I’m beat, I’m torn; shattered and tossed, and worn

Lyrics to Trouble (previously seen as a Song of the Week here) copyright Cat Stevens

Trouble
Oh trouble set me free
I have seen your face
And it’s too much too much for me

Grief and I? We’re like THIS [ imagine image of two fingers wrapped around each other ]. I can’t even count the number of family members I’ve lost any more. That’s what I guess, I suppose, for being the youngest, and not having any after me. I’m only ever going to LOSE people. I’m never going to GAIN a person (I’m not trying to dismiss Tim’s wonderful family, here; they’re all lovely — I’m just talking about my particular branch of the tree). And each time I lose someone; family, close family friend, friend of my own age… I try to carry them with me. I try to bring part of what I loved about them into my heart. From my Grandmother I got a love of poker and parties and crafting. From my father I got music and books and finding humor in the dark places. From Bill I got the patience to listen to people as they tell their stories, be they funny or sad or dull or exciting. By practicing what they’ve given me, they’re never really gone. Sometimes my heart is full to bursting with everything that I hold from my loved ones; as if all the things I’ve gotten from them could come busting out of my heart like a bomb, exploding bits of shrapnel composed of love and patience and talent and humor over everyone in front of me. But… sometimes my heart is heavy with hurting loss.

Trouble
Oh trouble can’t you see
You’re eating my heart away
And there’s nothing much left of me

I have this place in my sternum, and it sometimes hurts. The heart chakra, if you subscribe to that. I started noticing it after my dad died. I would be reading in bed, and my cat Buddha would come and stand on my chest, getting between me and my book. And she’d always stand RIGHT on my sternum and it ALWAYS hurt like a motherfucker. Like when I’m getting acupuncture from my friend Jenn and she pokes me in various places and says “is that tender” and I’m always like “no” until she hits me with a sledgehammer. A giant invisible sledgehammer that is disguised as her tiny finger (the HAMMER is her PINKY, hahahaha). She told me that right there, the sternum, that flat place of bone between your breasts, is where you store your grief. Well I must have some the size of an elephant, is all I could think. Two weeks ago at my massage appointment, my massage therapist was trying to undo some of the eternal tension in my shoulders and she started to press on that place in the sternum. “Would you happen to have any feelings you’re repressing?” she asked. To which I snorted. And chuckled. And tried not to burst into tears, although I’m sure she gets that a lot.

I’ve drunk your wine
You have made your world mine
So won’t you be fair
So won’t you be fair

The way I see it, there are three things I can do when someone I love dies. One: Move on, not really feeling anything about it either way. This is not an option for me, because, like Maya Angelou said about herself in her autobiography, I’m overly sensitive. Two: Move on, closing up my heart so I don’t go through THAT again. This isn’t really an option either; I love far too easily to be able to shut down — and really, without sadness to compare it to, how would we be able to judge when we are full of joy? Which brings me to number three: Move on, loving more, and appreciating love that much more for the knowledge that we are all of us, fleeting. Going out, as Maude said, and loving some more.

I don’t want no more of you
So won’t you be kind to me
Just let me go where
I have to go there

And the thing is… grief is there anyway, whether I ignore it or submerge in it. So I let myself feel it as much as I can. You might think I’d like it to just disappear, but I’m afraid that if it did, I might cherish people less. I might forget to tell friends I love them, I might be intentionally hurtful – or at least negligent of their feelings – becoming blind to the miracles that they are if I’m not aware of missing other people I once loved and laughed with just as often. One of my personal beliefs is that without seeing the bad, we wouldn’t know to recognize the good; so if we don’t feel the loss of some, how can we appreciate the gifts we still have in others? I don’t look at it as thinking my friends all might die at any moment; I look at it more like wanting them to know that I love them, and not being complacent about maybe being nicer to them next time I see them. Being nice to them *now*. Because *now* is what we have.

Trouble
Oh trouble move away
I have seen your face
and it’s too much for me today

Some days, though, are hard. Recently our family friend, Mike Glicksohn, passed away suddenly. He’d been fighting cancer for many years, fighting pain, fighting slipping away. And one day a few weeks ago he had a stroke. And that was it. Insert a raised glass of whiskey and a multitude of Internet memorials [ here ]. Back in… 2008, I think, when his cancer had returned, I knew I wasn’t going to see him again. He and his wife live in Toronto, and what with the yarn store I hardly had time to travel – let alone had the money. So I told myself then, that if/when Mike died, I wasn’t allowed to beat myself up over not seeing him. I was allowed to grieve, but I wasn’t allowed to tell myself I was a horrible, unloving person for not seeing him again.

Trouble
Oh trouble can’t you see
You have made me a wreck
Now won’t you leave me in my misery

But let me tell you… over the last few weeks? That’s been a really, really fine line. Letting myself grieve for the loss of him without berating myself for never traveling up to see him? That’s a very difficult task. At the same time that I’m looking at old photos, and thanking Mike for being so patient with me as a pestering child, for talking to me as if I were an adult, for giving me such a love of jigsaw puzzles (for years, for Christmas, we would exchange puzzles as gifts by taking all the pieces out of the box, bagging them up, and mailing them to each other without a picture of what the puzzle was supposed to be – IN YOUR FACE, 1000 PIECE DOUBLE-SIDED CIRCULAR JIGSAW PUZZLE!!!1!)… at the same time that I’m celebrating him, there’s a voice inside me saying that if I’d really loved him, I would have gone to see him one more time.

I’ve seen your eyes
and I can see death’s disguise
Hangin’ on me
Hangin’ on me

And yet… I got an email from him about a month before he died. Nothing much, really just a mass email to say sorry about not sending a Christmas card, he’d been ill, money was tight for him and Susan… and I emailed back right away. I told him that I loved him, and I was so sorry for being a horrible correspondent, but that I thought of him often and wished him strength and peace of mind and spirit. And that was the last thing I said to him. Or rather, wrote to him. It was over email, not even on the telephone, and certainly not in person… but the last thing I said to him were words of love, and isn’t that what anyone wants their last conversation with someone to be? Not words of anger or frustration, but words of kindness?

I’m beat, I’m torn
Shattered and tossed and worn
Too shocking to see
Too shocking to see

So I really shouldn’t give myself a bunch of shit about not going to Toronto some time in the last three years. I told myself I wasn’t allowed to beat myself up, so really, I shouldn’t. Not that telling myself “I shouldn’t” is going to stop me, mind you — would it stop any of you? But I should be as gentle to myself as I’d be to a friend.

Trouble
Oh trouble move from me
I have paid my debt
Now won’t you leave me in my misery

I have paid my debt, trouble. I have beaten myself up, for this and other things not said to other people. Every time someone I love dies, I think about the things they left undone and I consider where I am, what I’m doing, and what I might leave undone were I to leave the party. I vow to go the places I want to go, do the things I want to do, and then… then I fall into my complacent workaholic state, where I just putter and craft things and think about traveling to Alaska and I never do it. If I’m hit by a bus tomorrow I want one of you to go to Alaska for me, OK? Stay with Tim’s cousin, Linda. She has a great house.

Trouble
Oh trouble please be kind
I don’t want no fight
And I haven’t got a lot of time

I don’t have a lot of time. Well, I have as much time as I have, I have a lifetime. But I don’t have time to sit around here feeling sorry for myself; I need to go out and love some more.

7 Comments

  1. My dear one, your ache in the chest where you describe is exactly what I feel when I think about my dear Mike. He loved you and was so amazed that so much time had passed and that you are now an adult and a wonderful one at that. I have good times and very bad times just now. I am lucky to have great support from friends and neighbors, and long time loved ones like you. Take of yourself and know that you are in my thougts, too.

    Love,
    Susan

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