I Don’t Want Your Hug: A grieving mother’s meditation on the subject of hugs

 

I Don’t Want Your Hug:
A grieving mother’s meditation on the subject of hugs.

By Carrie Thompson

I’ve always thought of myself as a “hugger.” I’ve offered hugs to say hello after being apart and to say goodbye when parting for a while. I’ve given hugs to welcome, to comfort, to
congratulate, to console.

I never thought much about hugs — neither giving nor receiving them—until my son died of suicide. Now, I can’t get them out of my head: they are my new little mental fascination as I consider, catalog and categorize them into groups and subsets and try to make sense of them. My contemplation is both a distraction and a lifeboat, a way to make sense of senseless loss and colossal loneliness and profound, abiding grief.

First, I’ve realized that the power of a hug depends entirely on the context: who’s giving or
receiving it; the moment or emotion that occasions it. Hugs occur for a myriad of reasons, have many different durations, and are given to many different people. Politeness demands asking first: Need a hug? Can I hug you? Still, I’ve always given them freely if asked, offered, and accepted.

Ever since my son died, I have been turning hugs away with a gentle wave and a deflection: “I can’t right now. I’m not able. Thank you for the gesture; I’ll take a rain check.” It’s jarring to the person offering, but at this point there’s a tenuous dam between a flood of tears and emotion that I am doing my best to hold back. In the darkest moments, I wonder if I’ll ever be able to accept a hug again, but I reassure myself that this is a temporary moratorium and not a permanent state.

I’ve also begun categorizing hugs. While the categories are still fuzzy, the hugs
themselves — the ones given, received, and even refused — stand out like headlights in this fog that envelops my spirit.

The night Ben died, there were hugs to hold us together. These are the ones borne of
desperation, in the moment where the horror and shock are so shattering that the only answer, the only possible remedy, is holding each other, clutching onto someone else so as not to collapse into tiny shards, never to be whole.

My youngest son coming at a run, wrapping his arms around me as shrieks of grief and denial exploded from my body, both of us on our knees, while my husband sobbed on the phone after breaking the news that our beloved son was deceased. He and I clung to each other as we tried to understand, both of our hearts bursting with the shock, despair, and grief. I have no idea how long it was before either of us could breathe, but I remember his presence, trying to be strong for his mother despite his own shock. His arms, his strength even as he too was trying to absorb this awful news, were the only thing that pulled me back from shattering completely. Continue reading

Cody Sexton: “The Body of Shirley Ann Sexton”

 

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The Body of Shirley Ann Sexton

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She was no longer a person.

She was death. Staring back at me from a hospital bed.

The death of my Aunt was my first experience with death and dying, it was also one of my first experiences with cancer, which, as it turns out, ended up playing a recurring role in a number of deaths in my family.

I can’t recall my age at the time of her death or really anything else about my Aunt, but I will never forget walking into that room and seeing her reduced to flesh stretched across white bone, completely hairless, and yet so happy to see me.

She was living back with her parent’s at the end and hospice had her setup in the living room. She was married to my Uncle, my Dad’s brother, and I guess her father had wanted her to be home at the end, I’m not sure. Perhaps my Uncle was either incapable or even unwilling to care for her. My Uncle, I had always assumed, had by that time moved on anyway, their lives diverging. Hers toward oblivion and his towards a life without her.

I can never forgive people who choose to move on. Even if it’s at the bequest of the dying. I have always found the notion that one should simply move on with their lives after they have suffered through the loss of a loved one silly, but it also appears as if it is inevitable. Time unfortunately does heal all wounds. So it becomes a constant battle to maintain the memory of the value of what you lost. Which is why mourning is active. Grief comes later and if you’re lucky, never at all. Grief is ultimately all we are left with. I am told that she used to babysit me every chance she could. I am told that she loved me very much. I am told that she had wanted children of her own but those plans had been halted by a capricious evolutionary process. A process that cares little for the wants and wishes of its hosts.

But I will always remember her smile as we entered her room that final time, the last time I would see her alive.

Actually that same smile would later go on to shatter my understanding of the natural world all together and she passed not much longer after that visit.

At her funeral I remember listening to the ridiculous things people say about the recently deceased.

“She looks good.”

“She’s not in pain anymore.”

Or my personal favorite,

“She’s in a better place now.”

At the time I didn’t understand what place that even meant and even now that I do I still can’t think of it as a better place. And I doubt anyone else really does either, otherwise funerals would be a celebratory event instead of a somber one.

During her viewing she seemed unreal to me. The whole experience seemed unreal. How could someone who was once alive now be dead? I couldn’t wrap my head around it. I refused to believe that what was presented to me in this casket had ever been alive. She looked to me as if she were a doll. A plaster cast of someone I once knew. They even had her dressed in a wig on account of the chemo, in a fruitless attempt to present her here as she was in life, even though now no life existed within her.

Embalming, if you think about it, is really a cruel joke in my opinion. I don’t know which is worse, to have your loved one bloated and decomposing or to have them looking as if they could just be shaken out of a deep sleep. At least if they were rotting you could believe that they were dead. The embalmers job is to enhance the ‘memory picture’, which is a psychologically dubious concept to begin with, supposedly compromising the bereaved’s last glimpse of the deceased. But in reality it’s just a callous trick. So there she laid. A corpse. Displayed in a funeral parlor for all to see. Anyone off the street could have walked in, and people, family and friends, were mingling and conversing with one another as of it wasn’t there. People so determined to avoid any inappropriate response, whether it be tears, anger, or even helpless laughter that they would talk about anything to avoid the reality of this room, the reality that would soon be a burden, something akin to trash that would need to be disposed of before it started to stink.

And yet, her appearance, before the funeral, while in the process of dying, is now the face that I will forever attach to any abstract idea I have of death. Her face is now what I picture when I imagine death on a pale horse riding toward Armageddon. The memory of her body while alive, poised on the eve of a great journey, has made a lifelong impression.

Her death has actually come to mean more to me than any other, not because I was particularly close to her, I was very young at the time, but because it showed me that death is always present, embedded in every moment. Her death taught me about man’s fruitless attempt to find meaning in a world where no meaning exists.

But why was she smiling, I have always wondered. How could she possibly be smiling knowing that nothing may very well lay ahead of her? It’s a courage or stupidity that I will one day come to know.

My god, why was she smiling?

I still wonder.

 

About the Author: Cody Sexton is a book critic/reviewer and lead writer at athinsliceofanxiety.com where he chronicles his lifelong obsession with the written word. He has also been featured at theindieview.com and Writer Shed Stories and has won several blogging awards such as The Versatile Blogger Award, The Sunshine Blogger Award, The Mystery Blogger Award, and a Blogger Recognition Award.

 

Image Credit: Dorothea Lange “Funeral Cortege, End of an Era in a Small Valley Town, California” (1938) Digital image courtesy of the Getty’s Open Content Program.

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“Sunday Mourning” By Mike Acker

 

 

Sunday Mourning

Real butter for a change, melts on my toast
with apricot jam thickly spread like I like it.

Cold, caloried cream swirls in freshly brewed coffee
with a teaspoon of real sugar.

Habits die hard; having just cooked an omelette
for two now only one will eat.

Glasses slide low on the bridge of my nose;
Sunday paper ready to go.

The pool’s blue tiles glisten under
the early sunshine.

What a glorious morning
this could have been.

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About the Author:Mike Acker lives in Vancouver, British Columbia. He has lived in various parts of the world; his early education was in German and French. While living in California, he worked as a professional translator. Mike enjoys writing short poetry, especially with the intent of exploring the possibilities latent in a single image.

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More By Mike Acker:
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Image Credit: Esther Bubley “Washington, D.C. Hugh Massman, second class petty officer who is studying in Washington, must leave the house very early, so Lynn has breakfast alone while Joey sleeps on the table” (1943) The Library of Congress.
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Eve

“The First Mourning” By William-Adolphe Bougereau (1888)

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Eve

By Sister Lou Ella Hickman

 

eve

was the original survivor story
evicted from her plush garden palace
which meant she had to start over
this time she would discover
how much life isn’t fair
when she lost both her sons
and she started over
 again
another son
then her long shadow of silence
cast under a sun that had blistered
begin again or despair

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About the Author: Sister Lou Ella is a former teacher and librarian. She is a certified spiritual director as well as a poet and writer. Her poems have appeared in numerous magazines such as America, First Things, Emmanuel, Third Wednesday, and New Verse News as well as in anthologies including The Night’s Magician: Poems About the Moon, edited by Philip Kolin and Sue Brannnan Walker, Down to the Dark River edited by Philip Kolin, Secrets edited by Sue Brannan Walker and After Shocks: The Poetry of Recovery for Life-Shattering Events edited by Tom Lombardo. Last year she was nominated for the Pushcart Prize. Her first book of poetry entitled she: robed and wordless was published in 2015. (Press 53.)

“Language and Loss” By John Guzlowski

The ones we left behind.
My mother’s brother and his family.
The Soviet Union

My friend the writer Christina Sanantonio and I have been having a conversation about writing about loss. It’s a conversation fueled in part by the suicide of the novelist David Foster Wallace back in 2008. She wrote me a long letter about how we use or don’t use language to talk about loss, and about how hard it is to write about loss.

One of the things in her letter that really resonated with me was something she said about one of my favorite writers, Primo Levi, the Holocaust survivor and author of Survival in Auschwitz, who, like Wallace, apparently took his own life. Primo Levi frequently talked about the frustration of trying to write about loss and suffering, especially the loss and suffering he and so many others experienced in the Nazi camps. He felt we needed a new kind of language to talk about what happened there. Christina wrote that we ache for a language that doesn’t exist.

I’ve spent the last 35 years trying to find words to describe what happened to my Polish-Catholic parents in the German concentration and slave labor camps and what those experiences make me feel. I write about this event or that image; and no matter how powerful the original event described by my mother or father I can’t really describe it, explain it, bring it out of the past. I can’t bring it out of memory into this life. Instead, I’m left pushing around some words, trying to make myself feel what I felt the first time I heard that story when I was a child. Sometimes I think I almost succeed, but most of the time I know I’m not even close.

For me the poems that work best are the ones with my parents’ actual words in them. Those words are the real thing. In my poem “Here’s What My Mother Won’t Talk About,” my mother refuses to tell me anything about the murder of her mother and her sister and her sister’s baby and her own rape. All she will say to me is “If they give you bread, you eat it. If they beat you, you run. Likewise in my poem “The Work My Father Did in Germany,” my dad tells me what he said to the German guards who tormented and beat him and blinded him, “Please, sirs, don’t ever tell your children what you’ve done to me today.” There are bits and pieces of their words scattered throughout my poems, and when I read these words out loud my parents are there with me. I’m again a kid listening to my dad tell me about the day he saw a German soldier cut off a woman’s breast or listening to my mom tell me about the perfect house she lived in in the perfect woods in eastern Poland before the Germans came. My parents’ words are a kind of magic for me.

Continue reading

SATURDAY POETRY SERIES REMEMBERS OKLA ELLIOT WITH JOHN GUZLOWSKI

By John Guzlowski:


LISTENING TO DEATH

How do we listen to death?

We listen to the sound of death
The way we listen to the sound of the sea
To the message the waves pound against the shore
Their soft rush of foam upon the sand

We hear the things we forgot to tell the dead
The questions we forgot to ask them
The enigmatic dreams they will never explain
The useless arguments we will neither win nor lose
The mutual misunderstandings
That will never be clarified
The lies for which we forgot to ask forgiveness
The problems death defers
The unresolved quarrels with the dead

And what can we do in the face of death?

We can leave this house
And keep going
Never to return

We will not even take
The things that have meant
The most to us, our books
The plants we have nursed
The children we have raised
Punished and praised
The clothes (the dark
Blue ties, the tweed jackets
The rakish wool caps)
That make us look
More the man
More the woman
More the hero
More the young lover
Searching for love

We can leave this house
And keep going
Never to return

And what is death?

It is the hand of God
The meal prepared with love
Flowers from the pierced breast
Of the Blessed Virgin
The shore that smells of widows
Studying the foam

And should we fear death?

No, we shouldn’t fear death
We should fear the loud man’s coming

The pain of cancer
That does this or that
To the body

That pain that is longer than sorrow
Stronger than love

The tumor that grows like
A child who then learns
To hate you

A child who will not take
The love and joy you give her

What is as difficult as death?

Nothing

Nothing

Nothing



POET’S NOTE: I met Okla on Facebook.

One day maybe 7 years ago, I got a friend request from him. I didn’t know a thing about him. He was just another fellow asking to be my friend. I said sure.

I’ve never been sorry I did.

Reading Okla’s posts, his status updates, his responses to other people has always been inspiring. What he wrote was smart and funny and engaging. Sometimes he sounded like Jean Paul Sartre, and sometimes he sounded like a kid in love with literature and life and friendship and thinking and dreaming. Both Oklas were wonderful.

And even more wonderful was the Okla I discovered when I started reading his poems and his essays and his fiction.

Okla was the real thing.

He was all the writers I ever admired, and he was right there with me on Facebook.

When I heard he was dead, I couldn’t believe it. He was too filled with life, too good, too dreaming, to be dead.

But he was dead.

But I will not let go of him.

Here [above] is a poem for Okla.



ONLINE MEMORIALS AND TRIBUTES
As It Ought To Be Mourns the Loss of Our Founder
“Some testimonies to Okla Elliott, 1 May 1977 – 19 March 2017” – Days and Memory
“Requiescat in pace: poet, novelist, translator Okla Elliott, 1977-2017” – Book Haven
“Go Read Okla Elliott’s Stuff, Please. (A Remembrance)” – Great Writers Steal
“Remembering Okla Elliott” – Mildred Barya’s House of Life


REMEMBER OKLA WITH AS IT OUGHT TO BE
As It Ought To Be welcomes art and writing in Okla’s memory. Please email sivan.sf [at] gmail [dot] com with your submissions.


REMEMBERING OKLA ELLIOT WITH MICHAEL YOUNG

By Michael Young:

Okla Elliott died in his sleep last night. I still haven’t fully comprehended this reality. His absence hasn’t filled the days to make me believe it. But the news is everywhere echoed through FB.

There are a few people on FB that I know almost exclusively through FB or met only a few times and yet I consider them friends and not just acquaintances. There is a kindship of mind and conscience that binds us. Okla was such a person. There was a mutual admiration and respect for …each other’s work. He was always welcoming of my work for As It Ought To Be and encouraging of my writing. And I had the pleasure of interviewing him and reviewing his collection The Cartographer’s Ink. The diversity, quantity, and quality of his literary output was amazing. I was so looking forward to reading his next poetry collection, which will now, sadly, not be coming. I enjoyed just hearing what he was teaching his classes. It was a pleasure to hear him take such joy in teaching, sparking conversation among his students, or just rhapsodize about the deliciousness of tacos. He was a brilliant and kind person. In online conversations, he strove always for fairness and inclusion that never compromised intellectual honesty. He seemed to face setback with determination and optimism. I saw this most clearly in the recent election outcome, always advising people to focus on state and local elections, and clear actions to take, rather than falling into doubt and bitterness. His intelligence and voice will be terribly missed. The silence it leaves will fill the coming days with something embodied in certain winter landscapes, a kind of waiting that isn’t answered but fades like an echo. But if you haven’t read any of his work, buy some: his poetry, his translation, the novel he co-authored with his good friend, Raul Clement.



ONLINE MEMORIALS AND TRIBUTES
As It Ought To Be Mourns the Loss of Our Founder
“Some testimonies to Okla Elliott, 1 May 1977 – 19 March 2017” – Days and Memory
“Requiescat in pace: poet, novelist, translator Okla Elliott, 1977-2017” – Book Haven
“Go Read Okla Elliott’s Stuff, Please. (A Remembrance)” – Great Writers Steal
“Remembering Okla Elliott” – Mildred Barya’s House of Life


REMEMBER OKLA WITH AS IT OUGHT TO BE
As It Ought To Be welcomes art and writing in Okla’s memory. Please email sivan.sf [at] gmail [dot] com with your submissions.