Nick Flynn - Kafka

The cause of death seems to have been
starvation—his throat closed

& so he was no longer able to swallow. On his
deathbed he was editing The Hunger

Artist, which, perhaps ironically (perhaps
not), he’d begun working on before he was

felled. My father

will, the doctor tells me, also starve to death,
he also cannot swallow I have said no

to the feeding tube because I imagine that is
what I would want someone to say for me,

but really, how the fuck do I know? The fact

that I am the one who will pull the plug on him
& that I will pull it with one simple word

is in the realm of the unbearable, but
apparently

I will bear it. The doctor promises to make him
comfortable, which means

morphine... nowadays this is how the plug
is pulled. Afterward,

the money he buried under that tree,
the take from all his bank jobs, all of it

will come to me, if I can just get him to draw me
a map, if I can find the tree, if I can find

his shovel. And the house, the mansion he
grew up in, soon a lawyer will pass

a key across a walnut desk, but even this
lawyer will not be able to tell me where this

mansion is. And my father’s masterpieces, his
many novels, mine

now to publish—I don’t have to tell anyone
I didn’t write them, not a word.


from My Feelings: Poems by Nick Flynn (Graywolf Press, 2015)

Grief and Renewal in Tori Amos's The Beekeeper


When Tori Amos released her eighth studio album, The Beekeeper, in February of 2005, the United States had been mired in the Iraq War for two years. It was the time of George W. Bush and Dick Cheney, a time of violence and death. With The Beekeeper, Amos explicitly sought to combat the destruction with the message that creation is an essential and enriching part of our lives.

The album weaves together multiple narrative strands. First, there is the story of the garden of Eden where Eve eats the forbidden fruit to gain knowledge about life and sexuality (Amos renames it "original sinsuality"). In an interview with Uncut Magazine, Amos explains that "Really it’s about this woman who visits the garden of life and decides to eat from the tree of knowledge. Once she does so, she experiences all kinds of emotions from passion to betrayal, to selfless love, to temptation, to seduction, to disappointment and bereavement." Amos posits an idea of knowledge as a form of freedom, a way of opening the mind to new experiences and perspectives. At a time when people were closing their minds, blindly believing the White House's justifications for war, and actively othering and dehumanizing the people in Iraq, Amos's album asks us to no longer put our heads in the sand, to learn and think for ourselves.

The second narrative strand is the vital, procreative role of bees that toil away to create sweetness and nourishment. At a time of death and destruction, Amos wanted to make an album that celebrated love and procreation. Several songs address motherhood, like "Mother Revolution" and "Ribbons Undone." Once again, Amos centralizes the role of women and elevates the feminine over the masculine. It was Eve who ate from the tree of knowledge and it was Eve who was punished for it, but Amos reclaims women's sexuality as a site of power, revolution, and creation. In an interview, Amos put it this way: "I think the only way to combat war and depression for a nation is not to drown in the grief. We need to build bridges. The only way to combat destruction is to create so with this album I went back to the creation story, which is in Genesis. The core of the record is original 'sinsuality.'"

I'd now like to delve more deeply into the grief that Amos mentions several times in interviews for the album and how grief is addressed in the album itself. In the Tori Amos fan community (we call ourselves Toriphiles), The Beekeeper is almost universally loathed. However, I do not hold this negative view. For me, it's a light, airy, beautiful album with substance and depth. The Beekeeper is one of the first Tori Amos albums I ever owned. So maybe that's why it has a special place in my heart. I discovered Amos around the time of Scarlet's Walk, which was released in 2002. Over the years, as I've experienced grief, The Beekeeper has taken on more meaning; it was released in 2005, just a year before my father died.

As Amos was recording The Beekeeper, her brother was tragically killed in a car accident at the age of 50. It's always haunted me that her brother's name was Michael because that was also my father's name. I've never told anyone this but when I was first discovering Amos's music, it was the early 2000s and I didn't have a computer. At that time, I was still listening to CDs. My family didn't have much money. I went to the library one day to use the computer and wrote down a list of Amos's discography up to that point and then gave it to my father so that he could gradually buy the albums for me. After he died, I found the list among his possessions. In the decade since his death, I have turned to Amos's music at the moments of my deepest despair and grief. My story is not unique. I know she has saved countless lives. I also know that she would deny it and tell us that we saved ourselves.

So The Beekeeper holds significance for my life and it's one I revisit often because it's about the coexistence of creation and death, birth and loss, beauty and decay. She doesn't talk much about the loss of her brother, only here and there in interviews. Tori has always shrouded herself in myth and archetype. She may address her personal loss and heartbreak in certain songs, but she always (in my opinion) seeks to transform that personal pain into something more universal and transcendent. She isn't interested so much in autobiography as she is history. While she's often referred to as confessional, I think that word erases just how forcefully she engages with stories and narratives outside her own life.

Still, there are songs on The Beekeeper that drip with grief and it's impossible not to interpret them through the lens of Amos's own tragedies and her experience with loss. One is the title song from the album. The figure of the beekeeper is transformed into a kind of grim reaper who "taps you on the shoulder when it's your time." The speaker is faced with the possible death of their loved one, as evidenced by the lyric "In your gown with your breathing mask on/ Plugged into a heart machine." This is a reference to Amos's mother who was in critical condition and, according to Amos, "flat-lined and came back." The end of the song describes the beekeeper passing over the person who was going to die, giving them another chance at life, but this joyous reprieve is followed by an ominous foreboding, "I'm just passing you by/ But don't be confused /One day I'll be coming for you." Death has been averted, but it cannot be escaped. The song also makes reference to Amos's brother with the line "take this message to Michael."

In an interview with Rip It Up Magazine, Amos discusses "The Beekeeper" and how it related to Michael's death. This quote is especially interesting as it showcases how an artist like Amos uses her art to engage with loss and also to transform it:
With my brother's death it was very sudden. The song The Beekeeper was in process when he had his tragic accident. I didn't have the background vocals done yet and I was able to weave into The Beekeeper the sorrow and the loss of Michael on the song, as well as the infinity dance of the honey bee. The honey bee represents sacred sexuality and represents transmutation from one plane to the next. The subject matters - including Michael's death - were really transformational.
Another song on the album directly addresses Michael's death. "Toast" is a loving tribute to her brother; it was written as she was flying back home from his funeral. The speaker reminisces about a person they have lost and shares memories. One line states that "You showed me the rope/ ropes to climb/ over mountains/ and to pull myself/ out of a landslide." These words echo things that Amos has said in interviews about the strong influence her brother had on her life. She told ExBerliner that "He was always a great support. He always encouraged me to try and be brave and not be afraid of not being part of a trend." Most moving of all, his death did not destroy the connection she still feels to him. In an interview with The Age newspaper, she said:
I have a great bond with Michael. Michael was always the one that was the master of the music, he was the one that brought the Stevie Wonder records into our house, he was the one that brought Zeppelin, the Beatles, Joni Mitchell. He's still on my guest list for every show, because I feel a closeness to him. I feel his presence and he walks with me. Through the music, I feel like I'm able to communicate across the veil to the other side. I dance on the ends of the notes that take me through the dimensions to wherever he is. Of course I don't know where he is, but I know that the music knows.
"Toast" conveys a similar message, that those we have lost can still remain present in our lives, that we can find them again through the things they loved and the memories we have of them. The closing lines of the song read "I thought I'd see you again. /You say you might do /Maybe in a carving/ in a cathedral/ Somewhere in Barcelona." The lyrics remind me of other songs, of that heartbreaking line in James Taylor's "Fire and Rain" where he sings "I always thought that I'd see you again." I think of Soap&Skin's "Vater" in which the speaker toasts "dozens of bottles of wine" to her dead father. While "Vater" is a darker, melancholy song, Amos's "Toast" is life-affirming and optimistic that death is not the end, that the dead live on in other ways. Perhaps that optimism is meant to extend to the nation as a whole. Amos seems to insist to us that despite the war, the loss, and the devastation, we can go on, we can find peace, and we can create the world anew.

2016: The Year of Endless Loss

Prince on stage at the Ritz club in New York

On Twitter, there is currently a topic trending: Dear 2016, Stop. đź’”, Us. With its cute emoji and somewhat joking tone, it's about how 2016 is a terrible year that is taking away all of our beloved artists. And it's true. So far this year we've lost Natalie Cole, David Bowie, Glenn Frey, Alan Rickman, Doris Roberts, Patty Duke, and now Prince, who passed away today at the age of 57. All of these people have personal significance in my own life, from listening to the music of Cole, Bowie, The Eagles, and Prince to watching the films of Patty Duke and Alan Rickman and loving the show, Everybody Loves Raymond, that Doris Roberts made so funny and enjoyable.

It's interesting how social media has changed how we grieve for celebrities. Honestly, when I first heard about Prince's death my initial impulse, after wanting to curl up in a ball and cry forever, was to go to social media and express my condolences, to see what other people were posting about his shocking death. I wanted to engage in a kind of communal mourning. We see this time and again after the death of celebrities. People gather in public, often outside the person's home, and they leave gifts or notes. If it's a musician, like Prince and Bowie, they play the person's music. There is this desire to reach out, to find consolation in a community of fellow fans. We connect through our shared surprise that the person is gone, we divulge personal stories about what the person's art meant to us, how their songs or movies or books affected our lives and made us who we are.

I think it's fair to say that Prince was a universally beloved musician who is woven into the fabric of modern American culture. Even those too young to have heard "Purple Rain" or "When Doves Cry," certainly noticed Prince as a fixture at award shows like The Grammys and as a performer at countless concerts and after-parties. He also wrote or co-wrote many classic songs for other artists, like Stevie Nicks's "Stand Back," Chaka Khan's "I Feel For You," and  "Manic Monday" by The Bangles. His image is instantly recognizable the world over. In fact, it feels as though the whole world is mourning his passing. In our grief, there is something profoundly soothing about the knowledge that so many other people are also grieving, that they are listening to Prince's songs and reflecting on the the impact he made with his art, his anti-racist politics, and his transgression of gender norms.

Just because something is a social media meme doesn't mean it can't be revelatory and resonant. Dear 2016, Stop. đź’”, Us might be a transient topic on Twitter, but it speaks to the reality of our shared grief over the loss of so many vital and dynamic and groundbreaking artists who are gone. The death of a celebrity forces us to confront our own mortality. If this person who seemed immortal and invincible can die, then we too can die. It's hard and it's frightening to think about the vulnerability of our bodies and how little control we have over our lives. How do we cope? We keep living. We share our stories and try to connect with others. Above all, we remember and cherish the gifts that these monumental artists gave us.

Rose Ausländer - My Nightingale

My mother was a doe in another time.
Her honey-brown eyes
and her loveliness
survive from that moment.

Here she was—
half an angel and half humankind—
the center was mother.
When I asked her once what she would have wanted to be
she made this answer to me: a nightingale.

Now she is a nightingale.
Every night, night after night, I hear her
in the garden of my sleepless dream.
She is singing the Zion of her ancestors.
She is singing the long-ago Austria.
She is singing the hills and beech-woods
of Bukowina.
My nightingale
sings lullabies to me
night after night
in the garden of my sleepless dream.


from After Every War: Twentieth-Century Women Poets, edited and translated by Eavan Boland

"To Write Was To Live:" The Dreamwords of Rose Ausländer


 There were two ways to respond to that unbearable reality. Either one could despair entirely or one could occupy a different, spiritual reality[...] And while we waited for death, there were those of us who dwelt in dreamwords--our traumatic home amidst our homelessness. To write was to live. 
-- Rose Ausländer
The issue of language and grief continues to fascinate me. For many years, I've admired the poetry of Rose Ausländer. I discovered her work through the anthology After Every War: Twentieth-Century Women Poets, edited and translated by Eavan Boland. I recently learned about an episode in Ausländer's life when she abandoned her mother tongue, refusing to write in German after the death of her mother.

Ausländer was born in 1901 to a German-speaking family in Czernowitz, Bukovina, a territory then part of Austria-Hungary but presently part of Ukraine. In 1921, she moved with her husband to the United States and began publishing poetry. Within a few years, the marriage was over and Ausländer returned home. She would make another move to the United States before settling once more in Czernowitz to take care of her ill mother around the time of World War II.

In 1941, Czernowitz fell under Nazi occupation and Rose and her mother were forced to live in a Jewish ghetto where they often hid in cellars to avoid deportation. It was during this time in the Czernowitz ghetto that Ausländer met the poet Paul Celan. The two would remain friends for their entire lives. In 1944, the ghetto was liberated by the Russians who continued to persecute the Jewish community. In 1946, Ausländer fled to the United States. Her mother died a year later, before Ausländer could obtain a visa for her.

The death of Ausländer's mother was a traumatic experience. Though she had published poetry in German since the 1920s, she refused to write in her mother tongue for the next ten years. Over the course of that decade, Ausländer wrote and published poetry solely in English.

Her choice to reject German is understandable, considering the catastrophe of World War II. Maybe writing in English represented a break with the past, the promise of a new beginning in a new language that held more possibilities. German was the language of her parents, but it was also the language of her persecutors, the Nazis. Or maybe it was another form of speechlessness. Her mother died and Ausländer literally could not speak in the primary language she had always known. She could not find the words for her own personal loss or for the historic loss of millions of people.

Over that lost decade, Ausländer still believed in language. She was not silenced. She translated her emotions and memories into English, but she could not forget her mother tongue. Her friends Marianne Moore, whom she befriended while living in New York, and Paul Celan encouraged her to write again in German.

Influenced by American Modernism and Celan, Ausländer returned to the German language, writing the poems that would bring her great acclaim during her lifetime. In German, she affirmed her profound belief in the life-saving properties of writing. Multiple poems attest to her dedication, perhaps even obsession, with words. Take, for instance, the poem "Mother Tongue," which seems to celebrate her reunion with German:
I have changed
from myself into myself
from moment to moment
 
sprung into fragments
on the word path

Mother tongue
you piece me together
 
a human mosaic
Now that her mother is dead, language, her mother tongue, will guide her, even love her, as we see in the poem "Words":
Keep me in your service
my whole life long
let me breathe in you

I thirst for you
drink you word for word
my source

Your angry glitter
winter-word

Lilac-fine
you bloom in me
word of spring

I follw you
even into sleep
spell out all your dreams

We speak the same language
we love each other
Her relationship with words is like a love affair. She gives her life to language, she loves it and imagines that it can love her in return, that it can make her whole despite the devastation she has suffered.

German was the language of the Nazis, but it's also the language of the victims and the survivors, of Celan and Ausländer, the language of horror and grief and beauty and splendor. It took ten years for Ausländer to realize that she still had something to say in her mother tongue, that the words were there, ready for her, and all she had to do was find them and let them do their work.


Note: All quotes, biographical facts, and poems are from Mother Tongue: Selected Poems by Rose Ausländer, translated by Jean Boase-Beier and Anthony Vivis

Stitching Words

Last night, I read Adrienne Rich's "Defy the Space That Separates," an essay written as the introduction to The Best American Poetry 1996 that she edited. Though written two decades ago, the essay is a living, breathing document as relevant now as it was back then. Rich writes about the poetry she was looking for as she edited the prestigious anthology and then argues for what poetry should do, what it can do, and how language should affect us.

There is one part of the essay that I'm still thinking about today. Rich quotes John Berger:
“Poetry,” John Berger has written, “can repair no loss, but it defies the space which separates…by its continual labour of reassembling what has been scattered.”
I think I write about grief because I am trying to stitch together the shards of my life and myself.

In high school, I took a sewing class and loved it. I loved patchwork most of all because I loved stitching disparate pieces of cloth to form a new design. I saw how, with my own hands, I could connect parts to create a whole.

When writing about grief, when constructing a language for it, I think I have to accept that there will be gaps, that the language will never be complete. There will be lacunae and ellipses, gashes in memory, spaces of ineffability. But I will keep stitching my words together because, although I write extensively about silence and the limits of language, I still believe in language.

Near the end of "Defy the Space That Separates," Adrienne Rich gives the best argument I have read for why language matters and why we need poetry:
We need poetry as living language, the core of every language, something that is still spoken, aloud or in the mind, muttered in secret, subversive, reaching around corners, crumpled into a pocket, performed to a community, read aloud to the dying, recited by heart, scratched or sprayed on a wall. That kind of language.

Soap&Skin - Vater

Having recently read about Henry Wadsworth Longfellow and his decision to translate Dante's Divine Comedy after the death of his wife, I think more about language and grief, about how we put grief into words, how we translate an abstract feeling into art, and what language we choose and what form that language takes, be it poetry, prose, or music. 

Anja Plaschg, a singer who performs under the name Soap&Skin, lost her father in 2009. Anja is Austrian, but writes songs in English. However, when she decided to write a song about her father's death, she wrote in her mother tongue, German. She spoke to The Quietus about this choice and why she wrote the song:
Almost all your lyrics are in English, why write in your second language? 
Ummm.... I always did it, like naturally, because maybe I feel more connected to an abstract world. 'Vater', the first song on the album, is my first song in my mother tongue. That is just because I wanted to confront myself for this tune with my mother tongue. 
Because it's such a personal song? 
Yes. It was clear from the beginning that I have to do it in German... um, yeah. 
It is a tender song but it also sounds very angry too - are you raging over your father's death? 
No, I think it is more like... protocol? Is that right? I am going through separate emotional states. I wrote this song in one year. It took one year.
Anja's confession that it took a year to write the song further reminds me of Longfellow and how it took eighteen years for him to write a poem that memorialized his dead wife. In the initial days and weeks of grief, we might find it difficult to write or even speak. We confront the limits of language.

"Vater" (German for father) is a stunning song of heartbreak and grief. The imagery is haunting, like when Anja sings that she wants to be a maggot in order to be close to her father again. There is also violence, like the interviewer at The Quietus points out. She tells her father to beat himself out of her head, she demands to be made into bone like him. Her longing for him is intense, overwhelming, even brutal, for in order to be with him again she must die. There is also the final, violent image of Anja wishing she could shatter the sky above so that her father can crash from heaven back down to earth, liberated from death.  It's a raw vision of grief, one that acknowledges the relentless desire for self-obliteration and to be reunited with the dead.

There is no definitive English translation of the song. I have collaborated with someone who is fluent in both English and German for the translation below. We have tried to remain faithful to the original sounds and meanings of the song. The process of collaborating revealed to me just how difficult translation is and the conflicts that arise whenever we try to put feelings and emotions like grief, loss, and heartbreak into words. Perhaps Anja felt that only German could adequately communicate her anguish. Our translation can never fully capture the original, but I hope we've come close. I'm also posting the beautiful instrumental version of the song as a powerful reminder that, when it comes to music, words are not always necessary, though they are important. Listening to the song without words is an equally powerful and moving experience.





German Lyrics

Haltet alle Uhren an
hindert den Hund daran
das Rad anzubellen

Wo immer ich aufschlage find’ ich dich
Du fällst im Schatten der Tage
als Stille und Stich
Ich trink’ auf dich dutzende Flaschen Wein
und will doch viel lieber eine Made sein

Der Sarg fällt zusammen
die Blumen fallen in die Wangen
Zuerst weiĂź, dann blau, dann grau, dann grĂĽn
dann Schaum, dann braun und Laub und Staub

Bitte schlag dich aus meinem Kopf, meinem Haus
wie sonst halte ich den Graus aus?
Mit welchem Herz, mit welchem Körper
aus?

Aus

Wo immer ich aufschlage find’ ich dich
Du fällst im Schatten der Tage
als Stille und Stich
Ich wart’ auf dich, wann kommst du wieder heim?
Ich wollt’ noch nie lieber eine Made sein
Eine Made sein
Eine Made sein
Eine Made sein
Eine Mama

Lass mich rein, rein, beinhart wie du sein
lass mich in dein Aug’ hinein
Ich will es seh’n, die PrĂĽfung besteh’n
ohne Pein, ohne Pein, ohne Pein
lass mich rein, du Stein!
Mir hilft kein Warten und kein Wein
kein Schreien

Um alles in der Welt, das dich am Leben hält
zerschlag’ ich auch mein Himmelszelt
auf dass es unter dir zusammenfällt
und du dich neigst
und du dich endlich wieder zeigst!


English translation

Stop all the clocks,
hinder the dog
from barking at the wheel.

Wherever I end up I find you,
You're falling within the shadow of the days
as silence and sting.
I toast to you dozens of bottles of wine,
but would rather be a maggot

The coffin crumbles,
Flowers fall into cheeks,
First white, then blue, then gray, then green,
Then foam, then brown and leaves and dust.

Please, beat yourself out of my head, my house,
How else will I endure the terror?
Endure with what kind of heart, what kind of body?

End

Wherever I end up I find you,
You're falling within the shadow of the days
As silence and sting.
I wait for you, when will you return home?
I never wanted so much to be a maggot.
To be a maggot,
To be a maggot,
To be a maggot.
A Maggot.

Let me in, in, be hard as bone like you,
Let me into your eye,
I want to see it, I want to pass this test
Without pain, without pain, without pain.
You stone, let me in!
Waiting doesn't help and crying doesn't and screaming doesn't.

For everything in this world, that keeps you alive,
I'll also shatter my firmament,
Such that below you it will crumble,
And you will fall,
And you will finally come out again.


Henry Wadsworth Longfellow and the Speechlessness of Grief

In 1861, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow's wife, Frances, caught fire due to either melted wax or a candle. When Longfellow attempted to smother the flames, he sustained severe burns to his body and face. The scars to his face caused Longfellow to grow out his famous white beard immortalized by Julia Margaret Cameron in her 1868 portrait of him.



Frances died as a result of her injuries. Over the next two decades, Longfellow ceased to write much at all. He focused his attention on a critically-acclaimed translation of Dante's Divine Comedy, which was published in 1867.

It wasn't until eighteen years after Frances's death that he wrote a poem memorializing his wife. "The Cross of Snow" was posthumously published after Longfellow died in 1882. The poem captures his grief, how it became a cross that he bore, a burden that never truly left him.

In the long, sleepless watches of the night,
   A gentle face — the face of one long dead —
   Looks at me from the wall, where round its head
   The night-lamp casts a halo of pale light.
Here in this room she died; and soul more white
   Never through martyrdom of fire was led
   To its repose; nor can in books be read
   The legend of a life more benedight.
There is a mountain in the distant West
   That, sun-defying, in its deep ravines
   Displays a cross of snow upon its side.
Such is the cross I wear upon my breast
   These eighteen years, through all the changing scenes
   And seasons, changeless since the day she died.

Longfellow's story is an example of the way that devastating loss can steal our ability to speak or write. Even great poets and writers are not immune to the silencing power of grief. It's as though our vocal cords are cut. We try to speak, but nothing comes or the right words evade our vocabulary. What's interesting is that Longfellow had buried an infant daughter in 1848 and also wrote a poem about that loss--it was called "Resignation"--but it was the loss of his wife Frances in 1861 that debilitated him, that challenged his ability to write. Perhaps because he was older, had felt the way that loss accumulates like strata, building layer upon layer that weighs us down.

It's not all that surprising that he plunged into another language after the death of Frances. He needed to escape his own language, break away from it, wade into different sounds and verbs and meanings, find solace in another tongue. He came back to English with "The Cross of Snow." He wrote it two years before his own death, did not seek out publication for it. Perhaps it was just what he needed to say. By that time, he was famous, but his best work was behind him. What do we make of grief when it has the power to silence even our greatest writers? It took him almost two decades, but Longfellow created one last stunning gasp of a poem that captures his grief and our own.

Written in the middle of the night as a way to stop crying

It astonishes me how powerful memory can be, how a song on the radio or a description in a book can transport me to another lifetime but it doesn't really transport me at all. I'm always stuck in this life and the past is always lost, inaccessible, sealed behind glass where it can't be touched or experienced again. And that's what I can't live with--the fact that my childhood really is over and that I will never have it again and the people who were in it are dead and the loss won't end. No, the loss will never end.

I keep touching the living and thinking about its eventual death. I rub my dog's fur and think about how, one day, he will die. I stare at my mother, wanting to memorize her face and remember every word she says. I'm so terrified of loss. I'm so consumed by my fear of death that I find it hard to function at times. My anxiety and depression are depleting me.

I think about this passage from Elizabeth Hardwick's Sleepless Nights:
Flaubert wrote in a letter to Louise Colet that he could never see a cradle without thinking of a grave.
My disintegration is nothing new. I've been coming undone since my father's death. I keep thinking I should be stronger, more capable, but I'm always that 16-year-old girl who lost her father, the girl whose whole world was obliterated in a matter of seconds and she stands there stunned and silent and doesn't know what to do. She is frozen in trauma, walled in by it, and she continues to try and claw her way out of the pain and grief and anguish that buries her.

I recently watched Andrzej Żuławski's Possession and was profoundly moved by a scene in which Isabelle Adjani has a complete breakdown in a subway station. She is going mad right in front of our eyes, contorting her body, throwing her arms around, her eyes go wide, she screams and spasmodically moves and flails about on the ground. The scene culminates with the pouring of blood and a white substance from both her mouth and between her legs. It's this gushing, this release of rage. It's quite glorious and disturbing to watch.











I thought to myself, Yes that's how I feel inside. That's what I want to do. I want to stop and shriek in public and let the entire world know that I'm in pain and I'm a mess and I'm so furious, but I keep my composure, I conform. I keep it together until I get to the sanctuary of my bedroom where I can curl up and cry.

God forbid we lose control as women. God forbid we go insane or get upset or cease to be pleasant. God forbid we have all-consuming emotions that can't be contained, that things like grief and loss unhinge us.

I want to scream my guts out. I want to cry my guts out. I want to write my guts out. I want to bleed it all out of me until I'm empty and clean.

These words have quieted my heart. The tears have stopped. That's why I cling to them. Because when nothing else is there, the words are there. They're in me and of me and also outside of me and I don't know what to do with them except to release them in this condition, raw and oozing and infantile.

This is the only writing I can do, the only writing I want to do and I fear no one will ever read my words or hear me or understand or care. And I am so desperate for people to read what I write, to validate me, to care about and love and understand me. Every day, I feel like an utter failure, a worthless person who has nothing to offer, but I give these words and they make me free and they give me a taste of healing and they are the light that I thought died with my father but I'm keeping the flame alive inside me. I'm burning. I'm burning. I'm burning.

A New Study Suggests That It's Possible to Die of a Broken Heart

In 2015, the tragic story of Doug Flutie's parents spread across social media. In one day, Flutie lost both his father and his mother. His father died first. Upon seeing her husband of more than 50 years dead, Flutie's mother had a heart attack and also passed away. The story became an example of how someone can die of a broken heart. A new study suggests that this phenomenon is actually rooted in some scientific evidence. The study was conducted in Denmark and published in a medical journal called Open Heart. At The Guardian, Agence France Presse broke down the results of the study and what they mean for the bereaved. This report is not all that surprising to me, as I myself have suffered from health problems since the death of my father. I often feel that I am slowly dying of a broken heart. 
The death of a life partner may trigger an irregular heartbeat, itself potentially life-threatening, according to research into the risk of dying from a broken heart. 
A trawl of data on nearly one million Danish people showed an elevated risk, lasting about a year, of developing a heart flutter. Those under 60 whose partners died unexpectedly were most in peril. 
[...] 
Several studies have shown that grieving spouses have a higher risk of dying, particularly of heart disease and stroke, but the mechanism is unclear. 
The latest study asked specifically whether bereaved partners were more likely than others to develop atrial fibrillation, the most common type of irregular heartbeat and a risk factor for stroke and heart failure. 
Researchers in Denmark used population data collected between 1995 and 2014 to search for a pattern. 
Of the group, 88,612 people had been newly diagnosed with atrial fibrillation (AF) and 886,120 were healthy. 
“(T)he risk of developing an irregular heartbeat for the first time was 41% higher among those who had been bereaved than it was among those who had not experienced such a loss,” said the study led by Simon Graff of Aarhus University
[...] 
The team cautioned that no conclusions can be drawn about cause and effect, as the study was merely an observational one, looking at correlations in data.
Read the full article 

Isolation and Silence

As the ten-year mark of my father's death approaches, I'm thinking more about how grief isolates us, how even when two people, like my mother and I, experience a loss together, we are imprisoned in our  separate subjectivities.

She felt and lived something that is hers alone, that I have no right to know, that I cannot know. She also lost her mother and brother a couple of years after my father died. I can't imagine her pain. It's impossible to reach inside another person and understand all that has created them, all that haunts them.

We don't talk much about my father. It's too dangerous to touch the trauma of it, to force the painful memories to the surface. His absence is an unspoken presence in our everyday lives.

I tell her "You can talk to me. I'm here. We lived it together. I understand." But she keeps it to herself, like me. 

"I don't want to burden you," she says.

Ironically, our silence grows out of love, out of a fear of upsetting each other. But I think the silence also persists because we can't put it into words, this grief that permeates our lives. 

Sometimes, silence is the only response when you live with a wound for years. You're just trying to survive. Sharing your anguish doesn't always heal or free you. You still have to live with it whether or not you have articulated it and sometimes it's so exhausting to speak, to be comprehensible to another person.

I have noticed something interesting about my mother. While she rarely talks about her grief, she often shares posts on Facebook of photos that contain certain quotes and these quotes are, increasingly, related to grief. I explore and express grief through writing while she publicly engages in mourning by re-posting these quotes that communicate the feelings she cannot say to me or anyone else. 

Our losses have made us close but, at the same time, they have isolated us within ourselves. We break through that isolation as best we can and with what tools we have, but we are still so alienated from everything around us. 

Today, she said "I have changed and I will never be who I was ever again." 

Grief changes us and often we don't know how to inhabit the people we become when we have lost so much. We can't make sense of ourselves. We can't relate to other people in the same way, even those who know us best and love us the most. We feel so alone.  Our relationships change or cease altogether. We lose connections, we forget how to reach out or the reaching out no longer comforts us.

Loss shows us how fundamentally alone we are, how precarious our existence is, how fragile our bonds are to our loved ones. After such a confrontation with mortality and chaos, we retreat into ourselves. I know that's happened to my mother and I. Loss disfigured us. We were no longer recognizable and could not relate to other people. Family left us, abandoned us. We found solace in one another, made a little world of our own that we still live in, but even together we are separated by the distance between what we feel and what we can actually say.