“Ash”

This is a product of our Wednesday Writers group, following some discussion on the Haiku form. It’s remarkable how much emotion can be distilled into a 5-7-5 syllable, 3-line poem. It’s brevity at its best. Ashley Capes wonders, “Do haiku essentially say nothing beautifully, or say beautiful things with just a few words?”

There are many nuances and tangents with haiku, depending on the subject matter and effect the author wants to create. Mine tend to the Senryu, which focuses on humanity, sometimes with satire. I set out to create one haiku, but ended with a series around a theme.

I wasn’t able to share this with the group at the time, but I think I can leave it here now.

I don’t believe in
Ghosts, but I am certainly
Haunted. You rise again.

Glow from my burning
past warms only my outer shell.
The heart remains cold.

It is hard to think.
You sat just here, smiling or drunk.
Ash does not recline.

I wake. never sure
what day it is, week, month, year.
Death bends time on itself.

I should write something
that is not sad, so my smile
will match my words.

I was betrayed once
For many years. The surprise
Still waits when I wake.

A cold day in hell,
Or just Missouri weather.
I’ll not take you back.

In the end, we are
Fish mouths, closing and open.
The air escapes us.

The Unexpected Gift

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I like the story about Ringo Starr, drummer for the Beatles, that reveals his difficulty singing. He has no range, and so his band mates wrote a song that had about 5 notes in his vocal ability and they recorded it. “I Get By (With A Little Help From My Friends)”. The ultimate expression of how many can come together to create a whole.

When I found myself bereft of spouse, congregation, and friends, I thought I would just have to make myself stronger. More self-sufficient. Get used to the loneliness. But there was a surprise.

The loneliness doesn’t really go away, but it doesn’t have to be all-consuming. Out of nowhere (it seemed) people came in to my orbit that lent me their voices. Widows who had been through death before. Relatives of addicts who didn’t doubt my powerlessness to save another person because they had stood in it also. Wives who had received the knowledge that they would be widows in the near future. And women who simply paid attention, had a heart for empathy, and did not hesitate to reach out.

One dear lady messaged me every morning on my Facebook account, just to check in and say she was thinking of me and wishing me a good day. Every. Single. Morning. This went on for about 2 months, then tapered off to a few times a week, and now once a month or so. It was astonishing. And I was so grateful, because here was someone I barely knew who took a few moments to think of me and let me know I was still in the world, still breathing, and I could carry on a little while longer.

A writer friend sent periodic emails to encourage me, and one sent an actual card and handwritten letter on the Yahrzeit of my husband’s death. Her stories and indomitable sense of humor are still an inspiration to me. Ladies who volunteered to meet me and my kids for an afternoon of not thinking about life. The thoughtful present “just because”. The sister who lets me call her after 11pm for a pep talk.

These unexpected gifts have been scattered through my year like bread crumbs leading me back to a sense of normalcy. I treasure every one. None is forgotten. Where others have disappointed and abandoned me in my time of need, I have been provided with more precious options with a deeper quality.

Some days you barely get by. But Ringo and his friends knew a little something about that. And now, so do I.

10 Reasons Survivors Should Shut-Up

It took a long time for me to speak publicly about my husband’s death. One year, actually. I didn’t do it out of any cry for attention, but for a need to acknowledge the truth with other people (no takey-backsies), and clear the way for a more positive future.

Not everyone was pleased.

I knew I had done the right thing when friends of friends and complete strangers began contacting me, thanking me for being forthright. They shared their stories of terminal illness, ugly divorces, losing the love of their life – but suffering in silence because no one in their circle wanted to talk about it.

But for a lot of survivors, close family and friends react negatively, outraged that you are sharing something private, exposing “dirty laundry”, or somehow speaking ill of the dead. The well-documented reasons for this closely follow aspects of the grieving process itself – which they themselves are unaware of. And so, they lash out.

Here are 10 reasons why:

1. Anger  Family and friends may feel anger at the person who died – angry for leaving too soon, angry that they made poor life choices, angry that they didn’t make up old feuds before they died – and this gets redirected at you.

2. Embarrassment  Some are embarrassed to be associated with a person who has had problems, or the people who talk about it.

3. Guilt  We hold a lot of guilt about what-might-have-been. We wished we had gotten help sooner, discovered a cure, held their hand at the end. Talking (or reading) about death brings all of that back to the surface.

4. Shame  They may carry secrets or have shared in destructive behavior with the deceased, and now feel shame about their part in the loved one’s story.

5. The Need for a Scapegoat  Sometimes you just want to pin all that guilt and anger and shame on something else and drive it out of town. By transferring the blame to a living person, they feel like their pain is directed at someone who can hear them, and yet is beneath them enough that they do not have to accept responsibility for the pain they themselves inflict on the scapegoat.

6. Ignorance  A surprising number of people are not fully aware that people grieve in different ways. They have never heard of grief therapy, don’t attend many art exhibits or concerts where this was a theme, and don’t seek out educational literature. They don’t know what they don’t know.

7. Resentment   They may secretly resent the fact that you survived and your spouse did not. They may feel you didn’t do enough to save her, or that you didn’t stick with him to the bitter end. This is a little like guilt, but they’re transferring it to you. Instead of being their guilt, they make it guilt they believe you should feel. Instead of saying “I could have done more,” they say, “You should have done something!”

8. The Need to Revise History  Lots and lots of people just do not want to remember the facts. It’s why everyone has their own version of “the good old days”. In grief, some want to re-frame history to suit their picture of the deceased and your relationship with them. They are crafting a new version of reality for themselves, and it has nothing to do with the truth. (Or, really, you.)

9. Denial – Denial is like quicksand. The more you struggle against it, the deeper you sink. Some people just don’t want to believe the words you say apply to the person they thought they knew, or the one they are trying to create. (See #8.)

10. Inability to De-center  We see ourselves as the center of our world and everything else revolving around us. When a survivor speaks up, this is perceived as a personal attack, an act of hurtfulness perpetrated on them from something in their orbit. They cannot step outside of their place as the center of their world to look through your eyes (and see themselves as something in your orbit). De-centering is a skill in empathy, and those who can shift their center more easily have higher empathetic abilities. The opposite also applies.

None of these are good reasons for survivors to shut-up.

It’s easy to discount someone else’ experience, to minimize their pain. The truth is, not a lot of people my age know what it is like to lose a spouse. Even fewer are familiar with losing a spouse who was also a substance abuser. That’s why I write about it. I needed this information. I searched for months to find the few people brave enough to voice their stories. I would like other sufferers to know they are not alone much sooner than I did.

But I can not (yet) know what it is to lose a sibling, a parent, or a child. That grief is different. I respect and honor that, while at the same time having an awareness that our grief is parallel only in some places. You cannot see me from where you are standing, any better than I can see you. We can only keep trying to reach out and bring things into focus.

Some in your life – and those who walk out of it – believe that Time Heals All Wounds, preferably in silence. They don’t want to hear what you have to say, read what you have written, and may react for reasons you can only speculate about. Wish them well and carry on. Their journey is their business. Accept that they are no longer willing to be a companion on yours. There are others just ahead to help you carry the load.