Month: June 2009

When We Lose Them

Writer Maggie May Ethridge recently wrote a beautiful post about her young daughter, Lola, that swallowed my heart.  It reminded me of the almost unbearable tenderness I felt when my daughter was growing up. There were times I’d just be watching her — sleeping, tending to her toys, excited over some adventure or story — and my eyes would unexpectedly fill up.  Her joy was mine to share, and her pain was mine doubly.  (I’m convinced that those with  strong  mothering instincts feel the nicks and bruises of their child’s life more acutely sometimes than their child does).

The unbearable tenderness of loving a child does not end when we lose them. Heather Spohr recently lost her baby daughter, Madeline, and wrote an incredibly moving story about finding Maddie’s handprint on a door after her death.

Danny & Kendall Miller lost one of their twins, Oliver, in birth, and have been on an emotional and physical rollercoaster watching their son, Charlie, fight for his life.

One of my readers, Marcie, recently wrote to me about the death of her son, David, in a drunk driving incident fifteen years ago. Time has not lessened their sense of loss.

There is no experience that approaches the grief of losing children to death, but others still mourn children lost to drugs, alcohol, or other problems that found no resolution.  They hang onto hopes, even when scant, that one day the children they spent years loving will return.  It’s a hope that those who have buried children can only wish they had.

There are children being mourned who are fully alive, but unrecognizable. Children — once loved, doted upon, worried over, and nurtured — who have been lost to cults and religions, controlling partners, social climbs, and sweeping changes in character.

The instinct to protect does not end with either death or distance, but often turns into a desire to possess some heroic superpower that can somehow undo tragedy and put the shattered pieces back into order.

The pain that was once acutely felt over nicks and bruises becomes a fierce and long-armed emotion that seethes doubly over every story of child abuse and neglect — and that spontaneously cries over strollers in the mall, or the sight of a parent and child walking hand-in-hand.

The unbearable tenderness never goes away, not in death or painful separation. It pulls, it aches, it cries — and it calls for just one more day, one more moment of warm breath and perfect love.

There are no profound lessons in death or abandonment. There’s no gained wisdom, or sterling epiphanies, except what we have really known all along. Love is everything, love is life, love is precious, and never really dies.

Lola sleeps safely, her blond hair tousled, her head falling upon her arm.  Madeline lives on in the memories of thousands of people whose lives she touched.  Charlie gave his dad the gift of good vital signs on Fathers Day. David’s parents grieve differently on the anniversary of his death, but come together to laugh over warm memories.

Tonight, there are children being tucked in, children being mourned, and children who have been lost.  And there is unbearable tenderness and infinite love, everywhere.

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What There Is

There’s a glass building rippling in the sun,
a sidewalk littered with cigarette butts and bus tickets,

a blue-eyed boy teetering precariously close to the curb,
and a distracted mother staring off into the distance.

There’s an old woman standing at the bus stop,
clutching a brightly flowered handbag to her chest.
I smile at her and she glares –
what the fuck are you looking at, bitch?

There’s a sense of crashing, a feeling of emptiness,
and a guitar player on the corner of 8th & Marquette.

His strings are broken,
his case is filled with change and a one dollar bill.
He gives me a toothless smile
& I fight the impulse to give him everything I have left,

until there’s no choice but to run barefoot

through the pine needles, past the iron gate,
up the cobblestone driveway,
and into the arms of danger,
which is the only place I’ve ever felt loved

(even if only the danger was real).

There’s a waiter outside of Garage Joe’s
pacing and smoking a cigarette.
He looks undone before lunch,
like he wants to start running
until the clatter of plates is far behind him.

I understand.

There are months I’d like to forget,
& moments I’d like to reclaim,
but the thought of your teeth on my neck still makes me gasp

& there was a time I lived for that,
even while everything around me withered & died

In the gray pale of June,
there are clenched fists and closed mouths

and I don’t want you back,

but there’s rain in the sky &
an empty space in my heart
and it’s more than loneliness.

There’s a crumbling church with a tilted cross,
a boy with a blue Mohawk smiling into the sun

I wave at him to shed the anger
that has stolen my morning.
There’s an enormous sense of gratitude when he waves back.

(If I save you, I am somehow rescued
If I love you, somehow I feel loved –
but absolutely ruined for anything or anyone else).

There’s a need of something,
but I’m not sure what it is.
I want to crash through walls until I’m naked and raw,
and there are no memories of you left on my skin.

(I don’t want you back,
I want you faded, gone).

There are two men sitting on a blanket in Calhoun Park,
One is arguing, the other rocks with his head between his knees.
I walk past them as if I’m invisible.

There are days I wonder how much I have left
and how much of me there is really left to lose.

(And there are days I just want you
to bury me a little deeper, love, because I’m not gone enough).

The bookstore women are walking back from the coffee shop.
They look unhappy despite their rainbow welcome sign.
I want to tell them to lock the door, pull the blinds, and make love
until they understand every word ever poured out
by the broken-backed, strong-hearted women
whose passions line their shelves.

There are days I want to matter to someone like that. . .
when I want some proximal type of love

& there are days I just want to fall into your abyss,
and let myself be swallowed whole.

There’s a woman laughing on the corner,
her dark hair falls into your eyes

(I wanted to erase your scars once,
even if it meant erasing myself).

There’s a girl with a lip ring bent over a sketchbook,
her tiny arms are covered in tattoos.
She is drawing a purple mountain and a golden moon.

(I don’t love you).

There’s a chilled wind that sweeps through the trees
and a terrible longing that courses through my veins
and never enough, never enough
is burned into my marrow.

There’s a life that doesn’t feel like mine,

it’s teetering precariously close to the edge, distracted,
& edged in an anger that doesn’t belong to me.

There are feet that want to run,
and broken things that need tending.

There’s a big yellow sun, other arms,
& a shadow to step out of –

there’s a sense of gratitude, and a feeling of dread. . .

and there’s something on the horizon,

but it’s not here yet.

~ ~ ~

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