Nine Years: On Love, Loss, and Nature

Nine years ago today, my father died. It was a bright, cloudless day, all blue sky and blossoming dogwood trees. What struck me the most after I knew he was dead was the unblemished and relentless beauty of the day itself. That such beauty and horror could coexist was one of the first things I learned after his death.

You see, I was sixteen. I was a dreamy teenage girl who loved books and wanted to be a writer. I was a sheltered "daddy's girl." After his death, I was no longer a girl, no longer an innocent child. Death became real, the body ended, what I loved could be lost. This unwanted knowledge changed everything. It shattered me.

Nine years later and his death is as real and raw as ever. His absence consumes my life. I grieve him always. My grief is unstoppable, some would say excessive, but it comes from a deep well of love.

Last night, for the first time since his death, I listened to the music he loved. I cried. I smiled. I felt joined to him through time and space as songs played that I knew he had once listened to at my age and when he was older. All these years I've kept the most beautiful part of him at bay because it hurt too much but the hurt was worth enduring in order to commune with him again, to come closer to him.

As I do every year, I placed flowers on his grave--a grave I haven't visited in many months. His stone is by a dogwood tree; it's a peaceful and luminous spot, but seeing his name brought tears to my eyes. How can he be here? How can life continue without him? But it does. Our heartbreak is one of many. No one survives this life unscathed and yet that is of no comfort when it's your father in the ground, your beloved who is gone, and the future stretches on endlessly without them. Death might be part of life but knowing it's inevitable or natural does not diminish my pain. I arranged the flowers in the vase on his grave and left. I couldn't stay there too long with his body buried beneath my feet.

This evening, I stood in the front yard as the sky foamed pink and the sunlight made the forests glow. The fireflies flickered in the far fields.  I heard the yelling of the neighborhood kids playing together. The air was hot and thick with the scent of honeysuckle. I thought of him. I thought of us. I was astonished by the life around me and how separate but connected I am to all of it. What can I do but live? What can the heart do but love even as it breaks?

Songs For the Grieving

I'm struggling. May 29th will mark nine years since my father's death. Then, June 3rd is his birthday. After that comes Father's Day and, finally, my birthday in July. It's one devastating reminder of his absence after another.

I'm not strong enough to withstand it. The truth is, I struggle to get out of bed, to keep going, but I'm here and I'm writing and I'm surviving.

I can imagine some people think nine years is enough. It's time to "move on" but he wasn't their father and this isn't their life. This is my life and it fucking hurts. Grief goes on. Grief, for some of us, has no end. I've lost him forever and I can't live with it, I can't accept it.

Last night, I created a playlist of songs that confront the pain of loss and acknowledge that we are never the same after we lose a loved one. These songs are comforting and they will help me through the next couple of months. Music was his great love and passion. Now, music allows me to cope with his death.

You can listen to the playlist below:



Tracklist:

1. Mindy Smith - One Moment More
2. Loudon Wainwright III - Homeless
3. Lori McKenna - That's How You Know
4. Dar Williams - Family
5. Rosanne Cash - The World Unseen
6. Trisha Yearwood - I Remember You
7. Gretchen Peters - Everything Falls Away
8. Kris Delmhorst - My Ohio
9. Angus & Julia Stone - All of Me
10. LeAnn Rimes - Probably Wouldn't Be This Way
11. Robert Plant and Alison Krauss - Your Long Journey
12. Emmylou Harris and Rodney Crowell - Higher Mountains
13. Jesca Hoop - Angel Mom
14. Patty Griffin - Gonna Miss You When You're Gone

Thoughts On My Mother

I would not be here without her. She's like breath. Without her, there is no me.

She's the funniest person I know.

She doesn't understand technology.

She creates words and phrases all the time. She doesn't mean to. We laugh about it.

We love sitting on the front porch and talking.

We take our television shows very seriously.

She loves to decorate. Her style is shabby chic.

She has impeccable taste.

Her eyes give her away. I can look at them and tell everything she is feeling.

She loves singing along to Maroon 5's "Sugar" and Bruno Mars's "Uptown Funk"

She loves our dog more than life itself, probably even more than me!

Her hair smells like Herbal Essences shampoo.

Her love is unconditional.

My father's death made us closer. I am her. She is me. That's how close we are. There's no separation.

She can strike up a conversation with anyone.

She's tougher than she thinks, but she's so beautifully tender.

After she kisses me on the cheek, sometimes I don't wipe away her lip gloss. I keep it on all day.

I love to hear her laugh.

Her smile is a blessing.

When I start saying I'm a failure, she tells me to be quiet. She won't listen to it.

We have so many inside jokes that nobody else understands.

Her own mother is dead. I don't know how she lives without her. I cannot live without my mother.

I fear losing her. I can feel the love in my chest where it grows and throbs and it seems like I might die of it.


A Motherless Mother's Day

At For Harriet, Liz Alexander offers five steps for how to cope with not having a mother on Mother's Day. Her advice is specifically directed at black women, but her poignant words can also help all people who have lost a parent:

For Black women, mother-loss has unique challenges. In what bell hooks classifies as our white supremacist, capitalist and patriarchal society, Black daughters who experience mother loss are confronted with having to navigate such a complex and hostile terrain without Mama’s road map. They are without Mama’s strategies of survival and most critically, without the affirming and healing power of Mama’s unconditional love.
As Mother’s Day approaches, it can be a painfully grief-ridden and triggering experience for daughters who have experienced mother loss. Having experienced the loss of my own mother in my early teens and living without her now as a woman, I have had to redefine my experience of Mother’s Day. In my redefinition, I have come up with 5 steps for getting through.
Step 1: Feel it.
In the words of poet Nayyirah Waheed, “Fall apart. Please, just fall apart. Open your mouth and hurt. Hurt the size of everything it is.” Give yourself permission to feel whatever feelings come up for you. If it is grief, let it overtake you. If it is joy, let it overtake you. Be in the present moment.
Step 2: Remember her.
Remember her voice. Remember her laughter. Remember her smell. Remember her touch. Remember her hugs. Remember her kisses. Remember her embrace. Remember her favorite things. Remember her wisdom. Remember her guidance. Call out her name in remembrance. 
Step 3: Reconnect with her.
Invoke her energy. Take out whatever things of hers you’ve kept. Take out her picture and her journals. Invoke all of your favorite memories of her. Recall all of the stories of her that you heard from other people. Feel her presence.
Step 4: Give thanks for her life.
Give thanks for the opportunity to know her, to have met her. Give thanks for the time that you spent with her. Give thanks for the things she taught you. Give thanks for experiencing her love.
Step 5: Honor your other mamas and mama figures.
Honor the women who took the time to “see” you. Reach out to the women who saw your life worthy enough for them to love and care for you as their own. Honor the women who said, “I want to be here for you.” Celebrate the women who considered you to be so special that they invited you into their family, created a space for you at their table, and offered their advice and their embraces in times of need. Call on them. Show them your gratitude. Value them. Honor them. 
Read the full article 



Miyako Ishiuchi - Mother's (2000-05)










The images of Miyako Ishiuchi present us with the bittersweet residue of inevitable change. Her photographs serve as containers of accumulated memories twice removed— bookmarks placed by an unknown reader in a book which, if found later, may not be read again. 
“I cannot stop [taking photographs of scars] because they are so much like a photograph… They are visible events, recorded in the past. Both the scars and the photographs are the manifestation of sorrow for the many things which cannot be retrieved and for love of life as a remembered present.” — Miyako Ishiuchi 
For the 2005 Venice Biennale, Ishiuchi filled the Japan pavilion with photographic and video installations from Mother’s. The series documents her mother, a strong-willed woman who lived through tumultuous times: from life in 1930s colonial Manchuria, to wartime Japan when she worked as a truck driver. Ishiuchi’s tribute begins with a photograph of her mother, but primarily consists of “portraits” of her mother’s clothing and possessions.
sepia EYE

Fragments

Nothing matters but the memories; I have nothing but the memories.

Time has no form.

To believe in something like van Gogh believed in God.

A character in Virginia Woolf's The Voyage Out wanted to write a book about silence. I want to write a book about the trees swaying in the wind.

I want to write like Marguerite Duras.

I'm a writer, but reading is my true love. Reading saves me.

Where is my father? What is he? Why can't he be alive?

My parents were my first love, my only love.

I can't be healed. I can't be saved.

I am failing.

The scene in Antichrist when Charlotte Gainsbourg dissolves into the grass--I long for that. I long for erasure.

I can't love. I can't be loved.

Hold me.

Crying in the car, telling my mother "It's done. His death can't be changed." She says "All you can do is cry."

This is not surviving.

In an email, a friend wrote that she and I "resist loss." It's true. I resist his death. I refuse to move on. It's like his death fills the hole he left--my obsession with him, this aching is what I hold on to because I can't hold him. It is destroying me. I am destroying myself.

Life spares no one.

In my writing, I want to express emotion and feeling; these things are, by nature, abstract, intangible, and unsayable. I want a language that is impossible, that does not exist.

I want few words. I want no words. I want the pen to be a blade, parring down language.

A blade of dying sunlight cuts through the trees.

How will we make this society just? Protests are an attempt at collective speech, a demand to be heard.

Clouds overspilling the sky.

The moon: a crack in the sky, the ooze of silver light, the underside of heaven.

I get more tender as I get older.

I can't go "back" and I can't go "forward." These spatial metaphors are useless. I am here in this moment and I am burning.

These memories burn away the skin of the present.

Life takes the life out of me.