Tag Archives: loss

Goodbyes. Hellos.

Warning: Animal death discussed.

About a month ago my Ripley Cat started going off her food. In fairly short order we discovered that she’d been hiding a large bony tumor in the fluffy hair along her jaw. She came home from the vet on pain meds. Last Monday her life ended.

Ripley came to us seventeen years ago as a week old kitten. Abandoned by her feral mother on the side of the road, she fit entirely in the palm of my hand. I fed her with syringes at first, then bottles. I named her Ripley because things were touch and go at first, and I wanted a tough enough name to get her through. What better namesake than Ellen Ripley? She came to work with me in the library, my compassionate library coworkers ignoring the large cardboard box by my desk, and helping us hide when administrators dropped by. As a bigger kitten, she would climb her way up onto the bed, and burrow under the blankets to the foot of the bed, causing us to wake at night terrified that she might have smothered there.

As an adult, she hated strangers, and talked to me in a creaky door stutter of a voice, and greeted me, always, by sniffing my breath. She had a long good life, and we were certain she would outlive us all through sheer determination. She would have, too, were it not for pain. As terrible and hard as it was to say goodbye, there was a moment as I sat there with her when I realized all the pain she would ever feel in her life was already behind her, and that made everything else bearable.

Death has visited us frequently in the past few years. We’ve said so many goodbyes that it’s become hard to remember that the world is made from more than loss, in all its many forms. The truth is that death is only one of the transitions that brings grief. We’ve dabbled in many of the others as well.

The other day a pigeon landed on the roof of our garage. This is noteworthy because we live in the woods, and pigeons are exotic birds here. This pigeon was very handsome, and somewhat bumbling as he hopped in the maple, and then came down to the walkway. My husband went out to look at him, and the bird followed the stone path down to the steps and waited there. My husband picked him up, and my daughter found a box, and we tucked him in it with food and water.

What do you do with a tame pigeon, particularly when you are not prepared to care for it? If you are lucky, you know a child who has recently lost one of her pigeons, and you drive to her house, fingers crossed, hoping against all reason that the bird in your box is hers.

It was not. But the bird in the box was beautiful to her, and she was delighted to see him, to examine his face, his tail feathers, to explain what type of pigeon he was, to admire everything about him. To take him in. And for a few minutes, standing there in the twilight, learning about the world of tame pigeons, I watched her and thought this is what utter joy looks like.

One pigeon goes. A different one returns. Beloved aunts and uncles pass away. Beloved nephews are born. Our paths through the world are always paved with goodbyes and hellos, even when the hellos feel so much rarer.

In keeping with that, we have a new family member. We are her third home in her short life. As a firm believer in the magic of three, I know that this home is the one that will count. She has the body of a little leopard, and the stripes of a tiger, and very little patience with things like typing at the computer rather than adoring her. Those are just the things we know so far. Hopefully we will have another seventeen years or so to learn the rest.

We love you always, Ripley.

We welcome you in, Coco.


A few truths

There are times I get very quiet here, and it’s because I’m busy, or uninspired, or not home. After all, if the only thing I have to say bores me, then I really have no desire to inflict it on you. Today I drove to buy groceries. Today I took a child for a physical. Today… You get the picture.

Sometimes, though, I don’t write because this is an odd space. The seductive thing about writing a blog post is that it can feel as though you are writing to yourself, or to a specific loved one. The truth is that a blog like this is open. It is a newspaper on a library shelf, one for the obscure country of Jenniferland, read by a few natives living elsewhere, and others–the curious, those interested in foreign policy, those dreaming of trips they’ll never take.

The question becomes, who do the editors of the Jenniferland Gazette seek to reach. To appeal to a potential tourist, one glosses over the matters of poverty, and hunger, and distress. One writes about sunny beaches and elusive birds and shrimp-mango surprise.

The trouble is, I’m really not that kind of writer. The act of writing begs honesty for me. Crossroads has been an exhausting book to work on because it wants to sit at that intersection of magic and reality, where deals sealed with a kiss can steal a voice, and ghosts can pilot a bus, but that magic walks alongside the fact that there are people–men, women, families, children on their own–living without homes in this country. Many of them. It’s hard to write a story and know how much you want to get it right, and also know you won’t. Not all of it.

That’s something of an aside. I came here to say that I haven’t been writing because writing has been hard because I don’t have those warm sunny travelogues to share at the moment.

A few truths. I’ve been waiting, a lot. I waited to see a specialist, and then I waited to get a biopsy, and now I’m waiting to hear that my thyroid doesn’t want to kill me. It’s highly unlikely that it does, but until I hear, I’m waiting. For now, I’ve traded my visible lump for a few tiny holes, the sort of thing a feeble vampire toddler might leave.

My aunt died. This was not unexpected. She had a terrible disease, and it took everything from her. She was warm and funny and loved to talk, and to sing, and to eat, and she stayed that way, even though she’d lost a husband young, even though she lost a daughter. Those things about her were eaten up by her disease, cruelly, because even though diseases have no intent of their own, their actions can feel as cruel, crueler sometimes, than the things humans choose to do.

I had not spent much time with her in years. But…there’s always a but, and in this case, it’s a selfish one, she was part of my childhood, as were my grandparents, with whom she lived, and her daughter. They are all gone now. One headstone, four names, and I miss them all. I miss the dairy my grandfather owned when I was a child, I miss the cows, with their big eyes and long tongues and curiosity, I miss my cousin’s dog, Daisy, and walking her, and I miss being young and having a place that felt as though magic sat everywhere. That was the way my grandfather’s farm felt to me.

It’s all vanished from my life. There are memories that are mine alone now–a wood duck perched in a tree, a flat slab of rock warmed in the sun–mine and the land’s, because I do believe there are echoes of everything–footsteps, water, sun, shadow–held by the earth.

Things happen, and while they do, the rest of life doesn’t pause. There are points in parenting when things continue relatively unchanged, and there are others when you cannot catch your breath, when it feels your children are growing into themselves so quickly, so…there really are not words to describe the combination of grace and awkwardness and need and capability, or to explain what it does to your heart to watch. And that growth can be happening in the midst of grief and fear and all the things life passes along.

Enough truth?

I’ll try to write more often. I have a backlog of wonderful interviews with very patient people to post, so you’ll being seeing those as well.

Peace.


On rereading Tolkien

My dear family gave me a new copy of The Lord of the Rings for my birthday. As those of you who have read my blog for a while know, I love books. Physical books, books that have weight and weathered pages and ancient stains and tired spines.

Unfortunately, books wear out in direct proportion to the love they’ve experienced through their lives. My original paperback copies of the trilogy are tattered, to put it kindly. The final straw was losing the last few pages of The Return of the King. I’ll keep them all, of course, but I now also have a shiny new hardcover version of the entire set in one volume.

So I’m reading it again. It’s been a very very long time. Yes, there are things in Middle Earth that are not as I would like them, as a woman reader in 2013. It doesn’t change the fact that I lived in these books when I was younger. I would read from beginning to end and then immediately start over again. I even had a record (yes, record, you know, vinyl, round, with grooves) of Tolkien himself reading some of the poems, in English and Elvish.

Back then, I wasn’t all that excited by Frodo’s journey. I liked the battles, the big ones. I liked everyone charging into the fray, and not all of them returning. Frodo? He simply continued forward. He endured. Everything rested on his shoulders, but they were very plain little shoulders.

I started thinking about that again a few years ago, when I read this post on PTSD. Somewhere along the way my feelings had changed. I still loved the sheer bigness of the action, but it was Frodo that seemed more compelling. That terrible weight he carried, that doggedness in continuing on, that sense of bone-deep weariness, with everything.

And at the very end, after traveling with Sam one last time, with Sam in tears as he says that he thought that Frodo would stay and enjoy the Shire forever, Frodo says this: “So I thought too, once. But I have been hurt too deeply, Sam. I tried to save the Shire, and it has been saved, but not for me. It must often be so, Sam, when things are in danger: some one has to give them up, lose them, so that others may keep them.”

Writing, the kind of writing that catches hold of readers in some inescapable way, often grows from troubled gardens. For me, the glory of Tolkien’s work is not so much in the details of orcs and elves and wargs, but in the sense of cost behind it all. That the action doesn’t end with a battle, or with the destruction of the ring, but with a return home to a country that no longer fits, with coming to terms with the things lost along the way to victory while always feeling gratitude for what was saved. The sort of writing that likely grew out of Tolkien’s experience of World War I.

At its best, fantasy is so much more than cool beings in fabulous places. It’s an invitation into life in all its splendor and messiness and pain and wonder. It acknowledges that magic and loss can walk hand in hand, not just in books, but in our lives as well.