The date repeatedly magnified in front of my face on the oversized black- and-white 2010 calendar, the only wall décor in the attorney’s office where I sat for three and a half hours (no, she didn’t tell me she was charging per hour!) rehashing a month-long account of what had propelled me to file divorce proceedings against my then husband.
Trying to grasp the end of my 19-year marriage, my stressed brain couldn’t differentiate between November 1st and November 2nd, and which one commemorated All Saint’s Day and which one was All Souls’ Day.
If you are not familiar with the dates, the internet definitions are below:
All Saints’ Day, also known as All Hallows’ Day, Hallowmas, the Feast of All Saints, or Solemnity of All Saints, is a Christian solemnity celebrated on November 1 in honor of all the saints of the church, whether they are known or unknown.
All Souls’ Day, also known as the Commemoration of All the Faithful Departed and the Day of the Dead, is a day of prayer and remembrance for the souls of those who have died, which is observed by Latin Catholics and other Christian denominations annually on November 2.
I finally realized that November 2nd was indeed “the Day of the Dead.” From that bleak day forward, the day slapped a bookmark into the pages of my life and paused a full spool of memories made prominent with lace-up-the sneakers, leaf-peeping adventures. From that autumn on, it took eight years to refill the fall time colors into my black-and-white, gray-hued calendar world. Finally, the afternoon arrived when I drove through the neighborhood, and the sudden sight of crimson, golden leaves inspired me to recite poetry out loud in the car.
A year after color poured back into the lines of my life, little did I realize that the bottom of my world would completely unhinge, and I would be left fluttering around in a pool of profound grief that became my permanent autumn shadow.
Recalling the eight years of robbed autumn color, I appreciate the reawakened awareness of the hues. Consequently, they will never represent the same brazen fire irons they once did. Long lost are the years when the children were young, and we sipped fresh steaming apple cider that wafted through our sunny kitchen with an aroma that was a recipe to create optimistic dreams that seemed as real as finding the perfect fit in a new pair of lace-up sneakers.
Of course, some memories can be like leaves running their final course and dropping silently like dribbles of rain, composting and disappearing into the good earth. Clearly, in the cycle of life, there are new seeds to sow, harvest and grow.
Time takes time. There are no magic seeds that bloom instantly. From November 2nd, 59 days remain until the end of the year when the earth is frigid and stubborn. From there, all we can do is mull around in the new year and wait until spring softens the ground. Live a day at a time. Drink steaming hot cocoa to compensate for winter’s barren wasteland and warm us with the faith of knowing we have passed another day of life’s test, and we are in the process of learning an important lesson: patience. Colors may fade, strip and vanish, but year after year, cycle after cycle, the master painter’s palette is infinite.
When my children were young, the first sharp breeze, autumn’s precursor, stirred my enthusiasm. It signaled for me to uncover a special jewelry box and open the top drawer gathering dust from the year before. Inside was a treasure of assorted inexpensive trinkets that I spent seasons past unearthing at flea markets and tag sales. To me, though, the pieces were priceless because they helped me amplify the excitement of holiday time. Halloween kicked off the tradition. Two weeks before October 31st, I reached for my favorite troll pumpkin earrings and cottony ghost pin.
Earrings dangling and pin attached to my top, I performed the annual traipse up the attic stairs and started to pull out the jack-o’-lantern and fall leaf wreath. Christmas carols played in the background simply because I lacked a repertoire of Halloween music.
As a first-generation American child, my parents, both Eastern European immigrants, were not accustomed to Halloween. When I trick-or-treated around the neighborhood, I either went alone or joined a family a few blocks away. Each holiday, I wore the same old sheet I had worn the year before. My favorite part was at the end of the night when I came home and uncovered the scarcely distributed Hershey Bars among the bag of loot. An hour later, the juicy crunch of a fresh apple lessened the overly sweetening taste in my mouth from my consuming endless tootsie rolls and candy corn pieces.
I’ll never forget the Halloween when the TV news broadcast warned about evildoers hiding razors in apples. Learning about the deplorable act marked my innocence with its first blemish and elicited a spooky creaking door effect on my world, my first experience in adult boot camp.
After Halloween passed, my parents were big on church during Christmas, but, apart from that, they both worked tirelessly and viewed Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays as a burden. Looking back, my mother was completely bereft of organizational strategies, and her cooked meals turned out to be so late that my much older brothers had typically disappeared by dinnertime. She was exhausted and couldn’t eat. My father rushed through his meal, famished. I ended up eating my holiday meals in solitude.
It made sense that when I celebrated the holidays with my own family, I compensated for what lacked in the holiday memories of my youth. It all started with cracking open the dusty jewelry box and then pulling out the big decorations from the attic. A lot of the household décor I purchased the day after Christmas, long before frugal consumers understood the extent of the meaning behind “After-Holiday Sale!” savings. Christmas, in fact, got to a point where all the household décor was switched out for holiday ornamentation. Instead of one tree, we had two. We started with one fresh green pine and one white artificial that later transitioned into another artificial tree.
My then husband was not as keen on Thanksgiving and Christmas as I was. I feared I had recreated a familiar pattern, but I did appreciate how he loved escorting our kids trick-or-treating. Looking back, his crafted jack-o’-lantern had to be the spiffiest looking one in our neighborhood.
There wasn’t a moment that I did not burst with gratitude during any of the holidays, always feeling as if I were given a second chance to experience the magical component in them, and it started with flipping the lid open on the one dusty jewelry box. Even when some of the mostly China-made jewelry broke, I kept the pieces. To dispose of them was like discarding joy.
Some women might, rightly so, feel privileged by wearing mega-sized diamonds. For me, nothing could replace the delight I felt from the colorful plastic holiday turkeys on my jacket’s lapel and Christmas light bulb earrings catching on the collars of my clothes.
I am sure, if tragedy had not struck, I would continue to keep the jewelry box in my over-protective hands while woolgathering about myself dressed as a real-life ornament, a walking signal of joy among my future tribe of grandchildren. Instead, my hands are robbed by grief. The first sign was last year when I discarded the broken jewelry, only to slam the box shut, unable do anything else.
This year, I sorted through the rest of my holiday jewelry and then cleaned and polished the box before donating everything to Goodwill. As I did, I pictured the young children out there and moms who are cozy and busy with their lives, so much the way I had been. I know someone will uncover the stash at Goodwill with new eyes and hope for the future. Someone, I anticipate, who felt the same blissful way at Goodwill when they unearthed my freshly cleaned wedding gown that finally I was able to part with three years ago.
Like seasons, holidays are the ebb and flow of life. I read recently something I never knew. “Ebb and flow” means that sometimes our life flows toward our hopes and dreams, and sometimes it flows away. I see it as the rising and falling ocean, a harmony that can only continue if we hold tight while learning to surf, because the raw truth is, at one point or another, we realize we are all novices and there is no mastery at life, especially when it shocks us into knowing how true this is, and we are left grappling with abstract ideas like the meaning of faith.
One more day: I muster up blind faith and a guileless swagger. I am determined that my heartbreak won’t leak through the metal armor. The mission is to not allow a sobbing storm to leak through anyone’s rooftop and ruin his or her day, which, of course, doesn’t always work. I appreciate the super slim portion of the population that can actually affirm grief and heartbreak and unpredictability and let it be. I also appreciate the people who can look at life squarely without washing over any of it.
One more day: The morning’s first vitamin goes down easily as I swallow a small pint of water from a recycled jelly jar. The ritual started about 10 years ago when each and every day outran me, waking up in the morning with a duplicate to-do list in my hand from the day before. In those days, I was obsessed about crow’s feet around my eyes. My face was turning into a vase cracking from frequent use, decade after decade. Now, I ignore the lines, wrinkles and my face breaking as the days sit on me like topsoil.
A few weeks ago, I “kissed a ceiling fan” clueless to the oscillating fan since I was cleaning and intent on getting rid of dust bunnies. That night in the hospital’s emergency room, I ended up with nine stitches on my upper eyelid. Later, over the next course of days, I laid in bed at home alone weeping privately.
Afterwards, my therapist Louis got it right when he said, “The trauma exasperated the trauma.”
In fact, the painful accident felt like a contradiction. I finally looked outside the way I felt inside, and it felt like a relief. I didn’t have to hide anymore. It takes up so much energy to hide behind a smiley emoji.
How are you? People ask me in passing.
What would happen if I revealed the raw truth instead of participating in small talk? “Most days, I really don’t want to go on.”
Fine. I’m absolutely fine.
Today is going to be a great day!
In 1984, I began my journey as a mind warrior picking positive thoughts and affirmations along the way. By the time I became a mom, I was determined to raise little mind warriors who grew up into big mind warriors. I can remember my son’s seven-year-old face reflected in my bedroom’s mirror, reciting affirmations that I taught him: I am smart. I deserve to be happy. No matter how hard it is, I can do it.
When times were tough, I convinced my ex-husband, We can do it. He, on the other hand, affirmed, We’ll make it. Year after year, times became tougher. We can do it.
In our end years before I filed for a divorce, I reminded him, We can do it.
It’s a lie. We are failing. I hate my job. I hate the rat race. I hate this town. I hate this state. We are losing the house. We are behind the eight ball. Affirming something that isn’t true is a lie.
I heard what my ex-husband said, but I did not or could not make myself believe it. It was going to be okay. Of course, it wasn’t okay. Our marriage not only tanked, but life became like sitting on the edge of a hardwood chair with no flooring underneath. I felt like most of my affirmations and positive thoughts ended up as fulfilling as sweat on the heal of the hand.
As my son’s young world took shape into adulthood, instead of reciting affirmations, he sarcastically started to announce each day with, “Another day in paradise.”
I shuttered when I heard his description, but I, too, denied that I intuitively knew it was a dark foreshadowing of the future.
In the past, the autumn days represented red, gold and tangerine colors, and new to-do lists that involved purging closets. Now, I manage the autumn in slow motion, holding on stubbornly to the dead summer. After all, the fall marks the autumn of my son’s life. He did not make it to the winter solstice and the return of more sunlight.
We’ll make it. Sometimes my ex-husband’s voice bellows in all its youth and springtime vigor in my mind, and for a fleeting second, I see the four of us all young again, wearing forever smiles. And, I recall my long-ago affirmations: I am abundant; God cannot give me a desire without it already being mine.
Then my three fingers pinpoint my heartbreak in the middle of my chest, safely tucked away beneath the metal of armor.
Next weekend, we have a party we are invited to, and I am buffing my armor, getting ready. One of the guys who is attending and whom I ran into recently exclaimed, “Get your dancing shoes on.”
I am amazed at his unawareness. How clueless he is to assume that I live life in the same manner I used to when I had free rein of closets overstuffed with dancing shoes. Some might call my place in life prolonged grief, conveniently paint over it and make it pretty so it’s easily friended by millions of strangers. Others erase grief as they once erased my son because of his taciturn manner. Others direct me to move on and lament over how I am stuck in the past. Then there are a select few who know that grief is something you can’t lift, like age, and it isn’t something to fill and fix like Botox on crow’s feet.
It’s there always, like the inner peace I was gifted with nearly 37 years ago. Now, I’m learning how to shuffle everything within me to make space for the grief. For me, the process is like inching around in a new pair of stiff shoes.
One more day: I alone can do it without anyone’s bird’s eye view of my world, because I learned in these nearly two years that bird’s eye views are dangerously limited.
One more day: It’s a different day, yet it kicks in with the same vitamin and joint supplement regime that stays with me along with drinking it all down in a repurposed glass that I savor, because I am acutely aware of how repurposing is an end-of-life strategy that doesn’t always hold water and no positive thought or affirmation will ever make it any different.
Nearly a month ago, my neighbors’ only child, I’ll call her Felicity (one of my favorite names!), about whom I’ve written a previous blog post, relocated to attend a college about four hours away from home. I’ve not seen her mom, but her dad, as I’ve written about prior, is having a difficult time dealing with her departure.
All grief, as far as I am concerned, as I’ve also written about before, is valid. Whether you mourn the lose of a pet turtle or death of a child or grieve a child who has catapulted into the next stage of life, there is an infinite roll-out of feelings and emotions associated with a sense of loss. Grief is a natural response to a painful or traumatic experience that is part of the human condition over which we have no control over. This time, hearing my neighbor share a part of his heartbreak involving his daughter, I was able to step completely outside my personal emotional pain and maneuver my way onto the bridge that connects us humans better than Crazy Glue: empathy.
His tone had an absorbing melancholy when he discussed the slow fade of time. In other words, in retrospect, although you’re going all out, have both feet planted on the pedals, it’s a losing race.
“The house has a different energy about it without her,” he vocalized as his head tilted downward.
Energy. Yes, I thought, life is energy. In this same vein, his daughter’s departure could be a song: Felicity is packed. Ready to go. Boxes and bags, belongings and energy flow. All her belongings, only to leave us longing.
Thinking deeper about this, Felicity disappeared from her house, but not completely. You see, Biology 101 teaches us that the body’s cells and organs work together to keep the body going, to make it the energy field that it is. As a safeguard, the body is also equipped with many natural defenses to help it stay alive. For instance, in order to fight infections, we humans “lose 200,000,000 skin cells every hour. During a 24-hour period, a person loses almost five thousand million skin cells.” In one year, the total amount of dead skin loss per person is more than eight pounds, that’s about as big as a Labrador puppy.
The process is our human way of shedding. What falls off us collects as dust. All those fast-flying gossamer bunnies you find nesting in the corner of the radiator and on your tables and windowsills are amassed mostly of former bits of yourself, which, in turn, provide a gourmet haven for dust mites!
And, here’s the point I’m getting at. About 20 years ago, I heard a renowned historic preservation architect speak. If you don’t know already, a historic preservation architect helps preserve old buildings that have historical value. Anyway, he said that each time a building is demolished, not only do we witness an inanimate object disappear, but, along with it, is the annihilation of a trail in human history – thousands upon thousands of shredded cells from the lives that once laughed, loved and experienced the many highs and lows of life on the premises. The architect’s somber talk, which kept me on the edge of my seat and on the verge of tears, changed my life forever.
In my own house, built in 1980, after hearing the talk, I thought about the “remains” of the two families that lived here prior to us. Even though I am a germophobe, I know that they have left their marks in secret places that are spared from my cleaning habits. Sadly, the boy in the second family died in a horrific accident when he was 13. My children went to school with him and they always felt creeped out to know he lived in our home. His bedroom was where I once housed my office. His shreds of long-ago life filled me with faith and reminds me that he matters.
In essence, Felicity and her energy are gone, but her shredded skin still coats her house like angel dust. And this goes for my departed son, mom (my dad passed away before he ever could see our house), brother and my relocated daughter, our pets, and even ex-husband who lives in a state 600 miles away, not to mention all the many friends, extended family and acquaintances who have crossed my house’s threshold to visit over this 20-year span. Yes, they are all here somewhere in places invisible to the naked eye, but still close, like a whisper in my ear. Their remains peeled off during ebbs and flows in the tide of their lives. They are all part of my household history like my own skin that sheds at this very moment as I stroke my creative muse. We partner peacefully, drifting, weaving tapestries from everything repurposed, sustainable and with a thread of hope that they will last through the remainder of the century and, if possible, push farther into the next dusty trail that sometimes seems like a riverbend ahead.
Twenty-two is an unlucky number for one of my closest friends. The reason she feels it is jinxed is that her mother died on the 22nd of September. The number, on the other hand, is a favorite one of mine, not necessarily lucky or unlucky, but a good powerful number in my eyes, and it was just happenstance that I was born on the 22nd of August, which happens to be five days away.
Don’t ask me what I’m doing for my birthday; likely, hiding under a clamshell, which is my plan every year that is yet to materialize. I think most suicide survivors have an incredible array of feelings and emotions to contend with when their birthdays roll around, beginning with “Why?” and ending with “Why?” and in the middle, a gossamer-spun dark cloak of shame, guilt, regret, sadness.
I spent my life grappling with depression that skyrocketed at adolescence. A few years after my last suicide attempt at 23, the darkest period of my life, I met an exceptionally trained, intuitively gifted psychiatrist. He presented me with an interesting theory. He said mental health experts were finding a growing body of evidence to suggest that when a mother considers aborting her child, but decides to birth it, the child is more prone to develop suicidal tendencies and thoughts throughout his or her life.
Now, I don’t know if my mom thought about aborting me. But I wouldn’t hold it against her. She had her two sons well over a decade before I crashed the party. I know for sure that it was not a surprise, but a shock for her to get pregnant for the third time. I know my mom was 36 and tired when she birthed me. All in all, I’m uncertain if that theory holds water as far as my mother is concerned, but it’s still an intriguing one.
As fate would have it and as I’ve mentioned in previous blog posts, I started to turn my life around more than 36 years ago, which doesn’t mean I still don’t wrestle with the gang of crazies that drop by uninvited inside my brain every once in a while. They set up a picnic there and start clamoring in dialogue laced with self-hatred and negativity. With the help of others, I’ve trained myself to block out the mental invasion. Some people at retirement age have achieved the level of mastery in their chosen field. I, in contrast, have achieved self-mastery. That accomplishment has brought me here, five days away from another birthday, four decades after my near-fatal 23rd year.
Since our family tragedy 21 months ago, I am flooded with memories of my birthday that involved my son. The last time I celebrated my birthday with him was five years ago. I remember feeling my usual self: in-sync and in harmony whenever I was with him. I don’t fully recall what we did, which was likely an informal dinner at our house, but I believe my son brought me a sweet card as he usually did, always signing it at the end with “Love” and then his first and last name. His custom signature struck me funny each and every time. Like I don’t know who my son is, and he has to sign his last name just to make sure? I always thought to myself after I read his cards.
My son wanted to strike out on his own from the time he hit adolescence. His idea of growing up was relocating to another state. A few years prior to the final birthday I spent with him, he had driven from the New England area with a friend, who was relocating to North Dakota. As it turned out this so-called friend just used him as a driving companion and, after their arrival, at the end of the week when this so-called friend settled in with his family that resided in the state, he fought with my son. Ultimately, in a rage, he drove my son to the airport, kicked him out of the car and threw his luggage and belongings after him before he rode away to his happily-ever life. Fortunately, a homeless man helped my son gather his items spewed all over the airport terminal. Needless to say, I paid a hefty price for his return flight that night, but I was delighted to do it. His life was priceless. I was so relieved when he returned home to us. In fact, I almost fainted from the feeling of euphoria the moment I saw him stroll, safe and whole, into my view at the airport terminal.
My son was always the restless type. He wanted to relocate to so many places all the time. The raw truth is, he wasn’t going to stay HERE on this earth for very long. He possessed a tumbleweed spirit. It’s ironic how often he, too, said he wanted to move to the desert out west one day, where tumbleweed thrives.
Anyway, four years ago I spent a lovely Sunday enjoying barbecue on our outside deck. I bid him goodbye without realizing how short our time together was in so many different ways. He had been living with his godmother, Pat, at the time. The next day, August 14, a Monday, he woke up and took her by surprise. He was packed and ready to go. Out of the blue he announced, “If I don’t do it now, I’ll never do it.”
I was also clueless to the plan he executed when he moved from our state and drove away in the hopes of creating a better life for himself in Bowling Green, Kentucky. The trajectory, of course, was the beginning of his demise.
He left no trail behind. After I learned the news of his departure four years ago, I was hard hit and felt abandoned and betrayed over his behavior to dash off without notice and without waiting long enough to at least celebrate my birthday together. Mind you, everyone in Bowling Green was a stranger to him. He had no job waiting there for him. He only had his car and a small amount of savings. He was doomed from the start, and I knew it. All I thought about was how I wasn’t able to give him a proper goodbye or proper send-off with a small family gathering or a card or present. It just didn’t feel right from the start.
Miraculously, he pulled it off. After a rough start, he secured successful employment with an incredible company that mandated college classes and on-the-job training. Scoring an 86 in trigonometry, his least favorite subject, he proved to be a solid “A” student all the way. However, he failed when it came to shutting down the demons in his mind for very long. In the end, the raw truth is, they won his soul at 26 as they came so close to winning mine at 23.
Every birthday I celebrated as a mother, all I wanted from my children was their presence. I was grateful from the second I found out they were in my belly. In fact, their godmother and I prayed over my belly for months before both of their births.
No other “stuff” could come close to satisfying me on my birthdays or any other day. In Bowling Green, my son nearly forgot my birthdays when they rolled around. I didn’t care in the least. My present was seeing how well he was doing and feeling so good about his course in life. That’s where I deposited my faith: wellness and success. It sounds corny as heck, but my greatest joy was to watch him and my daughter grow up into strong, capable, healthy adults.
Since the tragedy, grief has beat me down to a pulp of an apricot, but it has not warped my sense of gratitude. This year will be my second birthday living a “new normal” while hiding under a clamshell sounds appealing and homey.
Likely, though, when the 22nd hits, I will shower and change into something I haven’t worn for awhile, and join the kids’ godmother or someone else in my tiny circle and go out for lunch or dinner and mark the occasion in solidarity.
Another day in paradise, I can hear my son remark sarcastically as he so often did in his latter years.
Yes, I say to myself, “Another day in paradise” with a nuance of true meaning in the words. I imagine a sun-kissed, sandy seascape where there exists clam shells galore for the sole purpose of feeling as if you’re grateful to be alive.
As promised from my last blog, there’s more to the Where’s George story. After I replied to my fellow Georgers’ email, she wrote a subsequent email with the subject “your son + forum post”
Here is her email:
“Dear Stacy, My heart is so sad for you and for your son. I have lost people very close to me, so I know what that’s like, but I’ve heard people say nothing compares to losing one’s child. And to have the added effects of knowing he took his own life…I can understand why you say it’s unbearable. I hope you’re being patient with yourself and kind to yourself.”
It was another Georger who posted your hit to the forums. There’s not much to the post, but the fact that he posted it says to me that he was as touched as I was. I’m glad our thoughts and my note were helpful to you. Please take care of you. Delta“
I replied to Delta:
“Dear Delta, And I will forever be touched by your kindness. In fact, though most times it feels impossible to “take care of me,” encouragement from folks like you help me inch forward. Again, I can’t thank you enough.” Sincerely, Stacy
After I replied to Delta’s email, I signed into the Where’s George forum and found the original post that Delta referred to in her email. The other Georger calls himself “snagmolion” in the forums. His post about my wheresgeorge.com bill that I posted, and commented about, on the tracker is below:
“. . . not “fun” in the usual way, but poignant enough to share, I thought . . . you never know how folks will respond when they find our bills.”
Imagine that! Snagmolion is not only a cool guy, but a compassionate guy. Goes to show, acts of kindness can derive from a simple smile at a stranger, bringing a neighbor fresh garden produce “just because” or spreading love through cash.
As a matter of fact, after doing a bit of research, I found that Snagmolion has been a member of the Where’s George community since 2013. He has circulated 21,249 bills and has posted 3,855 times!
My reply? “Thanks so much Snagmolion for your act of empathy. In a flash of kindness, you have infused faith into my dark world. Keep helping brighten the world, one bill at a time.”Sincerely, Stacy
All I can say, at this point, is faith can be found in the strangest of places. Sometimes no GPS required. It’s right inside your pocket.
I started tracking U.S. currency on Where’s George?, the official currency tracking project, in 2003 when my son was 10 and my daughter 8. By the time my children reached adolescence, the novelty wore off for them. For me, the project captured my full attention. I eagerly watched for bills stamped or written with messages like “currency tracking project” and “Track me at WheresGeorge.com.”
As an official “Georger,” once I find a bill to track, before spending it, I log into my portal on the tracking site and enter the bill’s serial number. From there, I can also view the bill’s history, where the bill traveled and read pertinent comments from other Georgers. In addition, if any of my recorded bills get hits, I receive an email alert.
The Where’s George? website is the brainchild of Hank Eskin, a former tech consultant. He launched the website in 1998 as just “a quirky idea.”
On my “Georging” mission, about 11 years ago when I lived with a child-like faith, once while the bank teller was counting about 50 dollar bills, I happen to see a red streak of color. I convinced the teller to go through each bill. Fortunately, our search proved fruitful, and she located the stamped WheresGeorge.com bill and handed it over before I had to face the line of riled up customers waiting behind me.
Though it was fun, I didn’t take it seriously and certainly didn’t get anywhere near a top bill tracker. Of the 23 bills I recorded in 17 years, only three have had hits across the country. My hit rate is a measly 13.04%.
The last 9 years has been a series of faith tests with each one that feels more unachievable than the next. During this period, it is likely I may have overlooked George bills or they simply haven’t crossed my path, but there have been few and far between. In fact, between 2017 until February 2020, three months after my 26-year-old son died, I did not spot any Where’s George? bills.
This changed in February 2020 when I found a WheresGeorge.com stamped bill. It had been so long that I had to reset my password, but I did manage to get back into my portal. In turn, I simply recorded the serial number and commented, “This bill was part of the mall merchant’s change that I received.”
More recently, on August 15, I found another dollar and this is the comment I left on the tracker:
“I received this bill as part of my change yesterday at the nail salon. Its in fairly good shape; Wheres George.com is written in red all over it! Second Wheres George bill I found since losing my son, and it gave me a sense of familiar comfort.”
On August 18, I received an email alert and the following comment took me by surprise:
“Someone noticed your comment and shared this bill in the Where’s George forums. I’m sad to hear that you lost your son and I wanted you to know some of your fellow Georgers are thinking of you.”
This was my reply:
It was an unexpected, heartfelt surprise to receive your email. In fact, it brought tears to my eyes. I tried to find your post on the forum, but came up dry.
I can’t thank you enough for taking the time to reach out. My son will be gone 9 months tomorrow. He was a compassionate, honest, hardworking 26-year-old who was too good for this hard, cruel world. After a valiant fight, he took his own life.
It’s unbearable to learn to live with grief combined with great remorse and guilt. He was not only the best son a mother could ever ask for, but my best bud too. Some days it is very hard to get through, but today you and my fellow Georgers helped to make it possible. Again, I can’t thank you enough.
Stay well. Stay grounded. STAY.
I wrote my reply quickly. When I reread it, what resonated with me was how I described my son’s “valiant fight.” I thought about his suicide in terms of a cowardly flight, not brave fight, and now the wider perspective softens my feelings of anger, despair, guilt and helplessness.
The state of one’s mental health can be insidious. In my son’s case, he “looked” healthy and “performed” well on the outside. Inside, though, was an entirely different (brain) matter. I now understand he had mentally and spiritually deteriorated.
In fact, the more he worked to “prove” his “normalcy” to the world, particularly in his career and personal life, the internal demons swamped him. Many people may muddle through life, slip on occasional sandy terrain and, perhaps, wrestle with strong water currents, but I believe that, fortunately, most will not be forced to face the impervious rock-hard challenges that my son fought against. He battled against unbeatable enemies until that dark November day when he finally succumbed to depression and anxiety.
Thanks to a Georger, I come to recognize just how dependent we are on our brain wiring. And with the right wiring, we can sense a connection to others in many different ways that can help steer us back on the tracking system of faith.
Prior to living my new bereaved normal life, most of my life was based on wishful thinking. However, I relapsed into wishful thinking over the weekend. My secret desire was that “My Marsh” would provide me with a gift this past weekend on my birthday. A sign.
This kind of thinking has lead to most of my life presenting itself as a disappointment, but admittedly during my birthday, I felt a childlike sense of a scavenger hunt, waiting for “the sign.”
Though no sign arrived, I did receive bouquets of flowers, candy and other presents from loved ones. Of course, I was grateful, but my mind was soaked with sadness, remembering the last birthday I had spent with my son in 2016, because three days later he relocated 600 miles away for a “new life.”
I, along with others who loved him, was not prepared for his departure. In truth, when I learned about his last-minute move, I felt betrayed. His car packed with his meager belongings, he turned to his Godmother and proclaimed, “If I don’t go now, I will never go.”
I can write down 150 regrets right now about that moment, but I obsessed about every single one of them on my birthday, and it is unnecessary torture to list them yet again.
After he relocated to Bowling Green, Kentucky, one of his first text messages to me stated: “I have more anxiety here than I had there.”
I knew then as I know now, escaping demons feeds them, only for them to grow bigger until they are strong enough to conquer and overthrow. And, despite his remarkable career advances, he eventually lost his battle on earth, isolated and alone. He always ran looking for a kinder place and that is exactly the hope he held onto in the end.
So my first birthday after my 26-year-old son’s death was certainly not a day of celebration. However, under the regrets, guilt, remorse and reliving so many memories that slammed me into a sad state, there was a sobering peace. My greatest healing comes through silence. With that being said, I temporarily deactivated my Facebook profile.
Even though outside interference forced its way in from well-meaning loved ones and they “should” all over me by saying things like I “should be going out,” I “should be celebrating,” and so on, I held onto my own self-care program. I live the principles of “To thine own self be true.” This inscription is on a coin I carry with me everywhere. In fact, a duplicate coin, with this same inscription, I folded into my dead son’s bruised hands before the funeral home staff closed his coffin for the final time.
Actually, somewhat of a miracle it was that under the regrets, guilt, remorse and reliving so many painful memories, I was able to get out of myself periodically and think of others. I gift wrapped a small token of love for a dear fellow who is celebrating her 8-year sober anniversary this month. I cooked for our house full of special need cats. I helped search for draperies for my daughter’s new apartment.
Day’s end, faith was found in a rack of smoked ribs that my significant other surprised me with.
What people don’t realize is that grieving is an exhausting emotional process, at least for me. I have to go slow. Go silent. Not go-go-go as I did in the old days.
I’m in the slow lane now and it may not, like most of my life, be the place I choose to be in, but for today it feels safe and steady. I just have to follow the official road signs and not allow my “heart signs” to lead me in the wrong direction. It feels like I can drive responsibly as long as there is minimal interference, except, of course, when I brake for a smoking’ hearty meal that not only refuels my body, but also my soul.
Call it mermaid tears, sea glass, beach glass, ocean glass, trash glass, I have a special affinity for it.
Working for an art consultant, recently a painting “Beach Glass” struck me with its equal parts of allure and demure. The artist’s intricate composition juxtaposes indigo blots and tortoise-toned greens along with the palest of frosty crystalline shades. Tinged with a craggy texture, each gem sparkles faintly.
Inspired, I delved into researching sea glass, which is discarded and broken bottles and other glass products that the water’s waves and currents tumble and smooth. Then and there I saw my reflection in the glass.
You see, before tragedy struck, I was head over heels in love with things like flamingos and poodles. Now a sense of apathy and distance divides me from pretty things. As impossible as it would have sounded a mere eight months ago, even scheduling a medi-pedi falls way low on the priority list these days.
Instead, I am like an empty bottle discarded and abandoned on the shore, broken beyond repair. However, as sunrise rolls into sunset, I sense a glimmer of faith in a repurposed life.
I read that it can take seven to ten years in a constant surf environment for broken glass to transpose to mermaid tears.
For me, it will take a lifetime for the tactile edges to heal, become smoother with no shine, only frost. Fortunately, the hands of the living waters are gentle and as soft as a bed of seagrass.
Nearly 20 years ago, when we first moved into the house I live in now, I was awakened at the crack of dawn by a succession of mysterious flat-line whistles. I realized it was a bird.
From that day, whenever I heard the visitor outside my window, I exclaimed, “Alien Bird!” to my two young children.
We never thought of the bird until it appeared in the spring and summertime. The bird’s call signaled us to freeze, stop and listen. I associated the strange hum-like sound with joy and bit into it like a bittersweet fruit that marked each season’s passage as I witnessed my two young children grow into adolescents and, finally, young adults.
Interestingly, about five years ago, when each of my children relocated to start their own adult lives, Alien Bird disappeared, and I did not notice.
This past spring, “Alien Bird!”
For the first time at 11:30 a.m. on a Monday morning, I heard each note clear and distinct.
The call pulled at the fragments left of my heart. I pushed the grief down, but like a buoy, the painful memory resurfaced to salt my wounds. For weeks, I padded my ears with the palms of my hands and fought not to hear the triggers that amounted to a series of terrifying electrical currents, probably something akin to what death row prisoners experienced while being executed on the electric chair.
Then one day, Alien Bird made me recall, how, when my son was young, he would never respond when I first called him, “Marshall!”
It wasn’t until the second, third or fourth time, and he would finally stop what he was doing to respond. “Yea-hhhhh.”
I would feel so frustrated. “You never answer when I call you!”
In hindsight, he did answer when I called — with delay.
Now, he does not answer.
When he was alive, my son was a painfully quiet young man, who internalized everything. He had no voice. In adolescence, he was bullied and took cover best he could.
One day he said to me very intensely, “I will never be famous.”
From that moment on, he knew his life did not matter. He did not receive the worldly acceptance and accolades that I suppose on some level we all seek. He sought desperately for society’s conditional love without avail. Defeated, he fell further and further inward.
In a way, Marshall was born an alien bird who had arrived in a world where he did not belong. Today, I am building my faith stairway to reach the belief that my son has earned a custom-made seat reserved with his name inscribed on it. He has all the attention and fame possible, wrapped in a blanket of unconditional love. His toil to achieve and excel and perform has taken a final bow.
In life, he was faceless. Now, in death that dang Alien Bird shouts his name everywhere.
Lately, I eagerly await Alien Bird’s 11:30 a.m. showtime.
And, when I hear it, I say in my mind, “Sing it loud! Sing it clear! Belt out your unique song to the world without changing anything. Let everyone, far and wide, hear you. Don’t hold back. And, maybe, just may, it will wake up this tainted world with all it’s judgments, restrictions, constrictions, exclusions and lack of thought and imagination, to hear, listen and accept a voice so very unlike any voice — untrained, only natural and beautiful on it own accord. Sing it high to the heavens.