“It gets better”: A Christmas poem

I talked to a man at a bar in Killarney yesterday

He had lost his dad last year

I told him that the first year is the hardest

but

that it gets better

I was wrong

It doesn’t get better

It just gets different.

Year one:

You miss him so much

that you are too blinded by grief

to do anything but pretend to be happy

Sometimes that works

and you actually are.

Year two:

You genuinely miss him and feel it

but the death itself is far enough in the past

that you can feel whole while talking about him

“Remember how frustrated he would get when we waited until afternoon on Christmas to open presents?”

“Remember how sad he was that his family never came to visit at Christmas?”

“Remember how much he loved Fritos and cottage cheese?”

Year three:

You have enough distance from his death that the pain of it has softened

but so have your memories

You don’t think of him near as often as you used to

Seeing his favorite color doesn’t always make you cry

And the guilt and fear of forgetting him

the man who raised you

That is worse than the initial pain of loss

So, man at the bar, I was wrong

when I told you that grief gets better with time

It doesn’t get better

It’s always awful

It’s just different.

Unleashed

Heads up, this poem is written for grown ups. If your parents wouldn’t consider you a grown up, then pretend that this page is filled with something gross like Brussels sprouts or homework and go look up clips of people tripping on banana peels on YouTube or something.

I have this photo of me
that mom and I took
in the hotel parking lot after
dad’s burial service

I love my face
in this image
I’m smiling
but it’s not a smile of frosting and sunrises

It’s a fuck you smile

That smile says:
fuck you death
fuck you suffering
fuck you emotional pain
fuck you miscommunication
and uncharity
and rejection
fuck you isolation
and anonymity
and loneliness

And my eyes
they tell you
I have lived through some shit
that I know things

and I don’t give a damn if
you know that I know them
because I know that I know them
and the people who love me
know that I know them

They know, we know, that
I am a fucking badass queen
that I am fierce and powerful
and that my vulnerability
makes me even more
fierce and more
powerful than any tank, bomb,
or nuclear weapon

I know things
I have been through things
Nothing in this world can destroy me
for who I am was not made to stay in this world

I am built for glory
I will live forever
I am unleashed
Fuck you Devil
I am Veronica
I will not be tamed.

Home Again for the First Time

As a Roman Catholic, the Vatican is the center of it all for me. I wrote this a few months ago, when I visited St. Peter’s Basilica for the first time.

Help me remember
this feeling.
Later
when feeling is hard
and priorities more
confused
Help me remember
your tall ceilings
and echoing voices
harmonies and footsteps
You beckon me. Come home
to this place
I’ve never been before
Come to me my love
Yes
I’ve come home.

At Peter’s Feet

I wrote this a few months back, when I visited St. Peter’s Basilica for the first time.

For all the ones I’ve left behind
For all the ones forgotten
For all those to whom I’ve been unkind
For those I have begotten

I place them here at your feet
Do with them what you will
Just know I wished the best for them
And I wish it still.

How to get to heaven

There is no magic cure
no
quick fix
no easy bake oven
degreaser
10 Minute Abs
“5 Easy Steps
to a Holier You!”
nope

It’s broke ass backbreaking tired lonely grueling work
without
thank yous
or
raises
or
hugs

you.
just.
do.
it.

and keep doing it.
and then…
you do it some more

you work your ass off
and no one thanks you for it.
until
one day…
you die
and then hopefully…
you live.

10/12/18

If I sit in the woods long enough, will the answers appear?
Carved into a tree…spelled out in pebbles on the stream bed?
If I sit here long enough, will I know?
Or do You plan to leave me here
Unknowing
The cacophony of the swollen river keeps time with the cacophony in my head
And still You leave me here
My pride demands more of You
My despair expects nothing
I remain alone

All Grown Up

Remember, when you were a kid
and you thought that pimples
were a problem only for teenagers?
and you thought that grown-ups had all the answers?
but that they just wouldn’t tell you what they were
because they liked watching you squirm.
Remember when you were a teenager
and you thought that when you became a grown-up
you would know all the answers too,
but you would be different than all the other grown-ups.
You would tell all the teenagers
exactly what the answers were
just as soon as you figured them out.
.
Then you got older
and older
yet you still didn’t feel like a grown-up
until one day you were 27
and standing in the frozen food aisle crying
because you couldn’t decide whether to
buy organic peas or store brand
but really you were trying to
decide whether you should invest in your 401k
or pay more on your college loans
and you wanted to go back
to 2002 and tell 16 year old you
that she’ll never be a grown-up
and that adults don’t have all the answers.
.
They just pretend to
because that’s what “grown-ups”
are supposed to do.
They pretend to have all the answers
because grown-ups don’t cry over frozen peas
and they certainly never get pimples.

Messy is Better

It’s painfully easy for me to live life adjacent to people, parallel lives that appear to intersect, but never truly do. I hide behind walls of entertainment and tact. It’s far more messy to live life with people rather than adjacent to them. Actually caring about people is scary and letting them in is petrifying. What if my overtures come across out of tune? What if they don’t love me back? What if they reject me? Or worse, what if they point out what is wrong with me and I actually have to become better? What if my best isn’t good enough? A cacophony of “what ifs” becomes a staggering burden that drives me into my own little corner, headphones in, cell phone in hand.

This week my family reminded me that living life together is better and that I won’t get better until I open up enough to let better in. Being surrounded by family restarted my healing. They do not heal because they are a balm, a coverup, or a distraction. My family heals me by reminding me what good is and reminding me what makes me good.

When Uncle Ramesh sneaks up behind me and taps me on the shoulder, when Everett hugs me, his arms wrapped around my calves and his chipmunk face wedged between my knees, when Manda asks me how I am doing and actually cares to hear a real answer. These things make me good. These things are healing.

When Asha can’t contain her laughter long enough to get out a whole answer in the board game, when Kate holds my hand and tells me her favorite color is turquoise because my favorite color is turquoise, when mom tells me stories about living alone as a young single woman. These things remind me where I come from. These things are good.

When Dan calls me his guru and thanks me endlessly because I shared my yogurt, when Erik offers to take the dog while we hike, when Susie, while 9 months pregnant, hosts the family Thanksgiving dinner. These things show me what good looks like. These things remind me where I want to go.

When Jonathan talks church shop with me, when Manda and I discover that we have the same taste in beer, so we share three, when mom insists on paying for everything even though she is working two jobs and getting collection notices about dad’s hospital bills. These things remind me who we are. These things are signs of the good within us.

When Uncle Ramesh asks me about dad dying, when he is not afraid to hurt with me, because he knows we both need to talk about it and he tells me that I can always call him. When Dan and Asha and Kate play rounds and rounds of duck duck goose while Everett sits in my lap and we read the same story book we read yesterday. When the board game is made for six people, but there are nine of us so we make up the rules because being together is more important than keeping score. These things are what good is made out of; these things make us good. These things make me good.

Being around these people reminds me how much better it is to actually live than to merely exist. When I actually live I cry a lot more, but I also belly laugh and sing and think and pray. Family heals me; family keeps me alive; family reminds me to live.

Family is messy. Messy is real. Real is better.

Daddy

Yesterday

There are too many weird things
No light in the hall tonight when I went to bed.
no need for one.
The stained sheets
Tucker all alone in the basement
Does it smell like death down there or is that in my head?
I will never give dad that tie for Christmas.
His body is lying naked in a fridge somewhere.
No wedding ring, no necklace, no soul inside
He’s gone
And today is Friday
And tomorrow is Saturday
And a week from now
it will be Friday again
And he will still be gone
& I will still be here
living

One week

I miss him so much
Sometimes so much
that I forget
to miss him

A Conversation
Me: You had no money
almost no ability to move
You were the poorest person I knew
Dad: No I wasn’t; I had you

Two weeks

I hadn’t cried in a few days
not since the funeral
really.
I cried today
nothing torrential
But I think I was numb
for a while
Being sick and dealing with the practicalities of the funeral,
I had no space in me
to mourn you
Now my cold is retreating
and my heart is remembering
that you are gone.
People talk about a hole in the heart
I don’t feel that so much.
It’s more like a gnawing
like there is a set of incisors
latched onto my right ventricle
and they won’t let go
Sometimes, I see your old t-shirt in my closet
and the jaws clamp down hard
and steamy blood pools in my chest cavity
I don’t know what to do then
do I wallow in it? pick up your t-shirt, smell it, maybe even put it on?
do I move on and close the closet?
do I throw your shirt away?
no, not that.
Right now, I can’t look at things that remind me of you
It hurts too much to be reminded of you
…as if I could forget

When I talk about you now,
I’m supposed to add “-ed”
I don’t want to
I don’t want you to be gone.

Three weeks

Remember when I was little
and you were 10 feet tall?
(well, actually 6’3”)
Remember how you carried me on your shoulders?
How tall I felt!

I thought we would have more time.

You died on a Thursday morning
I cried thinking about your eventual demise the night before
Did it hurt?
Did you know it was coming?
It was so hard for you to talk at the end.
Did you have last words?
Did you have a last fight?

Remember holding George Brunner’s baby in the backyard last summer?
You loved babies so much
and we laid her in your lap in the wheelchair and you looked…content and nervous
You worried about dropping her
Your body had betrayed you in every way possible.
I’m glad you got to hold a baby one last time
Even if you won’t ever get to hold mine.

What’s it like with Jesus?
Are you bored?
Do you get to watch the Bears and the Cubs?
Do you watch me?

I want more hugs, daddy.
And tell me why I call you daddy now?
Three and a half weeks ago, when you were alive,
I never called you daddy.
It was either “Dad!” or “Daaaaad” or “Father”
(the last always accompanied by an eye roll)

I think the last thing I ever said to you
was “I love you”
I am glad for that.

How were your last three weeks, daddy?
Did you miss me?
Were you holding out while I was there?
Did you give up when I left?
Did you let go when I left?
I’m glad you’re not hurting anymore
I’m mad you didn’t try harder.
I’m selfish that way.
Who will I call when my car makes a funny noise?
Who will mediate fights when mom and I go at it?
Who will walk me down the aisle?

At least we had our slow dance at Susie’s wedding
Did you know then that you were months away
from never walking again?
I think you did
because you hated to dance
From the moment you asked me
until we sat down again,
I will remember your tall frame holding mine then
just as vividly
as I will remember
holding your drained frame
in the bed on September 7
Your cold greasy forehead against my lips
Your clenched hands wrapped in mine
Your white toes poking out from the sheet
I said goodbye to your body then
I’m not planning on saying goodbye to your soul