RSS Feed

The Year of All Good Things

This was supposed to be a great year. According to me, anyway. It was the year I turned 50, the year my house turned 100…what appeared to be an auspicious, glorious year of celebrations and milestones observed with love and care. Those numbers seemed to mean something, to be a sign, as if I were an ancient parsing the phases of the moon or the turning of the tide. There was some cosmic order, and as far as I could see in January, that solid and reassuring order would stand as bulwark against disorder and pain.

From January through March my father fought cancer. There was surgery, radiation therapy, exhaustion and irreparable alteration. We adjusted as well as we could. In April, our old dog died. It was not a terrible death; she died at home, where she felt safe, in my arms. We were sad, though, and there was a hole where she had been. A month ago my mother died, again, not a terrible or shocking death, but leaving an even greater hole. The night before her memorial service yesterday, we learned that the wife of my parents’ best “couple friends” had a brain tumor. Before, and in between losses there were a million tiny paper cuts of failure, injustice, and unkindness. It was just life, really, it’s just what happens, but it began to feel like we were living in a country song.

“Gloom, despair and agony are me/Deep dark depression, excessive misery/If it weren’t for bad luck, I’d have no luck at all/Gloom, despair and agony are me…”

So the Year of All Good Things has fallen and shattered like a cheap, plaster statue and I’m sitting at my desk listening to the saddest songs I know, worrying about what I need to glue together in the next month and a half. Like Thanksgiving. Because really, I don’t care about Thanksgiving this year, but I feel obligated to carry on. Will my father want to celebrate his birthday at the end of this month? What about my mother’s birthday on December 14th, and Hanukah, and Christmas, and why do I have to be a fucking grownup and keep everything going and be sensitive to everybody’s assorted needs and be polite and good and do laundry and peel potatoes when all I want to do is take Xanax and lie in my bed in a sort of twilight sleep, letting someone else do all the heavy lifting?

What if what I really want is to have my mom back? Because frankly, if you knew her, and especially if she was your mother, you’d want her back, too.

And of course I do, and of course this is all Normal Grieving, in the clinical sense, and of course it happens to everybody and of course no two people grieve the same way, and unfortunately I live in a culture that is uncomfortable with grief. I can get all warped and bitter very quickly projecting this dour assessment onto everyone I see: he thinks I’m milking it. She was back at work three days after her husband died. Everyone else can just Get On With It and I am some kind of immature emotional cripple who fails to process in a timely and acceptable manner, crushed by waves of sadness when I should totally be peeling potatoes.

But then there are these things, call them grace, silver lining or cosmic alignment – they are good things. Because my father was so sick in a hospital 60 miles away, I spent hours in the car with my mother driving back and forth, listening to Pete Seeger, talking about Obama’s chances, people we knew, books we had read. Because Maisy died, we adopted Guinevere who is a magnificent addition to the family. Because my mother died, I have reconnected with my only two first cousins, who I really, really like and would choose to befriend without a single blood tie. Not just in a Facebook way, but with real hugs and laughter and the promise of more. And, because they are her brother’s children, and she adored them, I know that my mother would love that.

So as I sweep up those crumbling bits of plaster, wishing just a little that I had worn waterproof mascara, I can see some gleaming patches of hardwood beneath the mess. It looks solid, and seems more trustworthy than the beautiful illusion that was The Year of All Good Things. It even kind of reflects me as I am right now: a mess, a work in progress, a woman in need of some potato peeling vigor and some twilight Xanax sleep.

A human, just another human, caught up in the irrational maelstrom that makes a mockery of our firmest plans and still offers us much that is wonderful.

12 responses »

  1. Oh, I love so much about this. You have NO idea how much I can relate to it, in so many ways, the upcoming holidays. We passed my mother’s birthday a month after she died. It was difficult. I wish you well. To everything there is a season, and that truth is difficult to accept. Peace. AA

    • I know you know how this is. I wish you were closer, I wish Candace was closer, I wish I had my own Women From OS Who Are Grieving support group. You know, WFOWAG. 😉 Thanks for reading. And the book you sent is a tremendous comfort.

  2. yes. all of it – the planning, expectations that are upended, confusion, even the potato peeling – are so familiar in ways i never thought they would be, for a year that i both wish i could erase and am grateful for. in your own beautiful words.

    • As I told Amy, I know you get this, too, and I wish we could all get together and cry and laugh and rant and share survival tips. Life just isn’t fair. As I always suspected.

  3. This is a brilliant piece, filled with the emotion that so much of us have been touched by. We reach a certain age and those around us who are integral to our lives, they are aging too. Naturally it all seems to come to a limit of time, yet our feelings, keep going on, our memories and our lives, we include what we can of theirs and carry on. We carry them on within us.

    • Thanks, Sheila. I guess that part of the reason this all surprises me so much is that I don’t feel nearly as old as I am…if I felt 50 it would make perfect sense that it was necessarily the beginning of losing the generation above me. Mixed blessing, I guess

  4. By anybody’s measure, you’ve had a very rough year. I understand your need to push yourself through the motions of Holiday traditions — I’m like that, too. In truth, once you get started you’ll find yourself pleased to have something to keep you occupied while the grief and mourning run their courses. Your writing, as always, is simply beautiful,

  5. A locomotive in full stride throtttles back to burn off speed on its appraoch to the next station, right on time. Having run full out for the last hour there is a tremendous amount of steam pent up and in desperate need of release. She screams as loud as she can, venting until the relief settles back onto its seat, damper closed, fire cooling. Everyone on the platform is oblivious to the churning turmoil inside, only seeing the shuffling gait come to a halt, holding her breath until it is time to depart once again. Its the standing still that is a problem. Ever so slowly the pressure subsides, Before the seams can even begin to relax, it is time to return to the task. No one even questions her ability, even her maker is confident of her strengh. Forward, with what seems twice the load, forward with sand to bite the rail. Labored gasps mark each effort, and the lack of momentum is slowly overcome. Another milestone past in the journey, another opportunity to fail and be sidelined and discarded. Somewhere just out of town the grade falls away and it will be easier, It is very good to be alive, to be needed by those who love and trust, both they that come aboard and those left at the station. All too soon the next hill comes, green coal drying at the sides of the grate. Standing still is forgotten.

  6. Your writing is a beautiful thing amongst the shards of cheap plaster, the paper cuts. I love the broken, bitter, warped you more than you can imagine. Sometimes keening is required. When you’re going through it you feel lost, when i read your words somehow I am found — the math of grace. Rage, rage, you rage for us all.

  7. Your words always bring about such emotion in me. I’m sitting here reading what you wrote as tears roll down my face, I love you Annie 😉

  8. Annie, there is always a choice and putting down the potato peeler is one of them. You know you can let go of the things that are a drag right now. Heavy lifting is sooo over-rated. This sort of writing is why I don’t even try anymore. I just can’t imagine being able to communicate something that touches so deeply and yet is so easy to relate to. Your way of communicating seems simple in it’s complexity. ((big hug)) ~ Abby


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: