Posted in Lanscape of Loss, Pure Love

God does not spill milk…

Years ago I came across a stunning piece of writing by a woman married to a State Trooper in Maine. She looked at death unflinchingly and wrote about it exquisitely and I was jealous and moved which is why I decided to buy her book, Here If You Need Me, when I stumbled upon it  at the second hand store, and then chose to bring it along on an unexpected trip to Plum Island, to the house of a friend, who offered her home, while she was away in Maine, without her husband, because he too had been killed in car accident, just over a year ago, when he was in the state that I call home.

Gail & I had been friends since college, long before husbands and children and the New England chapter of our lives, back when she could quit her job at the the last minute and surprise me at the airport and we could take off to Europe with backpacks and no reservations.

She messaged me about her empty house because she knows I need the ocean and new places and maybe because I am a writer–writing about an accident that punctured my life long, long ago.

“God does not spill milk,” Kate Braestrom writes. “God did not bash the truck into your father’s car. No where in scripture does it say, ‘God is a car accident’ or ‘God is death.’ God is justice and kindness, mercy, and always–always–love. So if you want to know where God is in this or in anything, look for love.”

I hated God when I was 14. I never forgave that God. But I found lots of love with a capital L in other places. I found God in the music. In becoming Mother. In loosing my mother. In loving the Earth.

Kate’s words also stirred in me a renewed reverence for the bed I’ve shared with one man for the past 30 years, and something else, unexpected–a deeper sense of the heart and days of those who serve as officers of the law.

Drew’s professional life had an intimate physical aspect. He had to do brave and loving things to and with the bodies of others. Take, for example, those he arrested, particularly those who fought back, the ones he would have to wrestle with, the weight of his body pressing them into the ground, his mouth against an ear, shouting instructions (“Give it up! Give it up!”) as he groped beneath a sweaty belly for hands and weapons… Once he took the tiny hand of an abused four-year old girl who led him out back, behind her house, to show him where her father had chopped her puppy to pieces with an ax. Drew held the shape of that small hand in his palm for weeks. There were the bodies of those, on receiving official police notification of a loved one’s death, collapsed against his Kevlar-stiffened chest and wept…

When I was considering careers, my uncle offered to get me a job at DuPont in the event that I didn’t want to be a doctor or a lawyer, but much to the dismay of my extended family, I chose teaching. Now I think of his second wife, just four years ahead of me at the same university, who has worked for DuPont ever since, most recently leading the global Kevlar team, and I feel pride, even if it didn’t save Kate’s husband from the truck that slammed into his cruiser on a bridge in Maine.

Kate ends her book with an email to her brother, the one who can’t believe that she has decided to become a Chaplain (for the Maine Warden’s Service) after her husband’s death.

I think one reason I like working with crisis and death is that all the complicated and complicating tools of our natal tribe–the intellect, rational analysis, the all-pervasive irony–all these are useless. It doesn’t matter how educated, moneyed, or smart you are: when your child’s footprints end at the river’s edge, when the one you love has gone into the woods with a bleak outlook and a loaded gun, when the Chaplain is walking toward you with bad news in her mouth…

Before departing my friend’s place (the one she recently rented after the sale of their home of 20 years)–still filled with unopened boxes and pictures waiting to be hung–my husband went to the hardware store and picked up some wall hangers and filled in the empty spaces on her walls, while my son filled up the tires of the bicycles on the deck, and I filled a note with all my favorite memories of her and me, and left beside it a pint of maple syrup and raspberry jam from our road.

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Posted in Lanscape of Loss, Markers

11:11

A teenager from my son’s highschool was killed in a car accident yesterday afternoon.

My son missed the bus home, and now we need to find him a ride.

(At least he’s alive.)

When a child dies, it doesn’t matter whether you know him or his mom, it hurts deep inside.

My son missed the dinner I made for just the three of us.

(At least he’s alive.)

On Facebook, fellow teenagers pour out their hearts on Daniel’s wall: “We’ll miss you buddy.” “I can’t believe we won’t see you again.” “You’re the man.” “Rest in peace.” “I wish we hung out more.” “I only talked to you once or twice.” “I was such a bitch.” “I can’t imagine life without you.”

I worry about my son smoking pot or drinking beer.

(At least he’s alive.)

Daniel’s mom posts her son’s picture with the words, “Beautiful boy.”

Lloyd never calls me back to tell me when he’s getting home.

(I need to know he’s alive.)

Daniel’s grandmother was in the car too, and she’s just made it through a night of surgery.

My youngest son, Aidan, left this morning for his class field trip to Cape Cod. He’s only eleven.

(I hope he’s alive.)

Facebook mirrors the dichotomies of our lives–one lost and another’s just begun. Babies born. Hearts broken. Lost puppies found. All day long.

On this particular day, I’ve watched the posts of relatives make their way to Costa Rica for my cousin’s wedding. The Houston airport. Philadelphia. New York. Each about to intersect in a celebration of joy which takes place at 11:11 on 11/11/11.

While at the same time, Daniel’s wall continues to fill with voices from near and far, converging to say… goodbye.

Kelly Salasin, November 2011

Posted in Lanscape of Loss, Lila Stories, Markers

Grieving Lila

Though I don’t remember my grandmother’s funeral, I do remember the burial at the cemetery at Cold Spring.

Reverend Rowe presided–and as is his custom, asked everyone to join hands to form a large circle in the grass around Lila’s grave.

At 14, I refused.   My loss was too personal to be shared.  I remained sullen and apart.

Later, my sister and I were hanging out in the car.  I thought it was the Pinto that Nana won on the boardwalk, but it couldn’t have been because that’s what she was driving when it broke down and the truck crashed into it, dragging it 300 yards across the bridge before landing on top of them.

All they found was her teeth.

It must have been the Mustang, and I must have confided in my sister because I remember her telling on me.  “Kelly hates God,” she said to my Uncle Jeff–who was a pastor.  He had something to say about that.

My hippee aunt who taught me how to meditate also had something to say about how much I was crying each night.  She sat down beside me on my bed in the dark and massaged my fingers while she told me that I was being indulgent.

I thought the food after the funeral was indulgent.  Who wants to eat all this food when the person you love the most has died?  And what sick person brought her favorite candy and why was I eating some?

I watched my betrayal in Nana’s large dining room mirror and felt the vacancy of her house despite how full it was.

My recent adolescent rite of passage into “her kitchen” no longer mattered.  Everyone could be in there now–even the real little ones–without Nana to shoo them away, “No kids in the kitchen!”

In the evening, I was permitted to accompany the adults to dinner because I was the oldest “granddaughter“–something that no longer mattered either.

We were seated at Zaberer’s very own tables–pushed together to accommodate close to two dozen Salasins and guests.  The Monsignor joined us and spoke of the $6,000 statue of Mary that his diocese had built in front of the church.

What a waste of money!” I blurted out from my end of the table.  “Think of how many people you could have helped with that.

The room grew silent and I felt even more alone without Lila.

In the car ride home, the brothers argued over her belongings.  Their sister was taking things from the house already.  Some of the wives said it wasn’t fair.

Why not,” I butted in.  “Why shouldn’t she have her mother’s things? You guys don’t care about Hummels and china.”

But I was silenced for not understanding the value of certain items.

Once Lila died, it seemed as if our family was on a ship without a Captain.  My grandfather sunk into himself in grief and the great house became dark and hollow.

Our beloved “Poppop” still made us silver dollar pancakes and banana splits, but without Lila, the house was spirit-less.  He moved to a condo off shore.

Later my own family resuscitated “6012” by filling it ourselves. But it didn’t last.

Three divorces and almost a fourth ripped through the family in the years after Lila’s passing.

The River Place was sold.

And except for weddings and funerals, there were no more family gatherings.

The loss of a Matriarch is a hard loss to bear. But Lila left behind the gift of granddaughters–19 of them:  Kelly, Robin, Michelle, Stephanie, Bonnie, Lauren, Sandy, Kristen, Denise, Karen, Deborah, Jessica, Grace, Joy, Beverly, Terri, Lisa, Rian and Devon.

As her “first granddaughter,” my child would be named Lila.  But she never came.

Reverend Rowe told me that my deep grief over the miscarriage was really over the unresolved loss of my grandmother, 15 years earlier.

My father told me that on a scale of 1 to 10, a “miscarriage” was a “3” when it came to the sorrows my life would bear.

Who knew there so many rules to grief.

Kelly Salasin

For more Lila stories, click below:

Part II. Nana Lila

Part I. Lila