Browsing Tag

sadness

Solidarity Brothers and Sisters

What Do I Tell My Kids?

I tell them about suffrage. About the women and men who fought for all of us to have the right to vote.

I tell them about the Civil Rights Movement. That bodies were beaten and spirits were crushed, and still, the people fought and triumphed.

I tell them America was not ready for a woman President this year. But that will absolutely change.

They will ask, “But why did people vote for a mean man, Mommy?”

And then I will have to defend President-elect Donald Trump. I will say that he probably is not as mean as he sometimes seemed during this campaign. He is a father and a husband. He might not believe women can be equal to men. But he is wrong about this. And, in January, it will be his job to be a President for everyone, not just the people who voted for him. And, boy, isn’t that a hard job? Isn’t that kind of crazy? But every four years, someone has to do that. It’s how America works.

They will ask, “But what can we do now?”

And I will remind them about how we are going to visit great-grandma Mary tonight. We will give her lots of kisses and an ice cream cone. We will go across the hall and invite her neighbor, Betty, to come play cards with us. We will comfort the sick.

When we get home, we will put non-perishables in our backpacks for the fall food drive at school. We will feed the hungry.

And we will finish our Veterans Day pictures paying tribute to those whose sacrifices we sometimes take for granted. We will strengthen this nation.

We will be the changes we want to see.

And we will hug each other. When I smell the innocence of their warm little heads and feel the love in their strong little hearts, I will remember they are the future, and that love – not fear, not anger, not disgust, or even sadness – but love, love always wins.

*And after I put them in bed tonight, I will listen to this song on repeat for awhile. For anyone who needs simultaneous sadness and healing. It is not a Christmas song, but rather a day after Christmas song.  And it is just right.

 

When the song of the angels is stilled,

When the star in the sky is gone,

When the kings and princes are home,

When the shepherds are back with their flock,

The work of Christmas begins:

 

To find the lost,

To heal the broken,

To feed the hungry,

To release the prisoner,

To rebuild the nations,

To bring peace among brothers,

To make music from the heart.

 

Poem by Howard Thurman (1899-1981)

Music by Dan Forrest (b. 1978)

www.danforrest.com

 

 

Brokenheartedness

Godspeed, Pat Conroy

I can’t believe he is gone. My wife is usually the one to write these eulogies – she has far more literary heroes than I do. But Pat Conroy changed my life. He is why I decided to teach at The Citadel. He is why Annmarie agreed to let us move to Charleston. And when it came to writing, he taught me everything I know. I once bumped into him South of Broad, as I walked our dog down the same streets he wrote about in Lords of Discipline. I mumbled a hello, and stared awkwardly as he rounded a corner and disappeared. I have repeated that encounter a thousand times in my head, imagining myself saying something profound, something that would tell him how much he meant to me. He described brotherhood better than anyone. And family. And even though he never served in uniform, he had a knack for writing about war. Next to Pericles, he wrote the greatest eulogy ever delivered, for the real Great Santini. Now, there’s no one left to match him, no one on earth to write the farewell his passing deserves.

You will be missed, Pat Conroy.

Parents = Dope Film Critics

Down with Inside Out

The kids and I saw Inside Out a few weeks back.

My 10-year-old was annoyed it was a cartoon.

My 6-year-old was scared of the clown.

My 3-year-old fell asleep.

But I thought it was awesome. Should be required viewing for anyone between the ages of 9 and 90.

To be fair, becoming a parent has made me a crappy film critic. If the kids are quiet and I have Milk Duds, I’m gonna love the movie, whether it’s Annie or Battlefield Earth. Even if a child stood up and vomited on me (which actually happened during Toy Story 3), I would have given Inside Out two thumbs up. Here’s why: it makes a case for Sadness. It lets us know that Sadness is Okay.

We have really needed that lesson this week.

A few days ago, our dog, Shadow, passed away. In addition to my own grief about the failing pup, I had to figure out how to navigate this event with my kids. Was I going to be strong for them? Or was I going to weep openly? As a child, I remember thinking it was awful when I saw my parents cry. My father wept at my grandfather’s funeral, and I felt like the world might cave in. So, I decided I would be strong for my kids.

I was strong for them. But I was also a big, blubbering mess.dadvmom.com_downwithinsideout_sadnesscrying

I cried when I drove them home from school and told them Shadow was dying. I whimpered when I saw them gather around his soft little body and stroke his fur. I guffawed when my husband took Shadow away. I was emotional. And so were the kids. Katie said it felt like her oldest friend had passed away. She wondered out loud, “what bad thing will happen next?” Lizzie said the next time she saw her best friend’s dog, she was gonna punch it in the nose. I nearly seized upon this remark. “We do NOT punch dogs!” But I was so glad I didn’t. Lizzie went on to explain that it just felt so unfair that anyone else should get to have a dog when we didn’t anymore. She is not a violent person. She was just struggling to translate intense feelings into words.

And Inside Out taught us that that happens sometimes. Feelings like Anger and Fear can get mixed up inside of us. And sometimes it is Sadness that helps us sort them out. Sometimes Sadness even helps bring people together. That’s exactly what it did for me and the girls. We sat on our faded green couch and felt all mixed up for awhile. We laughed about the time Shadow ate fruitcake and remembered how he used to cheat at Hide and Seek. We cried about how he wouldn’t be our night watchman anymore. And expressed remorse that we hadn’t walked him enough lately. Lizzie suggested we get another dog just like Shadow and call him, “Shadow, Jr.” Which prompted me to tell the girls about “rebound relationships” and high school boyfriends, and a whole raft of subjects we had never covered before.  We have lots of Joy-filled afternoons, and I much prefer them, but I would be lying if I did not at least acknowledge that it was the Sadness that slowed us down and helped us take the trouble to understand each other.  The Sadness made us hold one another more closely.

Maybe the girls felt like their world was going to cave when they saw me cry. But I don’t think so.  Plus, it didn’t. We talked for awhile longer and then the kids started hinting about watching a movie. “Even Alexander didn’t have a bad day like this one,” said Katie. We put in a Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day. It was not nearly as good as the book, but it was also awesome, because it reminded us that even the worst days don’t last forever, especially when you stick with your family through the pain.

It would not be okay if I always used my kids to prop me up in my grief. That is called Depression, and there are hotlines and therapists and medications for that.

But I think every so often, it is healthy for children to see us hurt, to comfort us in our sorrow, and to see firsthand that Sadness has a beginning, a middle, and, especially, an end.

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Brokenheartedness

He Was My Shadow

Every morning for the past three weeks, he has woken me at 4am with his pacing. Collar jangling, looking for God knows what. He has been talking to ghosts lately. He wanders into corners, gets stuck, and lets out a hoarse “woof.” I rouse myself from bed to feed him. Sometimes he eats, sometimes he doesn’t. Under my breath, I curse the sleep he is costing me. But he is sixteen years old, and in my heart I can’t really be angry with him.

When we moved him across the country more than a year ago, we were sure Shadow only had a few months left. But I suspect he knew we still needed him. Every night in this new house, he implemented a rotating shift, sleeping next to each of the kids’ beds, then finally settling next to ours once he determined all was well.

I got the call from my wife around noon. He wouldn’t get up to go outside, and one of his eyes would not open. When I got home, he was still breathing, but barely. He was laying right where I knew he would be, in the fur-covered divot by my side of the bed. When I stretched out next to him, he barely stirred. Then, slowly and with great effort, he lifted his head and laid it on my arm. It was heavier than I ever remember it being. He opened his good eye, looked into mine, and let out a sigh.

“I’m done,” he told me. He had settled us into this new home and made sure we would be okay. He had checked every corner and stood watch every night. He was happy, knowing he had taken good care of this family for 16 years. But he was also tired, and in pain, and he was asking me to make this easier for him.

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I know the difference between sorrow and tragedy. I have lost friends and family members, been to funerals for loved ones taken too soon. Putting down a pet is not a calamity. It is its own special kind of sorrow though, different from any I have felt before. My dog, my best friend, was asking me to take him on his last walk. He had given me everything he possibly could. And never asked for anything in return. Until today.

He sighed again, and there was something of an apology in it. “I am sorry you have to do this,” he told me. I pulled my phone from my pocket and called the vet. He said to come whenever I am ready. I said “a few hours,” to give the kids time for their goodbyes.

On the ride home from school, my wife explained to our children what was happening. They came in quietly and gathered around me and my dog. We ran our hands through his soft fur and told stories about his happier days. Like when he ate the whole fruitcake. Or crashed the wedding party at the beach. At one point, we all laughed. Beyond a doubt, I knew this is how Shadow would want to leave us. Everyone gave him one last squeeze. Lizzie laid a bouquet of flowers, plucked from the yard, by his nose. I cradled him in my arms and carried him to the car. I had not held him like that since he was a puppy.

I asked the vet if I could share one last story. He sat on the floor next to Shadow and me, as I explained about Afghanistan and how this dog helped settle me back home. I could not finish. Shadow laid in my lap, his breathing shallower than before. The doc put a reassuring hand on mine. “This is a dog in pain,” he said. “You’re doing the right thing.” He put in an IV. He flushed the vein. And then . . . .

I laid with Shadow for a long time afterwards, as his body slowly lost its warmth. I buried my head in the soft fur around his neck and let out one last cry. “Such a good dog,” was all I managed to say. When I went home, the kids hugged me and asked about heaven. I told them we would see Shadow there, but I was not really sure.

It is 4am now. I am haunting this house alone, desperate for the jangling of Shadow’s collar. He is the ghost now. Last night I dreamed I saw him across a wide river. He was wagging his tail and pacing happily, something he has not done in a long time. I wondered if he was trying to cross over to me. Then I saw his fur, already wet from a good swim. He wasn’t coming back. He was there waiting. If there is a heaven, our dogs are the ones who let us in.

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This essay was reprinted by Fatherly.com on Oct. 1, 2015.  

Solidarity Brothers and Sisters

There Is Life After a Miscarriage

It has been four years since the miscarriage and I have never written a word.

It is not because of grief. I have been sad sometimes. But days here are full. I have the other children tumbling about.

It is not because I am shy. As writers go, I am confessional and self-effacing. I am not afraid to talk about fear or nakedness or the bald patch forming where I part my hair.

No, it is not sadness or timidity. I have not written about the miscarriage because I feel shame. I blame myself. I think maybe it was my fault.

I did not trampoline or drink wine. I did not use nasal spray or sneak sushi.

But I must have done something. Because that baby died inside of me, and I have kept it a secret for a long time.

Even the name itself—miscarriage—suggests fault. There was a misstep, misconduct, some miscalculation. I did not carry that child like I should have.

Was it the heavy trash bag I lifted? The bending over to tidy the living room? How I reached on my tippy toes for the potato chips above the fridge? I am haunted by the slip-up I will never know.

I am not usually euphoric at the start of my pregnancies. I am struck by how not pregnant I feel in those early weeks and months. There is no kicking, little heartburn, and I seldom suffer morning sickness.

But I was particularly attached to this unborn child. I found out I was pregnant the week my grandfather was dying. Aside from my husband, Grandpa Kel was the first person I told. He was unconscious at the time, his breathing labored, his skin feathery and pale. Hospice had already been called in. I sat by my grandfather’s bed, held his cool hand, and told him about the baby we were expecting. If he kept my secret, I said, maybe we would name it after him.

He did keep the secret. Grandpa died the next morning. Two months later, the baby died, too.

We planted an azalea after it was over. A beautiful coral one. When it flowered, my husband and I would sit on the front porch and remember the child that was ours for a bit and then wasn’t. When we sold that house, I agonized over whether to bring the small tree with us. The cross-country journey would be long, the truck hot. Would the new climate be a good fit? We did not want to destroy the only life we had left, our small symbol of what we lost. In the end, we left it.

But I think of him sometimes—in my mind it was a boy, though we never asked for sure—I think of our tree baby, alone in the yard of a stranger, and I know we made the wrong choice. We should have kept him with us, no matter the risk. We should have tried harder to make conditions right.

But, of course, we couldn’t. That’s the way it is with trees. And, sometimes, with pregnancies.

Bodies know. They know better than we do when to hold on and when to let go.

Families who have endured a miscarriage are seldom counseled through the process. This is the only loss we sweep under the rug. We tiptoe when we want to scream. My OB/GYN quietly cancelled my remaining appointments. I switched doctors soon after and never went back to that office again.

But I have carried the sorrow. I have been haunted by the child who never arrived. Our minivan could comfortably carry another. Tables are made for even-numbered families. When the sun shines on the empty seat in our breakfast nook, I swallow back grief.

So I speak today to anyone who has held this heartache:

You did not mis-carry anything. Your body chose this ending. Your body knew the path. It is okay to be sad and angry for as long as you need. But do not sit in silence. Do not weep in shame. Because this was not your fault.

This was never your fault.

 

 sunset behind darkened trees