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Multigenerational Mom Muses on Twin Toddlers & Twenty-Something Daughters

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father’s death

when you’re brittle and trying not to break (the tale of an introvert in mourning)

Something’s gone wrong with me. I’m impatient. Inadequate. Unmoved. 

I roll my eyes at people who deserve my patience. My sympathy. My empathy. Where has my empathy gone? 

It’s like I’ve suddenly been remade of a very fragile substance. Like I’ve been through the fire and have cooled and turned crisp. Like glass, thin and sharp. Like peanut brittle, but without sweetness. Like dried bones.

Who am I anymore?

Is this what mourning is like? Distancing myself from every feeling so I don’t shatter into jagged bits that will cut someone? 

Because I really think I could. Cut someone. If pressed.

I always thought mourning was feeling everything. Feeling it all so hard and so sharp that it stole your breath and left you drowning in a dense sea of emptiness built from never-ending tears. 

But me, I’ve only truly cried once. The night I buried him. Cried in a fetal position in the floor of my closet until I thought I would vomit — not just the contents of my stomach, but my stomach itself. Cried until bile ran through my veins and tear ducts. Until my intestines flipped and twisted into a knot and wrung out the tears, said, ENOUGH, and sent them packing.

After that, I cooled. 

And backed away. Pushed anything and anyone away who tried to make me talk about it, made me try to feel it.

Leave me alone. Let me alone. Let me.

Who the hell are you to ask me how I’m doing, anyway? Who the hell are you? You have no right to this pain. 

I’m not sharing it with you. I’m not even sharing it with me. It is sacred and not to be touched. It is strangled deep inside my sigmoid colon where it needs to stay. Contained.  Lest I shit all over you. 

Lest I cut you with it, too.

Distance. I need distance. I’ve needed it for the last seven months. 

I’ve put everything and everyone beyond arm’s length. So I don’t get touched. Touch. Feel. I can’t handle it. 

But I know I can’t stay like this forever. I need to get back to what I do. Teaching. Writing. Motherhood. Feeling. 

I’ve always been good at these things. At motherhood and writing and teaching. And feeling.

But I’m still so brittle. So frangible. So far away from who I am. 

How do you teach like this? How do you awaken the minds of your charges when you are terrified to reawaken your own?

And how do you write like this? Without digging deep? Without dipping into dark, muddy shit.

And Motherhood. It’s impossible to mother without shit. Without getting cut. Without feeling. 

Impossible.

I’m an imposter right now. This is not who I am. 

But one-half of the people who made me is now gone. And the person I was came unmoored. And sank. And is buried somewhere in my twisted reality. 

And when I start digging for her, I face hard questions. Not the Did you love me? questions. Because I know he did. I truly, deeply know he truly, deeply did. 

But the other hard questions. The shitty ones.

The Were you ever really proud of me? and Did you ever really know me? ones. The Did you ever really even want to know me — like who I was, not who you wanted me to be? questions. 

All the dark complexities of being a daughter in a patriarchal papa’s world kind of questions.

Will I ever be less brittle? Feel less brittle? Feel? 

Will I be able to reignite the flame that got doused, strangled somewhere inside my intestinal fortitude? Get back to the warm-blooded me who is flexible enough to teach my students the way they should be taught? To mother my children the way they should be and deserve to be mothered? To write about the things I want to write about, that I should write about, that deserve to be written about. To search for the answers to the questions I manage to write out, but still can’t write about. Can’t write through.

Is there a way to tap back into the life forces that pull me through this universe when a major life force in my universe has tapped out? 

It’s all so complicated… and so different from what I expected.

’tis the season, a very hard season

’tis the season — for mankind and for football. It’s Christmastime and the playoff season. The Sunday of the semifinals and the final week of school before winter break.

And I have so much I want to do. Like to do. Am struggling to do. All the baking and buying of gifts, the playoff chili cooking and cheering for my student athletes and football family. I want to do all the things I usually love so much about this most glorious of seasons.

But then, my body rejects that desire. It shudders. And shutters itself inside a husk of general malaise. And I cannot.

My joy has been ransacked. I find tinges of it — glimmers of it shining in the rubble. Like broken glass or teardrops caught by glancing blows of brightness and light. Fleeting.

This morning, I watched the sun climb stair-steps of cloud over the river, the shelves of them distinct and layered like a smog and smoke parfait. It was haunting, the way it cast shadows over a split rail fence in the distance, a long, lean checkerboard where crows, not ridged game pieces, hopped the squares.

Their tinier siblings were there too, a carpet of blackbirds, rolling in low-slung, oily black clouds from yard to yard, scavenging in swirling, lifting tornados to light in naked trees, filling them with feathered foliage.

The King of the Crows, a giant among the blackbirds, scared them away and perched himself at the top of a wobbly, half-dead fruit tree in our backyard. He teetered from his own weight, wings outstretched for balance, a pendulum in chaotic motion, a blunderbuss of blackened breastbone searching for balast. He gave up and flew away.

Death never feels like balance. I’ve learned it topples you, leaves you yearning — for joy, for love, for the person you’ve lost. Everything feels off kilter. Out of balance.

But the experts tell us Death is the ultimate balance of Life. The two bookends. lMaybe so, but it never feels right for those left behind. I swear, my father’s book wasn’t finished.

I wish Death had failed to light that November night. I wish the balance had been off. The pendulum too chaotic, the ballast not there — not quite right for the Harbinger Crow. I wish that Newton’s Law had kept my father’s heart in motion.

I’m sure, somewhere on this earth, there was an equal and opposite reaction. The moment my father’s heartbeat ceased, some new one began. Beauty birthed in pain. Darkness and sorrow begat magic and light. So the pendulum swings.

I see both. I feel both — but the light side, the bright side, it comes only in flashes right now. Flashes of comfort and joy: cuddles with my twin boys at bedtime, curled like squirrels against my side while we read our bedtime books; Friday night’s quarter-finals game, stadium pulsing with our come-from-behind win; trips to the mailbox to find cards with well-wishes and Christmas greetings.

But then I swing back to the grayness and fog and numbness, and on into darkness and pain and mourning. And back again.

’tis the season. A very, very hard season.

Still, I am here to bear witness. To feel it. To live it — in all its shifting shades and sensations. The wildly-careening spectrum of color and composition that makes and brings the beauty AND sorrow.

The wins and losses. The memories and their making. The rise and fall. All the majesty and magic and quagmires and pain of Life. Without it all, we would be so flat and empty.

So I’m taking these broken wings and learning to fly again. Into the depths and heights of the pendulum swings. Into the light of a dark black night.

”tis that season for me.

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