God of the Hovel, the Hole, the House and the Hotel, who creates a room for each of us, a nameplate, not a number, on the door, which we close to keep the noise of others out while binging-watching our own noise; though we may shed tears for the end of a season the well of our deep grief dries; Move us to go next door to our neighbor who knows only tears of aloneness. Amen.
“Wherever I am, you’ll always be
More than just a memory
If I ever leave this world alive”– Flogging Molly
How long does it take to paint a garage?
Answer: Somewhere between five years and what feels like forever.
Given that life – and death – intervened in that span of time maybe five-and-a-half years isn’t all that long.
My daughter, Sydney, having returned home from a school year at Indiana University agreed to take on the project for the summer of 2014. I think I agreed to pay her $10 an hour. The summer before I painted the house proper so I was excited to think that the entire manse at 1358 Maple Avenue would be “Daisy Spell” yellow with white trim by the time Sydney returned to IU for her next school year.
How does the saying begin? “The best of intentions…” Sydney painted one garage door that summer…then returned to school. I think I painted the other garage door that fall. Where Sydney had taken the time to edge around the windows on her door, I did not, preferring the “scrape later” method of edging a window.
The following summer I think I got a coat or two of yellow on the front of the garage. And for the next couple of years that’s how the garage stayed. Yellow and white on the front, though the eaves were still the same grey as the other three sides.
I found some energy to start the 2018 painting season. I finished painting one side and had moved on to the back alley-side. May 25 was a beautiful early summer day. Perfect for painting. I spent the morning going up and down the ladder and progressing across the back of the garage, turning grey into a bright, happy yellow, when sirens started zipping by on Connor Street (one street north of where I live) followed by helicopters and then more sirens heading west across the White River.
My neighbor came out to tell me that there had been a shooting at the West Middle School. Oh, God. Then the sirens and helicopters came back towards me. I went inside to learn that there were active shooters at the high school as well. Good God!
Thankfully, there were no fatalities at West Middle School and the High School shooters turned out to be a prankster’s hoax but the trauma for all those involved was no less.
Two weeks passed. On June 6 I had just cleaned up from an afternoon of painting the garage when I received the telephone call about Sydney in Africa. Twelve hours later I was on a plane heading across the Atlantic.
I never thought that courage and fortitude and deep breaths would be necessary to complete a painting project. (I never would have thought that the same would be needed for my brother to sing “If I Ever Leave This World Alive” at a recent concert his band performed. We have played that song together for years only to have it’s meaning radically altered with Sydney’s death.)
This 2019 Summer I managed to finish painting the garage; actually finished today, September 28, so a bit into the Fall of 2019. I did so in two-hour fits and spurts because two hours is about all I could manage at a time being unable to breathe filled with memory and fear and sadness and loss that had been wrapped around this project.
The garage has been painted.
Sydney, your painting project is complete.
Jesus depicted as the Phoenix in the Priscilla Catacombs in Rome…
In his beautiful novel that brought him international attention, The Book of Laughter and Forgetting, the Czech-born writer, Milan Kundera, writes, “While pondering the infinity of the stars, we ignore the infinity of our father.”
Americans resisted the proposal in the early-1900’s to set a day aside to honor fathers fearing such a day would become over-commercialized. I guess President Wilson’s sanctification of Mother’s Day gave a glimpse of what could happen when corporations began to work their magic. It’s not without trying. Wilson tried to get a Father’s Day but the official pronouncement didn’t happen until President Nixon. Quite the trick to establish the Environmental Protection Agency and Father’s Day in the span of one administration.
But enough distracted pondering of politics. I am grateful I do not need a new-fangled tool or another Jerry Garcia tie or a new set of golf shoes or barbecue tools despite Corporatacracy’s efforts to define the father-role as best-served with a particular set of gizmos and gadgets. (Surely I am not the only father who would cherish a good novel as a gift? Where are those advertisements?) On this day I am simply thankful to be a father and to have a father.
It is obvious to me, and to those who know my life’s circumstances, what I would like as a Father’s Day gift. In addition to being Jesus’s good friend, I hope Lazarus was one helluva father. Promises aside, all I am saying is that if it can happen once, why not again? And again and again? Would the Gift of Again provide consolation to all those who “father” or were “fathered” and are honored on this day? To those who choose to recline and watch the finish of the U.S. Open at Pebble? To those who might do a bit of yard work and then sit down with a good read? Or to those who work today – like me – for a dollar and to pass this special time in laboring …because Grief is easier to bear moving trailers around a truck yard earning Amazon’s dime than it is by pushing a lawn mower or turning the pages of a novel, say, Milan Kundera’s The Unbearable Lightness of Being?
It appears to be a fact, unavoidable, hard and sharp, that grief, the intimate and ever-present dull throb that is a song’s note or a spoken word’s or a who-knows-what-the-next-trigger-will-be-moment away from pouring out as tears, is deeper and more difficult in the second year. It has been nine months since Sydney’s death. I guess I am three month’s ahead of schedule.
The tears of sadness that have fallen since June 9, 2018 appear to have worn away, drip by drip by each slow roll down my face, a lining that wrapped – and maybe protected – my sense of self in the midst of All That Is, like the dripping of water over stone. The image presents itself as a dark comedy with the demonic chortling gleefully and saying, “Funny how you thought your sense of self, the I that looks out from behind yourself, your very consciousness, could be the most fundamental part of who you are, inviolate.” An absurd notion which took only tears to erode.
Love has been unable to protect me from Loss. The idea that deep sadness is the result of a great and abiding love is troubling, false in my mind, and ultimately, is an overly simplistic consolation. “You grieve deeply because you loved deeply, Eric.” Oh, that explains it! NOT…
Just wait until those tears wear through the Grief of Loss so that the Grief of Neverness lays bare and throbbing and so painfully dull.
In his profoundly deep and moving Lament For A Son Nicholas Wolterstorff writes, “It’s the neverness that is so painful. Never again to be here with us – never to sit with us at table, never to travel with us, never to laugh with us, never to cry with us, never to embrace us…never to see…(a) sister marry. All the rest of our lives we must live without him (her). Only our death can stop the pain of his (her) death. A month, a year, five years – with that I could live. But not this forever….One small misstep and now this endless neverness.”
I will never share a donut in the morning with Sydney again. Yes, I have the memory of Sydney’s early childhood donut-eating technique where she would face plant and eat the donut from icing on down. Should a Memory of the Past be enough to buttress me against the Neverness of the Future? Sydney, Corinne and I used to chant “Donuts! Donuts! Donuts!” on our frequent trips to Marsh Supermarket to start our daily adventures. Though the memory of those moments is strong, the joyful, expectant and hungry cry is faint now.
The neverness of ever eating donuts with Syd again even pulls up a chair at the kitchen table this morning while Bay and I enjoy the latest and greatest yeast donut to show up in the Noblesville area courtesy of Rebellion Donuts. Balyn. Me. Neverness. I did buy four donuts this morning, initially thinking, two for Bay and two for me. Now, though, four has a different meaning. One for me. One for Bay. One for Corinne. And one for the Neverness of Sydney.
Wolterstorff writes, “When we gather now there’s always someone missing, his (her) absence as present as our presence…When we’re all together, we’re not all together.”
Welcome to Forever Neverness-Land! Where tears are always welcome and donuts are always eaten…
…or the most difficult thread to follow…
(For those who encounter this Blog and/or this post for the first time… My daughter, Sydney Marie Brotheridge, committed suicide and died on June 9, 2018.)
Warning: Grammar Ahead!
(How many times have I said or have heard the following said: “Grammar kills me!” or “If I have to conjugate one more verb I’m going to kill myself!” Needless to say, I have a deeper and more profound understanding of the significance of Grammar’s Death-Dealing Ways when placed alongside Life’s Death-Dealing Ways.)
So, in the immortal words of my high school freshman Language Arts teacher, Mr. Chip Shields: “Grammar is important. Proper grammar could save your life.” (I have no idea if Mr. Shields said those EXACT words back in 1979 but they capture the gist of what I took away from those tedious Grammar units in Language Arts.)
Two dictionary definitions: Grief as a noun and Grieve as a verb in two forms…
Grief, noun, Intense sorrow, especially caused by someone’s death
“I am overcome with Grief because of Sydney Marie’s death.”
Grieve, verb, [intransitive] to feel very sad, especially because someone has died
“I am still grieving the death of my daughter, Sydney Marie.”
Grieve, verb, [transitive] to make you feel very sad
“Sydney Marie’s death grieves me that I could do nothing to help her.”
I love how the Oxford Dictionary winnows incredibly complex thoughts, processes, states of being and human emotions down to a few simple words. (An aside: It strikes me that the Dictionary Method is the exact opposite of the Poetic Method. In other words, the Poetic Method takes a few simple words to create in the reader’s mind complex thoughts, processes, states of being and human emotions. I can’t help but feel that the difference is similar to a preference between: “Who’s on First?” by Abbott and Costello or “Chapter V: Advice From A Caterpillar” from Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll?)
Google “grief” and you can click pages and pages and pages of “Next,” which leads me to think that Oxford’s dictionary definition cannot fulfill what a person wants when s/he seeks to live with grief. (Another aside: I think a fairly strong case can be made that Grief is more complex than Love when it comes to lived human experience. OR, and this is a novel thought for me, perhaps Grief, not Hate, is the opposite of Love. I am going to have to explore that thread a bit more…later.)
…Back to my Grief over Sydney Marie’s death which grieves me when I am grieving.
I have not found solace or solution for MY Grief in the countless books about Grief. The number of websites, let alone books, that number Grief in one way or another numbs my mind…and my heart. For example: “6 Grief Books That Actually Helped,” “9 Best Books for Dealing With Grief and Loss,” “32 Books About Death and Grief,” “11 Books to Help You Confront Your Grief” (How insane is the idea “confront your Grief”?), “Journeying Through Grief” (As if Grief is a location or an adventure), and my favorite, “I’m Dying Up Here: Books on How to Grieve and How to Die.”
Instead, give me a poem. Give me a poem.
Here are two books of poetry that currently carry me along my almost impossible and certainly insane “Journey through the Adventure-Land of Grief”:
The Art of Losing: Poems of Grief & Healing edited by Kevin Young
Holocaust Poetry compiled and introduced by Hilda Schiff
AND, more than any other, THE ONE POEM that captures the nature of MY GRIEF (One thing I have learned about Grief is that Grief is VERY personal and VERY different for each individual) is the following:
TAKE MY GRIEF… by Charla Norman
Do you want my grief,
Take it please,
Hold it next to your heart,
Feel it burn and tear you apart,
Please I beg of you,
Ease my mind,
Give me sleep for just one night,
Get the flashbacks,
The heart stopping pangs,
The helplessness from losing my way,
Can you feel my grief,
Hold it close,
It will bring you to your knees,
Your soul will yell, it will scream,
Can you hear it bellow while it takes your peace,
Your body aches, your mind stands still,
You live in the past, where things were real,
Help me friend,
I ask of you,
Take this grief,
For a day or two,
Just long enough, so I can clear my head,
So I can pretend my child’s not dead.