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Category: grief

Pot Roast to the Rescue

Pot Roast to the Rescue

My dear friends Bill and Maryanne lost their beloved (and enormous) golden retriever Moja this weekend. Moja was a very special dog — one hundred and twenty five pounds of big yellow love — and he died quite suddenly of a twisted gut. It was beyond awful. There were big gulping sobs and tears all around.

All I could think to do was drive home from the vet’s office and pull the emergency stash of pot roast out of the freezer. I made it ages ago, and there was too much for just the two of us, so I froze the rest. Good thing I did. Bill and Maryanne were too upset to even think of eating until last night, when Maryanne put the frozen pot roast in to warm up. The smell of started to fill the house. Maryanne ate a little and felt better. Bill wandered into the kitchen and managed to eat a little bit. The new pound puppy they brought home because the house was just too empty watched them eat pot roast. Everyone started to feel just a teensy bit better.

And my faith in the restorative power of pot roast is reconfirmed. There is so much we can’t fix in this world. People and animals we love die suddenly and unexpectedly. Winter comes. All seems bleak. And then the smell of something warm and beefy, perhaps with a few greens thrown in, sneaks through the house to remind us that all is not lost.

Change is in the air …

Change is in the air …

It’s an odd week here at LivingSmall — September 11 rolls around once again and I can’t help but remember calling Patrick, who was in the truck on his way to work. He hadn’t wanted to wake me up before he left, just after the first plane hit. We were on the phone together when the first tower fell. Seeing all the footage makes me miss him. He was the person I knew I could call any time, and we all need that person in our lives, the one we know we can pick up the phone when something happens. But on 9/11, it was my cousin I worried about. Elizabeth and Alan had just been married that spring, and I all I knew was he worked in finance — I didn’t know if he was in the buildings. Terrified she’d been widowed, I finally got through to their apartment where Alan, who had just walked home through the jumpers thought, because our voices are so similar, that I was Elizabeth on the phone. It was not me Alan wanted to talk to that morning, and it made me weep to hear in Alan’s voice how much he loves my cousin. Elizabeth, it turns out, had been on the plane from Bangor to Boston that morning with all the terrorists, and it took her three days to get back to New York — it wasn’t until a few weeks later that she let us all know she was pregnant — a small ray of hope in that dark fall. Change goes on, and now there’s two more redheads, Nina, and her baby sister Lucia in the world with us.

It’s an odd week here at LivingSmall because it’s both my brother Patrick’s birthday, and the MH’s birthday — today for the MH, tomorrow for Patrick. It’s a coincidence that sort of freaked me out when I discovered it. We were having coffee, and I was reading my horoscope and asked the MH when his birthday is. “September 12,” he said. “You’re kidding,” I answered. “No,” he said. “Why?” But then it came to seem like a nice thing —

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Gardening for your life …

Gardening for your life …

The garden is finally starting to come in this summer. I’m on vacation for 2 weeks, and I spent a lovely morning the other day puttering in the vegetable garden. I pulled out all the peas, which did really well this year, but which were starting to get woody. The tomatoes are starting to pop after a couple of days of hot weather — it really takes until August to get a tomato around here, but once they get past that 6-inch stage it feels like summer’s really begun. I have a lot of greens, and more onions than I kind of meant to plant, and I’m waging a losing war against the flea beetles for the eggplants.

It was such a lovely morning, just puttering. Pulling pea plants and harvesting what was left, putting in beans, some more lettuces. I’m also having work done on my house and my carpenter was hanging out in the backyard painting some boards which will replace the rotten ones he’s pulling off the house. Every once in a while one or the other of us would stop, look at something in the garden, chat — it’s been nice having some company — it’s the thing I miss most since Patrick died, just having someone friendly around, someone to chat with in that sort of idle, around-the-house kind of way. Turns out my carpenter used to have a garden. “I should start one up again,” he said at one point, eating a raw pea. “I mean, I got a dog again, maybe I should start another garden.” Turns out that like so many of us up here in this crazy little town, my carpenter had something of a breakdown a couple of years ago —

It’s one of the reasons I’ve insisted on keeping up the garden. I remember that first spring after Patrick died, when everything was so dark, when I kept telling myself “depressed people don’t start gardens. So, I must be okay.” It’s been a little grim around here lately — there have been a few too many days when the thought of living the next forty or fifty years alone without my brother seems hardly worth doing, but it’s the little stuff that can keep your head above water. Growing things that need tending. Taking care of the dogs. Getting the house fixed and painted. As the Dalai Lama once said: “make positive effort for the good.”

It doesn’t really ever get better ….

It doesn’t really ever get better ….

I had a long talk on the phone last night with my cousin Jennifer. Jennifer’s four years younger than I am, and her mother was my mother’s older sister. Every time there was a crisis in our childhoods, and there were plenty, we were shipped off to our Aunt Lynn’s house, so in a lot of ways Jennifer and I were raised almost more like siblings than like cousins.

I have a very clear memory of Patrick and I, having been dropped off one snowy night by someone who had agreed to drive us from where? Our Dad’s house? Our Mom’s? I remember them being people our mother knew, but not well. At any rate, they dropped Patrick and me off, and it was snowing — big fat Wisconsin snowflakes, and we were standing at Lynn’s back door in the light of the headlights while they waited for us to get inside. We were outside, in the illuminated snowflakes, with our little-kid suitcases, standing on Lynn’s back deck. It was always kind of like that.

And then when I was nineteen, and Jennifer was fifteen, Lynn drank herself to death. It was one of the things we talked about last night on the phone. “You guys were always there,” Jennifer said. “And then Mom died and you were all just gone.” I told her how hard it had been — none of us liked her father (who brought his girlfriend to the funeral for the wife he wasn’t separated from) — and they were just kids, and we were all so heartbroken that to even think about going up to that house, that house that had been our safe place, without Lynn in it, and with those three bereft kids and their awful father, well, none of us could face it. We talked, Jennifer and I, about how mad we still are at her mother for killing herself like that, about how she was the one who was supposed to take care of all of us. Lynn died 22 years ago and it was like it happened last week. Jennifer’s oldest daughter is 13 now, and Jennifer knows it’s going to be weird when she, in essence, outlives her own mother. She knows too that she probably hangs onto her girls too close, that in some very real ways she needs them to make her the mother she didn’t have.

And we talked about losing Patrick, and the aftermath of that, and how strange it’s been. It’s one of the incomprehensible things about life. The people we love die, and they’re just gone, and they don’t come back.

But, on the other hand, Jennifer’s in Arizona now, and we’re old enough to call eachother and finally talk about the stuff that we couldn’t talk about when she was fifteen and I was nineteen because we were really just heartbroken kids. We made it, somehow. We grew up. We’re mostly okay.

Patrick’s Very Bad Day

Patrick’s Very Bad Day

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Yesterday was the second anniversary of that sad event Maryanne has named, “Patrick’s Very Bad Day”. Last year I was in Paris for this day, wandering around in a tres melodramatic haze, thinking to myself “Mais, il est mort. Mon frere. Il est mort.” Paris is, in general a good place to go when you are feeling sad, melancholy or blue, because the city lends itself to soulful lingering at cafes, gazing into the middle distance while every once in a while using that little tiny spoon to stir the sugar you have, so sacreligiously, put into your cafe.

Luckily, I was saved from my Paris melancholia by my friend Jim, who had invited me to come stay in Provence with him and his family — A week in the sunny south with loving people who had all, to the one of them, survived terrible losses — dead family is a theme among us — they saved me from the terrible loneliness of being in a big city where I didn’t really know anyone, and where for the first time, Patrick was not waiting for me to come home.

So, last night. I’d been kind of hoping that the date would just slip us all by, but our lovely friends, the ones who have saved me these past two years, asked what we should do. The only thing I could think of was that we should go to our friend Jim’s restaurant (different Jim than the France Jim). Jim’s, where we celebrated Patrick’s 38th birthday two weeks before he died. Jim’s, where Patrick looked up from the end of that table in the front window, wearing his goofy blue birthday hat, and made a toast. “Despite some setbacks this year,” he said, referring to the woman he’d loved, who’d gone back to her ex, the job he’d sought and hadn’t gotten, the couple of months he’d spent living in my spare room in the basement. “Despite all that, I just want to thank you all,” he said, raising a glass in the air. Jim started to razz him, calling him a sentimental Irishman, but Patrick went on. “I just want to thank you all. I’ve never had such a happy year. I’ve never had such wonderful friends, or felt so welcomed into a community. Thank you for taking us both in, and for being such wonderful friends.”

That terrible night two weeks later when everyone was gathered in my kitchen, it was Patrick’s toast we kept referring to, how happy he’d been, how he was getting it together, how he’d survived the breakup and his new business was starting to take off. So last night we all gathered at Jim’s, that same group who came that first night, who came to my kitchen and stayed with me, and who have stayed with me ever since. We had a bottle of champagne, and toasted our missing friend, and ate some food and told some stories and it was just good to be together. Oh, and what Patrick said. Thank you. All of you.

Ah! Borrowed Babies!

Ah! Borrowed Babies!

This morning my friend Nina called and asked, with that sort of tense tone in her voice, what I was doing. Why? I said. Do you need a rescue? Turns out, she was in the car with the twins, who had a pediatrician’s appointment, and her husband (who is writing for TV trying to support them all) had a sudden deadline at eleven. She needed an extra set of arms.

Well count me in. There’s no cure for a case of low-level January depression like a two month old baby that needs a snuggle.

I did have to check my schedule though. While I have no evidence that part of the reason that I lost the Totally Cushy Real Job and got booted over into the Real Job I Don’t Know How To Do is because I spent a lot of time last summer driving Nina to Billings for doctor’s appointments when she was pregnant, it was probably a tiny little factor. So this morning, Nina was all: “if you have to work …” but the glory of the Real Job is that it’s in California, which is an hour behind Montana, so it looked like I could go.

And when I got there, there was Lola, wearing the completely extravagent sweater I bought for her in France (deep rose, hoodie, with these fabulous buttons that look like roses and are made from ribbon). I am superstitious, and won’t ordinarily buy baby presents for babies who aren’t here yet, but when I went to France for the anniversary of Patrick’s death, I decided it was time to believe in these babies. And the shopkeeper in the gorgeous French baby clothes store saw me coming — I spent a fortune, and it was worth every penny. Each baby got a gorgeous outfit, and with any luck they may grow enough this winter to wear them!

The pediatrician was interesting — I’m not a mom, so while the doctor was very nice, and has a young baby of her own, I was somewhat shocked by her tone, which seemed to imply that the doctors had loaned Nina these two babies, and gee, wasn’t she doing a good job with them? Now Nina’s one of the most confident moms I know, and these are babies three and four, so she’s got a bag of tricks under her belt, and I must say, if this is the way doctors talk to moms, then no wonder they wind up feeling insecure.

But, as the auntie, I had a lovely morning with Violet, and Lola, holding whichever baby wasn’t being stripped naked, weighed, and having her head measured. And then there were the terrible injections — each one of the bunnies got an RSV injection — their little legs are so tiny, and the needle was so big, and they were deeply betrayed. It was terrible. But by the time we left, Lola, who hadn’t slept at all last night, had passed out against my collarbone from the excitement, and despite the immediate horror of being stuck with that big needle, they were fine.

As was I, after a quick morning hit of infant, and a reminder that it’s good to be a member of the village.

An Old Age Home of Our Own

An Old Age Home of Our Own

Blogging has been slow here at LivingSmall because I just haven’t felt like I had anything interesting to say. It’s been a weird month — I’ve been a tiny bit depressed — I have to say, I sort of thought this grief thing would get easier at some point — like after I made it through the first anniversary, or got through the holidays — but it still just sucks. And trying to write this book isn’t helping — I mean, last January was SO horrible what with the crying on the couch with the dog in my lap, and the endless reruns of Judging Amy and all, that what sane person would decide that a reasonable course of action would be to sit down a year later, and describe it all in detail? And then there’s the Real Job, which has me frantic with worry — I got booted into a similar but totally different job back in October, and because it is similar to what I used to do, my manager seems to think that I actually know what the fuck I’m doing. Which I don’t. I spent three hours the other day trying to figure out how to update the cross references on this minor document I’m working on — three hours! And I’m going to have to rewrite two user guides, two administrators guides, and build online help for two different products — and the online help thing is such a mystery to me that I’m surviving by living in complete denial that I’m going to have to do it at all.

So anyway, I’ve been feeling very bitter and grinchy and sorry for myself because I have far too much debt to quit the Real Job to write full time, which is a ridiculous idea anyway because whatever literary career I had lasted about a year and a half before my novel went out of print, and I don’t know whether I can even finish this memoir-thing, much less sell it. I’ve also been in a dark hole of sadness and terror that with Patrick gone I don’t have anyone to rely on, which since I seem to have neglected to acquire a husband along the way, and I’m now of that age where it’s more likely that I’ll be killed by a terrorist than ever married, well, I’ve been indulging in little dark fantasies of winding up as an old tottery woman alone in this house with my dogs. But because I really have been trying very hard to keep my chin above water, I invited everyone over for Family Dinner last night.

One of the things I’ve found most difficult has been Sunday nights. I like to cook a nice dinner on Sundays — I like a house that smells like food, like people actually live there. So one of my New Years Resolutions was that I was going to start having people over on Sundays and I was going to cook. So I did — there were six of us last night. I made a big pot of braised short ribs, and some lovely yellow saffron rice, and a salad. Nothing fancy, just Family Dinner.

Now, at my table we had three writers, a photographer, and a former movie star — and because my friends are all a little bit older than I am, and because that President is promulgating this lie that Social Security is in “crisis” so he can dismantle the last safety net most of us have, the talk turned to getting older, and what the hell we’re all going to do. No one I know really has a steady income, (well, except me that is, because I have the Real Job). We didn’t come up with any solutions, but in some weird way, knowing that nobody has their shit together, and that even my seemingly-stable, sort of grown up friends are scared as shitless as I am most of the time, made everything much better. We had a nice dinner. We had eachother. We had a lot of laughs planning a communal Old Age Home — one with a bar, and a pool for our old broken bodies, and of course, dogs would be allowed. All joking aside, there was a real sense that somehow, we’ll all figure this out together. Which is just about all the solace one can hope for after another dark January.

All the Air Goes Out

All the Air Goes Out

Well, last night all the air went out of my good intentions, out of my determination not to let them get to me, out of my belief that we will, in the long run prevail in our intentions to build a progressive society. Last night I was tired and jittery over our political situation, over my new job at Cisco that I don’t know how to do, over my fears that this administration will wreck terrible havoc in the name of “faith”. But I was having dinner with a friend, and it was good, and we ran into some people I haven’t seen in a long time, and then we wound up dancing to a great little band in my friend Jimmy’s bar.

And then my wallet went missing. We couldn’t find it anywhere. I’ve been carrying Patrick’s old wallet for most of the last year, and while it’s somewhat sentimental, I like that this small object has a continuing life. Every time I pull my wallet out to pay for something — groceries, or gas for the car, I feel a continuity between his life that has ended, and my life that continues on. And his/my wallet was gone. I was beside myself. I’m not much of a cryer, but I burst into tears right there in the bar, and friend my Jim, who keeps Patrick’s picture in the restaurant he runs with his wife, was very sweet about it and let me just cry and cry … I couldn’t believe it was gone. I couldn’t believe I’d lost even this small token. I was heartsick.

But I dried my tears and came home and pulled out the files in which I keep all my bills and called to cancel my credit cards. And then I went to bed, exhausted and heartsick. I cried on and off all morning, just a wreck — and then decided perhaps I was giving up to easily. So I went back over to Jimmy’s bar, and looked around in the light of day. It had lodged beside one of the poker machines. It was there — everything was in it, which I didn’t really care about. Mostly I was just happy to have it back.

I guess that, just as I wasn’t nearly as okay about this election as I’d tried to be, or had hoped to be, I’m also, occasionally, still not as okay with having lost Patrick as I’d like to be. So, along with writing letters and urging our elected officials to keep up the fight, it’s probably important that we all remember to be kind to one another in these difficult times.

Planting Patrick

Planting Patrick

A couple of months ago, I ordered two Tess of the D’Urbervilles bare root rosebushes from White Flower Farm. They kindly sent me a note that they couldn’t guarantee them as my zone is too cold, but between global warming, and planting them on the south side of my house, in the tropical perennial bed, well, I think they’ll be fine. They look lovely in the photos, bushy dark-pink roses which should bloom continually and will make a nice contrast to the ancient and wonderful white rugosa roses that were here when I moved in. I’ve also planted a couple of Persian Yellow roses in that bed — they’re a hardy northern rose that blooms early, and only once, but with cascades of clear yellow flowers. There was an enormous bank of Persian Yellow’s alongside my oddball rental apartment in Salt Lake City, and I’m deeply fond of them.

I planted my two new bare-root roses yesterday in the side garden, and I fertilized each one with about a cup and a half of Patrick’s ashes. It was a completely unsentimental experience — the guys had just shown up to take down the chain link fence in front of my house — they’re putting up a picket fence later this week. So there I was, digging holes, filling them with water, wandering out there with the satisfyingly basic cloth bag in which what’s left of my beloved Patrick remains, and my ordinary one-cup measure from the kitchen. Mostly I was just hoping the fence guys wouldn’t ask what was up, since I thought it might really freak them out. I scooped about a cup and a half of Patrick’s slightly scary ashes into each hole (those chunky bits were, after all, his bones which is a little intimate, even for me), and then set the bare-root roses in, and tamped the dirt back in around them.

I’ve been mulling over for months what I should do with Patrick’s ashes, and somehow, the idea of using him as bone meal to fertilize two lovely rosebushes that will grow in that bed beside which that nice man, Mike Fitzpatrick, the assistant coroner for Park County, told me that day in September that Patrick had been in an accident and that he was dead, well, it seems fitting somehow. I’ll never forget standing there with the late-summer cosmos and asters waving in the continuous Livingston breeze as that kind man brought me that terrible news. So now Patrick’s there, in my flower garden, where he can fertilize something beautiful, and keep me company.

Well, part of him’s there anyhow. I haven’t decided what to do with the rest of him, but the thing I really learned opening that package yesterday was that even though that dust and those chips are what’s left of my brother’s body — it’s just bonemeal. He’s so not there. And he liked my garden — he used to tease me when he’d bring the dogs back from the park in the morning “How’s the farm coming along?” he’d ask. I’d remind him that my garden is the most normal thing I’ve ever done, that I have a hobby, like a ordinary person. I think the rest of Patrick’s ashes will probably wind up in the garden as well. I’ve got two other climbing roses I bought last week that need to go in someplace. And the vestigal Catholic in me likes the idea of planting him with the tomatoes — likes the idea that come August when the tomatoes get ripe, some part of Patrick, some molecules that were Patrick will all become part of us, out there in my lovely garden, eating gorgeous tomatoes. I like the idea in general, that Patrick has somehow returned to the cycle of things, that he’s out there loose in the universe, and not frozen underground in some horrible box, preserved with chemicals. He’s a rosebush. He’s a tomato. He’s still out there, somewhere.

Nothing a Chicken Can’t Fix

Nothing a Chicken Can’t Fix

It’s been kind of a rough week around here — six months last week since Patrick died. I thought I was past the worst of the weeping, but it’s been a little soggy here these past few days, and I’ve had a slight relapse on the daytime-tv-on-the-couch-with-dogs front. So tonight, a roasted chicken (I get more hits for the blog entry titled “Roasting a Chicken” than I do for anything else), some kale, and basmati rice. A glass of red wine, and a decent dinner and one of my many Netflix movies … it’s okay. I’m getting through this and it’s getting less awful all the time, but it still sucks. But at least there’s a good dinner.