Tuesday, November 18, 2014

What Remains.

“How come you wanted to burn Daddy instead of putting him in one of those boxes?”

I should have seen this coming. Because when she tells you to lay down and cuddle up an important conversation is tucked just below the covers. But this? Halloween is long forgotten, and with it the annual reminder it brings. We’re in the throes of pre-Christmas fever, watching Jim Carrey cavort in Grinchy fashion, drafts three and four of the annual letter to Santa are well underway, and she’s pulled out the boxes to start decking the walls of her room.

Burned or boxed.

This is not what mothers and daughters curl up together to talk about. Or at least it’s not supposed to be. And I really wish we didn’t. But sometimes we do, because death is a part of life and it’s very much a part of our life. We don’t wallow in it, and we aren’t defined by it. But we have been shaped by it and we refuse to hide from it. We talk about it in the way that memories are spoken about.

There is no manual for death. There are certain conventions one generally follows, religious or not. There are personal preferences. There are family preferences. And then there are the things that are not in the rulebook. This is one of those things, and unless you pre-plan your own post-mortem, what remains is a powder keg of emotions over … the remains.

He could not stomach the idea of being perched on a shelf in some type of vessel that was completely and utterly unlike who he was. He made me promise that he would never be on a shelf somewhere. To this day it is a source of frustration and failure that part of him is sitting on in memoriam in exactly the way he didn’t want. In turn, I made him promise me that no body would enter the ground. EVER.

The body isn’t just a vessel for life. After death, the body becomes a symbol of what has been lost. My deeply rooted childhood fear of putting a body in the ground was at war with the need to protect the life-sized memory of the father. Choreographing his return to particulate form was an emotional battle I stood alone in.

Honor the promise. Protect the memory.

Regrets are rarely erased and when goodbyes are eternal, you live with how you dealt with death.

My daughter has always had this uncanny ability to delve deeper than you want her to in areas you don’t want her to. We talk frankly and openly, from her irritation that I have not brought home a suitable male specimen to the soft heart that weeps quickly and openly at the slightest slight.

“You want the honest truth?”


“Because we will never have to think of Daddy’s body as any other way than how we remember him to be.”

Or because your Dad told you a story when you were seven about a little kid being buried alive and listening to the worms coming to get him so that you are now leery of a) worms, b) burial and c) anything your Dad says.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

October's Chill.

“I hate October.”

And … there it is. The wilt on our rose. The dent in our bumper. The zit on the nose. The spinach in the teeth. The crack in the wall. The ball of fire between our shoulder blades.

The skeleton in the closet.

I am, admittedly, a little edgier at certain points in the month. Blame it on the lunar cycle, blame it on the changing seasons, blame it on estrogen. But there’s one month where irrational and emotional aren’t just mood changing. October irritatingly offers all of the spooks and specters we’ve had to exorcize.

We are happy, well adjusted and after six very long years, finally and definitively putting the first words down in our next chapter. But October always does its best to freeze our gentle thaw and it is Halloween that drives the dagger through.

For 24 days, we seem to slide from happy to down to sangry (def: a finely cultivated blend of sad and angry that has slowly fermented). And then the day passes, lifted away into the breeze the way the balloons float into the clouds chasing after him.

Discounting the first two – which shall stand alone and unmatched in their cruelty – October is now simply a month we wish we could petition to have removed from the annual calendar. But it’s here to stay and so is the baggage it has left us.

“I know, lovely boy. I don’t like October either.”

He’s almost my height now and his hands have eclipsed my own, but looking down at him in his cocoon of blankets he looks small again. The waver in his voice matches the tears that have gathered and I feel that familiar pang of helplessness and frustration that I cannot right the wrong. He is his mother’s son and he fights to keep the pain at bay, refusing to let it win. But tonight he is the little boy whose heart I broke and fought to mend and the tears fall as he disappears into my arms.

“I love you, buddy.”

"I love you more."

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

If You Choose to Accept It.

“Your son can watch football. He can even play it. I’ll suffer through baseball and I could even find a way to survive basketball. But just know this. 

Your son will LOVE hockey.”

From the periphery I can see the folds of the long black coat moving across the ice, a slow, careful proceeding that only makes the almost quiet louder in its awkwardness.

In our hearts, we know that we are not destined to win this game and that a group of boys and one girl will go home without the prize they desire. But still we chant the cries, hoping against hope that their grit and determination and youthful optimism will float across the ice in their favor. They have played with more stamina than we should expect and we’ve watched the unbridled joy erupt when the puck met the back of the net.

Watching him lay on the ice, his deep sobs echoing across the frozen pond in a painful culmination of broken toe, deep exhaustion and disappointment, I refuse to let the tears spill over.

So much of who we were, who we still are and who we’ve become is forever carved in the ice.

Still trapped in our icy fog, I watched their tiny feet tread cautiously on the frozen surface for the first time with the same fear and loathing that my own tiny feet had stepped into the frozen abyss. Burning like ice across bare skin, our pain was raw and exposed. With each return we became more surefooted than the one before and I found a place where I could lose and rebuild myself in a place where he had left no traces behind.

In the years since, we’ve found a rhythm in this place where hockey bags pile with pride and little boys watch young men with awe and admiration. Where the rancid smell of chest pads is a right of passage, pucks are tossed errantly into purses and the first “time out” is a coveted statistic. Where parents become teammates and siblings claim the rink for their own. Where coaches are defined not by wins but by how loudly the love of the game beats within the heart of the bench.

In so many ways, the rink helped us find our way again and along with it we found friends in the hockey family that welcomed us in. And they did so without knowing us, granting us the space to be painful and raw and angry and weak.

He still whispers about the unfairness that it is only ever me in the locker room, a constant dose of maternal estrogen that will never deliver the locker room machismo of paternity. And yet he looks for me on the red line the moment his skates touch the ice, the slightest nod of his head our silent ritual. He hugs me and whispers I love you before each game, and I whisper to him that I love him, too.

Listening to the chorus of sticks on the ice, I watch him glide to the bench, his coach at his side and in my heart I know this.

We do not choose what befalls us. We choose whether it defines us.