Tag: Mourning

Down to Zero

In the weeks that have past, my mind has kept up a proper intake of words from Toni Morrison and Tara Westover, the words of other writers, but none that wanted to come out of me.

I’m relearning, yet again that the path is never straight. And at the start of the week of June 3rd, last, four days before the end of school, a text came in to remind me. I picked up the vibrating phone from the coffee table around 10:30 p.m. and I read the words through sleep crushed eyes.

Then I reread them.

My brain rebooted.

I blinked. Hard.

However, the copy read the same; a mom friend of mine, my very first new Mom friend at Julia’s school had lost her husband to a sudden heart attack.

He was 55.

After a series texts, followed up by a midnight phone call, I finished up by sending a text stating that she should “Let me know if there’s anything I can do.” By that afternoon, around 1 p.m., Jackie identified something I could help her with:

“I’m sending you Noah’s obit, if you have time, please review it and get it back to me by 5 p.m.”

My girlfriend isn’t Jewish. Her husband was, which means, the funeral would be held, by tradition, the following day; forty-eight hours after Noah took his last breath.

I stared at the word doc icon attached to the email, as a deep rumbling fear, built and bounded up into my stomach.  I feared clicking the doc open, afraid I’d make a difficult time for someone I cared for, even more laborious.

I texted a friend to ask what to do. “I’m sure Jackie would understand why you couldn’t do it,” she replied. So ,the real challenge was, could I forgive myself.  Rising to this writing needed to be an act I could do for my friend during a supremely difficult time.

Screen Shot 2019-06-19 at 3.32.44 PM
A fair representation of creative writing for me in  2019

I clicked on, the word doc, I peered at the first paragraph, on my computer screen.

SCHEINFELD-Dr. Noah Simeon, 55, of New York City, passed away unexpectedly in his sleep on June 3rd, 2019. Beloved husband of Jacqueline Marie Didier. Devoted father to Maximilian and Thomas. Son of the late Ellen (Rothstein) and David Scheinfeld, brother to Joshua (Lizzie) and Moses (Rivka), as well as uncle to eleven nieces and nephews.

Then it hit me. The last real writing I’d done was for my mother’s obituary. Moreover, I would now reenter Obit Land. This work wasn’t just creative writing; this was service. Perhaps it could even be a little cathartic for me.

As the only writer in the group of five asked to review the details of a life, the value of making a  narrative smooth, I sought a specific truth. As I read through Noah’s achievements, Harvard Medical, Yale Law school, Columbia U. undergrad, I could feel the pull of the words on the page, not the labor of them. I felt a strong need to put thought, ideas, details, in the proper place, in the appropriate order, at least what I considered proper to be.

One of my mom’s favorite quotes is, “Nothing beats a try.” So, for my friend, I tried my very best to make her husband’s obit sing off the page before they lowered his remains into the ground. As a deleted, transposed and crafted new words, I felt like an epaulette shark, a creature that is a not only a capable swimmer it can use its fins, during low tides, like legs. My writing legs hurt from the long stretch to reach the good.

Nothing in death is wasted, so says science; fallen trees become nourishment for new growth in the forest; mushrooms spring from invisible microbe; roadkill becomes a feast for neighboring birds of prey. It seems death is providing a compost foundation to get me back to the thing I so love, writing. Maybe it’s the call to help a friend that also calls me back to life, in a way.

“Get busy living or get busy dying,” Red, Morgan Freedman’s character in Shawshank Redemption, announces once he decided to find his way out in the real world, instead of ending his own life.

Maybe those are the words the dead whispering to me. And they’ve sent hints. A few weeks back, while watching Jane Pauley, the host of CBS This Morning,  serve up a broadcast from Florence, I froze my tracks. Once I knew Florence intimately, every street, every café on both sides of the Arno River. Seeing my old friend, embraced by another, from the Pizza de Michelangelo, I wept small tears into my morning cappuccino.

“Mommy, what’s wrong, what’s wrong?” Julia asked, her little face full of concern.

I miss my friend.

“What friend, Mommy?

“Italy.”

Little Girl Blue

 

A few weeks ago, on a Tuesday, under an evening sky of aquamarine set with a pearly China chip of moon set high, I headed to Barnes and Noble in Greenwich Village, in search of inspiration. Since late January, unless I was paid to do so, I haven’t written a word creatively.

The reason why? The passing of my mother.

Of course, I knew the experience would be difficult. What I didn’t count on was that shelved along with every other element of my existance would be my personal creative writing life, a connection that has held strong for more than a decade.

The craving to write takes place inside my head, in a certain part of my brain. I’ve come to realize that all memories of my mother lives in a section of my brain, too. To descend there and think about my words, to organizing them, to shape them into something wonderful, can’t happen because a sour sadness is housed there, too

“Plumbers don’t get plumbers block, I don’t believe in writers’ block,” Susan Shapiro, a mentor and former professor of mine famously tells her newbie students.

And as far as advertising writing is concerned, Sue’s edit holds true. I write every day using with my advertising head. Creative writing? Nope, nada, nothing.

To shrink-a-fy myself, I’m having an emotional block to the work that draws the greater emotion. People who write creative nonfiction love to dig down deep, unearthing nuggets of truth about their world and where they fit into that reality. When we return to the surface, we share those valued insights for all, but especially for ourselves. I just don’t have it in me to grab a shove and start digging. Ironically, last year was my best year yet for published work, I birthed three pieces into the world. This year, I might be barren.

So, on that Wednesday, I entered the Barnes and Noble, as if it were a temple, seeking  a path of enlightenment, connection. I boarded the escalator and road its silvery steps up to the fourth floor to peruse some literary journals and poetry books. I’d hoped just by touching the printed materials, by reading some fine writing, I would reconnect and warmth to the idea of work. I  rushed over to the bid of journals, selected an issue of Tin House, and held my breath. The pages flipped by, lines of copy, black rivers of ink, and I felt nothing but the weight of the magazine.

Next, I grabbed The Paris Review another fine literary journal, and thumbed through the pages, Typically, seeing the published works of others, the bylines of friends, acquaintances or even just writers that I admired, produces inspiration, at times envy, and most certainly a thrill. But that day, only more numbness set into my mind.

Next, I wandered down the aisles set with neat stacks of books and settled on a book of poetry. My eyes landed on a page, on the curve of a line. I found a  five-dollar word where a two-dollar selection would’ve served better. My saliva soured. I grimaced. I tried to shake the offense loose. I could not.

I closed the book and headed back downstairs towards the exit. One floor after another passed, miles and miles of books, the published works, the efforts of others, culminated into a sea of colorful hardback and soft covers, books of mystery, strange works that were culminated by strangers, created by the strange of writing.

I strode out of the door into the cool of the evening under that crescent moon. I looked over the Manhattan scape, a view millions of people around the world would offer up a limb to experience, and could think of one thought: in five days my first Mother’s Day without my mother would detonate. The bad would become worse. And with that, the tears began to flow.

When I got home I wrote to one of my mentor’s, the essayist and  poet Molly Peacock and asked her what I should do. Molly’s response came quick.

“I laid down on the sofa after my mother’s death for days and couldn’t move. It seems that it’s a normal response to the loss of a parent. You’ve returned to non-verbal kind of a pre-baby state.”

I love Molly.

She can make anything sound cool and interesting. Even a chronic yet functional depression. So, I continue on my nonverbal track reading a lot, walking a lot, trying to out run the fact that I miss my mom and can’t escape that thought, and don’t want to think of much else.  And I don’t want to look into my soul and remember just how much I miss her. I don’t want to face the feeling of being an orphan, even at this age.

I descend into the subway and saw a small figure, slim and brown skin, holding a sign that read, “Hungry.” I kept walking, sliding my MetroCard into the slot, pushing my thighs against the turnstile, heading home. But something nags at me. The small nagging grows into a big nagging.  I stop. And turned around to look at the figure again. Man? Woman? I can’t say.

But what I did know was this, I couldn’t move past this human being. Something held me there to do what I could do. I fished into my purse and pulled out a few singles

“Excuse me, excuse me,” I say, working for attention.

Under the roar of the trains, the stumping of thousands of shoes, the figure doesn’t hear m.e

I studied the form dressed in a jogging suit, and a knit cap pulled down over the ears, fifteen feet away. “Hey! Excuse me,” I say waving my arms, with the cash in hand.

The figure turns, looks at me with wide eyes, then head towards me. She’s tinier than I thought. Like a child from a war-torn country. Or someone who came across the border under the cover of an inky black sky.

“Here,” I say, and pressed the bills into her palm.

“Thank you,” she says soft, her voice accented

“You’re welcome,” is what I said. But what I thought is this: “You are lost. And so, I’m I.  I’ve found a sister in the world. But we are still orphans.”

So, I wrote this post as a Mother’s Day remembrance. Then, after the passing pop a few weeks, it slipped into a difference sort of Memorial Day piece, in my mind, Now, after a long weekend and I still didn’t get the damn this posted, I’m just pushing publish. This mourning has me so weighted down, it’s serious reserve just to point and click.  To send something out in the world.

Finally, Happy Halloween

In the rush and fury to get Julia to school on Friday after she fell to the lure of a large, brown, cardboard box and clear popcorn packing sheets from a delivery, the kind of magic no kid can fight, as we rushed and ran to the elevator and out the door so she could ring the bell and announce, “Time for Morning Meeting!” Julia’s class job for this week, I grabbed a colorful scarf from my closet to guard against the late October chill.

“I like the scarf,” my super said, as George greeted us outside our building, “you look nice, ready for Halloween.” I glanced down and saw the orange tails of fabric set against my black coat. Only then did I realize the day.

For many years, October 31st marked a solemn time, a new trail of tears to join a long, curved, bumpy road. This was day, two decades ago, I learned that the man I’d planned to marry had, after complications from pneumonia, died.

Art was 26.

The first few years I’d take time off from work and held up in a cocoon of mourning at home. It was an odd state of existence. As New York City revved up for its biggest party of the year, second only to New Years Eve, I curved and clasped on myself, on my hurt. For years I dreaded the hell of All Hallows Eve. Yet, this Friday I was reminded how differently I experienced Halloween, and nearly everything else now. It all came back to me when I read the Daily Word for October 31, 2014:

ENDINGS

I MOVE FORWARD INTO GREATER GOOD.

When we stand at the end of one life experience—the conclusion of a job or relationship, moving away from home, graduating from school, or retiring from a career—we remember that every ending is also a beginning. Saying goodbye to what has been, we welcome what will be.

We may be tempted to keep looking back, but once we turn our eyes to the path ahead, we find new opportunities awaiting us. We are beginning a new phase of life, a new way of fulfilling our purpose, a new way of serving God and the world.

In truth, we don’t leave anything behind; we carry it with us. As we bless our past, we build on all we have learned and continue on our life’s unfolding journey.

Halloween 1
Julia Treat or Treating, 2014

Halloween 2014 served as the launch of Julia’s costume; her candy procurement route; and my plan to stash the loot in our apartment before my kid hits the crack-sugar-zone. Mourning did even make the list.

“Time heals all wounds,” I’d heard from family and friends. But Art’s death left a crater-sized wound.

To become a mom I had to let go of the idea of marriage before motherhood, the belief that my mate would be by my side as we welcomed our child into the world, that I’d have someone to poke in the ribs when a cry pierced the stillness of the dark and say, “Honey, it’s your turn to go see about her.”

“You can have what you want in life, just not in the order society tells you,” my then shrink told me over and over again. I’m so grateful that I believed her.

*

On the way home Friday after work to pick up Julia and take her Treat or Treating, a baritone voice started up in the subway crooning,“A Change is Gonna Come.” The A, C and E trains seemed to still in relevance. The crowd stopped its shuffling for position on the platform. The chords echoed through the subterranean tunnels creating a chapel like atmosphere. This tune sung by Otis Redding or Curtis Mayfield, given the odd mood, can shape a walnut size lump in my throat and wetness my eyes I cannot blink back. On Halloween 2014, I settled into the song, into understanding that change does come, and some times it even brings along a measure of peace.