Monthly Archives: April 2015

This all together thunder.


I wake up and take the dog for a walk. The morning of my birthday it was a grey misty walk, a soft pattering morning. I was soothed by it — but the day was a wash. I was sad, and tired, and was slammed at work.

IMG_0173Yesterday it was mild and still. The nesting geese and ducks on the pond scolded us as we walked. I came home and instead of going back to bed for an hour I got a start on my day, making to do lists and writing a letter to a friend. I felt bolstered and better and ready for the day. Then I got to work and it was a wash. Again.

IMG_0176I woke up just before 6 this morning, not happy. I hate the mornings at the best of  times. I dragged myself awake and took the dog to the long walk at Bass River instead of the short walk at the dog park. It’s beautiful; this morning the water was mirror smooth. And yes, it’s nice to be out before everyone else, to have quiet. To walk and think.


But I’m cranky. I’m stressed and sad and unhappy with work this week and just cranky.


I want a long break.


I’m finding it hard to write. Part of it is that I don’t necessarily want to chronicle this time, because I’m not sure I’ll want to remember it in detail (I remember the day mom died in vivid, unrelenting detail, but everything afterwards is a blur, so I suspect the same will be true of this).

Part of it is that I’m overwhelmed, and trying to untwist all those little knots of whelmedness is exhausting and, I think, unproductive — what’s more productive is just dealing with things one detail at a time so the knots undo themselves on their own.

I haven’t forgotten my promise to myself — the one about joy. Even now there are joyful moments. It’s sunny and warm today; there’s the marathon this weekend, and baseball on the radio. There’s dinner with an aunt, FaceTime with a nephew (who I get to see this weekend). There’s waking up with the sunshine on my face. I get to bring my dog home tomorrow, and there will be daily walks in the woods where I can watch spring arrive — the budding trees, the starflowers, the peeking greenery. There’s music and games and feeling at the core that I’ll be ok, that we all will be.

I will eventually return to my hobbies: I want to finish Dragon Age. I DID finish Limbo this week which felt like a huge triumph since I have been playing it for at least a year, probably longer. High on that triumph I started playing Oceanhorn, another year old game that I never played, and am about an hour into that. Mobile games are about as much as I can handle right now because they’re so easy to pick up and put down. As I clear out my games backlog, I want to write about them, just to keep my practice up.

I’m heading up to Arlington after work tonight. I can’t wait to see that dog and give him a hug. He tolerates hugs in the manner of a polite teenager, but what gets me is after I stop hugging him he’ll often twist his neck and plop his head into my lap for pettings; how can you not melt when an animal does that?

I feel better today than I have in a while. Maybe it’s the weather. Maybe it’s just the sense that things will get done. There’s joy ahead. It’s all about one detail at a time.


There’s so much world to see.

Reading & Playing

I want to write regularly again, but I have to ease myself into it, gently like.

When I finally had enough of an attention span to read again, the first book I picked up after my dad died was Ready Player One. I figured it would be a good palette cleanser — nothing too serious (in comparison to, say, The Sound and the Fury which is also on my desk) and probably comforting.

I mean, I’m years behind the curve on this one, but it speaks to my soul. And within ten minutes it made me want to put the book down and pick up a game — any game, but preferably something like an old final fantasy. There is SO much love for gaming in this book — everything from arcade cabinets to MMOs. And it reminded me of how much I love them, too.

When my sister left to go home and I was alone in the house, games were what distracted me. But because I was still hurting, I didn’t want to play multiplayer. I just wanted to get lost in worlds that weren’t this one. So I played silly games: Animal Crossing. The Sims. Harry Potter Lego. Now that I’m steadier (and I am steadier; yesterday was a speed bump, a punch in the gut, and today I woke up with a snarl on my lips and moved into being SO mad which feels better) I am playing a little again. Some Dragon Age last night (I picked up my level 6 mage because I wanted to make some different choices; that feels like cheating but man, you don’t get do overs in real life so I’ll take them wherever I can in virtual life). I have chore lists a mile high, but in between I’ll finish Shadows of Mordor, a replay of Windwaker, Dragon Age. I’ll play Mass Effect for the first time. I’ll replay the original Dragon Ages. I’ll play Limbo and Final Age and Tales From the Borderlands on my iPad. I’ll play EVERYTHING, in short.


And I’ll read everything, too. I am a literary omnivore, not embarrassed to read Nora Roberts alongside “high fiction.” While I was on vacation I read a bizarre book called The Place of the Lion, written by a contemporary/fellow Inklings member of C.S. Lewis and Tolkien. I had a hankering for cozy fantasy, which isn’t a category that exists. Cozy mysteries, for those among you not trained to be mystery readers by your mothers, aunts and grandmothers as I was, are gently told mysteries taking place in small communities (usually English, although there are a lot of food cozy mysteries that are set in the US). Agatha Christie is my queen of cozy mysteries. I think of the Hobbit and to a lesser extent LotR as cozy fantasies, although neither really is (especially LotR — but honestly any book with that lovingly detailed descriptions of food counts). Harry Potter. Narnia. Redwall. Maybe this betrays me as a lover of young adult fantasy versus high/adult fantasy; I don’t care. Anyway, I picked up The Place of the Lion because of Charles Williams’ associations — and I guess to some extent it fit, but holy jesus there was so much PHILOSOPHY in it. My brain’s not up for that at the moment, and I read it on the plane until my eyes went cross eyed.


(where I did all of my reading at Sar’s Ventura bungalow)

A better success for my vacation reading was At Home by Bill Bryson. I love Bill Bryson books. They’re cozy history/non fiction, ANOTHER category that doesn’t exist. Sure, he might be describing the appalling conditions suffered by the poor during Victorian times, but there’s so much humor and time buffering it that you feel ok about it all.

Another great success was Bridget Jones’ Diary, which is so different than the movie but also great. British chicklit has a special place in my heart since I devoured it in Ireland (along with Terry Pratchett books) and maybe some part of me also just finds british literature inherently more charming; small villages and sprawling London and quiz shows. Always the quiz shows.

Next on my list, on arriving home, was A Brave New World, which I’m reading now. I am almost positive I read it in high school, but I don’t remember it — there’s not a single twinge of recognition (I got to the description of incubator nurses as “lupus colored” with purple skin and coral lips,due to the lighting, and felt SURE I would have remembered that). It’s not a tough read, engrossing, but my brain is definitely struggling to focus. So I’m breaking my no re-reads rule with a favorite Nora Roberts because I’m craving popcorn lit.

Basically, I’m not trying to live in denial, but sometimes it’s nice to escape. And is there a nicer escape than books and video games? No. No there is not.



I’m having a hard day.

I was in California for a week, where the sunlight did a lot to calm and relax me, but also to distract me — while reality crashed in the minute I came into the house last night (dark, stuffy) via the front door which we never use.

It’s hard. It’s hard to face an empty house. It’s hard to think about the things that are changing; the ones that already have and the ones I know will. And so it’s a hard day.


It’s normal. I’m in mourning. Grief ebbs and flows and you never are really sure when the tides are coming in or going out. I know this intimately. And yet, I’m sitting in the sunroom,  finishing up some outstanding chores, and the effort of getting up, doing the next thing, making some lunch, it’s so huge that I feel physically weighed down.

These are the hardest days, because many people expect you to be doing better. Time heals, so of course as time passes (they reason) you will do exponentially better. Only, that’s not how it works. In the days after a death, everything is so unreal, and then your new reality sets in. And you have to cope with that.


I am coping. Don’t get me wrong. After I write this, I’ll make some lunch, walk down to the mailbox, switch the laundry out, put a record on, clean. I’ll keep checking things off on my master to do list, because every check box lightens the burden of stress and guilt and overwhelmedness. I LIVE by to do lists, a habit gifted by my mother and her pile of ever present steno notebooks (90% to do lists, 10% diary).

But I’d be lying if I said I was totally fine. And I think that’s ok. I don’t want to pretend this doesn’t SUCK. (“You’re an orphan,” said an uncle at the wake. “I mean, obviously it feels silly to say that when you’re in your 30s, but it doesn’t matter how old you are, you feel that loss down to your toes, and you are an orphan.”) I want to be honest, because then I can feel the grief receding, the tide going out, strength returning. I’ll get there.




IMG_0210When we went to see Wild, the thing that struck me most was the perfect way the soundtrack was handled. As Reese Witherspoon’s character hikes the PCT, she hears snatches of songs playing in her head, in that echoey tinny way your head replays things. They loop and play and loop on endless repeat, pulling memories along with them on every loop.

I thought about that in the shower 15 days ago. Dad was gone, suddenly. Harshly. Heartbreakingly. And in my head I kept hearing: “but death is just so full and man so small / well I’m scared of what’s behind and what’s before” in the echo chamber of my head, and relieving the past 36 hours, the past week.


Look, the thing is I know I’ll be ok, eventually. I’ve been through this before, and I’m resilient, and I have an amazing support network. But knowing that doesn’t help when you face an empty house, or find those heartbreaking little mementos of a life lived — the lists, the notes to self, the personality shining through an object.

I have a lot of guilt, anger and grief roiling around, each one vying to be the boss.


But there’s something else. Death can bring clarity. It sharpens all the edges — and the edges cut through the comforting layers we build around ourselves to just make it through the day. The layers that tell us things will stay the same forever, that there’s so much more time, that we’ll get to it — eventually.

IMG_0184And it also cuts away some of the nasty layers, like the ones that say that being a bad friend means your friends won’t forgive you. The ones that say that you should keep feeling guilty for things long forgotten. The ones that leave you feeling paralyzed — they’re suddenly given their proper proportion.

IMG_0202Don’t get me wrong, my sense of proportion is all sorts of messed up — little things seem impossible, huge things incomprehensibly unimportant. But still, there’s that diamond sharp clarity underneath: this isn’t what matters.


When we were sorting through the pictures of my dad, the thing that struck me so hard was the absolute joy of many of them. He gradually lost that joy — not completely, but enough that looking back I can’t believe how much I didn’t see. But he was a man with a huge heart who found happiness in his family and in making them happy. His best friend, devastated at the news, wrote us:

 He was the most kind, generous, loyal, self-deprecating man I’ve known, and it pains me beyond words that his great and open Irish heart is stilled. He gave good crack in the highest Gaelic style; he wore his admirable, deeply earned success as if it were a lucky accident; his warmth was as homey and embracing as a good peat fire.

And I can’t put it better than that.


I put my life on hold for grandma and then my dad. I didn’t have to. I probably withdrew more than I needed to. And don’t get me wrong, there were some happy times there, some quiet contentment among the hard moments. But when I look at these pictures of a life so full and well lived, I realize that I haven’t looked for enough joy in my own life.


And in those first few days after he died — after I finally slept, after I started to process what is happening — I felt the shift. The realization that I want those happy pictures in my albums. That I want to answer the phone, and I want to say yes, and I want to throw myself on the kindness of friends, and I want to be a better sister, a better niece, a better aunt. I want to find joy and fill my life up to the brim.


I can’t think of a better way to honor my father, who above all wanted nothing more than for us to be happy.


And who would make himself foolish to draw a smile.

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