Hibernation to apathy to nirvana

Hibernation to apathy to nirvana

I am hibernating. In summer, in broad daylight. In the middle of the week, in the throes of work. When the world is buzzing around me like a bee in spring, all I want to be is a neatly-curled squirrel in winter. The world is spinning, and no matter how much we try, it’s still impossible to turn time back or sprint it forward. In the middle of all this, in a thorny cage of prickly ‘aspects’ trying to make me care, I am stuck. I am dumbstruck, even as I gently flap my wings and blink my timeless eyes.

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It's complicated

It's complicated

I was told grief would come in waves; remain messy and untamed, and I should welcome it. It wouldn’t always feel this dark and heavy, but there wasn’t a timeline, and it wasn't a linear process. Mental health professionals didn’t give validation to the infamous “five steps of grief” anymore, so there was no pressure to evaluate myself. I should just feel it, talk about it, and know that it was normal.  

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always hearing voices

If I’ve ever felt sadder in my 41 years on this unforgiving planet earth than I did when I wrote “Always Hearing Voices”, I do not know when it would have been. As many of you know, unfortunately, and as Elizabeth McCracken wrote, “grief lasts longer than sympathy” and this song was written in the sober realization of that singular, undeniable fact.  

One of the casualties of hitting the bottom of the well (which I tend to believe is a special place reserved for someone who loses a child), is that it hammers a spike right into the center of your life, and fault lines splinter out in every direction. They create divides between you and everyone, even (and sometimes especially) those that are the closest to you. The spike creates a hole through which every reserve you have is emptied. Every bit of patience, understanding, forgiveness and even, sometimes, love is sucked down the hole, leaving you a twitchy, angry shell, unrecognizable even to yourself.

This song is about feeling wounded by the people in your life who love you the most, and how lonely that feeling is. It’s about feeling lost in the dark, months after your loss. I did not seriously consider suicide because I had a living 4-year old in my house. It’s a pretty raw thing to admit, but if it weren’t for him I have no doubt in my mind that there is an excellent chance I would have eaten a bullet that night. I felt crazy, wounded, lost and completely alone. The concept of suicide was less scary to me that night than was living. It was as simple as that. Sometimes, continuing to draw breath is the bravest thing in the world. I fantasized about suicide, not as a real option, but in the same way someone might fantasize about a night alone with Johnny Depp or Scarlett Johanssen. It ain’t gonna happen, but man, it can be fun to think about.

At the time, I felt like those closest to me were limping away from the accident, not realizing that I was still trapped under the car. I couldn’t even scream, so I just wrote this song.  Grief can have a terribly selfish, self-absorbed face, and it can be as lonesome as lonesome gets.

On the phone, it don’t seem like she remembers me
Or the shape that I’ve been in
On the phone, making noises
I am always hearing voices
On the phone, in the hall and on the run
There’s a rattle in my brain
I am always hearing voices
And they’re flowering your grave
And they decorate your portrait
On the phone, beating hard and back to listening
Where’d you go?
In the dark, we make our choices
I am always hearing voices
In the dark and talking to the gun
And it’s funny how you laugh
How you laugh when nothing’s funny
And I’m picking up my map
And I’m hitting the high ground running
There’s a rattle in my brain
I am always hearing voices
And they’re flowering your grave
And they decorate your portrait

Ever been here? You're absolutely not alone. National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-8255

The Answer

The intersection of grief, creativity, and writing remains a place of such deep beauty and personal horror, I stand in awe of people getting their hands and souls dirty in it, exploring it with art, music, and writing. Kenny is a songwriter and musician from Bloomington, IN, whose band Gentleman Caller, has just released their fourth record, Wake (Mariel Recording Company). This record meditates on the loss of his daughter, Roxy Jean, who was stillborn at thirty-eight weeks on August 1, 2007. His music breaks me wide open in such an important way. I learn more about my own grief. Kenny agreed to join us at Glow as a regular contributor where he will be exploring his grief with his wise insights, brutal honesty, and dark humor, and of course through his music and words.  —Angie

In the year following Roxy’s death, I was just hunched, squinting and holding on.  I tried to outrun my thoughts, but they were in every hiding place I ran to.  I self-medicated with booze for a few weeks.  Became an expert on panic attacks. Sometimes I just waited, counting days away from the day she died. There was more comfort in math than hugs. I held on and flailed, as quietly as possible, inside my hollowed-out flesh-cage. I went to therapy, took anxiety meds and tried to get to know and understand my new, messed up self. 

During that god-forsaken year, 3 friends also died early, tragic deaths.  One by house fire.  One by drowning.  One by aneurysm.  All three under the age of 40. It seemed unreal and impossible at first… then, inevitable.  Remember, in The Empire Strikes Back, when Han Solo snaps “NEVER TELL ME THE ODDS!” before successfully flying through an asteroid field?  My life, the lives of my friends and family… ours had become the exact opposite of that.  We weren’t beating the odds, but being destroyed by them, and those odds were giggling.  

Hollowed out by losing my beautiful, dark-haired daughter, and managing my anxiety with medication (prescription and other), I was sliding down and increasingly absent of hope. I started recognizing patterns in the memorial services I was attending. The hollow, crying eyes of the mother, the trembling, shaking hand of the father, all while speakers talked about what the deceased loved, how they loved and who they were… and there was always a song. I was so embittered by all the loss, and death just seemed right around the corner for everyone I loved. I was certain I would not live to be an old man. I felt that no one I knew would. 

So, I decided to write my own funeral song.

I wanted a song that would just tell the bleak truths of my life… a song that wouldn’t put a bow on the end of my life, but a thudding and appropriate period. Somehow, it felt like the bravest thing I could do.

It happened immediately upon returning home after the last memorial service I would attend that year. It took literally the amount of time to write that it does to sing it. It remains, easily, the quickest I’ve ever written a song. It also remains the most cathartic:

THE ANSWER

I did not find the answer in church
I did not find the answer in church
I did not want a god that would not spare the rod
I did not find the answer in church
I did not find the answer in my home
I did not find the answer in my home
I was a stranger to my kin
I was a stranger to them
I did not find the answer in my home
I did not find the answer in school
I did not find the answer in school
I was sucker-punched and thin
I was not like the other kids
I did not find the answer in school
I did not find the answer at the bar
I did not find the answer at the bar
Beneath the stale embrace
I was always out of place
I did not find the answer at the bar
I did not find the answer in prescription drugs
I did not find the answer in prescription drugs
I took every pill they make
But I was still awake
I did not find the answer in prescription drugs
I did not find the answer in your eyes
I did not find the answer in your eyes
Not your hands and not your lips
We were always passing ships
I did not find the answer in your eyes

 What songs, if any, have been a comfort to you since your loss?  What songs can you no longer listen to? What would be your funeral song?

What They Say

Today's post isn't going to be lyrical or beautiful.  It's not going to uplift you or share a new perspective on the terrible tragedy of losing a baby.  And it also contains a fair bit of swearing so be forewarned.  

Today's post is about other people, the ones that have all their kids and don't know one single thing about how to talk to us, how to behave like a true friend, how to navigate in our dark depths and instead say incredibly stupid and insensitive things without using their heart or brain before opening their mouths.  So, let's start with my favorite:

"Well, everything happens for a reason."

What I want to say & do in reply:

Oh really?  It does?  So when I wind up my arm and clench it into a fist and punch that person directly in their disgusting, thoughtless mouth, I can just chalk it up to 'everything happening for a reason?'  What a relief!  I thought the Universe was just random, brutal and unforgiving, but here you are with your deep wisdom born of nothing, telling me I can do whatever the fuck I want because hey!  It all happens for a reason!  And the reason you are flat on your back from my knuckle sandwich is because you're an unthinking, insensitive ass.

What I say instead:

I disagree.  There could never be a good reason for my son dying.  What you are saying is very offensive to me, and I would appreciate it if you would keep those sentiments to yourself.  I know you're just trying to help, but it's not and you aren't and please, please stop. (or else, see above, I say with my eyes)

"Whatever doesn't kill you makes you stronger."

What I want to say:

Hmmm, let's see, no.  Not true.  Some things that don't kill you make you weak and fragile and bitter and sad.  Some things, like losing your child before they had a chance to make a breath or live a day, make you hollow and desolate and open your eyes to how bad life can get.  The strength I relied upon to live through that terrible experience came from who I was before he died.  His death did nothing but rip the naivety and innocence from my soul and lay the world bare in all its brutal viciousness.

What I say instead:

My son dying didn't make me stronger.  It made me nearly dead myself, and I'm not stronger for his death. I would have been made stronger by getting to be his father. What you are saying is painfully insensitive.  Please stop.

"At least you're young, you can have another."

What I want to say:

Wonderful!  Thank you so much for being a fucking idiot.  Because as you know all kids are replaceable. One breaks or dies, just go out and pick up another one.  How about this?  How about I take one of your four kids and raise it as mine?  After all, you've got plenty!  Spare one for someone who misplaced theirs when they fucking died.  How about it?  Since you're such a dumbass you will probably raise awful children anyway.

What I say instead:

Nothing.  I say nothing to those people.  I just look at them for a moment, shake my head and walk away.

"God works in mysterious ways."

What I want to say:

Fuck you.  Get out of my house.

What I say instead:

That's the stupidest thing I've ever heard.  If this is God's mysterious way of teaching me some kind of lesson, He/She/It can go fuck themselves.

"Is he your first?"

What I want to say:

Why do you want to know?  Or are you just asking things without thinking about it?  Do you really want to know about my first, about how he died?  About how we are still devastated by his absence?  About all our hopes for him and us dashed against the black shards of death?  Or are you just some blissfully ignorant stranger who can't keep their mouth shut and don't really give one fuck about us at all?  Ah, I thought so.

What I say instead:

No, our first son died due to complications during birth.  Then I just look at them while they crumble into despair and I think to myself be careful what you ask people, they just might tell you the truth.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

What insane, awful and horrific things have people said to you when they learn that your child died?  Let's rage on this together with the only people that know the truth and feel a little better by getting it all out for once.