Light, loss & living for others

At the time of first trying to express my grief and gratitude–the news about Christopher Seguin’s sudden passing was very recent. Three weeks have since passed since the staggering loss. His celebration of life service was held on Saturday, October 14.  While sitting in the church, hearing about his life, attempting to comprehend the moment, working steadily through a box of tissues–I marveled at how his absence was a deeply felt presence in the packed room. 

There has been rumors and revelations–and while there should be appropriate and respectful channels to discuss and dissect the circumstances surrounding his death, but I won’t do that here.  Existence is a complex experience. We navigate through frameworks of social constructs, we play roles, we love and are loved, we lose and recover, we try and fail until the clock stops ticking–and we then become constellations in the vast atmosphere that is the human condition. 

I tried to capture a singular moment that reflected my memory of Christopher. Words failed as I reeled at the magnitude of the loss.  The tragedy is layer upon layer of agony and anguish for all who were impacted by his life and his loss– his family, his wife, his children, the community, the university–and on and on and on. My heart goes out to those hurting most–and I extend my loving thoughts outwards. 

….

The flags were flying at half-mast on and while I logically understood the reason, my mind revolted against the truth. I half-expect to see him somewhere on campus. However, that towering figure, that booming voice, that presence is gone—and that reality is simply too painful to bear.
To me, Christopher Seguin was like a classic movie star come to life in the modern age: strapping, stylish and smart—a gentleman and an adventurer—like Cary Grant from somewhere between The Philadelphia Story and Gunga Din.

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We met through the Kamloops Film Festival. He became a mentor, ally and friend.

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During a period of professional adjustment—when I was feeling rather lost in the world—Christopher offered direction.  He regaled me with a self deprecating tale about himself as a young, idealistic man writing a piece that he felt so proud of—only for it to never see the light of day.

This conversation took place during a quick walk around campus.  He stopped where we had started, about to set off in another direction.  “The writing is good”—he said, smiling, assuring. As he walked away, his coat collar popped against the crisp autumn weather, he tossed a final sentence over his shoulder “…but it could be better.”
Ah, that was a cool moment.
He wasn’t one to soften blows, he told you how it was. At the same time, he showed vulnerability while sharing stories of his own personal growth. He offered insights and advice, but tasked you with reaching higher levels of personal achievement. It’s good–but it could always be better.

In the first days of shock and sadness, while trying to occupy my unraveling thoughts–I thought a lot about Elisabeth Kübler-Ross’s Five Stages of Grief–and tried to remember the DABDA scale from long-ago Psychology classes.

Denial:  “In this stage, individuals believe the diagnosis or situation is somehow mistaken, and cling to a false, preferable reality.”

Yes, the false, preferable reality seems reasonable to me.

As Joan Didion noted in her memoir “The Year of Magical Thinking“, “I was myself in no way prepared to accept this news as final: there was a level on which I believed what had happened remained reversible.”

In grief, we are at war with ourselves, rallying against reason, and struggling to reconcile the loss. My mind wanders back and forth between fact and fantasy—I strive to create a world in which Christopher could overcome death. He had plans, goals and value

This. Cannot. Be. It.

And yet, it is. Waves of anguish crashing repeatedly, threatening to overwhelm you as you try to make sense of a senseless tragedy. Wrestling with memory and circumstance, burdened by the weight of  heartbreak, the clashing of absence and presence.

You were just here.

What is one to do when great lights are snuffed out? In that darkness you begin to realize how much these people were quiet architects to our growth and successes. There lies a portion of Christopher’s memory—his legacy resides in those he insisted do better.

As Margaret Atwood once said:

I hope that Christopher becomes more than that. I hope that he carries on in spirit through acts of service. As we move forward into the wilderness of grief and loss, I hope we carry along his memory. He was someone who urged us to excel beyond our wildest expectations–and to encourage others to do the same.  Instead of envisioning a great light dimming into darkness—imagine it fracturing into a million pieces—so that we could find it everywhere. As we move forward, may we absorb even a fraction of that energy, warmth and light.

 

 

Foam Finger Crazy & the Lime Green Tomatoes

The last time I blogged, I created a rather Himalayan-esque pile of tissues throughout the writing process.  Then I watched “Fried Green Tomatoes“, which was literally dehydrating.

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That movie is comfort food for the soul; it’s engrossing, well-acted, set in Alabama in this romantic time (not counting the KKK whipping the help and throwing rocks through window). Still there’s a whole lot of tragedy mixed in with all the fried chicken and biscuits.  And for me, by the time Jessica Tandy tells Kathy Bates that “best friends” are the greatest thing in life, tears shoot out of my eyes like vomit out of the mouth of a teenage girl after a ride on the Tilt-A-Whirl.

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I’d really like to come to the table with something light and jokey–maybe discuss Miley Cyrus, and how my only issue with her controversial VMA twerking, was use and abuse of that god-damned foam finger.

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Listen, Miley is a little bat-shit, I’ll grant you that.  But she has been employed since she was 5, working hours that would break a grown adult, her father is Billy Ray Cyrus…plus she’s got a rocking figure, and if I looked like that, I’d rock beige latex and rub my foam finger all over Robin Thicke‘s wang.  You only live once right?

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When I came home from work last night, Ben was on the phone looking rather serious.  He was listening intently, but being equal measures of concerned and nosy, we had a brief game of “Is everything okay?”  “Is everyone okay” “Is someone dead?” “Is it your Nana?” .  It’s possibly the worst game show idea ever, but I really excelled at the task at hand.  But it’s not really a fist pumping, couch jumping, ‘in your face’ kind of moment.  It’s just sad.  And when things like this happen, you feel so very far away.  Like you wished you could hop in the car and pop down the street to comfort the ones you love.  Or just have a cup of tea and a chat.  But we’ve all scattered to the winds, and really the glue that holds us together is the internet.  I immediately send some messages, make connections with Ben’s family, who are so much more than in-laws to me.  I say to Ben that we should write a little something so someone can read it.  Ben shakes his head, “That’ll never make it in time”.  Uh, well there’s this new invention called the ‘interweb‘, and apparently you can just send things and people get them instantly.  But that’s fine, grief does strange things to us all, forgetting the internet is a symptom of loss.

I kid, but of course, it breaks my heart.  Especially when Ben starts reminiscing.  We go for a walk, and after a moment of quiet Ben starts talking.  His oft-mentioned memory was visiting their Auckland home, one with a grand pool and a hot tub.  His Nana would always put on quite a spread.  His eyes really light up at the mention of the food, and he always called it a ‘spread’.  Apparently at Nana’s house, you’d just eat and swim and soak up the rays. Then you’d eat an amazing roast dinner with these amazing potatoes that you couldn’t even cut.  They were that crispy.  And she wore delicious perfume and gave excellent hugs.  “She was a good Nana”, he said, his voice husky and soft.  I couldn’t get that picture out of my mind, the thought of my husband as a child, lounging poolside, a full tummy, a face smiling.  I always imagine him smiling.  He has mentioned this often enough for it to make me believe that that was a childhood happy place.  When we were last in Auckland, we went to visit his grandparents at their home.  We had champagne in the same kind of glasses they used in “Casablanca”, and the whole thing was very civilized.

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Their home looked dusty, rough around the edges, the pool was empty and the shrubbery had grown over.  Ben saw small repairs to be done anywhere, and it bothered him deeply that he was leaving the country soon and couldn’t do much.  We were days away from leaving for Canada, and this was our last visit with them.  Last night, lying on the air mattress, talking about his grandmother, an invisible thread was spun between this blissful boyhood experience, with the disrepair of their home, the weathering of time, to this moment when she was gone, and we were so far away, and all we could do was remember quietly in the dark.  Ben, feeling bereft and homesick this morning, took a personal day.  I started later, so I could sit with him longer, nestled on the couch, coffee in hand.  I wanted to be with him all day, but didn’t want to miss work, so I thought about getting home for a bit of lunch, and trying to nip out a few minutes early.  All day my mind was stuck on my husband.  How was he feeling? What was he thinking?  Was he coping?  Of course, of all days, fate intervened and I got so busy at work, and traffic was thick, and once I burst in the door and I had all but ten minutes to see my lover.  On the radio was a very soulful rendition of Simon and Garfunkel’s “Bridge Over Troubled Water”, which was a real steering wheel gripper.  Gulping back emotion, I park the van in the loading zone and sprint up the stairs and burst into the front door.  Ben is playing X-Box, and pauses momentarily to acknowledge my presence.  Clearly this is a man who did not just hear “Bridge Over Troubled Water” while playing online.  He also feel asleep before “Fried Green Tomatoes” ended, so I don’t think he’s as emotionally amped as I, even though it’s technically his loss that we’re dealing with.

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Now I’m bugged, and really regretting having sprinted up the stairs.  I could have gone to Starbucks and had a latte, but instead came home to be ignored by you.  But…wouldn’t you like to sob into my bosom while I hold you like a baby?  Wouldn’t that be a nice use of time? “Is this how you are reflecting today?”  I make that squinty face that many women make, when they are trying to appear hip and ‘with it’, when really we want you to change that shirt.  He’s fragile, I know, he’s dealing with a loss, so he should pass the time as he likes.   Ben makes a squinting face back at me, in the same way most men do when trying to assess whether his Mrs is being serious, kidding, or just fucking crazy.  Not quite Miley Cyrus foam finger crazy, but somewhere in that neighborhood.  “What do you want me to do? Wear a black veil?”.  Well, yes, I know that life goes on and all, but there’s protocol.  But it’s difficult when you are far from home, absent from the planning, the service, exempt from collective grieving.  I remember when my Welsh-Grandpa died, the next morning I wore florescent lime green socks.  I was a young, rather conservative kid dealing with a first brush with death, it was a real ‘what the hell, live a little’ moment.  Some bully made a point of joking about my socks but I was indigent.  You don’t understand, I’ve suffered a loss; these socks are my way of cutting loose.  So, I suppose we take our losses, and bury them somewhere under a bright color, or in whatever gets over those waves of bereavement: talking, working, reading, writing, blogging or gaming.  A good movie, a yoga class, a warm blanket and a lingering hug.  You still got to have a little fun.  After all, you only live once.

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Something Blue

First day of autumn.  Grey and chilly. A touch of wind.  Everyone wearing an extra layer. I like fall.  I like the spicy overtones.  Went out this morning and did our weekly shop, bought a few warmer things, and smiling at the idea of merino wool and a scarf resting snugly against your throat. I had a fantasy about charcoal grey knitted boots with buttons on the side, and I found them…amid a sea of a rather dismal selection in the shopping center.  Of course they are edging toward $200, and there’s a huge part of me that simply can’t justify that cost, even though my bare feet feel like a silky minx on a bear skin rug.

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I had geared up for this big purchase, and in the end they didn’t have my size.  When I was told I could order them, I just shrugged.  I didn’t want to drop a couple hundred bucks on the idea of something.  I wanted to leave bag in hand.  Annoying.  But, on the grand scale of bothersome things, its a mosquito among mountains.  I had to actually creep down the hall to pluck the box of the tissue from the living room, to bring it into the office.  I’m extremely aware that writing is going to open up a whole can of weepy whoop-ass.  Ben was facing the television, doing god-knows-what on the X-Box, and so he didn’t notice me doing so.  Not that he would care, it’s no secret that I like to resolve me things with a good sob.  I cried at the end of “The Guilt Trip” last night, and it was just totally out of my control.  So when it really counts, when it actually belongs to me, when I find it in my back yard, there will be tears.

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It was my friend Shannon’s birthday the other day.  Her thirtieth.  Just days before marked the fourth anniversary of my moving to New Zealand.  Four years…astounding.  In a week or so it will be my third wedding anniversary.  And it becomes a rather reflective time as the leaves begin to fall.  I was in New Zealand for a few days when I got word that Shannon had been in a car accident, on the way home after a birthday holiday with her fabulous boyfriend.  She was alive in a legal sense, but was in a coma, and her entire being was in great distress. And I felt like I was living a different planet.   earth-from-space-day-night

Having moved to the other side of the world because of a broken heart and a cancelled wedding, I was already feeling jet-lagged and fragile.  Learning this about one of my bridesmaids, one of my most favorite people in the world –was one of the worst moments of my life.

{Tissue Break}

She’s still alive, but in a different form.  I had only seen photographs before I met her for the first time last summer.  When I went to see her, in a neighboring town, in a place that’s somewhere between a hospital and a home.  I brought along my husband and my brother, and the plan was to drop me off, and then go out for dinner and bowling.  It was my idea, for the fear that the sight of her would shatter something inside of me that I could not possibly piece back together,  And bowling seemed like a suitable diversion.  I went into the building alone, wanting to find a washroom to clean my hands and take one last calming breath.  Of course, I went further than the directions I was given allowed, and I passed Shannon’s room.  Her name on the partially opened door.  I hear a fluster of activity, and so I slink past unnoticed.  Well, it was more of a scatter, I bolted in the proper direction.  I washed my hands, swallowed a grapefruit sized lump, went back outside and called her mother, who was expecting my call.

For those in her inner circle, most have adjusted to a point of normalcy, or at least routine. I had been so detached from the situation, that for me it was like it had just happened.  I was freshly devastated.  I loved this girl. She was like a slapstick comedienne, mixed with Lana Del Rey, and a healthy dose of the musical “Hair“.  She was impossibly optimistic, active, beautiful, well traveled.  Wasn’t the most exceptional dancer though.  I remember going out to a bar with her, and watching her dance and feeling sort-of surprised.  She rocked everything else, but she was never going to win “Dancing with the Stars“.  Which I told her, which made her laugh.  I knew her from university theatre, and we were in Arthur Miller’s “After the Fall” together. She was the Marilyn type, and me the embittered first wife.

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She taught me so much about the acting process, and her enthusiasm was deeply infectious. I lived with her one summer in this little holiday town.  We waitressed in the same spot on the lake, and after busy nights, we would leap off the dock in our clothes and walk home soaking wet.  We always had a good laugh and honest talks. When I was engaged, I asked her to be my bridesmaid, more specifically, my something blue.  As a vivacious red head, she wore blue like nobodies business.

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The night I first saw her was at a party.  She was in a dark blue trench coat, and was terribly drunk.  She kept leaning against walls and sliding down them dreamily.  I remember thinking that if that were me doing so, that I was look like such a dick. On her, it looked strangely ethereal.  When I came across that coat last summer, when I was organizing her clothes, I wept into the fabric.  A few items of clothing got that treatment.  Occasionally pausing to remember the ridiculous girl who tromped around in tasseled cowboy boots and wore impossibly tiny shorts. I took many things to the theatre, kept a few personal favorites, and shared the tinier sizes with the girls I was working with.  Being such a clothes horse, I felt comforted at this fashion reincarnation, that they would continue on in some way.

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Shannon always brought things back from trips for me.  In that first week in New Zealand, the strap on the purse, the string on the colored wooden beads, and the pin of a peacock brooch, all things she gave me, they all broke in the days leading up to her accident.  That bothered me.  Tasting that bad omen like it was acid on my tongue.  I’ve kept them, stored away with other trinkets and actually carried the peacock with me, along with a dime on the day I got married.  She gave me many scarves, which I still wear.  When I went to that psychic reading in Auckland, the medium was picking up on a very strong presence.  “Did I know a person in a wheelchair”.  ‘Nope, sure don’t’ was my first general response.  “Are you sure? Because she’s with us in the room, and she’s holding a big bunch of wildflowers and they are for you”.  I immediately think of my passport, more specifically of the picture I carry around in my passport, a snapshot of Shannon I kept tucked in the middle.  Standing in a field wildflowers.  She said she wanted to meet me and travel to Australia and Bali, and so when I went to these places, that is how I took her with me.  ‘I guess I do know someone in a wheelchair’. Anyway, Shannon totally commandeered the reading, and the psychic was saying a whole bunch of stuff that made me sob uncontrollably.  Then she looked at me, and said “When you dream of her, she’s dreaming of you too”.  Ugh, I just cracked like an egg then.  I would dream of her, and she would always be as she was when I knew her.   She would never speak, but would sit serenely.  And I would be crying because I was so happy to see her, alive and well.  In the heat of emotion, I wrenched my pashmina, a raspberry color, another Shannon present, from my neck. Like fog, her presence lifted and then she was gone.

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I was able to celebrate her birthday last year, in a large hotel room with her mother and other family and friends.  What struck me while looking at the girls around me were their new last names, new babies, pregnancies, travels. Everyone was a little bit more grown up, a little more refined.  Careers instead of jobs, mortgages instead of rent.  We were all growing up and changing, and on that level Shannon’s journey has ended, though her heart keeps beating.  And this was along the vein of thought that was choking me the morning of her birthday.  I paid my Visa bill, folded my husband’s laundry, puttered around in my bare feet as I sipped coffee and listened to the radio before heading off to work.  And it made me sad that she would never have these silly little things that we all take for granted now and again.  The dignity of independence, the blessing of perfect health, the last days of summer.  And so, as the fourth year passes by, and I am still no closer to knowing how to grieve for her.  Though we are now in the same province, I still feel like on that different planet; missing someone terribly even though you could still sit across from each other, reach out and touch their hand.

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Happy Birthday, my lovely friend.  May you know in your heart just how much you are loved.

marilyn-monroe-birthday-black-and-white-cake-Favim_com-670370Images Courtesy of Google