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Month: December 2015

When I became self-hosted my reblogging abilities diminished, but I want to share a link to a new blog begun by a writer I recently met. She combines images and words. Her poetry fits my definition of a good poem, which is when I don’t know what the next word will be. Scroll through her entries and enjoy.

https://mockmortality.wordpress.com/2015/12/15/arithmetica-infinitorum/

Grief: The Best I Can Do

My Daddy Joe was killed by a train when I was three years old. My older sister was four, and my mother was newly pregnant with my little sister. After the baby was born, my mother had what we would now call postpartum depression, complicated, of course, by the death. She thought to herself, Well, I’ve had this baby. The two older girls can take care of themselves. I’m not needed here anymore.

That’s traumatic grief manifesting into physical thought.

It’s impossible to put my finger on who among us Daddy Joe’s death affected the most. Me, who was at the age when a daughter carries the strongest attachment to her father. My older sister, who had fourteen months greater understanding of the event than I. My younger sister, who lived for almost ten years without even the briefest experience of a father, until my amazing stepdad arrived. Or maybe it was my grandmother, who buried her child then sealed off her grief so completely she mentioned her son no more than a handful of times until the day she died. Or my mom, who sometimes emails me on December 19 in remembrance of an event that happened over fifty years ago. Each of us, in our own way, felt the pressing hand of loss shaping, molding, forming us.

My life experiences—watching my stepdad pass over to the other side; communing with those who have left this world before me; reading about others’ death experiences—have convinced me the dead are fine. We can pray for the dead, but we needn’t worry about them. They are fine. We are the ones riveted by loss.

Left behind, we grapple with a pain that physically wounds us. Holes riddle our hearts, digging deep wells in our souls that neither time can heal nor grieving remove. No matter the good things that rush in—my stepdad whom I loved so much—those places of emptiness stay with us. I question why life is set up this way. What is the point of bonds that tie so closely but can be severed so quickly? Why is life devised to cause us so much pain from loss? So many, many of us walk around with wisps of loss at the edge of our consciousness constantly asking, where is daddy? What happened to mommy? Why did God take my child from me? The loss ripples out until it seems the whole world shudders.

Nor must the loss be traumatic. We grieve, inconsolable, for our aged parents who have lived long, good, full lives. We miss them terribly. We pause and hang our heads when a memory strikes us full force, not wanting the world to see how grief can still slay us. We love and we love and we love and we lose.

Who thought this was a good idea?

And yet it is.

So, what to do with it? My cousin, what he did was to lead the funeral congregation in a prayer of forgiveness for the actions that took his teenage son from him. Let me repeat that—a grieving parent led the funeral congregation in a prayer of forgiveness for the loss of his son.

My mother, she decided “things” were unimportant, only people mattered. She has spent the rest of her life throwing away, de-cluttering, and smiling at everyone she meets.

Me, I write. In many of my novels and short stories, the dad is dead. The daughter or son who is left behind wrestles with the loss, trying to find a place to step that doesn’t turn into quicksand. As I write, I try to see through the loss, to claim back from death everything it would try to take from us.

I did this with the tiny pearl necklace I wore this Christmas Eve. After Daddy Joe died, a man came to Mother and said her husband had ordered the delicate necklace for his daughter. That made no sense to Mother—why would Joe buy one necklace when he had two daughters? But she paid the man for the necklace and tucked it away with the handful of things she kept from that time. Last year, going through her stuff, she came across the necklace and offered it to us girls, scam though it probably was. I took the necklace and this year, because my dress needed a second necklace, I wore it to Christmas Eve dinner.

Even as I closed the cheap gold clasp around my neck, I wondered anew, why? Why had I accepted something that surely had no connection to Daddy Joe? Did I pitifully act on the slim chance he had, in fact, bought it for me? Or was it something else?

I held the tiny pearl in my fingertips and felt the answer: the “probably a scam” necklace graced my neck because nothing is sacred. Not the wallet that was Daddy Joe’s, not the Ole Miss memorabilia strewn across my house—none of it. The joke is on the man who sold the necklace to Mother. He thought a memento grasped in a sweaty palm could contain and assuage grief. But the only thing that can do that is love, a force so strong it can redeem even the sacrilege of death. Love makes anything, and everything, sacred, even a scam necklace.

When the grief of death strikes anew—as it did this Christmas Eve when I was wearing the tiny pearl necklace and my nephew suddenly, traumatically died—I can only look for the moments when that love manifests itself.

The memory of my Daddy Joe’s arms enveloping and comforting me.

The image of my nephew’s smiling face lighting up whenever he greeted me.

These rays of love that were once in this world left their imprint, and they stay in this world for all time, waiting only for us to reach out and touch the memory of them.

So, basically, I come around to saying those who die are still here. That’s not letting go. It’s not accepting death as a part of life. It’s not reconciling myself to this configuration that includes repeated, painful loss. I hate death. I always will. But I love love.

And that’s the best I can do.

Over on Facebook on my author page—Ellen Morris Prewitt: My Very Southern Voice— since the beginning of Advent, I’ve been putting into practice the concept I mused upon in this blog post about A Different Kind of Christmas.

Feel free to mosey on over to the page and enjoy the posts.

Here’s a free sample. Well, they’re all free. 🙂

MY ADVENT PRACTICE

This will be my Advent practice: naming that which has been in the world since time began.
I’ll start with water.
I’m thinking rain water and Memphis’s aquifer water but mainly the water of tears.
This afternoon, each time we told our friend in the nursing home how much he was loved and how many people were asking about him and how concerned everyone was about him, tears welled in his eyes. The trach kept him from speaking, but his connection with us was in his tears.
We might be from dust and to dust we might return but in the interim we have water.

The Intracoastal Waterway at Ocean Isle Beach where we've vacationed since I was in the 11th grade
The Intracoastal Waterway at Ocean Isle Beach where we’ve vacationed since I was in the 11th grade

*

This will be my Advent practice: naming that which has been in the world since time began.
I’ll continue today with laughter.
The belly-shaking
yelping
guffawing
uncontrollable
sauce of the universe.
Laughter:
don’t leave home without it.

The face other people make when I laugh
The face other people make when I laugh

*

This will be my Advent practice: naming that which has been in the world since time began.
I’ll continue today with cold.
You can be cold in the winter
or cold when you stay in the swimming pool too long.
You toes can be cold when you stamp the ground.
Your hand can be cold when getting ice cream from the fridge.
Cold ices the nostrils, burns the lungs, and
exhilarates a body that’s had too much close warm air.
C.O.L.D.
The way winter’s
supposed to be.

Me and my little dog Providence in the Memphis snow several years ago before she left this world
Me and my little dog Providence in the Memphis snow several years ago before she left this world

 

*

This will be my Advent practice: naming that which has been in the world since time began.
I’ll continue today with illusion.
We believe in what we cannot see–
the wind, love, the Internet–
because we see its effect.
Perhaps these invisibles are illusions
and the only thing that matters
are the effects.

Dangling paper snowflake from the Door of Hope Writing Group Christmas party
Dangling paper snowflake from the Door of Hope Writing Group Christmas party

 

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to you!

Vonnegut Birthed THE BONE TRENCH

When I was in high school, I favored the library located in the small strip center that also held the hardware store where I bought tomato plants, thinking them to be flowers . . . but that’s another story. The library was cozy, the line of shelves beginning as soon as you walked in the door. From my weird spatial perspective, the books were arranged backwards—the cataloguing began at the front desk and the fiction authors whose names began with letters from the end of the alphabet were closest to the door. I remember this because I’ll never forget squatting on the floor and finding on the bottom shelf Kurt Vonnegut.

By that time, I was in the twelfth grade, participating in the Advance Placement English class. Part of the deal with that class was earning extra credit for reading books not on the required reading list. Can you believe that? They gave you extra credit for reading. Much of my life, reading had been something I was doing when I should’ve been “outside getting fresh air.” Or making my bed. Or eating. I was a pig in slop in that library, doing my favorite thing, fully sanctioned.

This world or another?
This world or another?

So, anyway, I found Vonnegut. His were small books, at least relative to Moby Dick, which we read in English class, so I checked out a couple of them. Slaughterhouse Five, of course, and either Cat’s Cradle or Breakfast of Champions, I don’t remember. The class had an approved “Outside Reading” list; anything off that list had to be approved by the teacher as meeting certain unnamed standards. I took my finds to school for perusal and acceptance. This had not theretofore been an issue. It was this time.

The teacher took my request under advisement. She was older, in real life, I mean—looking back from an adult perspective, you realize everyone seemed older when you were young. But this teacher’s hair was gray, her face heavily wrinkled, her hands trembling. She accepted the books from my hand, and, corralling stray wisps of hair back into the bun that swept dramatically from her forehead, she said she’d let me know.

Alien life?
Alien life?

Several days later I received her verdict. My choice was not conventional, she said (imagine that!), but she believed it could be approved. The language, the scenes—the book contained objectionable material; I, however, was probably mature enough to handle it. The book simply was not her cup of tea, she sniffed, but she didn’t want to discourage me from reading works that tried new approaches, even those that hovered on the edge of literature.

The year was 1975. Slaughterhouse Five came out in 1970. It was not yet a classic, to say the least; no one had yet put it on multiple “Best Of” lists. I was left with the distinct impression the teacher hadn’t even read it; hence, the delay of several days. But thanks to this open-minded teacher, I was an early reader and fan.

I do have one complaint: I blame Vonnegut for creating my lifetime inability to distinguish fantasy from plain ol’ literature.  Maybe this defect was birthed years earlier when my mother read us the Narnia Chronicles as bedtime stories, us girls snuggled in the covers, me hating to see the white space that signaled the chapter’s end. Later in my senior year, I had my Asimov phase, and one summer I devoured Lewis’s Space Trilogy; my mother talked so much about Perelandra, I had to read it myself. In college it was Lord of the Rings; later, Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy and every Arthurian legend book written. I came late to American Gods and the Outlander series, but arrive I did.

Space plants, perhaps?
Space plants, perhaps?

None of these classic fantasies did I consider “fantasy.” They were just great books, no different from Moby Dick or William Faulkner, for that matter. So I guess it’s not surprising I never considered I was writing a fantasy when I wrote my own novel The Bone Trench. Yeah, the central characters are Mother Mary and her guardian angel Little c, both of whom have superpowers. Also Mary’s son Jesus, who grumbles about having stripped himself of his superpowers prior to his return to earth. And while the book is Urban Fantasy set in real-life Memphis, The Bone Trench’s Memphis has the phantasmagoric qualities of Tim Burton’s Gotham City.

As you can tell, these early reads also made the combination of fantasy and spirituality I created in The Bone Trench feel natural. Hell, C.S. Lewis was primarily a religion writer. Furthermore, to get a bit metaphysical, who’s to say the world doesn’t exist as the fantasy books portray it? Don’t lock me up, but where actually does the line between fantasy and reality run? I’ve told several people The Bone Trench is fantasy, only to get the response, “Well, I guess.”

Alien spirits
Merry Christmas!

So, of all the legacies Kurt Vonnegut left the world, in a way The Bone Trench is another one. In any event, I thank you, Mr. Vonnegut, for leaving me free to write whatever in this—or any—world I feel like writing.

 

St Jude Road Warriors

For 15 years, we’ve avoided the St. Jude Marathon. With over 20,000 people running to end childhood cancer, the race clogs the Memphis streets. More than once my husband and I’ve been trapped by the blocked roads and orange cones, no way out. This morning, of all things, we joined the throngs. Having a friend whose child is battling cancer will do that to you.

I walked because the cancer treatment is affecting the young man’s hips. He will be having surgery Monday in an effort to ward off two full hip replacements. His mother has been keeping us up to date on his (and her) heroic efforts, not only to win against his own cancer but to raise enough money that childhood cancer becomes a thing of the past. His (and her) reaction to this illness has been awe-inspiring. The least I could do was slip on my gloves at 6:00 this morning and willingly drive into a claustrophobic-inducing crowd of people. My husband came with me. “For Adam,” he said.

We walked the race—it’s been less than a year since my first hip replacement, less than 5 months since my second. We got off to a slow start because we put ourselves at the back of the pack. At the very end—finish line in sight—we dug deep, letting loose a burst of speed and effectively lapping the two-year-old who’d been leading the entire race. She was cheating anyway, riding on her dad’s shoulders. I’d been worried we might not finish before they closed the course and then what would we do? But we walked into AutoZone Park in under an hour, giving us half an hour to spare.

Walking through the cheering spectators along the course was nice; it made you feel like you were actually doing something, though I was more impressed with the folks who got up in the frigid morning simply to shake pompoms and encourage us in our efforts. The race officials played “Born to Run” to lead us off, which was really nice for a Bruce fan, but the best was the homemade sign one of the spectators held up along the way: “Worse Parade Ever.” Humor when you’re trudging up the hill of death is much appreciated.

Here we are, being happy we finished:

we did it

 

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