Monday, April 25, 2011

Sleeping, Soundly

In its early stages, insomnia is almost an oasis in which those who have to think or suffer darkly take refuge. ~Colette

I realize you have to sleep in order to dream, deep sleep, and I hadn’t really been doing that in the weeks since my brother took his life. I’ve always had odd sleep/wake cycles over the years with kids, work, my brain/stroke, etc, but this time it was different.

With this loss, at first it was the shock and awful feeling of my ribs crushing my heart into my soul. I became immediately anemic. I bled out at the news.

The grief left me shaky as an addict. I needed a “hit” of something, but it wasn’t food, it wasn’t sleep. Nothing filled the vacant spot.

Later the raw gnawed out spot became a comfort. What fell away was all I had left.

Because I wasn’t sleeping meant I could be there for Jamie in the wee hours of the morning, prior to 4:44 a.m., the hour of his passing from “here” to wherever “there” is.

As it turns out, his vehicle traveled the four-lane highway parallel to the headboard of our bed that morning, on the way to the spot where he “did it (with the help of a train), whose whistle I/we all still hear, even when we don’t. Maybe I was even awake as he passed by, literally right over my head, for the last time. Or, maybe I slept on. After all, how was I to know?

All I know is, by the time I got up that morning, I was reading an email he had sent the night before, a quick note from my perfectly fine brother, which made no sense then when someone showed up at the door to tell me he was dead, right before my daughter got there to try to deliver the news, to try to catch me before the actual fall … as if that can be done.

This is why I began not sleeping “on purpose,” or at least making sure to be awake at a certain “window” of time in the wee hours of the morning, surrounding the 4:44 a.m. hour. I had to “be there” for a decent amount of time before, during and after the time that he “did it.” I could not leave him out there alone.

I planned to keep this up indefinitely. It wasn’t at all difficult. Many times, I was still up at that hour, unable to sleep the first week, terribly ill the next weeks with pneumonia and in the latter weeks it simply became the norm until one night the chain broke at 42 days.

Friday morning, April 22, 2011, 4:44 a.m., I was not there. I was sleeping, soundly.

Blame it on exhaustion, or maybe it was after my therapy session the previous day when I left some “things out on the table that we’ll talk about next time” (things totally unrelated to Jamie’s death, and certainly unrelated to my secret talks with him EVERY MORNING AT 4:44 A.M., because I can’t tell my therapist that, he’d think I was C-R-A-Z-Y!!!!!!!!!).

Whatever it was, I came home exhausted, went to bed at 9:45ish and slept 12 hours. When I woke up it was daylight. Jamie was gone, AGAIN! This time, he left without our chitchat session, just like he left us the first time, for the last time, for all time.

My first thought when I woke up. I slept. My next thought, I can’t say, since it’s more feelings than thoughts, a real mixture of emotions, relief and great sadness.

Ironically, I had accomplished this on a Thursday night into a Friday morning. Thursdays into Fridays are always the hardest and I feel like they will be forever. A Thursday into a Friday will never be the same ever again. It’s my way of remembering never to forget.

My brother sent me a perfectly normal email on a Thursday night, and killed himself the following Friday morning. I stayed up with my brother late into every Thursday night except into one Friday morning. I knew it couldn’t go on forever, but I wasn’t ready for it to end.

However, I’ve been sleeping now (and better) since this past Thursday night, though I would be lying if I didn’t tell you when I woke at 4:20 a.m on Saturday morning I was thrilled at the chance for a little time with him, till 4:45 a.m., but went right back to sleep afterward. There will still be those times, now and again by chance. Also, because of the sleeping there was last night, perchance, two dreams ...

… the beginning part of the dream, Tina my brother’s widow (she hates that word, as all widows do)is crying. My brother Kyle and my nephew Michael have brought Jamie's giant toolbox home, but they won't let her look inside it. So I say to her, “Well, then let’s go to the book fair,” and grabbed her arm and we went running down this unfamiliar street, in an unfamiliar city, in an unfamiliar country.

At some point we’re going down a hilly avenue, two lines have formed, and I’ve lost track of Tina, in the crowd. We are all filing into a brick building, looks like an old school, or library. A woman is saying that we need to form two lines. As the lines are forming, I look behind me to see if I can find Tina, which I realize will be very difficult because she’s so much shorter than I am and we are on a hill.

Glancing back, and up the hill, as people are moving to form the two lines, I see her on the left sided line. I’m in the right line, so I quickly move to the left. As I’m doing so I frantically wave at her hoping that she’ll see me over the tops of all the other people, realize that we’re in the same line and that we’ll enter the building and tour, or go to whatever the book fair is at the same time, and not get separated.

I’m frantic and I keep thinking this is very important because I need to take care of her. She sees me and waves back. I turn around then and enter the building. I realize it will be okay, we’ll enter the building in the same line and come out the other side. I can’t lose her. I need to make sure we stick together.

Once the line gets inside the building, we file down a series of stairwells behind our guide. I’m on the right side of the stairs holding the rail but as I’m walking down the stairs, I notice ascending the stairs past me are a number of children carrying books, talking (though I can’t hear them), laughing, gesturing, shoving each other, etc. They are wearing period dress from an earlier time, wool skirts, sweaters, knickers, caps, long stockings.

I stopped where I’m at and go, “Oh, my gosh, I can see dead people! Can you guys see them? There are children marching up the stairs! Look at them! They must be heading out for the end of the day or recess or something.”

Some guy behind me has a fit and tells me to keep going and the guide lady asks what the hold up is. Someone else tells me to knock it off it’s not funny. I can hardly get moving again because the kids keep filing by me, and they’re looking at me too, smiling. They can see me too.

The people behind me shove me forward and they are still all, “Knock it off, it’s not even funny,” and as we round the next set of stairs the wall to our left has a computerized photo display of children in period dress and all kinds of museum-quality educational stuff "playing” about the building we are in.

I started to explain that I wasn’t f’ing around, that I hadn’t got to the part of the stairs where I could see the photo display screen, that there were actually kids walking past me, but then I woke up.

(tina and i are both 49. she started dating my brother when she was 17. they were married 31 years. i grew up with both of them. we still have more growing to do, without him now. we were all together on easter, but monday, the toolbox thing was pending, and also all of us being together is always helpful, but endings and going home, i know for teeny is hard.)

I’m entering my Aunt Mary’s house. She still lives in a house on a swath of property on the family property where my brother Jamie, Sean and myself were born. My paternal grandfather built the house where we were born. My father grew up in that home. Anyhooooooo … I’m entering her house with a Tupperware container of spaghetti. When I get in her kitchen, it’s very messy and there are containers everywhere. I guess we are there for yet another gathering for my brother. I’m happy to be in Mary’s kitchen for many reasons (which I may write about at some point later on) but I’m alarmed at how messy her kitchen is. (In real life THAT WOULD NEVER HAPPEN.)

The dream flashes very quickly to the end of the gathering, I’m back in her kitchen again, and I need to retrieve my container. The kitchen is even more of a mess and there are even more containers. I’m still very surprised by the mess and surprised at how messy my guts feel in this dream just like they have felt in every gathering we’ve had since Jamie died. I can’t find my container. I start looking everywhere for it and I keep knocking things over, ever the clutzoid. I’m even reaching into gray scummy dishwater among the empty containers, and through containers clean and not yet washed piled all over the counter.

I can hear someone saying, “It’s not there. There either,” like that childhood game, "You're getting hotter, nope now you're cold, getting colder ..." I keep looking.

I slide a picnic cooler out of my way, and look in the fridge and the voice continues, “Why are you looking in there? You didn’t put it in there. What are you doing? What is wrong with you?”

I open the fridge and a bunch of beer bottles on the bottom shelf tip over and clatter about. I try to right them all, but they keep falling back over like bowling pins. The voice continues, “Now look at the mess you’re making. You are so in for it.” and I’m thinking Whatever, quit picking on me! You big poophead!

All of a sudden, something starts spilling out and foaming all over the floor, just as I get all the beer bottles straightened upright.

What the fuck?

I look up on the second shelf of the fridge, and there’s a bottle of Mountain Dew, a bottle!


I haven’t seen a bottle of Mountain Dew since I don’t know when, and the lid is off, so I tip it back up, so the rest of it doesn’t spill out and I slam the fridge shut.

The voice has stopped by now. I grab a kitchen towel, and plunge it in the disgusting gray dishwater and mop up the Mountain Dew mess and think once more how gross Aunt Mary’s house is, and how gross and shitty everything has been since Jamie died. I whip the towel back on the counter and then I shove the picnic cooler back in front of the fridge.

That’s when I remember that I had put my Tupperware container of spaghetti in the picnic cooler when I had gotten there, because there was nowhere else to put it, what with all the other containers, the mess, etc. So I open the cooler, pick up my container, spaghetti still in it, and I turn around where there stand the usual family suspects who would be at these gatherings and I said, “Did you hear him?”

And they were all like, “Who?!?!”

And I said, “Jamie! He was giving me all that shit about the container, and then I spilled that Mountain Dew in the fridge, and then ….”

… and then of course I woke up …

p.s. Jamie, and all my brothers for that matter, Sean and Kyle, drank 4 trillion cans of Mountain Dew since teens just like I drank 9 gazillion cans of Diet Pepsi since I was 14 years old)

(p.s. 2: the above ain’t over till it’s over/and likely it’ll never be over because the dead don’t ever go, they just go deeper, but I likely will blog about other stuff, more and soon … especially now that i’ve made friends with my pillow again, bittersweet as that was)

Friday, April 8, 2011

words to live by ... TWICE

words to live by ... TWICE

pointed out to me yesterday: "when you talk about your work, you beam. you realize your work leaves you and goes out there, is carried off becomes something else, takes on new shape, keeps on giving and even gives back. it gives you joy, but it also goes beyond that." (seriously, dudes, after he said it, i wrote it down, it sounded that cool).

this same "beaming" was pointed out to me when i talked about my family, my friends, my life partner, our dorky dogs, my writing, my artwork, how i used to feel about biking before my hands fell apart, etc.

i bring this up now because, nearly a month ago, i lost my brother to suicide. for that reason, my family, my friends and i definitely have not been ourselves as we navigate this loss. Grief very much has a person “going through the motions” on autopilot, and who even knows if the lights are on half the time. who even cares? this last month has been a blur.

also, tonight i was supposed to be out with friends, but had to rain-check it. i took some time off recently, and because i’m very much a free lance chick, the work i don’t do in the off time, often times is waiting for me when i return. so i’m swamped this friday night. i’m underwater with work, but that’s the way I like it.

this picking up of speed is good for me, after this loss, which was then followed by a debilitating bout of bronchopneumonia which was then cured by a whirlwind day/night trip lunching and funning with my daughters, nieice and dear friend (because we all need the reminder of things up and coming, life going on, things in their season).

that being said, however, feeling that delicious momentum and (dare i say) joy in being back to work, i also feel guilt.

things are starting to feel back to normal, but there’s always that odd little jolt, like “beaming” in one sense takes the focus off of my grieving. like you can't do one and also do the other. you can't go on and still stay back there holding on to the person you aren't ready to let go of yet. it's been a difficult dance, a very difficult dance.

but, i’m coming to realize there is this fine line you walk when you lose someone in an unreasonable fashion, which makes you also want to manipulate your grieving into awkward hoops you force yourself to jump through; it doesn’t work.

it’s quite possible this is why i’m now talking to this clever person whose clever words i quoted above, because the last thing i want to do is grieve my brother unreasonably.

i’m trying to figure out a way to keep the high beams on, because i (we, all of us) have to see everything twice now because he can’t. he’s not here to share it with us any longer. and he loved us loud, loves us still.

if things got quiet and dark and stayed that way, he’d die all over again, and that would be wrong.

i’m not saying i have this all the way figured out, or even halfway figured out, or even an eighth of the way figured out but i think this is a HUGE part of it. i also think it's the hardest part of it. it's the part that catches me up every second along the way.

this past sunday, three sundays past the funeral, we had a huge family dinner. it wasn't until then that it dawned on me as we drove home that of my four siblings, one of us no longer stood on this earth. my dinner churned as i stared out the dark car window, the world speeding by, car sick at 49.

Monday, i had a fabulous time with my daughters, niece and a dear friend. at the end of the day and night's events my middle daughter said to me, "did you have fun Momma," and i immediately felt nauseated and my eyes filled with tears, as if i'd been "caught" doing someing wrong. she said "don't cry," which is funny because i didn't realize how quickly that sensation had hit me because i was answering her question saying, "yes," yes i had fun. it was a grand day, the kind of day i needed. we had laughed so hard my cheekbones felt like they had splintered.

so i am working on it. there has got to be a way to keep that can of whoop ass open here on earth, to keep the party we all started going, so loud and so warm and full of love that he can still feel it, because if we didn’t that would make him very, very sad. and the last thing we ever want him to feel again is sadness.

right now, this is words on a page, but these are words i’m going to live up to, twice … twice as loud, twice as bright, twice as everything!

*andrew wyeth-wind by the sea (above)