, a suffering that was distressing them all.

In the movie The Heart of a Dog, Laurie Anderson shares a story about asking her Tibetan Buddhist teacher whether or not to put down her very sick dog. The teacher told her that we humans do not have the right to end another creature’s life, to take away its time of suffering, time it can learn and gain knowledge from, knowledge it will then use in the bardo, or the space between this life and the next.

laurieandersonLaurie Anderson by Maria Zaikina / Creative Commons

Part of me agrees with this sentiment. It didn’t feel quite right to end Blacula’s life. I took a power that didn’t belong to me, and she didn’t even have the capability to let me know if this was what she wanted or not (side note, I think about this a lot when it comes to eating meat, but I only have two hours here so the vegetarian days of my past and the omnivorous ways of my present are for another essay). On the other hand, however, I felt like I was giving her a gift. She’d suffered for such a long time already. Her mind was gone and her existence was miserable. She would not be missing these days. If I were in that position, I would want Dave to release me, too.

And, to be honest, we were wrecked. We’re parents, we work a lot, we both make art, and we weren’t sleeping because of the freaking cat, the difficult, mean, malevolent cat who’d been a challenge since the day other people picked her out and brought her home and left her to Dave, a person who never wanted a cat in the first place. We tried so, so many things to help her, but it didn’t matter; she just got worse by the day, and we were exhausted. More than wanting Dave to release me from this burden, I would want to release him from it.

We were sadder than we thought we’d be. It turns out you get used to a creature, even an evil creature, after sharing a home with it for years. “I want gwhy,” Lew repeated many times that night and the following morning. We did our best to explain it to him beforehand, used phrases like, “We have to say goodbye to Blacula because she’s going to die,” and, “Dying means your body is all done and you go to sleep,” and, “Blacula is going away forever but we’ll still have her in our memories.” We had these conversations a handful of times and each would end with him saying, “Bye bye, gwhy.” But it obviously didn’t translate. He’d look under the chair in his room, the place she deemed second best to under the futon, and say, “Gwhy? Gwhy?” then cry when we reminded him that she was gone. It only took two days, though, and he moved on.

img_6207_15446367261_oBut for me, days later, I was still upset. Yes, it took me four whole days to realize that through this experience of putting down the cat, I’d actually been looking for some kind of insight into my mother’s death. What happened to her when she moved from dreaming into dying into being dead? What kind of moment did she experience? What did the room feel like when/if this moment happened? Where is she now? We will never know, not even my father who was sleeping beside her.

So, I’d wanted this controlled experience with death, with choosing to end a creature’s suffering, watching the injection, feeling the moment, to inform me, to comfort me, to give me something. Instead, a million new questions ran through my head as I gazed into her mirror ball eyes. What happened during that minute between her heart stopping and her eyes turning? Where was she then and where was she now? Did she know I was there looking deeply into her final moment? Could she see me or hear me or sense me in some way? What do we even mean when we use words like “she?” Who or what was she? Who was my mom? Who am I?

Of course there are no real answers. But in letting go of my mom, in letting go of Blacula, in letting go of these questions and my expectations and my ruminations, something else becomes possible.

Click here to learn more about the ongoing column Brain-Picking Becky.

Brain-Picking Becky #3: Home Again, Home Again, Jiggity Jig Part 1

I’ve been interested in the concept of “home” for most of my life. Is it the house I grew up in? The state? The country? Is it where I live now? Is it my body? Or is it an idea rather than something physical?

I still say phrases like, “I’m going home for Christmas,” or, “Going home is good and difficult at the same time.” Yet I strongly identify with New York as my home and Kentucky as the place I am from. KY the homeland, NY the homehome. Which means they are both simultaneously my home. Yet my childhood house was taken by the bank, a tragedy that still finds its way into my nightmares, and my dad moved from the place he shared with my mom into his own apartment after she died, so when I go home, there’s no physical house to go to. But he still lives in the town I grew up in, so there are the familiar stores and schools and fields, though much of that has also changed. Similarly in New York, I feel at home in my apartment yet it isn’t mine, I don’t own it nor intend to live in it long-term. I consider Prospect Lefferts Gardens to be my home, but it’s the third neighborhood I’ve lived in here in NYC, and besides, Brooklyn is known for how rapidly its storefronts and populations change, meaning that even if I had stayed put, most everything around me would look different. So yet again I circle back to, What is home?

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Anyway, this entry is a two-parter. First, something I wrote when visiting Dad in my hometown back in July. Then, in the next few days, I’ll post part two about our most recent visit that started with the road trip described in Brain-Picking Becky #2: Notes From the Road.

Out of dedication to honesty, I wrote and edited this intro in 35 minutes. I spent an hour writing Part 1 back in July but then edited it a bit today before posting. I promise Part 2 will be written and edited in an hour only (this challenge is hard, give me a break).

From July 2, 2016:

I love the Kentucky summer. There’s something about the heat and humidity that puts you in another world, soaks into your skin until it permeates your brain and makes everything feel distant yet deep inside of you at the same time.

Being back home in Mt. Washington is always a funny thing. I just don’t like it here. It seems so sad and boring to me. I look at everything with such a city girl air that I make myself feel guilty. Mean. Judgmental of my own people. But I’m not being judgy. I understand that they look at my life in Brooklyn with the same awe, think the same thoughts about why someone would ever want to live that way. I think the guilt is less about being snobby and more about a feeling that I’ve somehow rejected or turned my back on a part of myself. But even that isn’t true; I never liked it here. I always felt out of sorts, despite the things I desperately love about my hometown. I was just born in the wrong place, and there’s something that will always feel bizarre about cleaving my life the way I did when I moved to the Northeast.

cardinalDespite all of this, today, for the first time, I was able to look out of my car window at this strange hometown of mine and see happiness. I’ve been looking out of my car window as a transplant for 13 years now, and it took this long to realize that I see so much sadness here because I look out and see my own sadness. That doesn’t mean there isn’t sadness here; people are bored, depressed, underworked and underpaid. Farmers have lost their livelihoods, and generic yet uniquely American strip malls have sprung up on the land that once meant everything to them. High school kids are on meth and heroin, they’re missing teeth, they eat bad food every day. But there are also high school kids smiling while they do tricks on their bikes and skateboards. There are contented parents sitting around the public pool while their kids squeal in the water. There are athletes running alongside the highway, sweating and glistening and gritting their teeth in that satisfied way the insanely athletic do. There are dogs and beers and lanky legs propped up on lawn chairs. There are vibrantly red cardinals flitting from one gorgeous tree to another above proud men mowing lawns with their shirts off. There are familiar faces waving and saying hello, there are heavily accented, ridiculously friendly conversations in grocery store lines about butter, there are swing sets and grills and the smell of damn good meat in the air. It finally occurred to me today that within each of these pleasant, small town markers, I still see my own lanky legs with their hand-carved scars, smell the remnants of barbecues that taunted my anorexic resolve. The cardinals and trees and swing sets remind me of the house the bank took from us. The contented families remind me that my mother is gone, and that in some ways, she felt gone even when she was still here.

We have a choice about how we tell our stories (I stole this line from Hazel of The Fault in Our Stars; brilliant). I realized today that I’ve been telling myself a story of sadness, a story that started well enough with a cute family filled with love and happiness that was shattered by mental illness and tragedy. A story of a girl who was saved by her swift exit, her getaway to a greater, more sophisticated place where she actually belonged. But now that I can finally stare the sadness of my past in its face without disguising it as the sadness of this town, I realize how even during those difficult years, there was happiness. My family’s story is not just about our tragic woes, but it is also about a young artist discovering the importance of her creativity, the same creativity that her mother shared and sparked and encouraged. It’s a story of people who loved each other so much that despite the angst they evoked in one another, their deep-rooted connection brought them to a place of understanding and peace. It’s a story of a brother and sister who learned how to be strong and big-hearted enough to grow into happy, healthy, educated people in loving relationships with kids of their own. It’s about a daughter and father who made each other laugh at the darkest aspects of life. Despite my scars and boniness and our collective insanities, we succeeded as a family. I don’t need to feel sad and guilty about the fact that I am living my dream life in the greatest city in the world. I don’t need to look at my history and feel an uncanny confusion about who I was then versus who I am now. I know exactly how I got here, and it wasn’t on a trail of tears. I can let go of that guilt; it’s okay to dislike my hometown. It’s okay to see and feel sadness when I’m here. But it’s also okay to see and feel beauty and joy. Perhaps I was rejecting or turning on a part of myself, the happy part of my teenaged years, and now this guilt is fading because I’m finally embracing them while also giving myself permission to just be who I am.

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I don’t let myself off so easily when it comes to the guilt about not getting more manicures and pedicures with my mom, however. It seems like the dumbest, most trivial thing, but whenever I’m home and I pass Xscape, the salon/spa in town, I am overcome with guilt. My mom just wanted to spend more time doing relaxing things with me on my visits, and instead I pushed her to go visit other people, mainly my granny (her mother). The three of us were close – they practically raised me together – and we had a lovely rapport. Granny is old and sick and I thought my time with her was more limited than my time with my mom. And to be honest, I was also afraid to spend that much time alone with Mom, who, because of the medicine combined with her illness, shook uncontrollably, struggled to keep up with conversations, and sometimes drooled or spilled food on herself. One weekend in my late twenties, I flew in with a long list of questions, a tape recorder, a notepad, and a pen to interview Granny about her life. I wanted Mom to be there for some of it but not all. I knew Granny would open up to me more if it were just the two of us. I also wanted a break from the drain of my mother. On the final morning before I began our last interviewing session, I gave Granny a manicure while she, Mom and I talked about something (I can’t remember what), and then when Mom asked if I would give her a pedicure, I shied away, saying that it was already late and I had so many questions to get through. It was true; I really did have a project and only one more day to finish it. I also have a thing where I feel squeamish and a little nauseous about touching other peoples’ toes (though I didn’t explain this because it makes me feel silly). Mom understood and it was not a big deal, she didn’t even look that disappointed, but now that she’s dead and Granny is here, playing with my baby who my mother will never meet, I am ripped apart over the fact that I didn’t give her that damn pedicure, that I didn’t delay visiting Granny long enough to spend one more hour alone with her at Xscape, that I didn’t listen to her better. How was I to know we only had a few more years?

Being home can be hard. But now that the humidity has broken and a gorgeous sunset is setting in, I’m coming back to myself, back to this world. Ruminating can be dangerous.

These thoughts about home and my mom are all a valuable yet also long-winded way to avoid writing about my father’s cancer. We (my husband, baby, dogs, and I) are here right now because of it. We’re here to see him and hug him and go to an oncologist appointment with him. We’re here to make and freeze food so he’ll have easy options in case he needs treatment. We’re here to empty boxes that still remain from his recent move, to organize cabinets and get things in place because he gets anxious when they are not and in turn feels peaceful when they are. We’ve talked about mindfulness and acupuncture and racism and gardening and cancer and my mom and too many other things to list. My dad is a talker and he addresses all subjects head on. It’s a thing that I love and admire about him but that also drives me mad. I feel kind of selfish and dramatic, sitting here ruminating about my mother’s death and our rocky past, but his cancer has made the pain of my life feel fresh again, and Mom died only three years ago, anyway, so, as my therapist said, I need to stop being so hard on myself. I just can’t freaking fathom being an orphan. His cancer is not deadly, it is slow spreading, he will very most likely die from something else, but good god, he’s going to die at some point. And that’s how things are. If people are lucky, they witness their parents’ deaths.

dadnlew2016It just feels so unlucky. I keep finding myself in these thought loops about what should or is supposed to be, and it’s a really terrible and wrong thought loop to be in as nothing really should or is supposed to be, but come on, Dad should get more time than this after her death, after caring for her for so long, after giving up so much. He’s 64, strong and otherwise healthy, smart, fun, funny, handsome. He should have a second wife, a second life. Instead, he gets cancer. And maybe this diagnosis and a second life aren’t mutually exclusive. Maybe he doesn’t even want a second life. I just think about a future filled with dead people and sickness and grief and loneliness and then I sink deeply into a hole and I wonder if this is what my mother felt like all the time. Then I think that I need to climb out of this hole. And then I think, this hole is in my head. I made up this hole. I am not in a hole but in fact on a balcony with a laptop and a beautiful sunset, waiting for my vibrant, very much alive chatterbox of a father to return from the store where he ran off in his pickup truck to buy us a salad to accompany the pizza that my gorgeous husband is clanging around in the kitchen making for us, noises that my beautiful baby son is peacefully sleeping through while my devoted dogs rest dutifully outside his door. I am here, rooted in a wonderful reality. And then, because I’m committed to honesty, my next thought actually is, This is a long, wandering piece of writing that brings up so many themes and doesn’t connect them together in any kind of coherent way. Then, What the hell is wrong with you?

“Hey Beck, there’s a light up there right behind your head if you want me to turn it on for you.” My father is home. I am struck by how he is so much like himself, so outwardly unchanged despite the deformed cells inside.

Ruminating can be a dangerous thing. It is time to rejoin my reality.

Writer’s note: The oncologist reported that Dad’s cancer, CLL, was caught so early and is so slow-spreading that he does not need treatment and will not feel the effects of it for a long, long time.

Click here to learn more about the ongoing column Brain-Picking Becky.

Brain-Picking Becky #1: Good Grief, It’s Christmastime

xmaslightsI’ve come down with a common heart cold. Tis the season, I suppose. It’s hard when there’s so much holiday cheer everywhere; I want to be taken in by the bright lights and rosy cheeks and joy joy joy, and every now and then I can feel the magic of Christmas and it’s good, but mostly, this time of year depresses and stresses me. This was true before my mom died and is especially true now. Though honestly, it has gotten easier. This is Christmas #3 without her, and also Christmas Eve #3 without her, which just so happens to be her birthday. What a serious double-whammy, right? (Side note, she double-whammied me in a few ways: birthday/Christmas in the same two days, Mother’s Day/my wedding anniversary in the same few days, and back-to-school with new students/anniversary of her death in the same week. I swear that wherever she is, she laughs hard every December, May and September. Gotta love her dark sense of humor.)

Of course I’ve been sad today; tomorrow morning, my dudes, dogs and I embark on our holiday road trip to visit my family in Kentucky, and the packing and prepping have been endless reminders that she will not be there when we arrive. I’ve cried a lot. Not just a few tears but that horrible, throat-clenching, suffocating wail/moan that only grief can bring about. I described that feeling in the first piece I was able to pen (type?) after her death, and I have to say, while it doesn’t come nearly as often anymore nor last as long when it does, it still sucks. But you know what? It doesn’t and it won’t ever actually suffocate me. It feels like it will, it feels entirely possible to die from how hard it grips my throat and heart and guts and just all of me, but then it releases and I’m left with a lingering ache in my thyroid and a big, stinky Boxer dog licking snot and drool off my face.

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So grief doesn’t kill us. That’s nice. And as I said, it really does get easier. The most cliché phrase ever is also the truest: things do get better with time. Today I looked at a photo of Mom and Granny and me and felt happy inside. And I sang her favorite song to Lewis and we smiled together (I couldn’t even listen to that song for a year after she died, much less sing it to my son in the midst of a grief spell). I also told him about how we’ll bake her cookie recipes on her birthday and how we’re bringing back stockings this year because she and I always loved them more than anyone else (still can’t believe my family just dropped that tradition after her death. Are you kidding me? Stockings are better than real presents!). And, instead of giving into my exhaustion and lying around my apartment in a grief bubble all day, I bundled us up and walked across the park for a date with two lovely writermama friends and their wonderful, crazy toddlers, and even though I spent most of the afternoon lying around my friend’s apartment in a grief bubble, I felt so grateful to have such wonderful people in my life who not only accepted the state I was in but offered me love and support to get through it. Plus, the babies! So in the end, the majority of this day was truly enjoyable, and that’s a HUGE improvement over days of Decembers past.

xmascarolsBut, can I complain about Christmas carols for a minute? I’m not a Grinch, I swear. I love Christmas lights, especially the big-bulbed retro kind, and trees and ornaments and I even like gift shopping, but what the hell is up with Christmas songs? They’re just awful. The music is terrible, so boring and repetitive, and the words beyond cheesy. Plus, there are only like, five of them, and these same five songs are redone over and over in equally terrible ways, and when I walk into a Duane Reade to get some baby Advil because Lew’s cold just won’t go away and Holly Jolly Rudolph is blasting on the speakers, I want to vomit, scream and break things. And do not tell me that “Baby It’s Cold Outside” is at least one of the better songs because that shit is rapey. The only thing that makes Christmas carols okay is David Bowie.

Thank you for reading if you’ve made it this far. It does feel good to get that out of my system. And while I do harbor a completely reasonable amount of anger directed toward Christmas songs, sometimes I just need to rant about something trite instead of the fact that Mom always wanted grandkids and died when her first one was only a few months old, her second one (my baby) was conceived just ten months later, and her third one shortly after. I’m excited to see my son with his cousins – that kind of bond is so special – but it’s just fucking heartbreaking that Mom will never get to see it, to hear it, to hold them in her arms.

But I must stay present and fully experience this visit, for me, to keep myself from falling into that dark hole of my past, and for her, because she is not here to do so and how dare I waste this beautiful gift of life? Yes, little Lew will learn that his mama feels sad this time of year, but he will also learn the value of grief, the power of mindfulness, and the joy of family, including his Grandma Sandy.

For more info on this column, please read Brain-Picking Becky: Intro.

Our Mothers Have a Way of Shifting the Universe in Lumen Magazine

Granny_Mom_MeThere is no better way to honor my mother than by writing. While she was not a writer herself, she did fully embrace her own creative energy throughout her life via the piano, her voice, and, mainly, her needle and thread. She passed her love of art onto me, celebrating the goofy short stories I wrote in elementary school as if they were Nobel Prize quality and always urging me to write more. When others told me a Masters in Creative Writing was a waste of time and money, Mom told me to do it not just because I wanted to, but because she knew I needed to. Therefore, it is incredibly special to me that Lumen Magazine has published my essay, “Our Mothers Have a Way of Shifting the Universe,” that I wrote on the first anniversary of her death. Please take a moment to read and share; not only do I hope to keep her spirit alive, but I also think that, in a society where death is a taboo topic for conversation, it’s important to share our experiences. Thanks, Mom, for the support that I still feel and will always feel.

Pictured: Me, Mom, and Granny.

Memories

My mother loved all things Victorian, especially Victorian Christmases.

My mother loved all things Victorian, especially Victorian Christmases.

I received such an overwhelmingly positive response to my last post that I’ve decided to continue sharing my process with you.  So many people commented on my Facebook page about their experiences with grief or how they also struggle with talking about death.  I’m honored that something I wrote sparked this dialogue.  I think we should keep it up.  It’s important to share our stories.

This past week has been surprisingly okay for me.  I thought it was going to be a lot more stressful with the miserable month of holidays coming up, but so far, so good (it also helps that I went to acupuncture and was able to exercise almost every day).

That’s not to say it has all been nice and easy.  It occurred to me at some point during the week that when I was kid, my family used to put the Christmas tree up on the day after Thanksgiving.  At first, this memory felt sudden and overwhelming and I had to take some space to be alone and process it.  But the more I thought about it, the warmer and happier I started to feel. (more…)