August 17th, 2014

 

I forget to respond to you
Late August, Vancouver cools
a dry that starts to crumple and fade

you’re in California getting a tan, driving
one hand on the wheel through the inland empire
you get such a kick out of that

I’m too serious, all jokes aside
it’s too easy to imagine you as a child
shoes polished and alone

you want air conditioning
respect
a daughter who writes

someone didn’t tell you
how to remedy guilt, how it sparks hot off shame
how dangerous it is in this kind of heat

I want to wake up kind
it’s all we talk about lately
our parents and the weather

On Grief & Self-care

“It’s so curious: one can resist tears and ‘behave’ very well in the hardest hours of grief. But then someone makes you a friendly sign behind a window, or one notices that a flower that was in bud only yesterday has suddenly blossomed, or a letter slips from a drawer… and everything collapses. ” – Colette

Recently, a dear friend of mine passed away. I am in the throws of grief currently, and this Colette quote speaks to me. Since I received the news, I’ve oscillated between functioning at a high level and then completely collapsing. For instance, I went straight to work after finding out. I smiled and helped people and interacted with my colleagues. About half-an-hour into my shift, there was a fire drill. The entire building was evacuated. I stood outside the building thinking okay, this is just a practice. Disaster hasn’t really struck yet. I walked back into the building once we got the okay and I finished off my shift.

After, I called my partner to tell him the news. I was walking on a busy sidewalk but as soon as the words left my lips, I started sobbing and I couldn’t stop. A deep pain settled over me as I walked down the street with no particular direction in mind, and the pain has mostly been crouching inside of me since then, although it lifts occasionally–when I saw my friend’s family, when I hugged our mutual friends, when I think of the hilarious and silly times we had together over our fifteen year friendship.

Another aspect to this death is that it was a death by suicide. There is a particular angle of grief that seems to come with this. I am running through a lot of awful things in my mind. I am running through the old questions of what I could have done differently during the course of our friendship, and what I can do differently as I move forward in this life to be a better version of myself, a more loving and compassionate version of myself, and how I might be able to make more room for the love and healing of those who are suffering.

I am no expert on this. These are just some ways that I am trying to hold both myself and my friend in my heart right now:

1. Approaching my emotions without judgement. Grief truly comes in waves. One moment you are enraptured in wonderful memories, or even distracted by day-to-day events, and the next there is a sense of endless hopelessness and a desperate need to see the deceased love one more time. I am doing my best to observe these emotions as they happen, without trying to push them away. I am an impatient person with type A tendencies. I often struggle with wanting to feel better or feel more comfortable or achieve my desired success immediately, and so part of this point is first accepting that this is going to be a long process, and that it will not be helped by trying to avoid my feelings or feeling defeated by them. They are there, they are valid, and I must accept them and move with them as much as I can.

2. Treat my body/mind as I would someone I love. If my best friend or my partner lost someone, I would want to shower them with as much love and affection as possible. I am trying to do this for myself as well. I am eating foods that I love and that make my body feel good, I am listening to upbeat music, I am reading when I can focus on it. I am trying to do work when I can, although it’s difficult at this point, because I know that this will make me feel accomplished (even in small, ten minute bursts) and relaxed as I continue through taking care of myself.

While I am treating myself right now, I am also trying to focus on not being negligent with the goals I already had set for myself. For instance, financial goals, insofar as right now I have the urge to just eat out every meal, buy myself stupid little things for comfort, go to the movies every night as a distraction, drink more wine…but I know that going off the rails with these kinds of indulgences won’t bring any kind of peace or lasting calm to my life right now, that they are quick fixes, and that my friend wouldn’t have wanted me to lose my shit and spend my savings on fleeting joys now that they’ve passed away.

Along with this, I’m trying to keep writing. I worry that if I stop doing everything right now, I’ll float out into some kind of abyss and lose myself in this grief. This is probably related to my attempts at trying to approach my feelings without judgment right now. In the past, I’ve had a tendency towards compulsive/self-destructive behaviour, so spending all my money and dropping all my writing would really suit that old habit well. I am trying to be good to myself in new ways. I hope that I am honouring my friend in doing this. Taking a bath, hugging my partner, reading my library book, writing down wonderful and sweet and hilarious memories I have of my friend.

3. Thinking of ways to honour my friend. As I mentioned before, I know that my friend will be in my heart always, and that the memory of them will encourage me to continue to improve myself and the way that I treat others in this world. I know that I want to do something to honour my friend’s life. I know that I will find just the right thing to do for them. I am trying to be patient and really think about what could serve others, honour their memory, and utilize my skills in the process. I’ve witnessed people in the past starting scholarships/foundations for deceased loved ones, writing books for them, making other kinds of art for them, volunteering their time at organizations that their loved one cared about or would have/did benefit from. So I’m turning this over in my head right now.

For now, I am burning a candle for my friend. I look at the flame and I think of my friend resting somewhere safe and warm.

4. Being honest with others. I have had to cancel plans and work since receiving the news. I may have to cancel more. I may not. I am terrible at responding to texts or Facebook message or e-mails right now. I make plans and then have to cancel them and hour later. Earlier in the week I covered most of my bases and alerted people I’d be off the grid for a while, and I let them know why. In the past, I probably would have just said I was sick, or having a family emergency. I think we have a tendency as a society to not want to burden others with our sadness (and fair enough), but this time I’m feeling that with honesty I am allowing room for grief to visit, I am allowing room for my life to shift and adjust to this sadness, but also to the immense impact this loved one had on me. I need time to reflect. I need support. I need to be alone. My employers, colleagues, partner, and friends have been understanding, respectful, and caring in response. I feel like this serves to honour my friend as well. The world has changed now that she is no longer here. I am trying to honour, observe, and listen to that change.

If you are in the process of grieving, I am so sorry for your loss. I send a virtual hug, I honour your process.

-G

Banana Medicine (Part II)

 

Maybe I’m afraid of doctors because the only time I’ve ever seen them is in times of panic. But isn’t that true of most people? Why else would you go.

Maybe I’m afraid of doctors because I’ve always had a strong dislike for science—not in a vaccine hating, let meningitis run free kind of way—in the way that I used to fall asleep in chemistry class, and even the things I thought I’d find beautiful or interesting like astronomy or biology fill me with this instant and all-enveloping boredom that makes me feel resentment and anger towards whoever is talking. Except Bill Nye, obviously.

Maybe I’m afraid of doctors because I’m afraid of death. But isn’t that also true of most people? How boring!

My mom says that my sister and I both came into the world exactly as we are now. I was all wide-eyed and impatient, staring right into her face. Long story short, I came much too fast and the doctor at the small town hospital assumed she was trying for a home birth, disapproved, and treated her abhorrently as a result. He demanded she stand up shortly after delivering me which led to her losing a lot of blood and falling to the floor all while I was screaming my little head off down the hall, all colic-y and jaundiced and ready to get things rolling.

That’s kind of how I’ve been feeling this week. Colic-y and jaundiced and trying to do everything at once. Just chill, Gena.

There’s more to the story, I guess, but more what I’ve been thinking about this week is whether trauma really can be inherited. Whether our cells divide and hide in solidarity with, or in response to, the pain of our parents and their parents and their parent’s parents.

In any case, I’m better now.

Banana Medicine (Part I)

I finished the first draft of a long project last week and then my body immediately gave me a huge middle finger and now I’ve been sick for about a week. When I was little, I had bronchitis a couple times and then asthma, so whenever I get this deep phlegmy, rattling chest cough it always reminds me of being a kid. It’s like it was a characteristic that I’d forgotten about—like, my hair was curly and light before I started dyeing and straightening it, my favourite flavour was sour like sucking-on-a-fresh-lemon sour, and my chest was an empty and booming metal space. Think of the scene in The Wizard of Oz when they pound on the Tin Man’s chest. Boom boom. I forgot about that space but it’s been rattling this week.

When I got sick when I was younger I had to take this sickly sweet banana medicine that the doctor prescribed. That shit was so hot in the 90’s. I had trouble getting and then keeping it down though. For much of my childhood I had an intensely strong gag reflex that I always related back to my polio vaccine. In my memory, they gave me that vaccine in my mouth, under my tongue. That can’t be right, can it? It must have been medicine I swallowed or else a normal vaccine. But last week I was having a conversation with a coworker about my phobia of needles and of the doctor (like the proverbial all-seeing doctor, not a specific one), the same conversation that I’ve had a million times where I start to sweat and feel nauseated while I describe my inability to be in the same room as those yellow, opaque needle disposal boxes on the walls of doctors’ offices, when the co-worker casually said so where did that start? This coworker is a sensible person who studies science and I looked at him and was like what the fuck do you mean, this shit has no start, this shit is imprinted on my DNA or spirit or driver’s license or dream database, it was just there when I woke up in the morning and it ain’t going nowhere. In actuality I was like dunno. But I’ve been thinking about it since then.

The project I finished was the first draft of my thesis. For someone whose first and truest love is fiction and who generally takes a long time to warm-up and open-up to people, the fact the this thesis is both non-fiction and deeply personal is kind of fucked up. I don’t really know where that started. I once had someone—an acquaintance who happened to be a lawyer—warn me to never become a lawyer. I replied that I wasn’t planning on it to which he responded neither was I, it just happened. And that’s kind of how this project coming to fruition has felt, I put a little work in everyday and then suddenly I had this deeply personal, non-fiction thesis, one that I will need to create censored versions of for my family, in particular my grandmother, if I want to maintain my calm and collected image. But maybe I don’t have that image to begin with. I have a rattily chest. I have old memories of banana medicine. And all this after taking a few days off after finishing this first draft. Strong proof as to why I should never ever stop working.