If you consider the many ridiculous things I did to keep my daughter loving me when she was alive, all my crazy carrying-on since she died should come as no surprise. What wild and crazy things did you do in the name of love?
“How’s your girl doing?” asked an old friend at a public event last week. Dumbfounded, I stopped breathing and stared at him. He couldn’t mean My Girl, as in my daughter who died. Was he maybe inquiring about my BFF inherited dog? Or the young woman who helps me in the garden? No—he really was asking about my daughter—whose funeral and memorial he had, himself, attended eight years ago.
“Uh, well, you know she d—,” I stopped myself.
It had been years since I’d run into someone who didn’t know of Marika’s death, where I’d have to awkwardly inform them of her demise. I hate having to spill this to clueless folks who, as a result, will feel queasy around me forever after. Sometimes people who know my story avoid me, like maybe they’re scared I’ll fall apart howling. Spotting old friends at weddings and funerals, I’ve learned to wait and let them approach me rather than descend upon them. And I never mention my daughter unless they do, even though I’m itching to talk about her. Such is life with a dead daughter. I feel I have to protect people. I leave them plenty of time and space to make the first move. If they’re brave enough.
But this guy had known my daughter died.
“How’s your girl?” He asked again, with warm smiling eyes.
“Well, um—I’m keeping her close in my heart,” I tell the poor fellow, trying to simultaneously show him I’m okay, and he’s okay for not remembering, and remind him that Marika is dead. It was the best response I could come up with in my shock.
He cocked his head, and I repeated in a steady calm voice, “I keep her very close in my heart,” emphasizing ‘heart.’ He winced, and smacked his face. And I thought he would shrivel up and sink through the floor in mortification of forgetting. I told him it was all cool, and thanked him for thinking of Marika. He broke free of me shortly after.
“What is Marika like?” one of my hiker friends asked, the very next day, upon seeing the tattoo of Marika’s name on my bare arm.
“Thank you for using the present tense, since I think of my daughter as still being here in many ways,” I said, not entirely sure she understood that Marika is dead. Then I merrily answered her, rambling on and on about my favorite subject to talk about.
When’s the last time you invited a bereaved parent to talk about her beloved child?
I’ve been talking to dead people for so long that I forgot how to socialize with live ones. So at the reception of the latest memorial (memorials being the highlight of my weeks lately), when two men started two separate conversations with me at the same time, I froze and panicked, and fled the scene as soon as I could, not even stopping for a piece of cake. And at home, I went back to weeding the garden, grumbling to my dead daughter about my lack of the simplest social graces, until I sensed some snarky late-blooming bud of a lily laughing at me.
Life’s too short to beat oneself up about being socially inept. Unfortunately, I can’t blame this on my losses and bereavement. So I’m gonna stick to the garden and Photoshop and the safety of my own kitchen for a while, where I can’t embarrass myself. Catch you next week after I’ve recovered. Cheers!
“You’re a week early for the memorial service,” the woman in the parish house at Saint John’s Church told me. She must have seen I was crushed, standing there shrinking in my best clothes, under a raincoat. I’d missed a hike to attend this memorial. “But the organist is in the sanctuary practicing for next Saturday, if you’d like to sit in there for a while,” she offered. And then, for some unknown reason, I tiptoed in and silently slipped into a seat.
A statue of an eagle wearing a cloth scarf stood between the organ player and myself, hiding any view of the only other person in the sanctuary. I looked up and around at the high wooden Gothic-arch-vaulted ceiling and the stained glass windows while magnificent music poured from the organ. The sound was almost physical. It filled the hall, reached out and upward to the sky, and yet hovered over, hugging me. It vibrated through every inch of me. Some chords seemed to hang in the air forever. It felt like I was part of the music, like some part of me was being lifted. The word ‘glorious’ came to mind. What was I doing there, alone in this church? Me. Born Jewish, never found God, rejecting religion because it divides people.
The strange thing is I cried. I don’t know why. Maybe it was something I was missing in my life? Maybe because if I could imagine God singing, that’s how it would sound? Maybe it was because for years I’ve shunned churches and anything to do with God or love or faith, yet I envy those who are comforted by these.
Everyone needs a place they can come to, to feel welcome in, to find hope, find peace, and inspiration. My church is the hills and woods around Ithaca, New York where I hike several times a week. My sanctuary is my garden where greenest stems and leaves grow ever skyward, following the sun. The heavenly one I pray to these days is my daughter who died. I’m no longer looking for God. Grateful that not everyone has had to scramble around like I have, to find spiritual peace, I worship the earth. The planet I live on. It doesn’t matter who or what created it. I am a part of it.
For well over an hour Saint John’s was my own private church. And then I walked out into sunlight, drove home, and shed my raincoat and best clothes into a pile for next Saturday. Coming back for the memorial will be different. But worth missing another hike for, I decided.
Where do you find—glorious-ness? What is God and where is God to be found?
Barking, yipping, screaming, the dog and I defended the new vegetable garden against a ransacking raccoon, for as long as we could. I banged and kicked the sliding glass door mightily as the little dog went ballistic by my feet, and the ‘coon retreated to its place under the deck, but not for long. It popped out every so often, eyeing the garden, and then I’d storm outside, stomping, roaring, waving my arms frantically, leaving the dog to carry on hollering inside. This continued for most of the holiday weekend. Which is why I didn’t finish writing my blog about healing with fresh lettuce.
It was my first vegetable garden. A container garden. My friend had planted a galvanized steel bucket and two horse-sized water troughs full to their brims with kale, six different types of lettuces, spinach, basil, various herbs, and one tomato plant that’s supposed to yield a hundred cherry tomatoes. We built it on my deck, to be close and easy to manage.
It turns out the area under and around my deck is prime real estate for woodchucks, fox, raccoons, skunks, and muskrats. They take turns each year fighting for their nesting spots. They usually avoid the shallow boardwalk, lined with large windows and doors, that cantilevers over the pond. The perfect place for my salad garden, I thought. Until the first day. Right off, one of the resident woodchucks devoured most of the single cilantro seedling. I should have realized then this would be like inviting a whole kingdom of wild creatures for a free smorgasbord.
If my son were home he’d shoot every critter. Friends offered to help trap the offending beasts and carry them off far away. But I’m convinced the raccoon is a mother with babies. After all I’ve been through, how could I shoot or separate a mother with babies?
So I’m camping out by the garden. A lot. With camera, my book (Margaret Atwood’s A Handmaid’s Tale), pacifying mugs of hot mocha with Kahlua, and a water-hose. The dog, now sleeping exhausted on the other side of the sliding door, takes turns with me (from inside) guarding our healing herbs and lettuces. But we are ready to quit. Life’s too short to be picky over who gets to pick the vegetables. And we’re learning to pick our battles. Time to go hiking instead.
What did you lose over the long weekend? What do you favor – baby lettuce or baby raccoons?
It was the last photography class. It had been a difficult semester but the class was one of the things that saved me. I showed up even the day after my mother died. Whether or not I had completed the week’s assignment, the instructors and other students always made me feel welcome. But an hour before the class would be over forever, I left. I silently snuck out like I always leave: like I’d be back again next week, like nothing would have changed.
I hate saying goodbye. The painfully awkward standing around, nervous fussing, words spoken, words unuttered, and generally dragging out the inevitable separating make me want to disappear. It doesn’t matter if it’s a routine parting or a departure into death; it means things will be different from then on. I’ve already experienced too many changes, too recently. It’s scary to move onward once again, meet new people, start another class, another project, begin the next new chapter of my life. After all, how many more new chapters do I get? Might this be my last? Goodbye implies an end to something—a Last Time—and I hate Last Times: the last time I prayed for a miracle, a loved one’s last breath, last words, the last time I saw my daughter’s face, the last family photograph before….
There is no One Right Way to say goodbye. You can bid farewell to someone or something without even uttering the dreaded word ‘goodbye.’ A nonchalant “See ya” would work if one musters up a tiny wave of the hand. “It was great to share this time with you” could really resonate if a brief hint of eye contact is added. A simple silent nod could suffice. But me—I don’t do goodbyes.
At times of parting, I wish I could be bold enough to speak up, to simply sum up the situation and spill out what’s in my heart. But the words conveying my sentiments have a long winding labyrinth to follow from heart to head to my voice box. It can take days or months for my message to journey out into the world.
During the car ride home from the last class, and over the weekend, the words I wish I had left the class with finally found their way into my head and then onto paper.
“Thank you,” I would have said. “Thank you all for being here, for amazing me with what you accomplished, and for bringing me happiness. See you around.”
A goodbye message. It’s pretty-much what I could have told my mother and friend (who both died over the course of this semester) as well. Might need to memorize and practice.
How do you say goodbye – not forever?