Pieces of joy

I’ve been reading a lot lately. Some of it is fluff – silly sci-fi and fantasy, letting myself ignore the world for a while. Some of it is books about dealing with grief. Most of them are anecdotal, stories about people dealing with grief or, in some cases, really not dealing with it. One was a look at the physical side of grief, which was basically 100 ways to take care of yourself. That was rather nice, since the physical side of grief (not sleeping, random cramping, muscle and joint pain, headaches, loss of appetite, and that’s just a partial list) is not talked about much. It was basically a book about how to take care of yourself while you are grieving. I didn’t agree with all of it, but it helped a bit.

Another book I read was The Other Side of Sadness: What the New Science of Bereavement Tells Us About Life After Loss. This helped me more than the anecdotal books did. The authors actually studied how people handle great losses and discovered that, for the most part, people are resilient. Until about six months after a loss, it’s hard to tell how someone will handle it long term, but humans get through things. A lot of what it said helped because I felt like what I am going through was strange, too much emotion, that it wouldn’t let up, but at the same time normal life is settling back in, and I feel almost like I’m betraying my brother’s memory by being able to move forward.

My friends have been helping me a lot, too. When I am overwhelmed by fury, they tell me they’ve been there. It’s a normal reaction. When I can’t do more than one thing at a time, when I feel like I can’t keep up with the world, they tell me it gets better, eventually. The pain of loss doesn’t go away, but it eases, though it will take time.

I saw one therapist and we did not fit at all. I have another appointment this week with someone else; hopefully she will be able to help more, give me tools to help get through this. I don’t have any issue with experiencing the pain and dealing with what I need to deal with, but I don’t know how to handle feeling like I’m in deep water, toes just touching the sand, and waves keep knocking me down.

I’ve also been trying to keep up with the people I usually follow, reading their blogs and laughing at silly Twitter posts. I read something on Stop Motion Verbosity recently which made me think about what I write and how I write. “When a lot of what you read, when many of your friends, put so much negativity out there it is easy to feel that the world is a much darker place than it is….There’s good things happening all the time, even through the really shitty times, and the best way to get through those shitty times is to recognize the good. And yes the good times are often smaller and far more fleeting, that’s the nature of the good bits, frankly. It’s a great sandwich, a smile on the street, a tiny memory when a song you love plays – those are all great moments of happiness that need to be cherished and recognized.”

I’m dealing with some hard things right now. I will not pretend otherwise, and I’ve never seen the world as all roses and sugarplums. There are good things, though. Last night Xander made BBQ sauce from scratch and grilled shrimp and pineapple on skewers for dinner. He cooked down some of the sauce and put it on rice. It was exceptionally good. The shrimp came out a little bit smoky tasting, the pineapple’s sweetness was emphasized more by cooking, and the BBQ sauce was very good. We sat, ate, and talked, relaxed despite the heat, and it was a good evening.

A few days ago, I was puttering around on the computer and Nyx was in the office with me. She stood at the door and opened it by pushing against it with her nose. Then she closed it partway. Then she opened it again. I sat and watched her do this for about ten minutes until she shut the door a little too hard and couldn’t open it again. I thought it was quite funny.

Yesterday morning I got up early and weeded the strawberry patch, weed whacked the front yard and the courtyard, took a shower, and we ran some errands and went to see a movie. When we got back, I cleaned house, and it felt good to be tired. I got rid of a chair that has been falling apart for months, and I enjoyed physically pulling it apart, breaking it into manageable pieces.

I am de-cluttering. I feel the need for more organization, more space, more clarity. I am donating books that I won’t read again, giving some of them away, letting go of things I don’t need. It isn’t a bad thing.

There is still grief. Sometimes it slams into me like a freight train and I have to find somewhere to sit and fall apart for a while. Sometimes a song will stick in my head and I will miss my little brother terribly, just wanting to be able to see him again, to give him a hug. Sometimes I think about my smart, witty, funny grandmother who adored teasing Xander and I find myself mourning the loss of that person. When we saw her, she seemed a little afraid of him, uncomfortable, not sure why he was there. I miss the person she used to be.

With all of this, though, as overwhelming as it can be, and as painful as it is, there is still reason for laughter. There are still good things. I’m sore today from pulling weeds and making the house a little nicer. It’s a good kind of sore.

Spider Robinson, one of my favorite authors (Callahan’s Crosstime Saloon is one of those books I have several copies of, one to re-read, one because I’ve had it for years and it’s falling apart, and one to loan out), said, and was quoted in the blog post I mentioned earlier, “Shared pain is lessened, shared joy is increased.”

Here’s joy in the midst of a hard time. I am trying to pay more attention to joy even while I’m dealing with the hard parts and working through them. I hope you find a little bit of joy today, too, no matter how hard the rest of life can be.

Can’t see in the dark

I don’t know how to write. I’ve tried to write this several times and I end up with meaningless words on a page. I miss my brother. I wasn’t a huge part of his life in recent years. He knew I cared about him, and he sometimes liked the postcards I sent every week, but we weren’t hugely close.


For the moment, it’s baby steps to get through the void.

We were planning a trip to see family soon. I wanted to see him and my older brother again, to talk to them, to get a picture of the two of them, to get a hug from him. We were good at hugs, fierce ones, ones that made you feel like you belonged in someone’s heart. We had a lot of silly special things, and all of them make me cry right now. I can’t give him any more hugs. Somehow hugging an urn with his ashes just isn’t the same. I can’t help making stupid jokes, making myself laugh even when I’m crying. I can’t get through the dark without laughing.

It is dark. I mean, it’s night as I’m writing this, so that’s a given. Even during the day, though, even when it’s brighter than I want it to be, I don’t feel like it’s light. I feel like everything is grey, dry, desiccated, lifeless. I put on my public face and everyone thinks I’m fine, and then I come home and curl up and wait for it to get better.

I put some books on hold in the library, ways to get through grief. I bought another that might help with the physical issues, since I am still physically hurting a lot. I want to do something incredibly stupid. I want to go hit someone, start a fight, make something make an impact, but I know on some level it won’t help. I go back to what I know. I will study, work through it, talk, cry my eyes out. Once in a while I’ll get tipsy and let out some of the anger that won’t come with my barricades as high as they are now. I know I should be able to get through this.

Should. I’m not sure.

I saw my family when we went to Arizona. I’m glad I got to see them – it’s hard not being completely sure everyone is actually getting through this. My sister was too busy to come by, as is often the case. We missed her presence. Maybe next time. My brother’s caretaker spent some time talking with me about Daniel, and that helped. Having memories to share is important.

We saw my husband’s family, too. They were loving and welcoming and helped me talk through some of the pain. They even liked Nyx, who, while she was trying to be good, still couldn’t resist a running cat at one point and took off like a rocket. It was pretty funny, and the cat was fine, if spooked. We went hiking in the heat. I am definitely not a desert rat – I was exhausted and sweating.

My brother was the heart of my family, and that heart has been torn out and extinguished. We don’t seem to know how to handle it. I’m not sure anyone really wants to move forward without him in some ways. I know I don’t. Thinking about him always made me smile. I knew I could make him laugh even from another state, even just passing messages to him, and it made life better to know that chortle was there. It isn’t now.

I don’t have the same loss as the family that was with him or his caretaker who loved him, too. I was not an integral part of his life. At the same time, my grief is still real, palpable, physical, painful, dreadful. I don’t sleep well. I wake up crying some nights, waking to the dog trying to climb into bed next to me to help me calm down. I wake up to pain. My heart skips beats. My stomach and back cramp, my legs hurt, my feet send stabs of pain first thing in the morning. Any old injuries ache.

I am supposed to be strong. I am supposed to get through this. I am supposed to be able to weather the storm and be able to come out better on the other side. At the moment, there is no other side. Now I am walking in the dark, bumping into pain whenever I move. I can’t find joy. Laughter, sometimes, but not those sparks of pure delight that I’ve always been able to find before. There is a pall over my world.

I’m looking for a therapist. I may go to a support group meeting for people who have had a sibling die, as long as it isn’t god-focused. I don’t think I can handle another person telling me that there is reason in this, that god has a plan, because if that plan involves killing off one of the best people in my life, then I really hope that particular god rots in the worst imaginable hell. See? Just a tad bit angry some of the time.

I know that no one knows what to say. It isn’t something you come across on a regular basis. Grandparents die. Parents die, eventually. Siblings, though, shouldn’t. Parents should not have to deal with the death of a child. Should, however, is not something that matters. This happened. My brother is dead. I don’t know how I can get through this. I have had one good night’s sleep in almost a month, now, and I’m exhausted. I’m sad and angry and listless and lost.

I can’t make this better. I can’t make Daniel not dead anymore. I can’t stop crying at weird times. I can’t sleep. I can’t stop hurting.

So I walk. One step at a time, I move forward. I’ll start swimming again, because I can push through water and it helps the pain. I’ll walk Nyx, and maybe we’ll run a little. I’ll grieve and try to let myself exist without judgement. I’ll read books and try to learn how other people have come through this overwhelming loss. I will try to stop telling myself what I should do, how I should be able to get through this, and just be. I’m not good at not overthinking everything, but I don’t think I have a choice here.

I have always been able to make it through, even if I’m slow at it. I can’t think fast or move fast right now. I am pinned by lead weights, walking through sand. There is no right way to go, no way to fix this, no way to remove the pain. Maybe in a few months I will be able to sleep again. That would be good. Maybe I will stop hurting. That would be good, too. Maybe I will have energy and curiosity and joy in my life, eventually. For now, I just have to not stop existing. I’ll wake up tomorrow and do what I have to do, and maybe I’ll take a nap. Maybe I’ll watch silly TV. Maybe I’ll find something that serves as a rope for me to hold for that next step.

I don’t know. I can’t see in the dark.

Working through

This has been a hard year, and I’m not sure what to do other than write.

First was infertility. We lost something then. Not a child, but the hope of one. We lost ideas and dreams and things we thought would be true. We grieved over it in some ways as if we had lost something more tangible. We’d tried for years, and suddenly there was a hole where all of our expectations got sucked in. It is hard to understand unless you have been through it, so many people could not understand why it was such a big deal. I am still fighting the feeling that I am not truly a woman if I don’t have a child. I know it is illogical, but it permeates our culture. Women with children have more status than women without. However unfair that may be, it’s true on some level. I get asked by women I’ve just met how many children I have, or when we are expecting to have kids, and when I say, “We can’t,” there is an often not-so-subtle movement away. The circle closes and they talk about their children and I am not welcome. That’s not true of everyone, especially those who know how much I’ve worked with children through my life, but it has happened.

I was working on healing, working on accepting the new way of thinking and approaching life, and the next piece happened. My grandmother, at almost 93 years old, stopped remembering people and places. She stopped being herself, in some ways. It felt to me like that hole from infertility got another part dug out, widening it a bit. I had always wanted to have a picture of four generations of my family: grandma, mom, me, and a baby. The baby was not going to happen, and now grandma was slipping, too. Another piece of grief, although for me this was kind of anticipatory grief because I had to face the likelihood that she would not live a whole lot longer. She might; I don’t know. I hope, if she does, she is enjoying life. It was another blow, but we were coping.

June 9, my younger brother died completely unexpectedly. He was 28 and had no health problems that would explain the blood clot that killed him. I still don’t really have words for what that did to me. It took the grief from infertility, the grief about my grandmother, wrapped it up in a physically painful grief, and dropped a bomb on me that opened up a chasm.

I have never had such a physical response to grief before. Food has always been a comfort when things got bad. Now food is necessary, but not enjoyed, and I often have to be reminded to eat. I don’t taste much, and my stomach hurts all the time. My back hurts, too, and sometimes my feet, and sometimes my head. The first three days my chest cramped up regularly. I have never had such physical pain related to mental anguish. I am tired all the time, too. I’ve been sleeping 10-12 hours a night just to be able to get up in the morning, but I’m not sure I am resting very well. I’m exhausted. I get through by focusing on one thing, one step, the next thing, on making sure I eat and drink enough, on sometimes just breathing deeply.

I don’t know how to talk about this. I talk around it a lot. I cry a lot. I talk to Xander, who is possibly the only reason I have gotten through this. He has been amazing. I spend a lot of time with Nyx. She has been very attentive and snuggly since this happened.

I have a really big hole inside me, surrounding me, engulfing me, and I don’t know how to heal. I know that all of this is normal, but it’s harder than I knew it could be. I’ve lost a lot this year, and every once in a while, when I’m just holding still, I feel like I’ve been hit by a truck. I want to crawl into a hole and pull it in after me, but I know that won’t help. The world keeps going. I can grieve, but I can’t disappear.

Having work to do helps. Having some purpose, the feeling that I’m doing something useful, is good for me. Dealing with people right now is hard, and by the end of the day I’m wrapped up in pain again, but I’m mostly making it through the days. Weekends are spent on the couch, reading or watching TV. I don’t have much interest in going out.

We went for a walk down to the farmer’s market yesterday. That was the first day I’ve been able to do anything even close to exercise since Daniel’s death without getting exhausted or cramping up within five minutes. It was a good, long walk. We got food for the week and picked up nectarines to eat on the way home, and mine actually tasted good.

It’s not better, though. I still can’t work through my little brother being a pile of ashes, never seeing him again. I had nightmares the first few nights, and one of them was just a voice, saying over and over, “There are supposed to be new lives in a family before the children start dying.” I was standing in the dark, listening to a voice. That was all. I woke up crying because it was true and I couldn’t make it better. There were others, much worse, but that one, I think, shows how all of this wraps up together in my head right now. On some level I can’t believe that I won’t see him again. He was the focus of our family from the time he was born. I knew that at some point I was very likely to be at least partially responsible for him again. We had talked about how to work him into our lives if it became necessary, and we knew we could handle it.

Daniel was incredibly important to me. It’s very hard for me to use past tense. I keep slipping. I woke up with him when he had night terrors. I could tickle him from across the room and bug him from hundreds of miles away. I could make him laugh, and he could do the same for me. We had nicknames for each other that other people didn’t necessarily understand. He gave really good hugs. We loved to sing together and we’d crack each other up when we sang certain songs because I’d be silly on purpose and he’d add to it.

There’s so much more to him, though. There was. I can’t explain who he was as a person because I don’t have enough words, or the right words. I am floundering. Our family was centered around him. He gave us focus and meaning. I would not be who I am without him, and I don’t think the rest of my family would, either. He changed how I look at the world. He made me more compassionate, more willing to look for the good in people instead of stopping at the differences. He showed me how frustrating it can be to know where the goal is but not quite be able to reach it, and also how angry it can make people if someone tries to help when the person wants to get there themselves.

I don’t know if I’m making much sense. I needed to write. I’m sure I will write more again, but I’m not going to be on any consistent schedule for a while. We’re going to go see family soon, and I don’t know how to write about that, either.

The world is a lesser place without him.


I won’t be saying much for a while. My younger brother Daniel died last night, unexpectedly. He was 28. I feel melodramatic saying this, but I never knew before that a broken heart actually physically hurts.

I wish there were more to say. I wish it hadn’t happened. The time that being an atheist is hardest is when I need someone to yell at, to blame, but it isn’t anyone’s fault. I don’t believe in fate, I don’t believe in people being sent to this world to teach us anything, and I don’t believe that he’s better off dead. He was a very important piece of my life, even though I didn’t see him much lately, and I will miss him terribly.