“…he knew even then
he would leave us. Black trees, black vines spilling
across tarmac. The promise of disappearance,
the deepest breath.”
from Still Life with Damnosa Hereditas and Dark Constellations, Sandra Meek
I lost my father two weeks ago at the age of 62. It was unexpected and left my siblings and me reeling, trying to grapple with the reality of the sudden death.
Bargaining is of course one of the most predictable stages of grief, but I couldn’t help but want to strike a deal with the universe. My dad had finally started to come into himself, to soften, to connect with loved ones and the life he wished he had led.
I am sad and sorry he didn’t get to backpack the Uinta Mountains again or make that promised road trip to the West.
The author Haruki Marakami said, “In a sense our lives are nothing more than a series of stages to help use get used to loneliness.” I think that is one of the truest statements on what aging feels like, and I have felt the impact of this unavoidable progression since I was young.
The longer one lives, the more acutely intimate she is with the ultimate truth of life, its essential aloneness. When we lose others we are reminded of the final and most important act of aloneness, dying.
In that, I hope those who die young are spared some of the ache of loneliness. Some folks don’t take to it well, and my dad wouldn’t have been one who did.
Until You Fall
When people I love die, I dream of them falling. I never know where they are falling to, or into, or out of…but they fall. I try to catch them. They sometimes beg me to, but I cannot.
When they look at me, begging and falling…all I can do is watch.
I think death, or at least the initial departure, must feel like falling through unseen territory. Some welcome the fall, relieved to be weightless and free, some struggle. Maybe they always secretly preferred the earth to the sky.
I am certain I would be one to struggle. The ocean frightens me with its overwhelming and infinite waves – and the thought of free-falling through air is terrifying – nothing like angels or birds with their soft promise, just a dull stone hurdling into darkness.
I have always been an earth beneath my feet woman. Dry earth, rock, root, flesh and bone…things to cling to…none of this ethereal business. You can keep your heavens and waterworlds.
The Thing About Walking
I got up at twilight and headed out on one of my favorite trails, right in the heart of the city. It runs through a corridor of the North Mountains and creates a sense of wildness – even in an epicenter of 4 million.
Walking is my way of coping with hard times. Movement is my therapy, particularly when I am stuck in anger, and I have been angry since my father died. Some reasons are personal; some are sadly becoming more universal.
You see, my dad stopped taking his medications because he couldn’t afford them. He worked in public service for years, but retired without a pension or any savings. He opted for paying his bills over taking care of his health. To think of this makes me enraged. No one should be forced to choose debt over their health.
My rage, in part, is that I find myself in a similar situation: how can I afford insurance; how can I NOT afford insurance? People who work very hard all of their lives end up penniless and desperate. This happens all of the time and no one likes to think of it unless it comes down like a fist upon them.
I pondered these injustices up on that ridge. During this time, I watched as a bulldozer edged the semi-wild, yet most precious terrain, heralding another new housing development.
It is so like us to be plowed under, obedient…
Being here, among city sprawl and the busy lives of busy people, I am reminded of the land around me and all that has been lost…all that modernity has buried.
This culture has bulldozed its apathy upon us. And it is only when our own heart is breaking and the anger demands answers, do we feel the scrape of the blade and grieve for everything that has been lost.
Into Another Life
That was not the story I wanted to write. I am tired of writing about poverty and death, the loss of land and clean water, the indignity of making the “lesser of evils” choices.
I would rather tell a story of women washing auburn hair in a cold creek, or one of children with full bellies and the ability to sleep peacefully; of firefly illumined fields and hollows.
But, I am not a believer of fate. Any wreck you pass, there was a cause and an effect. The stars do not conspire against your happiness any more than mine.
While this anger hastens, it is the story I write – it is what I must walk and sing and offer up. That is the burden and release of grief, to bring us down to the last ember.