Sometimes, Poems/ A Grandfather with his Grandchildren

800px-The_Favorite_by_Georgios_Iakovidis    Sometimes, Poems

Perhaps it was his apology to his children, after all, his gentleness with and joyful love for his grandchildren.

Or perhaps it was the lessening of pressures due to not having a direct responsibility for the lives of little ones.

Whatever the reason, it helped his children and hurt them at the same time to see what might have been, what they longed for but did not have. While they did not want the grandchildren to have a lesser life with their grandfather, they felt openings, more holes in their own lives witnessing what might have been.

Some holes became filled with bad habits and some remained unfilled like Langston’s open sore, weeping then crusting over, and sometimes exploding. A breakdown. A prayer. An addiction. A hesitance. More holes.

And sometimes, poems.

 

Image in the public domain, The Favorite – Grandfather and Grandson, by Georgios Jakobides (1890)

My Father’s Death

view of operating room

UPDATE: It’s been sixteen years now.  The following thoughts and feelings about my father still hold true. My sister has since died (recently).  I still mourn my mother and have very complicated grief issues about my sister.

*  *  *

Six years ago, my father celebrated his 80th birthday. We went out to dinner with him, and he was in a very jovial mood, flirting with the waitresses, asking for extra water, ice, anything to get the attractive young ladies to come back to the table as often as possible.

At that time, my mother was in hospice, and we all knew she would not be coming home again, ever. My father had decided to stop visiting her, since my mother didn’t recognize him by name at times, and called him “that man,” argued with him, and could “do nothing for him.” Narcissistic? I think so. Her role was to take care of him, and he was angry and disgusted that she was losing herself to Alzheimer’s or dementia.

Why visit someone who could do nothing for you? As my sister, his other daughter, was quite ill herself and his sons lived out of state, I would be the one visiting my mother. I assured him that she did want to see him.

After dinner, my father announced that he was no longer going to take any of his medicines. He was sick of the side effects, he said, and he didn’t trust doctors anyway. He was simply not going to put up with the doctor’s “incompetence.” He also announced that he was angry my mother would not be there for him for the heart valve surgery he was scheduled to have, so he was not going to have the surgery at all.

A few days later, I was speaking to my father on the phone late one night, and he said he felt strange. We took him to the emergency room, where we learned he had a minor stroke.

At the hospital, we asked him if he’d like anything. He said something I cannot really write about here, but it had to do with wanting a special visit from the very well-endowed waitress that served him his birthday dinner.

After a few more days, he began to feel better and agreed to the heart valve surgery. I was speaking to him over the phone when he said…I’m feeling weird again… and as I spoke to him, he was having a major stroke from which he could not and would not recover.

**********************************************

By the time we got to the hospital, my father was hooked up to life support machines. His body was nearly convulsing on the bed, up and down, up and down, up and down. It was hideous. My niece was very pregnant at the time and was there, as was my nephew and sister, who was herself sick. My dear husband was there with me, knowing I was terrified; I am terribly phobic about hospitals, medical procedures, etc. And here was my father being forced to “breathe,” his body nearly up off the bed.

Was he conscious? No. Any chance of a recovery? No, it was a major stroke and most likely brain death already happened.

After doing blood tests, doctors found no traces whatsoever of the medicines he was supposed to be taking. They believed he stopped taking his medicines before he told us, and was not taking them in the hospital at all. He truly meant it when he said he had enough medicines for one lifetime.

My sister had power of attorney and a copy of my father’s written request not to be kept on life support.

*  *  *

The physician seemed very angry with us, told us we would be killing our father. My sister went to get another copy of the end of life papers my father had signed years before, after he saw his mother be kept on life support for a long time.

After looking over the papers carefully, the hospital agreed that the power of attorney did had the power to have the tubes removed. First, the doctor gave him a shot of morphine to be sure he would not be in pain, in case he did return to consciousness.

We left the room as the life support tubes and machines were removed, all except for a monitor that read brain activity.

*  *  *

When we went back into my father’s hospital room, we watched the monitor–in less than 5 minutes, complete flat line, no brain activity. In just a few minutes, he was absolutely, no question about it dead.

Had we killed him by having the machines turned off, the tubes removed? I didn’t have the courage to be the one to make the decision. I am glad I didn’t’ have to make the decision. I am glad he found someone who would do this for him, for I could not. I am glad he saw his mother’s end of life and decided this was not for him.

But did we kill him? Who is to decide how an older person should end his or her life–for that is what not taking his medicines meant. He had one stroke then another soon after taking his medicines.

I’d never seen anyone die before. To watch brain waves go completely flat in such a short time told the medical staff that he had been dead before, just kept alive by machines forcing in oxygen and forcing his heart to beat. Is this death, I wonder? He did not seem alive on that awful table with the tubes and the machines–it seemed cruel and gruesome.

I don’t know all the medical terms, and my memory may be off since it was so emotional.

*  *  *

But it was exactly six years ago, and dreams haunt me. Nightmares. I wasn’t even aware of the anniversary coming up, but my body remembered somehow, and the nightmares have been vivid.

Gruesome–gruesome images–the body forced up and down on life support. The memory of talking to him and hearing the stroke hit him hard, the last words he ever said…I feel weird, can you come?

* * *

Life and death issues. Who is to decide? Was it his right to decide–I simply don’t want to take my medicines anymore? At 80 years old, he’d been pretty spry up to then. Perhaps it was depression over my mother, or simply realizing life wasn’t going to get any easier for him.

Or it might have simply been his arrogance of being angry with my mother for not taking care of him, anger at the world that he had to take medicines whose side effects he didn’t like. He had quite a streak of arrogance, of feeling that he was somehow better or deserved better, and quite a streak of narcissism, if I understand that correctly–such as taking my mother’s Alzheimer’s as an insult to him rather than a heartbreak that it was.

***

And then nothing. Nothing whatsoever. For reasons I cannot go into, there was no closure, no saying good bye.

Six month later, my mother died. I felt active and wretched grief for a long time after her death. It was shortly after my best friend died, two other close friends, and my husband’s best friend. It was truly a terrible time, but the close deaths stopped and I believe I was able to grieve for my mother, my much loved friends. Broken hearted for too many deaths too close together–it was all mixed up. Who was I crying for now? Sunglasses became a good friend.

Work during the day, smile while you teach, then reach for the sunglasses as the weeping came in waves, for many long months. It’s been long enough now that I can think of my mother and friends with great fondness and happiness to remember them, while I still miss them greatly.

But my father? More complicated. I knew somehow I would have to put dealing with his death on hold, to wait a while–it was simply too much.

***

Six years later, I believe I am beginning to mourn for my father, wish things could have been different between us, that his life and our family could have been different. He was a brilliant and talented person, but very cruel and bitter at times. Hysterically funny at times. Charming at times.

In another age, he might have been a famous something or other–I’m not sure what.

But I recognize this feeling, this grief, as something I felt growing up when I would think of “father.” I believe I mourned not having a father my entire life, as strange as that sounds. I knew I’d have to be my own father, raise myself as best as I could.

I guessed a lot. Read a lot. Tried to make a science on how to raise myself properly. What I am today is a hit or miss childhood of trying to raise myself with the help of some wonderful mentors, teachers, kind adults in my life who never knew of the absolute hell of a pretend childhood. They never knew how I loved them for their mentoring.

As to my father, I so wish I could speak to him again, for time does help heal. Would we be able to speak of some matters that went unsaid? Probably not.

But I still feel it was wrong to let someone pass without a formal good bye, glad to have known you, your life meant something.

Perhaps I am telling him this in my very vivid dreams: good bye father, I am sorry it wasn’t better between us, your life had meaning. Like it or not, I see more of him in myself every year–the tendency to love drama, the silly story telling, the endless need to tell and hear stories–the love of art–the strong emotions, even some of my very weaknesses I loathed in him I see clearly in myself now.

My husband always tells me no one is all bad; he reminds me often that there can be much to love in even people who do great evil–we need to find that good, that lovable part and encourage it, acknowledge it–not just the bad that people do.

For this, I will always love him, my husband: he has helped me see that life is not all good or bad, all evil or good–there are many shades–something my father detested in people, wishy washiness he called it, all that damn grayness or shades of mambly pambliness–you either loved or hated him or nothing in between.

Sorry, father, I must side here with the living one I love. I did not love you, and for that I am ashamed and sorry. I loved you as a human being, my fellow human being, but not as a father. That was not possible for me. I pitied you. I was slightly in awe of your keen intelligence and eerie ability to hone in on others weaknesses and exploit them, but that is not love.

Six years later, I begin to say good bye to my father, six years after his death. I will not romanticize his life due to the passing of time, but am perhaps better able to begin dealing with his life and death with the help of the passage of time. Perhaps to see the good and the bad, the love, terror, humor, and sadness that can co-exist in one person.

 

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

“Not Sleep” Published in Cagibi, a Literary Place

Since my sister died last month, I’ve been re-experiencing grief in different ways than when grief last visited.  Before, I was filled with sadness.  Now, I am experiencing sadness, but also regret and dread.  I think of what a cliche comparing depression to having a black cloud hanging over your head, but that image is strong with me now.

I am older now than when the others died so quickly, one after another after another, 15 years older.  And my sister and I had a complicated relationship. We were estranged for some years, as is common in families where the abusive parent tries to keep the siblings apart by telling lies about each other and sewing discord.  Nevertheless, my sister and I found ourselves to become much loved dear friends for most of our lives.  We were such different people, but we shared a long history of trauma and grief, but also humor, laughing, and a love of nature.  After my sister had her children, who are now in their 40s, we became dear friends.

Fifteen years ago I wrote more poetry than ever, as I converted grief into words.  I wrote about divorce, break ups,winter, sicknesses, illnesses, aging.  I had to warn my husband that divorce was code for grief, as I could not write about death then.

It was a time of great creativity, and looking back, I can feel that grief again–a purer type of grief, perhaps, since those lost then were never other than positive in my life, family and friends who shared only positive emotions in my life.

One of the poems I started writing back then, “Not Sleep,” I finished much later and have recently had published in Cagibi, a Literary Place.

NOT SLEEP PUBLISHED IN CAGIBI

 

I do like this poem, and could only write it many months after the death of my mother.  I could return to it then only years later.

I wonder how my sister’s death will affect my poetry writing.  I would give up writing poetry forever if I could have her alive again and healthy and happy, but that cannot happen.  Writing about her would be very difficult, for we had a complicated relationship.

I felt sorry for her.  I pitied her sometimes.  I had great sympathy for her suffering.  I loved her, and felt I understood many of the seemingly unfathomable things she did to drive others away.  I wasn’t married to her, was not raised by her–we had the relationship of peers who reacted to our shared traumas in very different ways.  I found her very brave.

I am still too raw to talk much about her or write much about her, since she has only been gone a month.  We are entering winter weather already here and it’s dark so much of the day.  All these, blended with a recent injury and job change have me a bit bewildered at times and needing to step back, check my thinking, and affirm this: although I sometimes feel great dread lately, that does not make things dreadful.  I need to question my automatic feelings and force myself to perceive, love, enjoy the many beauties in life.

My husband asked me the other day if I am feeling mortal; yes, I told him, that’s a great way to put it. No matter what, my sister is still dead.  No matter how many times I pick up the phone to call her, she’s still dead.  No matter how many times I think I want to tell her something, she is still dead.   No matter how many times I think of something that could have made her last months better, she is still dead.  No matter how angry or sad, outraged or fearful, she is still dead. No matter how much regret I feel for things I should have done or should have done differently with my sister, she is still dead.

Mortal, yes.  Feeling very mortal, which has also prompted me to clean closets, read books, write poetry again, sign up for a class.  If I feel I need to turn on ALL of the lights at home, I do so.  If I want pumpkin pancakes, I get them.  I am pushing myself to exercise more, for I know good health is so important to loving life.  I am resisting the urge to get another job, because I have recognized that long term, this gift of time off is a precious gift.

What will I do with my life?  It’s exciting yet scary to imagine! Sometimes I envision myself staying in bed, jaws clenched, covers pulled over my head, in some dramatic made for TV movie of the week about death and depression.  Other times I think–April will come again, chorus frogs will return, I’ll get that storage room cleaned out, I’ll read another great novel, I will make new friends and develop new skills and wonder.

*   *   *

 

Thanks for reading.  Interesting how I can be succinct when writing poetry, such as “Not Sleep,” while I am so wordy with prose.

Writing Sideways Poems/ “Where You Are Not” in Esthetic Apostle

Back in 2001-2005,  I suffered the loss of several loved ones, both families and friends.  Before then, I sometimes marveled how I had not experienced the death of anyone I cared about and I was nearly 50 then.  I knew that would end, and it did as friends died from freak accidents (falling on ice in a church parking lot and having a bone fragment reach the bloodstream–RIP Ruth) to dying while sleeping and choking (RIP Earl), to the death of my godmother from heart disease, my mother from dementia from a terrible head injury to my father to a stroke he suffered while we were on the phone–and so on.

All of this emotional and body memory is being resurfaced by the death of my only sister last week.  I remember grief, what it feels like (shock, anger, grief, disbelief, pain), what it tastes like (tears), what it sounds like (choking, crying, silence). And then the permanence, the inability to touch the loved one anymore.

I wrote a lot of poetry about grief before then because of childhood losses that did not involve death, during this time, and afterwards, for my sister was diagnosed with terminal illnesses, one after the other after the other.  She lived an amazing 15 years after the first terminal diagnosis–truly amazing.

But I rarely wrote directly about the one who died, except for about my best friend Susan who died young, before age 40, from colon cancer.  We were such close friends I was shattered.  When someone told me I should get over it, I snapped and wrote a very harsh poem titled NOTOVERIT, full of profanities.

You may have heard that writers used everything in their life to write, and that is true of me, but not in a direct fashion. I write sideways poems.

Sideways?  I usually wrote about the death of a spouse or a divorce, telling my dear husband it was how I could deal with the grief, to write about it sideways, obliquely.  Since we are still married, he just gave a puzzled look.  But it helped me to write about grief in a way others could understand without battering me further.

This poem, “Where You are Not,” was written to explore the empty feeling of not being able to touch, to feel, to see the loved one anymore. I am blessed to have my spouse with me in my daily life, but grief is grief I think, and while I could not yet write about the many others since they came too close together, I could fictionalize my losses and take poetic license.

I really appreciate Esthetic Apostle for publishing this poem in their June 2019 issue.

where you are not poetry at esthetic apostle June 2019

 

 

“The Three Month Sentence” to be Published in Esthetic Apostle

On a day I lost my sister, I received an acceptance of a poem about grief. I will miss my sister more than I can say; we were close in age, spoke most days, and saw each other a lot.

We laughed, we argued, we accused each other of being stubborn.  But always, we loved each other and shared decades together.

The poem, “The Three Month Sentence,” will be published in The Esthetic Apostle on October 13th.  I will post the link to the poem after that day.

But for now, these are some of the words from the poem; I do need to let the journal publish the complete poem first.  But…

We had not wrapped nights
in tender sighs under stars.
Our nights
were wasted in worry.

 

This was a poem written during another time of grief.

Thank you for reading.

Laura

CW: Disturbing 9-11 Images/ Only We Can Save Each Other

 

Dear Readers,

And it’s another 9-11, the 18th year after the attacks.  And I thought I was “over” feeling sad, terrified, angry, sad… but of course not. This was a day that changed America I think.

During all this, it seems reaching out to others with love and kindness was the way to healing.

If you can watch this video without tears, don’t tell me, because I won’t believe you are human.

The still images capture the shock, terror, grief of the day. The music is by Disturbed. Warning: some disturbing images.

Spread love and kindness and compassion, dear readers. I do believe only we, with effort, love, compassion and learning–can save each other.

Link here:

From a PIP (poem in progress)

C5438C4D-7EFC-4B03-8398-D253E9D9DDE8Line breaks, wording, so much work needed. A much longer poem, but I don’t want to post complete poems here. And they are MISSING GIRLS, which is important. And missing small ones… hmm.. Lots to consider.

Middle of the night
moon casts
umbrella shaped shadows.

Soft light of night
I’d hoped would help
find the lost (missing?)
(??find the missing
small ones?)

 

**  Word Press doesn’t like to format poetry, it seems.

C5438C4D-7EFC-4B03-8398-D253E9D9DDE8I’m playing with language, tone, line breaks, meaning.  (I don’t want to post a complete poem here, since I will submit for publication.)

On Cable Bills, Woman to Woman, and Grieving Before Death

old black and white tv

It’s so time consuming with medicines and visits and the day to day physical needs that I sometimes “forget” she is dying, and sooner rather than later. Sister’s TV/ cable turned off for nonpayment. She lives in a basement apartment and we TRIED a TV with every kind of antenna possible. No channels. Cable is needed.

Since she cannot read due to vision issues and is living alone (that’s another issue), I thought of the cable TV as a comfort issue and paid for it to be turned back on. She cannot use the internet anymore due to cognitive issues, but she can listen to TV shows and she has followed some for a long time.

I understand all the arguments against TV, but in her case, it is a comfort.

As I was speaking to the person at the BIG nasty cable company, I just broke down crying, after they kept asking me for information I didn’t have. I just want to pay the bill for my sister who is passing too soon, I told them. I just want her to have some human voices and some old friends with her.

And a young lady who told me she was in India right then but that would it be okay if she prayed for my family and put the payment through ASAP? And I was crying again. She was kind, said let’s forget the cable company for a moment, and woman to woman, she told me how sorry she was and that she would pray for us.

And then we both hung up. And my grief about all this just poured over me and I cried and cried.

Because I cannot take away her pain. Or her multiple terminal diagnoses. And since I have been injured, I am limited in even visiting her–I have to get a ride and then help myself to get into her apt, down those awful stairs.

I guess I am saying that the grief doesn’t start at the time of death and that we can help each other in small ways. Just that lady in India who took my payment but took the time to say she would pray for us? Her kindness was much appreciated.

Wishing you all gentle kindnesses.

 

(Photo from the creative commons. And this is what our first TV was like so long ago.)

 

 

My (not so?)Humble and Not So Scientific HSP/ Trauma Raised Declaration

       speechMy Humble and Not So Scientific HSP/ Trauma Raised Declaration (I’d say Manifesto, but this term has taken on a nasty connotation)

Those who feel they know all about me are wrong. There are many issues, many  memories not spoken about to anyone. And that’s okay, since it’s not my duty to do so. Freedom of speech, I believe, also means freedom to not to have to share a traumatic past.

The research findings that trauma can change your genes has impacted me greatly. Things I cannot write about even yet–I know they have changed me at the most basic level. Period. I don’t want to hear that which doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. Save that platitude. Sometimes that which doesn’t kill you changes you in profound, basic, even cellular ways depending on the person you are. I don’t talk about a lot of things because people tend to judge–oh, just get over it. Aren’t you over that by now? It didn’t kill you; you must be stronger.

No. Not me. Take a very HSP (highly sensitive) kid to start with and add decades of certain things and no. No, those didn’t make me stronger.

They did help make me more compassionate for I know I was deemed smart, competent, friendly but shy during these years. How wrong they were, but how well I acted. I know that others can be suffering greatly and appear all good.

They did help me realize how complicated life can be, how many issues people face, and without adequate resources and guidance, people can make unwise and unhealthy choices.

I don’t want to hear that God doesn’t give you more than you can handle. Don’t go there with me.

This is my declaration: let people heal and deal as best fits them. Don’t belittle or dismiss. Don’t be disdainful or snarky. Or sarcastic. Choose kindness.  You don’t know what others might be going through, for no one knew what I was going through–I was and remain a terrific actress.

That which doesn’t kill you can change you on a basic level, I believe.

I don’t want judgments about this, I don’t want platitudes or pity or a pat on the back.

And when I wish to, if I ever wish to, I will write about it. It will help me with deep rich and dark topics to write about–when and if I choose to write directly about them.  I am a poet and fiction writer, and my past traumas do very much inform my writing, so I am already “telling my story” in my own way.

One last thing. That which does not kill you can sometimes help you see great preciousness in love, which I’ve found to be the great helper of healing. And nature. And beauty. And literacy. And learning. And a profession.

Those who feel they know all about me are wrong. There are many issues, many  memories not spoken about to anyone. And that’s okay, since it’s not my duty to do so.

 

Poetry as Gift

   This has been a touching day. A former colleague reached out and asked me to join/ read her blog dedicated to her brother’s memory. I waited a while, then read…about a missing brother, found dead after 62 days, and what that meant to her family.

A nightmare… missing, dead… found dead by my friend. Her mom doesn’t know anyone saw the body… in that condition… so much more I don’t wish to say.

I don’t know why she reached out to me, but social media let her find me.

I remember my friend L as a kind, witty, hardworking science teacher. I was the literacy coach in the building, often a hated person. But L was kind and worked with me, let me into her classroom. And then I got transferred to another school and we lost touch until recently.

After  read her blog, I was stunned and also very aware of what a privilege it was to be trusted with this knowledge.  How should I respectfully reply?

I asked L if I could write a poem about sisters and brothers for her, and that while I don’t know her situation exactly, I am old enough to have known much grief. L had a broken heart, and I know about broken hearts.

I thought of the many years I looked for my brother in different ways, estranged due to our father’s many violences. All the longing to find him over the many years. The late nights, the silent mornings. The bird songs that found me still awake.

I gave L the poem, knowing there is nothing good I could say that would make any of this okay. Brothers don’t go missing then get found… like that… but of course they do. In real life, horrible things happen.

L liked the poem and posted it on her blog so her family members could read it as well.

I am very happy that literacy could help me reach her, that reading led her to find me, that poetry helped me reach her. It’s a small thing, but I hope positive.

And this is a small tale of how literacy can help lives and how literacy can help us reach each other, heart to heart, mind to mind. And the special place of poetry to be personal and universal at the same time.