Day 25: Carving Grief

November 1, 2018

Yesterday I was ambushed by grief.

In a coffee shop to my right was a judge reviewing cases with a red pen. To my left was a Kenyan-born immigrant who spoke six languages. Me, in the middle, heartily crying for my little love’s loss. It was Halloween, one of the days of the year, he woke up with his eyes alight and alive and the excitement of costumes and customs and candy coiled then springing into action.

I cried from fumes of sadness. From the sight of a pumpkin on the porch that I had no drive to carve. No jack-o-lanterns this year.  And I cried for the invitation to the class party that I did not receive. I cried for one less costume to stress and pull my hair out about not buying on time or building from orphans in the closet or finds at the thrift store. I cried a snotty-nose, red-faced cry.

And who do you think was the one who tried to talk to me? It was not the white-haired, wire-rimmed judge with his busy red ink.

But that’s fine. Because there are some days, like Halloween, when I don’t want to talk because I know that everything is wrong and there is no right. There is no justice. It is not fair. Words fail. There are sightings of dead black cats who liked to trick-or-treat with us. There are messages from friends that we love but have not connected with in months.

Who is making those connections? Who is drawing the dot-to-dot? Not me. I am too busy crying and weeping and wailing. It must be someone waiting. Waiting for me to return from this sadness, so that I can see him. Look through the wet, swollen eyes. Past the tears and the tea and the quiet. And move on to more. Is he waiting to play a board game? Did he move a white pawn and now its my turn?

Oh, the black tide of loss rolls in just like the Pacific. On time. Predicable. It saturates everything with saltwater and washes what we once knew away. But we still have our memories. The forts in our minds are strong. We’ve built sturdy and fine embankments.

What is the invisible form of my departed?  Is he wearing a Wily Wonka costume? Yesterday, for Halloween he was dressed as Captain America, again, just like his then eight-year old, now nine year old friends. They didn’t address me as “Mrs. Lill” or say anything, like, “I am so sorry for your loss. There are no words.”

They were themselves now nine and they just were. The were the visible forms of my departed. No red ink; they did not judge. They asked nothing. Instead they sat with me, in their classroom room, where I did not get an invitation to be, but they brought me, and him in, anyway. Sitting with me, speaking one language. Love despite loss.

They are the hearth in my soul where he sits. They remind me that he is here awaiting my return. All the time.

Today, I sit in a similar, but different coffee shop and I still cry. Its been twenty two minutes of writing. I don’t miss him any less because I miss him all the time. But I think I feel better. I think I won’t go home and smash pumpkins that never because jack-o-lanterns.

For Grief ~
by John O’Donohue

There are days when you wake up happy;
Again inside the fullness of life,
Until the moment breaks…
And you are thrown back Onto the black tide of loss.

Days when you have your heart back,
You are able to function well
Until in the middle of work or encounter,
Suddenly with no warning,
You are ambushed by grief.
It becomes hard to trust yourself.

All you can depend on now is that
Sorrow will remain faithful to itself.

More than you, it knows its way
And will find the right time
To pull and pull the rope of grief
Until that coiled hill of tears
Has reduced to its last drop.

Gradually, you will learn acquaintance
With the invisible form of your departed;
And when the work of grief is done,
The wound of loss will heal

And you will have learned
To wean your eyes
From that gap in the air

And be able to enter the hearth
In your soul where your loved one
Has awaited your return
All the time.

Day 24: Ghosts and Intimations

October 31, 2018

More ghosts and intimations appear.

We had a good friend visiting from DC over for dinner last night. His wife surprised us by coming Ewan’s memorial but he couldn’t make it. So, I pulled out our beautifully bound guest book from the celebration. I haven’t read through it yet. Our friend looked at every page and made one comment, “His baseball coach left a very nice message.”

In the morning I awoke to another message. Ewan’s baseball coach texted to say that he had a really nice dream about Ewan last night. He said, “To me it felt like a peaceful visit. Don’t remember specifics. Was mostly a feeling of warmth and that we had a chance to just talk and catch up. It was really nice.”

I hadn’t heard from Ewan’s baseball coach since August.

This all has an effect of centering me in a sad way. As if he is communicating with us because he misses us and is listening in. I really miss him, but I think its an ok and warm kind of missing. The kind where he’d want us to be thinking of him and missing him, but he wouldn’t want for us to stay sad for long.



Have you had encounters that let you know you’re not alone? Synchronicities or just cool alignments of things that, whatever they “mean” or “don’t mean,” brought you even a moment of stillness inside your pain?

What does it mean for you that these moments actually do exist? What’s it like to experience that deep kind of connection or love, and then shift back again into pain?

— Megan Devine & Refuge in Grief

It has a sound, a fullness.
It’s heavy with sigh of tree, and space between breaths.
It’s ripe with pause between birdsong and crash of surf.
It’s golden they say.
But no one tells us it’s addictive.

Angela Long



Day 23: writing in progress…

October 31, 2018

Because I can’t even…

go there, to that place where HE would love me in this grief. Give me a break.

Day 22: You Can If You Try

October 29, 2018
This was my really short love story for The Modern Team at NYT. 100 words. But it was also my Write Your Grief prompt from Megan Devine that asks Can you imagine?
So many folks say, “I can’t imagine…” I argue.

I can’t imagine… You can if you try.

Walk in a hospital room. He is connected to tubes through his iv port. Pulse and oxygen continually monitored. Last temperature read 107.2. Television on, eyes closed. You turn off the tv and sit. “Sweetheart, we need to talk.”

Eyes flicker open.

Deep breath in and begin. “You are really sick. We can’t fix your cancer and you are going to die.”

“What?”, he says indignantly. “I don’t want to die!”

“I know, love. I don’t want you to die. None of us want to die, but we all do; there is nothing that we can do.”

You can if you try.

The Wild Iris,” by Louise Gluck

At the end of my suffering there was a door.
Hear me out: that which you call death,
I remember. Overhead, noises, branches of pine shifting.
Then nothing. The weak sun flickered over the dry surface.

It is terrible to survive consciousness buried in the dark earth

Then it was over: that which you fear, being a soul and unable to speak,
ending abruptly, the stiff earth bending a little.
And what I took to be birds darting in low shrubs.

You who do not remember passage from the other world
I tell you I could speak again: whatever returns from oblivion returns to find a voice:

From the center of my life came a great fountain, deep blue shadows
on azure seawater.

Day 21: Gritting Teeth

October 28, 2018

Day 21:

I remember his teeth. He had an overbite. His smile was a facsimile of Michael’s; they both shared those big buckteeth. One time, when we were at his semi-annual dental examination, I asked the dentist what we should do about his overbite. He said, “Enjoy it. Enjoy that big, adorable smile. He is going to need some serious dental work down the road.”

He never got there — down the road. But he never stopped smiling. Even in his very last week, when morphine coursed through his veins to calm the nerves and dampen the pain and he was bloated from steroids and his blood oxygen was diminishing so extremities are were starting to shut down, he still smiled for every picture. He smiled on his last full day of life when he played his unclothed version catch with his four-year-old nephew from his hospital bed. And even when he played his dementia clouded last round of Uno. He put down four cards at once and declared himself the winner, with a big smile. None of us were heartless enough to say otherwise. That smile won us over and him the game.

I remember the first time he smiled. Of course, everyone says, newborns are really passing gas when they look like they are smiling. But with him, even though he was only four weeks old, I knew. I could see from the shine in his eyes that his heart-warming, gum-baring grin was a genuine reflection of inner joy and warmth. I didn’t know, back then, how bucktoothed he’d be. I didn’t even know what color his eye or hair color would become.

With his sister, it was clear from the start. Her rich, espresso colored eyes, with their flakes of gold were fixed from the moment she arrived. But many babies often start out as grey. “Eyes like the sea after a storm”, as the line goes from one of my favorite movies, The Princess Bride. His stormy sea eyes became a sun-soaked, soft summer pools of blue. Red-hued hair lightened to the color of golden straw. After it fell out, the first time, it grew back as dishwater blonde. Does anyone even know what color dishwater blonde is anymore? All dirty dished are stacked, and then packed into a machine. It’s a color lost to technology. We’ll rename it toffee and chemo colored. Though he disliked toffee because it alway got stuck in his teeth. Chemo highlights hair with a change to course texture and tinge of grey from growing up and old through the experience and being soaked from the inside with toxins. Eye and hair colors evolved but that smile stayed the same with two pearly white teeth poking out.

Somewhere, in the bottom of sock drawers and jewelry boxes, I have an assortment of baby teeth collected and socked away by the Tooth Fairy. She would leave a two-dollar bill, in exchange for swiping the tooth from under his pillow. I don’t know why the Tooth Fairy had me keep them, maybe it was for this very instant – now, in the case I have his teeth but I don’t have him. I wish I had been more organized and dated and identified each dental remnant. I should have archivally housed these artifacts in a museum quality fashion. Acid and lignin-free environment. Luckily, I had the accidental foresight to store them away from damaging light. Now, I grit my teeth. If only I could remember where they all are. Then, I could string them together and draw on my love and my memory to build back tooth by tooth that baby, bucktoothed version of him.



Prompt: Choose something. Anything. The more ordinary, the better: shoes. Kitchen table. Garden hose. Bookshelves or tea pots or underwear drawers. Choose anything as your subject.

Write: I remember…

From Megan Devine’s Refuge In Grief Write Your Grief Workshop


Day 20: Shift in the Sand

October 27, 2018

We vacationed in coastal Oregon, last year. At the wind-whipped beach, the kids invented a game in the sand. It started with building up a little, muddy fort near the shore’s edge. The sand was too coarse and waterlogged to shape into castles or anything sophisticated but their hands could scoop up grainy sludge and pile it up into a hill they called their fort. To protect the fort from being washed back into the Pacific, the kids dug a trench all the way around their castle/fort/mound. Incoming tides rolled up close and tugged and took away chunks of trench walls. So, the kids dug into the ground more fiercely; there was new furor to save the fort. When a wave would roll into the deepened trench, the kids would dance with delight in the ankle-deep, cold and salty, frothy water, their pants legs rolled up close to the knees. They would cheer and chant on each other’s efforts. Will the trench hold back the water from washing away their imaginary army home?

The waves were creeping closer inland and swelling with force. Water filled up the trench and gripping with wet claws, it ran back to the ocean taking fistfuls of sand with it and leveling the trench again. We must work faster! Dig deeper. A barricade in front of the trench is what is needed to fortify and protect our territory!

Now, heaps of sand were hauled over and plopped down in front of the trench by one set of hands. The wet earth was sculpted into big, round embarkment. Another frantic worker-kid was repeating the Great Trench Dig-out again. And, all the while, third architect-child continued to scoop up sand and build the original bastion up higher.
The levee did its job for about eight minutes. but the inevitable rise of the sea surface had its way and broke down barriers, carting the wall away into the vast ocean. The water line had moved in closer to the feet of our fort-builders. Each wave, boosted by the wind, had more force. there were fewer and fewer fortifying breaks. Our crew had no time to build back up a barrier. With the wall washed away, the next few waves seeped into the trench filling it back up with hundreds of thousands of grains of time and weather rounded silicon. The path to the mound was now smooth and clear again.

It happened with gusto – the next wave, a crashing wave, engulfed the fort and caused it to collapse in one dramatic swoop. The mound melted before our eyes. But the waves did not wash away our smiles. All was not for naught. With stinging, cold feet and warm hearts, we laughed and reminisced about the great game and how the fort lasted so long – longer than any of us expected. The memory of our fort is what mattered. We needed no other proof that it existed.

Today, the packed and lovingly patted mound of sand is my grief. I want to protect it from being washed away by incoming waves. I know it will happen because tides are one of the most reliable phenomena in the world, but today I need it to be there. I need it to prove to me that he mattered. The memory is not enough.

We went to New York this past weekend for a wedding. We had a great time in the city that never sleeps. Sightseeing, fine food, dancing and playing. I returned home exhausted and feeling surprisingly guilt-ridden for having such fun and not missing E more than I thought I should. But then I thought why should I feel that way? Wouldn’t he want me to play and have fun and get my feet wet?
Thoughts come and go, like waves. There are fallacies in the brain. But the memories are there and they are what matter.


Day 15: Grief is everywhere

October 22, 2018

It was in a simple email today. I’ve been avoiding my grief by creating distractions: writing, reading, taking long walks and pottery. And I found a friend that I could wallow gnashing of teeth. Like the company of the crowd at the feet of Jesus on the cross. I am there, dust covered face streaked with tears and snot running down my nose as I heave and cry and try to purge some of this pain that crucifies me at the break of every dawn sort of way, even though I am not the one dying or dead. And the crowd, cheering and jeering, at least, provides company, even if it is not the best.

Friends, I know you are near I know I am ugly and not just need, but want this distance, so that when it is my turn, you remember me well. The prettier, more put together version of me. Its not even me that I want you to remember. It’s him. Think of him and how he endured and was brave and smiled. Eat chocolate cake.

Day 14: Life on Planet My Son Died

October 21, 2018

As Dear Sugar would describe, I live on the Planet My Son Died. It looks very similar to Planet Earth — the home of most others. I have to wait in the same, excruciatingly long lines at the post office. The produce section in grocery stores even have similar coloured, shiny skinned red and green bell peppers. Sometimes, I take long walks on Planet My Son Died and the crunch of the autumn leaves sounds and feels the same as what it used to when I also lived on Planet Earth. So, what makes my new home any different than the one I used to live on?

Well, the air, for one. It is thinner and harder to breathed and the air pressure, temperature and humidity changes from room to room. Sometimes even within spaces of the same room. It can get really hot and I feel sweaty and uncomfortable, not just in my own clothes but also in my own shin. And then air sometimes suddenly thins and its hard to breathe and I am gasping and gripping with my lungs only invisible, diminishing molecules that are heavy than the ones I used to know so they don’t circulate through my body like I am used to oxygen cirlucation. My feet and hands go numb easily and my heart is beating harder because my brain is aware of the deprivation and is terrified. It knows something essential to life is missing. So, with numb-tingling extremities and a racing heart in a body that it one minute flushed and hot, then chilled to the core the next. I feel panicked. I think, “What if I can’t breathe anymore? What if I suffocate and die”

That’s when I start to calm down. I am awash in relief. Sweet, welcomed relief at the thought that my heart could stop, too and my whole being might reconnect with that little boy whom I love so dearly and miss and long for his company. WE could be together again. Sigh of relief. I feel better.

But then my insides start to knot again because what if rules don’t conform on Planet My Son Died like we like to think of them falling into place on Planet Earth. What if, in death, we cannot find our beloveds? Are rules of death different on different planets? Life, atmosphere and elements do not obey the laws that I used to know. So, it would make sense that afterlife does not align with what I used to know. What if space and distance is to big in death or there are too many other people — it too crowded to be able to find a little, lost boy? That’s why my airway constricts again, as if gripped by tow squeezing hands.

“Oh”, I remember. “If laws of life aren’t the same on Planet My Son Died, this must mean that afterlife laws are not the same”, I say to myself. Its as possible that my dead son is in a room that looks and feels exactly like our living room. He is leaning over the coffee table as the warm sunlight filters in and he is looking for one corner piece on the puzzle that he just started. But don’t worry, he is patient and will wait for me to help him sort out the pieces and assemble the jigsaw picture together. And because laws are different, he will be there, ready and willing and with a smile, today, or tomorrow or next May, waiting for me to be his company.

With this scene in my mind, I can look up an select two smooth, crisp bell peppers and manage to cart them over to the check out line. The currency on my new planet is the same as the old. Everywhere takes cash, checks (with id), credit cards and emotional currency.


Day 13: in progress…

October 21, 2018

In progress writing are sloppy and don’t make sense, yet…

Its possible the same can be said about completed. :S

Day 13:

I dreamed I was a travelling magician. From rolling hilled country town to forested village, I travelled. In each town, as the sun was setting I would set up my magic show in the village center, Because my reputation walked in front of me, when children heard the clicking of my laced up, pointed toe shoes on the cobble paths, they would flutter out and follow me. As I unfolded my folded card table, which I carried in one hand and placed a small make case carried in my other hand on the table, the children clamor and elbow to take a seat criss-cross applesauce as near to my knees as possible. I would only ever take quiet, attentive volunteers from the audience, and of course, they must shoot a straight arrowed arm in the air will seating on the edge of their bottom to be called on and selected as volunteers for my show. Everyone already knew that being selected as a show apprentice was the greatest and highest honor. They were so eager to be seated, selected and seen by the rest of the crowd as the best possible participant in a magic show that would  oooh and ahhh the crowd. their faces would go down in infamy and history has been the brighten and luckiest child. honor would From 6 PM to 7PM and from my suite.



Day 12: Melancholy Does Suit Us

October 20, 2018

“My barely invisible hands are climbing the walls in search of something to eat.”

Those are the very first words I ever heard in Swedish.

Evening falling –
a soft lamenting
sounds in the bird calls I have summoned. Greyish walls
tumble down.
My own hands
find themselves again. What I have loved
I cannot hold.
What lies around me I cannot leave Everything declines while darkness rises.
Nothing overcomes me –
this must be life’s way.

~ “Weariness” by Hannah Arendt