Blood loss in July.

The summer is bleeding and I can’t stop it.

It’s running down the legs of time and it’s pooling at the feet of life—the summer will perish and what will be left is a shell of this portion of 2020.

A translucence appears in the atmosphere when the soul leaves the body. In near-translucent outline I see tokens of a former time:  the summers within the memory of my history. Warm weather, County Fairs, beach vacations, the barbecues and roadtrips and happiness all shimmer above the dead summer.

A burial awaits. Summer wrapped in rags, embalmed in cancelled plans, it waits to be laid to rest. I turn the soil, folding in frustration, grief, despair, a cup of anxiety for what other little deaths wait in the future. (I stop mid-way to wonder, have I shaken the last hand I ever will, then? have I gone to my last concert?)

I gather the summer in my arms and pour it into the earth, I say goodbye and recite an Our Father. I look up past the translucence that is, after all, only tears. I see the cloudless sky, the pulsating blue and sunshine streaming forth, and I hear a hymn float on the breeze, I hear a hymn amid the birdsong. (An answer: I am at this concert, now, in this moment.)


When it is better.

It is seven months since I lost you.

Someone plunged into very-recent loss asked me when it began to feel easier, when the pain of the absence lost its swell and size, when pictures of the lost one incited more a sense of happiness and not the soreness of the dark, dreaded bruise that is heartbreak.

What I wish I could say: It took seven months.

I wish it were true to say that in seven months, it is much easier. But that would be a lie.

More lies:

  • In seven months, a sense of normalcy, laughter and memories of the old times will have misted over the scorch of raw grief. (Not true. The fire still burns.)
  • In seven months, the grievers will have put enough space between the moment they heard the news (that never, ever will they talk again with their loved one), and the churn of their present lives, so much space that it seems like a lifetime ago, really. (Fallacy. Pain doesn’t watch a clock.)
  • In seven months, looking at pictures of the beloved who is now absent engenders a good feeling, a happy feeling. The two-dimensional gaze from a photo has lost the power to take away the breath of the living. (Incorrect. A picture is worth millions of words and we are not ready to hear them yet.)

Is it better to be honest? Is it better to explain that pain is one way of hanging on, that the wound is a memento in and of itself of the terrible, catastrophic, loss? Perhaps.


Perhaps. But more than being an honest person, I am a kind person. And I say, “It has been seven months since I lost him, and it is much easier now.”


Writ in the clouds.

I fall without a parachute into this strange hurt, some days intentionally jumping from an aeroplane into it, and some days falling backward with an astonished gasp, falling off the cliff of the world and soaring head over feet to a crash I don’t really fear, because – can the pain of the crash be worse than the pain that caused the fall?

 (Am I wallowing in the pain? I wonder if the grief has become like a pillow, if it is where I rest my head when I am tired and when I no longer want to march on.) 

The sadness feels familiar, not strange now, it has become an uncommon friend. It rises up to embrace me and it calls me by the names you used to use. I look up and there it is, writ large in the clouds. I look down and there it is, written in the dust at my feet. It frames the pictures of the two of us, our heads bent together and it plays songs with choruses we sang together and discussed the meaning of. It is in my food, I eat it and it is in my drink, I drink it:  I consume it.  

I consume it before it consumes me, because this strange friend of mine is a comfort but it is a fickle one and I cannot forget it has teeth that tear their way into me when I do not expect. In the middle of the night, I lie awake watching the mouth of sadness open and bare its teeth, a spectacle I regard without real surprise. 

Grief, I tell you, is a strange, strange thing. But, strange as strange is, it is not a stranger. 


Perpetual angel.

I watched over you for a long time.

I wanted to keep you close and I did it this way:

  • Love you.
  • Check on you.
  • Take care of you.
  • Catch you.

I put you in schools, in programs, in hospitals, in rentals, in rehabs. I made appointments for you, made phone calls for you, set up arrangements for you. I sat by your side – called by the hospital, called by a counselor, called by creditors and police officers and social workers and doctors and your children and your lovers and friends and your wife.

I did this for you, and I did it for me. I did it because your sweetness and your spirit were so dear to me, your faith in me so important, that when it came to the sibling transaction of how it just was, well – that’s how it just was.

I railed against those who looked at me sadly, who said, “sometimes, you’ve done all you can do. Sometimes you have to give up.” They thought decades were just too long to stand by you. I said, over and over, “I won’t let anyone, not even himself, hurt him.”

I could not give up.

And then I was forced to give up, because you left the world.

So I am astonished now. Because earth could not hold you, your wings had been engineered according to some heavenly blueprint. You flew into heaven and took seriously your newly minted angel eminence (how brightly your halo must shine above your dark hair). Your seraph self:

  • Loves me.
  • Checks on me.
  • Takes care of me.
  • Catches me.

You come to me in hard moments. You hold a sign in front of my crying eyes and you stay with me patiently until I read it: life is very short, Sis. Really – be happy. You shine a light so I can see the road and wander from my entrenched, safe paths, and never have I felt so certain that I am protected by a guardian angel who will not let me fall.

On earth, you thought I could do anything; you thought me smart and capable and strong and composed in grand measures I never felt myself. Your presence when you visit me from the perpetual state of your afterlife shows me a glimpse of these traits you believed me to have, because I recognize them in you. It is you who is the teacher, the guide, the wise one, the protector. Catch me, catch me, catch me, dear brother. Until again we meet, catch me.


The canyon.

They say you are not really gone.

I’m told I can see you in the trees or the snow or a mountain. But I think that is something well-meaning people say when they are out of words for a person who is now moving with a broken heart, one broken before and stitched up before because of people remembered, and people past, and people passed.

They say I cannot see you, but that you are here, in the beautiful things: the natural world, music, memories. That is a nice sentiment but can I say for the record, I prefer your body to be here. I prefer to look at your dear face when I look up, rather than the gray sky. I prefer to listen to your deep voice and your stories over hearing the inadequate tale narrarated in the music I suggested for your funeral. And more than all this, I would prefer to construct new memories for a few more years instead of playing old ones over like a sad reel in my mind.

They say you are not really gone. But I am here, and you are not, and the canyon in the middle of that divide is so very giant that I look at it from a distance with a sinking feeling. I look down at my feet where my little arsenal of tools sits—the songs and recollections and writings and pictures and clothing and momentos—all the small things that I have with me to build a long, long bridge to the person I do not.


The cliff of the world.

Today is Day 23 without you and the whole country is freezing. I know they aren’t related events, I know they can’t be, but maybe if I suffer and mourn enough, all the souls in every corner will feel the cold, too. Maybe I can share this white sense of feeling with the world.

I don’t want February to arrive. It feels indecent for time to move on and for the minutes and days to not abide the loss. How has the world not stopped? Everything must just stop. Everything must just freeze into that subzero embargo where the news came, “he passed away 10 mins ago.” The alternative is for Father Time to line up his minutes, and for these minutes to march on and on without anything happening, until they simply fall off the world’s cliff and are no longer here.

(What does it mean to get through a day without crying? Is this what forgetting feels like?)

Forty-four years of memories are now only embodied in me. I am the lone vessel, I carry our story on my own and it feels bigger than what one person can manage.

Can I whisper my memories into a balloon and send it to you? Can I drop them into a hole where your ashes lay and let them mingle and grow a seed into a monument? What can I do? I can freeze time, and I can freeze too…but what else? What else is there?


Not this.

“A cup of coffee,” is what I think after the first call. You are in the hospital, Becky calls to tell me, and pre-dawn calls and hospitals and all institutions, really, mean coffee. So I pad into the kitchen quietly and make a cup and pour in cream and sugar, and then feed the cat. I look at yesterday’s mail and the sink full of dishes from last night. I stare at my phone and then I stare at my reflection in the sliding glass door for a long time—outside, just pitch black.

It is just after 4 a.m., the first call.

And, you know how it is, you get a call and it’s scary but scary in a way that means something bad “might” happen “someday” and so I am accepting the way I always am when these calls come and I think to myself that I will pack a bag just in case you aren’t improving, and then I will leave right after work and come down to see you. We have done that before: (1) You go into the hospital; (2) I come swooping in. It’s a thing. It happens once a year, at least, sometimes more. It happens for different reasons. You have an infection, you are sick with something, you need surgery again, you have an infection, you are sick with something, you need surgery again, you have –

An infection.

Side note: I remember I called you Christmas Day. Your voice boomed at the answer, your nickname for me buoyant and loopy on your lips, “Monkey!” and I had said Merry Christmas and you had said Merry Christmas, but we only talked for a minute, for less than a minute. You were happy, on your way to a movie and running late. I heard it in your voice that you were healthy of mind, not white-knuckling the holidays this year. You sounded…what? What was it I heard? I try to remember and then I do: rich. You sounded rich. You were always broke, but rich is that sound you get when you are surrounded all the way, in every direction, with love. We had a quick conversation, just long enough to exchange a greeting and ‘I love you’ and for you to tell me not with words, but with an uncommonly relaxed, lovely tenor of voice, that you were content these holidays. That you were content. (You were content.)

(I scroll through my voicemails and find two you have left me. I do not know what I will hear when I replay them and so I do not replay them. I am afraid to. What if I hear fatigue, or frustration, or any of the million kinds of angst a person can feel, and what if that is what I hear instead of, “Monkey!” What if that is what gets imprinted into my memory when what I want is to hear only the happy ghost of you, rich?)

Coffee in hand, I finally go tell Shane that “my brother is sick, he’s in the hospital again.” He nods; he too has heard these words too many times. I go about my morning in the dark, still in my pjs, pulling down my overnight bag and packing a change of clothes and wondering if there are hotels near the hospital.

(I promise I was poised to swoop in, to do my part, my side of the story.)

I pick up my phone and send a text to your girlfriend. I’ve never met her and this is a lousy way to become introduced, but I do it. I text, “This is Mary, I’m 5 hours away. Can you ask doctor if I should come now?” A reply comes pinging, almost immediate, “I’m so sorry. He passed away 10 mins ago.”

You think I would fall down or smash the bathroom mirror with my phone. You think I would keen and scream. You think I would rip the hair from my head, but I do not. I think only, “no.” I think, “he is sick and has an infection.” My fingers shake violently as I pick up my overnight bag, lost as to what I should do next because you have changed the way it goes.

You had an infection and the hospital had put in the IV and the calls had been made and blood tests done, all rapidly. So now comes the part where I come in and they say, “He is very sick,” and I nod and they tell me what needs to be done and I take out a book to read and update family and friends and settle in and you smile at me and thank me and I say of course and we make small talk and then talk about our growing up years and we remember mom and dad, the good and the bad, and you tell me something about your kids and I tell you something about mine and I sneak you coffee from somewhere other than the cafeteria and you sleep and I watch and you mumble in your sleep and I keep constant vigil until you fucking get better.

That is how it works. Not this.


Fashion forward.

“The discomfort I feel in my body is a result of a negative belief.”

She repeated the words and though the words were heavy as they fell out of her mouth, the words were necessary and their heaviness turned to buoyancy as she again, then again, repeated the words.

The discomfort I feel in my body is a result of a negative belief.

But, what was it? It’s true she felt discomforted. The anxiety started up every day, sometimes in the shining morning and sometimes in the calm of the afternoon, but always at some point, the drumming would begin and the tightening in her stomach would become harder and harder to ignore.

Damn it, she’d think. Now what is wrong? The unease was like coming down with a cold. It was like feeling the beginnings of a sore throat and the dawning that one was getting sick. That’s how it was with the nerves. Faint at first, then rising and rising from her stomach in a great upward whirl until it hugged her chest then became stuck in her throat, leaving her stunned and immobile wherever it encountered her: driving in the morning commute, sitting at her desk at work, lying in bed on the weekend with a throwaway book.

So, again, what was it? What was the negative belief?

It took teasing and testing, picking apart possibilities, trying on negative belief statements that didn’t feel quite right and discarding them, shrugging them off. It took tears and a shaky heart and trembling hands. And, it took the compassion and warmth and wisdom and guidance of a counselor who showed her different options and who had gained her trust over a whole year of groundwork.

It shook itself loose, finally, and there like a beacon lie the negative belief. It was: If she spoke up or created a boundary, she would get in trouble.

The realization was a relief, even as it struck her as unfathomable. She was an adult woman, after all. She was smart, she was realistic, she knew all kinds of interesting things and she had lived through what felt like a series of lifetimes in her one lifetime. She had dealt with hysterias and death and money problems and career crises, and broken hearts, and parenthood dilemmas, and yet there it was: If she spoke up or created a boundary, she would get in trouble.

Next: A replacement belief. Something to shuffle in when the feeling came that she would get in trouble if naming something truthful. What could she impart into her own psyche to substitute for faulty beliefs?

Her therapist lobbed a couple her way, and she either shrugged them aside, or shook her head vehemently: No, not a fit.

She was told she would know when there was a fit, of course. And so she waited for the message and tried on a wardrobe of possibilities, discarding and rebelting and retying the scarves this way and that, finding the fit, finding the fit.

“That is beautiful,” a voice said, when she had finally found the thing that worked, when she finally turned from the mirror. It was the replacement belief, worn in comfort. It was true and without effort and needed no accessory. It was complete, it was real. It was the look of progress.


Black felt in the forest.

In the wood where all was wild, I spied there a wet mare, her hair dark and shining with lather. I saw her legs quiver, her mouth pulled tight. I approached slowly and folded my hands around her head softly, gently untying the laces to remove her blinders. I saw her eyes flash and darken, first dancing over all the periphery and then, well trained for the long road ahead, she turned down to gaze at the ground, to avoid the ramble and mutiny of color and movement there in the strange forest where she was found.

(But how? How did this track horse loosen herself from the jockey of life, early life where the jumps ahead were so habitually practiced whilst she ran around and around the footpath? Or, later, from hearing the ‘go!’ shot and shooting off into a frenetic race, intent on stopping only when her heart finally burst?)

A one-trick pony, a show horse, half-animal and half-machine, I saw she was ragged and tired, having galloped on and on, even in the absence of any whip. Did she know where she was, I wondered. I said aloud into the cool air: Do you see there are no spectators? No throng of bet-makers wagering on your fate? I reached out to touch her and felt her flinch under my touch—felt her muscles flex in tension and felt the anxiety that vibrated in the space around her. I said words of comfort and compassion, soft words meant to soothe and steady. I looked into her eyes as one looks into a mirror.

For many moments, we stayed that way, speaking without a common language. (I dropped the felt blinders into the tall grass.)