“My heart is heavy, and mine age is weak; Grief would have tears, and sorrow bids me speak.”
Shakespeare, ALLS WELL THAT ENDS WELL.
“Father, would you come over please…?”, it’s a text message I have received more that a few times over the past, almost two years from my daughter who lives across the street from me, her living that close being some of DJ’s last family handiwork. This particular evening I was not unduly alarmed as I headed out the door; on other occasions I have arrived to find her sitting on her couch, crying quietly…or not so quietly, arms wrapped around herself, perhaps sipping Green Tea. DJ’s death has provided her with some especially difficult moments and we have shared a few of them on that very couch. Early on, those times gave each of us the necessary company we needed, that being another person who was experiencing the deep sense of loss and the feeling of total devastation that the death of a long time partner or mother can bring to us. This is what I was expecting to find when I turned the key to her lock and opened the door… now, she was sitting on her couch, but her arms were not around herself, they were around her daughter, my grand daughter, Ms.McKoKo. They both appeared to be crying, but Ms.McKoKo was actually sobbing, just short of wailing. This too has not been unusual over the past months. Ms.McKoKo has been witness to everything which has happened regarding DJ’s death; altho only four when DJ really took a turn for the worse, she has struggled along with the rest of the family as DJ had rounds of doctor’s appointments, medicines, Chemo, bad days, good days…all of it. The two had become particularly close as DJ no longer worked and they were company for each other during the days. I will not try to describe the relationship they enjoyed, to say it was beyond what a grandmother feels for her children’s children might come off as trite; I will merely say this, from what I saw, what they shared was quite special. As I sat down next to my daughter she began to explain that they had been listening to some inspirational (read Gospel) music when Ms.McKoKo suddenly broke into tears, not only tears, not only the crying we have seen before, but a heavy sobbing, wailing, to the point of screaming “ I want my grandma back…!!”, over and over as her arms flailed the air and her small fist attempted to punch that elusive and unseen presence which true grief presents in it’s most unadulterated form. My daughter said she had not seen this type of outburst before and that was the reason for the text.
Now in her mother’s arms, her crying was the low, deep sobbing and heaving which we, the truly hurt, are well aware of. After saying a few things to her, assuring her that she, (not necessarily ‘it’), would be O.K., we all sat quietly for a while. My thoughts turned to all which has happened, as I said, it's a fact that Ms.McKoKo has endured a lot over the last, almost two years. As DJ’s condition deteriorated and she took to our bed more often, they often spent afternoons laying together watching TV, or her, pretending to read to DJ, or playing school or DJ having to endure the endless questions only four or five year olds can have. Ms.McKoKo turned five the March previous to the November in which DJ died, and in those final months they saw one another every day. In the final days, she was right there, next to DJ, laying her head on DJ’s chest, patting, rubbing, talking…until it was time for her to go home. I often wonder how her young mind processes what has occurred…I was about a full year older than her when my own mother died and I really can’t remember how I felt. When told that she would not be coming back, I do remember thinking about who would make me oatmeal in the mornings…and if I would still get to watch Liberace play the piano, his program came on each day right before we left out to get my older brother from school, and I do remember my mother and I watching the show. Those are things I remember, but not emotions, not how I felt. Maybe it’s a blessing for our young minds, I don’t know. On the morning DJ died Ms.McKoKo was there as the girls prepared DJ to leave the house for her final time; she was there as we sat and signed the necessary documents allowing her to be taken; she was there as we gathered around the table filled with pictures and put together the information for the obituary, her, pointing to this picture or that one in moments of recognition; she was there (and I was purposely watching her) as we sat in the church looking at the two oversize pictures of DJ which stood as smiling bookends to where DJ lay; she was there as my daughter and I sat in the car at the cemetery, clutching to each another, tears flowing freely; me, after having help carry DJ as far as I physically could in this life, but not remaining at the graveside for the lowering; Ms.McKoKo’s mother and I decided that the lowering was not a last image we thought she should have of DJ either, and I knew I didn’t want it to be mine…neither did my daughter; I already had my last image of DJ and it is fine with me. The night before DJ died the two had been together, we’re hoping that’s the image Ms.McKoKo carries forward. There’s simply no way to know what thoughts went through Ms.McKoKo’s mind as all this unfolded. Sure, later and often, there were tears, but I think this was more in response to seeing her mother and I and other family members cry as we spoke of DJ…a sort of sympathetic response I imagine. At that time she had more experience at being a four year even tho she was actually five, but that means nothing…we know it doesn’t. We can look to ourselves with the experience of many more years than she and know how helpless we still are at times in dealing with this. Each of knows just how close to brink we can be driven, with the advantage of years appearing to turn on us, allowing our minds to carry us to depths where light is absent and the idea of hope is nonexistent.
As I sat there thinking of all of this it struck me that this was all probably very natural; Ms.McKoKo is almost two years older, her thinking more developed and like us when we reach that moment of hard realization of what has actually occurred the downpour of emotions can be overwhelming. It is my belief that Ms.McKoKo had that first bite of the realization involved in this and the bitter taste of it and the dawning of thoughts that DJ will never be back is taking the same toll on her as it has and continues to take on each member of our family in our own real moments. For sure it is has to be a difficult prospect for her to deal with, we know just how hard it is for us, even being older. The outburst itself was good I think, I am glad she was able to have it and talk about being angry and asking the entire range of why’s, even tho I’m sure our answers were just as inadequate for her to accept as they are for us. Being older, we can rationalize, convince, and even lie to ourselves to make things bearable; Ms.McKoKo is getting an introduction to real life in a very tough lesson. Eventually, as we talked, she asked the questions one might expect from one so young, we tried to give her the best answers we could and made sure she understood that it was alright to be upset, angry…for a while. Taking a tool from among the many I have amassed in my kit from here and other places, I suggested we have a Dish Session; many of us know this one, the one where we gather old or unwanted crockery and have a smashing good time venting our angers and frustrations. As we talked about it she perked up, listening as her mother and I talked about seeing what we could glean from the pantry at my house and maybe even going to the thrift store if we didn’t think we had enough; remember we’re talking about three angry folks here. Either of our backyards will do and of course she truly liked the idea of wearing safety goggles a nod to the Minions* no doubt. We both agreed that this might help to make sure she understands that her feelings are not abnormal, but reasonable and valid; the Dish Session can serve as a vehicle for her to reach a better understanding of what has happened and perhaps a greater knowledge of herself and at the same time giving her something palpable to rage on. When I spoke of all of this to a friend, that friend suggested that maybe we could take the broken pieces and make something from them, to me, it’s a great idea; it can stand to create a memory for Ms.McKoKo with all the elements of a moment in time which may have not only alarmed her mother, but herself also, but which can be turned into an important life lesson. Creating something positive from all this, I believe can only help to insure that her memories of this time will not be steeped in total sadness.
At our house we have two metal pot stands on our counter, DJ used them for hot pots, they’re each about 10 inches square and have small feet about an inch high; perhaps creating a surface for them from the broken pieces and having her keep them as her own will enable her to have a memory of the full range of the moment; the anger, the crying, the sitting and talking, making a decision to try do something about a situation with no solution. Maybe having something tangible to represent that which appears to be so nebulous in so many ways will in the future, allow her to see this time with what may be the true implications, that being, growth, learning, and how we can try to turn some of the effects not only grief, but the turns and twists that life can throw at us into usable implements and processes for a better life for ourselves. Ms.McKoKo may be able to look at those stands, the stands she helped create and think of the entire history of the why for their existence; she may be able to have her memories of DJ more evenly shaped by knowing that the experience of feeling the loss is something which is natural and that her reactions to that loss are not things to be shied away from or to have them create self doubt as a result of having had them. The Bard says “…mine age is weak…”, I’m not so sure truer words were ever spoken. I was reminded of this as I looked at Ms.McKoKo…with all the seasons her mother and I have seen, in reality we are no more prepared with strength for this by age, as she is; our age, any age is weak when faced with grief, at least I think so. We too have to come to terms with the blinding anger that can accompany our loss. We too search for the whys, we also must stand face to face with the reality of that which we simply cannot believe. Our questions are not so different from the ones that five year old has, only our ability to ask them at all; her sense of devastation as the reality sets in is no lesser for her than for us; our reactions to those uncontrollable things in our lives are not relegated to some higher plane of understanding and acceptance simply because of the vision of our years; we are right there with her, sobbing, wailing, arms flailing at that which we cannot see, but which we know must exist as the pain cannot be an illusion. Our fists punch at that unseen crippling presence, the need for us to make contact with…something, it’s powerful, the urge has the ability to, at times, have us doubt our own sanity. Well, we’re trying to make sure Ms.McKoKo doesn’t have to doubt her mental stability, not about this; we want her to know that this is real, what she feels is real and that there is a real way through it.
As the atmosphere calmed and the wave moved on, Ms.McKoKo appeared to have landed at the shore, not too much worse for the wear, her breathing was eased and natural; she slept. I don’t know if it was the sleep of a five year old, but it appeared to be the sleep we all know so well after having experienced that moment, with all the implications that arrive with it. I hugged her mother and headed back to our house thinking of just how complete, deep and far reaching are the effects of DJ’s death. In this, sorrow not only bid me to speak, it almost demanded it, yes, our hearts are heavy, and we do pay the dues of tears to grief; it is not at all easy, but it is all real, I think that’s as it should be. Altho all of us children suffer, we can still learn regardless of our years. We are all children as we stand before grief, me, two months shy of two years, suffering the growing pains of trying to understand a different life; having the questions any two year old might have, experiencing the fears that have not yet been assuaged by the passing of time, with the passing of that time and the experience gained being no guarantee that any meaningful understanding can ever be achieved, but living forward nonetheless; like Ms.McKoKo, attempting to make sense of the apparently, senseless...struggling daily with that unseen force which now pervades every aspect of our lives, it, shifting, hiding, seeming to have vanished at times, only to return with a vengeance that defies explanation, and we are left searching, flailing, our emotional mouths open, with the silent screams being heard only by our deep inner ear. These days I am often reminded that simply knowing is not enough; so we remain, children, with the hope that in the end all will be well.
*Minions being the characters in a popular cartoon movie, with some wearing what appears to be goggles for their one eye.