Dar Williams - Family

Over the past seven years, I've listened to many songs about loss, but none have moved me quite like "Family", which is interpreted with such emotion and fragility by the folk singer Dar Williams. It is no surprise that, this morning, I woke with the song in my head. I am reminded of the power of music to soothe us in ways that no other art can. After the Newtown shootings, Dar Williams performed this song at a tribute concert for the victims. She was joined by Francine Wheeler, whose son, Ben, was killed in the attack. As the two women sang on stage together, the audience was visibly overwhelmed by the sight of a mother expressing her grief and sorrow in such a raw and vulnerable way. But that's how some of us cope with loss: by sharing it with others, conveying the pain through music or words or any other artistic medium. Each loss is unique and grief is deeply personal, but it's important to create community, to reach out, to forge connections and let others know they are not alone. For me, that's what art does, that's why it matters and that's why we need it now more than ever.






Can you fix this? It's a broken heart. 
It was fine, but it just fell apart. 
It was mine, but now I give it to you, 
Cause you can fix it, you know what to do. 

Let your love cover me, 
Like a pair of angel wings, 
You are my family, 
You are my family. 

We stood outside in the summer rain, 
Different people with a common pain. 
A simple box in that hard red clay, 
Where we left him to always remain. 

Let your love cover me, 
Like a pair of angel wings, 
You are my family, 
You are my family. 

The child who played with the moon and stars, 
Waves a snatch of hay in a common barn, 
In the lonely house of Adam's fall 
Lies a child, it's just a child that's all, crying 

Let your love cover me, 
Like a pair of angel wings, 
You are my family, 
You are my family. 

Seven Years

Last night, after I turned the lights off and lay in bed, I didn't know what to do with myself. Earlier, I'd listened to "Fire and Rain" by James Taylor and cried like I haven't cried in weeks, maybe even months. But more needed to come out of me. So I took out a bottle of my father's cologne, a bottle he hadn't touched in seven years, and I held it and I cried the breath out of me, I cried until I was cleansed and purified. I held the bottle all night. I needed to touch something he owned. I even thought maybe his fingerprints were left on the glass or a trace of DNA. I just needed proximity, closeness, connection.

I secretly hoped that I would dream of him but I didn't.

I woke with a complete and utter emptiness. I didn't think I could get out of bed. My heart was racing, my chest hurt. I almost could not stand but I had a song in my head and it soothed me. Dar Williams's "Family." I kept repeating the chorus, took a xanax, and breathed deeply.

This morning, we put fresh flowers on his grave. The flowers were dyed purple and pink and yellow and bright green. When I emptied the vase on his gravestone, dozens of insects crawled out. I tried my best to get rid of them but they just kept coming, there was no end. I put clean water in the vase and then arranged the flowers. Mama and I stood by the grave for several minutes. It was a sunny morning. There was nothing but wind and silence and the shaking of the leaves and the light pouring over everything. Nearby, a grave had already been dug for a new burial. The hole in the earth was covered with a flat, wooden board. There were clods of soil strewn on the ground next to the grave. It was a jarring sight. They had done the same thing for daddy. They had dug a hole, put him in it, and then filled it in again. This is death. A curiosity rose in me. I wanted to move the wooden board and see the deep trench for myself. At other parts of the cemetery, bulldozers sat idle, waiting for workmen to press buttons and carve open the earth. We hide death so easily these days. We don't have to touch it, not really. Other people embalm the body and dig the graves and incinerate the corpse. We only see the surface, what someone else has created.

We left the cemetery and went back home. There was no dramatic or revelatory moments. It was one more day to survive, but the only way I endured it was knowing that I could write about it. That's what saved me. That's what will continue to save me. I want to write of grief, speak of it, plunge into it over and over again. I think we are told not to talk about loss. We're told to move on and get over it and that death is a fact of life and you just have to accept it. So we walk around with half of our souls ripped out and we're not even allowed to acknowledge what has devastated us, we're not allowed to say I'm hurting, I'm lost, I don't know how to live without this irreplaceable person. We have to hold it in, keep it to ourselves, not get emotional, not make anyone uncomfortable and I'm so tired of it. What I really want my writing to do is to free someone else, let them know they can express their feelings, they can be heartbroken, they can scream and be furious and never heal and never recover. That doesn't mean you can't have a full life. It doesn't mean you're always sad and crying. What it means is that you have been changed, maybe there is less of you, maybe you can't find meaning in anything, maybe there is an emptiness that never goes away. It's okay to struggle and be messy and shattered and bitter. I am all of those things and more. And being able to write about my complicated emotions in this space is comforting and life-saving.

Tonight, my mom and I sat on the porch. Crickets hissed and moths danced in the amber glow of the streetlights. We did not say anything. No words were necessary. The darkness held us. We had survived.

James Taylor - Fire and Rain



Seven years ago today, on May 29th, 2006, my father died. It was the most devastating moment of my life. I was sixteen years old and didn’t know how I would live without the man I had always adored. He was my best friend,  offering compassion, support, and understanding when I needed it. I do not just miss him, I ache for him.

His greatest passion was music, and his favorite singer was James Taylor. So I am sharing this song as a tribute to my father. When I listen to it, I will think not of his death but of his life. I will remember the love he gave and the beautiful person he was.


I am heartbroken today, but I will survive. I will read poetry and write and hold on to the people I love. I hurt for all of us who have lost fathers and mothers and friends and lovers and mentors. All I can do is share my story and, in the process, try to connect with others and make them feel less alone. 



Note: I also cross-posted this on my tumblr



What Remains

Tomorrow will mark seven years since my father's death. I will wake early and go with my mom to the cemetery where we will place flowers on his grave. If I'm strong enough, I'll take out the little red photo album where I store all my pictures of him. I'll remember our life together. I'll try to make the beauty blot out the horror of losing him but the two will have to coexist. My mind has eroded over time, which means many of my memories of the day he died are blurred and fragmented but, nonetheless, they play on a continuous loop, like a film that never ends. I keep wanting to start the reel over, thinking I can change the outcome and save him.

I've dreaded tomorrow for a month and now it's coming no matter what I say or do. It is the day I touched a darkness that I cannot speak of. I define my life before and after that day, it is the demarcation, the end of one world and the beginning of another. For so long, I could only think of that day. Over time, I've tried to shift my concentration away from his death. He is not his death. We are not our deaths. There was so much more to him than that day in May when his body lay in front of me so pale and lifeless. I want to remember his arms around me, his voice when he said "sweet dreams" to me every night, the joy on his face as he listened to music, the scent of his cologne, how he taught me to play tennis, how big his smile was, his love and respect for my mother. He is gone but those memories cannot be taken away.


We are what we have lost, but we are also what remains.

Tonight, I told my mother We'll get through it together

And we will.

We need to remember life even in the midst of death. We need to hold on to one another, be there, offer compassion and support. We need to cry together, but also laugh; that's so important.  Everything we feel is important. We're here to feel and love and connect.

19th Century Mourning

In Talking to the Dead: Kate and Maggie Fox and the Rise of Spiritualism,  Barbara Weisberg explains how industrialization, the burgeoning middle class, and new religious beliefs altered the mourning practices of 19th century America:

In the past as well, men and women had been anchored in cohesive communities through ties such as church membership and extended kinship. But as nineteenth-century men and women found themselves increasingly on the move, seeking new lives in strange cities or unfamiliar territories, they also found themselves more isolated when confronted with the deaths of their loves ones. With death omnipresent, and neither religion nor science nor community of much comfort, the bereaved took solace in their immediate families, in sentimental rites and remembrances, and in other expressions of personal feeling. 
The genteel middle class, which valued each family member in life, equally cherished the departed and demonstrated its devotion in new ways. Funerals and mourners' finery grew more elaborate, traditions imported from England, where the wealthier class imitated the ostentation practiced by their royal betters. Memorial portraits of the dead--either in their last days or in their coffins--were placed prominently in the home, and friends sent outpourings of poems and letters to console the bereaved. A curl of hair from the departed, tied with a ribbon, was often kept in a locket worn on a necklace or watch chain, and sometimes a small shrine of favorite artifacts and memorabilia would be arranged in a corner of the parlor or bedroom. 
Christianity had long encouraged an acceptance of death and had promised a heavenly afterlife to some if not to all. Now, however, the increased focus on each person's specialness seemed to make it that much more difficult to let someone go. The rise of magnificent rural cemeteries in the 1830s was one of the most striking examples of a shift in attitude. The word cemetery, derived from the Greek, was just coming into use and literally means "sleeping place." Burial grounds, formerly modest plots behind churches, expanded into parks with vistas and gardens, not unlike the vision of heaven described by the philosopher Emanuel Swedenborg. In dedicating one of these cemeteries, a Supreme Court justice noted that its lush surroundings existed "as it were, upon the borders of two worlds." Families strolled through these scenic graveyards not only to visit the departed but also for melancholy pleasure[...]. 
Encouraged by the culture to dwell on their feelings, individuals poured their grief and their hope for immortality into their poems, prose, art, and architecture. These works abounded in consoling images of loved ones in heaven but also had a paradoxical effect: they turned mourning into a way of life that pervaded everything, from Sunday strolls among cemetery tombs to the songs sung by children at their music lessons.

Podcast: Revealing My Father

I'm currently enrolled in a summer course about memoirs. For our assignment this week, we had to choose someone in our lives and reveal them to other people. I chose to talk about my father. I discuss his love for music and the times we spent together at the park. I also explore the difficulty of talking about someone who is dead, how you can never fully convey all that a person was through just anecdotes. Nonetheless, it was lovely to talk about my dad. I might do more of these podcasts for this blog. I think it's very therapeutic to vocalize my memories and share them here.


Rain

You are alone. It is midnight. You hear the rain and move towards it. You sit on the porch. The houses around you are dark. The only light is two streetlamps. You reach out your hand to the rain. The coolness is delicious. There is something erotic about the moment. You love the darkness, the wetness on your skin, the connection you feel with your body. It's beautiful and exhilarating. The rain pounds harder, the intensity builds. You feel free.

You could walk off the porch, let the rain soak through your clothes, let yourself lie on the slick grass and plunge your hands and feet into the thick mud. No one would know. You could even walk into the woods and disappear. You imagine your mother waking in the morning to find your room empty and the front door open and no trace of you left. You could leave right now and, if this were a novel or a movie, you would, but life calls to you--louder than the rain, louder than your aching, even louder than your grief. You walk back into the house, lock the door behind you, and wipe the rain from your skin. It's only a memory now. You will write it.

Sixteen

I've always been fixated on the fact that I lost my father when I was sixteen years old. It is an age loaded with symbolic meaning: there is the "sweet sixteen" party, the learner's permit, the desire for independence . It is a time of separating from one's parents and creating an identity outside the home. Sixteen is a liminal state too. One is not old enough to vote or drink but, at the same time, one can drop out of school, get a job, and go through rites of passage that represent the transition from adolescence to adulthood.

At sixteen, I buried my father. Inside, I am always that sixteen-year-old girl. I have never forgotten or let go of her. What she felt then, I still feel now.  I cannot separate myself from my parents; I have no desire to. My father's death is the defining experience of my life; he is my obsession, he and I are one.

I remember a car ride with my mother just after my father died. I said that I will have to tell every person I meet in the future that I lost my father when I was sixteen. For some reason, that felt important to me. I would have to talk about this tragedy. The people who love me will have to know what I have lost and the age at which I lost it. They will have to accept that I am always the girl beside her father's casket on a sunny day in June when we buried him in a cemetery I rarely even visit anymore except on the anniversary of his death each year. They will have to know that, before I go to the cemetery on that date, I buy fake flowers at the dollar tree. I stand in front of a wall of synthetic blossoms and try to choose the ones I think will look best on his gravestone. People around me walk down the aisles, their shopping carts squeak, children scream, life continues, and no one knows that I am picking out flowers for my dead father, that I've done this every year since I was sixteen years old.

I say all the cliche things. I say I died with him. I say I lost my innocence. I say the wound never heals. I don't know how to write this loss. I don't know how to describe my sixteen-year-old self seeing my father's dead body for the first time. I can't tell you what I was thinking or feeling. The child in me cannot speak, she was silenced  long ago. She struggles for words every single day. She is a girl and I want to save her. I had dreams for her but she became me, and I cannot heal or move on or offer an inspirational story. I am devastated and grief-stricken. I am depressed and anxious. I am fearful and reclusive. Loud noises scare me. I'd never leave my house if I didn't have to. I am terrified of what I will lose next. I weep for the past and ache to return to it. When you are sixteen and your father dies, something irreparable is done to you. Paralysis sets in. The terror and the darkness come early and they never leave. You wake up in the middle of the night afraid for your life. The ghosts don't disappear at dawn.


Starless and Fatherless: On Sylvia Plath's "Sheep in Fog"



Rarely have I felt that a poem knew me before I knew myself. It's only happened once.

At sixteen, I discovered Sylvia Plath. It was by accident. "Lady Lazarus" and "Daddy" appeared on one page of a massive tome about the art, music, and politics of the twentieth century. Above the poems was a short biography and there was that iconic picture of her in the black sweater, sitting before a bookcase, starring with a blankness in her eyes. "Lady Lazarus" incinerated me; "Daddy" wounded me. I was hers. My love affair continues to this day.

I soon found Ariel, and it was my life. I owned the volume edited by Ted Hughes. So several poems were included in my copy that were not intended for publication in Plath's original manuscript. One such poem was  "Sheep in Fog."

When I read "Sheep in Fog," my father was still alive, though his health was declining. The poem is short, compact, but searing. I've never forgotten it. I think I must know it by heart now. How do I write about it? I've never been able to articulate my feelings about poetry; they are ineffable. I always think the poem should speak for itself:

The hills step off into whiteness. 
People or stars 
Regard me sadly, I disappoint them. 

The train leaves a line of breath. 
O slow 
Horse the colour of rust, 

Hooves, dolorous bells - 
All morning the 
Morning has been blackening, 

A flower left out. 
My bones hold a stillness, the far 
Fields melt my heart. 

They threaten 
To let me through to a heaven 
Starless and fatherless, a dark water.



I read Ariel constantly after my father's death. I'd sit alone at night and be consumed by the poems.  I loved all the blood and poultices and melancholy and, more than anything, I loved the dead father who haunted the pages, from the infamous "Daddy" to the bee poems. She was writing my pain and my obsession: the lost, unreachable father whose absence mars every moment of my life.

Sylvia said she'd never talk to god again after her father's death. She was eight years old. Death seduced her, it was the siren call that eventually claimed her. Unlike Plath, I cowered in fear of death, and always wondered how she plunged into it with such ferocity. Something about her still terrifies me.

"Sheep in Fog" predicted my fate. I still read the poem aloud to myself, melting into the rhythm, feeling the incision every word makes.  I've always felt that the poem was written for me and that it belongs only to me because, like the narrator, I am beyond salvation, beyond peace, trapped in a life absent of my father and doomed to a death that will bring no reunion with him. My heaven will be "starless and fatherless, a dark water."

 I live in the world that "Sheep in Fog" describes, and I will die there.

Frannie Lindsay - The Thrift Shop Dresses


I slid the white louvers shut so I could stand in your closet
a little while among the throng of flowered dresses
you hadn’t worn in years, and touch the creases
on each of their sleeves that smelled of forgiveness
and even though you would still be alive a few more days
I knew they were ready to let themselves be
packed into liquor store boxes simply
because you had asked that of them,
and dropped at the door of the Salvation Army
without having noticed me
wrapping my arms around so many at once
that one slipped a big padded shoulder off of its hanger
as if to return the embrace.

Tess Gallagher - Black Silk


She was cleaning—there is always
that to do—when she found,
at the top of the closet, his old
silk vest. She called me
to look at it, unrolling it carefully
like something live
might fall out. Then we spread it
on the kitchen table and smoothed
the wrinkles down, making our hands
heavy until its shape against Formica
came back and the little tips
that would have pointed to his pockets
lay flat. The buttons were all there.
I held my arms out and she
looped the wide armholes over
them. “That’s one thing I never
wanted to be,” she said, “a man.”
I went into the bathroom to see
how I looked in the sheen and
sadness. Wind chimes
off-key in the alcove. Then her
crying so I stood back in the sink-light
where the porcelain had been staring. Time
to go to her, I thought, with that
other mind, and stood still.

Surviving

I've been thinking about what it takes for me to survive. I think part of my survival has been my ability to remain passionate about certain things, like books, art, poetry, film, music. It still excites me to be alive. I justify my existence by claiming to live not only for myself but for my father. He is dead. He cannot be here to see the new spring. He has missed so much. As unbearable as it is to live without him, I want to be around as long as possible. I want to read all of Virginia Woolf's books, watch every film by Ingmar Bergman, listen to Cat Power's next great album. I want to keep growing and learning and being curious because that's what makes me happy. That's also why death terrifies me--not only does the body end, but knowledge ends. No more songs. No more creativity. No more humanity. I cannot fathom it.

I am obsessed with Krzysztof Kieslowski again. Today, I watched a short documentary about Three Colors: Red, the last film in the three colors trilogy. Blue represented freedom; white, equality; and red, fraternity. Kieslowski's films explore chance, coincidence, the unseen forces that bring people together or pull them apart, the ways in which all of us are interconnected. I feel so grateful for what Kieslowski gave us, what he created before his early death, and I think that's all we can do--try to give what we have while we are here. I myself am connected to him. Film is a powerful vehicle for connection. He couldn't know that I would lose my father and start watching his films as a way to cope with grief. How could he predict the effect Thee Colors: Blue would have on me? It is the story of a woman who loses her husband and child in an automobile accident. So many images stay with me: Julie (played by Juliette Binoche) in a crystal blue swimming pool, a sugar cube dissolving in a cup of coffee, Julie's lips covered with white powder from the  pills she places in her mouth during a suicide attempt. All of these images are part of me.

Blue represents freedom. How to find freedom in grief? Maybe losing finally frees us of the fear of loss. Yet fear overflows inside me. I cannot find freedom. Julie wants to be free of people. If you have nothing, then you cannot lose anything. Maybe my father's death gave me the freedom to live as I would never have lived otherwise. I am not finding a silver lining or saying it happened for a reason or forgiving the horror of it. Never will I do any of that. I am simply trying to make sense of the facts as they are.

He is gone; it is forever. I was born of that loss. It has altered me, for better and for worse. The worse I am well aware of. I suppose I am searching for the parts of myself that I can bear. The part that still loves writing at midnight. The part that takes pictures of flowers because I believe beauty is worth remembering and honoring. The part that wants to be a grief counselor because I think this pain makes me human and compassionate and open, and maybe I can free someone else, tell them the words they need to hear, show them how to survive.  The part of me that forever belongs to my father and knows that I am here because of him.

He is not someone I loved. Love is not in the past tense. I love him still. I will love him until the day I die. And there will be more days and weeks when the memory of him annihilates and almost destroys me, when I cannot see past the grief, but that is part of me too, and I accept that part. I do not deny it or disparage it or shame myself for feeling devastated. My feelings matter. They do not need to be hidden or changed. They need to be listened to and understood. I am wounded. I am shattered. I am lost. But I am surviving, I am enduring.


Mother's Day, and Other Thoughts


This morning, I placed a vase of rhododendrons by the gravestone of my grandmother. My mom stayed behind in the car. I don't think she could bring herself to walk across the muddy ground, past the shiny gray stones engraved with other people's names, and face the name of her mother and the spot where her body  resides, so deep in the earth, so deep inside the unfathomable darkness of death. So I did it because I can, because that's what I owe my mother. Maybe love is sometimes doing for others what we cannot do for ourselves.

The day is luminous.  The trees are verdant, lush with bright green leaves. The wildflowers in the meadows sway in the wind. The scent of grass and honeysuckle perfume the air. I sit in the car, watch the world pass by in one glittering blur, and I feel alive and beautiful. Grief is somewhere under the light, so is death, but it's not the only thing. There is more. There is love and connection and sublimity, and I have to keep finding those things and living for them.

My mom and I ate lunch, then sat in the parking lot of a local movie theater, listening to country music and looking out the window at the glorious spring day. We did not cry. We did not speak of the past. We did not lament. At times, I took her hand in mine and held it, caressed it. It was cool and smooth. I take photographs of her hands. I never want to forget the feel of them inside my own hands, the way we comfort one another, the way we love.

Love. It is what remains after the destruction of a life, after loss, after atrocity. Find love. Cling to it. Revel in it. Know that you are worthy of it.

Albums That Saved My Life: 'You Are Free' by Cat Power


The music I turn to when I am devastated and heartbroken and on the verge of collapse is always Cat Power (aka Chan Marshall). I first fell in love with her a year ago, in May of 2012. I was struggling as the 6th anniversary of my father's death approached. I was alone and isolated. Nothing comforted me. Then I found "You Are Free."  I listened to it for days and days. I knew I had discovered an artist who understood the aching inside me, an artist who had lost and suffered, who was sensitive and felt deeply.  As I confront the painful anniversary of my father's death again, I will reach for Marshall's music. I will hold on to her songs, her voice, her words, and I will be free.








The Month of May

My father died in May 2006. Each year, when May comes, my heart races, I have trouble breathing, my whole body aches. Just performing ordinary acts, like brushing my teeth, taking a shower, getting out of bed, is arduous and almost impossible. The grief congeals inside my veins, fills every part of me. I see grief everywhere. I have to touch the loss in everything.

As I write this, my mother stands at my door and, with tears in her voice, tells me that today (May 9th) is her mother's birthday. Grandma died in 2007, just a year after my father. Her grave is close by, in an old cemetery next to a water tower and a gas station. Some of the graves are over a century old, blackened by weather erosion, so many names lost to time. When we drive by the graveyard, I think of her. I think of a vanished past and the emptiness of life. Death is what waits, always. Death came for those I loved, and it will come for me. The month of May is a warning, it tells me that, one day, I will be next.

May will be the death of me.

Lori McKenna - That's How You Know

When I heard this song for the first time, I wept. Then I listened to it on repeat for hours.  It's a song that illuminates the gradual process of living again after a devastating loss. While I do not believe "moving on" is possible for everyone, the message of this song still deeply resonates with me because I have found a way to survive, to love, to write, to feel moments of happiness, to create a meaningful life after so much death. Occasionally, I can even detect the change that is taking place in me, the way I am adapting to the absence of my father. A time came when I could speak his name without crying, visit the cemetery, read a book, watch a television show he loved, look at photographs of him. What's interesting is that such things, while they were easier just a few years ago, are once again difficult. Maybe grief is cyclical. Maybe, as the years pass, his death is more final, more unbearable.




Lyrics:

When you take the train to midtown to have coffee by yourself
Pull the pictures from the drawer and put them back up on the shelf

When you hear the sound of church bells
And they don't make you wanna cry
And you're not getting drunk just so you can hide

That's how you know
That's how you know

When you open up the curtains - start answering the phone
Stop driving around for hours - cuz you hate going home

When you can talk about it - even say their name
When you start thinking you'll survive even though
You'll never be the same

That's how you know
That's how you know
That's how you know
That's how you know

There's no such thing as a long goodbye
When you wish it would've lasted your whole life

When you don't need a cigarette or a pill to help you sleep
When you don't end every night on the hard wood on your knees

When you wake up one morning surprised to see the world exists
And your eyes ain't full of tears
Your heart ain't full of bitterness

That's how you know, that's how you know
That's how you know, that's how you know

When you're thankful that you ever knew a love this strong
When you finally find the courage to write this song

That's how you know
That's how you know
That's how you know
You're moving on

Francine Wheeler Channels Grief to End Gun Violence


Francine Wheeler's son, Ben, was killed at Sandy Hook Elementary school in December 2012. She spoke to Bill Moyers about banding together with other grieving parents to end gun violence in the United States:

I didn't want to live, okay. And I felt, I had to ask myself “How am I going to live? How am I going to get up and raise my other child and be a partner to my husband, how am I going to do that?”
 And it just gradually, organically happened where I said, you know what, I'm going to talk to people. I'm going to tell them about my son. I'm going to tell them what it's like to be a mother. And I'm going to tell them what it's like to find a conversation about change that is love. I'm going to do it without fighting them. And I knew it. It just came to me. And I had hope. And Sandy Hook Promise was a group of people who were helping some of the families who wanted to get this message out. And that's what you have. You have many different people in this community who are in such pain. And you know, we didn't ask to be in this club together, but we are.

Later in the interview, Francine discusses her "angry days":

We have gone to a grief counselor and other counselors who talk about, you know, it's not “you're sad and you're angry then you start to get over it,” or whatever. It doesn't really apply to our situation.  
So one day, I'll tell you what happened last week. I saw one of Benny's good friends. And they were like brothers. And I saw him -- his mom, I couldn't, for like, three months, see him because it was too hard. And finally I said, you know, "Bring him over." They came over and he had a tooth missing. 
And Benny never lost a tooth. So I was angry that he didn't lose a tooth. And he kept saying, "Mama, when am I going to get to lose a tooth?" I said, "Soon, soon, soon, soon." So yeah, I get angry. I get angry that my kid's not going to get older. Yeah. I get angry.

For Francine, activism and music are crucial to her grieving process. Her involvement in The Sandy Hook Promise, a group dedicated to ending gun violence, helps her survive

Well, personally, just my path has to do with sometimes helping them with legislative change. But it also has to do with me singing through it. So I'm going to be singing through my grief. I'm going to be bringing our other son in these communities like my church has started. Because that's how I'm going to help change.

Francine's husband, David Wheeler, also spoke about his grief:

 I wear a pendant. It's a locket, well, it's a vial, as does Francine, containing some of Ben's ashes. I keep it with me. I don't hide from my grief. There is no way out but through. So I go through.

You can watch the entire interview at BillMoyers.com

Being in College Without a Father

My junior year of college is ending. On Sunday, I return home. I have most of my bags packed. I'm ready, but it's still startling how quickly the year went by.

 Tonight, I watched an episode of Felicity called "Great Expectations". In it, her father moves to New York and teaches at her college. That's all I can say. I don't want to ruin it for any other fans out there who, like me, haven't watched all the episodes. Needless to say, Felicity is not happy about her father's presence. He calls her, drops by unexpectedly, takes her out to lunch, and talks to her friends. She feels smothered by all this invasive attention and the disruption of her new life,  but it made me wonder: what would it be like to have a father while you're in college?

My father died when I was sixteen, so he never even saw me graduate high school. I did not go to the graduation ceremony because it was too painful to see everyone around me with both of their parents; I couldn't endure it.  

When I moved into my dorm freshman, sophmore, and junior year, fathers filled the elevators and hallways, fathers with suitcases and televisions and smiling daughters by their sides. I was alone, carrying all my belongings and trying not to think about how much I wished he was with me. I felt his absence all the more when I watched those fathers and daughters. I saw what my life could have been, what I was robbed of.

I still wonder what he would think of me. I wonder about the conversations we might have had, how I would have told him about my classes, come home to see him on the holidays, called him at times of crisis and stress, knowing that his voice would soothe me.  When I leave on Sunday, I will long for him to be by my side like the other fathers. Sometimes, in a secret part of myself, I want to ask these strange men around me, with daughters of their own, to be my father for a moment, just let me pretend I have a father. I want to know what that feels like. I ache to be loved by him again.

Vintage Mourners













Source: The Library of Nineteenth-Century Photography