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Along this odyssey…

SinceI last posted, I realise I am more shaken by the fraudster who tried to access my bank account than I thought. It’s a feeling of not being able to trust in the services we need because there are people who want to do harm and have the know-how to make attacks online. Thank God that my bank is very secure and act instantly.

Overthe last few weeks, I’ve been hearing my dog breathing. My dog who died. I’m not going insane, I’ve had auditory hallucinations before. Almost always it was a knocking at my front door.

I started hearing the breathing about three weeks ago. It was early morning, and I had awakened. It seemed normal to hear it and I drifted back to sleep. It was later that I remembered and wondered about it. I heard it again some days later, and now it seems like a usual occurance. Then I began to hear other sounds; my daughter walking on the landing. Last night I lay down to sleep and it seemed that there were several people in my home. I flinched as I heard someone walk in my room.

Now this has happened before in reality. And, of course, I have been married, and shared my home. This was not a memory. My whole body jolted with the alarm.

I am a synesthete. This means I experience colours as a taste, sounds as taste or colours. I am wondering if there is a connection with this. I know I am still grieving strongly for O’Driscoll. This is why I hear him breathing.

In the last few days I have noticed how frequently I find myself ready to write but have completely forgotten what I intended to write about. I go to the browser on my phone and have forgotten what I want to find.

I am also missing my daughter so much. It is fused with the grief of no longer being a needed, hands on mother. I am still a mother but to an accomplished, talented, wonderful young woman. I remember how I felt grief when she stopped breast feeding at one year old. I missed that deep connection, even though her physical closeness was not much altered.

I have found myself in another room, but I am not. I am at my desk as always.

I know that I become sleep deprived quite easily. And I am currently not sleeping well. I take sleep when it comes, or I might go for days without. I know how easily the mind is tricked by lack of sleep. There is my medicine as well. And now I have painkillers on board too. I feel pain in my shoulder often at night.

I see time as an arc. I see the year as a circle. I read words that are angry and in my mind is that person leaning out of the page toward me.

I experience the morning differently than later in the day. And time moves fastest in the evening. I long to sleep but it does not come so I write and research, I read and eat.

I need to write all this because this is a blog about my journey toward death. It does not come. I want to be honest.

I miss my sister so much. I long for my Dad’s company. I still cry about O’Driscoll.

Sometimes in the last week, I have wondered if I have a brain tumour. I wonder also whether the place in my brain where they operated is deteriorating. I have brain damage. How can they operate in a brain and not damage it?

The daybreak is here. The birds are quiet this morning.

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I didn’t post for over 2 weeks…

I got broke. Too many things piled on me, but mostly the death of my sister. So many people behaved badly, I got blocked up and so I broke. I need to grieve for Pamela.

I am not fixed, but will carry on now though not every day.

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Strange times…

England has just back stepped in it’s opening up of the economy. I think this was inevitable. One cannot pretend a virus is ‘under control’ while there are still infections occurring. Indeed, people are still dying of Covid 19 here. This is not a second wave. The first wave is not over.

For the last ten days or so, I have woken thinking I have Covid 19. Whether this is becauseof dreams, or because I wake with a dry throat, I don’t know. I think my dry throat or sore feeling is the chronic fatigue that I get once or twice a year.

I started this summer waking very early and not sleeping well. Now I don’t wake early and find it hard to get out of bed. Sleep comes more easily, but is reluctant to leave. My mornings are sluggish and reluctant. Next week I have an X-ray appointment before noon. That will be a challenge.

My late mornings correlate directly with the loss of seeing the harbour from my bed. For fifteen years I have only had to rise on one elbow to see the vista of the the water and boats. I can still see the harbour but have to leave my bed. It is no longer my constant companion while writing or thinking. Daydreaming.

It is a bereavement, a grief, and one I feel keenly. If I am struggling this much now, how much more worse will it be in winter? It is unimaginable. And yet I have my garden. It bearsfruit. I have just picked and eaten my second fig, and tomorrow’s is marked out. They are so refreshing, so sweet, so unimaginably good. There are strawberries and tomatoes waiting, blueberries ripening. And my flowers. My trees.

So, there are many not as fortunate as I am. Counting my blessings and gratitude for what I have is my strength. It keeps me going in hard times when my mood is low.

My only regret in life is that I married the man I did. But then I wouldn’t have my daughter. I often think of dropping the name Brady, but the expense and inconvenience are too much.

My pain is manageable. Most days I have none and then my hip will start to hurt. That is manageble. Meditation and prayer take it away.

I am aware of my body though. There is always a sensation somewhere. And I know I look different and I wonder how many men would talk to me if I didn’t.

We need to stop putting the economy ahead of human lives. This virus kills and when it doesn’t it can leave nasty side effects for life or a long time. This will be with us for a long time.

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X-Ray appointment…

So I have am X-ray appointment in August. They wanted it to be in the next town, but I gave out a little bleat so it’s at my local hospital after all. This is for my hip. Typically, it’s been better since, but an x ray will show if any thing is wrong.

I’ve struggled a bit today with the attitude of an editor. Then I just decided to let go and not worry or care. I am not responsible for his attitude. Once I decided this, I felt the freedom to write a piece and it flowed well.

I found an image today. Here it is:

This is a baby a twelve weeks gestation. I lost a baby just before that. When I saw this all the grief I feel welled up and overtook me. I was so ill when or after it happened and the father behaved, well, as though it never happened.

I named the lost soul John Michael. He was conceived in happiness.

So I tossed some of my roast tomatoes in Singapore rice noodles and a pinch of sea salt with chilli and drizzled some oil. It was great, and some German white wine and then went to meet a friend.

I am finishing my wine now. Feeling a little sad.

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Mid December…

Yesterday the pain in my shoulder was really bad, so I contacted a friend and told him I wouldn’t be able to go with him to an event today. Then last night, I felt so much better I arranged to go again. This morning I woke, did some stuff and then contacted David again to say I wouldn’t be coming after all. I feel rubbish. The irritation on my face has broken out again. I can’t explain how low it makes me feel.

I always do feel blue in the weeks before Christmas, except for when my daughter was younger. I watch the sun rise and set in the same place, and the knowledge that the days will soon start getting longer comforts me.

This time last year, I was grief stricken after the death of my sister, and then my dog. And I was involved with man who would turn out to be the cause of so many negative things in my life. This year, 2019, has been an awful year on the whole.

So I haven’t done anything I had planned this weekend. I had wanted to get German food for Christmas – cakes and biscuits. Traditional at this time of year. I haven’t spoken to anyone except on the phone.

I don’t know if I will post a blog again this year. I just want to spend time with my daughter and friends, my chosen family.

Addition:

I had wanted to write about my ex husband. I don’t want to name him for lots of reasons, but mainly because he has remained single and when I see him looks unkempt.

We married for love, we really did love each other a great deal. Things started to go wrong when I was expecting my daughter. He changed completely. Once he deliberately knocked me to the floor. Thankfully, I landed on my back so Lara was not harmed. Another time, he was cross with me and pushed me onto our bed and started bouncing me up and down. I was terrified.

After our baby was born, he believed everyone’s opinion about babies except mine. And my friends began noticing how he undermined me and my maternal instincts. By the time my daughter was two, I had to divorce him. I did not want my daughter with unhappy parents.

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Still grateful…

I found another paragraph I wrote five years ago. It was a year of stresses, as my daughter sat major exams and I had to have the ceiling in her bedroom replaced.

I am grateful for those people who I do not know personally who always return my smile. In the street, or a store, a garage etc. I am grateful for the help of strangers at times when I have needed an ambulance, a phone call made, an extra penny, directions or a bed to sleep in.
I am grateful for the wonderful people who help care for my Dad. They help give me peace of mind and hug me when I have tears.
I am grateful for my GP. He is one in several million and has taken the time to understand the rare disease that has caused so much distress. He is always compassionate, understanding and helpful.
I am grateful for certain people who know who they are who have been there for me in times of breakdown, grief, heartbreak and anguish. They have my unconditional friendship.

Today I went out for some air and odds and ends. I happened to drop a loaf of bread. One lady stopped to tell me I had dropped it and gave me advice, another lady picked it up for me. You can guess who I felt gratitude towards.

I’m very grateful that Ebsworth did not stay. I only saw brief glimpses of the man I’d begun to fall for, but that man was kind and thoughtful and showed me a lot of kindness. I’ll always be grateful for that. I was vulnerable after my Dad died and stricken by the death of my sister, and then my beloved dog a week later. Although, conflicting, is that he was able to sexually assault me. I wish I’d never withdrawn the complaint.

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Writing Grief

Naja Marie Aidt’s new memoir, When Death Takes Something from You Give It Back, translated from the original Danish by Denise Newman, begins with an epigraph from Rilke’s “The Tenth Elegy.” The lines are all about grief—“The new stars of the land of grief,” the first line tells us, “Slowly the lament names them.” The epigraph proceeds for a few lines, naming the different stars, before concluding, “But there, in the southern sky, pure as the lines / on the palm of a blessed hand, the clear sparkling M / that stands for Mothers……—.” And so begins Aidt’s book, putting a specific form of grief on the mind and heart of the reader—that of a mother grieving her lost child.

On March 16, 2015, Aidt’s son Carl died. His death was an accident, self-inflicted while in the depths of a particularly dark mushroom-induced psychotic state. When Death Takes Something from You Give It Back is Aidt’s reckoning with that death—with how it could have happened to the son that she knew, with why the police’s response to the emergency call of Carl’s friend was so slow, with how Carl could have jumped out of a window to his death but that death not have been suicide, and much more. It’s raw and angry as Aidt yearns for understanding, yearns for her son to not be dead.

As Aidt goes about the Herculean effort of wrestling with her son’s death, she utilizes a remarkable variety of forms; her grief is expressed not only through the substance of her words, but also through the structure of her text. The work includes passages from her diary composed in the years of Carl’s childhood; quotations from writers as varied as Anne Carson, Stéphane Mallarmé, and C. S. Lewis; passages that read like rants at death, at life, at what she’s having to live through (“DEATH WALKS BESIDE US IT IS REAL IT IS NOT CALLIGRAPHY NOT A FUCKING IMAGINED SUFFERING IT IS REAL,” reads one stream of consciousness passage); poems and journal entries pulled from Carl’s papers after his death; and more. All of it taken together leaves the reader with a real sense of the author’s lostness, her groundlessness, of what the death of one dearly loved leaves in its wake. A coherent form no longer seems reasonable, nor possible, in the book Aidt has constructed.

Indeed, Aidt actively wrestles on the page with the idea of making art out of her son’s death—an inherent contradiction in the book she has produced, which is an undoubtedly beautiful artistic achievement. “Beauty has abandoned my language,” she writes. “My language walks in mourning clothes. I’m completely indifferent.” Another passage, from a page-long rambling paragraph, aptly describes Aidt’s conundrum in the work she’s doing: “It’s not possible to write artistically about raw grief. No form fits. To write about actual nothingness, the absence of life. How? To write about the silent unknown that we are all going to meet, how? If you want to avoid sentimentality, the pain stops the sentence mid-sentence. Words sit inadequate and silly on the lines, the lines stop abruptly on their own.” The task Aidt has in front of her with this book is three-fold: to reckon with the death of her son on the page; to create a work of art out of the “inadequate and silly” words her grief produces; and to remain honest to her experience in doing so.

By these measures, the book is a real success. Aidt’s willingness to wrestle with how inadequate and foolish her effort feels, and to leave that wrestling in the book, reinforces the reader’s sense of what Aidt is experiencing. She must pursue understanding; understanding is fleeting. She’s a writer, so one of the ways she can conceive of wrestling with the death of her son is through putting it down on the page; at the same time, the words feel foolish and inadequate. Nothing is sufficient.

The reader’s access to Aidt’s grief deepens through Aidt’s rejection of conventional notions of how text should be laid out on the page. The reader navigates variations of text formatting throughout the book—it’s aligned to the left in some places, and scattered throughout the page elsewhere. The size of the text varies, sometimes in coherent and traceable patterns, at other times seemingly at random. Italics and bold type are used generously throughout—discernibly in a few instances, elsewhere with no traceable intent. All of this textual experimentation cements the triumph of honesty and self-expression that this book becomes—the triumph of honesty in self-expression, complete and unmitigated. Aidt is writing what she will, in ways that feel appropriate to what’s being expressed. Her experience is unorderly; she has produced a text to match it. It’s a testament to Aidt’s translator and her editors at Coffee House Press that the finished version of this book feels essentially unedited.

Her formless work is generated from what feels like a formless life in the absence of Carl, in line with the effect Carl’s death has on her and her community of grievers—“We find ourselves in a futureless time,” she comments at one point. Time itself has lost its coherence; just as form, style, beauty in writing no longer feel tenable, so time has lost its sense of forward movement. “We sit around a kitchen table and survive second to second; we rarely get up. We’ve become rigid, while the spring light rises and falls in the sky outside: Now that you can no longer be in chronological time, neither can we.”

Even still, the reader is presented with a coherent narrative. Aidt employs a smart technique of telling the actual story of Carl’s death within the larger recounting of her grief, within the sensory depiction of that grief. Aidt tells the story in stops and starts, in italicized, set-apart paragraphs. Each paragraph tracks back a couple sentences prior to where the previous concluded, slightly retracing steps in the way, perhaps, that Aidt retells the story to herself—halting, repetitive, delaying the conclusion as long as she can.

As it happens, Aidt’s form-less, beauty-less language of grief is not the only thing that produces its own kind of beauty. Carl’s death itself brings beauty in the despair, and it’s a triumph of this book that Aidt’s recognition of this truth does not come off as trite. Coming as it does near the book’s conclusion, after the devastating majority of the book has imprinted itself on the reader’s mind, it feels surprising when she recognizes it, but not forced.

Aidt recounts two poems that she wrote while Carl was still living; his death was still in the unimaginable future. The first poem begins with the lines from which the book’s title is drawn:

When death takes something from you
give it back
give it back what you got
from the dead one
when he was alive
when he was your heart
give it back to a rose,
a continent, a winter day,
a boy regarding you
from the darkness of his hood.

“I thought intensely about you as I wrote those two poems. I saw you before me as I wrote them,” Aidt recalls. She goes on to consider the power of poetry, its role as the receptacle of omens felt but not understood—“It becomes an experience which belongs to the future, which can express, though it is not yet experienced in reality.” There’s another quality to poetry, though, that Aidt chooses to highlight: “But poems also say something about the giving back what the dead gave us when they were alive. That the dead’s being in a way still needs a place in life, and we should pass on the love they gave us. Here lies the hope. A hope that what you gave me will grow in others, if I am able to share it. And that my love is strengthened and made more beautiful because now it contains your love.” Aidt’s loss will never go away, but her hope, even in the midst of her pain, is that she can harness the love she received from her son. That good may come, even from this—a conclusion that feels trite in my writing, but earned and true within Aidt’s work.

Books change based on who is reading, though as a reader, the default I have to push against is to universalize my own sense of a book. This book, however, had me particularly conscious of my identity as a reader—namely, as one who has never experienced such grief, and never will experience this particular type. This, of course, deeply informs my reading experience. When I read this book, I see its structural and emotional intelligence and honesty, and recognize it as such. I imagine, for a mother reading this book—for one who knows the horror of which Aidt speaks – that this reads more like recollection.

Taken from Ploughshares the newsletter from Emerson College.

I feel this so much since my older sister’s pointless death almost a year ago. My dog, my best friend, died a week later.

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Sharing this poem…

  • My Mother and Lucille Clifton Have Tea Parneshia Jones When I get to where I’m going
    I want the death of my children explained to me.

                                                 —Lucille Clifton

    They meet over tea and potato chips.
    Brown and buttermilk women,
    hipped and hardened,
    legs uncrossed but proper
    still in their smiles;
    smiles that carry a sadness in faint creases.
    A sadness they will never be without.

    One asks the other,
    “What do they call a woman who has lost a child?”

    The other sighs between sips of lukewarm tea.
    There is no name for us.

    “No name? But there has to be a name for us.
    We must have something to call ourselves.”

    Surely, history by now and all the women
    who carry their babies’ ghosts on their backs,
    mothers who wake up screaming,
    women wide awake in their nightmares,
    mothers still expected to be mothers and human,
    women who stand under hot showers weeping,
    mothers who wish they could drown standing up,
    women who can still smell them—hear them,
    the scent and symphony of their children,
    deep down in the good earth.

    “Surely, history has not forgotten to name us?”

    No woman wants to bear
    whatever could be the name for this grief.
    Even if she must bear the grief for all her days,
    it would be far too painful to be called by that name.


    “I’ve lost two, you know.”
    Me too.
    “I was angry at God, you know.”
    Me too.
    “I stopped praying but only for a little while,
    and then I had no choice. I had to pray again.
    I had to call out to something that was no longer there.
    I had to believe God knew where it was.”

    “I fear death no longer. It has taken everything.
    But should I be? Should I be afraid of what death has taken?
    That it took and left no name?”

    The other who sighs between sips of lukewarm tea
    leans over and kisses the cheek of the one still with questions.
    She whispers…

    No, you don’t have to be afraid.
    Death is no more scary than the lives we have lived
    without our babies, bound to this grief
    with no name.
           Copyright © 2019 Parneshia Jones.

I am sharing this poem as a mother. I taught my daughter to be independent, to not allow anyone to touch her in a way that makes her feel uncomfortable, to tell someone if a conversation makes her uncomfortable. I taught her how to use public transport, to go to school and other places on her bicycle, I taught her how to drive. She used to ride her bike with friends to a jetty and spent summer days jumping into the sea, they rode bikes in woods, they did water sports. My daughter did two Duke of Edinburgh Awards and excelled in them.

I knew I was teaching her to live with danger, and did my utmost to equip her for danger. My worst fear is to be told of her death, or serious injury. The is no name for a parent whose child has died.

I once wrote a poem about the non existent rooms in a courthouse. There are Ladies and Mens Rooms but no room named Raped, Husband Murdered, Child Killed, and other descriptions of unspeakable pain.

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Hopes…

I am having my kitchen extended. It will have a cloakroom/wet room at the back. I wanted a range style oven, but realising I’ve only used one when I cooked in a care home, I’ve decided to get a gas hob as I have now and an electric oven.

An American style fridge and slimline dishwasher and more cupboard space will make it great. It gives me hope.

I’ve had so much grief in my life recently that gratitude is my focus. I am still not well, or as well as I should be. My spirit is weighed down and now Mike Ebsworth is abusive to me.

My doctor has suggested that I may have ‘heartbroken syndrome’ – the loss of so many family members’ through death. And my dog, whom I still reach for in the mornings.

Today, I walked with a neighbour and her dogs where I used to walk mine. It’s the first time I’ve been there since O’Driscoll died. And I’ve begun to stroke the dog of a friend in the last couple of weeks.

I am so grateful for the people in my life. Those who were fake and betrayed me are best out of my life.