Comfort and Joy

A good story has a beginning, an interesting middle and hopefully some sort of satisfying ending. When you read that last page, you’re sad that the story is over, but happy with being able to experience the plot twists, to know the characters and to have some sort of finality at the end.

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When you think about it, life is the same way.

Everyone is the author of their own life story, and whether we realize it or not, we have no control as to how or when it will end. Oh, we write outlines and make plans, rehearsing the dialogue and shaping the plot as we go, but in the end, it’s not up to us to place a period where that question mark is at the end.

While this used to freak me out, that reality has since become a driving force behind  a lot of my actions as of late.

Maybe it’s that I’m tired of a bunch of crappy chapters of my life I would rather crumple up and throw in the trash, maybe it’s maturity, maybe it’s something else that eludes me as I write this post, but the fact that I have control of that “interesting middle” to some extent has become much more liberating than suffocating.

These past couple of months I’ve taken control of a few different things—some I’ve shared here and some I never will—writing new chapters physically and metaphorically and closing the book on some others.

Changes in dialogue, strengthening of character development, the elimination of certain relationships and the invaluable  inclusion of others —I have some sense of control over these things.

But no matter what I do, I will never be able to write out the plot twists that often get thrown in the way, the most recent of which is what prompted this (slightly too introspective for a holiday week when everyone’s merry and bright) post.

On Dec. 23., “crazy neighbor lady” that I’ve blogged about before passed away unexpectedly.

As much as I joked about her, she was also a very close friend of the family, and her death came as quite a shock. 

None of you knew her and I don’t share this information to be depressing—I promise lighter fare next time. But I share this information because we’ve all dealt with death. Being around the old people as much as I am, it never comes as much of a shock when a senior friend passes on, something that has been happening with alarming regularity this month.

But when it hits close to home—literally next door—it’s a slightly different situation for me.

That night in my pajamas and snow boots I traipsed over to her house to meet my mom so we could wrangle up her dogs and secure the house. They greeted us with a mix of excitement and confusion, Christmas music still playing in the background and gifts waiting to be given on the counter.

It was eerie.

It was surreal.

It still hasn’t quite sunk in, and because I know myself entirely too well, I know it won’t hit me until some random day in the summer when I realize she’ll no longer be sneaking into my garden to steal the good tomatoes.

Because make no mistake—she was a pain in the ass.

She was contradictorily selfish as hell and giving. She would smoke like a chimney and complain about her cough. Yell at her dogs to go “poo poo” in the middle of the night and forget to let them in, but buy them designer sweaters for the snow. If she didn’t have a cocktail in one hand, it was only because she was too busy flipping you off with it.

But that was the character she chose to be, and no one could edit that down, nor should anyone try.

I think the hardest part of this whole thing—of any loss of life—is that there was no time to write those last lines, to craft the perfect dialogue that will leave you satisfied when that final period is placed at the end of a chapter. It just kind of happens and the book slams shut, leaving those behind wondering what the hell just happened and why.

Maybe it’s best that way.

Maybe it forces all of us to realize that the conversations we haven’t had are the ones that need to be said, that certain relationships need to be erased with others added back in, that strength of character can be written in at any time, if we dare to mix up the plot.

I take comfort in knowing that I am the character I choose to be—a constant work in progress—and that no one can edit that down, nor should anyone try.

I hope that Joy—that was her name—left feeling the same way. 

I’ve had this post written since Saturday, but it fell in line nicely with this week’s Studio30 Plus prompt:

Transparency

We are who we show ourselves to be.

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36 responses to “Comfort and Joy

  1. This was beautiful, Abby!

  2. I like to think that everyone’s “personal book” doesn’t just end when they do. We all have a web of inter-connections that we weave throughout life that grows and shrinks as the years pass. Our book doesn’t close (or achieve a satisfying ending) until our web of people says it does. We will live on with them long after our physical bodies are gone – and so, our book never really ends, does it?

  3. I love this post… it is so true a picture of the contradictions of life. We are all multi-faceted, such as bitchy and kind at the same time in different ways, and I agree that our life stories go on beyond our physical lives, in the lives we touch. Life is complicated, as are we. Good post!

  4. Nice read. I really enjoyed “..the fact that I have control of that “interesting middle” to some extent has become much more liberating than suffocating.”

    I shall remember this as I contemplate 2011.

  5. Oh Abby, so sorry for your loss. I think you have really honored Joy with this post, and with your previous writings about her.

  6. That’s awful, Abby. This is a lovely tribute. I know you joked about ehr but I could tell you ahd affection for her.

    I know she’s at peace, but still, what a terrible loss.

    • Thanks. As I said, I’m totally fine with things. I have a weird view of death in that I find comfort in the fact that the only pain felt is that for us left behind. She was a pain in the ass, but she’ll be missed.

  7. Excellent post!!! I’m so sorry about your neighbor…. I’ll keep you in my thoughts!

  8. Oh Abby, this really hit home, as did Joy’s death for you. I love how you wrote about lately you’ve been spending a lot of time contemplating the fleeting ways of our lives and our editing in our own lives. It was thoughtful and true.
    I am thinking of you and sorry you lost such a character in your life, but I believe you can keep her alive in your words and I hope you do, even if it means we chuckle and sigh at the irony of it.

    love to you xo

  9. How sad — I’m sorry to hear that. You wrote about it beautifully

  10. Melanie The Spork Lover

    Lovely post. I kind of got a small glimpse of her from the having a drink in one hand or flipping you off with it, and I liked that glimpse.

    I have done a lot of growing in the past few years and let go of many relationships, while forging new ones and getting closer with my relatives. It’s really nice to know that I can’t change anyone else, but I can change my reaction to them. It’s made me a better person. I have you in my positive thoughts as you help with getting the neighbor’s house in order. We’re still doing that with gram’s house.

    • Exactly to your point about our own reactions–great comment, and I agree completely. We don’t have to do anything else for her or her house, but thank you for the thoughts!

  11. Wow, that was an awesome post. I love your viewpoint on life. Makes me think I need to be working on my “middle.” (And I’m not talking about my waistline!)

  12. Beautiful beautiful post. I can relate as one of the ones left behind. My father died very suddenly and while he kept much of his life in complete order and prepared for death there were some things he was not ready for and would never have left behind for his children to deal with. I know he would grieve over it. After two years I still miss him terribly.

  13. Ugh, what a bummer. You really don’t know what you got till it’s gone, eh?

    anyhow, I think i fear everyone’s death but my own. just like I’m good at taking care of everyone but myself. you and I need to get on that ;)

    hang in there. I’ll be around so shoot me a vent/rant email anytime.

    • I think a lot of people are much better at taking care of others than they are at taking care of themselves. It’s easier, no? However, as you know, you can’t take care of anyone else if you’re up shit creek yourself. Hang in there, kiddo ;)

  14. I’m so sorry for your loss. But beautifully written and a fabulous reminder that we need to cherish the moments we have with the ones we love, even if they can be a huge pain in the ass sometimes. Often, they are some of the most entertaining characters in our stories :)

  15. StoriesAndSweetPotatoes

    This is a really beautiful post. There’s something about people like her who have such sharp edges to their personality. Even if I simply don’t like that person, they always intrigue me. I think I hold a soft spot for them because I know their life must be one fascinating story.

  16. Wow, Abby.

    “But the fact that I have control of that “interesting middle” to some extent has become much more liberating than suffocating.”

    That is really true.

    I am very sorry for the loss of your next door neighbor. It’s always very unsettling when someone passes away so unexpectedly.

    I’ve dealt with my far share of death this past year too. And it’s not easy.

    PS: I bought your book today. I am very excited to read it.

  17. death is quite eerie and surreal. We had to deal with it this past christmas, but it was a cousin and he was our age. You kinda shut down and evaluate your life, your words, your thoughts.
    It looks like Joy left some JOY with you as she passed just in a different form., maybe that was the whole purpose. Thanks for sharing this Abby

  18. death is inevitable and still it sucks. one of the positives about it is that HOPEFULLY it brings perspective, a reminder of what is important.

    this was a beautifully written tribute to Joy, thank you for sharing! hugs to you, my friend!

  19. Abby, It’s nice to meet you. I’m Jenn. I found your wonderful blog just last week. THank you for such a poignant blog post, it made me cry, but in a good way. I look at death similarly to you but found your line, “strength of character can be written in at any time” is what made me weepy. This passing year has finally found me making changes that I needed to make. Your line covered just what I think I finally understood after so many years of struggle… that I can change how I deal with my life any way I want. You said it so beautifully and I’m going to keep that line somewhere on my computer so I can go back to it when I need to remember. It feels great to make positive changes in one’s own life, doesn’t it? I’m happy to hear you’re finding such success. I am sorry for your loss. I bet, come summer, she’ll be looking down coveting those tomatoes. Maybe they’ll grow better than ever! Again, so nice to meet you and peruse your wonderful blog.
    Best,
    Jenn

    • Thank you for leaving such a thoughtful and poignant comment. The fact that anyone reads my blog humbles me beyond belief, and when someone tells me that they can relate or that I got them thinking in some way, it makes all that self-doubt fade away (well, not all of it, but a good portion.)

      Now I’m rambling, but I wanted to thank you for stopping by and I really do hope that you continue to build on that personal strength you’ve been building this last year. We all deserve to be healthy and happy, today and every day ;)

  20. Hi Abby,
    Loved this post. You write from a place of such honesty. I think saucy old Joy would approve. You shared your insight in a loving but very real way.
    You’ve given me a lot to think about. I’m on a similar road of holding on and letting go. I’m glad to hear that you’ve made positive moves in taking care of yourself. I waited way too long, but I’m getting there. You will, too.

  21. I actually don’t find this too morbid at all. I think that talking about death is quite healthy and should probably be done more often. If only we could all discuss this as poignantly as you, Abby.

    I like what you said about being a constant work in progress, and how trying to deny who you are takes so much away from the story of your life. I think the satisfaction at the end comes from never thinking we are finished growing and learning, and to always try to better ourselves, yucky chapters and all.

  22. gorgeous words, you know i love the honest of life. i’m sorry for your loss. i’ll remind you this summer to take those tomatoes & throw them at someone just for fun. xo

  23. I’m sorry for your loss Abby. It sounds like she was quite the lady. Just remember the good things and be happy for the moments you had with her.

  24. hi abby,
    as i read this post i was thinking WOW, i could of wrote the same one, I too had a crazy neighbor, she was a pain in the ass, funny and frustrating, i would often avoid her because she was drama, and then suddenly last year dec. 6th, she died, and the irony is that i actually have missed her, as i walk by her house i look at her garden that continues to grow in spite of neglect, and i think to myself, i should of appreciated her eccentricities when i had the chance. lesson learned, and then, life moves on.

  25. What a wonderful (albeit sad) post. It’s interesting how we don’t realize how much we value someone (even a pain in the ass) until they aren’t there any more. I’m sorry for your loss :(

  26. So lovely. Sometimes it is good to consider the legacy we might leave behind. I wouldn’t want people to think of me as the crabby lady next door. If only he had lived up to her name.

    May she rest in peace.

  27. I think it takes a lot of courage and maturity but also strength to take our individual experiences with death and use them not to be afraid of death (or lack of control of how/when it happens) but instead to live more fearlessly. I’m not there yet, but you seem to have an amazing grasp of it and a truly inspiring attitude towards that, and it’s just one of the million reasons why you’re awesome.

  28. Hey again, Abby. lol.
    I just wanted to tell you that I added you to the end of my current blog post. I just had to share your blog with anyone milling around. Hope you don’t mind. Happy New Year!
    Best,
    Jenn

  29. I generally try to live my life with the mentality that I may get hit by a bus at any moment. I mean, within reason. I try to keep in mind the potential consequences in case I *don’t* get hit by a bus. . . but still.

    I like your perspective on things. the life and death thing. and I wish you all kinds of luck with any chapter you’re still working on closing or editing or fine tuning :) i’m all about that. i’m on a really good chapter right now, but everything in life is fluid and you never know what’s around the bend. . .

    going to to control the ramble on this one.

  30. Fantastic post! I think this is one of your best.

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