Tag Archives: death

When You Don’t Know What to Say

“The friend that holds your hand and says the wrong thing is made of dearer stuff than the one who stays away.” –Barbara Kingsolver

This quote has always spoken to me, and I was reminded of it recently when a friend going through a rough time said I “always know the right thing to say.”

I laughed to myself, as that sounded ridiculous to me. While I might be good at offering a perspective I fail to absorb in my own daily life—denial is truly a gift, my friends—most of the time I just ramble and hope that something might stick, that I might be able to help ease just a smidgen of pain.

My problem is that I’m a “fixer.”

Unfortunately, there seems to be a string of pretty crappy things happening lately that proves we all have “something” that we’re dealing with that’s out of our control.

There’s no greater feeling of helplessness than to know that someone you care about is sick, financially strapped, in pain—physically or emotionally—or, let’s be honest, dealing with death—the reality of their own or that of a parent, a friend, or the horror of the loss of a child.

There are no “right” words, and at some point you realize that things happen to you and happen around you that can’t be fixed.

And it’s not your job to fix them.

I think a lot of people unintentionally ignore these things at times, not because they don’t care, but simply because they can’t “fix” them and have no clue how to react. Those who are sick or aging aren’t necessarily the same people we’ve known them to be, and selfishly, we want them to be the people they were before they got sick, before they got old, before they became so… mortal.

The realization that things will never be the same—and that you can’t fix it as such—is enough to make you stress yourself out in an attempt to save the world or conversely stay at home curled up in a ball, not dealing with it at all.

But just as much as you don’t want to deal with it, I can guarantee that the person who is sick or struggling doesn’t want to deal with it a million times more—but they do, often with courage and grace.

I think that in and of itself can be intimidating, the fact that you are lucky enough to be in a comparatively better position. The strength of those who aren’t can be inspiring beyond belief, but it can also make us question how we would be if faced with such a challenge.

It takes courage to face the unknown, but it’s much easier to do so when you’re on the right side of the coin, to be the one who has a choice.

But the fact is that as strong as they are or appear to be, they’re probably still scared. So we put the guilt aside for wanting them to be the people they were before they got sick, before they got old, before they became so…mortal. Because at their core, they are the same people.

And you know what?

They know that you can’t fix things, and most don’t expect you to. They have no choice but to deal the hand they were dealt, and sometimes they just want you to hold that hand.

They don’t want to do it alone.

That’s one thing I—and you—can fix.

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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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A Good Nine Lives

Wendell, my Fuzzy Little Soul Sister, reached the end of all nine of her lives this week.

She was 16,  but I’m still sad.

However, this isn’t a sad post—I promise. When it comes to death, I think a little bit differently than most people. I can usually frame it in a “circle of life” type of way. It’s inevitable, and instead of fight it or fear it, I tend to accept it.

But I’m still sad.

Anyway, Wendell the One-Toothed Wonder Cat’s situation just called to mind memories of pets gone by and some interesting circumstances surrounding their departure.

Keep in mind the fact that my mom is Dr. Doolittle and it’s normal for us to spend two hours coaxing a chipmunk out of a drainage pipe in 90 degree heat (he made it out safe, if not a bit dazed and confused), chasing a loose goat through briar patches (I made it out safe, if not a bit dazed and confused) or picking up stray dogs on the way to job interviews (I got nothing for this one—so much for symmetry).

We’ve had tons of animals throughout the years, but these are just a few examples.

I will keep the stories short and sweet, unlike that disclaimer.

  • First there was Mitten, aka “Bun,” my rabbit when I was in preschool. The creativity for his name was inspired by the fact that he was a bunny with a white mittened foot. “Bun” met an untimely death at the hands of a homicidal cage cleaner—aka “dad”— that “accidently” used harmful chemicals to clean. I was at a friend’s house and by the time I got home, the body was already stiff. Determined to bury him in our backyard pet cemetery, holes were cut in a shoebox so his legs could stick out. I think we get points for creativity there.
  • In kindergarten, I received the best dog in the world and named him Cromwell (obviously more sophisticated than Mitten.) I don’t have a picture of him because I have no scanner, but he was a peak-a-poo and the cutest, most loving thing ever. There was an incident and he had a little crooked nose, but he was awesome. He lived to be about 3,000 in dog years, and when he passed away we had him cremated. He came back in something the size of a business card. I’ve seen more ashes on a sidewalk outside Starbucks.
  • Gonzo, a beautiful cockatiel, joined the family a couple of years later and lived to be about 3,000 in bird years. As I’ve mentioned, the little feathered bastard choose to pass away while I was on my first business trip ever (New York) a few years ago. My mom had to keep him in the freezer until I could come home and we could have a proper burial. It was very traumatic for all three of us (especially Gonzo.)
  • Speaking of the freezer, I also had to freeze a dead fish for some people I was housesitting for. That was awkward.

There are many more stories I could share—a cat getting it’s head caught in the rails of our dining room chair and me having to butter it to get it out (not unlike my mom buttering my own head when I was little and got my head caught in the rails of the stairway) or an accidental archeological find while planting flowers in the pet garden, for example—but I’ll leave you with just one more.

  • I would often dog sit for some people down the street. (Don’t worry—there is no freezer involved in this story.) They have a big dog and a little mutt that is about 3,000 years old in dog years—Burrie. When I was first introduced to the dogs, I was told that Burrie squatted when he peed instead of lifting his leg. That’s not that weird in and of itself, but the reason he squats is because he doesn’t have a penis. Apparently he was hit by a car when he was little and it was ripped off, never to be seen again. He was taken to the shelter and was going to be put down, but this family paid for his surgery and adopted him. I was told by the husband that if his penis ever gets ripped off, he just wants to be put down.

At any rate, Wendell will be missed.

She was buried in the garden cemetery among the many animal companions we’ve loved and lost throughout the years.  We’re all sad, but I can’t wait for the flowers in that garden to bloom—especially the catnip.

Plus, it helps to remember that things could always be worse…

(But I’m still sad.)

Assuming their heads aren’t falling off, do you have a pet story to share? Mishaps? Cool tricks? Great name?