Tag Archives: grief

Good Night, Sweet Prince

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So, Prince died. And I’ve been crying on and off since yesterday. I’m not sure if it’s that I’m sad that he’s gone, or that I was too sick to go to Brooklyn last night for Spike Lee’s block party. All these people are dying. Famous people I never met, folks whose work meant a lot to me, inspired and touched me in personal ways that are hard to describe. And then there are the deaths of people in my life – family members, friends, whose silence still rings loud in my ears and in my heart.

Prince Michael Ochs Archives

Photo credit – Michael Ochs Archives

These endings, these reconfigurations, they are inevitable, I suppose, and a normal part of life. But as I grow older, they seem to increase in frequency, and their resonance with my own sense of impermanence, the reality of my own eventual demise, becomes more acute. I feel vulnerable and more alone.

I remember back in the days when scanning through the calendar of events in the Village Voice made me feel small and insignificant. There was always so much going on, so many scenes that I was not a part of, so many shows I would miss, performers I would not experience firsthand. Rather than feel enticed to choose something fun to do, I felt overwhelmed by the sheer number of choices, the out of reach amount of money required to do all the things that called to me. I often got paralyzed into doing nothing.

These days, I scan my Facebook and Instagram pages. I see all the pithy descriptions of parties and shows and other events, I get the invitations, I scan the guest lists, I see the pictures afterwards. I am connected to all these people, yet not part of the group selfies, not part of the behind the scenes moments, the preparatory meetings, the after-parties. And yet, I am fooled into thinking I am part of all these things. I see the pictures, I read the remarks, I comment and like and share. But I am home, alone.

When I do go out, I have a great time. I meet old friends, new comrades, new besties, crushes, potential collaborators, business partners. I speak my mind, I tell jokes, I flirt and sparkle, I flash my teeth, I share drinks and other things. I am part of my world, wherever I go. I am not afraid.

But the people keep dying. I keep getting older. The world keeps shifting, as loved ones leave us, change the geometry of the landscape, the energy, the dynamic. I knew who I was, and then Maya Angelou died. Michael Jackson died. Amy Winehouse died. Phillip Seymour Hoffman and Robin Williams. They died. Why then? Why them? My parents. Gone. My husband. Gone. Friends have lost children. Unthinkable. Bowie, Prince, gone. These losses, they seem arbitrary, random. They are unexpected. It’s hard to imagine a world without them.

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Only my husband, who took over twenty years to slowly slip away from me into the grips of his chronic illness – only he took his time. And that deconstructed widowhood, it took me over slowly, taught me to feel every molecule of loss, taught me to understand the gradual letting go of our partnership, our plans, wishes and dreams, taught me to look to myself for strength when everything pointed in the direction of abandonment.

There are things we may not want to admit to ourselves, such as the fact that we will all be dead someday. When one of our luminaries crosses over, and the world changes, I want to hold onto something that feels more permanent, more robust and hearty than my own fragile sense of myself. I want hugs, kisses, maybe adoration, maybe sex, the grinding of body against body a reminder of my physical existence, my presence here on earth right now.

I’ll bet it would have been great to be crushed up against a sea of strangers in Brooklyn or Minneapolis or Harlem last night. I’ll bet it would have been great to cry out loud into the night with the soundtrack of a genius playing in the background. I’ll bet it would have been great to get high on collective grief and inspiration. Instead, I cried myself to sleep, grateful for the drowsy escape from sore throat, sinus congestion and a deep cough.

I remember now that every great artist knows a profound sadness and uses it to fuel his or her art. I remember, as any good Buddhist will tell you, that suffering breeds compassion. I remember, as my husband used to say, that when life gives you lemons, you make lemonade. And I remember that the grief I feel over anyone’s loss is a tribute to the love we shared, whether in person, or through the magic that was their art, their music, their words.

So I guess things are as they should be…

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Transitions

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Change is hard – the small changes as well as the big ones. Lately, there are moments when I think, I can’t believe the things I have been through, and where I’m headed – not in a “poor me,” kind of way. No, I rarely feel sorry for myself – I’m far too aware of how many people have it worse than me, and I’m grateful for my relative good fortune. But still, there are those moments when the transitions feel as though they are getting the better of me.

I like to know what to expect as I head into a day, a week, a month. I plan some of my activities seasons ahead, and as my schedule gets busier, I’m getting more of a sense of the overall shape of my year. So when curveballs get thrown my way, I tend to get a little anxious.

There’s the major life curve balls – the death of a loved one, losing a home. Even the good ones can throw your life into disarray – birth of a child, or a new job. With every significant change in our life circumstances comes a revisioning of who we are and what’s expected of us. It can be as extraordinarily unsettling to come into good fortune as it is to weather a tragedy. Just think of all those people who win the lottery, only to find their lives in tatters a year later…

I have lots of experience dealing with illness and death. They’ve been a part of my life and my family for decades now, and though it was never my intention, I’ve become quite adept at dealing with both the large impacts and the daily intrusions wrought by unpredictable health circumstances.

My husband, friend and life partner of 22 years passed away about three and a half years ago, from complications due to a lifelong chronic illness, sickle cell anemia. He left me a single mother to our son, and the owner of our two-family home. Now, my son is almost 10 years old, and I’m preparing to sell the house I can no longer afford to keep. At the same time, I’m busy launching my own business and digging into a new romantic relationship.

My changes are unique to me, and matter most to me and my family. In other words, I’m pretty sure they are not keeping other people awake at night. However, the way in which I deal with them does affect other people in my life. As they are all dealing with their own issues, my anxiety has the potential to rub off on them, just as my relative calm may actually reflect back to them another alternative.

This is the motivation behind my desire to share my experiences with you. I’m not in the business of identifying myself by my trauma. Sure, I could, but I choose not to orient myself around my losses. Instead, I like to think of my life as a series of stories – some more harrowing than others, each with a beginning, middle and end that when combined, have become an amazing blending of lessons and challenges, one informing the next.

And I guess this brings me back around to the topic at hand. Transitions. For me, each day is a series of transitions. Every time I wake up in the morning, I have to negotiate my way out of bed. Moving from one task to another requires a shifting of focus. Getting my son prepared and off to school is but the first phase of the day. From there, I have to put on my professional hat, my creative hat, or my domestic goddess hat (that’s the one I wear when I have to do the dishes, or fold the laundry). Sometimes moving from one small thing to the next can be as difficult as managing a major trauma.

I’m not sure why this is… I only know that fear and anger can rise up, ready to dismantle us, at any given moment. I’m not a psychologist. I don’t have the patience to examine the reasons, and I certainly don’t have any advice as to how to prevent those feelings from occurring in the first place. Just be different? Ha ha.. I think not. We are who we are, much as we’d like to pretend otherwise.

What I do know for certain, is that in every moment of our lives, we have choices. We can act on our feelings impulsively, reflexively, in ways that we may even know to be destructive, but somehow feel helpless to change. Or, we can endeavor to take just a few extra seconds, enough for one good breath, long enough to give ourselves a chance to calm down a little, consider a different path, even wait on a response.

In all the complexity that comprises the many layers of our lives, there is one thing we all have in common. As long as we are alive, each of us continues to breathe. In that one mundane yet somehow miraculous act, we are, every single human being, connected. There has got to be some potential in that – some way to drill down from the biggest, most dramatic and complicated circumstances to the myriad of small moments in a day, each of which gives us the opportunity to pave the way for a smooth transition to the next…

Photo courtesy of LaserGuided