Friday, June 27, 2014

closure and other myths

the concept of closure is a bunch of b.s.

maybe i've said this before. but i'm saying it again.

after my mom and stepdad died, after the grace period of empty platitudes had passed ("it was god's will," "it was their time," "they're in a better place now," "time heals all wounds,"...) people started asking if i'd found "closure." and if i said "no," or looked back with the confused but happy stare of a dairy cow, they would tell me how to find closure: therapy, art, music, medication, meditation, prayer.

and don't get me wrong. all of those things have their place in the grieving and healing process. but "healing" is not the same as "closure." just like a physical wound - when it heals, you are left with a scar. a scar that you can see, that reminds you, on occasion, of how it got there. that maybe pulls tight when you bend your knee a certain way or itches in the sun.

the worst thing about losing someone is that for a while afterwards, if and when you sleep, you wake up in the morning and for a second you forget what happened and you are just "hey it's friday" happy. then the realization comes, again, and hits you in the center of your being like a sledge hammer. it just rips a big, gaping hole of black nothing right in the middle there. every. single. morning. THANKFULLY, that does not last forever. after some weeks or months or maybe even years, you eventually get to wake up in the morning without fear of being punched in the face with this not-news all over again, and again, and again.

BUT. pain is a strange thing. sometimes it is a big, lumbering beast carrying an enormous mallet over its shoulder, and sometimes it's a snake or something else super sneaky like a "bwack smoke ninja"... it can still, out of nowhere, slither in and wrap itself around you and *squeeze* and take your breath away. almost 16 years out from my mom and (step)dad and i am still laid low on occasion, completely stripped bare. usually when i least expect it. like when watching a movie with james gandolfini and julia louis dreyfus with my honey on a wednesday night, and suddenly i'm SOBBING. me: "i'm just... so... SAD... that james gandolfini is dead." DM: "okay baby." then he pat-pat-pats me and kisses me on top of my head and lets the twin rivers of snot and tears soak his sleeve without comment.

anyway, pain is not like the type of thing where you can say, okay, light a candle, do twelve hail marys, and twenty bikram yoga classes and when you can finally do camel pose without feeling like you're going to puke on your own forehead, you're healed! oh and don't forget the coconut water and chia seeds!

a friend posted this quote the other day and i was really taken by it:

"We think that the point is to pass the test or overcome the problem, but the truth is that things don't really get solved. They come together and they fall apart. Then they come together again and fall apart again. It's just like that. The healing comes from letting there be room for all of this to happen: room for grief, for relief, for misery, for joy." - Pema Chodron

closure, to me, would be like sweeping things under the rug. like putting a piece of cardboard over the hole. if you lift up that rug, the shit's still there. if you step on that cardboard, you fall right back into that hole. personally, i think it's better to just keep the hole in plain view. i mean, maybe in the corner. and possibly you want to put up a "caution" cone or some caution tape, just so you don't accidentally fall in ass over teakettle (though, honestly, that still happens sometimes). but leave it out there. and maybe a ladder. so you can crawl back in when you need, and you can climb back out, too. it's dark. it's cold. it's not very comfortable. but you need a place like that. a little piece of rainy day in your heart where it's okay to be sad. to grieve. to pass through the pain and out the other side, and sometimes, back again.

some of you might wonder why i've got a case of the morbid mondays on this sweet sunshine-y friday. well, my stepgrams passed away yesterday. as you may or may not know from the blog, stepgramps passed away four months ago. we all knew it was coming that time, but that didn't make it any easier to let go. stepgrams and stepgramps were the real deal. their love was one in a million. sixty years of love like that - it truly was an inspiration and a sight to behold. we had all kind of talked about what would happen when one of them passed - because they were like that - one soul, two bodies. but to be honest, i never pegged stepgrams as the type to hastily follow her husband into the next life. as she recently said to me, with her trademark tact, "you and i are very lucky to have landed husbands that are so much nicer than we are." ;) she had so much spunk, plenty of fight left. i figured she'd plug along for another decade at least, fueled by piss, vinegar, and happy hour. so it caught us all by surprise, i think, when she up and died thursday morning, apparently of a broken heart.

to put it more poetically, in the words of one of my mom's best friends, "so sudden yet, in some ways, not surprising considering the frequency with which long-term, seasoned soul mates seem to end up 'in sync' in their senior years -- when the rich, shared journey ends for one partner before the other, it seems not unusual for the remaining journey to wrap up soon thereafter. and that all makes kind of poignant sense in an abstract, theoretical way, but man, i wasn't ready for either of their journeys on this earth to end!"

as you have heard me say before, my mom and sister and i "won" "the stepdadders" in the blended family lotto jackpot. they've been a part of my life for 27 of my 34 years on earth, and have never made me feel anything but welcomed wholeheartedly into their clan. the "step" is merely semantic. they are family. we have been loved so hard by them, and we have learned so much. i am thankful every day that the universe saw fit to bring us together.

stepgrams was the matriarch of this awesome family, and in her brazen and loving way, she helped mold my sister and brother and me into the people we are today. her legacy is one of fearlessness, adventure, honesty, humor, passion, family, and very little tolerance for bullshit. she taught us to climb up rocks, ski down mountains, speak up, say what you mean, start fires, sleep under the stars, pee in the bushes, play with knives, perfect our poker faces, properly pack a lunch for a hike (no smushed or soggy bread!), and reuse everything.

another one of my mom's BFFs just told me this story, too: once they were all hiking on the lost coast and there was some debate about who was the alpha male - my mom, or stepgrams. ha! it'd be a close call but i'd give grams the win on seniority.

i still can't really believe she's gone. i had just spoken with her the day before. she was talking to me about TBI (traumatic brain injury - you know, your typical wednesday morning conversational fare) and she said, "i sometimes wonder if my mother dropped me as a baby and i suffered from the incident." she was always good for a laugh. she was just one of those people who lived out loud, and the space she'll leave behind is too big to wrap my mind around. hers was definitely a star that burned out, rather than faded away.

[big sigh.]

kids are like dogs, they know when you're down and you need some extra love. and let me tell you, they have been lovin' on me quadruple-time! we haven't even told them anything yet, and they haven't seen me shed a tear. but somehow they just sense it, and i have been the lucky recipient of 27 full-body tackle hugs, 14 leg hugs, 8 arm hugs, 4 head hugs, and approximately 942 slobbery kisses. it really fills my cup, or, to the metaphor (simile?) above, it softens the landing in that space for grief in my heart. it makes me smile and it makes my heart hurt and it makes my eyes leak with a fierceness normally reserved only for james gandolfini... but... in a good way :)

i had written a lot of this earlier and said something like, "normally i cannot stand bed time. i would just as soon eat a crushed lightbulb sandwich than deal with the insane side show that bedtime, BUT, tonight, i am really looking forward to just sinking into it with them." and then bedtime happened. and it started out well. they were sweet and snuggly and handing out kisses and hugs like pot brownies at a marley brothers concert. they said again and again and again "i willy willy willy willy loves you, mama." but then. jesus mary and joseph. ladies and gentledudes, the bedtime train has DERAILED. jackson is an actual insane person between the hours of 8:30 and 10:30 p.m. he is terrified of invisible bugs, any sound in the tri-county area, extreme heat (above 73 degrees), extreme cold (below 73 degrees), dehydration, famine, the conflict in Iraq, president Obama's ability to make something of his lame duck presidency, the tea party's insurgence in primary elections, why his blankie isn't "cold" enough, why the dog gets to sleep in our bed but he doesn't, and OMIGOD he has to PEEEEE...Ope! Wait! now he is FIRSTYYYYY (again) and WHY DOESN'T HE HAVE ANY SOOTHING MELODIES TO FALL ASLEEP TO?!?!? and then my zen appreciation for my children's unconditional love and the circle of life came to a screeching halt.

it reminded me of this time i was at stepgrams and gramps' house - this was before i had kids, or maybe i was pregnant - and someone was making an annoying noise by incessantly "boing-ing" the door stop (i'm going to go out on a limb and say it was my little bro ;)) and i was like, "puhLEASE stop making that sound before i lose my mind!" and stepgrams said, in her diplomatic way, "you are going to be a terrible mother if you can't handle stuff like that. 85% of motherhood is being able to handle annoying noises."

she was right. (not about the terrible mother part, about which i assume she was, mostly, joking ;) i am so-so at that. but the noise. oh the noise.)

i'm sure mom and stepdad and stepgramps are rowdily welcoming stepgrams to that raucous hot tub party in the sky. margaritas on the house.

"Carve your name on hearts, not tombstones. A legacy is etched into the minds of others and the stories they share about you."

- Shannon L. Adler

"If you want me again look for me under your bootsoles.
You will hardly know who I am or what I mean,
But I shall be good help to you nevertheless
And filter and fiber your blood.
Failing to fetch me at first keep encouraged,
Missing me one place search another,
I stop some where waiting for you."

- Walt Whitman, Leaves of Grass


  1. That quote about making room for everything is resonating like crazy over here. It seems like the only way to really let things in and to recover from the painful things that can happen, otherwise if you try and get "closure" you're stuffing things down in one place or another, and they don't go away. They just burrow and express themselves in all sorts of effed up ways.

    But I don't know how much comfort that is right now. Even with room, this kind of shit bangs around in that space and causes a hell of a lot of pain.

    I'm sorry for your loss, and that this year has had so much of it. I hope the pain of it settles down sooner rather than later.

    1. so true!! if you stuff it all deep down and let it marinate in there, it's going to start rotting at some point! you just have to feel the pain, i think. thank you for your kind words :)

  2. So true about the different ways grief can sneak up on you. My dad has been gone 26 years now and it still can take my breath away. Cyberhug to you, Mack N. Cheese.