Tag Archives: loss

How Lancelot can enter any hospital tale

16 Aug

Uncle John’s Band fills the room, and I can’t look at my Father. He’s wearing a diaper and his breathing is like a death rattle emerging from deep within. He’s been this way for hours. We have said our goodbyes two days before.

“Daddy, I love you,” I say, and he goes, “I know.”

A part of me still doesn’t believe him. How can he know? How can he know that the distance between us is because I can barely stand to be around him? I don’t know this man with a cane – I don’t know this man who does 2nd grade word problems to help with his memory. How can he know?That looking at this man makes me want to take the fetal position and never get up again – that if I did that I’d be an utter disappointment, but at least he would know how much he was loved.

Though, that’s all done now. A week before I noticed that he was silent, sitting at the edge of his bed with his feet planted on the floor. The TV was on, but I could tell that he wasn’t really watching. It rang out like empty noise that was meant to distract – not entertain.

“What’s wrong?” I asked, and as he usual he responded with, “nothing,” and I didn’t believe him because despite everything he still couldn’t admit to me when he was in pain.

I wasn’t sure if he fully realized what he was doing. How long he sat there like that. I wasn’t sure if I should try to talk to him or leave him alone. Our conversations were stilted, and at times they seemed to take away all of his energy.

Months before I had witnessed his writhing body laid out before me, and while my Mother screamed at me, “tell him a story,” and I began to tell the story of Lancelot – not the knight, but the handsome, womanizing, almost-lover that I had become friends with in the North of Colombia. I had no idea what I was doing, but I went with it.

Under most circumstances, I loved telling the story a Lancelot, and it wasn’t just because of his name. He pulled me into a corner in a dark club in Taganga, infuriated with my inattention toward him and demanded, “but Samantha, who do you like? You seem to like everyone,” and I wanted to explain to him that what I liked was being free.

Outwardly calm, but deeply panicked, I couldn’t stop the story’s telling. My Father murmured, “morphine,” and I said, “Daddy, it’s coming, don’t worry. You know what’s really funny? Well, maybe not funny, but umm, when I met Lance I was traveling with another guy..who was my friend, of course. But, um, I was annoyed with him. Ever heard of helicopter Moms? He was kind of like that, and when I saw Lance what I was really seeing was an opportunity to get rid of him.”

All the while I kept thinking, “I’m a terrible person. Not only did I ditch that guy and use Lance to do it, but now I am telling the story of Lancelot to my Dad whose every nerve is tensed in excruciating pain.”

So, I paused and wracked my brain for any other story, and all I saw was nothing.

Everything was covered in this mist, and I couldn’t even see my own recent experiences. I gripped my Dad’s hand, and plowed on, moving onto the part where Lancelot bought wine and cheese, and we laid by the pool, flirting, until I slipped and hit my head on the concrete in an attempt to be both sassy and sexy. After a bottle of wine, it seemed okay to stalk off, in false indignation, on a slick surface.

When it came time for the apology behind closed doors, I paused again. I couldn’t go on with the story, even the beginning wasn’t really parent-appropriate: the nightclub, the traveling with a man who I ended up leaving. It was all in my first months of backpacking, and it was a delicious chaos that I had never permitted myself.

But, here I was, standing in an equal chaos, and in response to my Mother’s demands to distract, it was the only story that lit up in my terrified mind.

She kept screaming at me, “what’s wrong with you? Talk to him, you’re not helping – can’t you think of anything?” and I wanted to lean across the table and scream at her, “how are you making anything better?” I wanted to weep for my life, which took me far and wide, and yet always yanked me back to where I began.

Eventually, the morphine kicked in and my Dad fell asleep. I looked at the white walls and laughed to myself; it was all so absurd.

In the silent room, I took in the white: the sheets, the pillowcases, his gown and the walls, and I knew that each room contained another person who was wearing the same thing. Some had families and some didn’t, and we had been there so many times over the years that the staff knew us. That they were witnesses to our families’ story; that they probably knew us better than our closest friends because they had seen our pain.

I looked down at my Father, “my Daddy,” and again I was wordless. Overcome, I knew that nothing had come to me because everything was nothing in the face of this – that Lancelot needed to enter into this moment because I was trying to save my Dad through a story.

Through my fully lived life; that was rich in experience, many of it joyous, adventurous, and I drove myself into the ground at times with it all because when the time came I knew I wanted to grip each moment into my hands and offer them up as worthy.

Looking into the grim reaper’s eyes, and whisper, “I’ve learned.”

My Father’s Battle

21 Feb

I know that every time I walk away from my family I am leaving a Father who’s slowly dying.  I knew this when I chose to move to San Francisco in 2008, I knew this when I left for South America and I know this as I type this from my studio in Boulder.

Of course, we are all slowly dying, though we don’t like to think about it.  People, in jest, always say, “well I could get hit by a car crossing the street,” but the truth of that is it’s actually true.  Anyone’s life could end in the next five minutes, and probably somewhere in the world someone has died as I’ve typed this blog.

I first experienced loss when I was nine.  My best friend, Rebecca, got hit by a car and became mentally retarded.  She experienced a living death that I did not quite understand.   As a child, life felt like it was forever, and there I was standing across from my disfigured friend trying to be brave.

From that point on I lived with a fear that haunted me for years.  I was afraid to leave my parents because I thought that they would die if they weren’t in my sight.  I refused to be separated from them, and they began to get angry; they didn’t understand my need to be sewn together.

Eventually we went on vacation, and I began sobbing in a restaurant in Florida, “Didn’t they know a Hurricane could come and sweep us away?”

My Mother took me aside and said, “Samantha if you don’t knock it off we are going home.  And if we are going home, you are going to be locked in your room for the rest of the year.”  That’s when I began hiding my fear of loss.  I sang songs to myself, carried trinkets of comfort and wore a watch so I would always know the time.

Years began to pass and I got older.  Suddenly, I wasn’t a child anymore, but an unhappy teen who desperately wanted to life live on her own terms.  Loss slowly faded from my mind because I had so much ahead of me.  Everyone around me was focused on the/ir future, and I could not wait to get started on mine.

I did what I was told to do.  I got accepted into a good, if not prestigious University, and created a happy life for myself within my student bubble.  I made friends, volunteered with children, got a job at Hollister and maintained a high GPA.

When I turned 19 things began to change.  I was home for the summer, from University, and heard my Mother’s scream from the laundry room.

“This is the worst thing that could have happened to us.”  That is how I found out my Father had epilepsy and had lost his job because of it. Epilepsy turned into degenerative strokes turned into congestive heart failure turned into lupus anticoagulant turned into something I don’t even know the name of.  Now my Father takes 42 pills a day.

Every employer I’ve ever worked for has seen me fall apart over my Father.  Each time I was convinced that he wouldn’t live long and his Doctors agreed with me.  One of his doctors recently told him “it’s a miracle that you’re still alive,” though I think his determination to live is what’s really miraculous.

We are always faced with choices in life – both obvious and subtle.  I’ve found that the most important choices are usually the ones that are most difficult to make; these are the choices that define our lives.

This past summer I flew back to Chicago to take care of my Father and my family told me that I should, “Go LIVE!”

This is how I cultivated the courage to quit my job, with no back-up plan, and travel South America.  And I knew then, as I left, that I was completely liberated from my fear of loss; that even if I felt afraid (and I was terrified) that it wouldn’t stop me from living.

The reason I’m sharing all of this is because me living with the daily possibility of loss is no different than anyone else; it’s just my possibility is more obvious.

My Father’s suffering causes me pain, and I know that losing him will hurt more than I can imagine.  But I know he fights to live because he wants to; that’s his choice.  I support his battle to the best of my ability, but if I sacrificed my opportunities on the alter of his health he would stop fighting.

Happiness starts arriving in our lives when we make space for it; when we have the courage to be true to how we believe we should live no matter what we might lose.  After losing so much, more than I can share in this too-long blog; after living with loss since childhood, the only thing I am certain of is that we must go on.  That no matter what happiness is always possible, even in the midst of tragedy.

A Tribute: What My Grandpa Inspired In Me

12 Dec

When I was 23 years old I picked myself up off the bathroom floor, bleeding, and made a vow to myself to change my life.  I knew then that I was becoming a person I wasn’t very proud of, and I knew that I could do better; that I was smarter and stronger than the circumstances I found myself in, even though there were things that happened in shadows and behind closed doors that had lead me to that very moment.

I don’t know how long I lay in that position but I do know that everyone I had ever loved lay there with me.  Some people had caused me to be there, while others had already walked away because they didn’t want to witness it.  However, the majority of those that I loved had no idea I was struggling.

Yet, one face rose above all other’s and it was my Grandfather’s.  The man who had loved me since birth; who read me the Sunday comics and told me any dish I didn’t want to try was especially made for Samantha.  Who tucked a giant Mikey Mouse in his bag when he returned from Florida so I could leap at it’s obvious discovery.

The man who filled photo albums of every silly play that I was ever in and who kept his old baby blue 1950 Thunderbird for years so we could drive around in it.  Who special ordered clay for our art projects and  who gave me my first camera.

He was the one who made me a necklace with one of his prized coins from the 1800s and was the first person who taught me the meaning of volunteering, taking me to the preschool where he gave his time and then filling with pride as  the children, “followed her around like ducks.”

He was the one who celebrated my love of books with recommendations and special editions and kept every letter I ever sent him.

His love for me was unquestionable, but even more importantly, I knew he believed in me.  It wasn’t that I felt the weight of his expectations, but that he had so continuously nurtured my curiosity, creativity, intelligence and passion for life.

I knew that I could not give into lying on the floor or any challenges that life had gifted me; that I had to get up because I could only face my Grandpa by looking him in the eyes standing up – even if I couldn’t at that very moment.

So I crawled out of the bathroom, and into the very slow, and humbling, process of transforming my entire life.  A month later I was on a plane, in a new city, and everything was so much harder than my 23 year old self could have predicted, but naivety is one of youth’s blessings.

Suddenly it’s years later, and I’m at another, less dramatic crossroads. Again my Grandfather flashed through my mind.

Per usual, he was telling me a story about a young man who rode his bicycle through France.  He said that, “he always wished he had done something like that,” and I knew in his way he was giving me advice about what he dreamed for me.

I hadn’t realized that I had carried that story with me for years, and when it came time to make a decision, deep in my heart I knew leaving SF and traveling was the right answer.

But now he’s gone and I’m so far away that I can’t attend the funeral.  A part of me cannot help but see this as meant to be because it was his stories, his traveling of the world, his sense of adventure that he cultivated in me that got me here in the first place.

So this is what I can do for him.  I can tell all of you that my Grandfather was the type of man that got people up off the floor; that gave them the support whether financial, or otherwise (though volunteering) that they could make something more of their lives.

That he opened up the world for others, through his art and stories,and that he fueled those he touched imaginations.

That there was no question of his love, integrity or friendship, and that he was easily loved and respected in return.

That the world is less without him and more for having him here.  And I know that any good I have inside of me, any inner strength, or anything that I achieve has been nourished by the person that he was and the gift of his love that I will always carry with me.

Why Be Happy When You Can Be Normal

11 Apr

“I have noticed that doing the sensible thing is only a good idea when the decision is quite small.  For the life-changing things, you must risk it.

And here is the shock – when you risk it…leaving behind you all the familar smells and lights, then you do not experience great joy and huge energy.  You are unhappy.  Things get worse.

It is a time of mourning.  Loss.  Fear.  We bullet ourselves through with questions.  And then we feel shot and wounded. And then all the cowards come out and say, ‘See I told you so.’

In fact, they told you nothing.” Jeanette Winterson, Why Be Happy When You Can Be Normal

Often I dive straight into the heart of my decisions, leaving wreckage behind me.   Sometimes its a room full of furniture, or a pile of clothes I don’t want anymore, or a never-to-be-returned key to an apartment or an unfinished story with a certain someone where I don’t care to even see how it ends.

Pieces of me sit in many different apartments all the way from the heart of our country to our very West Coast.

I leap, I run and while I do look back, I don’t want to stop.  I am too afraid that a thing will ask me to stay, and I have a terrible time saying no, but more importantly, I myself want to stay.  I want to explain to others, get their approval.  I want their understanding.  I want to take the contents of my very self and spill them out onto the table and say, “see that’s why.”

Because when I get asked something I want to have an answer, but how can you explain what you feel with no fact; what you know you must do.   How going forth makes you so afraid; that you hate living this way, but you cannot live with the alternative – that is somehow worse.

I go forth into the unknown.   I have before and I will again, though I have been shot through with the left familiar.  What  I’ve learned is that you cannot tear yourself open for others.  They won’t put you back together.  Only you can do that for yourself and usually in some unknown territory, usually through loss of blood.  Other peoples Shoulds will never let you live.