Three Years

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Words can’t do justice to the memory of my brother-in-law. To this day, he is the greatest person I’ve ever been lucky enough to know. His love was a gift.

Since losing him, year three has been the least searing and jagged thus far. I’m sure it has everything to do with adjusting to the new normal: no longer in denial, expectations of seeing him trail off. The free fall of unmatched and unfamiliar grief has ceased, as clumsy wings take me to places accessible only by way of the chasm.

I’m still so proud of him, and I hope he’d be proud of me, too. I still miss him. I believe he deserved better in life, and in death. I believe most of us walk around with the abstract idea that death is something that happens to other people, and other people’s people.

I’m still learning many things (heavy and wonderful things), and I swear that as long as I have these desperate clotted feathers that struggle to carry the weight of the day: I will learn something tomorrow, too.

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Two Weeks Of Death Can Change A Life

The last week of February and the first week of March were intense.

We spent a week in Utah, visiting family and Petey’s grave. I don’t know what to say that I haven’t already said; only that acceptance is setting in, but if you confuse that with numbness or complacency, you’d be wrong.

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Grave Flowers, Moab, UT

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Mound and Cliffs, Moab, UT

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Roses, Moab, UT

As we made our way through Southern Utah we stopped at a few points of interest. Monument Valley did not disappoint.

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Sunrise at Mexican Hat, UT

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Spine, Monument Valley, UT

Then, back in Vegas, I was honored to spend the week with Lauren and Kerry from Lighthold Massage Therapy. They are massage therapists who teach courses about massage therapy for oncology patients (presently undergoing treatment as well as those who have been cancer-free for years). I took Oncology Massage 101 with them last summer and it heightened my awareness regarding client comfort and health issues in a big way.

When the weekend came around, Kerry flew home and Lauren stuck around to teach what I call “the deathy class” — Opening to the Mystery: Presence in Caregiving at the End of Life. To most, it probably sounds like a class about hospice massage…and that’s part of it. But it’s so much more.

Five other participants and myself followed Lauren’s lead through exercises in loss: loss of freedom, loss of faculties, loss of companionship, loss of touch. The course was three days long, and each day we could see more of each other as the space we created was tested and proven to be safe. We shared our doubts, fears, and plans; we shared our stories.

Friends asked me what the course was “about”. I told them I couldn’t sum it up in words but that I would try my best in a blog post. Opening to the Mystery was profound in that it provided a safe place, lead by a safe human, where the wisdom in truthfully admitting that we don’t know everything was embraced and celebrated. Centered around the impermanence of life, Lauren encouraged us to shift our perspectives from longing to loving, and from future to present.

If you think you’re up to it, I think you should enroll. Humility and vulnerability are prerequisites if you want to get the most out of the experience. Even if you’re mostly there, by day three you’ll be a changed person.

I’m not sure where my career as a massage therapist, esthetician and nail tech will take me in the years to come, but I can tell you my practice is deeper and more fulfilling because of journeys like these. Thank you.

 

Let’s Talk About Sad Things

I haven’t written about my husband’s brother’s suicide in a while. Sometimes I’m afraid that people may assume my silence means I no longer care — that I’m over it.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

I think of Petey constantly. For two years, not a day has passed when I haven’t heard his voice or seen his face in my mind. His absence is still felt intensely and immensely, and sometimes the pain is so exquisite I have no idea what to do with the sorrow I feel.

On the home front, living with someone who’s lost someone this close to them is a situation I never appreciated before I found myself here. It is a serious responsibility, at times delicate, never without the desire to bear the entire weight of this grief.

I still despise the way he was treated by the person who was supposed to love him.

I have days when I think “Damn. Petey was the first of us to experience death. What is that even like?” I’ve become an activist for suicide awareness who’s constantly wondering what’s the point of living. The best answer I can come up with right now is that I’m determined to kick life’s ass until it kicks mine.

Haunted

During the last several months I had been spending a lot of time in my dark place.

Every day and every time I’d walk by our fridge and see the photo taken of Petey in Vegas on Wedding Eve ’09 (the photo of him that everybody loves, because he looks so joyful and carefree and like he had a world full of fun and promise and discovery laid out before him), I was haunted by his last days; what they must have been like for him, and how he went out.

It was getting harder to remember things about him that came before February ’14. I had twenty two years of familiarity to draw from, yet I was programmed to sum up this beautiful man’s life based almost entirely upon his final four days: an unfair and tragic legacy, yet despite my constant attempts I just couldn’t shake this reflexive nose dive into oblivion.

This photo triggered grief, regret, pain, deep sadness and frustration — born out of love, but still raw and intensely depressing. A copy of this same photo sat in a hiding place in my car for over a year because I had to take it down from the clip on my sun visor. My husband had affectionately put it there as a way to keep his brother close, but it shattered my insides to see him there daily while repeatedly transporting the entirety of my brain back to February 22 – February 25, 2014.

Then two weeks ago I had a dream.

I was running water in a sink. My hands were wet and I was intent on washing something. I saw a figure behind my left shoulder and turned.

It took a second for my brain to register who it was. Petey looked just like he did in ’09, just like he did in that cursed picture.

Shocked to see him, I traversed the four feet that separated us and reached out to touch his arm, not sure if my fingertips would meet warm flesh or ghostly ectoplasm. Solid and alive! I threw my arms around his neck.

“We’ve missed you so much!” I stated, still clinging tightly, knowing he wouldn’t be there with me for long.

I wish I could remember his reply, but it’s enough to know that it was kind and inconsequential.

“Please come back and visit again, OK?” I pulled back slightly from his all-engulfing embrace and looked him in the eyes; eyes full of the life I feared I had forgotten.

“I will.”

Then I woke up, struck by the realness of it all. I felt joy for the first time in I don’t know how long. He was still with me.

The other day I fished Petey’s photo out of my driver’s side door and fastened it back up on the visor.

I am no longer stuck in that house in Fallon, Nevada, watching helplessly as his heart is ripped from his chest, and bullet meets cylinder, then barrel, then bone.

I still miss him terribly, but things have shifted.

Now I know I don’t have to be afraid anymore.

***

Untitled film emulsion, animal bone, ceramic, glitter

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On Smiling Through Pain

Same camera, same view, different chemistry. Sometimes it's the stuff we can't see that changes our perspective. -- The Building of Eternity, Palm Mortuary, Downtown Las Vegas

Same camera, same view, different chemistry. Sometimes it’s the stuff on the inside that changes our perspective. — The Building of Eternity, Palm Mortuary, Downtown Las Vegas

“Andrea, you can’t just smile your way through this one.”

(This was Andrew two weeks ago, when a collection of my family members were going through various health-related tests and catastrophes, and my fish’s eyeball was popping out of his head.)

“Andrea, when I came out to visit last time, your brother-in-law had just died and you didn’t say anything about it.”

(I’m paraphrasing Brian here, but you get it.)

“Andrea, you’re always smiling. I’ve never seen you unhappy…do you even swear?”

(Spoken by every person who has met me during the last ten years.)

 ***

Contrary to what you’ve just read, I believe I am improving when it comes to expressing myself in a more diverse fashion. Writing publicly about the personal has played a big part in this evolution: dipping a toe here and there periodically, then jumping in with both feet just last year. It’s cathartic, it’s important, and it’s why I branched out and started this goofy personal blog/photography project. I need to challenge myself to go and do. Frequently.

I enjoy working on my projects, but I also acknowledge that keeping busy can be used as a method of distraction. The reasons as to why you keep busy (and what you’re distracting yourself from) are your business, but I’ll share mine:

  • I am easily overcome by negative thoughts related to sloth and consumption. I feel compelled to create new content so I don’t feel like a waste of space and a drain on society.
  • I’m gonna die. You’re gonna die. Dead and gone forever. But the illusion of immortality is so goddamned seductive!
  • Somebody you know and love has died, or is gonna die. Maybe soon, maybe suddenly. And you are gonna miss them with all of your being. This is intense and heavy shit that breaks people, and I have people who depend on me, so I have to keep doing.
  • Time. Is. Running. Out.

I also fall into the category of people who will not unload a 15 minute laundry list of life’s nut knockers on anybody who casually throws out a “how are you?”. I’m just not comfortable with this because:

  • We all know that person who does it, and it usually involves an ex-mate or a crappy job situation that they just can’t seem to get over. As much as we try to sympathize or offer solutions, the song remains the same…for the next six years. Perhaps it gets to the point where we stop asking about the state of this person’s mental health, because they don’t seem to be making any progress, and the pity party that they throw for themselves whenever they have a captive audience at their disposal is sadder than a vegan at a Louisiana barbecue.
  • Maybe you’re sitting in my office about to enjoy a spa service. This is your time, and I don’t want to be a Debbie Downer, even if we’re friends and would normally discuss this stuff over lunch.
  • Maybe you’re in Vegas on vacation. I don’t want to burden you with my issues when you’re on a fucking vacation.
  • Maybe I’ve been embodying a tightly-wound emotional H-bomb for days — walking the razor’s edge between keeping my composure while operating within an acceptable range of functionality and causing a nuclear event that Dr. Manhattan couldn’t even see coming. Sometimes thinning that veil even the tiniest bit is all it takes for the klaxons to sound and wartime Kleenex rationing to go into effect. And sometimes that scares me.

This can be frustrating for the earnest asker, I know. I’ve been the earnest asker! And I want to know or I wouldn’t ask! And I want you to trust me, in this matter and in everything! Because I care! (Does this mean we have a trust issue on our hands now? Shit.)

I’m still finding my way around this grief thing. It’s been almost 15 months since our family became one of those families – the families that lose one of their own to suicide – and I have no idea how this timeline is supposed to play out. We are all still so heartbroken and I have obligations: to keep an eye on those that I can, and to take care of them as best I can. I do my best and sometimes I fear that my best isn’t good enough.

I know that I’m deeply loved by numerous supportive individuals who care about me even if I don’t always verbally share my burden with them. People, please know that this knowledge has at times been the only thing I’ve had to light my way on darker days. You assist me in bearing the weight, whether your hernias realize it or not. You are important and appreciated. Thank you.

Vigil in Moab

Moab, Utah is beautiful; everyone says so. With the purist intentions, devotees call on the spirits of the red rock canyons and mesas, the blue skies and the Colorado River. I used to be right there with them, eyes as wide as saucers, breathing the air so fully I’d hoped I’d take a little bit of it home with me. Moab was otherworldly; a striking vortex of adventure, respite and awe.

But not anymore. Driving past the cliff walls, backed by Moby’s “Everloving”, we were on our way to visit someone who wouldn’t be there.

His body rests beneath the mound (as it has for one year now), the granite marker dutifully engraved with truth and lie. A fiction. I want to feel close to him again, to commune with memory, to find a glint of peace in the shadow, but these tasks prove impossible under the oppressive weight of trust gone so wrong.

Several yards away, a ragged American flag twists in the wind. We tend to his grave with eager hands and open eyes, painting monochromatic earth with reds, pinks, greens. “Just come with us,” I want to say.

Instead I make a promise…because here, now, that is the most and all I can do.

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Across the road, this guy.

Across the road.

We keep vigil for hours on a day he shouldn’t have been alone. When it’s time, we leave Moab in our ruddy, city slicker dust. With each mile wedged between ourselves and that soulless chasm, my chest cavity loosens and expands accordingly. That night, sleep is deep and restorative. It is clear that this was necessary.

The missing is constant, these twelve months a temporal arc flash of loss and emotion. I’d give anything to have him back with us, with the hope I’d get to hold onto the wisdom that tells us not to squander one damn living second on this planet when we’re with the ones we love.

A peaceful sight from Lehi City Cemetery taken on my last day in Utah.

Found. — at Lehi City Cemetery, taken on my last day in Utah

*I realize you may not fully understand what or whom I’m writing about here. If you wish, please visit these posts on The Young Thumbs (a massage therapy blog of which I am a participant) dated 3/19/14, 5/29/14, 8/15/14 and 12/1/14 for reference. Thanks.

About hObsessions

Hobbies-Turned-Obsessions. I seek out cemeteries, urban decay, beautiful old things and the random oddity. Words and images follow.

After years of blogging about mostly work-related subject matter, the need has arisen for a personal thought depository of sorts.

Sweet Jesus, this is going to be random.

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Copyright 2015