I’ve always disliked my nose. It’s big, it’s got a bump, and it’s the perfect candidate for a nose job that would probably make me feel better but not really make me look better. My friends are always telling me, “Your nose is great, it gives you personality” Ok then, you take it. I thought about getting a nose job a lot when I was younger. The pressures of being a teenager were getting me down and I wanted to have a normal profile, something small and straight, instead of protruding and crooked. My nose is so crooked that depending on the angle I have a totally different profile. If I take a picture facing the left it looks like the nose I would want. Still bigger than the norm but straight and narrow. If I turn to the right it’s a total witch nose, no Halloween costume needed! Don’t believe me? I might be convinced to attach a picture showing the difference.
The truth is, I have an exact replica of my dads nose. It’s great on a man but not so much on a scrawny 15 year old girl who just happened to move to Miami (the land of really hot girls at really inappropriate ages) at the age of 15 when your insecurity taunts you every time you look in the mirror. Not only was I insecure about my nose but I had braces and hair that humidity didn’t take kindly to. I did my best to wear makeup and straighten my hair with every possible balm and anti-frizz serum on the market and of course I spoke with my dad so so many times about getting my nose fixed. I cried, I pouted and kicked, but luckily he didn’t budge. Fast forward to present day and I’m so very happy I didn’t get a nose job. I still complain about it to my husband. Sometimes it shocks me when I catch my reflection in the subway train window, but this nose that I couldn’t stand all those years ago has now become precious to me because I see my father when I look at myself in the mirror. In a way, I get to have him with me always. Having his nose makes me feel so lucky, and when I have kids, they will hopefully inherit it, and they’ll think it’s too big, but I’ll tell them stories of the beautiful, kind and magnetic man who gave them that nose, and they’ll see the photographs of his face and see his nose and know they have a part of him too.
I look at my siblings, and at my niece (who’s actually 18 months older than me, my mom had me when she was 41) and I see my parents in their expressions, in their gestures, and I hear them in their laughs, and can see them in their smiles. I look at my hands, the long slender fingers that were once ridiculed by my siblings for being so big and long, and I see my moms hands. The hand that would reach behind her to hurry me towards her, to welcome my smaller hand. I watch my brother interacting with people and I see my father in his way of connecting through his warmth and charisma. I see my sister as a mother now and I can hear my mothers voice in the lullabies she sings to her daughter. I see the grace and intelligence that my mother possessed and see it in the way my older sisters act and speak. I see the perseverance my niece has to be who she truly wants to be and I can see my father in her strength. These moments that I’m lucky to have, these things I perceive, are more beautiful because they show up in unexpected places, times when I don’t think I’ll see them. A beautiful result of a tragic situation, the ability to appreciate who made you and where you came from, in a way that I think most people take for granted.
Please take a moment to look at this post on the amazing website Hello Grief. A place that allows people who have lost loved ones to find a supportive community…
Hey all! Sorry for being away for over a month…eek. I’m back now, and you’ll be excited to know that I’ve been busy learning all about blogging and technology so now my blog will feature more photos, videos and music, as well as an interactive page. Just kidding!! It’s the same ole text and pictures from before, but I promise to write more often.
It’s pretty obvious from this blog that I’ve had my share of awkward conversations when I bring up my parents. People usually handle it by bringing up their own experience with loss whether it be about a family member, friend, a grandparent or even a pet. I choose not to judge the severity of someone’s tragedy because, if the worst day of your life was when your dog died then hell, you are one lucky guy/gal, and I salute your efforts for empathizing with my situation.
Anyways, one of the most touching and poignant responses I got after mentioning my parents was from an unexpected source. My husband’s cousin and his family came to visit us in Virginia and we took them to our favorite pizza place, Christians. As we’re eating our pizza, getting to know their son who was 5 at the time and his little sister who was 3 at the time, the precocious little boy asked “Where do your parents live?” Oh no, the dreaded subject and it’s coming from an innocent child who’s life I’m about to turn upside down with a subject that at his age is unthinkable. My husband and I exchange glances and I feel my chest tighten as I reply with hesitation – “Oh, my parents passed away” Now remember, this is a 5 year old kid, with pizza sauce all.over.his.face. and I have NO idea how he’s going to react. His response, in all it’s genius was….wait for it…. “That’s too bad, you don’t get to see um”. Wow, an absolutely true and insightful observation from a 5 year old. I was floored. My husband and I looked at each other again, this time trying not to laugh. It was pretty remarkable, how he took in the information that my parents were gone, understood the sentiment that it was really sad (too bad), and he didn’t feel the need to ask any more questions. Instead of responding, as many people feel forced to do, with some line that sounds like it comes from a sympathy greeting card he just kept it sincere and honest. Kids can be pretty candid about their feelings (like that show Kids Say the Darndest Things) which can be brutal and can sometimes annoy the crap out of me but I also think their ability to speak from the heart is a lesson a lot of adults could benefit from learning.
The other day I was having an IM conversation with my friend while I at work, super productive day in the office ;), and I decided to share it with you all . In lieu of paraphrasing, and losing some of the story, I decided to just cut and paste the conversation:
T: can i ask you something
T: its kind of personal
Trina: maybe bad time to ask
me: its ok
Trina: but was there ever a part of you that felt at peace when your dad passed because you knew they were together, rather than him being alone without her
me: yes, i mean, i don’t think my dad could have had a life without her
did i tell you what his friend told us he said?
Trina: yeah, i feel like in some way as hard as it is for you guys, it probably was best for him/them
no what did he say
me: so my dad, WAY before my mom was even sick was having a convo with his friend, just chatting about life and marriage and he said to his friend “you know my wife is a ballbreaker (it was in Spanish so probs different word) but if I ever lost her I would just go into my room and die”
but i think for some people, their heart is broken
i think i would find a lot of peace in that
or at least id try to
sorry, didnt want to make you sad
i just always wanted to ask you that
me: that’s ok
i don’t mind talking about this stuff
i did feel comfort
but it was so painful that i was just mad about it
Trina: oh of course
me: like when my mom passed we were still a family, but then when my dad left, nothing made sense
Trina: yeah that makes total sense
like your world went totally upside down
nothing was normal
me: right, at least if my dad lived we would still have the house you know?
Trina: yeah of course
The truth is that picturing them together, in some other world, was the only thing that got me through those first months after my dad passed away. My family agreed that this needed to happen and we would console each other, reassuring ourselves that their bond was too strong to break and they couldn’t be apart. I started to see their deaths as something beautiful and romantic instead of devastating and unfair. I’m not a religious person but I like to think we go somewhere after we leave our bodies and if that place brought my parents back together then I guess it’s the next best thing to having them with me on earth.
My mother and father loved each other on levels that I don’t think many people reach, their love wasn’t perfect, and it certainly wasn’t easy, but their connection was so strong that I can say with confidence that they literally couldn’t live without each other. I’m certain that regardless of the medical condition that ultimately took my fathers life, he died of a broken heart. He couldn’t bear a life without her and even though I sometimes get upset wondering “why couldn’t he stay for us?” I don’t think it was a conscience decision my dad made, it was something out of his control, almost like a fate that was decided for them lifetimes ago. This continues to be a comforting thought for me and in my darkest moments I know that I need to believe in the intangible to find the answers to things that don’t make sense in the tangible world.
** The above picture was taken on March 7th, 1970, on their wedding day. On the back of the photo my mother had written – “With wedding certificate in hand…a victorious look on my face!”
I found this quote in a book I was reading earlier this year called The Gathering by Anne Enright. I honestly didn’t love the book but this quote hit a nerve, understandably:
“And what amazes me as I hit the motorway is not the fact that everyone loses someone, but that everyone loves someone. It seems like such a massive waste of energy – and we all do it, all the people beetling along between the white lines, merging, converging, overtaking. We each love someone, even though they will die. And we keep loving them, even when they are not there to love any more. And there is no logic or use to any of this, that I can see.”
I know it sounds morbid but the only guarantee we have in life is death yet we feel so much sadness when we lose a loved one. We should be prepared for this loss because we know it’s going to happen. What can people do to better prepare themselves for the inevitable death of a loved one? Yikes, I sound like an ad for a funeral home. But really, if somehow we could mentally prepare for it, little by little, maybe the shock and pain wouldn’t be so great. Death is a taboo subject so we often avoid it, feeling as though talking about it will invite it into our lives.
Friends always say they’re proud of my strength, and in awe of how I handled my situation but they didn’t see the worst of it. My husband had to be there for the crying fits and the bad moods. I’m afraid there’s no graceful way of handling grief. Human beings don’t do well with finality. Ask anyone who’s tried to get over a boyfriend or girlfriend and inevitably they go back to the relationship because the person is still there, they’re accessible. We don’t understand the concept of something going away forever. I mourn small things like the closing of my favorite restaurant, a job I loved and couldn’t keep, yet these things tend to have a substitute. I’ll find a new place I love to eat, a new job that’s better suited for me but nothing replaces the loss of a loved one. In my case I just became numb. My mind tried to block it out and my body went on routine mode: wake up, eat breakfast, shower, talk to my brother, laugh with my niece, eat lunch, watch TV, etc etc. the routine kept me going.
On the other hand, the quote below put a new perspective on how I felt about death and dying. I found it in another book I was reading, also a mediocre read, good for a long plane ride…It’s called The Divide by Nicholas Evans. It’s a woman talking about her husband’s mother and how easily she becomes frustrated with her:
“Perhaps that’s natures way. Making people you once loved less lovable so it won’t be so hard when they go.”
This made so much sense to me. Of course no one wants to admit that their loved one is a burden but I think if I had watched my parents grow very old, too feeble to do things on their own, I would have wished them a peaceful passing. Maybe that’s the answer, you hope to lose loved ones when you’re more ready to lose them. Does it ever get easier though? Who knows…
I think when a loved one is in the hospital the hardest challenge is realizing that time doesn’t stand still. For me, I expected the world to slow down and take notice that I wasn’t involved, that I was suffering and hating life. I at least felt that since I was experiencing hell on earth everyone should feel a little sad too. That’s not the case. I spent countless hours in a hospital with my family, while we tried to stay sane, and optimistic and strong, while other people just moved on with their lives. It felt like a time warp of sorts. I remembered what my life was like before I was in the hospital for hours on end, and I would think of this life as a moment frozen in time. The days I’d spent in the hospital were a parallel time zone, something I had to do for a short period of time, but sure enough, I would be able to go back to my normal life soon.
It’s a shitty feeling to wake up and know you have to go to a place that you hate because it’s the only place you can see your loved one. And that’s an overstatement. It feels like the person in the hospital is NOT your loved one, but a sick person who you feel obligated to see. Your loved one is also in some other parallel time zone, living a peaceful and healthy life, certainly not dying in a hospital bed. To make matters worse, the nurses and doctors could give two shits about who this person is or what they loved, or how funny they were, or what foods they loved to eat. They’ve been assigned a job, and they perform their tasks to the best of their ability. Unfortunately those tasks are performed without any affection or compassion. They just read a chart, and glance at a wrist bracelet, 3/13/1939, female, etc. Sometimes they’re nice, and you cling to them for comfort and optimism but the shift changes and then there’s that emotionless nurse again, caring very little about your fragile emotional state. I used to wonder, have you ever lost someone? Do you know what this hurt feels like? I can’t imagine you have if you are so dismissive about my loved one. But then again it’s a job, so they can’t get involved. What an awful way to live your life, denying yourself the emotions that should be inherent when dealing with suffering and loss.
My dad died the day after July 4th. The days leading up to this holiday had the hospital and the staff in a frenzy. They were hosting a fireworks display in the lot next to the hospital so the hospital parking lot would be designated for all those patriotic folks. I remember seeing and hating all those posters, announcing the fireworks and the details that so many people were looking forward to, and meanwhile, we came in and out of there, like zombies, caring very little about the festivities that were on their way. July 4th I woke up, got dressed, and headed to the hospital to sit in a sterile, depressing waiting room, to pray, wish and cry. Meanwhile, outside people were setting up for a fun night. At that moment I wanted my old life back in the worst way. I was dealing with my father dying in the hospital and the finality of life sucking any feeling of normalcy away from me. I just wanted to take myself out of my experience and be a normal 23 year old, excited about the fireworks (maybe not excited about them but having the option to be excited about them). I wanted it so badly because it meant that I wasn’t a 23 year old girl sitting in a hospital room at the mercy of death but a 23 year old girl living her life without a care in the world. Was that too much to ask? It made me burn with anger that yes, at that moment, the normalcy of going out to see fireworks was eons away from the life I was now living.
Sorry for the delay in posting a new entry. This weekend my husband and I couldn’t stop watching the 5th season of Lost and I’m afraid we didn’t leave our couch except to run downstairs and grab delicious chinese take out. Anywho, here you go…
I’ve tried to drop hints. I promise, I’m the last person who wants to repeat my story, but sometimes people can’t help it. They have NO idea where the conversation is headed so they keep asking questions. It’s innocent curiosity, getting to know someone. Until finally you drop some seriously sad knowledge on a table of unassuming people. This was especially hard to avoid when my husband and I got engaged. In the role of blushing bride to be I was meeting all sorts of new folks, getting introduced to family friends and relatives, going to engagement parties, and it was a blast, but it had a downside. As a bride you’re asked about your mom and dad more regularly because marriage is about two families coming together, so when you meet new people they’re curious about where you come from, what your family is like, etc. It always starts as a nice introductory conversation….asking the basics…
Stranger: What do you do?
Me: I’m a buyer
Stranger: Where are you from?
We’re still good….moving right along…
Stranger: Oh I love Miami, great weather!
Me: Yep, the beach is beautiful, really warm water
It starts getting hairy with the next logical question…
Stranger: Do your parents still live there?
OK, I can still save them…
Me: Yes most of my family (note the usage of the term family) still lives in Miami, I have a sister in Mexico and a niece in LA
Stranger: They must be so excited about the wedding!
Phew, I think I’m gonna get us through this
Me: Yes, my family can’t wait!
Stranger: Has your mom been helping you organze it?
EEK…nothing I can do at this point…..
LAUNCH FIRST GRENADE
Me: Actually, my mom passed away
KABOOOOOM….the person is devastated, the mood of the dinner has officially shifted gears…..
Stranger: Oh, I’m so sorry to hear that, how’s your father doing?
Whoopsie, launch that second, more devastating GRENADE……
Me: My Dad also passed away
KABOOOOM….completely take over the mood of the party, start to feel the sting of tears in my eyes ….
Stranger: Oh my goodness, that’s so sad, how did it happen?
At this point I can go lots of ways. I can give them the extended version, I can let the tear ducts open wide, or I can save them the grief and keep it nice and clean. I go for the latter…
Me: They both passed from illnesses
Word to the wise: This is where it needs to stop. Though I can’t speak for all those who have lost a loved one, in my opinion if in a social setting, STOP ASKING QUESTIONS. I realize you care about me, being that I’m young with no parents, I immediately take on the look of a sad orphan. I totally appreciate the sympathy, but it’s not fun to go over the details of my situation, especially when I live it everyday. You’re hearing this story for the first time so you’re curious, and you mean the best but really, not the time or place. I’m happy (that’s an over statement, lets say, I’m better) discussing it in a more intimate setting, perhaps a quiet night at home, just the two of us drinking some tea (not a huge fan of tea but it sounds cozy), but not in a festive, social setting. It’s just not fun rehashing these emotions for a brand new group of people. It’s also not fun to be the party pooper when everyone is out to celebrate a happy occasion.
I think that if you’re in a social setting and you happen to ask someone about a family member/friend that has passed away, it’s probably best to express your condolences and unless they offer up the information on their own, just leave it at that and think of a quick change of subject. A few good choices – discussing current weather, compliment about a piece someone is wearing, drawing attention to the silverware, etc.
My family’s always been into supernatural stuff – meditation, aliens, spirits, etc. We definitely got this from both of our parents who not only believed in these things but would share spooky stories with us from an early age that supported their claims. We don’t actively seek a life having to do with the supernatural but we recognize that it’s a possibility because, why not. I think if you hear about these things at a young age when your mind is most open, you tend to accept them as fact, and not myth. I remember my mom talking about spirits that would come to her in the middle of the night, and she wasn’t afraid of them. My mom, just to be clear, wasn’t one of those new age-y looking types. She was a Grace Kelly type with movie star looks and a charm and poise that I’m afraid with me, in the genes department, lost to my father’s humor and temper. Anyways, I was always enthralled by my parent’s stories of UFOs and spirit sightings and never doubted the validity.
When my mom passed away it was comforting to me that she believed in spirits and that she had passed this down to me. It could only mean that she would come to me in the spirit form and I would be able to continue communicating with her, even if it wasn’t in the tangible world. So I waited for an interaction. Late at night, when I was alone in bed, I was sure she would come. I would have one of those Ghost (like the movie) moments where I would talk to her and catch her up on my life, and this would make up for her being gone. But weeks and months went by, I would have dreams, and they would comfort me, but nothing like I thought I would feel and see. I would also wake in the middle of the night and think I saw something but mostly it was my eyes playing tricks on me in the dark.
When my father passed, I was still expecting something to happen but to my disappointment, nothing did. I decided to talk to my family to see if anyone had had a supernatural encounter. Surely someone had seen something. There were no stories to be told. Weird dreams, funny feelings, but no actual interactions. I felt so discouraged, what was the point of believing in spirits if the ones you most wanted to see didn’t present themselves to you? I was expecting the type of experience that those kids had in the Bill Cosby movie Ghost Dad, was that too much to ask? Then my brother made a great point – even though people think they want to see spirits, especially those of loved ones they’ve lost, they really don’t want to see them. In movies, when people see their loved ones as ghosts there’s nice music and lighting accompanying the moment. My brother explained that in real life, the moment would probably be different. Case in point, his question to me – “If you woke up in the middle of the night, and saw mom or dad sitting at the edge of your bed, you wouldn’t shit your pants?” I contemplated his question and after imagining the scenario, of a spirit appearing on my bed, in the middle of the night, I concluded that I would, in fact, shit my pants. For now I’ll continue dreaming of them, this will have to do.
I’ve never been very good at being sad or somber. I don’t think I have the ability to be down in the dumps. Sure, I get really sad about my situation from time to time, but I handle those tough times differently. I think I lean more towards the anger than the sadness. When my mom and later dad passed away, I was ANGRY. I would punch pillows, have intense headache-inducing sob fests, I would feel hatred and jealousy towards people with parents, I was angry. I remember during that time I drew and painted. I would draw landscapes of angry trees with angry colors. I felt like anger was a strong emotion, life would have to deal with me and my anger, and this made me feel more in control of my situation than feeling sadness. If I became sad, life won and I lost. To hell with you life, I’M ANGRY AT YOU…. I’m gonna keep punching pillows and painting red, angry landscapes until you give me back my parents. My attempts at being sad were limited. I tried to translate sadness into art by taking photographs of myself, crying. I would review the photos and I couldn’t help thinking how ugly I looked, eek, my nose is crooked and my eyebrows look awfully thin. Not really the reaction one should have from looking at sad, meaningful portraits. My sweet sweet sister let me take VERY unappealing pictures of her, having just woken up, looking sad, so I could later paint her. The above is the finished product. Not terrible but the process and outcome felt forced. I was trying too hard to be soooo sad, it just wasn’t in me. Don’t get me wrong, I was devastated (and still am), it hurt my heart and my being so much that it made me sick, but that translated into anger, fucking fierce anger. Hey happy family with the mom and dad and three kids having dinner, look at this drawing of angry trees, and go fuck yourselves! Hey friend with both parents and two sets of living grandparents, fuck you!! Hey you who just celebrated your great grandmother’s 108th birthday, CONGRATS, and fuck you! It sounds harsh but I felt like life was unfair and the jealousy and injustice made me slightly irrational, well maybe a tad more than slightly.
Come to think of it, I’ve never been good at being the sad, introverted type. When I was in my early teens and I was supposed to be experiencing angst I bought Metallica’s Metallica album (also known as The Black album according to Wikipedia) to see if I could jump on the angst bandwagon. I listened to the song Nothing Else Matters, on my bed, trying to feel sad and angst-y…ummm…ya…I got nothin’. I would think to myself – I’d rather be listening to Taylor Dane and watching Footloose than listen to that song again. I’m lucky that I don’t have the natural tendency to be sad. The day after my dad passed away I thought to myself, I should lay in bed all day, I can’t face the world, I’ll just stay in bed…. but low and behold, I couldn’t do it. I wanted to be with my family. I wanted to make life keep going and life wouldn’t defeat my family, no way in hell it would…. the strength of my anger got me through the worst months of my mourning, it made it bearable. So I say, embrace any and all emotions when you mourn, don’t try to feel the things you’re supposed to feel.
I don’t think you’d believe me if I told you I was reading the book A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius, by Dave Eggers, 5 months before the same situation happened to me. I sometimes have a hard time believing it myself. I mean, those kinds of coincidences only happen in movies or are surely a lie when they’re told in real life, a way to deepen the drama so your audience is awed by the eerie coincidences that occur in life….I often wonder why that book made it’s way into my life, just months before the life I knew became COMPLETELY unrecognizable to me. I was one month out of college, still figuring out the next stage in my life, still unaware of my mother’s failing health. The book was a way to pass the time, a suggestion from a friend. Little did I know that it’s heartbreaking story was a preview of what my life would soon become.
People watch movies, see plays, read books, etc. to escape from their somewhat mundane lives. A book like Heartbreaking takes you on a journey where you feel sadness, pain and heartache but when you’re done reading it and you put it down, your life is unaffected. You’ve been moved by the story in the book or movie but your life is still unaffected. It seems the more tragic the story, the more praise it receives. People seem to be curious about the feelings associated with a trauma or a tragedy…..it’s funny to me that people have this morbid curiosity, in my case, I’m not so curious anymore.
And now this is my life. Without my wanting, I’ve become that person, that story that people think of with a lump in their throat. The friend that suffered an unthinkable tragedy and even though it’s SO sad, it’s interesting to retell the story to other people, because the reaction is a shared emotion. You bond with people over the unlucky timing and overall shitty circumstances and once the story is over THANK GOD that’s all it is, a story and not a reality.
I’m writing this blog as a sort of therapy for me. When this happened to me I didn’t go to therapy, I was 22 and pretty stubborn. My response to my then boyfriend (now husband) was “the therapist can’t bring them back so what’s the point?”. 7 years later and I realize that therapy might have been a good idea. It’s also interesting to point out that only one of my five siblings sought out therapy….probably feeling the same helplessness that I felt. What would the therapist know about losing his/her parents nine months apart at the age of 23? That was pretty much my attitude. I’m also writing this blog because I think there are so many beautiful things that come from human tragedy…. It’s a bitch to notice them at the time but in hindsight I think of them fondly. There are moments that make this life worth living, even after you suffer the unthinkable, and maybe someone who’s mourning will find this blog and it will help them start to heal…. It’s not a process that flows smoothly, there’s a lot of forward movement with lots of steps back but I hope my story will help people understand what it’s like to loose a loved one, to mourn, and to see how strong the human spirit can be when life hands you a seriously shitty card.