For the past few weeks, my work has taken over my life–something I’m always telling other librarians NOT to do. But in this case, I was fighting for the library I work in and for the community it serves. It was a battle worth fighting and it looks like things might be ok. In another month the town’s budget will be voted on, and we’ll see how things turn out. The community has spoken and have shown their support for the library, its services and its staff. It was an amazing thing to see the community come together and show their love for this institution and for the work we do.
After this long, exhilarating yet exhausting week, I was looking forward to a weekend at home, reading a few books and getting some cleaning done. Yesterday morning I decided it was time to change things up. We have a sectional couch in our living room, and half of it has had some issues for some time. It was time to get rid of it.
As I pulled the cushions from the couch, I listened to Anderson Cooper’s podcast, All There Is. (Thanks, Anne.) Cooper begins the first episode of the podcast with cleaning out his mother’s apartment after she has died. This included finding some of his father’s and brother’s things. His father died of a heart condition when Anderson was 10, and his brother died from suicide when Anderson was 21. Most of the episodes talk to other famous people who have faced tremendous loss in their lives.
I had my earbuds in, listening to Anderson’s voice break when he discussed his dad, sometimes cry when he talked about either of his parents or brother. While I listened, I found myself really getting into tearing apart this couch. I took a sledgehammer to part of the wooden frame, I cut the fabric in places and other times I tore at it with my bare hands. At one point I found myself crying on the floor, thinking about my brother sitting on this very couch with me. How we would sit side by side and watch a movie and drink coffee together or talk about our latest read. I thought about my mom’s last Thanksgiving and how my son sat between us on that couch as we watched a Christmas movie together.
I was angry that my brother wasn’t there with me, helping me tear that fucking couch apart. I was angry that my mom wasn’t truly my mom for so many years before she died and devastated again that she had to die in a god damned nursing home.
And then….I wasn’t angry. Just achingly lonely. Although I have my family and my friends, sometimes the people I want are no longer here and I just feel so lonely without their presence, without their conversation and laughter and love.
Yet, what could I do at the moment? I could pound the shit out of that couch. So, I did.
This morning, though, as I drove my son to school, he turned to me and said, “You know what I realized this weekend? Right after I left work, my first job, I realized that I couldn’t share that first with Uncle or Grammy.” I nodded my head and sighed, “Yeah,” then rubbed his arm. We sat in silence the rest of the ride and told each other that we loved one another as he left the car.
As a parent, I celebrate so many of these firsts my son experiences–his first steps, first word (“no” by the way), his first ice cream cone, his first plane ride–and now I celebrate and grieve each of his firsts, and I have since my brother died 5 years ago. I just never realized that my bright, beautiful boy did, too.
When my brother, Phil, died, I was not available to my son. I thought I was to a point, but when I think about it now, and the fact that I didn’t realize that my kid would be missing his family just as much as me, I realize that I fucked up.
Yet I know I couldn’t have done anything different. During those dark days, there was a time when I was ready to die myself. I didn’t know how to live in this existence without Phil being here, too. To help my son was pretty much impossible at that time. I know I did try to listen to him and spend time with him, but once my mom moved in a few months later, my kid couldn’t count on me.
I truly hope that I’ve done better by my son since then. The amount of grief he’s had to experience would be insurmountable for some adults. He’s had to see me go through this loss while going through it himself, and literally having to pick me up off the floor. (I fainted after my mother’s funeral while he and I were home alone.)
I’ll do my best to keep the memory of my family in the present. We’ll keep acknowledging all of those firsts and talk about how proud the family would be, or what hilarious jokes my brother would tell. And I’ll keep taking my child and myself to therapy so we can continue to heal or at least function.
After all, we only have so much furniture we can tear apart.