Tuesday, July 18, 2006

At Least She's Not Suffering


People say stupid things in the face of vast irremediable loss, so many that after my mother, one of my dearest friends, and my father died within a three year period, my friends told me that I should take notes and write a book, sort of in the spirit of What Not To Wear, except it would be How Not to Get Bitchslapped for Saying Stupid Shit to People in Deep Grief. Truth be told, though, nobody in deep grief is going to do any slapping mostly because of the numbness factor. Also, what is there to say? Everything true sounds trite, and there's only so much hugging one can be expected to endure at such a time. Sympathy cards fall into the predictable categories of hollow religious sentiment to arty quotes set against what advertising people call the "God shot," an idyllic nature scene involving rainbows and clouds. (Just for the record, I tend toward the latter.)

In the final assessment, I would never write such a book because I understood even then people were doing the best they could, and for all kindness, I am grateful. We console ourselves by creating meaning since death obliterates it. As for the sugar-coated cliches, those are fine too. Nobody wants to hear about my mother's long torturous battle with cancer or my friend's freakish accident or that my dad burned to death after the plane he was in hit a power line. So instead I'll fall back on what others have said -- my dad died doing something he loved, at least Hank lived more than most people do in such a short time, and as for my mother, at least she's not suffering.

Benedictions and Maledictions

"When I die, let it be in this way that everyone knows grief, not like a scorpion or a snake whose death brings all relief. " Khushal Khattak

Sugar-Coated Cliche

one part cherry vodka
one part Godiva liqueur

Serve chilled in a martini glass.

First published in poetrybay:

Fill in the Blanks

They don't work anymore, my mother
said of her pain pills. The body can get
used to anything and does, the years
dulling the ride, leaving only the need.
You'd think I could stop, she'd say, but
I already knew what it was to be attached
to something that did nothing for you,
swallowing the same pill day after day,
hope, that old ball and chain, leaving you
marking answers long after you realize
you won't be able to finish the test.

16 comments:

JR's Thumbprints said...

I've said some stupid things in funeral homes, stuff like "How're you doing?" to the widow. In fact, once I got this response: "Other than the fact that my husband's dead, fine."
--Jim.

John Ricci said...

Dear Michelle,

My heart goes out to you for your losses. I can only hope that your faith helps provide a modicum of consolation. But that photo of you is truly lovely, a lovely view from above, and on that, Bravo.

Anonymous said...

Today's triple-header "Quote of the Day": #1: The rabbi said: "When you utter a word before God, then enter into that word with every one of your limbs." One of the rabbi's listeners asked: "How can a big human being possibly enter into a little word?" "Anyone who thinks himself bigger than the word," said the rabbi, "is not the kind of person we are talking about."--Martin Buber;#2: THIS IS THE ESSENTIAL POINT: The world speaks to us; it comes and lets itself be caught in the snare of words; the words that these grand images wrench from us are full of its presence. And here perhaps we are at the very source that we sought to regain, at the point where the world reveals itself to us, where what is spoken is itself speaking.--Mikel Dufrenne; #3: Doh.--Homer Simpson.

Anonymous said...

"Bitchslapped." Sorry, I had to stop and comment right here. You are such a marmalade, Michelle.

Anonymous said...

Or is it Merlot?

R's Musings said...

Sent a sympathy card once to a woman whose son had died in a terrible accident. Wasn't flowery or religious; it actually said something like, "I won't say it'll be alright. And I don't know why this happened, but it sucks..." It sucks that your parents and best friend are gone at such a young age; just know that when you feel all alone, your friends are only a phone call away. Love, R

Cheri said...

When my uncle committed suicide, my cousins 2 year old learned the word "die" very quickly and used it inappropriately. At the funeral he was zipping through pews yelling "Die Die DIE!" as loud as he could, little voice echoing off the reverberating church walls, using his two tiny hands to point at each person in a gun-like fashion. He ran because he thought it was a game when my cousin tried to subdue him, tears running down her cheeks, while her father lay in a closed casket because no amount of funeral home silly-putty could fix the hole that used to be his head.

Anonymous said...

My Arab friend Eddie died of a heart attack the day after he beat me two out of three in racquetball. In the casket, his nose was still bulbously red from being hit by my racquet. Someone at the wake asked me if I knew Eddie. I pointed to my red, swollen upper lip, where Eddie's racquet had hit me the day before. Quite a player, that Eddie.

Anonymous said...

By the way, that's not Michelle in the photo. It's her sister. They switch off and on.

Anonymous said...

At least one very interesting sentence in "At Least...", Michelle: "We console ourselves by creating meaning since death obliterates it." What about John Donne's "Death Be Not Proud"? Sorry, if you think metaphysical poetry is crappy.

Sheila said...

Michelle,
You can come up with the best titles. How Not to Get Bitchslapped for Saying Stupid Shit to People in Deep Grief is priceless! I am so sorry that you had to experience such pain and sorrow in such a short time. I know all about the pain and the people saying stupid shit. Last week my uncle jack died and I was not doing so well. I didn't want to write about it cuz honestly I couldn't bring myself too at the time. I mentioned to someone how my boyfriends uncle had recently died as well and the person looked me dead in the eyes and said, "Ya know these things usually happen in threes." So he was basically telling me someone else I know is going to die soon. I looked back at him with my eyes burning a hole into his body and I said.... "Fuck off"

Anonymous said...

Try to turn the other cheek.

Keith Hood said...

I love Jim's confession. My experience in such matters relates to Theresa's father's death. He was cremated and someone just had to offer us the "comforting" thought about how corrupt and inefficient crematoriums can be, giving people the wrong ashes, and other assorted nightmares that I can't even remember. I just remember thinking, "Why are you telling us this?"

Paul said...

O Mighty Isis, that is one sad posting today. But you sure are one Foxy Lady and you're making the world a finer place with your bloggin. Mellowly

R2 C2!

Anonymous said...

Just found out I don't have to do Jury duty after all(not there's anything wrong with that). Stay tuned for tomorrow's great "Quote of the Day."

Anonymous said...

Michelle, I read your poem,"Crazy," at another website and liked it very much. The persona of the poem IS suffering--very interesting technique(use of repetition). Well done.