A Requiem and Some Not-So-Final Words on Finality
|Murder in the Meadow
WordsThere truly are none, are there? Even saying "there are no words" is just an admission of defeat. Someone dies. The ones closest are left to grieve. What to say? No doubt there are many inappropriate choices, but I really haven't encountered much of that. For the most part, I witness people struggling to express themselves and their emotions... with results both heartbreaking and comical. My pet favorite at the moment is "I'm sorry". Now please know that I understand and appreciate what saying "I'm sorry" tries to convey. I take no umbrage. However, after the 100th soul offers me an apology, my mind tends to go a little sideways... "What??? Why??? Is this a confession? Did you cause her death? Should we involve the authorities? Are you apologizing for God? Am I to absolve you?"
Pro tip: it's all okay. There really is nothing to say that is going to change anything. But uttering something is, in and of itself, an act of compassion and an expression of shared mortality. So, yeah, whatever you want to say matters and is appreciated. Silence is much harder to take in... not because I take offense... but because I suspect the quiet ones are having the most difficulty... and I feel bad for them.
I believe my favorite response to the news of Martina's passing was a one-word reply left on Facebook... "Shit". I like that... concise, efficient, and to the point... so much communicated in only four letters. But, at the risk of offending (like that ever stopped me), I believe that I'm much more enamored of that Swiss Army knife of copulatory of expletives, "Fuck". In fact, I do believe that "fuck" may be my new go-to response when someone dies and "there are no words". So if you experience the death of a loved one and I respond by uttering or typing the word "fuck"... please know that I am trying to convey the following:
- I acknowledge that something very difficult has happened and that you are now grieving and trying cope with a new reality.
- I empathize and want you to know that this is an experience that we all share as mortals.
- I want you to know that you are not alone and that there is a community surrounding you and holding you during this time.
- I won't say "let me know if you need anything" because you probably have no idea what you need right now, but know that I'm here if there is anything that I can do.
So there you have it... "fuck".
Ah, Grief... Ya Bastard
Let's get this on the table right up front: grief is NOT an emotion... it's not sorrow even though sorrow is a major component of grief. No, grief is a place that one finds oneself inhabiting. I envision grief as being what East Berlin must have been like prior to reunification. It's a drab, depressing city conjoined to its western half which was rebuilt under a liberal democracy and the Marshall Plan. You can witness vibrant life happening right next door while you live in your cramped flat with peeling paint and failing heat. The Stasi has you under constant surveillance and is ready to make your life miserable for the slightest infraction. Occasionally, you're able to sneak out of the city and into the sunshine and life feels "normal" for a bit. But then the Stasi notices that you've escaped and sends out a goon squad to haul you back in. After a period, you find yourself spending less and less time there. Maybe the Stasi has lost interest. Eventually, you are only in the city for short periods of time. But you still need to collect any mail delivered there and the plants need to be watered. Bother.
For me, grief has been a slowly unfolding process over the past nine months. From Martina's diagnosis, to her leaving for Maine, through her treatments and ordeal and decline, through my mom's passing and then Martina's. Sometimes it's little more than knowing where I currently reside. At other times, the Stasi hauls me in yet again for interrogation and detention over some unspecified crime. It's also hard for me to discern where grief for one loss ends and the other begins. Yet even in such a repressive place, there are tiny spaces for life and joy. It really is next to impossible to completely inhibit the human spirit.
Ultimately I've found that grief acts as an abrasive which sandblasts the rust and the old paint off of my life and soul. The sun becomes brighter. The music is more moving... the moments more precious... the love more painfully exquisite.
At some point, the realization that Martina was unlikely to survive landed fully. And yet neither of us were at peace with the other. There was so much left unaddressed... unrepaired. Ambiguity and unmet expectations defined our interactions... when we were even able to interact. After having to scrub my second attempted journey to Maine, I was crestfallen. It was becoming more and more likely that I might not see Martina before she died. I was counseled to begin putting my own thoughts and feelings in order even if I never was given the opportunity to express them to her.
During the interim where I had the time and space to unpack and sort through our relationship, I had developed a very detailed map of the psychological architecture and interconnections. I could discern the object relations, how the childhood traumas were manifesting, the mistakes made, the mindless reactivity, the wounds that were reopened again and again until they couldn't heal. And in constructing that map, I came to believe that the map itself was a true representation of our relationship. I became deeply disillusioned.
Once mom had passed... once I resolved not to be dissuaded from going to Maine, I was left not knowing how to address that disillusionment. What did I hope to accomplish when I arrived?
The truth that unfolded was that Martina, in her weakened near-death state, had no space and no interest in trying to resolve any of that. She simply wanted to be with me... often in silence. And in that silence I came to understand something profound: that map I had constructed was meaningless. Yes, it was an accurate representation of dysfunction, but it did not begin to describe the relationship. Simply put, I loved her... and that love was now completely devoid of expectations and grievances and regrets and all the other baggage that most of us carry around in our relationships. It was just what it was... nothing more, nothing less. And there was nothing that needed to be fixed.
My last visit with Martina was the most precious time that we had spent together even with the reality of what was happening to her. Towards the end, she was unable to walk or even reposition herself in the bed. Her cognitive functions were hit or miss and often she was in a very childlike state. There were pieces of what I knew to be Martina that were no longer obviously there. What remained was more basic and pure.
Shortly after I arrived for the last visit, she told me that there was something that she needed to tell me. But between medical interventions and her own failing energy, she never got around to it. On the first afternoon, she was sitting up on the bed and I sat directly opposite and close waiting for her to speak. Instead of words, she leaned slowly forward. I paused thinking she was experiencing pain or some episode. After a moment of silence, she quietly said, "I'm leaning forward so you can hold me".
The next day, Martina was taken in to the ED for IV fluids and to check thyroid levels. I was out on the island having lunch when I got texts and calls asking me to come to the hospital quickly. Martina was declining. I arrived as they were starting to examine her. She became agitated and asked to be left alone. I looked in the room and couple of times and was greeted with "NO!". After leaving the hospital for dinner, Amy texted to say that Martina was asking where I was. I drove back and walked in the ED room. Martina saw me, her eyes got wide, she lifted her arms above her head (which was not easy for her) and exclaimed "Yay!'.
That evening, Martina was shifted into the ICU. At one point, I entered the room and she was sitting on the bed facing away from the door with her mom and sister. I said "hello!" and she responded with "Oh! I love that guy."
On several occasions, I must have been reacting to the chaos and the stress and the "care" which was more about just staying busy so as to avoid being present with the reality of her dying. Martina would notice that and just wink at me... as if to say, "yep, this is my life these days".
My last morning in Ellsworth was, as you might imagine, difficult. How do you say goodbye to someone when you know it will be for the last time? I was also afraid that Martina would become agitated and upset. Fortunately, she was in a very calm and peaceful space. I told her that I had to go now and she said, "Oh?.... Okay." And then I pulled it together as best I could and said, "I may not get to see you again this lifetime." She said, "Really?", then she paused for moment and said, "Could we talk on the phone?". I said "sure". And although I never heard her voice again, I did call and talk to her twice before she passed. Now... truth be told... if I do get a phone call from her at this point, you can look for me at the nearest inpatient behavioral health facility.
So... there truly are no words... but there's this. Nick Cave performing 'Distant Sky' in Copenhagen 2017. Yes, the tears are real.
Let us go now, my one true love
Call the gasman, cut the power out
We can set out, we can set out for the distant skies
Watch the sun, watch it rising in your eyes
Let us go now, my darling companion
Set out for the distant skies
See the sun, see it rising
See it rising, rising in your eyes
They told us our gods would outlive us
They told us our dreams would outlive us
They told us our gods would outlive us
But they lied
Let us go now, my only companion
Set out for the distant skies
Soon the children will be rising, will be rising
This is not for our eyes