Vacationing in the Suck Palace (and Maybe How to Check Out of It)

The Moon On October 20th of Last Year

Warning: This isn’t my usual kind of post. There’s no recipes, for one. There’s a pretty picture, but a sad one.

Sometimes bad things happen to perfectly good people and families. The call in the night. The diagnosis. The accident. And a terrible, horrible no good very bad moment turns into a very long and crummy time.

I’ve done it a bit in my my life, and I call it Taking a Trip to the Suck Palace. As I mentioned in an earlier post, it’s like that book We’re Going on A Bear Hunt. You can’t go over it, you can’t go under it, you can’t go around it, you have to go through it. Whatever the it is, there’s no way other than to acknowledge that for a while it might just be kind of, well, shitty.

For us, it’s been 3 extended family deaths in 4 months and a lot of other crises in between, the kind of run of things where you start making dark jokes with others about how you might be able to open your own morgue and call it Dying to See You. But whatever your ‘it‘ is, sometimes life is kind of hard and sad and difficult, and you have to go to the Suck Palace.

Maui it isn’t. I visualize it as a depressing motel room that needed to be renovated about 30 years ago with grimy 70s orange carpet and a window that looks out onto the dumpster.

Your job now is to be in that room.

And you have to visit it while you are also simultaneously doing your regular life. Meals need to be made. Laundry done, work attended to, bills paid.

I woke up this morning in a good mental space despite it all, knowing that this too, shall pass, even as I was choosing what to wear for a drive to yet another memorial service, this time for an Uncle I adored, who lost a 2 year agonizing battle with cancer. It was no life for him at the end, but his going leaves yet another empty seat that can’t be filled. No one again is going to show my children how to find hermit crabs on the beach in Cape Cod, or help my daughter find so many shells I have to take off my shoe to hold them all.

Even though at night when I step outside, I look at a certain point in the sky, where we noticed an ultra-cool moon at about 9:20 pm on October 20th, 2021, not then knowing an hour later we would get the call that changed all the things, I still know that even if it will never feel ok to lose my people, I will be ok. We will be ok.

But I also remember what it’s like not to know that.

To not know that grief, which is truly physical as well as emotional – it really hurts – will become less of a pile of bricks, less pain. It doesn’t go away, and if you are in the first of the concentric circles of loved ones around someone, their spouse or their children, it’s different than it is if you are in a different concentric ring, a little further away. It’s still awful, it’s just different.

Visits to the Suck Palace last longer than anyone wants to hear about, and even the most patient friends just wish maybe you could just get over it and move on? Gently and politely they push you to talk about something, anything else, and talk about getting your mind off. You know, like even a liquid lunch isn’t likely to make you forget unless you drink to the point where you probably need to get some help for it. I don’t suggest that, as it creates it’s own crisis, although a few well-placed margaritas here and there can help some, if that’s your jam.

In the end, your visit to the Suck Palace will last as long as it lasts, and the more I talk about our losses the more I hear from others who lost multiple family members in a year or less – it’s more common than you think, as are the secondary challenges as you watch grief in action. I have a new boss, and I wasn’t sure how he would react to yet another impact – but instead of frustration, he told me about his year of it, when there were so many deaths so close together he and his siblings had to juggle who could make it to what funeral.

His kindness was everything, as are the random texts from friends just checking in. It really is the little things.

If you are in an outer ring, you send support inward, and any other feelings outward even when that’s hard to do. Finding a physical way to support, such as meals or notes or texts or visits or flowers is a good place to put that energy, even if you don’t get much back in the beginning, consider it an investment in being kind without expectations in return.

Gratitude helps, sleep helps, connection helps more, and giving yourself all the grace in the world. These days my exercise routines are shot between weather and just nonstop demands on my time, so I’m getting a treadmill to help squeeze in the workouts, but I’m also cutting myself a whole bunch of slack.

Hug your people, tell them you love them, plant some flowers, make donations, go for walks, bake…there’s no one right way to do this. And one day you’ll open the door and step out onto the beach and remember how to find a hermit crab in the sand.

And you will smile because it happened and that person’s gifts are still here. Even if through tears.

The First Law of Thermodynamics

First Snow

Thanksgiving passed with light and food and joy and sadness as well, augmented by another death – this one of my brother-in-law’s mom, who had come to the end of her time with little quality of life, but so soon after her son, and on the Thanksgiving holiday as well is another brutal knife in that family.

This year, we are all winding more tightly together as a result for the holidays. Every candle in the window, light on the porches, and tradition that can be upheld will be. Every hug of our people is another candle lit.

Eli and I were fortunate enough to have a day out to do some small-business holiday shopping and even go out to dinner in an actual restaurant for the first time in ages. Of course, we woke up to headlines about the Omicron variant the next day, so it might be the last time in a while. While I don’t miss all the things of the before-times, before Covid-19, I do miss some. Restaurants are one of them, mostly because it often symbolized a too-rare evening out with my husband.

I miss my brother too, with a grief that is sometimes so deep I need an extension ladder to climb out and back into the world. Saturday morning was particularly tough. I woke up too early again, and prepared to go for a walk with my neighbor and friend, Melissa. I wasn’t feeling it, sad and unmotivated, but I had postponed enough times that I knew I was out of excuses, although she would have understood. There was an ever-so-tiny bit of snow on the ground, and the wind was biting. All too many excuses to stay home were there.

But.

I saw something oddly pink in the stark landscape as I stepped off the porch.

A Rose in Winter

Melissa describes the process of grief as much like the book ‘We’re Going on a Bear Hunt’ and I’d add to that the ever-pervasive pandemic as well.

You can’t go over it. You can’t go under it. You can’t go around it. You have to go through it.

By the end of the walk I was warm through from talking and smiling. And I kept returning in my thoughts to that one rose which really shouldn’t be blooming on a day like yesterday. It was too cold, too grey, too out of season, too-all-the-things. But bloom it did, if only for a day. By the time we got home from a lovely dinner at my parents that night, it had started to crumple and die, as all things must, leaving behind a photograph, and my memory.

Even though it only stayed for less than a day, it was enough to remind me that there is always magic here, and that nothing ever truly leaves us, that energy is neither created nor destroyed.

“You want a physicist to speak at your funeral. You want the physicist to talk to your grieving family about the conservation of energy, so they will understand that your energy has not died. You want the physicist to remind your sobbing mother about the first law of thermodynamics; that no energy gets created in the universe, and none is destroyed. You want your mother to know that all your energy, every vibration, every Btu of heat, every wave of every particle that was her beloved child remains with her in this world. You want the physicist to tell your weeping father that amid energies of the cosmos, you gave as good as you got.

And at one point you’d hope that the physicist would step down from the pulpit and walk to your brokenhearted spouse there in the pew and tell him that all the photons that ever bounced off your face, all the particles whose paths were interrupted by your smile, by the touch of your hair, hundreds of trillions of particles, have raced off like children, their ways forever changed by you. And as your widow rocks in the arms of a loving family, may the physicist let her know that all the photons that bounced from you were gathered in the particle detectors that are her eyes, that those photons created within her constellations of electromagnetically charged neurons whose energy will go on forever.

And the physicist will remind the congregation of how much of all our energy is given off as heat. There may be a few fanning themselves with their programs as he says it. And he will tell them that the warmth that flowed through you in life is still here, still part of all that we are, even as we who mourn continue the heat of our own lives.

And you’ll want the physicist to explain to those who loved you that they need not have faith; indeed, they should not have faith. Let them know that they can measure, that scientists have measured precisely the conservation of energy and found it accurate, verifiable and consistent across space and time. You can hope your family will examine the evidence and satisfy themselves that the science is sound and that they’ll be comforted to know your energy’s still around. According to the law of the conservation of energy, not a bit of you is gone; you’re just less orderly. Amen. Aaron Freeman, via NPR


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