I see the elderly woman approaching us from across the mall. She is looking past me and at my children with that smile. My kids are at the perfect age to attract these smiles. They are just at the dawn of human interaction. Their speech is still garbled; their language and actions both aped from adults. They, in their search for the right phrase or movement, are often accidentally adorable.
Children at this age still act as if nobody is watching, and adults love them for it. We are drawn to this innocence, I think, for the same reason we are interested in the behaviors of chimps or sleepwalkers. We want to see what it is that people do when they don’t realize they have an audience. We want to see what we would do if we didn’t think so much.
She walks carefully and slowly over to accept the imaginary ice cream cone my son offers up and wins my heart by pretending to eat it. Taking the interaction a step further, she asks him which flavor it was. He tells her it’s chock-lick and her smile deepens with amusement. I am scanning her face, watching her the same way I watch the face of every stranger who approaches my children. I am waiting for the clues that all humans throw off.
I’m waiting to see why she’s doing this.
And so it is that I observe her lined face slip gradually from delight to despair. A line grows deeper across her forehead and her milky eyes fill with tears. Her painted smile is the last to go, proof in my mind that she didn’t even see the sadness coming until it was already written on the rest of her face. I realize that I am moving closer to her as her expression shifts, so that when the tears start to roll down her cheeks I am all but cradling her. She leans against me, frail yet adult-sized. I am not in the habit, anymore, of being needed by people who are not my children. It takes me a minute. I don’t know why she is crying. I only know what she needs. And I have it to give. So I hold her.
She wipes the tears away and catches her breath. “My husband of 49 years passed away 7 months ago. Seeing your children makes it hurt more. Even though they are beautiful. The holidays make it hurt more. Even though I love them.” I hold her tightly, softly offering my condolences. My son asks me why the old woman is crying, and I stumble for a second. I don’t lie to my children, but I don’t throw around words like “death” either. I tell him simply that this woman will not be able to celebrate Christmas with someone she loves.
And that it makes her sad.
As I say the words, my voice shakes and my own eyes fill unexpectedly. I close my eyes against the tears, while granting myself one full minute to be overwhelmed with this unforeseen grief. The woman catches me with my emotions and apologizes for making me sad. I shake my head: clearing it, emptying it. “The holidays can be hard,” is what I say as I help her right herself.
They told me back then that I needed to grieve my brother as though he were dead, but to expect the process to take longer, since he is not, in fact, dead. And although I am the type of person to tear at her flesh in hopes of getting the pain on the outside, in order to move past it, I am shocked to find that some days it is as if time has not moved at all for me.
The woman shuffles off in one direction as we continue in another. We meet up later, at the fountain, as I am explaining to my children the concept of wishing on thrown pennies. I have a wallet full of potential wishes, and so I do not need to accept those that the woman offers us. But I do accept because I sense that it will give her something to be able to give to us. I bend down, tuck my children in close. The woman steps in, and we all throw our pennies at the count of three.
You can’t wish for people to come back. It doesn’t work that way. Pennies can’t move mountains. A wish is only a goal, a direction in which to focus your thoughts. In my world, you can only reasonably wish for the things that you have some control over. So I toss my penny in and I hope, for all of us, that the future brings fewer and fewer moments when we are brought to our knees by our pain. We will carry it with us forever, and we should, because it makes us who we are and it honors where we’re from. But more and more we will be able to live with it.
The holidays can be hard. I have always known this. I push myself off my knees, smile at the old woman and grasp her hand for a minute before exchanging it for my daughter’s. We walk out into the cold air and breathe in the last few breaths of 2010. Soon there is chatter and laughter and bickering and sunshine against the cold. I rub my hands together for warmth, raising my face to the sun.
And it is enough.
It is more than enough.
I proposed in 1996.
He’d always said, “If you get the ring, I’ll say yes. ”
I did, he did.
We did in September 1997. We’d been together for 3 years already. We were a good couple, we were happy. I knew his bipolar disorder was manageable, I knew we could conquer anything.
Years passed, new home, new jobs, a lot of loneliness. He worked swing-shift which is not good for a relationship or anyone with mental health disorders.
This is where it is no longer my story…I had an affair, I left him, albeit amicably. We remained friends, he kept it, “in the family” in a round about sort of way.
They had a kid, So did me and my new husband. We spoke on occasion, kept in touch via family.
We each moved forward.
2018, a lot of suicide, celebrities, local people, friends of friends. I thought I should check-in with him but I didn’t.
Time and time again, I didn’t.
I awoke one morning to my husband asking if I knew anyone in a certain neighborhood there’d been a major tragedy.
I waited until I got to work.
I texted my ex, “What’s your mom’s address?” No response. “Hello?” No response. Messenger dings, My ex sister-in-law. “Can you talk?” I told her that I was at work.
“His mental illness got the best of him, he did the unthinkable, he killed A, he killed B, he killed C, and A, he took his own life.”
My past destroyed in one night.
He left a child parentless
I have spoken to the child. We connected. I have nothing bad to say about the child’s father.
I loved him, always. We were good together. We grew apart.
I feel I could have helped had he just reached out to me.
Today 11/15 is his Birthday, I wish him peace on the other side. I know he fought his demons, I know they over ran him in the end.
I still love him, he’s my past, I will, as always, hold him close to my heart.
There were 4 victims that night.
All of them fell victim to Bipolar Disorder, a failing system, and a lack of understanding from those around the one suffering the most.
Today, I will light a candle for your Birthday,
You are missed. You will always be missed.
I will always remember you.
Happy Birthday, RIP, DLP.
Growing old is optional, growing old gracefully even more so.
My mom did not have it easy in the last 5 years of her life. Her first problem was with her sciatic nerve, which first caused pain then weakness in her legs and eventually left her dependence on a wheelchair. I tried to keep in mind that she was in pain, scared and unsure during the times when she seemed to be going the extra mile to be as difficult as possible, but I wasn’t always successful.
After my father passed (Mom went just 4 yrs later), my mother became a shut-in. This was pretty much by choice. We lived 4.5 hrs apart, I’m an only child and we have no relatives who still speak to us living nearby. She refused to consider moving and her house looked liked something you’d see on “Hoarders,” but that’s yet another story. She wanted to live completely independent of help, especially mine, because this was the first time in her life that she was on her own, so I think she wanted to prove to herself that she could.
Did I mention “shut-in?”
She was defiant, she was determined to be independent and she was lying…I had a 74-year old teenager on my hands.
She ordered food through Amway. She bought her clothes via catalogs. She banked via the mail. She had a few friends who would come over and check on her most days, but the situation was far from ideal. Her mind was not the best, but she was sharp enough to lie to me about anything that didn’t show her situation in the best of lights.
For instance, she never told me about the time she fell and had to call the neighbors to help her up. She never told me about the time, in a very confused state, she called 911 in the middle of the night because -best I can piece together- she had a dirty diaper and was having trouble changing it herself. The cops busted the front door open and were not at all pleased to find her in no actual danger.
She did tell me about the time she called 911 for a ride to her doctor’s appointment, only because she felt a grave injustice was being done. Something had happened with her scheduled special needs ride, and she reasoned that if the doctor needed to see her then she needed to take an ambulance. She had received a bill for $700 for that non-emergency ride and didn’t think she should have to pay it. I did talk her into paying the bill, hoping she’d learn her lesson.
I tried mentioning the idea of assisted living, but she wouldn’t hear it.
“They beat you and lock you in your room!” she screamed. Eventually, I convinced her to get some in-home elder care and a woman would come by three times a week for three hours at a time to cook, clean, and run errands for her. Finally, I could get the low-down on her condition from someone who would be honest with me.
This started out well, as Mom enjoyed having someone to talk to and she was now getting fresh, home-cooked meals instead of the packaged crap she ordered via the mail. But, it didn’t last. I got a call from the coordinator to tell me my mom was hitting the workers. She was also being verbally abusive. At one point, Mom chased a worker out of the house, screaming at her from the front door.
I got emails from a friend of Mom’s who had visited her, only to find her crying hysterically, saying “I hate my life!” and hitting herself in the head. When asked about it the next day, Mom acted surprised and said nothing like that had happened.
Then, Mom came down with a bad cold that required someone to stay with her while she was ill. The elder care folks were great and worked out schedules so that she was tended 24/7 until she got better. Problem was, despite appearing to hate these helpers, once Mom got better, she didn’t want the 24/7 visitation to end. In fact, now she was refusing to let them leave. I’d have been fine with the additional help, but we could not afford the $10,000 per month for very long.
I had to talk with Mom and tell her it had to stop. This did not go well, and there were tears, but in the end, she cut back to 1 visitation, 5 days per week.
The pain and weakness in her leg was getting worse, and it was spreading to the other leg. We talked to a number of doctors, but she didn’t like most of them and liked even less what they had to say. Finally, after yet another fall that she still would not admit to, she was in the hospital again. Her doctor convinced her to have back surgery, and at last she agreed. She was hell on wheels both pre- and post-surgery. She had a fear of falling that was off the charts.
When the nurses tried to move her in the bed, or, heaven forbid, try to get her to stand up, she’d scream. I’m talking hear-her-down-the-hallway screaming. I’d leave the room and stand outside biting back tears whenever anyone tried to work with her.
When she was well enough to leave the hospital, she went to a rehab facility to help her get back on her feet as much as possible. It was there that some medical genius, who I’d kiss on the lips today, put her on anti-depressants (yeah, I know, “what took so freakin’ long?!” – she refused them before because she didn’t want to “take dope”). Mom became a bit more reasonable and a little easier to deal with. More like heck-on-wheels. When I asked her why they put her on the happy pills, she said “so I’d stop screaming.”
During rehab, her doctor spoke with me, informing me that she could not live on her own. Preaching to the choir, sir. So, through hook, crook and threats of Adult Protective services, I got her to agree to move “temporarily” to an Assisted Living facility near me. I found a really nice place a mile from my home and they assured me that the beatings would be kept to a minimum. (Joke!)
We moved some of her favorite things up and set up her two-room apartment to look really nice and homey. When she got out of the hospital we drove her straight to her new home. Despite hearing how horrible it was, we watched her start to enjoy life again. She was making friends and playing Bingo every day. God forbid you came by during Bingo hours, only did THAT once.
Mom *loved* the call buzzer and actually wore the one by her bed out, because she used it so much. She still managed to keep things lively. I got a call from her one Easter morning, telling me she couldn’t move her leg and perhaps she had had a stroke. “Should I go to the hospital?” Well, the normal answer would be “Hell YES!” but I had learned to ask. “Why didn’t the nurse call the ambulance for you?” I ask. Mom said that they wanted her to check with me first. None of this was adding up, so I told her I’d be right over. When I got there she was wheeling around her room, fully dressed and looking fine. I asked which leg it was that she could not move. “This one!” she said, bouncing the leg up and down.
Her behavior continued to become more erratic, and I got a call that I never thought I’d get. Mom was flashing her boobs at the male help and at some poor, unsuspecting wheelchair repairman. Oy. A doctor was brought in and a diagnosis of dementia was made. This only pissed her off. She accused the facility and the doctor of telling horrible lies about her. “I’d never do that!” she yelled.
In the end it really was a stroke that took her. The weekend of Thanksgiving she had a massive stroke affecting half of her brain. She had her 78th birthday in the hospital, but was not aware enough to know it and she passed just a few days before Christmas.
I’m still working on cleaning out the house, but it is getting close to being done. I avoid driving by the assisted living place, still too many bad memories. I can laugh about Mom flashing the help. It’s two years later and I’m finally getting to the point that I don’t jump when the phone rings.
Growing old gracefully is optional, for sure.
I feel strange saying what I’m about to be saying. I feel my late girlfriend’s body on top of me.
Yes, you read that right. I literally physically feel my girlfriend, even though she is no more.
Doctors haven’t been able to help me with this.
It started about six months ago. She was taken away from me in a car accident. Three days later, I was in no shape to do anything or move anywhere, and I suddenly felt her. I felt her head on my chest, her arms hugging me really tight, her feet on top of my feet.
She loved doing this. If there ever was such a thing, this was our thing. I know this was the same sensation because I could feel her hair poking my chin, like it always did. She didn’t like long hair, so she would cut it really short, and it would poke me irritatingly in my chin when she hugged me like this.
The funny thing is, I sometimes did not hug her back. Just. Just because I was irritated about something or the other. I know she didn’t like it when I didn’t, but she put up with me.
And now, I feel her arms, her feet, her prickly hair, just like before. But she’s not there.
I know she’s not there but I feel it so strongly! It comes and goes, but when it’s there, it’s like she’s back. I can see there is nothing but air in front of me, but she is the air around me. I hug the air back, and it all feels real.
I am left with so much conflict about this. On the one hand, I am glad to have her back in whatever way. But in another way, I am just grieving all the time. Because of this, I just break down and talk to her. I tell her I love her and how much I miss her. But I feel like her soul is attached to me, and I’d like to free her soul.
I miss Ragini. I just wish I knew what to do with her ghost.
There are only so many things a person can take before they break. Sometimes, there’s only so much a person can take.
This is her story:
When our son was a baby and you went through that rehab program, they sat me down for Family Day and made me come up with an ultimatum to “help” you with your sobriety.
“If you go back to drinking and X happens, I’ll leave.”
I hated it. I didn’t want to say anything like that. I believed there was nothing you and I couldn’t get through together. We love each other very much, and I could never picture a scenario where I would need to leave you.
Since then, you’ve had several medical scares, three suicide attempts, and a second, more intense rehab. You had that spell last winter, where for three days you had no idea who or where you were. Then, after a year of sobriety, you went back to drinking again. I’ve been there for the hospitalizations, your treatments, the roller coaster of your mental illness, and the nightmares caused by the traumas of the things you have seen and done in your past.
I stood by you and loved you through all of it.
I can’t do it anymore.
It’s been a very long time since I’ve been able to really confide in you anything going on with me. You can’t handle it. I had a major emotional upheaval last summer and I can’t even tell you about it because you would never be able to deal with it. It’s still continuing, and it is gaining in intensity.
It’s causing me constant distress, and you have no idea. Because of that, I had a nervous breakdown last winter. I was even having panic attacks. I’m taking antidepressants and seeing a counselor every week to deal with what’s going on with me. You know about my counseling and medication, but you don’t know the real reason why I need them.
While I was still fragile from my nervous breakdown, another horrible incident happened. We were constantly being taken advantage of by your friend. At one point, I was sick with the flu, but you still couldn’t say no to his request. But due to your drinking and your mental illness, you were unable to deal with the responsibility you had taken on that night.
Still very sick, I had to go take care of it and I got stuck in a blizzard. Between my emotional stuff, the flu, all the constant worry about you, and the terror of the white-out blizzard, I had a mini-stroke the next day.
You couldn’t even handle calling for paramedics even though I was incapacitated.
What if it had been something worse? What if it had been a full-blown stroke, or a heart attack, and being able to know you have to call 911 for me could literally mean the difference between my life and my death? What would you do if I died? You can’t even take care of yourself, how are you going to take care of the kids and make sure the bills get paid?
You’ve admitted that you have no hope of being able to quit drinking. You’ve written off rehab, calling it a “temporary fix.” You won’t go to Alcoholics Anonymous meetings and you won’t take any steps to try to stop drinking on your own. Then there was that one night last spring when you were drunk and admitted to me that you still think about suicide all the time.
You promptly denied it once you were sober, but considering that you listed all the ways you had thought about doing it, I’m pretty sure your confession was the truth.
Without you finding a way to stop drinking, it’s only going to continue to get worse and worse. It’s to the point now where we live inside the story of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde because you’re a totally different person when you’ve been drinking all day on the weekends.
I know your brain is a scary mess. I know I couldn’t handle five minutes inside your head. You have been through things so horrible that I can’t even process them. It’s no wonder the worst horror movie doesn’t bother you – you’ve been through worse.
It feels like the Grim Reaper has been following you around as long as I’ve known you. On top of all your mental and medical issues, you’re so accident prone. I’ve lost track of all the times I felt like I was looking at the last months, weeks, or even hours of your life.
It has all led to me having to think about your death constantly. I’ve had to plan for the worst. If you were to die in your sleep tonight, I know exactly what to do. I know what to do in regards to your funeral and burial. I know where the kids and I will go to mourn, lick our wounds, and then regroup. I have a plan for what will happen once I get back on my feet. I have hope for a beautiful future.
That future no longer has you in it.
Our kids need at least one stable parent. If things keep going the way they are, I won’t be mentally or physically healthy enough to take care of them. I can’t keep worrying about you. I can’t keep taking care of you.
You and I both believe in an afterlife. I believe that once you have died, you will finally have the peace you’ve never had. I hate that I think about your death all the time. It makes me sick that I have to admit to myself that your death is what’s best for all of us – you, so you can have peace, me, so I can become healthy again, and the kids, so they don’t have to watch you destroy yourself.
I’m purging the house because I don’t want to move all that crap in the basement again. I’ve started a list of the things I will sell when you’re gone. I’ve made my arrangements for where the kids and I will go. I’ve looked into schools there for them. I’ve even figured out places I’m going to apply for jobs. And meanwhile, I pray that God will be merciful and let you die peacefully in your sleep.
Because I know there is only so much more I can take. If I have to break down and just leave, it will break your heart.
And that will definitely lead to you killing yourself.
The love of my life chose to end his life two weeks ago today. There are no words to convey the loss and desperate emptiness I feel. He has struggled for years. I share here the words that I wrote during his last attempt, in August, as he struggled on a ventilator. I could do nothing but alternate between simply staring and listening and scribbling each moment as they came, clinging to each memory, as I feared that it would be our last.
He had threatened so many times that, sadly, the last time I saw him, I did not truly believe that it would be the last. You had to have seen the movie “Where Dreams May Come” to truly understand his final words to me.
“We are soulmates. I will always find you.”
We had a standing promise that no matter where life or death took either of us, we would find some way to find each other. This movie resonated strongly with us. For now, I digress and share my sad, almost prophetic words from my last experience as a tribute to him, as I know nothing else to do anymore but preserve and express my love for him and privately and also as publicly as possible.
I write this as I look at you. Rise and fall. Mechanical clicking partially drowned out by The Fray’s “Happiness”. I thought I had felt pain before. Well, I have. This surpasses pain. Just like “love”. I don’t know the appropriate word to convey this emotion. If I were Catholic, I suppose I would be sitting in Limbo. Joy on one side, torture on the other. Once again, these words do not fit.
I write these words not knowing if you will ever hear them. I suppose either way, you will somehow.
I have had so much to talk to you about …so much to say to you. I began it in a text, which sits unread on your phone. I couldn’t wait for today, but to be sitting here now? My heart can’t handle it. It’s laying trapped in a chest two feet from me, still keeping the rhythmic pumping and it dances with yours. For how long?
I have told you before, but I couldn’t feel it like this until this moment. I am connected to you. I can’t come up with the words to explain how. I watch my own life hang in the balance. I know that if you die, I do, too. Maybe not my physical body, but the part of me that matters.
I knew that this would be a horrific feeling, but I had no idea how badly someone could hurt on the inside. I feel like I am being turned inside out. The world stopped turning. Perhaps literally, as there was an earthquake and pending hurricane. Perhaps, the earth itself groans in pain. The sun does not shine. There is no light. It has lost its meaning.
Being separated from you before was terrible, but I could still feel you out there. You were and are omnipresent to me. You are in the air. I never comprehended that something so simple as the scent of your hair could impact me so much. Colors fade. Light is darkness. But the music, I still find you there. It is something that is somehow not taken. The emotion with it is horrible right now, but I find you there, and so that is where I will stay for now. As I listen, perhaps you are the DJ. Every note, every word somehow fits each moment. “If there is no one else beside you where your soul embarks, I will follow you into the dark.”
I would still follow you if I had a choice, but perhaps the only clarity of the moment is that I do not. I will be taken, and I will go, but I hope that we do not have to.
Perhaps, this is paraphrasing, but I believe that is was F. Scott Fitzgerald that said, “I wish I had done everything in the world with you.”
I suppose that is still possible, regardless of what happens here. The world does not end at death, but mine does with yours. And so, as I know that my journey continues here for now, I can only hope and pray that you will continue to be my co-pilot.
Somewhere between the mechanical world and the spiritual realm that surround me, it is the organic that brings me the only comfort. The rise and fall of your chest may as well be a million seaside sunsets. I catch myself drifting, lulled by the peaceful repetition of each movement.
Again, I never fathomed that something so “simple” …how quickly and unexpectedly things can gain or lose their meaning.
I made sure to eat three times today. As I am not sleeping, I need something to keep me going for you. I even got some cookies. I tasted nothing. My stomach cramped. I didn’t feel it. The road poured ahead of me. I didn’t see it.
Nothing. There is nothing but this music and the rise and fall and the feeling that I never want either to end.
I am not sure where these words are coming from. I have drawn deeper into myself than, perhaps, I ever have. My motions are mechanical. I’m not sure what is guiding my physical movements. From soul to paper, I don’t feel attached to the space between, and, as I write, it takes me further and further away.
Where am I going? What is happening? Are you taking me with you? I am coming. Wherever you are and wherever this body is, I feel myself drifting somewhere in between.
I’m not sure that these words will make sense to anyone else at any other time, myself included, but, as I write, it is all I can do.
I have been emotionally stripped down. This is as raw as I come.
I’m not sure when they will pull me from your room. It may literally take that. I don’t feel capable of leaving you on my own.
I have no concept of time. I know that a good bit of time has passed from my first word to this one, but it could as easily been a minute as a year. What does it matter?
The rise and fall. The steady rolls of your breaths and the jumps between of your heart. I may experience the beauty or profundity of such things, but, as I bear record here, it will always serve as some form of remembrance in the future, whether it is a tear on my cheek or a curl on your lips, only time can tell.
Time. Time. Even letters look foreign. Words sound garbled. I feel as if somehow I have already known you for an eternity. Or maybe it was only a second. What is time, anyway? It simultaneously means nothing and everything to me right now. As it carries on this moment, it means nothing, but thinking moments into the future make my head spin. All I have is this one, and in this one, you are here, and, for now, THAT is all that matters.
My head quickly fills with horrific thoughts if I let it ponder beyond this second. What if I never hear your voice again? What if you never even read these chaotic words? What if …blank. Fortunately, my mind has pulled me back to now. There is enough time to worry about the future if it comes to that. All that matters now is this moment and the fact that you are still in it.
My eyes draw up. In that instant, your eyes flutter open. I don’t know if you saw me. Words can’t describe what I saw. Not even now. I suppose that this proves that there truly are no words for what I feel when our eyes meet, and I think, no, I know that that’s okay. I know what I feel, and I believe that you do, too, so why waste time struggling with an explanation that surpasses words? Time. We’re back to that. I suppose the future could be worse. It could be the already determined past, and all those wasted moments.
“I want to feel you. I need to hear you. You are the light that is leading me to the place where I find peace. You are the light unto my soul. You are my movements, you are my everything. And how can I stand here with you and not be moved by you? You still my heart, and you steal my breath away. Would you take me in? Take me deeper now.”
I wrote as fast as this pen and hand would move, trying to pick up the pieces before they were laid out. I didn’t know the lyrics as well as I thought I did. Maybe that isn’t exactly what it said, but that was all that I heard.
And, now, as the physical sleepiness sets in, I feel myself being drawn back, back into this world, which somehow, stands still, suspended, and all there is is you. I don’t want these eyes to close. I fear the next thing that I see. But, for now…
You ARE the DJ! I should not have feared the next thing I saw. I looked up. Your eyes. I know that you saw me this time. I reached for your hand. You grabbed mine. I tried to adjust. Tighter. “My hands are holding you,” pour out over the speakers. I hear you, baby. I hear you.
I don’t know what is happening, but after these moments, I feel overwhelming peace. Somehow, it is okay, and I don’t know how, but it is.
I got lost in your blue eyes, your warmth, your touch, and I transcended. I’m not sure where we went, but it was not here, and it is okay. For now, at least, fear is gone. It is okay. Enough words for now. Time for some peaceful, quiet, wordless moments with you before sleep.